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20 Juli 2008


Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan is determined his side will be among the fittest in the Barclays Premier League this season.
The 57-year-old saw his team beat League One Hartlepool 4-1 at Victoria Park yesterday after 12 days' training, and was impressed with what he saw.
Keegan said: "When we came back, we said we can be fitter and we can be stronger.
"We might not have the biggest squad this season and we might not have the best squad in the Premier League because there are some big clubs out there with big squads and a lot of quality players.
"But we can be the fittest team, and that is what we have tried to do. That is why we have never left the training ground."
Keegan will take his side to home-town club Doncaster next weekend as they step up their preparations with executive director (football) Dennis Wise and his team still searching for new recruits.
The manager admits he will need up to four more signings on top of Jonas Gutierrez and Danny Guthrie - the former Liverpool midfielder made his debut and scored at Hartlepool - before the end of the transfer window.
However, he effectively has one on board already after Republic of Ireland winger Damien Duff turned in an eye-catching display against Danny Wilson's side.
The 29-year-old, clearly feeling the benefit of a rare injury-free pre-season, was in sparkling form and was rewarded with a well-taken hat-trick.
Asked if Duff is the fittest he has been since his £5million move to Tyneside from Blackburn, Keegan said: "There's absolutely no doubt of that. The lad has never had a pre-season for three years.
"He is at the weight he was when he was 18 and he has worked so hard in training, the running and the way he has worked with everything we have put on probably showed out there on Saturday.
"After 70, 80 minutes, he still looked like he had got a turbo-charger in him, as did James Milner and a couple of the others.
"You have just got a draw a line under where he has been and just judge him from now, now he has had a chance to put a foundation into his season, which he hasn't had for three years.
"Any players who misses the pre-season, you ask any player, no matter how good they are, where they have played and what qualities they possess, it is very hard without that base.
"I think you will see a different Damien Duff this season. There were signs of that on Saturday, but obviously, there is more to come."
Duff, like Shay Given, Charles N'Zogbia and Obafemi Martins, who also started at Hartlepool, has been linked with a move away from St James' Park this summer, but Keegan is determined to retain his services.
He said: "There has been speculation about every one of our players, but I definitely want to keep him.
"He is a good character around the place, he sets a good standard in training along with three or four of the other players.
"They set the standards, they are the ones who do it right every day. Rain or sunshine, it doesn't make any difference to them.
"We are very strong now in certain positions. Where Damien plays is where Gutierrez can play, where James Milner can play, where Charles N'Zogbia can play and where Geremi can play.
"We have got five very good players competing for two-and-a-half places in the team.
"We haven't got that everywhere, so we need to address that and that is what we are trying to do.
"It might look like not so successfully at the moment, but there is a long time to go and there will be plenty of opportunities.
"If the right player comes along and we think he is right for Newcastle United, we will be in there pitching."