Football: Doubts mount over Souness' future at Anfield: Liverpool manager 'continuing normal duties' as directors meet again while a former favourite and potential replacement criticises board

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The Independent Online
LIVERPOOL steeled themselves to end Graeme Souness's two-year tenure as manager last night, when a three-and-a-half-hour board meeting at Anfield broke up without any statement defusing speculation about the security of his position.

Instead, at the end of the seven- man meeting, the Liverpool chairman, David Moores, made a dash for his Mercedes, pausing only to answer a reporter who asked about Souness's position. 'Well, he'll be there tomorrow,' Moores replied enigmatically before driving away.

Peter Robinson, the chief executive, refused afterwards to add anything to his earlier, terse, comment. 'It's just a normal board meeting,' he had insisted. 'We won't be saying anything about speculation about the manager, who is continuing his normal duties.'

Souness, who had not been aware of Sunday's four-and-a-half-hour board meeting, knew of yesterday's gathering but was given the option of attending by the chairman and decided against doing so. He told reporters outside his Cheshire home that he and his girlfriend, the former model Karen Levy, had 'been through a lot, and I'm sure we'll come through this.'

If, as now appears likely, the axe does fall on Souness, it would make him the first Liverpool manager to be forced from office since Don Welsh in 1956. Souness, who will be 40 tomorrow, has three years of his contract remaining, having signed a five-year deal when he left Rangers to succeed Kenny Dalglish at Anfield in April 1991.

Earlier in the day, Souness had been absent from Liverpool's Melwood training ground as the team prepared for tonight's Premier League match at Oldham.

The former Liverpool player, Alan Hansen, who has been linked with the Anfield position, yesterday criticised the Liverpool board for their handling of the speculation over Souness's future.

Hansen, interviewed on BBC Radio 5, said: 'It's not like Liverpool at all. Liverpool are usually clean-cut about things, and usually when they have got a decision to make they make it and that's the end of the story.

'I would have preferred all this to have happened at the end of the season. If they are going to do anything, do it at the end of the season.

'Liverpool have got a game tomorrow night, and they've got a game on Saturday. I don't think they should have had the board meeting until after those two games had been played.

'But certainly the speculation and rumour and counter-rumour has forced this board meeting, and I'm very, very surprised that they didn't go one way or the other: give the manager their full backing or tell him it was time to go.'

Nigel Clough could lead the exodus of internationals away from the City Ground after Nottingham Forest's relegation from the Premier League. Clough could now be the first to go ahead of the Republic of Ireland's Roy Keane and England's Stuart Pearce.

Forest are desperate to keep the England striker whose contract runs out this summer. But their hopes of doing so receded yesterday when the Forest director, Chris Wootton, the man at the centre of the alleged smear campaign to remove Brian Clough, refused to resign from the board.

The chairman, Fred Reacher, confirmed the 51-year-old former builder had been asked to resign at a meeting with his his fellow directors. But Reacher said: 'Mr Wootton refused and was then asked to leave the meeting.'

Forest's directors are not empowered to remove Wootton from the board themselves. That can only be done at an extraordinary meeting of shareholders. The fact that Wootton, who remains suspended from executive duties, has not been removed throws up real doubts about Nigel Clough's future at the club, as his father, Brian, is on record as saying: 'If he (Wootton) stays my son will leave.'

The Lincoln manager, Steve Thompson, is to leave the club at the end of the season following a decision by the club's board not to renew his contract.