STEVE HARPER is on course for a pre-Christmas comeback for Newcastle United – even if his derby day celebrations almost caused him to extend his time on the sidelines.

Harper has been ruled out with a collarbone injury since having to withdraw from the win at Everton on September 18, but was never going to miss out on the Tyne- Wear derby on Sunday.

He might not be due to restart full training with the rest of the Newcastle team until later this month, but that did not stop him from testing his problem during the celebrations at St James’ Park.

Harper, such a crucial figure in the dressing room during the club’s renaissance in the last 18 months, shared the joy with the rest of the dressing room during and after the 5-1 win over Sunderland.

“I hurt myself celebrating the fourth goal when Shola Ameobi volleyed it in,” said the Newcastle goalkeeper.

“While everyone else was jumping around I was nearly crying. I’ll gladly hurt my arm celebrating that.

“I would have loved to have been involved, it was one of those once in a lifetime games. I’ve played in four derby games and haven’t lost, but this was something very special.

“You could tell by the city afterwards and the fans what they were singing on the day showed exactly what they thought of it.”

When Harper does eventually return to the first team fold he will find himself with a much harder battle than he had in the first place.

Tim Krul’s emergence as a competent Premier League goalkeeper, despite his tender age, has strengthened his claims of keeping his place.

But Harper is not concerned about that, having regularly advised his Dutch colleague to keep his mind on the task in hand and be ready for the call when it arrived.

Krul, five consecutive Premier League starts later, has certainly done that and rarely looked out of place, despite being singled out for criticism in the aftermath of last week’s Carling Cup defeat to Arsenal.

“I feel good. It will be five weeks next Wednesday that it happened and I’m on target for the timescale I was set,”

said Harper. “I’ve got a full range of movement now so I’ve just got to work on the strength and hopefully I’ll be diving around again in three weeks.

“I see the surgeon again for my eight week check and hopefully he will give me the green light. It’s just getting the confidence and strength in it to come back in December, hopefully nearer the start than the end of it.”

There is no chance of Harper making a quick recovery for Saturday’s trip to the Emirates Stadium, but Sol Campbell is hoping to have shrugged off his thigh problem in time to face his old club.

Steven Taylor’s return to fitness, having been on the bench against Sunderland and emerged through a reserve fixture, has heightened the competition for places at the heart of the defence.

Campbell has spent this week working on his fitness and manager Chris Hughton claims both Campbell, 36, and Taylor, 24, must remain confident of dislodging Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini in the two centreback roles.

“Things change in the game all the time. That’s why players have got to continue to work hard. Things change, and players get injured,” said Hughton. “You have to wait for opportunities, and all you want is for the players to put themselves in a position to be available.

“Sol worked hard last week, and has trained this week. He’ll get a week’s training under his belt, and a decision will have to be made, but I always pick the team on the merits of the game.”