Will Stoke be the defining resigning moment?

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The Independent Football

"Why should I?" asked Sam Allardyce. "I haven't done anything wrong yet."

It was approaching six o'clock on Friday evening at St James' Park, and an indication of where Allardyce stands seven months and 22 days into his tenure as Newcastle United's manager was that the question posed was hypothetical, about the possibility of him resigning. Only a man in a corner gets asked such questions.

It was, and is, uncomfortable. Allardyce feels that a significant proportion of the pressure on him has been generated by the reporters who sit in front of him every week, but that ignores the poor results and inadequate performances that have enraged so many fans.

Consecutive losses to Wigan, Chelsea and Manchester City are no media invention, and a fourth, at Stoke City this evening, live on BBC1, would add further hurt to an already wounded following.

The Big Question, asked constantly on Tyneside since the draw was made, is whether a defeat would leave either Newcastle or Allardyce with no option but change. On Wednesday night, after the 2-0 home loss to Manchester City, Allardyce said he did not see the Stoke game as "defining", a view reinforced by his superiors.

But Allardyce and the men above him, the chairman, Chris Mort, and the owner, Mike Ashley, all know that while a defeat at Stoke would not see the manager leave next week, come a day of reckoning at the end of the season, it will matter.

Back to that hypothetical question. Allardyce continued: "If things went wrong, and I felt they were my fault, then I would say it."

It was quite a statement from a man who reputedly earns the guts of 3 million a year. The chances of his agent allowing him to resign a three-year contract, however, are zero.

"I don't foresee that time coming around," Allardyce added. "But I do know I've got to start winning football matches. Many managers over the years have had a defining moment I can remember Howard Kendall when Reidy [Peter Reid] was playing for them. He needed to win one or, he said, it was curtains; but he did win and he went on to be probably the most successful manager Everton's ever had.

"I don't think I'm at the defining moment yet but I know we're under pressure. We've got to accept that pressure and, if we want to relieve it, then we've got to win."

Had the scale of the task at Newcastle the enormity of the minutiae, the problem of everyday pressure left him with any regret about taking the post when the previous chairman, Freddy Shepherd, offered it last May?

"No, not really. I thought I'd not get another chance because I turned it down before. But I knew that it would be difficult to turn this club around into what it could be.

"Nobody has really turned it around before into what it wants to be, have they? It's 53 years since they won anything [domestically].

"Kevin [Keegan] had a right good try and built a great, great team but didn't win anything. Bobby [Robson] got it going again but it took him two years he finished 11th and 11th. It's a big, big job. That's why I said [it would take] three to five years."

Keegan's FA Cup best as Newcastle's manager was the sixth round in 1995, while it is being forgotten in the hindsight rush to sanctify Robson that five years ago Newcastle, then a much better team than now, went to Wolves, then worsethan Stoke, in the third round and lost 3-2.

But Shepherd didn't forget, nor did the fans. That is part of the reason why there was barely a murmur of discontent when Robson was pushed a year later. Similarly, when Glenn Roeder was sacked last May, no one had forgotten that Newcastle's FA Cup run consisted of two matches, the second of which was a replay: the 5-1 home defeat by Birmingham City. There were no protests at the time from the 26,000 crowd, but it was remembered all the way to May.

The trouble for Allardyce is that he has accumulated enough blots in less than eight months for the anti faction to be foaming. Unquestionably despite denials some of this is internal as well as external. The grafting of the Bolton model on to Newcastle has not been simple and, so far, has not stuck.

"I don't think we've had an argument regarding it," Allardyce said of his methods and the reaction of his players. "But with the process, you do have to convince some more than others.

"When all the evidence is presented to the player he can see the benefits, you hope, but we don't just walk around saying, 'Here, start taking that'."

Avoiding another blot, convincing inside and out, is what Allardyce needs Newcastle to be doing tonight.

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