Robson requires maturity as pressure grows on Newcastle

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The Independent Football

Sir Bobby Robson is not a man who goes in for regrets but midway through Newcastle's Uefa Cup run, he said that he thought his players might have learned more from last season's run in the Champions' League.

Sir Bobby Robson is not a man who goes in for regrets but midway through Newcastle's Uefa Cup run, he said that he thought his players might have learned more from last season's run in the Champions' League.

Well though Newcastle performed against PSV Eindhoven on Thursday night, those feelings would have resurfaced on the long coach journey to Brussels Airport to make a flight which arrived on Tyneside at three in the morning.

Petulance and immaturity were Newcastle's greatest handicaps in the Champions' League. Craig Bellamy missed half of their 12 games because of suspension - three matches for headbutting Dynamo Kiev's Tiberiu Ghioane, another for a dreadful tackle against Internazionale. Newcastle also might have achieved more than an honourable defeat in Barcelona had Alan Shearer not been serving a two-match ban for an elbow aimed at Fabio Cannavaro.

Now, Uefa's control and disciplinary committee will be in action again, reviewing furious complaints from PSV's coach, Guus Hiddink, that Titus Bramble aimed an elbow into Remco van der Schaaf's face.

Bramble, who impressed Robson's favourite centre-half, Terry Butcher, on Thursday, will be fortunate to escape with anything less than a two-match ban. Although Andy O'Brien is a reliable replacement, it would leave Newcastle lacking cover at the heart of their back four.

Butcher, commentating in the Philips Stadion, called the 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Uefa Cup quarter-final a "mature European performance away from home", which it was, save for that one flash of temper.

The temptation is to look at Newcastle's intimidating record at St James' Park and plan for a semi-final in Marseilles or Milan. Their defence, marshalled by Jonathan Woodgate in Eindhoven, has won them an advantage but as they proved in the home leg of their Champions' League qualifier with Partizan Belgrade, nothing with Newcastle is certain.

Butcher, who was part of Robson's Ipswich side which won the Uefa Cup in 1981, thought Newcastle capable of repeating the triumph. However, to make it to the final in Gothenburg on 19 May they need to play as a team, which sounds simple until you consider how seldom they have done so.

The performances and commitment of half of the side can be relied on. The displays of Shay Given, Woodgate, Gary Speed and Shearer can more or less be guaranteed before kick-off but problems arise with other, perhaps more naturally-talented footballers, who can be either inspirational or insipid. A team with Kieron Dyer, Jermaine Jenas, Bellamy and Laurent Robert playing to their maximum would back themselves against any club left in the Uefa Cup, even Valencia or Internazionale.

From Kevin Beattie to Romario via Paul Gascoigne, Robson has been attracted by talented but wayward players, who have usually come through when it absolutely mattered. It would be nice to think this group might do the same.

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