GLENN Roeder last night insisted that Newcastle midfielder Kieron Dyer still has time to force his way into England's World Cup squad.

Dyer, who has spent this season battling against both injury and illness, made an eagerly-awaited return to action with a 16-minute substitute appearance in last weekend's 2-0 win over Portsmouth.

His lengthy lay-off has severely hampered his chances of appearing in the World Cup finals this summer, with England boss Sven Goran Eriksson having all but finalised his 23-man squad.

It is now almost a year since Dyer won the last of his 26 international caps in a 2-0 win over Azerbaijan but, despite Newcastle having just 14 more league games to play this season, Roeder is confident the former Ipswich midfielder remains capable of forcing Eriksson's hand.

"I know the England manager has stated there are only a couple of places up for grabs and Sven seems to be very loyal to his players," said Newcastle's caretaker boss.

"But we don't know where those positions are and, if Kieron Dyer was to play at his maximum in the last ten games of the season, he would be knocking on that door very, very hard.

"It might be stating the obvious, but the only chance Kieron has is if he stays fit. All the signs are very positive and ten or 11 sparkling performances would certainly make the right person sit up and take notice."

Before that, though, Roeder will continue to handle Dyer with care. Too many of his previous comebacks have done more harm than good and, despite his obvious admiration of the midfielder's qualities, Souness' temporary replacement will not be rushing his latest return.

"Kieron is very, very close to 100 per cent," said Roeder. "We wouldn't have risked him last week if we had thought he was at 60 or 70 per cent because he would have broken down. But we still have to handle him with care.

"He was desperate to get on last week - I think he kept nudging Terry McDermott to make him tell me to get him on and that's how you want your players to be.

"We have to protect him and be patient though. We can't put him back into the fire - for example starting a game - until we're absolutely certain, or at least as certain as we can be, that he's right.

"If he's starting, he needs to be able to get through 70 or 75 minutes of football. If we manage him carefully and stay patient, he could easily play in the last ten games of the season."

Until then, Roeder is hoping the midfielder's gradual rehabilitation is enough to keep a smile on his face.

"In training on Thursday, it was the old Kieron Dyer again in terms of playing the ball, receiving the ball, and sprinting for quick one-twos," he said.

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