Magpies relegation is 'inconceivable'

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The Independent Football

The managing director of Newcastle United, Derek Llambias, has admitted the prospect of relegation is simply unthinkable. The Magpies head for Bolton on Sunday having dragged themselves five points clear of the Premier League drop zone after a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Everton last weekend. However, the job is far from done and with Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea due at St James' Park in their next three home games, they face an intensely difficult few weeks. While remaining confident they will avoid relegation, Llambias knows the alternative does not bear thinking about.

He said: "It's totally inconceivable. You just couldn't go there – and we won't go there. I might be bullish about it, but you have got to have that faith."

Llambias's comments came as the Mike Ashley regime once again went public on life behind the scenes at a club which has gone through a traumatic few months. Kevin Keegan's departure in September and the furore which followed it persuaded the billionaire to put the business up for sale, although with no buyer having been found, he has now resumed the process of attempting to rebuild it.

He is doing so against the backdrop of temporarily losing Keegan's replacement, Joe Kinnear, to heart surgery and seeing big names Shay Given and Charles N'Zogbia leave in the January transfer window. However, Llambias insists the long-term plan is still achievable. Asked about Newcastle's prospects of competing for a top-six berth once again, he said: "In the next year? I think it would be tough. It's taken Aston Villa three seasons to get there. They have got a good team – no better than us – but they are up there. We would love to be in that position once we are settled. We need a little bit more stability on the team side."

Stability has been lacking at St James' Park, but Ashley has rediscovered his passion for the mission he launched almost two years ago.

Llambias said: "He was hurt by the reaction [to Keegan's departure]. He came into Newcastle United, he bought it for a price. People say he didn't do his due diligence, but that's the way Mike does business. He put £250m into it and will continue to go down that route. When he put it up for sale, he wasn't wanted. When you are not wanted somewhere, you think, 'Well hang on, let's walk away, it hasn't worked out and you have to move on'. But come December time, Mike and I sat down and said, 'Enough's enough, let's get it back on track. The team needs to know where it is going, the supporters need to know where they are going', so Mike Ashley is back on board. We are not for sale."

Llambias has been handed the task of placating furious fans and persuading them there are grounds for optimism. However, he admitted the regime miscalculated the fallout from the Keegan saga. He said: "We tried our best to keep him, but once someone crosses that line, it's very difficult to get them back. Kevin – what can you say? He is the Messiah, he is a great guy. We are trying to resolve our differences with Kevin and hopefully, we will get there very shortly."

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