Kieron Dyer breathed a huge sigh of relief last night after a scan on his shin showed he had not suffered a recurrence of his troublesome injury, clearing him to start this evening's Tees-Tyne derby.

The Newcastle United midfielder has been complaining of a sore shin for more than three weeks and has missed a number of training sessions as the club stepped up their Premiership and Champions League challenges.

But after Dyer had feared his long-standing shin injury, which included a stress fracture in 2001, had flared up again, an X-ray proved there is no serious damage.

Sir Bobby Robson reckons Dyer is playing as well as any midfielder in the country at the moment and he attributes his shin problem to his tireless running and all-action style, but the Newcastle manager does not want to see the 23-year-old curbed. Jermaine Jenas, fit again after recovering from an Achilles injury that forced him to miss the victories over Leeds United, Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea, was ready to replace Dyer in the starting line-up tonight.

But the former Ipswich Town man is now expected to play alongside Gary Speed in the centre of the Newcastle midfield at the Riverside after he received the thumbs up from the club's medical experts.

Robson said: "Kieron has been bothered by it for a few weeks, since just before the first Bayer Leverkusen match.

"He felt it in the Arsenal game, and it was very cold in Germany and the surface we played on was hard. That inflamed it because it was like running on concrete.

"He has not missed matches but he has missed training because we've had to let the shin soreness settle down.

"We're been trying to tell him he's OK and that's why we sent him for an X-ray.

"It's the same shin in which he had the stress fracture and we just wanted to make sure that everything was intact.

"He doesn't half run. There's not a midfield player in the Premiership who makes the runs he does - not even Patrick Vieira.

"Kieron has such pace, and he's always making dashes and spurts forward. He has also done the ugly side of the game recently. He has worked back, put his foot in and harried and hustled people.

"It's an important part of his job, We've told him that and he's responded.

"He's run himself out. He's done a lot of running and that, together with the hard surface at Bayer Leverkusen, has caused the problem.

"No-one is playing better in midfield in the country right now. I can't tell him to change his style. In parts of the second half on Saturday, he was brilliant."

Jonathan Woodgate is the only defender certain of his place in the side that Robson sends into derby battle tonight. Robson is delighted with the progress of the other members of his much-maligned backline this season and claims he has an embarrassment of riches.

He said: "The defenders have all got a bit better this season. I've got nine players at the back who are all very capable, which gives me the opportunity to switch them about.

"I have an idea of what my best backline is, but it's interchangeable.

"Andy O'Brien can play at right-back, but I like Andy Griffin very much. He has played very well this season. But O'Brien gives us an extra option. He played at right-back at Tottenham and I was delighted with his performance there. He surprised me."

Robson has a fully-fit squad to choose from this evening's game, with Laurent Robert vying for a return to the starting line-up after serving a one-match suspension at the weekend.

l Aston Villa have pledged to ban for life all the supporters who invaded the pitch during Monday night's stormy West Midlands derby clash with Birmingham, writes IAN PARKES.

The disturbances occurred during Villa's 2-0 defeat to their bitter rivals and one fan confronted Birmingham's Robbie Savage and Villa goalkeeper Peter Enckelman before being escorted from the field.

A statement from Villa read: ''Aston Villa will ban for life any supporters who ran onto the playing area during last night's Premiership game with Birmingham.

''Any supporters arrested for encroachment onto the field of play will receive automatic bans while the club will also be working closely with West Mercia Police to identify other supporters involved in crowd disturbances.

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