Club Focus – Newcastle – Harper bemoans size of squad

Goalkeeper Steve Harper believes that the current squad’s lack of strength in depth is a major problem. Newcastle could only field a much-weakened side against Aston Villa at the weekend and their lack of quality was telling. Such was the extent of their injury and suspension problems that untested youngsters James Tavernier, Michael Richardson and Ryan Donaldson were all on the bench on Sunday. The promising trio may get a chance before the end of the season, along with young left back Shane Ferguson, but for now the aim is to be mathematically safe. It is an issue that needs addressing in the summer with the midfield and attack in particular in need of strengthening.

The experienced Harper, who was one of the club’s top performers at the weekend, said: “Injuries and suspensions are killing us really. You just had to look at our bench at Aston Villa to see how stretched the squad is. When you have as small a squad as we do, you can’t really afford to be without three first-team players at the same time.” The Magpies squad should be significantly strengthened in their next game at home to Manchester United with midfield powerhouse Cheik Tiote back from suspension. There could also be a first appearance from Stephen Ireland who has been given go the go-ahead to play against Manchester United. Whether striker Shola Ameobi is fit to return from a knee injury remains to be seen.

Another talking point from Sunday surrounds the future of Spaniard Jose Enrique, who has earned rave reviews this season. Liverpool legend Phil Thompson was quoted on Swedish television claiming that Enrique was set to sign for the Reds in the summer. The well-known pundit said: “From what I’ve heard, yes the deal has been done and he will come to Liverpool.” It would represent a major blow to lose another star player to the Merseysiders in the space of just six months. Newcastle officials are yet to confirm or deny that any deal has been reached but Thompson is friends with former Magpies manager and Kop legend Kenny Dalglish. Enrique’s contract is due to expire in the summer of 2012 so the player holds a lot of power over his current employers regarding his future. An eight-figure sum would be hard for Newcastle officials to turn down as they would risk losing him for nothing in the near future.

Alan Pardew is prepared to stick with Nile Ranger until the end of the season if his striker shortage continues. The 20-year-old has yet to score in the league this campaign with his solitary goal coming in the League Cup against Chelsea. Ranger has made 18 appearances from the bench this season with his pace and trickery capable of changing the game. He could now have a chance to show what he can do from the start depending on Ameobi’s fitness, although Pardew told the press after the Villa game that the striker has plenty of areas that he needs to improve on. ?

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