CHEIK Tiote’s battling to be fit to face Aston Villa at St James’s Park – so he can kick Newcastle United’s season back into life.
Tough-tackling Tiote has sat out the club’s last two games with a hamstring problem.
And his absence has been keenly felt given the lack of a specialist defensive midfielder to deputise.
Newcastle conceded seven goals without reply in the Premier League defeats to Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea.
But United manager Alan Pardew remains hopeful the 27-year-old will be fit for Sunday’s home game.
“He’s got a good chance of being involved,” Pardew told the Gazette.
Tiote was running at full tilt in the early part of the week, and is poised to return to full training ahead of the game.
Pardew, under pressure after a run of five successive home defeats, feels Tiote was a huge miss against a “powerful” Tottenham side, who ran out convincing 4-0 winners at St James’s Park last week.
“We’ve missed his all-round game, especially against a powerful Spurs midfield,” said Pardew.
“He was the last person we could be without.
“They’re very, very good with the ball technically. We’ve missed his leadership qualities in that area.”
Tiote had returned to form in the first half of the campaign after an indifferent season.
The Ivory Coast international and the departed Yohan Cabaye – who opened his account for new club Paris Saint-Germain this week – had formed a formidable midfield barrier.
Pardew warned before Cabaye’s sale that his side would be “vulnerable” if the 28-year-old was not replaced.
And ninth-placed United’s previously once-promising campaign has unravelled spectacularly since last month’s transfer window closed without a replacement having been secured.