Football: Newcastle look to Cole to rediscover goal touch: Injury worries overshadow Newcastle's preparations for tonight's Uefa Cup tie with Athletic Bilbao

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The Independent Online
THERE is a downside to being extravagantly successful: opponents do not come at you with their defences drooping with over-confidence. Newcastle gave Royal Antwerp a Uefa Cup hiding last month and thus forewarned their second-round opponents, Athletic Bilbao.

At St James' Park tonight the Spaniards are unlikely to defend as ineptly as Antwerp, who were beaten 10-2 on aggregate. The Cup- Winners' Cup runners-up of 1993 played the first leg as if they had never encountered an attacking midfield player before and the second as if marking was something you left to teachers. Newcastle were brilliant, but the Belgians allowed them to shine.

The Spaniards arrive with their Euro-enthusiasm dented by an embarrassing 2-0 defeat in Cyprus against Anorthosis Famagusta in the previous round.

Eight points from seven matches does not suggest compelling league form either. But if you had to meet Newcastle, now would seem as good a time as any.

Robert Lee, whose late runs into the area in Antwerp yielded a hat- trick, is missing with a groin injury. More importantly, Newcastle are not shrugging off opponents with the same facility of a few weeks ago. They are still unbeaten at the top of the Premiership, but the swagger is missing.

Andy Cole's scoring rate at Newcastle has been so prolific - 65 in 71 matches - that he has never gone three games without finding the target.

However, he has not scored in his last two games and there are worries that his shin-splints injury, coupled with less exuberant performances from his colleagues, are having an effect.

Even so, Kevin Keegan reacted as though he was being addressed by a heretic when someone suggested Cole might be rested. 'As long as he wants to play, I'll include him,' the Newcastle manager said yesterday. 'The fact Andy isn't training is affecting him a little - no matter how good you are you're bound to lose a bit of sharpness - but he can still do things that others can't when they're 100 per cent fit.'

Cole will definitely play, but Keegan was less forthcoming about the rest of his side. He will wait until tests on Darren Peacock and Marc Hottiger, who both have injured hamstrings, before naming his 11. Their fitness is likely to be as important as Cole's, because Bilbao's instincts will be to exploit over-eagerness by Newcastle to push men forward.

Newcastle's coach, Arthur Cox, watched Bilbao draw 0-0 against Seville at the weekend and came back with an encouraging report. 'We need to show the same spirit, enthusiasm, attitude and inventiveness we did in both Antwerp games,' Keegan said, 'If we can, we've got to be hoping to go through.

Europe is an adventure and we just want to keep advancing on all four fronts . . . We've got a beautiful trophy cabinet, but nothing in it.'

With the element of surprise gone, tonight should provide a clearer picture whether the Uefa Cup might fill a gap.