STEVE Harper has been told to expect a difficult afternoon when he lines up against Manchester United tomorrow – by his nine-year-old son.
With Tim Krul still injured, Harper will retain his place in the Newcastle starting line-up for one of the most anticipated matches of the season.
Manchester United will be desperate for revenge after suffering a 3-0 defeat at St James' Park in January, and Sir Alex Ferguson is set to pair Robin van Persie with Wayne Rooney in a mouthwatering attack.
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On their day, the pair are a match for anyone in world football, something Harper has not been able to ignore this week.
“I've played against some pretty useful strike forces down the years, but not too many as good as Rooney and van Persie,” said the 37-year-old, who came off the bench to replace the injured Rob Elliot in Thursday's Europa League win over Bordeaux. “In fact, my son James is taking great delight in telling me how good the two of them are!
“Apparently, he knows more about all the strikers in Europe than I do. He's looking forward to it as much as I am although I think he's expecting a busy old afternoon for his dad.”
Harper has already had some chastening experiences against Manchester United, most notably when he was between the sticks as Ferguson's side ran riot in a 5-1 win on Gallowgate in 2008.
He was not involved last season, but has enough positive memories of facing the Reds to be convinced that tomorrow's game is anything but a foregone conclusion in the away side's favour.
“I had a clean sheet against Manchester United what seems like 25 years ago when we beat them 3-0 and big Dunc (Ferguson) scored a cracker,” said Harper. “(Alan) Shearer scored as well.
“John Burridge used to say to me when I was a kid just starting out here that a clean sheet is a goalkeeper's hat-trick, and I've quoted that a few times. So I'm after a hat-trick this weekend.
“A clean sheet against that strike force would really mean something. For a start, it would mean we've got something out of the game.
“We did that in January and the guys were outstanding. Man United come here after losing at home to Tottenham and will be looking to get a very positive response. We are under no illusions just how tough it will be, but we will go in full of confidence because we've just beaten another good side in Bordeaux.
“That was a performance very much like last season, and if you are coming up against a Manchester United side with the line-up we are talking about, everyone has to be at their best. That will have to be the case this weekend.”
Newcastle's players were certainly on their game on Thursday as they outclassed a Bordeaux side that currently sit fifth in France's Ligue One.
Harper made a couple of decent saves after replacing Elliot at the interval, the best of which saw him deny former Sunderland striker David Bellion with his legs, and was able to contribute to a result that leaves the Magpies extremely well placed in terms of progressing to the Europa League's group stage.
“The manager demanded a response after the performance at Reading and he got that,” he said. “Despite the result, Bordeaux are a very good side and that is a very good win. It will be a tough game over there.
“They play an unusual 3-5-2 formation that you don't come up against very often and, at the start, it was end to end. Then the manager made a little change to go 4-4-2 and it paid off.
“It was a fantastic run from Gabby (Gabriel Obertan) for the first goal and then for the second one, Simmo (Danny Simpson) put it in a very dangerous area. That goal was the big difference because if we're 2-0 up at half-time and going down the hill (in the second half), we fancy our chances against anyone.”
The only downside to the evening was the injury that rules Elliot out of tomorrow's game. With Krul also sidelined until after the international break, Newcastle will be forced to field untried 19-year-old Jak Alnwick on the bench.
“Jak has been involved in the England youth set-up for a while,” said Harper. “He has experience of playing in big games so I am sure he will be fine.”