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Football: Antoine's got a regal heir; His arrival at Newcastle United was greeted like a bad joke, but Antoine Sibierski has transformed himself from court jester to king.

Byline: Luke Edwards reports

AS Antoine Sibierski left St James's Park on Wednesday evening his phone beeped to alert him of the arrival of a text message from an injured team-mate. It simply read "Antoine Siberski - The King."

It is a nickname which threatens to stick in the Newcastle dressing room as the Frenchman continues to answer the Manchester City fans who laughed when he left the North-West and confound the critics who moaned when he arrived in the North-East.

Sibierski's powerful first-half header against Reading on Wednesday was his sixth goal in nine starts since his free transfer move in the final hours of deadline day back in August. It was a goal which has taken him to the top of the United goalscoring charts and means he has already matched his best return in English football with more than half of the season left to play.

As outrageous as it would have seemed six months ago, Sibierski has emerged as the most unlikely heir to Alan Shearer's throne.

In reality, Sibierski is no Shearer, but in terms of value for money and goals, he has made a far larger impact than the player actually signed as Shearer's successor, the pounds 10m Obafemi Martins.

In the long term, Newcastle continue to express their confidence that the Nigerian international will be able to take on the scoring burden left by Shearer's retirement.

As for Sibierski, his impressive form has also already led to talk of an extended contract at St James's Park.

"I've had a couple of chats with Antoine about how he has settled into the area and he has done so very well and very quickly," said Roeder, who makes no secret of his personal satisfaction in seeing his once-ridiculed signing play such a key role in his side's recent revival.

"He has been very professional and his family have moved up here already. His wife has had a baby up here and he really enjoys living here. On the pitch, and off it, I don't think he could have done any more than he has done.

"I'm confident he will carry on doing the things that have made him such a hit with the fans.

Already people have seen what a good player he is."

Sibierski was only given a oneyear deal in the summer having been frozen out of the first team at Manchester City and, by his own admission, the player brought to English football from Lens by former City and United manager Kevin Keegan three years ago, believed his time in England was coming to a disappointing end.

However, offered an unlikely opportunity at Newcastle, the 32-year-old has not only extended his stay in the Premiership, he has utterly transformed his reputation.

Roeder is adamant he will not discuss new contracts with any player until after the New Year, with Sibierski joining centre-backs Craig Moore and Titus Bramble on the list of those whose present deals expire at the end of the season.

But Newcastle's manager has already indicated his bargain buy should be rewarded for his recent heroics.

He said: "There will come an appropriate time to sit down and talk to him about contracts and what he wants to do.

"As with Titus Bramble, that time will come after Christmas. No decision has been made on any player and no decision will be made until the end of January.

"But what Antoine has done so far, why shouldn't he be offered a new contract? He has done fantastically well for the team and he is a popular player.

"Without asking him, I have a gut feeling he would want one because he is enjoying his football up here and so he should be."

What Antoine has done so far, why shouldn't he be offered a new contract?

Match box

Blackburn Rovers v Newcastle United

Team news

STEPHEN Carr's foot problem has added to Glenn Roeder's injury woes with fears that the Republic of Ireland international could be missing for another couple of weeks with a previously undetected fracture. Scott Parker is close to a return from a back strain, but the trip to Ewood Park has come too soon.

Injury update: Shola Ameobi (hip) - six-eight months' Michael Owen (knee) - four-six months' Steve Harper (groin) - one month' Craig Moore (hamstring) - three weeks' Titus Bramble (calf) - three weeks' Damien Duff (knee) - two-three weeks' Stephen Carr (foot) - two weeks' Kieron Dyer (thigh) - a few days' Scott Parker (back) - a few days.

Referee: Dermot Gallagher (Oxfordshire)

Has issued 27 yellow and three red cards in 12 matches this season. Last Newcastle game handled: the 1-0 home win over Arsenal in December last year, in which he sent off Gilberto Silva.

Head to head (the League record):

Blackburn wins: 43

Draws: 25

Newcastle wins: 48

Last season: Newcastle 0 Blackburn 1' Blackburn 0 Newcastle 3.

Last five League games: Blackburn L L D W L' Newcastle L D D W W.

Top scorers: Benni McCarthy (Blackburn) 8' Antoine Sibierski (Newcastle) 6.

Match odds: H 10-11' A 13-5' D 21-10.

TV coverage: Highlights on Football First - Sky Sports 1 2215 and Match of the Day - BBC1 2230.

Kick-off: Today, 1500.

CAPTION(S):

SETTLED IN: Antoine Sibierski has taken to Newcastle.' MAGIC MOMENT: Sibierski celebrates his goal against Reading - his sixth in nine starts since Stuart Pearce bombed him out at Manchester City.' GETTING READY: James Milner (right) and midweek hero Emre in training for the game at Blackburn.' GOOD BUSINESS: Glenn Roeder is delighted with free transfer Sibierski.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 9, 2006
Words:920
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