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Woody back to his best - Bobby.

Byline: By Miles Starforth

Sir Bobby Robson believes United's Jonathan Woodgate is back to his best after he snuffed out the threat of Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy - and ensured the Magpies' mean streak in 2004 continued.

The Magpies boss insisted the challenge now was to keep the England international fit and in his team after a season troubled by injury.

Woodgate returned to action from a hamstring problem against Southampton in the FA Cup, having had a double hernia earlier in the campaign, and lined up against Leeds before the trip to Old Trafford - and Newcastle have kept clean sheets in each of those games.

Woodgate was paired with Republic of Ireland international Andy O'Brien in the centre of defence with Titus Bramble suffering from a thigh injury.

And they ensured that Van Nistelrooy and Ryan Giggs had an unusually quiet afternoon in front of goal, while Woodgate's former Leeds teammate Rio Ferdinand was playing one of his last games before his eight-month ban at the other end.

"Jonathan Woodgate was wonderful, he played Ruud van Nistelrooy very well," said Sir Bobby.

"You can see why Leeds were pretty good defensively when Rio Ferdinand and Jonathan Woodgate played as a unit together, they were the right age and same height. They're good on the deck and both have pace.

"We've got to keep him (Woodgate) on the pitch. He's not played as many games as he should've done but he's had genuine injuries. He had a double hernia. We thought we'd got him right then he does his hamstring. He'd played two rusty games.

"That was his third consecutive match and his level of fitness has gone up. We'll get this from him all the time if we can keep him on the pitch.

"Jonathan Woodgate and Andy O'Brien were outstanding and the full-backs joined in and covered well. They were able to suppress Ruud van Nistelrooy, Diego Forlan and Ryan Giggs - all the players who could've changed the game for them.

"We kept a very good line and were the first to turn when anyone got behind us. We reduced them to long range shots.

"Defensively we have looked quite solid in many matches. Other than Chelsea we haven't been beaten by more than an odd goal all season."

Bramble suffered a thigh injury in the midweek win over Leeds, having been given the nod ahead of O'Brien in recent matches, and Robson insisted it would have been a mistake to play him half fit given the pace of the Premiership champions.

Sir Bobby said: "Titus got a pretty nasty injury on Wednesday. He got a blow on the thigh, and there was no point in risking him. It was giving him problems.

"We needed fitness. I thought pace would be important. I felt Andy O'Brien could deal with Ryan Giggs and Jonathan could deal with Ruud van Nistelrooy. If I'd played Titus and he played badly or got caught on pace there would have been questions, but I'm no mug so I left him out.

"He knew that and was quite happy with that and I was happy with Andy because he has a bit of pace. His pace against Giggs was vital.

"I put out a good team and we played to get a valuable point. That's three games in a week and we've not conceded a goal."
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 12, 2004
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