CRAIG BELLAMY is on course to be fit for the start of Newcastle United's Champions' League campaign.

The Wales striker reported for pre-season training yesterday just two months after undergoing knee surgery for tendinitis.

Bellamy was advised to rest for 12 weeks, but is ahead of schedule having made rapid progress with his rehabilitation. Now he is raring to go, with the first leg of United's Champions' League qualifier only six weeks away.

The 22-year-old flew to the United States for keyhole surgery performed by renowned specialist Richard Steadman, who a year earlier had saved the career of Alan Shearer when the Newcastle skipper was suffering a similar condition.

Bellamy, PFA Young Player of the Year, said: "Watching the World Cup and seeing teammates like Kieron Dyer playing out there has really whetted my appetite for the new season.''

Shearer has enjoyed a new lease of life thanks to Steadman. The former England captain quit the international stage after Euro 2000 and was yesterday refreshed as he returned to base with his teammates. Shearer, who hit vintage form last season when he bagged 27 goals, said: "I'm really looking forward to getting back into the swing of things and playing football.

"I had a great summer and I'm feeling good. Expectations are high, but that is always the case at a club like this.''

One notable absentee yesterday was Olivier Bernard. The French left-back is in dispute with the Magpies after a Premier League tribunal blocked his move to West Ham and ruled he still had another year to run on his Newcastle contract. Bernard's appeal against the decision is expected to be heard on Monday, and a Newcastle spokesman said: "He's not back and he's not due back until the outcome of his appeal is known.''

Meanwhile, Titus Bramble insists he has no concerns over the delay in the completion of his £5m move to Newcastle.

The Ipswich defender has agreed personal terms but is still waiting to put pen to paper while United assess his recovery from a summer heel operation. Bramble, staying on Tyneside while the deal is on hold, said: "I'm not at all worried about the transfer.

"Everything is OK. I have been training since Monday and I know there won't be a problem because it was only a minor operation.''

* Newcastle new boy Hugo Viana, signed from Sporting Libson for £8.5m a fortnight ago, has been named European Young Player of the Year.

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