After sealing their progress into Round Four of the FA Cup last time out, Newcastle return to Premier League action this Sunday when they take on QPR, complete with new manager after Mark Hughes took the reins at Loftus Road last week.

Ambitious R’s owner Tony Fernandes decided to wield the axe on the neck of Neil Warnock after a run of eight games without a win, leaving the newly promoted side teetering on the edge of the relegation zone, whilst fellow Premier League new boys Swansea and Norwich sit comfortably away from the clutches of the drop zone.

Sunday’s game will be the first in the league that Newcastle must come through without the help of leading scorer Demba Ba, who has now departed to play for Senegal in the African Cup of Nations. Despite his absence, the speculation surrounding Ba’s immediate future doesn’t cease, with many a top flight manager fancying the former Hoffenheim striker’s skills.

One such manager who has never gave a monkey’s about talking about other teams’ players in press conferences is Harry Redknapp. Dirty ‘Arry has had plenty to say this week about Ba, most of it undecipherable to the average person, claiming the player had a release clause in his contract, making him available for a cut-price January move. Nothing has been said by Newcastle officially, which could mean Redknapp is simply trying to cause more “barney rubble” by opening his trap.

Hatem Ben Arfa will be hoping his wonder goal against Blackburn last week will be enough to earn a starting place for the visit of QPR, with Shola Ameobi or Leon Best likely to partner the France international up front. Gabriel Obertan could also keep his place in the first team, after losing it when Manchester United came to town…and left humbled.

Long-term injury victims Steven Taylor, Sylvain Marveaux and Nile Ranger are all still out, but good news for Alan Pardew is that Danny Guthrie and Peter Lovenkrands have returned to training after injuries. Sammy Ameobi’s season is in doubt after the younger of the two brothers at SJP suffered a leg injury in a reserve game and is predicted to be out for months, whilst Haris Vuckic and Dan Gosling came through the same game unscathed.

QPR have been affected by the African Nations Cup too, with Armand Traore jetting off to team up with Ba in the Senegal team, while Morocco have enlisted the services of Adel Taarabt in their bid to claim the crown. Chief playmaker Alejandro Faurlin will miss the rest of the season after suffering anterior cruciate ligament damage in the FA Cup last week.

Old boys Joey Barton and Kieron Dyer will miss the trip back to Tyneside and both for more than predictable reasons. Barton is suspended after allegedly head butting Norwich’s Bradley Johnson, whilst Dyer is away on international duty…only joking, he’s injured. Federico Macheda, once strongly linked with a switch to the north-east, could make his debut for his new club after joining the strugglers on loan from Man United when the transfer window opened.

A win for the home side would keep their European ambitions very much alive and put further distance between themselves and Stoke, who play on Saturday. It’s a game the Geordies should be winning, even with the absence of Ba and Tiote. Ben Arfa is the key man and the former Marseille playmaker should relish the chance of tormenting a defence that includes the likes of Fitz Hall and Anton Ferdinand.