SIR BOBBY Robson last night paid tribute to Newcastle United's defence in the absence of £9m man Jonathan Woodgate.

Woodgate is in contention for a place against Manchester City this weekend after coming through two reserve games unscathed.

The 23-year-old centre-back has not played since the draw with Bolton in mid-September after requiring a double hernia operation.

In his absence Newcastle have lost just twice in the Premiership and they have climbed back up the table to be within sight of a top-four place.

Andy O'Brien and Titus Bramble enjoyed a relatively successful run in the side together - until the 5-0 hammering at Chelsea in their last outing - and Robson knows he has a selection decision to make soon.

But with O'Brien ruled out through suspension at Wolves a week on Saturday after his sending off at Stamford Bridge, the Newcastle chief admits he will have no hesitation in handing Woodgate his comeback match sooner rather than later.

"Jonathan hasn't been missed because the two lads have done well. Stevie Caldwell has also come in once or twice and done well," said Robson, who has O'Brien available on Saturday despite the defender missing Ireland's win over Canada on Tuesday with an ankle strain.

"I always felt Andy and Titus would come on. It has given them both a chance to play together and they have both done well, but Jonathan is a class act. He will soon be fit and he as it has happened Andy is now suspended anyway for the Wolverhampton match."

Craig Bellamy insists he has learned his lesson and is now primarily focused on life at Newcastle.

The Welshman is out until next year after undergoing surgery on a troublesome knee problem.

Bellamy's problems have continually caused rifts between club and country, as he returned from international duty with injuries.

And now the 24-year-old has insisted that he realises he has to put his Newcastle role to the front of his mind.

He said: "I will only return to playing again once my knee is 100 per cent fit.

"In the past I have played for both Wales and United when this has not been the case and I have now learned my lesson.

"As a result my knee will tell me when I am ready to return and not the other way around."

Newcastle, meanwhile, have entered into a joint-venture agreement with MGM Mirage, the American-based hotel and gaming giants.

The plan, which is subject to a number of conditions - including the de-regulation of current gaming laws in the United Kingdom - would house commercial and retail outlets, residential apartments, a hotel and a Las Vegas-style casino.

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