Newcastle rule out second chance for Robert

But after being informed by the manager, Alain Perrin, that he would be starting on the bench, the temperamental French winger complained of a hamstring problem and asked to sit out the 4-1 victory. An infuriated Perrin was forced to go into the match with just four substitutes when Salif Diao failed a late fitness test. The 30-year-old was fined two weeks' wages, around £50,000, and forced to issue an apology to Perrin, the chairman Milan Mandaric and the club's supporters.

But any return to St James' Park has been blocked by the chairman, Freddy Shepherd. Robert burned his bridges with United last season, and in particular the manager, Graeme Souness, due to his outspoken views, notably on the eve of the club's Uefa Cup quarter-final with Sporting Lisbon when he criticised the team and the Scot.

Shepherd said: "When Portsmouth signed Robert from us it was on a permanent loan deal until the end of the current season, and a deal which will see him stay there after that is all done and dusted. I don't know what arrangement Robert has with Portsmouth, but it has nothing to do with us and all I can categorically say is that he will not be returning to Newcastle United."

Mandaric, eager to avoid any more controversy, has asked the club's fans to give Robert another chance. "Everybody makes mistakes and he has made one, but it is resolved now as far as as we are concerned and everything is focused on our home game with Wigan," Mandaric said.

"The fans were upset last Saturday and so was everybody at the club, but now I would ask everyone to put it on one side and concentrate on backing the team - and all the players. We have accepted his apology and passed it on to the fans because it is with them that he has made his biggest mistake - and he accepts that."

Mandaric has made it clear that Robert must be on his best behaviour now at Portsmouth. The winger is unlikely to be happy with the role of substitute for long, but the club do not want a repeat of his public and personal criticism that made life so frustrating for Sir Bobby Robson and Souness at Newcastle.

United are now coping adequately without Robert and are putting together good results. Three wins in eight days have lifted spirits, with the midfielder Scott Parker claiming that a top-six finish is on the cards - the minimum requirement this season for Shepherd, with Souness's job otherwise on the line.

"I don't think it's an absolutely amazing league this year. You have Chelsea, but everyone else can beat whoever. I believe we're as good as Manchester United and Arsenal," Parker said.

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