Football: Souness denies holding Liverpool to ransom: Souness likely to stay in charge for only one more game at Anfield while his team suffer reverse at Boundary Park as Hutchison is sent off

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The Independent Online
LIVERPOOL'S final Premier League match of the season, at home to Tottenham on Saturday, now looks certain to be the last of Graeme Souness's controversial two-year reign as manager.

Following three days of speculation, fuelled by the Liverpool board's failure to offer a vote of confidence after two meetings inside 48 hours, Anfield sources yesterday confirmed that Souness would definitely be leaving. He will be the first Liverpool manager not to leave of his own volition since Don Welsh in 1956.

All that remains to be resolved is the amount of compensation that the former Rangers manager, who celebrates his 40th birthday today, is to receive. He has three years of a pounds 350,000-a-year contract to run.

Souness made it clear before last night's game at Oldham that he still hoped for a stay of execution, despite the reticence of any Liverpool director to quash the rumours. 'All I want to do is see out my next three years at Liverpool,' he said. 'Anyone who knows me will tell you that I've never run away from anything.

'I'm being portrayed as a mercenary, someone who is holding the club to ransom. That's not true.'

Nevertheless, his downfall has its roots in his decision to sell the story of his heart bypass operation last April to The Sun - a newspaper reviled on Merseyside because of its coverage of the Hillsborough disaster.

Liverpool went on to win the FA Cup, but their failure to mount a challenge for the championship this season has merely heightened disatisfaction with Souness.

His predecessor, Kenny Dalglish, who left complainining about the 'pressure' of the job in March 1991, is likely to be Liverpool's first choice, although prising him from Blackburn would be difficult. Peter Reid (Manchester City) and Bruce Rioch (Bolton) both have the credentials the Anfield board seeks.

Meanwhile, Mel Machin's resignation after four years in charge at First Division Barnsley is likely to pave the way for the appointment of the Leeds midfielder, Gordon Strachan, as player-manager.

Alan Ball, the Exeter manager and former England international, could be disciplined by his club as well as the Football Association following the violence at St James' Park when the referee, Bob Hamer, was bundled to the ground and a linesman hit at the end of Tuesday's game with Port Vale.

The Exeter chairman, Gerald Vallence, said the trouble would be discussed at a board meeting on Monday and he would be talking to Ball about his involvement.

On the final whistle, just after the Bristol official, who retires on Saturday, had controversially awarded Vale a penalty which denied Exeter guaranteed Second Division survival, Ball sprinted towards him and had to be restrained by his captain, Peter Whiston.

Angry fans joined in and amid scuffles Hamer was knocked over. He is to make a statement to police, who made no arrests on the night, and on receipt of his report the FA seems certain to launch an inquiry.

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