Pardew relishing Ireland debut
Ireland has endured a nightmare two and a half months since making a loan move from Aston Villa to St James' Park in a bid to get some football under his belt after falling out of favour at Manchester City and then failing to make an early impression following his £8million summer move to the Midlands. He arrived on Tyneside with a knee injury and then picked up a thigh strain, and he has spent the past few days at the bedside of partner Jessica Lawlor after she suffered multiple injuries in a car accident last week. Pardew has challenged Ireland to use the final six games of the season to convince him he could have a long-term future at St James', and he is looking forward to seeing him try to do just that. Pardew said: "Stephen Ireland will be involved in this game and that's a big bonus because we have been waiting a long time for Stephen. "His quality will help us in the last six games for sure. Technical quality - that's what he brings. "You have got a player who has played at the highest level, and we have waited long for him because of his injuries and setbacks that he's had. "But hopefully, that will bear some fruit in the last six games." Just how much involvement Ireland has tonight remains to be seen, but Pardew knows there could hardly be a tougher match in which to make his bow. United will arrive boasting a six-point lead over second-placed Arsenal, who could only draw at home to Liverpool on Sunday, and within touching distance of another Premier League title despite many onlookers having expressed the opinion that they are not as strong as they have been in the recent past. Pardew said: "Over the years, you could argue that they have had better teams - but this team doesn't seem to be listening to that and the stats are suggesting that this is as good as any they have had. "They have got a fantastic opportunity to get to the Champions League final, and they are probably going to win the Premier League. "I think Sir Alex [Ferguson] will be fairly pleased with that - I think I would be. "For us, it is a tough ask, but we have got a stronger team out than we had at Villa and I think we will play well." Newcastle will be boosted by Cheick Tiote's return from suspension as well as Ireland's presence, although skipper Kevin Nolan completes his two-match ban. In addition, goalkeeper Steve Harper is a doubt with a knee injury for which he has had an injection, and Tim Krul is in line to replace him. Pardew said: "Steve had an injection in his knee and it hasn't settled down as well as we would have liked, and the game is probably too soon for him. "We don't think he is out for the remainder of the season. We just hope it settles down."