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Pardew hopeful over Ben Arfa

Newcastle United boss Alan Pardew is hopeful French winger Hatem Ben Arfa could return to the team before the end of the season.

• Forum: All over with a win

Ben Arfa has not featured for the Magpies since suffering a shocking leg injury against Manchester City in October. His progress has been slow, which is not surprising given the severity of the problem, but he is back in training and could be given some playing time in the final weeks of the season.

"He has certainly been working this week," Pardew, whose side entertain Premier League leaders Manchester United on Tuesday, said. "We think actually the last three games is a possibility and we are just going to leave it at that, featuring him in some part of those three."

Newcastle's final three games of the season are against Birmingham, Chelsea and West Brom. Another long-absent player in the frame for a return is Stephen Ireland, who has been included in the squad for Tuesday's visit of Manchester United and could make his first appearance since joining the club on loan from Aston Villa in January.

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."

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