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Alarm bells sounding for Everton

Everton
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Rewind to Boxing Day 1963

Barclays Premier League
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By ESPN Staff

Butt walking tightrope over three-match ban

Newcastle midfielder Nicky Butt faces a disciplinary dilemma as he attempts to boost former club Manchester United's title hopes.

The 33-year-old heads into Monday's Barclays Premier League clash with Chelsea on 14 bookings for the campaign knowing another will see him miss the first three matches of next season.

However, manager Kevin Keegan is prepared to take a chance with arguably the club's most consistent performer of a difficult campaign as he attempts to extend a seven-match unbeaten run which has revitalised Tyneside.

Keegan said: 'I will have a chat with Nicky about it all, but my feeling is that he is a vital player for us.

'Nicky is always the sort of player who is going to get booked because he is so competitive and he goes in there and tries to win challenges. He has got to handle that.

'When you are doing as many as he does over 90-odd minutes, you are going to mis-time some.''

Butt, who has already served two suspensions this season, picked up his 14th caution in last Saturday's 2-2 draw at West Ham, and with just two matches to go the Magpies could be forgiven for not taking the risk of losing him in August.

However, Keegan is desperate to put on a good display against the only member of the top four his side will have met since they launched their recent recovery last month.

Before that, they lost 3-0 at Arsenal, 5-1 at home to Manchester United and 3-0 to Liverpool at Anfield as the new manager went nine games without a win.

Butt, however, will be keen to play against the Blues for his own reasons with Avram Grant's men hot on the heels of his former employers.

The midfielder spent more than 11 years as a professional at his hometown club, winning six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and, famously in the absence of the suspended Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, the Champions League in 1999.

Chelsea's 2-1 win over United at Stamford Bridge last weekend saw the Old Trafford club's lead at the top of the table evaporate and while they would re-establish a three-point gap should they beat West Ham at home on Saturday lunchtime, a victory for the Londoners on Tyneside would mean the sides were separated only by goal difference going into the final day of the season.

Meanwhile, Newcastle defender Steven Taylor will put his contract situation to one side as he attempts to finish off the campaign in style.

The 22-year-old, whose father Alf had been looking after his affairs, has now engaged an agent to negotiate a new deal after reaching an impasse.

Both manager Kevin Keegan and chairman Chris Mort have indicated their willingness to resolve the matter but the player himself is focusing only of the last two games of an eventful season, against Chelsea on Monday and then at Everton next Sunday.

Taylor said: 'The next game is the only thing I am looking at, it is as simple as that.

'I have got an agent now and I will leave the rest to other people.

'There has been enough talk all season. I have had my say and now I am just getting on with my football.

'I am enjoying playing under the new manager and I just want to play every game.'