High praise from Hughton for Magpies defender
Newcastle boss Chris Hughton has described centre-back Mike Williamson as one of the best English defenders in the Barclays Premier League after the 27-year-old agreed a new five-and-a-half-year contract at St James' Park.
Williamson joined the Magpies from Portsmouth, for whom he did not make an appearance, in January and immediately established himself in the team alongside Fabricio Coloccini.
He has carried that form into his first season in the Premier League and was an ever-present, keeping the likes of Sol Campbell and Steven Taylor on the bench, until he received a three-match suspension for a clash with Bolton's Johan Elmander last month.
Williamson will sit out his second game when Newcastle travel to West Brom on Sunday, but he will do so having secured his future in the north-east.
Hughton said: "Mike has been outstanding for us since he came here. He was somebody who I tracked for a while before we got him, and he has perhaps exceeded even the expectations we had of him.
"He has a brilliant attitude and in my opinion has been one of the best English centre-backs in the league this season. And I thoroughly believe that his best years are yet to come, so we're thrilled to have agreed the new contract."
Williamson spent five years playing in the lower leagues with Wycombe before joining Watford in January 2009, and he is relishing his shot at the big time.
"Playing in the Premier League with a club like Newcastle has been a dream for me, and I was delighted to agree a new contract to continue doing that until 2016," he said.
"I've played in the lower leagues before, so to get the opportunity to play at St James' Park every other week - and grounds like the Emirates and Old Trafford - is fantastic for me."
Teenage striker Nile Ranger has also extended his contract with Newcastle until 2016, and Hughton is hoping the 19-year-old can follow in the footsteps of new England cap Andy Carroll.
"Just as we have already done with Andy Carroll, we're keen to keep our young talent at this football club and agreeing such a long-term deal with Nile is good news for all concerned," said the Newcastle boss.
Ranger, who netted against Chelsea in the Carling Cup in September, added: "I'm loving it at Newcastle. I really feel I can develop here and I can only learn from some of the players here."
Newcastle travel down to the midlands after a difficult week of training that has been heavily affected by the huge amounts of snow that have fallen on the north-east.
Hughton paid tribute to the groundstaff at Newcastle's training ground, who have enabled the squad to at least use the outdoor facilities some of the time.
He said: "We have a tremendous and hard-working groundstaff that have worked wonders. The moments that we've had outside we've been very grateful for."
With Williamson and Coloccini both serving three-match bans, Hughton is set to continue with Taylor and Campbell in central defence, but Joey Barton is available after completing his suspension for punching Blackburn's Morten Gamst Pedersen.
Hughton added: "Joey's the first of the three to be available and it's good to have him back."