Bellamy in derby contention

Damian Spellman
Thursday 19 February 2004 01:00

The Newcastle United manager, Sir Bobby Robson, returns to his desk this morning to at least two pieces of good news.

Robson celebrated his 71st birthday yesterday by travelling to Portugal to keep an eye on midfielders Kieron Dyer, Jermaine Jenas and Hugo Viana in England's friendly match in Faro.

However, he was due back on Tyneside for training first thing, and when he arrives, he will be greeted by his coach John Carver sporting a broad grin.

Carver was left to hold the fort in his manager's absence, and has seen his striker Craig Bellamy and the midfielder Lee Bowyer continue their recovery from injury to put themselves firmly in contention for Saturday's derby game with Middlesbrough.

Bellamy was a major concern after he limped away from last week's 1-1 Premiership draw at Blackburn and was forced to pull out of Wales's friendly with Scotland last night.

Bowyer has been battling against a hip injury since the end of November, but he too could be in line for a return.

"Craig Bellamy has improved every day since last Wednesday, and we will be disappointed if he's not there on Saturday," Carver said. "And I have to say that Lee Bowyer has really been flying in training this week and he is up for selection.

"Jonathan Woodgate also got in an hour with us yesterday, but it's a case of wait and see as far as he is concerned."

Woodgate missed the game at Blackburn after suffering some discomfort following the win over Leicester, and although the club were quick to dismiss any suggestion of a recurrence of the hernia problem which needed surgery in September, his continued absence would be a concern.

Newcastle's fourth-round exit from the FA Cup at Liverpool meant they had a free weekend, but they are now gearing up for a busy week with the Boro game followed by the Uefa Cup first-leg third-round tie at Valerenga next Thursday and then a league trip to Portsmouth.

The international break may have allowed the likes of Bellamy, Bowyer and the captain Alan Shearer to recharge their batteries, but only nine senior players have been left behind at St James' Park, meaning preparations cannot begin in earnest until today.

"Most other clubs are in the same boat, so we've just got to get on with it," admitted Carver. "The players who have been here this week have had a few laughs, but we've also done some serious work.

"They've had a day off, but they will be back in tomorrow when the players who are returning from international duty will just have a cool-down.

"That only leaves us Friday morning to prepare for Middlesbrough, and that is usually a light session. But we will prepare the best we possibly can."

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