Newcastle give Allardyce vital breathing space

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The Independent Football

Sam Allardyce's position at Newcastle United will not be decided on the outcome of the club's FA Cup third-round tie at Stoke City on Sunday. Even were they to lose, the strong message from the hierarchy at St James' Park is that Allardyce will be in charge for the Premier League games against Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers that follow, and the determination of the owner, Mike Ashley, and the chairman, Chris Mort, to stand by the manager means that he is likely to be at the club at the end of the season. Stoke is not make or break.

Fans critical of Allardyce's tactics will not be pleased to hear this but there is a significant number of Newcastle supporters who wish to see the board stick with the manager, for the sake of continuity as much as Allardyce's popularity.

Mort said after Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Chelsea that he finds speculation surrounding Allardyce "tedious" and that "there is just no truth in it". The chairman was not inclined to repeat the message yesterday in the wake of Wednesday's 2-0 home loss to Manchester City, but that is not because he is backtracking from his weekend statement. It is because he is wary and weary of issuing phrases that can be interpreted as a vote of confidence.

All at Newcastle were silent yesterday on the subject of Joey Barton. On a second appeal, Barton was granted bail in the afternoon and was last night believed to be in the care of the Sporting Chance charity in Hampshire.

But any satisfaction Newcastle derived from seeing one of their players released from jail was offset by the fact that the charge against Barton has now been raised from a Section 39 common assault to a Section 47 assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

It is alleged Barton and friends were involved in two separate incidents in Church Street, Liverpool, at around 5.30am on Thursday last week. Barton is now due at Liverpool magistrates' court on 16 January. The maximum sentence, if he is found guilty, is five years. Manchester City confirmed yesterday that Newcastle have no contractual comeback with them over the 25-year-old, who was bought from City for 5.8m last summer.

Allardyce had staked some of his managerial reputation on being able to control Barton but, if Ashley and Mort are dismayed by developments, it is not affecting their intention to remain with Allardyce.

But the two men at the top are desperate for an FA Cup run to help to breathe life into a season scarred by defeats and unrest. Failure at Stoke like Barton may be used as evidence against Allardyce in the longer term. In the short term, the hierarchy does not regard his position as untenable. But they know that a run of three straight losses in the League over Christmas, including 1-0 at Wigan, has further undermined the manager's appeal locally. It was limited by earlier losing displays against Portsmouth and Liverpool in November, and the club are aware that selling season tickets, even to a famously loyal fanbase, is not to be taken for granted in the current economic climate.

Victory at Stoke would alleviate pressure, albeit temporarily, but some of the focus would switch to the January transfer window. In his programme notes on Wednesday, Mort said he "would expect us to make a couple of further additions to the squad in January, but like any other club we would prefer to add players in the summer transfer window".

With four players, Obafemi Martins, Abdoulaye Faye, Habib Beye and Geremi due to depart for the African Nations Cup, Newcastle's squad strength will be tested, but Mort was correct to also point out that this squad is much stronger than the one Glenn Roeder had at this time last year.

Allardyce may find it difficult to persuade the hierarchy to part with large funds for recruitment but if Nicky Butt is representative, then at least within the squad there is a degree of introspection about performance levels, and about the manager's situation.

"We're all fond of him," Butt said of Allardyce. "We all want him to be here and I'm sure, hopefully, he'll get that time. Everybody knows that managers get judged by their results, but things will never improve unless he's given time. This club of all clubs can show you that. I've been here for three and a half years now and I've had four managers.

"Sooner or later someone has got to say, 'This is the manager we're going to stand by, in good times and bad', and hopefully get the rewards at the end of it."

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