Gibson gives Southgate full backing

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The Middlesbrough chairman, Steve Gibson, has reacted to weekend reports that his manager Gareth Southgate is under pressure by reassuring Southgate that his role at the club is not under threat. Boro play Tottenham tomorrow and then Bolton, both of whom have changed their managers in recent weeks, but Gibson has quietly quashed any notion that he is considering the same.

A source close to the long-serving Middlesbrough chairman last night said: "If this is a tough year, then it's a tough year, but nobody's getting sacked."

Boro are fourth bottom of the Premier League, one point ahead of Spurs and two ahead of Bolton, but Gibson's message to those questioning Southgate for the first time since he inherited the post from Steve McClaren is that the club is in a period of transition, particularly in terms of playing staff.

Southgate will be pleased with Gibson's support as he awaits the return of several key injured players.

Meanwhile, at Newcastle, Michael Owen yesterday dismissed stories regarding his contract at the club. He said the possibility of opening negotiations on a new one or exploiting clauses in his existing deal to leave Tyneside was "pie in the sky".

Owen has been the subject of speculation concerning his future since the get-out clause in his contract was leaked at the end of last season but is adamant that he is not the source of it.

"I signed a four-year contract [in August 2005]," he said, "but there is speculation every summer, every transfer window, I don't know where it starts.

"Action speaks louder than words, I'm still here and still loving my time here. I haven't been offered or asked for a new contract. Neither has my agent. It is pie in the sky.

"People are talking about this clause and that clause. I feel sorry for fans rather than myself. It's water off a duck's back for me, but it must be frustrating for the fans reading about this club and that club. I've said numerous times that I'm happy here, but speculation has followed me since I've been here. I say the right things and play in the right way by trying my best, so I don't know where it comes from."

Owen's team-mate Nicky Butt is to be offered a new contract as a reward for his form this season.

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