Football: Wadsworth a cog on the Tyne

Simon Turnbull sees Robson ring the changes at recharged Newcastle
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The Independent Online
A LOT OF water has flowed under the Tyne Bridge since the night the rain came down on St James' Park and Ruud Gullit's reign as Newcastle United manager came to a damp squib of a conclusion. The tide of change will be evident in the home dug-out at Newcastle this afternoon. The dreadlocked Dutchman will not be there, and neither will the striking figure who sat behind him for two-thirds of the fateful Tyne-Wear derby 25 days ago. Alan Shearer will be on the field when Bobby Robson takes his pitch-side seat at St James' for the first time.

Two weeks into his new job, Robson is putting a new managerial philosophy into profitable practice at Newcastle. Unlike his prickly predecessor, he believes in picking his best players. Hence Shearer and Robert Lee will be centre-stage when the Magpies meet the Owls in the clash of the precariously perched top-flighters.

Robson has set about building a team from within the black and white shadow of a squad he inherited. Newcastle, under the galvanising influence of the celebrated sexagenarian, look markedly more United than they ever did before Gullit bit the managerial bullet. With Shearer a captain of industry and Lee a driving dynamo alongside Gary Speed, the Toon Army members who made it to the Bulgarska Armia Stadium on Thursday saw a slick fighting unit. The assured Newcastle who saw off CSKA Sofia 2-0 bore little resemblance to the shambolic Newcastle who sank to that 2- 1 defeat against Sunderland three and a half weeks ago.

"One swallow doesn't make a summer," the manager of the Magpies said after bringing his team down to earth with a Friday afternoon training session back on home ground. "The players have done very well and they've been applauded for it. But it's just one win. We're not out of the woods by a long way."

If Robson needs confirmation he will find it in the black and white of the Premiership table this morning. Only Sheffield Wednesday's inferior goal difference is keeping Newcastle off the bottom. The two teams meet on Tyneside with just one point each from seven matches.

"It's a cup final for us," Robson said, without prompting. "It's worth six points to whoever wins because both clubs are in a perilous position. Defeat really is unthinkable."

Robson, for all his managerial success (a Uefa Cup win with Ipswich, a World Cup semi-final with England and a Cup-Winners' Cup win with Barcelona), has been here before. "Just once," he said. "When I took over at Ipswich in January 1969 they were 18th in the First Division. Bill McGarry had left. The club had no money. They were in trouble. I needed the job.

"Our first match was against Manchester United at home. We won 1-0. That was a salvage job, that season. But we survived and once I got Ipswich going we had a period when we never finished outside the top four.

"All the other clubs I've managed were at the top... PSV Eindhoven, Porto, Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon. So, really, the challenge I've got here is just about the biggest test I've ever had. I've never had to get a big club away from the bottom. It's a big challenge - a very big challenge."

It's a challenge Robson is tackling with the help of a former Scunthorpe winger. Like Kevin Keegan, Mick Wadsworth wore the Scunny No 7 shirt in the 1970s. Unlike the England manager, he never made it beyond the Old Show Ground as a player. As a coach, though, the former Barnsley schoolteacher has gained a top-class reputation - a reputation recognised yesterday when he became the first acquisition of the Robson regime.

Wadsworth's appointment as head coach, in a backroom team that will continue to include, for the time being at least, Steve Clarke as assistant manager and John Carver as first-team coach, was not unexpected. As an FA staff coach - initially in charge of the North-west region and subsequently as technical officer - he became a valued assessor of foreign opposition during Robson's time as England manager. He was a member of Robson's off- the-field team at the World Cup finals in 1990.

Wadsworth, who unearthed Matt Jansen and Rory Delap during his spell as director of coaching under Michael Knighton at Carlisle, will be alongside Robson in the home dug-out at St James' Park this afternoon. In time, he may be joined there by a member of Robson's on-the-field team at Italia 90. The only role Peter Beardsley was asked to fill last week was that of His Majesty in the Tyne Theatre's yuletide production of Sleeping Beauty. The regal schemer was, however, mentioned in Friday dispatches at the Newcastle training ground. "You can see a glimpse of Peter Beardsley in him," Robson mused while considering the talents of Kieron Dyer.

In Sofia the other night it was possible to see a glimpse of the old Newcastle too. This particular Sunday, Danny Wilson could be forgiven for suspecting, might not be the best of days for Wednesday.