Pardew praise for Tiote talent
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has cited Cheick Tiote's ability to mix it with the best as a major factor in the club's surge up the Barclays Premier League table.
The 27-year-old Ivory Coast international turned in a fine individual display in Saturday's 1-0 victory at Manchester United - the Magpies' first at Old Trafford in more than 41 years - just as he had done as Pardew's men defeated the Red Devils 3-0 at St James' Park in January last year.
Tiote has returned to somewhere near his best form in recent weeks after struggling along with many of his team-mates last season, and has been hugely influential in a run of five victories in six league games which has left his club just three points off a Champions League place.
The midfield enforcer's resurgence coincided with Pardew's decision to hand him the captain's armband in the absence of the injured Fabricio Coloccini, but it has shown no signs of waning since the Argentinian's return.
Pardew said: "I can reflect on the two Manchester United games - the 3-0 was the best performance he ever gave this football club, closely followed by that performance [on Saturday], so he can do it against the top clubs.
"When we drew 4-4 with Arsenal, that day he was unbelievable, so he has had some big, big games for us, don't forget about that.
"He is playing very well, though. I was very reluctant to take the captaincy from him after he did so well with it. But he has proved to me irrespective of whether he wears the armband or not, he is brilliant."
If Tiote has been the midfield rock upon which Newcastle's improvement has been based, the man in front of him has been no less influential.
France international Yohan Cabaye scored the winner at Old Trafford to further underline his talent, although the yellow card he collected means he will be missing as Newcastle attempt to extend their run of three home victories against Southampton on Saturday.
Cabaye's absence could mean a pivotal role for Dutchman Vurnon Anita, who was drafted into the side for the United game and did not let his manager down.
The 24-year-old former Ajax midfielder has had to remain patient since his £6.7million switch to St James' in August 2012, but Pardew has kept a close eye on his development and is confident he can do a job for him.
He said: "It's been good for him because he has made himself stronger in the gym and he's had a little bit more time to reflect on some performances last year, where I think he struggled a little bit.
"This year, you have to pay tribute to him because he has been a lot, lot better and he is pushing for a place.
"I would expect him to get 20, 25 appearances this year and for a second year at a big club, that's a good start."
Asked if Anita would be asked to fill Cabaye's sizeable boots this weekend, the manager said: "I don't think there's any questionable doubt that he will start."
Pardew, of course, will go head-to-head with one of his former clubs when the Saints arrive on Tyneside, and while he still feels aggrieved about his untimely exit in August 2010, he is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with some of the players with whom he worked, and in particular with newly-capped England international striker Rickie Lambert.
Pardew, who worked with late bloomer Lambert in League One, said: "I didn't even become a professional until I was 26, so I am one of those people who always has hope for players because obviously, it came late to me.
"Rickie has certainly surpassed my career with what he has done, and long may that continue.
"He's got real class and technical ability, and it was only his mobility and fitness, probably, that held him back. He managed to address those and at the minute, he looks in great shape."