Newcastle United’s James Perch won’t be taking Andy Carroll lightly

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ANDY Carroll has been written off many times this season – but the striker isn’t being underestimated by Newcastle United!

Carroll returns to the Sports Direct Arena for the first on Sunday since his controversial £35m move to Liverpool in January last year.

The 23-year-old has struggled for form and fitness at Anfield. But James Perch – who, along with Mike Williamson, will be tasked with stopping Carroll if he plays – won’t be taking him lightly, or his forward colleagues, for that matter.

Luis Suarez is certain to start, while former Newcastle striker Craig Bellamy – who netted two goals in Liverpool’s win over the Magpies at Anfield in December – could be back from a calf injury.

“It will be a battle against Andy, but it’s a battle I’d look forward to,” Perch said.

“He’s a great player – we all know that. You just have to look at what he did for us last season to see what he’s capable of.

“He’s a good player, but I’ll be more than happy to step in, if selected. I’d try and stop him.”

Carroll and his Liverpool team-mates were looking to challenge for the Premier League title, or at the very least a Champions League place, at the start of the campaign.

Yet Newcastle, level on points with fifth-placed Chelsea, are eight points ahead of them with eight games left to play, though Carroll does have a Carling Cup-winner’s medal to his name from their Wembley success over Cardiff City.

Having won their last two games against West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City, confidence is high in the United dressing room.

There’s a determination to extend their lead over Kenny Dalglish’s side.

“We know it’s a big cushion, but we don’t want to be too complacent and let those eight points become five,” added Perch. “Then it’s two points, and we’re looking over our shoulders again.

“We want to have a bigger cushion. We’ve got the chance to do that against Liverpool on Sunday.

“We’ve set ourselves up for a good game. If we’d lost (at West Brom), it would almost have been a must-win game. But we’ve set ourselves up with three points. They lost, so we stretched our lead.”

The goal is a Europa League place, with fifth place guaranteeing a return to the continent. Sixth place could still yield a place in the competition, though, it’s dependent on Liverpool reaching the FA Cup final.

Up to last season, Perch had spent his career outside the top-flight with Nottingham Forest, and the chance of playing in a European competition is something that he’s determined not to let slip.

Perch said: “European football would be massive for this club. We’ve worked hard to get ourselves into this position, and we want to claim that European spot.

“We’ve got eight games to go, and we don’t want to let this opportunity go. We don’t want to look back and say ‘we had a chance to get into Europe, and let it go’.”

Meanwhile, Cheik Tiote and Ryan Taylor returned to training today ahead of Sunday’s visit of Liverpool.

The pair’s return will give Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew a welcome lift after captain Fabricio Coloccini was ruled out of the televised clash.

Influential midfielder Tiote will return to the starting XI alongside Yohan Cabaye.

Taylor could line up at left-back, where Jonas Gutierrez, James Perch and Davide Santon have played in the last two games.