Newcastle United's fans have been promised the club remains committed to re-establishing itself at the top end of the English game. The managing director Derek Llambias last night met fans' representatives as the Mike Ashley regime stepped up its charm offensive following a difficult few months at St James' Park.
The club's owners have found themselves a target for disgruntled supporters in the wake of Kevin Keegan's departure as manager in September last year, and the highs of his first reign and of the five years Sir Bobby Robson spent at the helm are now distant memories.
However, Llambias insisted Ashley's ambition remains undimmed. Asked if the club could rub shoulders with the leading clubs both at home and in Europe once again, he said: "Why not? We want to be solid competitors at the top. That's the way we are going. We aim to be knocking on the door again."
Llambias was grilled by the Supporters Panel, a cross-section of 23 fans, during a two and a half-hour session in which he admitted that the club's decision to keep their own counsel in the immediate aftermath of Keegan's exit was a mistake. However, with Ashley having ended his self-imposed exile from St James' Park and shelved plans to sell the club, he is once again pressing ahead with his long-term vision.
Llambias said: "We have plans for the club and we are taking them forward. When we took over, we had repair work to do and holes to fill. That has been a huge step. We have put a quarter of a billion [pounds] into the club. We didn't think the club had any foundation, there was a poor Academy and we are now building for the future. We are not neglecting the club." Llambias was quizzed about the cash available to strengthen a squad depleted by the sales of James Milner and Shay Given, but gave little away.
Meanwhile, the Senegal international defender Habib Beye is targeting Arsenal's visit to St James' on 21 March for his comeback from an ankle ligament injury. Beye has been out of action since damaging his ankle in a challenge by Wigan's Lee Cattermole on Boxing Day. Cattermole has hit the headlines more than once this season for his rugged approach, and the former Middlesbrough player made his mark at the Riverside Stadium once again at the weekend with a tackle, albeit a fair one, which left Didier Digard facing 12 weeks out.
Speaking of his run-in with the 20-year-old, Beye said: "It was one of the most harrowing experiences of my career. I thought my leg was broken. When I went to the hospital, it was a relief as they said nothing was broken." Beye has spent the two months since working on his rehabilitation, and is determined to return ahead of schedule to play his part in the Magpies' fight for survival in the Premier League.
He said: "We have talked about Chelsea on April 4, but I would like to think I could be back in the team for the Arsenal game. I was determined to play again this season. On Boxing Day, they thought four months – now I am one month ahead. If I am back by the end of March, there will be six or seven games to play. That wouldn't be bad. This has been a hard season for us, so if I can salvage something from it, brilliant."Reuse content