Newcastle boss Alan Pardew believes midfielder Joey Barton is in the best form of his career after "working very hard" to turn his life around.
Barton's talent has never been in question, although he has often been in the head-lines for well-documented disciplinary problems.
But Pardew feels Barton is a changed individual and he produced another influential performance in the 2-0 win over Birmingham at St. Andrew's last night.
It lifted the Magpies into ninth spot in the Barclays Premier League thanks to goals from Peter Lovenkrands and Leon Best.
Pardew said: "I have to say Joey has worked very hard at turning his life around.
"That has been projected onto the football pitch.
"We are getting the best of Joey Barton probably at anytime in his career.
"I thought he was very unlucky to get booked against Birmingham with some of the other challenges that went on.
"Maybe there is still a slight stain against him.
"But for me, and I can only take someone as I find them, Joey has been superb."
Pardew is also pleased with the way Lovenkrands and Best are trying to fill the void left by the departure of Andy Carroll to Liverpool for £35 million.
Lovenkrands showed some typical sharpness to put the Magpies ahead after only two minutes, and Best wrapped up the points with a powerful header from close range early in the second period.
Pardew said: "I think it is about getting the balance right and encouraging them and getting them to produce what is best for their particular game.
"They are not Shola Ameobi and they are not Andy Carroll. They are different types and we got the best out of them at Birmingham.
"I'm so pleased for Leon Best because I think there is a bit more pressure on him than Peter because he hasn't really done a great deal at the football club.
"But he produced a great performance at St. Andrew's and can be proud of that."
Birmingham boss Alex McLeish has moved quickly to dismiss reports of dressing room unrest which claimed defenders Scott Dann and Roger Johnson were unhappy at talks about new contracts being put on hold.
He said: "That is absolute news to me. That is absolutely laughable.
"I've got a great dressing room. It's news to me unless they're talking behind my back.
"I haven't seen Scott Dann for about three or four weeks because we've given him some time off to recuperate from his injury so he's in the sun somewhere.
"There's nothing in it. It's not the best time to talk about contracts and I think the players agree with that.
"I'm sure they'd love us to say 'here's another X amount per week and we'll sign you for another two years'.
"But it's not appropriate at this moment in time and the players accepted that. No unrest, absolutely not."
McLeish's more pressing concern will be to check on the fitness of defenders Liam Ridgewell and Martin Jiranek, who suffered knocks against the Magpies.
With Dann out for the rest of the season and Curtis Davies cup-tied, McLeish will hope they recover for the Carling Cup final against Arsenal in 11 days time.Reuse content