Pardew praises back-up Harper

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Football/Golf Writer

ALAN PARDEW is confident Newcastle United already have the man in their ranks with the experience to make up for the loss of captain Fabricio Coloccini - even if he is not ordinarily first choice.

With Coloccini ruled out with a hamstring strain for Monday's trip to Everton, Newcastle are having to reshuffle their defensive pack to cope without their skipper.

But Pardew, who will hand Jonas Gutierrez the captain's armband at Goodison Park, will be looking even further back on the pitch for the leadership qualities to keep an unfamiliar backline in check.

With goalkeeper Tim Krul ruled out for the next few matches with an elbow injury picked up on duty with Holland, there will be a recall for 37-year-old Steve Harper.

He made his first appearance in more than a year in Athens on August 23 when the Magpies drew 1-1 with Atromitos, although he has not figured in the Premier League since the 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa in April 2010.

But Pardew believes the likeable goalkeeper, who moved to St James' Park from Seaham Red Star 20 years ago next summer, still has what it takes to provide the back-up at the highest level to Krul.

"In terms of Steve's character, he's a strong character - he's certainly played in more European and Premier League games than I have, so he's got vast experience and we're going to need that in this period," said Harper.

"Bringing Steve in might counteract the loss of Coloccini. He's important in the dressing room, he's seen the situations arise and knows what to do and what not to do when you're either winning or losing. That experience will be very important."

When the likes of Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton were sold last summer it seemed certain Harper would be the next to follow them out of the club.

He spent a month of last season on loan at Brighton and he has been on Lee Clark's radar to take him to Birmingham City as part of his coaching staff in recent months.

But now he has worked his way ahead of Rob Elliot at Newcastle and appears to be firmly back in Pardew's thinking.

The Newcastle boss said: "I think Steve was a bit unlucky last year. He obviously missed out on getting the number one shirt when it was up for grabs at the start of the season. I think that was a disappointment to him, then he got injuries but he has come back with renewed vigour to play and I think that's important.

"In training he's been as good as I've seen him since I've been here and there's every chance he will play against Everton. We still have Rob Elliot as well, who unfortunately got injured and has only just returned."

Pardew insists Elliot is the long-term future along with Krul at Newcastle, particularly given Fraser Forster's £2m move to Celtic.

Giving youth a chance remains very much the policy, even more so with Gael Bigirimana, Haris Vuckic, Sammy Ameobi, Shane Ferguson and James Tavernier knocking on the first-team door.

"So far I think the younger group have come through well when we have had injuries," said Pardew. "Look at Bigi, he's done terrifically when he's come in, Tav did OK, Haris has done well and we've still got Sammy Ameobi and Fergie, they're fit now. That's armed me a bit more, especially for all the games we've got.

"I'm not despondent about the injuries we have picked up, I think that during the a course of your tenure as manager you're going to lose two or three key players. That's happened to us."

After defeating Spurs on the opening day of the season, Newcastle have followed up losing at Chelsea with a point against Aston Villa. Sandwiched in between was the Europa League success.

Now Newcastle focus on Monday's trip to Everton, Thursday's long journey to Madeira to face Maritimo and then Hughton's return to Tyneside with Norwich a week tomorrow.

Pardew said: "I think results have been solid. I think performances haven't been as good as I would have liked at this stage. But all teams at the start of the season are feeling their way."

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