Chancel Mbemba is pushing for a recall at injury-hit Newcastle United – almost four months after he last kicked a ball for the club.
Rafa Benitez lost Ciaran Clark to injury ahead of this afternoon’s game against Birmingham City.
When he came back from the Africa Cup of Nations he missed a couple of games because he had some little problems and the team was doing well.Rafa Benitez
The defender suffered damage to his medial ligament in last weekend’s home defeat to Fulham.
Clark’s injury will be assessed further during the international break, and Benitez – whose side lead the Championship on goal difference – is reluctant to put a timescale on his return.
Mbemba, meanwhile, last featured for Newcastle on November 26.
And the 22-year-old posted an emotional message to supporters on Twitter yesterday.
“Despite my minimal playing time this season, I’m here and I’m not giving up,” said Mbemba.
“I continue to train ardently and seriously and I will not give up until I find my place in the team.
“My wish is to come back stronger than ever and satisfy you, my fans, as I was able to do last season in the Premier League.”
Grant Hanley is the favourite to partner Jamaal Lascelles at St Andrew’s, but DR Congo international Mbemba is also in Benitez’s thoughts ahead of the game.
“When he came back from the Africa Cup of Nations, he missed a couple of games because he had some little problems and the team was doing well,” said Benitez.
“Hanley was training really well. When you have to pick the 18 players, sometimes you say ‘I don’t need another one’. You pick a midfielder or a full-back or a striker.
“Now he’s training well. I’m happy with that. We will see if we need him or not.
“If the others are doing well and the team is strong in defence, you don’t want to change too many.
“Then, when you have to put players in the squad, you have to pick players you will need during the game.”
Asked if Mbemba was in contention to start against Birmingham, Benitez added: “He has been training well, yes.”
Benitez has been pleased with the reaction of his team to the Fulham game.
“This group of players train really well,” he said.
“They realise we are close to the end.”