AFTER spending large parts of his earlier years in Newcastle United’s first team squad struggling to overcome chronic hip problems, Shola Ameobi is satisfied he can focus purely on football again.

Ameobi has turned into an integral part of manager Chris Hughton’s plans in the last 18 months, becoming a Premier League striker again on the back of an impressive campaign in the Championship.

Such form brings a smile to the face of a 29-year-old who has only made 123 league starts for the Magpies since making his debut in a goalless draw with Chelsea ten years ago.

A series of serious injury problems, the last of which was further surgery in the United States in April 2007, prevented him from fulfilling his potential.

Sven-Goran Eriksson and David Platt, who was his England Under-21s coach during that time, identified him as a long-term candidate to play regularly for England.

Every manager at St James’ Park has wanted a fit Ameobi as part of his squad, but under Hughton he now feels he has the opportunity to become a vital part of Newcastle’s strikeforce this season.

“My injuries are behind me, I’m convinced of that,” said Ameobi. “I’ve been unlucky but I don’t attribute to that to anyone here. It has been incredibly frustrating but I’m not going to use that as an excuse for why I’ve not been established in the side.

“In the past I’ve played through injuries that I probably shouldn’t have. I’ve learned from that, I wouldn’t do that now. That happened, I was a young player wanting to play every game and agreed to play.

“But it was a mistake and as I have got older I’ve maybe come to understand that a bit more. I’m not superman, I have to watch what I do and how I do it. I am conscious of that – when I do play I have to be 100 per cent.”

Having been surprised to have been overlooked ahead of the draw with Wigan on October 16, Hughton decided to partner Andy Carroll with Ameobi at West Ham a week later.

That pairing was retained for the visit of Sunderland on Sunday, when Ameobi delivered two goals, with Carroll outstanding alongside in the 5-1 win.

“People didn’t think it would work but I know Andy’s game,” said Ameobi. “Just because we’re both big lads doesn’t mean we can’t play together – we’ve shown that in the last couple of games. When we’re on our game we’re a match for anyone in the Premier League.

“I think defences will find us difficult to deal with. Now we just need to keep doing the same things week in, week out.

“I know Andy didn’t score on Sunday but he was absolutely terrific. His determination was incredible – he created so much. It’s a partnership in the early stages but I’m really, really confident it will work.”

Ameobi and Carroll had trained in that formation before the draw with Wigan, but Hughton opted for Peter Lovenkrands alongside the latter instead.

It took Ameobi’s late equaliser to convince the boss to go with his original plan a fortnight ago and the striker admitted: “At the start of the season I was annoyed, I was frustrated.

“I felt I’d done enough to get into that side to be honest but he chose other players.

“You need to keep working hard though – you can’t just walk into the side. But your chance will come and you have to take it.”