Football: Souness' natives grow restless

Newcastle United 1 Charlton Athletic 1
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The Independent Online
ALAN CURBISHLEY had seen it all before at St James' Park. On his first visit as Charlton manager, in partnership with Steve Gritt in January 1992, Newcastle United contrived to snatch a 4-3 defeat from the jaws of a 3-0 lead.

On that occasion, the Novocastrian ire was not directed at the home manager but at the board. The Toon Army never did turn against Osvaldo Ardiles. Indeed, they applauded the spirit and adventure of his young side and sympathised with his lack of resources.

It was only when Ardiles made way for Kevin Keegan, a fortnight after the Charlton capitulation, that John Hall pumped his millions into the Magpies. Thirteen years and several fortunes later, the prospect of silverware seems as distant as ever.

Graeme Souness is only six months into his managerial stint at St James', but in that time Newcastle have shifted from neutral into reverse. Lacking creative spark, attacking width and suitable support for Alan Shearer, they are unrecognisable from the team that played with such elan under Sir Bobby Robson.

On Saturday, they were going nowhere. "Attack, attack, attack," the fans implored, a forlorn cry last heard when Kenny Dalglish's side were stuck in their own half at Wembley against Arsenal in the one-sided FA Cup final of 1998.

When a goalscoring attack did materialise it stemmed from a Titus Bramble hoof and a Shearer head-on - Kieron Dyer beating Dean Kiely with a fine half-volley. The lead lasted 55 seconds, the time it took Dennis Rommedahl to curl in a right-foot drive off the right post, after Andy O'Brien had presented the Dane with a gift.

It would be premature to suggest that the sands of time are running out for Souness, but he took his team away for a short break at the Dubai Police Academy yesterday with worrying words ringing in his ears. Chants of "Graeme Souness is getting the sack" were struck up by Charlton supporters but applauded and accompanied by a sizeable number of home fans.

Souness is Newcastle's fifth manager since Ardiles, having followed Keegan, Dalglish, Ruud Gullit and Robson. Curbishley, in the meantime, has gone from strength to strength.

He lost five of his players in a five-a-side contest on Friday but battened down the hatches for 52 minutes before his team accepted the invitation to cut loose. Souness' team were fortunate to cling on for a point. Not that the natives welcomed it as any form of consolation.

Goals: Dyer (52) 1-0; Rommedahl (53) 1-1.

Newcastle United (4-1-3-2): Given; Carr, O'Brien, Bramble, Babayaro; Faye; Bowyer (Robert, 70), Dyer, Jenas; Shearer, Ameobi (Kluivert, 70). Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Hughes.

Charlton Athletic (4-1-4-1): Kiely; Young, El Karkouri, Perry, Hreidarsson; Kishishev; Rommedahl (Lisbie, 84), Holland, Murphy (Euell, 90), Konchesky; Bartlett. Substitutes not used: Anderson (gk), Johansson, Sam.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

Booked: Newcastle Faye; Charlton Konchesky.

Man of the match: Rommedahl.

Attendance: 51,114.

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