CHRIS Hughton has claimed Kevin Nolan is the “key” to his preferred system at Newcastle United, and hinted he will continue to play the midfielder in an attacking midfield role despite Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Stoke.

Nolan has started all six of the Magpies’ Premier League matches this season, and while a return of three goals is not to be sniffed at, questions have been asked of the midfielder’s suitability for the key position at the apex of a five-man midfield.

Summer signing Hatem Ben Arfa would offer greater pace and fluidity on the shoulder of Andy Carroll, but Nolan’s presence has so far restricted the Frenchman to a pair of appearances on the left of midfield.

Similarly, Hughton’s continued reliance on Nolan has ruled out the possibility of pairing Carroll with another centre-forward, but having watched the former Bolton midfielder score 17 Championship goals last season, the Magpies manager is not about to apologise for the faith he continues to show in him.

“Kevin is a big, big player for us,” said Hughton. “He is key to what we do. What he does for us is play in the important role either off the front man or in the midfield, and he will always get into goalscoring positions – that is what makes him important.

“Even in a very tight game against Stoke, he was in that position to get our best opportunity of the second half. I have no worries about a player like Kevin.”

Nolan is likely to retain his place for Sunday’s trip to Manchester City, a game that will come too early for Danny Simpson, Danny Guthrie and Steven Taylor.

Simpson and Guthrie could both feature in next week’s reserves game with Aston Villa, while the transfer-listed Taylor should return to full training within the next two weeks.

“Steven has an excellent fitness level and his rehab work has been excellent, but he is still a couple of weeks away from joining in with everyone,”

said Hughton.

“We’re probably looking at mid-October for him to be back involved, but as with all long-term injuries, it just depends how he reacts to being back in amongst it. It will be excellent to have a player like Steven back in the squad again.”

Hughton added to his ranks yesterday when 18-year-old French midfielder Yven Moyo signed a four-year deal at St James’ Park.

Moyo, who has been capped at Under-18 level and was previously on the books of French Ligue One club Sochaux, was a substitute in Monday’s reserves game with Wolves.

Meanwhile, the Magpies have confirmed their Carling Cup fourth-round tie with Arsenal will take place on Wednesday, October 27 (ko 7.45pm), with live coverage on Sky Television.