Pardew refutes Ba rift rumours
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has insisted there is no rift between himself and Demba Ba following comments made by the Senegal striker.
Ba admitted his displeasure at only being named among the substitutes for Monday night's 2-2 Premier League draw at Everton having responded in fine style by coming off the bench to score both his side's goals.
His agent Alex Gontran caused consternation on Tyneside when he suggested the following day that Ba might have to consider his options if he found himself sitting on the bench too often in the future.
Pardew's response in Madeira on Wednesday evening was more diplomatic than it might have been, with the initial response behind the scenes one of acute displeasure.
He said: "That's just people needing to say things they shouldn't say, really, but it doesn't really affect me and Demba. We have got a good relationship."
Pardew signed Ba last summer and saw him plunder 15 goals before heading off to the African Nations Cup, after which he scored just once more before the end of the campaign.
However, he was asked to play a slightly different role on his return, one of the strands of Gontran's criticism.
That early form led to speculation that a series of suitors might activate the ?7.5million release clause in Ba's contract during the summer, although the deadline came and went without incident.
Relief at the player's continued presence was tempered by the belief that he had been touted around for sale, and it would be no surprise if the rumours started once again as the next transfer window approaches.
In the meantime, Pardew has no problem making the tough decisions he needs to to balance the demands of trying to compete on four fronts.
He said: "The bottom line is you have to get your players to play at their best and sometimes there are different methods of doing that."
Ba and compatriot Papiss Cisse were conspicuous by their absence when a largely inexperienced 19-man squad jetted out from Tyneside for Thursday's night's Europa League clash with Maritimo, although Cisse was withdrawn because of illness.
Shola Ameobi will start on a night when 37-year-old Steve Harper hopes to extend a European career which he admits he thought was over.
The goalkeeper made his first senior appearance for the club in almost 17 months in the away leg of the play-off against Greek side Atromitos last month, and as a result of number one Tim Krul's elbow injury, returned to Barclays Premier League action at Everton.
Asked if he thought he would ever play in Europe again, Harper said: "Last year, probably not. But this year it's well-documented the conversation I had with the manager.
"He said we had a lot of games and if I still wanted it, it was there for me, so at the start of the year there was light at the end of the tunnel and here I am."
Despite spending much of his career as Shay Given's deputy, Harper has experienced most of the Magpies' big nights on the continental stage.
He played in a famous 1-0 Champions League victory over Juventus at St James' Park and was in the side which beat Dynamo Kiev 2-1 in the same competition in 2002-03, while he was on the bench the night Craig Bellamy's late winner against Feyenoord in Rotterdam fired the club into the second group stage.
Harper said: "Obviously, the two Champions League games against Juventus and Dynamo Kiev were special, the Feyenoord night, going to Barcelona, the San Siro. It was fantastic.
"The good thing about this is, I was able to sit and look at the draw and the bonus is we are going to three places we haven't been to before.
"We are going to Madeira, Bordeaux and Bruges. I was looking at the draw and looking at Partizan Belgrade thinking, 'I've been there twice, can we please go somewhere else?'
Not that there's anything wrong with Belgrade, but you just want to go out and experience new places.
"It's fantastic to come to Maritimo and I'll hopefully get to Bordeaux and Bruges as well."