Newcastle Utd 0 Blackburn Rovers 1: Pedersen blow leaves Souness punch-drunk

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The Independent Football

A member of the Toon Army rang BBC Radio Newcastle the other day to tell the tale of the seat that had been empty all season in his row at St James' Park until the first Premiership match after Christmas. The caller said he asked the new occupant where he had been since August and was told: "My wife bought me a season ticket and kept it for a Christmas present."

Not all followers of Newcastle United have been so fortunate. They have spent the past five months watching the kind of turgid fare that left Freddy Shepherd grim-faced in the directors' box and the familiar strains of "Souness out" on the Tyneside air last night. After another woeful performance, and a fourth defeat in five Premiership matches - inflicted by what television replays showed to be a left-handed scoring punch by Morten Gamst Pedersen - patience with Graeme Souness is wearing wafer-thin.

The final whistle yesterday signalled a mass clamour for the manager's neck with a vociferous demonstration outside the main entrance. The medley of protests ranged from "Get him out" to "One Kevin Keegan", "One Bobby Robson" and "Souness for Sunderland".

When the mob dispersed, Souness was still at Newcastle but the question was: for how much longer? In addition to the darkening mood of the Newcastle supporters, and seemingly of the Newcastle chairman too, Souness has the small matter of an FA Cup trip to Cheltenham to worry about. His fate on Tyneside could well be riding on the outcome of the 12.30 at Cheltenham next Saturday. Not that he was contemplating any kind of finishing post last night.

Asked for his reaction to the demonstrations, Souness said: "I will say this, and say this only once. The first priority in my life is to do the very best for my family. After that, the second most important thing is to do my best in my job. I will continue to do that until I am told otherwise."

Asked if there were any circumstances under which he might reconsider his position, he replied: "I've answered that." On the subject of his team's faltering form, he added: "As a manager, I can only ask for 100 per cent commitment from my players. I feel like I'm getting the best out of the players I'm working with. We know we have players injured. We have to be patient and get them back."

The absence of six first-choice players hardly helped Souness yesterday, and the clear handling offence committed by Pedersen - assisting a Shefki Kuqi effort on its way for Blackburn's 75th-minute winner was another mitigating factor. Still, if the Newcastle manager did get the best out of his available players it was a matter of grave concern.

The £9.5 million Albert Luque sparked to life just the once: when the No 20 was raised by the fourth official. He disappeared straight down the tunnel with a turn of pace he had failed to show on the left wing over the preceding 62 minutes.

The Spaniard did draw a reflex save from Brad Freidel in the fifth minute but a little more urgency on his part might have beaten the Blackburn keeper. Alan Shearer and Lee Bowyer also spurned chances for Newcastle but they were always second best to a Rovers side vastly superior in terms of mobility and who would have led from the 17th minute had Shay Given not thwarted Paul Dickov with one of his trademark, odds-defying, last-ditch saves.

Dickov departed early in the second half, suffering from a fractured collarbone, but the decisive break came in the 75th minute, sparked from deep by Tugay, and finished with Lucas Neill crossing for Kuqi to force the ball goalwards with his right shoulder and Pedersen to help it on its way with his left hand. It was a messy winner for Blackburn, and another fine mess for their former manager.