Ireland happy to be 'treated normally' again at Newcastle

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The Independent Football

Stephen Ireland is desperate to repay Newcastle United's faith in him after belatedly making his debut.

The 24-year-old Irish midfielder has been a frustrated bystander for much of the past two and a half months after arriving from Aston Villa on loan in January with a knee injury and then picking up a thigh strain as he neared full fitness.

In all, he sat out the first nine games of his temporary spell on Tyneside, after last playing senior football on 6 December.

He finally got his chance in a black-and-white shirt 69 minutes into the club's hard-fought 0-0 draw with leaders Manchester United on Tuesday night, and is now determined to make up for lost time over the remaining five games of the Premier League campaign.

Ireland joined Villa in an £8m summer move from Manchester City after falling out of favour with their manager, Roberto Mancini, but failed to make his mark under Gérard Houllier in the Midlands.

However, he is delighted to have the chance to impress the Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew, who has challenged him to prove that he could have a long-term future at St James' Park. Ireland said: "It's been really frustrating for me. I have not really had a manager who has wanted me to play and I have felt like an outcast for a while. It's nice to be treated normally for once. I haven't had that in a while.

"I have come here now and even through my injuries they kept telling me, 'Listen, it's not a problem, just get yourself right.' The loyalty they have shown me, I am going to repay that as much as I can.

"It's been really frustrating, but it's all behind me now, thank God, and it's finally here. It's finally come around that I can play and I just want to finish the season strongly and try to benefit the team in whatever way I can."

Ireland's big moment came to popular acclaim from the home fans as a tight encounter reached crunch point with both sides going for victory. Newcastle had started brightly with Peter Lovenkrands, Shola Ameobi and Jonas Gutierrez going close, although goalkeeper Tim Krul, deputising for the injured Steve Harper, had to make fine saves from Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney before the break.

However, United stepped up a gear after the restart and, although Lovenkrands had strong appeals for a penalty waved away by the referee Lee Probert, the visitors threatened to claim all three points through Nani, Rooney and Ryan Giggs, who uncharacteristically passed up a glorious opportunity seconds before Ireland came on.

The Newcastle midfielder might have announced himself in style within minutes of his arrival with a quickly taken volley that flew just past the post, with goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar momentarily wrong-footed.

Ireland said: "I had time to take it down, but I think when I took it first time, I caught the keeper off guard. It was one of those – they either fly in the top corner or not and, unfortunately, it just didn't."

Rooney headed wide at the death after Hernandez had been booked for diving as Newcastle's stubborn defensive performance proved up to the task and secured them a 40th point of the campaign – not yet enough to guarantee their place in next season's top flight, but a significant landmark as they head for free-falling Blackpool at the weekend.

For the Dutchman Krul, there was a clean sheet and a creditable result to celebrate on his return to the starting XI after a 16-game run earlier in the season. However, he left St James' Park with more tangible mementos of his encounter with United and one of his childhood heroes, his compatriot Van der Sar.

Krul said: "It was amazing, just one of those things. I have been following him since I was five years old. He gave me his gloves and his shirt, so that will be a fantastic memory."