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Pardew's heart-to-heart with Ameobi has an immediate effect
IT was an impromptu meeting in the hours leading up to Newcastle's Europa League decider in Kharkiv, but it could turn out to have been one of the most significant moments in the Magpies' season.
Having informed Shola Ameobi that he would be leading the line in the Metalist Stadium, Alan Pardew proceeded to spell out his disappointment at the striker's lacklustre recent displays when promoted from the substitutes' bench. “I had a little quiet word with Shola because, in the last few weeks, I thought his contribution could have been greater,” Pardew explained.
In response, Ameobi outlined his own frustration at the bit-part role he has been asked to play for much of this season and expressed confidence that he remained as effective as ever when played in his preferred position as centre-forward.
There were no raised voices, no tempers running out of control. Instead, in measured terms, manager and player shared a frank exchange of views before shaking hands and agreeing to move forward.
Less than 24 hours later, and the effect of the conversation was clear. Ameobi had delivered a polished attacking performance and claimed his 15th European goal in a Newcastle shirt; Pardew was able to start plotting for a last-16 tie with Anzhi Makhchakala. Understandably, both were content with their lot.
“It's the manager's job to get his players going,” said Ameobi. “I was frustrated because I haven't played in my position much this year. I let him know that.
“I always give everything I have and play a professional game, and I think he knows that. But I haven't been in the team as much as I have been in the past, and that makes it hard to contribute. When you're only getting your chance in the last ten minutes, you try to do things that sometimes might not come off.
“I took on board what he said, as I always do, and made sure that I made him know I am still here. The manager is within his rights to say what he feels is right to his players, as I said my bit to him. I took it on board and made sure I gave a performance I was pleased with.”
As the longest-serving outfield player on Newcastle's books by a distance, Ameobi has experienced a multitude of highs and lows during his time on Tyneside.
This season has not been as tough as the 2007-08 campaign, when he was completely frozen out by Kevin Keegan and briefly sent on an unsuccessful loan spell to Stoke City, but it has nevertheless proved challenging for a player who accepts he is gradually approaching the end of his playing days.
Ameobi has made just four Premier League starts all season, and while his appearance record in the cup competitions is much more impressive, there is clearly a considerable degree of frustration at his peripheral status.
He has rarely been an established first choice throughout his career, deputising for strikers as varied as Alan Shearer, Patrick Kluivert, Craig Bellamy and more recently Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba, but experience of life on the substitutes' bench does not make his current role any easier to take.
“I have never been happy being a bit-part player,” said Ameobi. “He (Pardew) has known that all along. It is tough because you feel like you are auditioning to be in the team and that is not really what I want to be doing.
“I am happy to play where the manager wants, like playing on the right, which is probably not my best position, but which is where I have done the job. When opportunities have come, they have not always been in my best position in the team.
“I haven't felt match-fit this season, but that's because I haven't had the games and it takes games to get in my stride. That is probably what he means. I have not been at my sharpest, so it is important when I do get my chances that I show I am an asset to the team.”
Ameobi will hope to get another chance when Southampton visit St James' Park tomorrow, although the availability of Yoan Gouffran could mean the 31-year-old finds himself back on the bench.
While Thursday night's victory in Kharkiv provided one of the highlights of the season, the need for domestic points means tomorrow's game with the Saints is of even greater significance.
Newcastle produced one of their worst performances of the season as they slumped to a 2-0 defeat at St Mary's in November, and with just one team separating the Magpies from the relegation zone, Ameobi admits there is an urgent need for a marked improvement tomorrow.
“Any defeat away from home is tough, and they did one over us,” he said. “With our league position, it is important that we win our home games now, especially against the teams around us.
“The win in Kharkiv will give the team confidence. It is an art form playing in Europe in midweek and then winning your games in the league at the weekend, but the top teams seem to manage to do it and it is important we don't let the European game take away the focus from the weekend.”