Striker rivalry shooting United closer to top flight

THE rivalry between Andy Carroll and Peter Løvenkrands is firing Newcastle United ever closer to the Premier League, according to manager Chris Hughton.

THE rivalry between Andy Carroll and Peter Løvenkrands is firing Newcastle United ever closer to the Premier League, according to manager Chris Hughton.

Both continued their recent prolific form during Wednesday’s routine 3-0 victory at home to Scunthorpe United to move past Kevin Nolan at the top of the Magpies’ goalscoring charts.

Carroll has scored 10 goals in his last 12 appearances and Løvenkrands has 12 in 11, including six in his last five. That took both to 14 in all competitions for the season, one ahead of Nolan.

And while Hughton is a firm believer in the team ethic, he is happy to see the “healthy” competition between his two leading strikers to finish as this season’s top goalscorer.

“They are spurring each other on and it’s something we welcome,” he said. “It’s very healthy. It’s important both are putting in a real shift for the team.

“Andy’s overall performance apart from the two goals (on Wednesday) was very good. They are both working hard for the team, which comes first. If you can also score the goals it gives them confidence.”

Carroll has been a revelation since January, adding potency to his aerial ability at both ends of the field. Hughton sees it as just reward for the England Under-21 international’s efforts, though the bigger test will be transferring his form to the top-flight.

“He’s working hard and whatever level that takes him to will be down to the coaching he can get and, more so, to himself,” he commented. “We can’t fault his application.”

Nolan had been United’s leading goalscorer for most of the campaign, but the former Bolton Wanderers midfielder has been at pains to point out he has no great interest in finishing top, instead challenging Carroll and Løvenkrands to outscore him.

Løvenkrands is United’s biggest concern for tomorrow’s game at Bristol City, having been substituted with a muscle injury on Wednesday.

The televised clash could be a somewhat tougher proposition for a United team which has won only one of its last nine away games after manager Gary Johnson left the Robins “by mutual consent” yesterday, his side having dropped from play-off to relegation contenders.

Having been Newcastle’s caretaker boss three times, Hughton is well aware of the positive effect losing their manager can have on a squad.

“I was very sad to hear about it,” he said of the former Latvia manager’s departure. “He’s done a fantastic job there for four-and-a-bit years.

“There can be a lot of different responses.

“You can get lads who want to do it for the manager who’s gone or the caretaker who perhaps has been put in a difficult position.

“It’s live on TV and with a big crowd. They’re playing against a team top of the division and will desperately want to win.”

The league leaders are making progress on the injury front, but not quickly enough to impact on Saturday’s trip to Ashton Gate.

Vice-captain Alan Smith is not expected back in training until Monday, and is therefore highly unlikely even to face Doncaster Rovers the following day.

Shola Ameobi was back on the Darsley Park fields yesterday after hamstring trouble, but having not started since mid-January and with the team in such good form, it is hard to see him figuring against the Robins.

And although Joey Barton has declared himself fit to play after 70 minutes for the reserves in midweek, the midfielder will not travel to Bristol.

The dates for the Magpies’ FA Youth Cup semi-final matches against Aston Villa have been confirmed.

The first leg is at Villa Park on Thursday, April 8, the return on April 16. Both kick off at 7pm. Chelsea Under-18s take a 1-0 aggregate lead over Blackburn Rovers to Stamford Bridge in the second leg of the other semi-final.

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Stuart Rayner
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