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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 10 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Sep 19, 2006

Goalkeeper Harper relishing Newcastle chance

Steve Harper will not believe he has been handed a first Premeriship start in almost 18 months until he steps on to the pitch at Anfield tomorrow night.

The 31-year-old Newcastle goalkeeper will deputise for Shay Given against Liverpool as the Irishman continues recovery from surgery to repair a tear in his bowel after a horrific clash with West Ham's Marlon Harewood on Sunday.

Harper and Given have been close friends for the last nine years or so with the former having managed only 61 starts for the club as a result of the former Blackburn keeper's consistency and fitness.

The Englishman has previously dubbed his team-mate `Lazarus' because of his astonishing ability to recovery from injury, and he revealed Given had a message for him as he lay in hospital.

Harper said: 'I got a text message from him yesterday morning just saying, 'Thanks mate, I am a lot better, I have got more tubes sticking out of me than I do not know what. I am having a fitness test on Wednesday morning', so he is obviously in good spirits.

'I spoke to him yesterday afternoon and he was a bit drowsy, but he was comfortable and that is the important thing.'

Harper, who has played in each of the top five divisions in English football, has had to wait a long time for his chance - his last Premiership start came at Tottenham in April 2005.

It seems an eternity since he briefly replaced Given as Sir Bobby Robson's number one during the 1999-2000 season, but now he has got another chance, he is determined to take it.

Harper said: 'It was a long time ago, a long time ago, but I did keep Shay out of the team for a while there and got injured myself.

'I have got an opportunity now to go in and make it hard as possible for the manager when Shay is fit and give him a decision to make.

'I wish him a full and speedy recovery, but I have just got to go in and give it my best shot and make it as tough as possible for the manager.

'I am sure the manager would like that hard decision to make.'

Manager Glenn Roeder has every confidence in Harper to cover for what appears to have been a freak injury to Given.

Roeder said: 'The surgeon said he has never seen an injury like this happen through football. He has seen it happen in car crashes where there has been impact, and I suppose that is what has caused it this time.

'Shay would be the first to admit when he sees the pictures that Marlon Harewood thought he had an opportunity to get to the ball.

'I suppose if it was Shola, we would have expected Shola to try to get to the ball if his team was losing 2-0.

'Shay being Shay, as brave as he is, was not going to turn away and not go for the ball.

'He went for the ball, both of them were trying to the ball fairly and unfortunately, Shay came off worst.'

The Magpies head for Anfield having re-gnited their season with a 1-0 UEFA Cup victory over Levadia Tallinn in Estonia and Sunday's 2-0 success at Upton Park.

However, they will do so with question marks hanging over defenders Titus Bramble and Steven Taylor, who have knee and ankle and foot injuries respectively, while striker Shola Ameobi's hip problem needs to be carefully managed.