Newcastle V Swansea at Sports Direct Arena : Match Preview
Demba Ba admits it will be a huge wrench to leave his Newcastle team-mates behind when he heads off on African Cup of Nations duty.
The 26-year-old striker will join up with the Senegal squad ahead of next month's tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea having confirmed his status as a genuine Barclays Premier League marksman with 11 goals in his last 10 league starts for the Magpies.
That return, which has come on top of the seven he scored in 12 top-flight appearances for West Ham during the second half of the last campaign, has fully justified Alan Pardew's decision to take him to Tyneside during the summer and his absence for the duration of the tournament will leave a huge gap.
Ba is thrilled at the prospect of representing his country against the best Africa has to offer but will leave the north-east in part reluctantly.
He said: "It's going to be difficult, very difficult, because the season is still running and it just feels like you are going and the team is staying. "It's going to be weird because it is going to be my first African Cup as well. But I just hope I don't go there for nothing.
"For me, for the whole country, for the whole team, we are just excited to be playing in this competition, and we are going to try to come back and make our country proud of us." Asked if he will have one eye on events on Tyneside during his absence, Ba replied:
"Not one, two." Ba's goals have been a major factor in Newcastle's impressive start to the season, although his three in the last four games, including a penalty at Manchester United, have helped to secure only a single point with injuries biting hard into Pardew's resources at Norwich last weekend.
His form has taken some by surprise, although he insists not those who know him well. Ba said: "Maybe a couple of people are surprised - I know some are not because they know me, they know me very well.
"If people are surprised, hopefully I am just going to continue to surprise them."
Pardew will make late decisions over Fabricio Coloccini, Mike Williamson and Cheick Tiote as they fight their way back from injury but Dan Gosling is suspended.
Striker Danny Graham will put family ties to one side as he looks to help Swansea make a "massive statement" against his boyhood club Newcastle.
Graham was a "die-hard" Magpies fan in his youth and regularly went to St James' Park, now the Sports Direct Arena, to watch his idol Alan Shearer wear the famous black and white number nine shirt.
The Gateshead-born 26-year-old, who looks set to return to the Swansea starting line-up in place of Leroy Lita, will have around 40 friends and family watching from the stands on Tyneside, most of whom will be cheering on the home side, but he will be looking to ensure that he will be the one smiling at the final whistle.
The former Middlesbrough, Carlisle and Watford forward said: "It is nice to go home and play against the club I supported as a kid but I am going there wanting to win and score if selected and to put one over on my friends and family.
"I was a die-hard fan as a youngster and I used to go every week with my family. Alan Shearer was my idol and I can remember the days when we were beating Barcelona with Faustino Asprilla scoring a hat-trick, but come Saturday that will all go out of the window."
Graham grabbed his fifth goal since his £3.5million club record move from Watford as a substitute in last weekend's 2-0 home win over Fulham and he admits a repeat at the home of his boyhood heroes would rank as one of the greatest moments in his career to date.
"It would be right up there," he said. "Making your debut is obviously very special but to go to the team I supported and score the winner in front of my friends and family would be very special."
Manager Brendan Rodgers is set to restore midfielder Joe Allen to his starting line-up after the Wales international missed the win over Fulham through suspension.
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