CHEIK Tiote is 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 Tiote’s absence has been keenly 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 SportMail.
Tiote was running at full tilt in 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 and the Ivory Coast international and the departed Yohan Cabaye – who opened his account for new club Paris St-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.
Meanwhile, referee Martin Atkinson – who officiated the club’s last home win, the 5-1 Boxing Day victory over Stoke City – will be in charge against Villa.