By Chris Harris
If you think Gary Lewin has been busy this season, spare a thought for his Newcastle counterpart. The medical team St. James' Park have had their hands full since last summer with as many as 15 players crowding out the treatment room at one time.
Key striker Michael Owen has not played since last year's World Cup and, in the circumstances, a place in the top half of the Premiership is no disgrace even for a club of Newcastle's stature.
Glenn Roeder's side edged into the top 10 with a hard-fought victory at Sheffield United on Saturday. Three more points against Arsenal on Easter Monday would give them an outside chance of a Uefa Cup spot. Newcastle would dearly love to make amends after their hugely frustrating exit from this year's competition.
We spoke to Lee Ryder of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle ahead of Arsenal's trip to Tyneside. Read on for his thoughts on Newcastle's walking wounded, their fall from grace in Europe, why James Milner is worthy of an award and why hopes are high for next season.
THE STORY SO FAR
"It has been pretty disappointing but one of the big factors is the injury crisis Newcastle have had. It's certainly the worse one I can remember, they've had 10 to 15 players in the treatment room at a time. Newcastle have had to rely on the kids but, ironically, the kids have done alright and the team dipped when the senior players came back. It was always going to be hard this season because Alan Shearer retired last summer. Glenn Roeder brought in Obafemi Martins and to be 11th in the table [ahead of the Easter weekend] is not that bad considering. The club is ambitious and the fans expect Newcastle to be pushing for the top six at least and that hasn't been possible. But I think the thinking fans accept what's happened this season in the circumstances. The Uefa Cup exit [against Alkmaar] was a real hammerblow. Newcastle were 3-0 and 4-1 up in the first leg and still went out. It was an absolute disaster really, they conceded a late penalty in the home leg which made it 4-2 and then didn't perform in Holland. Alkmaar got the goals they needed."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"For my money James Milner would win Newcastle's player of the season award hands down. He was virtually out of the door on transfer deadline day last summer, he was ready to sign for Aston Villa after spending a season on loan there. Then another transfer fell through for Newcastle so he came back to St. James' Park. He could have been a bit down after that happened, he didn't know where he stood but Milner rolled his sleeves up and has had a terrific season. He has scored some magnificent goals too. The final product isn't always there but Milner's still young and still learning. He would get the award for his attitude, he's kept his head down and got on with the job."
"There are a lot of youngsters who have come through. Steven Taylor, for example, has played a lot of games but he's still only 21. I think Paul Huntington has done a steady job at the back. I'm not saying he's been spectacular but, considering he has come into the team before Roeder would have liked, he has been solid. Huntington has made mistakes but then so do the senior players. He played out of position in Alkmaar but still did a job for the team."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"Next season hopefully Newcastle will have a fully fit Michael Owen. Martins will have another year under his belt, he is still only 22 and is closing on 20 goals for his first season here. The kids will also have another year behind them so the likes of Huntington, David Edgar and Taylor will be stronger. There will certainly be some changes too."
"I think Newcastle have done alright against most of the big teams at St. James' Park. They beat Liverpool and drew with Manchester United. Roeder seems to have the lads up for the bigger games and the results I mentioned are good ones when you consider the injuries. I expect Newcastle to play a 4-4-2 on Monday. They will probably go on the attack; they will certainly be expected to attack by the home crowd."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"I thought the Emirates was fantastic when Newcastle went there for the first time. It's a fantastic stadium with a good set-up. I liked Highbury but things have to move on, I suppose. It must have been hard for Arsenal to leave but at least they have a good stadium to move to - some of the new crop of stadia seem very similar but the Emirates is something special. In terms of the game earlier in the season, I think Newcastle deserved to win. Kieron Dyer scored a spectacular goal and it needed a mistake by Taylor to give Thierry Henry the chance to equalise with a free-kick."
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