Robert adds to pressure on Souness as 'big week' commences

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David Ginola's days as Newcastle United's French fancy of a left winger were numbered from the morning of Kenny Dalglish's first training session.

David Ginola's days as Newcastle United's French fancy of a left winger were numbered from the morning of Kenny Dalglish's first training session. In a seven-a-side match held in full view of the press and public, he threw himself theatrically to the ground as his new manager prepared to tackle him. The look of thunder on Dalglish's face threatened to crack the air.

Graeme Souness' mood is unlikely to be any less dark when his attention is drawn to the remarks Laurent Robert made about the present Newcastle manager yesterday, ahead of the club's Uefa Cup quarter-final second leg against Sporting Lisbon in the Estadio Jose Alvalade tonight, and their FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United in Cardiff on Sunday.

The Frenchman who replaced Ginola on the left flank for Paris St-Germain and who followed in his stud-marks to Tyneside had already strained his relationship with Souness close to breaking point, with a similar verbal attack on him before Christmas, and with a series of ineffectual performances of late that seemed likely to prompt his demotion to the substitutes' bench tonight. The question now is whether Robert has decisively thrown himself in the same direction as Ginola, towards the exit door at St James', with remarks that could hardly have been more ill-timed ­ right before the first of two crucial cup ties in what Souness described yesterday as "the biggest week in Newcastle's recent history." Reacting to less than complimentary passing comments by his manager about his recent form, and to his substitution midway through the second half of games, Robert complained: "The manager does not speak to me face to face to tell me why he keeps taking me off. He does not tell me when I am playing well and he does not tell me when I am playing badly ­ and neither does his staff.

"I have read that he does not feel that I do enough but I feel like I proved myself to him last month. The team has not been playing well and I have not been playing well but it is not just down to me. It is about the team playing badly. It is not just about Laurent Robert."

In truth, Newcastle have not been about Robert for some time ­ since the stunning free-kick against Olympiakos in Piraeus which effectively secured their place in the quarter-final. In the intervening five weeks, the French international has reverted to the minimalist, often sullen, play that so frustrated Sir Bobby Robson and, indeed, Souness until mid February.

The irony tonight, as Newcastle seek to capitalise on their 1-0 advantage from the first-leg, is that Robert's demotion could accommodate a return to starting duty for Lee Bowyer in a reshuffled midfield formation which is also likely to feature Kieron Dyer ­ the other combatant in the bout of in-fighting in the Premiership match against Aston Villa the weekend before last. Not that Souness was giving anything away on the selection front last night, with several of his key players doubtful because of injury.

The Newcastle manager will be hoping that his team keep it similarly tight tonight. Tighter than the lips of their loose left-winger, certainly.

Newcastle United (probable, 4-4-2): Harper; Carr, O'Brien (or Bramble), Taylor, Babayaro; Dyer, Faye, Bowyer, Jenas (or Robert); Shearer, Kluivert.

Sporting Lisbon (probable, 4-1-3-1-1): Ricardo; Rogerio, Beto, Enakarhire, Rui Jorge; Rochemback; Martins, Moutinho, Barbosa; Sa Pinto; Mota.

Referee: P Frojdfeldt (Sweden).

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