Newcastle United 0 Blackburn Rovers 1: Souness spends borrowed time refusing to contemplate defeat

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The Independent Football

Indeed. In Newcastle United's current shambolic state, a trip to Cheltenham Town in the FA Cup has the haunting hallmark of "Hereford 1972" stamped all over it. The Magpies have never played in the Gloucestershire spa town but their famous humbling in the mud at Hereford was partially forged there. Ronnie Radford spent his time hammering a roof into place on a house in Cheltenham the day before he thumped home his wonder goal at Edgar Street.

It was not quite a nail in Joe Harvey's managerial coffin - he survived at Newcastle for a further three years - but Souness is unlikely to be so fortunate if his stuttering Premiership side suffer a giantkilling at Whaddon Road - where Radford spent two spells as a Cheltenham player.

As the situation stands at St James' Park, Souness already appears to be living on time borrowed from the £16m Michael Owen deal that has left Freddy Shepherd, the Newcastle chairman, without the £5m he needs to pay off the Scot and his three assistants, Alan Murray, Dean Saunders and Terry McDermott.

Then again, even if a fourth defeat in five Premiership matches fails to move Shepherd to find the money from somewhere this week, the Toon Army's reaction to defeat at Cheltenham surely would do so.

For his part, Souness is refusing to contemplate the prospect of falling on his sword. Asked on Saturday whether there were any circumstances under which he would reconsider his position, he snapped: "I've answered that. Think of what I've said and put what's missing in between the two sentences."

Moments earlier, Souness had said: "The priority in my life is my family, to do the very best for my family. After that, the second most important thing in my life is my work, to do the very best, whatever job I'm at, whoever's employing me. I will continue to do that until somebody tells me differently."

Thus, for the time being - and with Glenn Roeder, the director of Newcastle's academy, a ready caretaker-in-waiting - United are stuck playing their game of impasse. Not too long ago they were thrilling their followers with a fine passing game, prompted from the sidelines by Sir Bobby Robson. These days they are better at passing the buck.

Having responded on Friday to his chairman's thinly veiled instruction to stop whinging about injuries, Souness resisted the temptation to point to the significant absentee list. He did, though, insist that he was getting "total commitment" from the players available to him and that none of them were "short-changing" him - counter to the 62 minutes of evidence provided by the languid Albert Luque.

Souness did have Luque nominally on his side, but certainly not luck. Television replays confirmed that Morten Gamst Pedersen used his left fist to help Shefki Kuqi's shouldered effort on its way past Shay Given in the 75th minute - a hand of sod for Souness, courtesy of the last player he signed for Blackburn.

Goal: Pedersen (75) 0-1.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Ramage, Bramble, Boumsong, Babayaro; Solano, Bowyer, Clark, Luque (O'Brien, 62); Chopra, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Harper(gk), Elliott, N'Zogbia, Brittain.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Nelsen, Khizanishvili, Gray; Reid, Tugay (Emerton, 85), Savage, Pedersen (Mokoena, 89); Dickov (Peter, 53), Kuqi. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Johnson.

Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).

Booked: Blackburn Nelsen, Neill.

Man of the match: Tugay.

Attendance: 51,323.

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