Newcastle United 0 Sheffield United 1: Roeder reign threatened by City limit

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The Independent Football

As this dark episode in the history of Newcastle United reached its painful denouement, a full moon illuminated the Tyneside sky, but it is the elusive light at the end of the tunnel which Magpies' supporters crave most.

An increasing number of fans fervently believe that a brighter future can only be achieved once their club emerge from the foreboding shadow of their larger-than-life chairman, Freddy Shepherd. More than 1,000 of the most vocal confirmed as much long after the dust had settled on this disastrous result and only the presence of mounted police prevented a tense situation turning nasty.

It is understood that Shepherd will return from a short break in Spain this week after missing what his manager, Glenn Roeder, correctly described as the worst performance of his nine-month tenure.

In the mean time, attention will inevitably focus on the future of Roeder and it is deeply ironic that a trip to Manchester City is the next Premiership test facing a coach desperately clinging to a post he initially shunned. It was immediately following February's listless 3-0 defeat at Eastlands that Graeme Souness, the previous Newcastle manager, was summarily dismissed by Shepherd. If tomorrow night's Carling Cup tie at Watford is seen as a mere distraction, only a win will suffice against City on Saturday. Anything less and heads - or at least one head - will surely roll.

For Keith Gillespie, the former Newcastle winger who returned to St James' Park with Sheffield United, the rapid decline in the club's fortunes must appear especially dramatic. "It's a crying shame," he said after Danny Webber's 68th minute goal, Sheffield United's first away from home in the League this season, sentenced Newcastle to a seventh Premiership defeat.

"When Kevin Keegan was manager we played entertaining football," Gillespie added, "but they've failed to do that since. I can understand the fans' frustrations because they're down near the bottom of the League."

Roeder, to his credit, is refusing to hide at a time when his normally vocal chairman is proving conspicuous by his absence. "That performance has to be a one-off," he said after Sheffield United's fully deserved victory. "It was as bad as anything the fans have seen since I took charge. It is my responsibility to achieve better results." Failure to do so at Manchester City and Roeder may find that responsibility is taken out of his hands.

Goal: Webber (68) 0-1.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Harper; Carr, Moore, Bramble, Babayaro; Milner (Luque, 66), Butt (Solano, h-t), Parker, N'Zogbia (Emre, h-t); Rossi, Duff. Substitutes not used: Srnicek (gk), Ramage.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Kozluk, Jagielka, Davis, Geary; Gillespie, Montgomery, Leigertwood, Quinn (Law, 90); Webber (Kabba, 72; Kazim-Richards, 88), Hulse. Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Short.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Newcastle Carr, Babayaro; Sheffield United Davis, Hulse.

Man of the match: Jagielka.

Attendance: 50,188.