Alan Smith is to have an operation on his ankle on Monday, one that will keep him out for three months, Habib Beye may not play before the next international break, which begins on 6 October, and Mark Viduka, who has not kicked a ball since early May, has no return date pencilled in. If uncertainty dominates the overall picture at Newcastle United, the detail is hardly more encouraging.
Led for the second match by caretaker Chris Hughton, Newcastle go to West Ham tomorrow with their threadbare squad as stretched as ever and with Kevin Keegan's warnings of that scenario still pertinent. Smith may be no Newcastle hero – "He's got a stress fracture," Hughton said – but the presence of three such senior players on the bus and in the dressing room would help.
For their dreadful home defeat by Hull last Saturday, Newcastle had three teenagers on the bench, without a first- team appearance between them, and that situation is likely to be replicated, Hughton said yesterday, at Upton Park. A young Newcastle reserve team, featuring those three teenagers, were beaten 3-0 by Bolton on Wednesday night.
While Damien Duff should return and there is a slim chance of Obafemi Martins doing so, the suspension of Danny Guthrie for his unprofessional and dangerous lunges at Craig Fagan means that, numerically, Duff's availability is offset.
Hughton said that he has spoken to the Newcastle hierarchy since the club was put up for sale by Mike Ashley on Sunday but has not been given a date when he can step down. Hughton is restricted in what he can say but added: "From a personal point of view the most important thing is that we start to get some stability at the club. I go along with everybody, the sooner a decision is made on a permanent manager, the better."
Ashley, meanwhile, was expected to return from the United Arab Emirates last night, without a buyer for the club. It is not known if Ashley will be in the directors' box at Upton Park.