Hughton tips Harper for England

Newcastle manager thinks goalkeeper's superb season makes him Capello candidate

The Newcastle manager, Chris Hughton, would have no qualms in recommending goalkeeper Steve Harper if England came calling. The 34-year-old has been in superb form for the Magpies this season after finally getting his chance following Shay Given's departure for Manchester City in January.

Manchester United's Ben Foster has started England's last two games, but David James, Robert Green, Paul Robinson and Scott Carson have also had their opportunities in recent years.

However, Harper, who spent so long in Given's shadow, has never been in a position to stake a claim for a place in the squad, and while that may remain the case as long as he is plying his trade in the Championship, Hughton would give Capello a ringing endorsement if he was asked.

Asked what he would say to the Italian to promote Harper's cause, he replied: "I would say that, at Steve's age now, he is in his prime. He is a player of great, great maturity, and he is able to still make the reflex saves he has made for us in recent games. You go back to Sheffield United – he is still able to make the great reflex saves."

Harper produced a series of excellent stops in Saturday's 2-0 win over Watford to claim an 11th clean sheet of the campaign which helped the Magpies to stretch their lead at the top of the table to four points with a sixth successive win. He will go into battle once again at Coventry tonight with Hughton singing his praises for his contribution to that run of results.

The manager said: "I was asked about the defensive record we have at the moment, and it is very much a team effort, very much. I don't think you can have the record we have with just having a good back four, it's about having a good team.

"But the one person you are always really pleased for is the goalkeeper when you are able to keep clean sheets. He has been wonderful for us, he has been immense. In games when we haven't conceded too many chances, they have been good chances and at the right moments, he has made vital saves. That is the sign of a really good keeper, making vital saves at vital times."

Newcastle will head for the Ricoh Arena without their suspended midfielder Kevin Nolan, and a question mark remains over the young striker Andy Carroll following his arrest during the early hours of Monday morning in connection with an allegation of assault.

However, Nicky Butt is available, as is the striker Shola Ameobi for the first time since the end of August.

Tonight's opponents lie in 20th place and have won only two games on their own pitch all season – against Ipswich and Sheffield United – and taken just four points from the last 27 they have contested home and away, but Hughton is taking nothing for granted.

He said: "They are a side which hasn't had the best of form, but they might look at it that we are the type of team that will get them going, and we have just got to make sure that's not the case. We are playing at a wonderful stadium and there will be another big crowd there.

"It's something that we are having to get used to, everybody being lifted by the fact they are playing against us in the position we are in this division. We certainly don't think it is going to be a comfortable game and we have just got to make sure enough things go our way."

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