Newcastle scramble to find Robson replacement

Freddy Shepherd risked the wrath of Newcastle United fans again yesterday when he said he felt like the man "who shot Bambi" following the sacking of Sir Bobby Robson.

Freddy Shepherd risked the wrath of Newcastle United fans again yesterday when he said he felt like the man "who shot Bambi" following the sacking of Sir Bobby Robson.

"This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life and the hardest decision I have ever had to make," said the Newcastle chairman prior to a meeting with fellow directors at St James' Park to try and find Robson's successor. The former England manager was sacked after five years in charge and following a frustrating start to the season. Newcastle midfielder Laurent Robert - ironically one of the players who did not see eye-to-eye with his now former manager - said yesterday that Robson had "tears in his eyes" when he told the squad he was leaving on Monday morning.

The most likely solution for a replacement remains an approach to Terry Venables as a temporary manager until Alan Shearer retires at the end of this season and acquires the necessary coaching qualifications. Venables may not be interested. However, Newcastle may offer the carrot of the job as director of football to persuade him.

And although former Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier is understood to have pressed his own claims, Newcastle are believed to be less keen on him although they may indeed go for a stop-gap solution. Intriguingly, club sources suggested yesterday that Shearer, also, may believe it is premature for him to move into coaching right now, especially with the club in such obvious turmoil.

Birmingham City's Steve Bruce was sounded out by Newcastle over the summer - and would cherish the job - but has signed a new five-year contract. "As far as I'm concerned, I've got a job to do here and I'm determined to get on with it," Bruce said yesterday. "Yes, I'm a Geordie and Newcastle's where my roots are and everyone knows what the club means to me, but nothing's changed." Birmingham let it be known that although there is a "get-out" clause in Bruce's £1.5m-a-year deal, it can be activated only during a three-week period at the end of the season. Birmingham would be entitled to £3m in compensation. The only other way Bruce could leave would be either if he walked out - which would result in legal action - or if Newcastle offered even more in compensation which would be hugely expensive.

Bolton Wanderers also moved yesterday to scotch rumours that their manager Sam Allardyce was also a candidate. Chief executive Phil Gartside pointed out that Allardyce was five years into a 10-year contract and had also given assurances he would stay. Another candidate, Middlesbrough's Steve McClaren, has also ruled himself out, despite a flurry of interest in him at the bookmakers, while Aston Villa's David O'Leary is also understood to want to have his name linked to the job although whether he is a serious prospect remains to be seen. Newcastle fans have made it clear, in phone-ins and so on, that they would like Celtic's Martin O'Neill although he would only move at the end of the season.

The scramble for a replacement highlights the chaos at the club. That has been further confirmed by Newcastle's inability - despite a series of offers for various players - to find a big-name replacement for central defender Jonathan Woodgate.