Newcastle winger Hatem Ben Arfa is unlikely to play again this season after suffering a setback in training.
Manager Alan Pardew had hoped to involve the 24-year-old France international in the final three games of the campaign, but has admitted that may not now be possible. Pardew said: "We think that's probably not going to happen now. He's had a little setback. That's what happens when you come back from that sort of injury, so I think that's unlikely."
Ben Arfa was just four games into his Newcastle career when he suffered a double leg fracture in an X-rated challenge by Manchester City's Nigel de Jong during the 2-1 Barclays Premier League defeat at Eastlands on October 3.
He was on loan at St James' Park from Marseille at the time and although he has not yet played under Pardew because of his injury, his move was made permanent in January. Fans excited by his early displays, which included a match-winning performance at Everton, had hoped to see him again before the end of the season, but may now have to wait until August.
The midfielder will be in good company, however, if he does miss the final three games of the campaign with defenders Mike Williamson and James Perch having also been ruled out. Full-back Perch damaged his knee during the warm-up at Liverpool last Sunday, while central defender Williamson broke a bone in his forearm while training in the gym this morning and was due to undergo surgery to repair it on Thursday afternoon.
Pardew said: "It's a freak injury and unfortunate for the big fella, and he is going to now miss the end part of the season. He has a slight weakness on that arm, which he has hurt before, so unfortunately, that has been the issue. Obviously, he is disappointed. He wanted to finish the season with us."
Williamson has been one of the mainstays of the team this season as Fabricio Coloccini's long-term partner at the heart of the Magpies' rearguard, and his absence will come as a blow.
However, in former England Under-21s captain Steven Taylor, Pardew has a ready-made replacement who has been itching for a chance after his own return from injury. The 25-year-old has started just two games since returning from a thigh problem picked up in January, and has been an unused substitute in the club's past three fixtures.
But he will be thrown into the thick of the action against Birmingham at St James' on Saturday, and Pardew is expecting big things from him. The manager said: "Steven has been raring to go and has been patient in the background, so it's an opportunity for him. That's how football works sometimes, it gives you an opportunity at strange times.
"He signed a new contract under me, therefore he is here for the foreseeable future. I expect him to play well. He has been working very, very hard. We have changed a little bit of his training, which we think might help him, and hopefully we will see the benefit of that."
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