Butt returns as Newcastle aim to make point

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The Independent Online

Graeme Souness, a man whose European football was played on the basis that you either won or went out of the competition, frankly admitted he could have done without the group phase of the Uefa Cup.

Graeme Souness, a man whose European football was played on the basis that you either won or went out of the competition, frankly admitted he could have done without the group phase of the Uefa Cup.

"The public prefer a proper knock-out competition," the Newcastle manager said yesterday. "You look at the gates in the Champions' League, only in our country do we get full houses for the group games. But Uefa are the ones who have organised the competition and they think this is the best way forward and it wouldn't take a brain surgeon to work out why."

To qualify for the final 32, Newcastle require a single point against Sochaux. The French League Cup winners were, said Souness, an aggressive team but in a way he approved of. This might be welcome news to Nicky Butt, whose European experience for Newcastle consists of one appearance lasting 133 seconds before he grabbed the throat of Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin's captain. He is expected to return from his ban tonight.

While admitting that this match paled alongside Sunday's encounter with Everton, Craig Bellamy did not understate the importance of tonight's occasion. The Welshman's frustration at his exile to the wings to allow Alan Shearer and Patrick Kluivert to roam together in attack has been ill disguised. However, with Shearer nursing a thigh injury, Bellamy took his opportunity to revert to the centre of the forward line at Crystal Palace on Saturday, scoring in a 2-0 win.

He said: "One of the criticisms I've got since I've been playing up front is that I didn't score enough goals. It is probably right but, if you look at my record recently, I've changed. I am scoring goals now and am probably the hungriest I have ever been."

Much of Bellamy's motivation springs from the knowledge that as a striker who relies heavily on explosive pace, he may not ape Shearer in leading attacks well into his thirties. "I am 25 now and I certainly don't think I'll go on until 33 or 34 because of injuries. The next couple of years are going to be very important for me. "

¿ Michael Reiziger has returned to the Middlesbrough squad for the first time since August following a shoulder injury, for tonight's Uefa Cup Group E game against Villarreal in the El Madrigal Stadium. The Middlesbrough manager, Steve McClaren, however, is likely to name an unchanged line-up after Saturday's 2-0 Riverside victory over Liverpool. The team need a point to all but guarantee their place in the last 32.

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