Football: Robson puts life in Premiership above Uefa glory

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THE NEWCASTLE manager, Bobby Robson, leads his side into Europe tomorrow night insisting that the fight for Premiership survival remains paramount.

United's Uefa Cup trip to CSKA Sofia will at least give Robson's beleaguered players a break from the rigours of a Premiership run that has now seen them take just one point from seven games since the start of the new season. But it is Sunday's Premiership match with Sheffield Wednesday, the only side currently keeping them off the bottom of the table, that is the more important.

"European competitions are fascinating," he said. "It can keep your season alive and it is always a major disappointment if you get knocked out in the early stages. If we can have a good run in Europe, that would be very nice. It's nice to progress in these competitions because it can do so much good for the club's reputation. But staying in the Premiership remains the No 1 priority. That is the most crucial thing of all."

Despite their 1-0 defeat at Chelsea on Saturday, Newcastle returned from London buoyed by one of their better performances in recent weeks, and that renewed confidence will send them into the tough European tie on as much of a high as they have had this season.

But while Robson is certain to keep faith with the bulk of the players who came within a couple of penalty decisions of leaving Stamford Bridge with something to show for their efforts, one member of the starting 11 has no chance of running out in Bulgaria.

Goalkeeper Tommy Wright, who has played the last three games because of the injury crisis which has sidelined Steve Harper, John Karelse and Shay Given, did not complete his loan move from Manchester City in time to be registered for the opening stages of the competition. Harper, who has been out with an elbow injury, was on the bench at Chelsea and is likely to resume the position he held until former manager Ruud Gullit surprisingly bought Dutchman Karelse from NAC Breda for pounds 750,000 a few weeks before resigning. Another Gullit signing, French central defender Alain Goma, is an almost certain starter after impressing at the weekend following a shaky start to his Newcastle career.

The former Paris St- Germain player believes the fact that every member of the squad is keen to show the manager what they can do can only work in the team's favour. "With the change of manager, there's new competition between the players because the manager has new ideas," he said. "I think that's good for the team.

"To have a good result in Europe, it is important not to concede a goal, and we will have to be very solid in defence."

There were signs at the weekend that Goma and Greek international Nikos Dabizas are finally establishing a partnership, and that could not have happened soon enough after United conceded no fewer than 18 goals in their first six games.

Robson has little choice but to play the two together with Spaniard Marcelino and Frenchman Franck Dumas still injured, but there is better news of Alan Shearer. The 29-year-old striker missed training on Monday with an ankle injury, but he will be fit to play.