Injuries hit Newcastle's hopes
Thursday, 22 April 2004
Newcastle United FC may be without six key players for the UEFA Cup semi-final meeting with Olympique de Marseille.
By Alex O'Henley in Newcastle
Newcastle United FC manager Sir Bobby Robson has a number of injury worries and will wait until the last minute before selecting his team to face Olympique de Marseille in the first leg of their UEFA Cup semi-final at St. James' Park.
Sir Bobby admitted he had "grave concerns" about the fitness of six first-team regulars - including Wales forward Craig Bellamy, who pulled a hamstring in Sunday's 0-0 draw against Aston Villa FC.
In addition, midfield player Kieron Dyer suffered a recurrence of his hamstring injury, while Jermaine Jenas was forced to come off before the end of Sunday's Premiership game. Both are rated doubtful, as are Titus Bramble and Shola Ameobi. But on a more positive note, midfield player Lee Bowyer is back in the squad after completing his suspension - although he too is struggling with a hamstring injury.
Playing to win
Sir Bobby insisted that preparation for the club's first European semi-final in 35 years has not been ideal but he still expects a home victory. "The club has been striving for this for years and now we're on the brink of a European final, but the next step is the most difficult," he warned. "We know how much it means to everyone in the region. I just hope we can give them a memorable evening - and that means a victory."
His captain Alan Shearer is the tournament's joint-top goalscorer with six and made it clear that winning the UEFA Cup would mean more to him than finishing in the lucrative fourth spot in the English Premiership, which guarantees a place in the UEFA Champions League. "In an ideal world I'd like both, but if you pushed me, I'd say silverware. We play for medals. We've been without silverware a long time, and now we can change it."
Shearer also warned that Newcastle must not concede if they are to make it to next month's final in Gothenburg. "Our priority has to be to keep a clean sheet," he said. "We always fancy ourselves to score home or away, but if we could keep a clean sheet in the first game it would give us a great chance of going through."
Shearer, who is one of five Newcastle players just one booking away from a suspension, is full of admiration for Marseille, the team that knocked out FC Internazionale and Liverpool FC on their way to the last four, and cautioned against the threat posed by Didier Drogba, the French side's leading scorer. "He is big, strong and good in the air," said Shearer. "He'll be a threat and how we control him will have a major bearing on the game for us. We've improved with every round, but to get to the final we have to improve again. Marseille will be our biggest test yet, but it will also be a big test for them."
Olympique de Marseille coach José Anigo enjoyed the luxury of resting some key players for Sunday's 2-1 win against Lille OSC. However, former Fulham FC forward Steve Marlet, who scored at the weekend, fractured a bone in his back and is a doubt.
"It has been ten years since Marseille won anything, so this competition is really important for us," said Anigo. "The worst thing would be to fight all this way and not make it to the final. So we will give it everything to make sure we do. I'm sure Newcastle will do the same."