Club Focus – Newcastle United – Kuqi joins Newcastle ahead of Rovers return

Newcastle United will return to league action with a trip to Ewood Park to face Blackburn Rovers. There is little to separate the two teams with the Magpies just above the Lancashire outfit but with the same amount of points. Both sides have changed managers since they last met in November when Sam Allardyce led his team to a 2-1 victory. That game was overshadowed by an off-the-ball clash involving Joey Barton and Morten Gamst Pedersen. The former received a three match ban for his actions but the pair has since made peace. In the last two meetings at Ewood Park the home side have been victorious on both occasions.

Newcastle may include a former Blackburn player in their squad for Saturday’s game after signing Shefki Kuqi on a free transfer. The much travelled striker has been signed by Alan Pardew to add some competition to a depleted attack. The 34 year old has featured for the likes of Ipswich, Crystal Palace and Fulham since moving to England in 2001. The player’s last spell was with Championship side Swansea with whom he scored five goals in 22 league appearances. One of the attractions to signing Kuqi is that he has played regular football for much of this season meaning that he will be nearly match fit straight away. However after struggling to set the Championship alight it is unlikely that he will make much of an impact on Tyneside. Pardew told the club’s official website: “We needed another option up front, because we are a little light there due to the temporary loss of Shola [Ameobi], and Shefki will provide us with something different.” Kuqi’s biggest strength is his physical presence and ability to hold up the ball.

Pardew has received some good news on the striker front with Leon Best and Nile Ranger set to face Blackburn. The two were both forced to pull out of international action in mid-week with fears over slight injuries. In further good injury news; Shola Ameobi may be back sooner than expected after undergoing surgery on his cheekbone. The 29 year old is targeting the home game against Everton at the beginning of March to make his comeback from injury. Pardew appears to have backed Best as his number one striker in the absence of Ameobi.

Best is hoping to prove a point after facing a tough time since signing from Coventry City just over a year ago. Four goals in five starts has gone someway towards getting supporters back on side with the talented striker. The Republic of Ireland international said: “There is a lot of people who say I cannot do it. They can say what they want; I will just keep plucking away. It is not about my tally really – if I keep scoring then great.” Best probably feels that he has got a point to prove, but after scoring against Arsenal he showed that he can do it against the top teams despite not having the greatest of games. It is endemic of Newcastle’s chronic lack of strikers that Best is now one of the first names on the team sheet, and the former Sky Blues striker has got a real opportunity to prove his worth in the upcoming run of games.

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