Bellamy on brink of Newcastle return

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The Newcastle United striker Craig Bellamy is in with a chance of returning to action in tomorrow night's Uefa Cup home tie with Real Mallorca.

The Newcastle United striker Craig Bellamy is in with a chance of returning to action in tomorrow night's Uefa Cup home tie with Real Mallorca.

The 24-year-old limped out of United's last game against Valerenga at St James' Park after feeling a tightness in his hamstring.

The club's medical staff have been working ever since on the injury, and although they are delighted with the progress the Welshman is making, manager Sir Bobby Robson is taking nothing for granted.

Bellamy has returned to training and has a genuine chance of making the squad for a game which has assumed major significance for his club's season.

The midfielders Kieron Dyer and Darren Ambrose are also battling back from hamstring problems but, while Ambrose is leading the way and Dyer is facing the toughest fight, the former Norwich and Coventry man is making major strides to leave Robson cautious but optimistic.

"All three players remain under treatment, but all are making good progress," he said. "However, it is too early in the week to know when they will be available for selection."

Bellamy's latest injury came as a blow after a long and gruelling rehabilitation process following a fifth bout of knee surgery, but a relatively minor problem has not dented his delight at his form since returning to first-team action.

The £6m signing scored four times in as many starts inside 18 days last month before his setback against Valerenga, and is confident there is more to come. "To be honest, my comeback has gone better than expected and as far as my knee is concerned, I feel great," he said.

"I didn't want to come back not fit. I wanted to make a difference straight away because I cannot handle 52,000 Geordies having a go at me because I'm not fit.

"I feel stronger now than I was before my knee operation and that is important because the strength in your legs is where you get your pace from."

Robson would dearly love to have Bellamy's pace at his disposal with the Spanish legend Miguel Angel Nadal the man his strikers will have to get past if they are to take a lead into the second leg.

The 37-year-old has a wealth of experience, but would not relish the task of having to keep tabs on one of the fastest frontmen in the Premiership.

Robson was in the crowd at the Nou Camp on Sunday when Mallorca staged a late rally to claw back two goals but still go down 3-2 to Barcelona.

Meanwhile, the Aston Villa manager, David O'Leary, is hoping his players are again alert to the prospect of European football for next season after recently being served a wake-up call. Villa had taken 10 points from four games prior to their last outing, sparking fanciful talk the club could claim a Champions' League place, only to then lose 2-0 at Everton 10 days ago.

O'Leary's side are eighth in the Premiership, three points adrift of a Uefa Cup place and five shy of a more unlikely top four berth and with it a place alongside Europe's élite next season.

The next five matches - Wolves, Charlton and Bolton away, with Manchester City and Blackburn at home - could determine which direction Villa take this season.

O'Leary said: "I want European football at Villa Park as much as anybody. But the Everton game showed just how far we have to go. We were second-best up there and that's something we have to work on.

"We had a good run up to the Everton game, but maybe that was the wake-up call. Before that a lot of people were talking about Champions' League spots and things like that.

"My job is to be realistic and I won't get carried away by our recent good run.

"We're working with a small squad and it's important to know when to push the players and when to ease up on them."