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29/09/2001

Before the Liverpool game

Before the Liverpool game
Dabizas can lay to rest Newcastle's dismal defensive record against the foundation for a sixth St James's Park win of the season. That's the verdict of Andy O'Brien, who last night hailed his Greek colleague as one of the most complete centre halves in European football. United have conceded 32 goals in 16 Premiership games against their Merseyside rivals and the Magpies have not held Liverpool at bay in the league since 1994. However, O'Brien, buoyed by a solid defensive display against Leicester in midweek, insists Dabizas can point the way towards a second successive clean sheet as the home side look to capitalise on Michael Owen's absence.

"Nikos is a fantastic defender to play alongside," admitted the Irish international. "I have played with some superb centre halves during my career but he's up there with the very best. The fact that he's been here for more than three years says a lot. He's playing under his third Newcastle manager and every one has rated him. When I arrived here he had only just come back from a serious cruciate injury but he was desperate to pull on a black-and-white shrt again. He has a real desire to play for this club." Dabizas was magnificent against Manchester United a fortnight ago but he has always found Owen a handful. The absence of Liverpool's - injured England international will surely free the former Olympiakos man to play his usual game and but the best from his experienced team-mate. "Nikos is excellent in the air but he's also good on the ball and that versatility is vital," added the former Bradford City player. "He's quite happy carrying the ball out of defence and he's comfortable hitting long passes. Nikos can go roaming whenever he likes but he knows he can't get isolated. He knows when to go and when to stay. He's an international and he shows it. I can learn a lot from him. Nikos has played at the top level for most of his career and he knows what it's all about."

With Owen absent, Reds' boss Gerard Houllier will use a front two of Emile Heskey and either Jari Litmanen or former Newcastle target Robbic Fowler in tomorrow's TV test. O'Brien accepts that every possible attacking combination poses its own particular threat and he added: "Arguably Liverpool have got the best array of striking talent in the country. Even without Michael Owen they're hardly short of goals and all of their frontline strikers seem to he able to bit top form instantly. Litmanen came into the side the other week and he's scored two crucial goals despite a lack of match practice. "That's what you expect from a world class player. "Liverpool are some side going forward and you never know what system they'll use or which players will come in or out. League is that you come up against every combination of strikers and you learn how to deal with the big ones, the little ones' the nippy ones and the physical ones. "I'm confident we'll be able to handle whoever they throw at us." Tomorrow's fixture is especially significant for O'Brien as he looks to put one over his Liverpool supporting elder brother Paul.

The defender's family have followed his career every step of the way and he admitted: "I'm really grateful for all the support I get but it might go out of the window this weekend! Paul watches most of my games but this is the big one for him and I have a feeling his loyalties will be divided"


The Journal

 

232 Appearances in England (175 for Newcastle United, 18 for Leicester in the Premier League and 39 for Leicester in the Championship). Total League-Cup-Europe appearances 550. National Team appearances 70. Goals total 40.