NEWCASTLE UNITED supporters hoping to see Hatem Ben Arfa return from injury may have to wait a little longer after Alan Pardew revealed the Frenchman has suffered a setback in his rehabilitation.
Ben Arfa has been struggling with a troublesome hamstring injury and has not played since scoring in a 2-1 defeat at Fulham on December 10.
The midfielder first picked up the injury in Newcastle's draw with Maritimo last November, but after returning at Craven Cottage Ben Arfa was quickly back on the treatment table.
Scans revealed a significant degree of damage and medical staff advised Pardew that the Magpies playmaker should not be considered until mid-January at the earliest or risk the player suffering a tear to the muscle.
The time frame for Ben Arfa's lay-off has continued to grow with Pardew keen not to rush his influential midfielder back, but having pencilled in a possible return when Newcastle take on Metalist Kharkiv in the last 32 of the Europa League next week, it seems the Frenchman is still a few weeks away.
The 25-year-old was scheduled to watch the Tynesiders' home win over Chelsea last weekend, but ill health forced him to miss valuable hours at the training ground as well as a scheduled visit to Paris to launch a children's charity.
Pardew said: "He is genuinely sick and has missed four or five days on the training ground."
"He has a good chance of being available for Southampton. But he is doubtful for the two European games when we initially thought he would be involved in those."
Despite his absence, Ben Arfa is still attracting interest from other clubs.
The Frenchman has already hinted he would be interested in a move to hometown club Paris St Germain one day, but it seems the 25-year-old is wanted more closer to his current home.
Liverpool and Arsenal have both been linked with a move for the former Marseille man, but Pardew insists he has not contemplated letting the Frenchman leave St James' Park this summer.
He said: "To be honest, that comes and goes, I get it all the time. I have not really thought about it."
Although Newcastle's form has improved in recent weeks, the Magpies boss is keen to see Ben Arfa back in action and hopes he will recapture the form that caught many people's attention in the first few months of the season.
"Ben Arfa gives us something we don't otherwise have in the squad," Pardew admitted. "You cannot get away from that. He can ghost past people as if they are not there as he has shown in certain situations and his work rate has improved dramatically so that he has become a major function for us. I'm really looking forward to seeing him back."
Cheik Tiote has returned from the African Cup of Nations following Ivory Coast's quarter-final defeat to finalists Nigeria.
The midfielder has been on international duty since the beginning of January, but he has been back in training at Newcastle's Longbenton base this week and it is likely he will be in the squad that travels to Tottenham for tomorrow's match.
Pardew said: "Cheik trained (yesterday) and reminded a few that he has been missing. Stoney (Steve Stone) had to join in because we did not have enough bodies and he had to keep out of the way of Cheik a few times, trust me.
"It is brilliant to have him back. I still think he is one of our best players. This year has been difficult for him to build on last year, career-wise, but he is certainly one of our top three players and hopefully he can get back to the level he was at when he was absolutely phenomenal last year."
Newcastle can make it three wins on the bounce at White Hart Lane and Pardew will hope his side can continue their good form.
During the Magpies' home defeat to Reading three weeks ago there were signs the St James' Park crowd were beginning to turn on their manager, but Pardew knows another win will help get some supporters back on side.
He said: "It doesn't really enter my thinking, if I'm honest. I don't worry about it or let that sort of thing affect me, I really don't.
"I'm too long in the tooth. I did when I first started - I courted the press and the crowd a little bit. Ultimately, I have learnt that there is only one thing to win the crowd over and that's to win games."
After recruiting five French players during the transfer window, managing director Derek Llambias has revealed the club will continue to scour the foreign markets for new faces rather than bring in English talent, but Pardew insists he is open to looking closer to home.
He said: "That's a view that he (Derek) has, it's not something that I personally hold. I think all the markets are open to us and whatever becomes available we will take the best option that we think is there."