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Press article:

My ankle should be fine - 29/10/2002

My ankle should be fine
Who wants to miss these games?
 
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   Champions League

First of all, let me say how much I want to play tonight and I am very confident I will be given the all-clear at a fitness test this morning. By now everyone knows my ankle blew up after the Charlton game, but it settled down yesterday and last night I was feeling fine. It's not broken and not even badly twisted, so I have a great chance. Just as nobody wanted to miss the Juventus match last Wednesday, no-one wants to drop out of this week's Champions League test.

For me these games are what I worked so hard for throughout last season and you never know when the next group of fixtures will come around. I am desperate to face Dynamo and the gaffer knows how I feel. But both he and I agree that if I am not 100pc fit then it is not right for the team that I take a place in the starting 11. Personal feelings apart, I would not jeopardise our progress in the Champions League by lying to myself or my manager about my fitness. I had a good rest yesterday afternoon and it's fingers crossed for the Kiev game because we will need all the experience we have against the Ukrainians. And we will need to win the midfield battle because chances will be few and far between.

I'm sure Dynamo, like Charlton on Saturday, will come to St James's looking for a point. No more, no less. They will play with 10 men behind the ball and seek to frustrate us at every opportunity, perhaps trying to catch us out on the break. Luckily we have had plenty of practice handling those tactics in the last six days and we came out on top against both Juve and Charlton. I mentioned winning the midfield battle and that is what we must do against teams who play for the draw. We must win possession, patience is the key and our creative players will need to be at their very best. There is a chance that Kieron Dyer will play and it looks like Laurent Robert is getting back to his best. If I am fit I will join them in doing my best to win that midfield battle.

Our defence has proved they can handle Champions League football and it is up to the rest of the team to respond. Our victory against Juventus last week proved that we belong in the kind of company which is part and parcel of Champions League football. But I don't think many people at Newcastle United ever doubted our ability to win games at this level. Of course it looked bad when we were bottom of the group with no points and no goals, but the opposition coaches had all agreed that those statistics did not do us justice. They all felt relieved to have beaten Newcastle and knew that we were just waiting to bring our campaign to life. We deserve to be in the Champions League because we finished fourth in one of the toughest leagues in Europe. You don't get that far in the Premiership without a talented squad. That squad is even better now and we believed in ourselves even before the victory over Juventus.

Perhaps that victory gave the younger players the self-belief which they may have lacked but you can see the confidence throughout the club right now. Had we lost against Juve then who knows? Maybe it would have been too much to take and we might never have done ourselves justice. Instead those three points have given us renewed hope and we don't want to throw away the opportunity to progress. If we don't beat Kiev then we can kiss goodbye to the second phase of the Champions League. The pressure is on, but it was just as great last week.

The Newcastle Journal


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