By Dan King
Manager Alan Pardew has paid tribute to Kevin Nolan's efforts this season after it was confirmed that the skipper will miss the final two games of the season to undergo an ankle injury.
Nolan is the club's top scorer, with 12 goals from midfield - the highpoint coming against Sunderland in October, when he scored a never-to-be-forgotten hat-trick.
But Pardew has revealed that he has decided to let Nolan to go under the knife now to allow him to be fully fit for pre-season, because he envisages having greater competition in the squad next term.
"He brings leadership, technical ability and goals, very importantly, so we're going to miss him," Pardew said.
"He's played with this ankle for a while now and not really moaned, he's just got on with it. But we needed to sort it out to give him a chance for a full pre-season, which will be important for him next year because there'll be competition here for him and he'll need to come back as near as dammit.
"It gives him more of a chance, and that's why we've done it."
Pardew added: "Everyone's got a little eye on next year, including myself now. We need to know exactly what we've got here and we need to increase the competition here.
"People need to step up and I think everybody's realising that. There will be new players coming in here and competition will be greater."
Goalkeeper Steve Harper will also miss the final two games to undergo minor surgery on a knee problem.
Pardew said: "When you come back to training and have a slight swelling or a reaction, you know it's not right.
"It's nothing major - just that age-old issue where you've got to just have a little clear-out there of floating debris from the impact of playing for 15 years, 20 years, through your school days etcetera. But that'll be no problem. He'll definitely be ready for pre-season."