Newcastle striker hoping for the 'greatest year' of his career

The Northern Echo: HIGH HOPES: Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi is hoping for a positive 2014 HIGH HOPES: Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi is hoping for a positive 2014

HE has been playing with Newcastle United for almost a decade-and-a-half, but Shola Ameobi is hoping 2014 turns out to be the greatest year of his footballing career.

On the domestic front, Ameobi enters the new year as an integral member of a Magpies squad that is ensconced in the top eight and eyeing a return to European competition in the second half of the season.

And in the international arena, the Newcastle-raised Nigerian is contending for a place in head coach Stephen Keshi's squad that will compete against Argentina, Bosnia and Iran at next summer's World Cup finals in Brazil.

The 32-year-old has experienced some notable highs and lows since making his professional debut against Chelsea in September 2000, but the next 12 months could provide a remarkable climax to a career that cannot have too much longer to run.

“From a personal point of view, 2014 could be really special for me,” said Ameobi, who was born in the Nigerian city of Zaria before moving to Newcastle at the age of five. “I'm playing for a great team here at Newcastle that can achieve something really special, and I'm also starting the new year with the hope of playing in a World Cup finals.

“It's a wonderful thing that's happened to me in the last six months – being involved in the World Cup squads and giving myself a chance of getting on that plane to Brazil. It's something I don't take lightly.”

Given that his current contract is due to expire at the end of the season, there were times at the start of the campaign when it looked as though Ameobi would be leaving Tyneside next month despite having spent his entire career as a Newcastle player, save for a brief loan spell at Stoke under Kevin Keegan.

He failed to start six of the opening eight Premier League matches, a record that would have seriously hampered his hopes of being involved with Nigeria next summer if it had continued for the remainder of the campaign.

Since being promoted to the starting line-up for last month's 2-0 win over Chelsea, however, the striker has featured in ten consecutive matches, and while he cannot consider himself a regular starter with Alan Pardew favouring Loic Remy as a lone centre-forward, he certainly appears to have leapt above Papiss Cisse in the attacking pecking order.

His physicality separates him from the rest of Newcastle's attacking options, and while he has not scored a Premier League goal since last December, he is an increasingly prominent part of Pardew's plans.

“I want to give myself the best possible chance of getting to Brazil and that means working hard and trying to get in the team here at Newcastle,” he said. “That's the only way I'm going to do that.

“It's important for me in the next four or five months that I work very hard and make sure I produce performances so the (Nigeria) manager looks and thinks, 'I want him on the plane'. It bodes well for me and hopefully for Newcastle as well.”

Ameobi has featured in both the Champions League and Europa League for Newcastle, and while Sunday's defeat to Arsenal saw the Magpies slip below Manchester United and Tottenham in the table, they head into 2014 just three points adrift of fifth position.

Win at West Brom tomorrow and they are guaranteed to go up at least one place with Spurs travelling to Old Trafford, and while the memory of last season's struggles continues to keep expectations in check, a return to continental competition is a viable target for the second half of the campaign.

“With the start we've made, it's important we continue along the path we've started on,” said Ameobi. “We've given ourselves a good base, but halfway through the season, that's all it is.

“It's no good having this great first half of the season and then dwindling away. We want to continue to keep that pressure on the teams above and maintain that momentum we've created.

“Who knows where we can finish? We have to aim high, although there are obviously a lot of teams above us who have a lot of quality. We're not getting carried away with anything – it's going to be a tough ask for us to finish in the top four, five or six. But there's no reason why we can't give it a go because we're right up there at the moment.”

With Pardew set to make changes for tomorrow's trip to the Hawthorns, Ameobi will hope to make the starting line-up having come off the bench for the final 16 minutes of Sunday's game.

Jonas Gutierrez is unlikely to be involved against the Baggies, however, with Newcastle officials refusing to deny that his position is compromised by a clause in his contract that guarantees a new deal if he makes a certain number of appearances.

Gutierrez was named in the Magpies' development squad for last night's Under-21 League Cup game with Leicester, and director of football Joe Kinnear will attempt to move him on when the transfer window reopens next month.

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