TIM Krul could be Newcastle United’s last line of defence as Wayne Rooney and company look to take their frustrations out on the Magpies tonight.
Stephen Ireland is set to make his long-awaited debut at home to Manchester United tonight, but his presence on the bench may be counter-balanced by the absence of first-choice goalkeeper Steve Harper with a knee injury.
Cheik Tioté returns from a two-match suspension and Shola Ameobi’s knee will undergo a late fitness test, but Harper’s predicament is perhaps the most significant team news ahead of tonight’s game at St James’ Park.
“He’s got a slight problem in his knee,” manager Alan Pardew said of Harper. “He had an injection and it’s settled down previously. This time he’s had the same injection and it hasn’t settled as quickly as we thought, so the game has probably come a bit too soon.
“There’s still time for it to recover a little bit, so we’ll probably make the call today.”
Krul’s last appearance was the FA Cup third-round defeat by Stevenage, when Harper’s wife was due to give birth. But the Dutch Under-21 international (pictured right) had a four-month run in the side earlier in the campaign, after Harper broke his collarbone at Everton.
Quite apart from the significance of tonight’s game – which sees Rooney return from a three-match domestic ban for swearing as the title-chasing Red Devils aim to banish memories of Saturday’s FA Cup derby defeat at Wembley – Krul’s appearance could have wider implications.
Pardew will decide in pre-season whether to retain Krul for 2011-12, or loan the 23-year-old out. Fraser Forster will be back from a successful temporary spell at Celtic, and Pardew does not want either idle as Newcastle’s third-choice goalkeeper.