Ireland closing in on Toon start

The midfielder, who joined from Aston Villa on a deal until the end

of season on transfer deadline day, has been hindered by a knee

injury. The 24-year-old revealed he had been expecting to return

early in March, but encouraging progress this week means his

recovery is ahead of schedule. “We thought it would be a couple of

weeks,” Ireland told the club’s website. “But I went running

outside [on Thursday] at a decent level and decent pace, and I

reckon it could be by the end of next week hopefully. “I’ve just

got to do a few more sessions and then see how far I can push it.

If it goes well then I could be back soon. “I haven’t got any

specific game in mind. I’ve just got to take a day at a time

really, because one day it could feel amazing and then the next day

really bad. “It’s quite strange, but I have to see how I feel on a

day-to-day basis.” Ireland failed to hold down a first-team berth

at Villa following his summer transfer from Manchester City and is

eyeing a run in the Magpies’ starting XI when he does finally

return to full fitness. “After two weeks at a club you want to be

getting involved in the playing and training, but I’m not far

away,” he added. “I didn’t come here just to get treatment – I came

here to play. Thankfully things are getting right now and I’m

almost there.”