Ashley stays on but Given may give up on Toon

Frustrated goalkeeper's loyalty may be exhausted as woes show no sign of ending
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The Independent Football

Mike Ashley took Newcastle United off the market yesterday morning but the club may have to deal with another sale because Shay Given's future at St James' Park is uncertain. Arsenal have again been linked with the 32-year-old goalkeeper – described as "world class" by Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard yesterday – but there is also sustained interest from Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.

Transfer speculation at City has centred on Juventus' Gianluigi Buffon and Real Madrid's Iker Casillas but it is Given whom Mark Hughes wants. Newcastle will demand a high price – possibly as much as £5m for a player who joined for £1.5m from Blackburn Rover 11 and a half years ago – but supporters at St James' would wish Given well if he chooses to depart. They have appreciated his loyalty.

Yesterday was Given's 459th appearance for Newcastle. He is third in the club's all-time list of appearances. But despite the glowing praise earned from Gerrard, an exposed Given conceded five goals as the Newcastle defence failed at the basics and at full-time Given ran off, clearly annoyed. He is dedicated to Newcastle, but has been dismayed at this season's developments and the departure of Kevin Keegan. With Newcastle not playing at home until January 10th there is an outside chance that this was Given's last Newcastle game there.

"The only disappointment we had at half-time was not being three or four up by then," Gerrard said of Liverpool's 5-1 victory, "but Newcastle have a world-class keeper. He made some fantastic stops. Credit to Shay."

Given's manager, Joe Kinnear, also praised the Irishman. "If there's one positive," Kinnear said, "he's proved he's the best goalkeeper in the League by a mile."

Given was part of a Newcastle starting XI bought by six different managers. A seventh, Kinnear, picked it and said afterwards that while Ashley's statement about his decision to stay was welcome, "the next statement will be the important one. We have to look to the future and getting more players in is a must – at least four."

Before Christmas Kinnear said that he had received approval from Ashley to fund £12m worth of January transfers; yesterday he said he has no assurances from Ashley regarding January.

That type of mixed message confuses supporters. They awoke to Ashley's announcement yesterday morning. It was increasingly clearAshley would be forced to stay due to the absence of takers at his stated price, but while a degree of stability returned, fans know not whether to cheer or sneer.

"I have withdrawn Newcastle United from the market," Ashley said in the match programme, "and for me 2009 will be the year in which we drive the club forward together." He said he has been unable to find "worthy custodians" for "such a fine football club" and added: "Nobody would pretend the last few months have not been difficult for all of us connected with Newcastle United following Kevin Keegan's departure in September."

Ashley denied "celebrating" Keegan's exit in a New York bar, but he saluted Kinnear's impact and even suggested "a flutter on us reaching that top six?" His notes were written prior to the Boxing Day defeat at Wigan and yesterday's humiliation.

Ashley appeared for neither game and there is unlikely to be dancing in the streets of Tyneside until there is evidence of renewed commitment via incoming transfers. Kinnear called his squad "threadbare" and said the director of recruitment, Dennis Wise, was "doing the investigations"on the players Kinnear wants. Wise's presence remains an issue at St James' but apparently not for Ashley and Kinnear.

Newcastle United: A reign of pain

* May 2007 Mike Ashley buys 41.6 per cent stake in Newcastle for £55.34m. Chairman Freddy Shepherd then sells his 28 per cent share to Ashley.

* July Chris Mort appointed chairman.

* January 2008 Sam Allardyce sacked, replaced by Kevin Keegan.

* August Ashley shown downing a pint during 3-0 defeat at Arsenal.

* September Keegan resigns as manager after days of speculation. Supporters stage mass demonstration. Ashley announces the club is for sale. Joe Kinnear named interim manager.

* November Kinnear named manager until end of the season.