Smith set to feature for Magpies

The Northern Echo: BACK IN TRAINING: Alan Smith BACK IN TRAINING: Alan Smith

FORGOTTEN midfielder Alan Smith is set to feature in the final two matches of the Premier League season after returning to full training with Newcastle yesterday.

Smith has been sidelined since shattering his ankle in a challenge with Sunderland's Kieran Richardson during January's Wear-Tyne derby at the Stadium of Light.

At the time, it was feared the 30-year-old would miss the remainder of the season, but he has battled his way back to full fitness ahead of schedule.

He trained yesterday, along with fellow injury victim Kazenga LuaLua, and could be involved in either this weekend's away game at Chelsea or next weekend's final home game with West Brom.

Cheik Tiote will pick up a three-match ban, which can be carried over to the start of next season, if he is booked in either game, and the Ivorian's absence would open a window of opportunity for Smith.

The Yorkshireman, who has one more year of his current contract remaining, will then be given the rest of the summer to build up his fitness ahead of the start of pre-season training in July.

"I was at the club (yesterday) because Alan and Kazenga made a little bit of a comeback in training," said assistant manager John Carver.

"Both of them joined in and Alan did everything that was asked of him, including playing in an 11 vs 11 game which was excellent.

"Alan looks in absolutely fantastic condition, but then that doesn't surprise me because he's such a good professional. He's been out injured, but he's certainly not let his fitness levels drop."

Prior to sustaining his injury at the turn of the year, Smith had been struggling to claim a place in Newcastle's starting line-up.

Tiote, Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan are all ahead of him in the midfield pecking order, with Danny Guthrie also having appeared in more first-team matches this season.

However, Carver insists the former England international is more than capable of making a telling contribution next term.

"Alan is a good player, and his general approach is just as impressive," he said. "He really looks after himself.

"I have come across players before who, when they're out injured, it takes them longer than it should to come back because they don't take care of themselves, but that isn't Alan.

"He doesn't drink, which is a good start. He is one of these lads who is determined to come back as soon as possible and because he is like that, he'll no doubt be thinking to himself he wants to play again this season."

* Newcastle reserves take on Blyth Spartans in the Northumberland Senior Cup final at St James' Park tomorrow. Kick-off is 7pm and entrance is £5 for adults and £2 for concessions.

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