Ireland set for Toon bow

Barton doubtful so on-loan midfielder could finally feature at Everton

Ireland: Has regained full fitness

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Joey Barton's injury could open the door for ex-Manchester City team-mate Stephen Ireland to make his Newcastle debut against Everton.

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Barton sustained a thigh injury in training last week and, although he felt fit on the morning of last week's visit of Bolton, he pulled up in the warm-up and had to watch from the sidelines as Newcastle drew 1-1.

The in-form midfielder is still rated as doubtful to face his boyhood heroes Everton this weekend but Ireland has now recovered from his own injury.

Ireland has been out since December due to a knee problem so is yet to appear for the Magpies having signed on loan from Aston Villa in January.

But the 24-year-old midfielder is in contention to feature on Saturday after an impressive week of training.

Striker Shola Ameobi could make his return wearing a mask to protect his cheekbone injury while midfielder Danny Guthrie (hamstring) is set to come back into the Toon squad.

Fitness test

"We will know more on Joey soon while the medical staff have a look at him," assistant manager John Carver told the Chronicle. "He is being assessed and they will tell us if he is OK.

"It has been a good week in training, though, for Shola and Stephen Ireland, and those two have to be looked at as real plusses.

"Danny Guthrie is also back training and in contention again."

Manager Alan Pardew had pencilled in the home game against Wolves on 2nd April for Hatem Ben Arfa's eagerly-awaited return but the Toon boss has now admitted that may be too soon.

"I am going to protect him. I cannot just throw him in," he said.

"The Wolves game sounds optimistic, even though I am sure, in his own mind, he has set that as his target.

"He is still very much in the process of recovery and he has a long road back. It may even take us into May.

"To break both bones in the shin is tough, not just physically but mentally, too."

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