MIKE Williamson says he is ready to fight to retain his place in Alan Pardew’s first-team plans this season.
After recovering from injury, the centre-back was a mainstay in the United defence for the second part of a campaign that ended in European qualification and an impressive sixth-placed finish.
While he would readily admit that there are bigger names in the squad, Williamson got on with his role with efficiency and regularly earned praise from boss Pardew.
Despite that, he knows that he faces a battle to maintain his place at the heart of the black-and-white back four for the new season. Fabricio Coloccini remains the first choice centre-back but Steven Taylor is set to make his first appearance of 2012 in Friday’s opening friendly against Chemnitzer and there could be further defensive recruits added before next month’s transfer deadline.
Laid-back Williamson is not usually one for fighting talk but he says he will not surrender his starting place without a serious battle.
“The manager is going to try to strengthen in all areas and centre-half is going to be one of them,” he said.
“The fact is I’ve already got Steven Taylor and Colo – and there’s a few young lads who are coming through. That is the competition and is big competition but it will bring out the best in me.
“I feel that I’m an established Premier League player now. I’ve felt like that since the first season I got under my belt, now it is about progressing and showing I can get better and hopefully be a key player. I’m looking forward to another campaign and what it might bring.”
After being eased back into pre-season last week, United’s players will be told the club’s targets at a series of first-team summits in the early part of this week.
The club’s hierarchy are looking for another top eight finish but know changes will have to be made to the way the squad is used with an extra competition to plan for. It sounds a big ask but Williamson is braced to it.
“We’ve been broken in reasonably gently, but the hard work will begin on Monday,” he said.
“It feels more settled this summer than maybe it has been before. You get that feeling around the place, there’s a feeling that we’re looking forward to what’s to come.
“We’re ambitious again next year – we’ve not been told what is expected yet. John Carver just told us that last week was about fitness and then I’m sure this week we’ll get our targets and it will be broken down for us. I can’t wait for the season to start.”