ALAN Pardew is confident Newcastle United will sign an attacking replacement for Demba Ba before the transfer window closes, but admits it will not be easy to plug the gap that will be left by the striker's £7.5m move to Chelsea.
Ba travelled to London yesterday afternoon to discuss terms with Chelsea officials after the London club triggered the much-publicised release clause in his contract.
He is expected to complete a medical this morning, and while financial discussions are understood to have been complicated, his transfer should be concluded later today.
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In his absence, and despite a fourth league goal of the season from Papiss Cisse, Newcastle slipped to a 2-1 defeat to Everton that leaves them just two points clear of the Premier League relegation zone.
Cisse and Shola Ameobi are the only experienced centre-forwards in the squad, and the Magpies hierarchy will be doing all they can to replace Ba, who scored 29 goals in 58 appearances for the Magpies.
“If he had gone with two days left of the window, then suddenly we would have been in real trouble,” said Pardew. “We've got time and hopefully that will work in our favour.
“It's easier said than done though in this window. I don't want to throw a negative on it and my guys – Derek (Llambias), Lee Charnley and Graham Carr - are working really hard to target what we think are realistic targets for us. We need to get one of them over the line.”
Newcastle have already switched their attention to securing a replacement for Ba, and are understood to have drawn up a three-man shortlist.
There is a desire to complete a transfer as quickly as possible, although it is unlikely there will be a new attacking recruit ahead of this weekend's FA Cup third-round tie with Brighton.
Marseille striker Loic Remy is on the Magpies' wanted list, with the club's scouting team having tracked the France international for more than 12 months.
However, an agreement is still to be reached and Newcastle are not the only club interested in signing the 26-year-old. QPR boss Harry Redknapp has also been linked with Remy, who is likely to command a fee of at least £10m.
Newcastle have also been monitoring St Etienne forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a 23-year-old Gabon international who started his career with the youth team of AC Milan. They are understood to be chasing a third attacking target, who is also based overseas.
It will be difficult to replace Ba without a net outlay given that the terms of his buy-out clause meant Chelsea only had to pay £7.5m to secure his services.
The clause was effectively a trade off for a contract that saw Ba receive a weekly wage of around £20,000-a-week, with as much again dependent on his knee holding up sufficiently for him to play, and Pardew has defended the discussions that resulted in the agreement.
“When he came, there weren't too many people queueing up for the opportunity to take him,” he said. “The clause made a lot of sense at the time, for us and for Demba.
“If he hadn't worked out as well as he has, then it would have been a great deal for us. But it worked out even better for him because he scored loads of goals, the clause clicked in and he moved on. We were all fair with that and there's been no problem.”
Pardew also admitted that Ba and Cisse's strike relationship had not been as successful as he had initially hoped.
“We're hoping he (Cisse) has a similar second half of the year to what he had last year, where he was absolutely terrific and was banging in goals for fun,” he said. “That's where we need to get him. I thought the combination of the two of them didn't really work, so maybe we can find someone who is a bit more ideal for Papiss.”
In a more positive development, Newcastle should complete the £5.5m signing of Mathieu Debuchy in the next 24 hours after the France international watched last night's defeat from the stands.
“Fingers crossed that he passes a medical because I hear the discussions have gone well on the finance side,” said Pardew. “He's a player that might have made a difference tonight because if you had taken Leighton Baines out of the Everton side, we might have won that game. That's the sort of quality he is.”
Who should Newcastle bring in to replace Demba Ba? Who could partner Cisse? Let us know your thoughts...