STEVE Harper has rolled up his sleeves – and rolled back the years – for Newcastle United this season.
And the long-serving goalkeeper has been given a ringing endorsement from manager Alan Pardew ahead of tomorrow’s home game against Manchester United.
Harper didn’t make a first-team appearance last term – and his future on Tyneside looked in doubt.
But the 37-year-old has already turned out five times for the club this season – and is closing in on his 200th appearance.
“Our fans love him, and so do we,” Pardew said. “He’s a very, very important player – he’s been brilliant for us.”
Harper lost the goalkeeping jersey to Tim Krul at the start of last season.
“Harps has come out and said the blow of not getting the No1 jersey hurt him,” added Pardew.
“I think it hurt his professionalism and his pride, and you’d expect that. I wouldn’t have expected a man of his nature not to. He’s a big character.
“This year he’s come back saying ‘OK, I’m going to fight for my place’.
“What’s happened is that it’s fallen his way and he’s taken his opportunity.”
Pardew, meanwhile, is backing Hatem Ben Arfa to take the game to Manchester United tomorrow.
The 25-year-old, outstanding so far this season, was an unused substitute, along with top-scorer Demba Ba, when Pardew’s team beat Bordeaux 3-0 in the Europa League on Thursday night.
And Ben Arfa’s legs – and mind – will be ready for the game.
“You need fresh legs for Man United – and bright minds,” Pardew said.
“It’s bright minds more than legs – they’ll be sharp in the mind, and that’ll be important.
“Hatem will relish this game – he loves these games. He’s got ability that matches anyone in Man United, and I don’t say that lightly.”
However, Pardew will be without first-choice centre-halves Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini, both sidelined through injury.
James Perch and Mike Williamson will again deputise.
“They’ve played more minutes than everyone else, Perchie and Willo,” said Pardew. “The only thing that worries me a little bit is fatigue, not ability.
“Having said that, they were brilliant against Bordeaux. At the end of the game, we had a chance to rest, which was important. They didn’t have 20 minutes of bombshells in the box.
“They’ll be fresh for this one, and they need to be. They’re up against the best strikeforce in the league.”