Harper: Loyalty now paying off
Harper joined United in 1992 as a youth player, and aside from a few brief loan spells, has resisted the urge to move on despite finding himself marooned to the bench for much of his time at the club. Shay Given blocked Harper's path to the first team during the last decade but the Irishman's departure has allowed the veteran the chance to play first-team football, albeit in the second tier after relegation from the Premier League. And after playing in 45 out of 46 Championship games last term, Harper said he is looking to keeping hold of the number one jersey after winning promotion back to the top flight. "People asked my why I hung around," said the 35-year-old stopper, who warned he has to be wary of back-up keepers Tim Krul and Fraser Forster. "This is why I stayed, to play for this huge club in the Premier League. I'm hoping to do that this year. I won't take anything for granted. "I know that we have got two fantastic young goalkeepers behind me who are inexperienced, but champing at the bit for an opportunity. "It's up to me to work hard and get myself as fit and sharp as possible for the season ahead." Chris Hughton's team restart life as a Premier League side against Manchester United on 16 August and Harper is eyeing up a start against the former champions. "My sole ambition for the next few weeks is to get myself in the best condition to hopefully start the first game at Old Trafford," added Harper. "If I can get myself in top condition and do well, hopefully that means the club will do well. Anything else is out of my hands." The Magpies' opening clash will be as tough as they come and supporters of the Toon Army will be wary of a bad start to the season. Newcastle suffered the indignation of demotion to the second tier two years ago and are keen to avoiding a repeat after storming to the Championship title last season. But Harper says he holds no fear of facing Sir Alex Ferguson's team - and insists he and his team will travel to the North West full of confidence. He went on: "People talk about the daunting first game, but every player and member of staff worked their socks off last year to get this set of fixtures in the Premier League. "If we have a positive season, with very few injuries, hopefully we'll go to Old Trafford in top condition and full of confidence."