Solano insists Souness must be given time

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The Independent Online

Newcastle United's Peruvian midfielder Nolberto Solano boasts abundant experience of the managerial merry-go-round which has prevented successive St James' Park coaches from fulfilling their potential on Tyneside.

As Gallowgate's revolving door gathers fresh pace, prior to Newcastle's FA Cup fourth-round tie at League Two club Cheltenham Town this lunchtime, the wistful South American shrugs his slight shoulders. "Give Graeme Souness time," says a player perhaps fearing his fourth Newcastle manager is about to go the same way as Kenny Dalglish, Ruud Gullit and Sir Bobby Robson. "It's just not fair to criticise the manager at this time. He's a great coach and a good man."

Everyone is agreed as to what will happen if Newcastle become the victims of this weekend's first FA Cup upset. Souness will be dismissed and United will again find themselves in a familiarly futile position, lacking direction, cohesion and respect. A win will safeguard the Scot's position until the summer and ensure a period of calm reflection, where more recently frenzied speculation has been rife.

"People don't realise that we didn't make any significant progress under Sir Bobby until he'd been here for a couple of seasons," pointed out Solano, who spent Thursday night explaining the significance of the FA Cup to Spanish team-mate Albert Luque. "By then he [Robson] had made his mark and we qualified for the Champions' League. The manager has only been here 20 months and most of that time he's been hurt by injuries.

"The players are right behind him. Make no mistake. We know how important the injured players are. We see what we're missing every day in training and we see how hard the manager is working to make things right. You ask any player at Newcastle and they will tell you Graeme Souness is a great manager. I can sympathise with him, of course. I just hope he is still here at the start of next season."

Solano's view is an opinion shared by an increasing majority of Newcastle's more enlightened supporters. Sick of the damaging cycle of sackings which have done nothing to establish United as a major Premiership force, those same fans crave stability, coherent thinking from top to bottom and a long-term vision seemingly at odds with those restlessly patrolling the club's corridors of power. Above all, however, the Newcastle faithful dream of success in the FA Cup. "It's good to focus on the Cheltenham game right now," Solano added. "We have to try to win this competition or our season will count for nothing.

"If we win the FA Cup, we qualify for Europe. That's the only way we will all survive this season. Let's be realistic - we've lost too many points in the League to qualify through the Premiership.

"I watched Real Madrid's [King's Cup] victory against Real Betis with Luque this week and tried to explain to him that the FA Cup is different. It's special. I've played in a final at Wembley and it's like the Champions' League final.

"A win for Cheltenham would mean more money, more media exposure and more fun. A win for Newcastle would mean everything. That's the difference."

For Souness it would mean job security. "I am not looking beyond this weekend," he admitted. "Speculation is rife at most football clubs but it happens more regularly at Newcastle. I just have to accept that."

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