Cheltenham Town 0 Newcastle United 2:Souness back on track after riding luck

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The Independent Football

Family, not football, is Graeme Souness' first priority in life. A week that started with his being summoned to face the Newcastle chairman had just ended with the Premiership side unconvincingly avoiding the ignominy that would probably have cost him his job. Yet the "biggest pressure", he maintained, had come when one of his children wrote off her car.

Souness' serenity, as he recalled how Lauren, 19, rang last Thursday night with a tear-stained story of being distracted and crashing into a wall, should not have been surprising. The Scot is steeped in such matters; Newcastle were an accident waiting to happen long before they came to Cheltenham. He knew that the presence of everyone from live TV to Malcolm Macdonald and other veterans of the fabled 1972 defeat at Hereford owed more to the ghoulishness that attracts people to pile-ups than to the prospect of pure football.

On another day, with better luck and greater composure, Cheltenham might have driven the Newcastle manager to the end of the road. Despite shockingly sub-standard displays by his central defenders, Jean-Alain Boumsong and Titus Bramble, that must have had Freddy Shepherd and his directors squirming in their seats, Souness lived to fight another day. A visit to Manchester City on Wednesday looks unlikely to offer succour to him, although he insisted he would remain a stress-free zone.

If he is to be believed, the man renowned for his run-ins with referees and touchline histrionics has had a personality transplant to go with the open-heart surgery during his time in charge at Liverpool. A teenage prang had put "in perspective" any difficulties he had at Newcastle. "I'm very fortunate. I've got no problems with sleeping, no problems with eating - as you can see - and none with having a glass of red wine," he said. "You don't do this job - or any job at a big club - unless you've got a thick skin."

Did he fear the worst when Shepherd arrived for crisis talks last Monday? "I honestly don't fear the worst about anything, except about something happening to my family. I leave the house in the morning when I know that they are all set up for the day. I go to work and do my very best for whoever is employing me. That's how I've lived my life."

Organising the offspring is clearly easier than sorting out the centre-backs. Kayode Odejayi, a £5,000 striker from Forest Green Rovers, repeatedly embarrassed Boumsong, an £8.5m international, for pace and power. Souness, however, predicted the Frenchman would prove "one of the best defenders in the World Cup". Whaddon Road in an icy wind and Cologne in a heatwave defy comparisons - and Bramble will not be reprising his Bambi-on-ice impression alongside Boumsong this summer - but this was tantamount to forecasting an Ecuador v Tunisia final.

Souness' assertion that his players are "100 per cent behind me" may be less fanciful. Scott Parker epitomised their spirit, being determined to turn out three weeks after a cartilage operation and having required a pre-match injection because of stomach pains. The former Chelsea player laboured in the first half, when the League Two team's John Finnigan was the best midfielder on view, but stuck manfully to his task.

Parker's reward was the unwitting goal that doubled Cheltenham's arrears two minutes after Michael Chopra's headed opener as half-time beckoned.

It came when Jerry Gill's attempted clearance cannoned off Parker into the net, but if fortune neglected to favour the brave on that occasion, Souness suggested that Newcastle, with all their injuries, had been due a break.

"Lady Luck has been so cruel to us," he said, steering dangerously towards a motoring theme, "but you've got to believe that she'll turn the corner."

Goals: Chopra (41) 0-1; Parker (43) 0-2.

Cheltenham Town (4-4-2): Higgs; Gill, Caines, Townsend, Armstrong; Melligan (Vincent, 86), Finnigan, Bird, Wilson; Guinan (Spencer, 74), Odejayi. Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Duff, Connolly.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Ramage, Boumsong, Bramble, Babayaro; Solano (Emre, 59), Parker (Luque, 76), Clark, Ameobi; Shearer, Chopra (N'Zogbia, 66). Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Elliott.

Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

Man of the match: Finnigan.

Attendance: 7,022.

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