GRAEME Souness is confident Steven Taylor can be back in action for the Magpies before Christmas - and warned his big money signings no-one's first team place is guaranteed.

The 19-year-old has been a revelation at centre-back this season and the Newcastle boss admitted last night he would have left either £8m Jean-Alain Boumsong or £5m Titus Bramble on the bench for Saturday's trip to Chelsea if injury had not robbed him of Taylor's services.

Despite a scan on the England U-21s shoulder revealing a dislocation that is expected to keep him out of action for two months, Souness expects the player he affectionately calls a 'beast' to be back long before that.

"At the start of the season Titus Bramble and Jean-Alain Boumsong would have been my first choice defenders but Titus got injured and Steven grabbed his chance and he has made the most of it since," said Souness.

"He would have kept his place if it wasn't for the injury because there is no way I could have dropped him or rested him given how well he has been playing.

"If you are in the side and do well you keep your place no matter who you are. It has to be like that or there is no incentive.

"The only thing that could have lost Steven his place were injuries or perhaps a loss of form but I didn't think that was going to happen.

"With young players you expect their performances to be up and down but it has never been like that with Steven Taylor. How well he has played hasn't been a surprise to me - he is a beast of a boy."

Taylor damaged his shoulder while training with England Under-21s last week ahead of last Friday's European Championships first leg play-off with France.

The problem was serious enough to keep him out of that game but, after the shoulder popped back into its socket, an initial examination suggested it had settled down enough to prevent any long-term damage.

Subsequent scans have proved otherwise though, and the player who has missed just one game this season through suspension, faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines - despite his manager believing otherwise.

"We have been told it will be up to ten weeks but knowing Steven and what kind of boy he is I don't think we will be looking at anything like that long," said Souness.

"He is a big strong boy and with his age and his physique I am confident he will be back long before that.

"It has been a week since he did it so you can knock that off already. I know what he's like and he'll be desperate to get back. I wouldn't be a surprise if he was to miss no more than three or four games.

"It is unfortunate for him because he had the shirt and he had it on merit. He had made the position his own.

"His misfortune will be an opportunity for someone else. We are lucky in the cover we have and whoever comes in for him will get the chance to show what they can do now."

Taylor's injury means that Bramble and Boumsong will be re-united at the heart of defence as the Magpies look to contain Premiership leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

With Australian defender Craig Moore nursing an injury problem of his own, teenager Peter Ramage currently represents Newcastle's only cover in the central positions.

The youngster is being groomed as a centre-half but, with Stephen Carr still battling his way back to fitness following a hernia operation, his services are currently required at right-back.

* Souness has admitted defeat in his bid to get Spain international Albert Luque ready for Saturday's trip to Stamford Bridge but the £9.5m signing is expected to have recovered from his hamstring injury in time to play against Everton at Goodison Park the following weekend.