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Souness Rocking And Rolling

NEWCASTLE UTD: Given, Ramage, Bramble, Boumsong, Babayaro, Solano, Bowyer, Clark, Luque (O'Brien 62), Shearer, Chopra.
Subs Not Used: Harper, Elliott, N'Zogbia, Brittain.

BLACKBURN ROVERS: Friedel, Neill, Nelsen, Khizanishvili, Gray, Reid, Tugay (Emerton 85), Savage, Pedersen (Mokoena 90), Kuqi, Dickov (Peter 53).
Subs Not Used: Enckelman, Johnson.

Att: 51,323

If Newcastle boss Graeme Souness didn't realise he is not wanted at St James' Park by the Toon Army, he certainly does now! Another performance out of the wheelie-bin plunged the Jock and his team of underperformers further into crisis. It was a controversial Morten Gamst Pedersen goal that handed Blackburn all three points, but that does not take away from the fact Newcastle looked a team desperate for leadership.

The Norwegian appeared to punch the ball into the net with his left hand as he attempted to turn Shefki Kuqi's 74th-minute header home, but referee Howard Webb saw nothing wrong and awarded the goal. Yes ... it is tough luck for a team so low on confidence, but you have to look at the manager and ask if he is doing his job.

The Mags went close through Albert Luque, Alan Shearer, Lee Bowyer and Celestine Babayaro, but luck deserted them once again as they slipped to their fourth defeat in five Premiership games to leave chairman Freddy Shepherd stone-faced and Souness fighting for his job.

Talking of 'luck', All I can say is we (and Souness) had a major slice of good luck with the absence of Craig Bellamy - the striker was suspended - because this game was set up for him to rub Souness's nose in the s**t. I've nothing against Bellamy. He can be a pain in the arse, but he is the sort of player we could do with at this club right now, rather than the fancy-Dan Luque who moved at pace once in this game ... when he was substituted and ran down the tunnel.

It has been said the breakdown in the relationship between Souness and Bellamy proved a defining moment in the manager's tenure, but that is just ONE breakdown in a list of dozens. Souness has defended players who are not good enough, saying the fans should understand their problems. Those problems being Jean-Alain Boumsong's personal problems at home; Titus Brambles' lack of concentration; Luque struggling to settle on Tyneside; etc.

Yes we all know about injuries. But Shepherd, at last, faced the consequences this week and didn't stand by his manager by reminding him that European qualification is still a requirement. Fat Fred has dropped his standards. He insisted he wanted silverware LAST season, and repeated it again in August, but now we are looking at Europe and not cups.

The fans are sick of the sub-standard displays his team have produced all season, and it's not just those in recent weeks. Never has a team relied on a player the way we rely on Shay Given. An Irish official said this week that Given is the best goalkeeper in the world, and his performances this season have been breathtaking. The only reason Souness is still in a job is because of his goalkeeper!

The game was 17 minutes old when Titus Bramble failed to cut out Pedersen's driven cross and with Jean-Alain Boumsong and Babayaro conspicuous by their absence, Dickov fired towards goal. Given somehow managed to throw himself a cross his line to claw the ball away, but notice had been served.

His opposite number Brad Friedel distinguished himself with a superb save to deny 9.5million signing Luque his first goal and Shearer went close with a 34th-minute effort which cleared the advancing Friedel, but dropped wide.

Bowyer drilled another effort wide under pressure after being set up by Shearer, and although Rovers threatened repeatedly through wide men Pedersen and Steven Reid with Robbie Savage providing the ammunition, there was a general feeling of optimism as the sides left the pitch at half-time.

Luque's blushes were spared by an offside flag after he headed a 47th-minute Bramble cross wide from close range, and Bowyer was similarly inaccurate after being picked out by Solano six minutes later. By that point, Hughes had been forced to replace Dickov with Sergio Peter after the Scot had fractured his collarbone when falling awkwardly, and the momentum was increasingly with the home side.

Bowyer could not hit the target once again on 56 minutes after being set up by Solano and Shearer, and Shearer powered a 61st-minute header straight into Friedel's hands and then forced the keeper to save at his feet after Alan O'Brien, on for the clearly unhappy Luque, had done well down the left.

But when the opening goal arrived, it came at the other end. Shefki Kuqi climbed high to head Lucas Neill's cross back across goal, and Pedersen appeared to punch it into the net with his hand, but referee Webb awarded the goal.

Babayaro's long-range piledriver four minutes later flew just wide with Friedel beaten, but as time ran down, Newcastle's desperation grew. Bowyer had late claims for a penalty turned down, but the players left the pitch to calls for the manager's head and hundreds joined a demonstration outside the Milburn Stand.

The Journalist

Writer:  Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday January 22 2006

Time: 1:04PM


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