Club Focus – Newcastle – Harper praises team spirit after 4-4 Arsenal comeback

Experienced goalkeeper Steve Harper believes that the team spirit within the dressing room played a key role in their sensational 4-4 draw with Arsenal at the weekend. Harper is now in his third decade as a Newcastle player but he has never been involved in any game like Saturday’s dramatic comeback. The dressing room would likely have been a quite dispirited place last week following the loss of Andy Carroll, who was an important figure both on and off the pitch. But the character shown in the Arsenal fight-back will be important until the end of the season with the number one target staying in the Premier League. Harper said: “People talk about buying this and selling that, there has been a lot of focus on that here for obvious reasons, but you can’t buy character and that is what we have in abundance here. It would have been so easy to crumble, given everything that has gone on, so you can’t underestimate what a big point that is for us.”

Harper has received the backing of the man he replaced as the club’s number one to receive an overdue call up to the England squad. Manchester City’s Shay Given has returned to Tyneside this week where he will be giving a talk to the fans at the Irish Centre on Gallowgate. As well as praising the supporters who used to worship him, he also had some encouragement for his former understudy. He told the Chronicle newspaper: “All I would say to Steve is ‘don’t give up’ because he deserves a chance. He’s in form and he is playing in the top league in the world, so why not?” Harper has enjoyed another good season between the sticks despite an injury problem ruling him out for three months. At 35, Harper still has a few years left as a goalkeeper and has made fewer mistakes then some of his fellow countrymen who have made the full squad. Joey Barton is another Englishman who has seen his good form ignored by Fabio Capello. Barton’s previous misdemeanours and outspoken attacks on some prominent England players may count against him despite enjoying an excellent season at club level.

On the plus side, Newcastle will have few worries over players getting injured on international duty to a lack of call-ups. Cheik Tiote is the only the prominent member of the first team who will be away on international duty. The likes of Shola Ameobi, Leon Best and Nile Ranger have all been forced to withdraw due to injury. Best has suffered a hamstring problem and may be a doubt for the weekend’s game with Blackburn Rovers. Newcastle can ill afford to lose any more strikers to injury with confirmation still awaited on the extent of Ameobi’s cheekbone fracture. In some good injury news, defender Steven Taylor has returned to light training as he steps up his recovery from a hamstring injury.

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