OLIVIER BERNARD insists a fully fit Craig Bellamy is needed if Newcastle United are going to secure a place in the Champions League.

Fresh doubts over Bellamy's knee problems surfaced when he strained the medial ligaments during Wednesday night's draw with Blackburn Rovers.

It was the striker's first start since undergoing a career-threatening operation in October and he battled through a full 90 minute performance after going down under a heavy challenge from Rovers' Lucas Neill.

Newcastle boss Sir Bobby Robson has told Wales boss Mark Hughes that it would be in the player's best interests not to play in a friendly with Scotland next week.

And Bernard, who witnessed Bellamy power in the Magpies' only goal at Blackburn, has backed his manager's calls to rest the forward's swollen knee until the Premiership clash with Middlesbrough a week tomorrow.

"It's a massive boost to have both Laurent Robert and Craig Bellamy back," said Bernard following the comeback of Robert from his own knee problem.

"Craig scored a magnificent goal at Ewood Park and it's important that we finish the season with a near fully fit squad, otherwise it could cost us.

"Everyone has to be up for it but we have the ability to score many goals between now and the summer. With Laurent and Craig back, and Michael Bridges in the squad, we have a number of attacking options."

Bellamy - who admitted he feared for his future as a professional footballer during his five months on the sidelines - revealed there was a bad reaction to his injury at Ewood.

But he insists it is not too serious and he should be able to make a quick recovery.

"My knee held up well and I had a rough challenge on it and it tested my leg more than anything," said the 24-year-old. "I have strained the medial ligaments but the knee is fine.

"I am very happy I stayed on for the full 90 minutes because it gave the knee a test and this pleased me. People near to me before my latest operation knew what pain I was in.

"Last year was a big one for us and I tried to play on and I did not do myself justice. But I am confident the knee will be OK and that I will stay injury free for the rest of the season."

The fiery former Norwich City and Coventry striker clashed with Neill as the two walked towards the tunnel for the half-time break.

Tempers frayed after Bellamy was left holding his knee following a challenge from the Australian - who was to blame for breaking Jamie Carragher's leg earlier in the campaign - near the corner flag.

And Bellamy said: "I don't want to give Lucas Neill any credit and that's probably the biggest cheer he's got all season.

"I panicked a bit because it was the sort of challenge that did my cruciate the last time."

Bernard, meanwhile, has urged his teammates to cut out the silly mistakes and stop conceding goals away from St. James' Park.

Newcastle have drawn their last six on their travels, a run that has seriously dented the club's push for a top four place - particularly after Liverpool's 2-1 win over Manchester City.

And Bernard said: "We have conceded late on a couple of times lately and we can't finish games when it matters. We can't keep clean sheets away from home and so we're paying the price.

"It's extremely disappointing and this week we will have to think long and hard about what we are doing wrong.

"We cannot keep dropping points. It's vital that we finish fourth and with too many draws we just won't do that. Liverpool won on Wednesday but we didn't. That makes it harder to take."

* Hugo Viana has been named in the Portugal squad to face England in Faro next Wednesday.

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