Newcastle Club Focus – Ben Arfa proves his worth

Newcastle kept alive their dreams of an extended run in the FA Cup with a late show against Blackburn Rovers. An injury time goal from Jonas Gutierrez ensured the Magpies made it safely into the fourth round and crucially avoid an unwanted replay in Lancashire. The game’s stand out moment came midway through the second-half when the mercurial Hatem Ben Arfa beat half a dozen opposition players to score a memorable goal. The solo effort lit up a game that until then would not have lived long in the memory.

Up to now Ben Arfa has had a frustrating season, with the Frenchman often limited to a role as a game-changing substitute. In the previous week he risked suffering his manager’s wrath by claiming that the pair had very different ideas on how the game should be played. Alan Pardew’s more direct style of play certainly worked in midweek against Manchester United but when Ben Arfa is in the team there is more of a need to keep the ball on the ground.

The coming weeks could well be make or break for the Ben Arfa’s Newcastle career as he may be given an extended run in the absence of Demba Ba. The prolific forward has been easily the club’s biggest threat in the final third this campaign and Ben Arfa is one of the few players remaining who can score a goal out of nothing. That was certainly in evidence against Blackburn with a contender for the club’s goal of the season.

Despite travelling to the Africa Cup of Nations Ba’s name has continued to make the newspaper headlines. On Friday it was alleged that the 15 goal striker has a release clause in his contract, believed to be in the region of £10 million. In a move that is sure to anger Newcastle officials and fans Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp told the media: “They say there’s a release clause in his [Ba’s] contract, that’s what we all hear.” With the Senegal international currently one of the most in-form strikers in the country there will be no shortage of interest although it should help that he will be out of the country for the transfer window.

The romance of the FA Cup was not exactly alive on Saturday with a low quality game played in front of a sparse crowd and few away fans in attendance as they continued their protests against the club’s owners. Pardew showed his intentions for the competition by fielding a near full strength XI with only Mehdi Abeid given a rare opportunity to play for the first team. In the League Cup Pardew often chose to field a second choice XI but that does not seem to be case in this competition.

The Magpies will feel reasonably confident with their chances in the next round with an away tie against either Championship Brighton or Conference side Wrexham. With the team having no relegation worries in the league there is no reason not to aim for an extended cup run this year.

See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Newcastle v QPR

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