MAGPIES' midfielder Gary Speed believes Newcastle United have banished the fear factor ahead of their biggest Premiership game of the season at home to Manchester United tomorrow.

Newcastle must win to retain any faint hopes of lifting the title, and the Wales captain is adamant the players have no reason to believe they are in any way inferior to Sir Alex Ferguson's men.

But Speed himself will be forced to sit out tomorrow's clash with a recurring groin injury; the problem threatening to bring his season to a premature end.

He said: "When we play Manchester United we are not scared of them in any way because we know we belong at that level of football.

"Manchester United and Arsenal are there at the top of the table every year and we have to do that as well.

"In the last two seasons we have consolidated our position as one of the best clubs in the country so there is no way we go into a game against Manchester United now with any sort of inferiority complex."

The influential former Everton and Leeds man has not played since limping out of Wales Euro 2004 qualifier against Azerbaijan in Cardiff last month.

And Speed, 33, missed six weeks at the start of this year after having a hernia operation - the worst injury he has suffered in his long career.

He said: "Against Azerbaijan I felt it again, right where I had the operation and I don't know why but it seems to have gone again.

"The situation is that if I have a hernia operation now then I am out for the rest of the season but if I give myself a chance over the next couple of weeks I might be able to play in the last few weeks - maybe two, three or even four games.

"Hopefully it is possible I will be back. I am certainly running OK and have been doing some sprinting. My stamina is fine, it is just a little bit of sharpness which is missing.

"I am hoping in the next couple of weeks it gets well enough for me to play. I have been very lucky because this is the worst injury I have had. After 17 or 18 years in the game to have just a hernia as your worst injury is something which I am not exactly going to complain about.

"I am desperate to get fit and play again. I want to play again this season, but if I don't it is not the end of the world. I will just get ready for next season and make sure I am right over the summer months."

Meanwhile Dutch master Ruud van Nistelrooy has warned his teammates that their title ambitions will be severely tested tomorrow, after labelling Newcastle United a 'complete team'.

The Manchester United striker also lavished praise on Magpies' boss Sir Bobby Robson, whom he worked under for a season at PSV Eindhoven.

"He's a great manager," enthused van Nistelrooy.

"The years that he's been with Newcastle now and the clubs that he had previously, it's amazing what he's achieved.

"It was a privilege to work with him for that one year at PSV Eindhoven."

And the Holland international sees strengths in every department of the Magpies side Robson has assembled. "Everyone knows that Bellamy and Shearer are a great duo upfront," he said.

"Then there's Dyer and Jenas who come in from midfield to make great runs into our box.

"Robert on the left -he's a good striker of the ball and a good crosser. That makes them a complete team."

* Ray Lewington admits on-loan Newcastle man Michael Chopra has propelled himself firmly into the spotlight for Watford's FA Cup semi-final against Southampton at Villa Park on Sunday.

The 19-year-old Newcastle striker warmed up by bagging four goals in a spectacular 7-4 win over Burnley last weekend and the Hornets manager said: ''Sir Bobby Robson was reluctant to let him go at first. He didn't want him put in the limelight with all the big headlines, but when you score four in one game it's difficult not too."

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