One of the few certainties about Graeme Souness' future at Newcastle is that his ability to regain public favour on Tyneside and the support of chairman Freddy Shepherd rests on guiding an injury-plagued, defensively inept team into Europe or to the club's first FA Cup success for 56 years. Unsurprisingly, the prospects are not particularly encouraging.
Yesterday it was announced that Scott Parker, one of the more successful acquisitions from the £50m spent by Souness last year, had undergone surgery on the knee injury he sustained against West Ham United on December 17. Parker previously stated his intention to carry the injury until the end of the season, so his operation represents a fundamental blow.
Parker will be out of action for between three and five weeks, a development that represents the third headache of this week alone for Souness, who lost Michael Owen for three months in the miserable 2-0 defeat at Tottenham on New Year's Eve and has now seen his list of senior injured players extended to eight.
"Take six of Manchester United's, Arsenal's, Liverpool's or Chelsea's best players away and see what type of team they could put out," said the Scot, even before the former Chelsea midfielder was forced to return to London for treatment. It is an entirely valid argument and has consistently hindered Souness' attempts to field his first-choice XI this season. But supporters quickly tire of excuses.
A small but vociferous band of Newcastle fans gathered outside St James' on Monday to demand the head of Souness following Monday's draw with Middlesbrough and speculation has frequently swept around the city since Shepherd bowed to their pressure and dispensed with Sir Bobby Robson only 15 months ago. So far the whispers, which carry the name of Sam Allardyce as his preferred replacement, have proven inaccurate, the tide has not turned irreversibly and Souness, who retains the support of his players, is holding firm; but the momentum against him is growing.
Souness has been labelled a "dead man walking" by the local Chronicle newspaper, reflecting how only the lack of alternatives available to Shepherd might delay his departure until the summer. Given the minimal return on his £50m outlay, the lack of depth in the squad, the surrender to a Wigan reserve side in the Carling Cup and the performances Newcastle have produced even with their major assets fit, the locals have reason to revolt, although it must be noted that the relationship between Souness and the influential Chronicle has broken down and they no longer communicate.
The Newcastle manager believes there has been a concerted campaign waged against him by the local media, particularly in the build-up to ultimately victorious home game against Arsenal on 10 December, and has changed his mobile telephone number to deter calls from the press. For such a gregarious character it is an uncharacteristic move, one that has fuelled his detractors' suspicions that Souness is refusing to admit his mistakes.
There remains an unusual reticence on the part of Shepherd to sack a manager with such a poor record and team. Having appointed Souness in September 2004 and lavished the Scot with an extraordinary transfer budget in 2005, an outlay that reached its peak with the record signing of Owen for £16.5m in August, the Newcastle chairman has his own reputation invested in this appointment and may be tempted to give Souness the chance to save his own.
Casualty list that keeps growing
Out for 10-12 weeks with broken metatarsal.
Requires knee surgery that will keep him out for up to five weeks.
Due to have scan to assess extent of hip injury.
Missed the past month with a hamstring problem.
Still troubled by the hamstring problems that have limited him to just three appearances this season.
Ruled out for three months after undergoing a shoulder operation.
Has not featured since having a hernia operation early in November.
Yet to play a game after summer move from Rangers because of hamstring injury.Reuse content