Lee warns of Intertoto injury pitfalls

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The Independent Online

Rob Lee, the Newcastle United midfielder, remains one of the biggest critics of the Intertoto Cup – despite the competition propelling the Magpies to the verge of an unlikely place in the Uefa Cup.

Newcastle go into the first leg of their Intertoto Cup final-round tie against Troyes in France tonight knowing that a third successive victory on foreign soil would put them in pole position to take up the Uefa Cup challenge. But, while Lee acknowledges that would make the exertions of the last few weeks worthwhile, he refuses to be persuaded that the competition is a good idea.

"If we win it, it will have been a worthwhile exercise, but we've got a lot of injuries and I think we've been lucky so far that we haven't picked up any more," he said.

"What's to say that the effect of playing competitive games in July is not going to affect your team later on in the season, as it did with West Ham last season? It's a very, very long season if you start playing competitive games in July. It's very tough for the players and hopefully we have a big enough squad to cope with it."

Lee acknowledges that his side cannot afford to slip. Newcastle only got their chance because of Malaga's late withdrawal but, now that they have taken themselves to the brink of Uefa Cup qualification, he insists they must set their sights higher. "We've still got a couple of games coming up, so we mustn't fall now we're at the last hurdle," he said.

"If we get over it and get into Europe, that's great. But, then again, if we get into Europe, there's no point going out in the first round."

Newcastle's form in the competition to date – four successive victories, 11 goals for and three against – all bodes well, although the French side proved their resilience with a late goal in Wolfsburg in the last round to clinch the 2-2 draw which booked their passage.

Lee's central midfield partner Gary Speed has recovered from a knock to take his place in the squad while the defender Andy O'Brien was left behind to work on his match fitness after a toe injury.

Peter Schmeichel has vowed to be fighting fit for his Premiership return next week, but has been told by Aston Villa's manager John Gregory to expect a rest occasionally.

Schmeichel travelled with the rest of the Villa squad yesterday to Switzerland, where Gregory's side play the first leg of their Intertoto final-round tie against Basle tonight.

Schmeichel is almost certain to watch the game from the stands as he is still carrying a calf injury sustained on his debut for the club three weeks ago. Peter Enckelman is due to deputise again, but the Dane is currently on track to face Glenn Hoddle's Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the Premiership opener on 18 August.

"I've travelled primarily to train. We'll have to wait and see whether I can play," Schmeichel said. "I would like to but the important game is the one against Spurs, and there shouldn't be a problem."

Gregory warned: "Without doubt Peter Schmeichel is the number one, but there will be times when we can rest him. He might find playing three times a week very demanding."

Gregory is contemplating changes to the side which beat Rennes 1-0 last Wednesday in the second leg of the semi-final, allowing Villa to take their place in the final round on the away-goals rule. It could mean David Ginola dropped to the bench again for a match against a Swiss side who have scored 15 goals in their six Intertoto matches to date.

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