Souness only interested in Sporting behaviour

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The Independent Football

It has been a time of trauma and deep concern for Graeme Souness, but he is now happily focused on the Uefa Cup quarter-final first leg against Sporting Lisbon at St James' Park tonight. And while Souness and his Magpies have had the football world in a flap about the flurry of fisticuffs between Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer last Saturday, Rogerio Regis has had rather weightier matters preying on his mind of late.

It has been a time of trauma and deep concern for Graeme Souness, but he is now happily focused on the Uefa Cup quarter-final first leg against Sporting Lisbon at St James' Park tonight. And while Souness and his Magpies have had the football world in a flap about the flurry of fisticuffs between Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer last Saturday, Rogerio Regis has had rather weightier matters preying on his mind of late.

Only two weeks ago the mother of the Brazilian who is expected to line up at right-back or in midfield for Sporting tonight was kidnapped from her home in Campinas. Ines Fidelis Regis was seized by three armed men and held captive at gunpoint for three days before she was found and freed by police. It was the fourth kidnapping of a footballer's mother in Brazil since November.

"Fortunately, my mother was not harmed," Rogerio said yesterday. "She is probably going to live with me in Lisbon from now on. It is too dangerous in Brazil."

As Rogerio prepared to train with his Sporting team-mates at St James' yesterday, Souness announced his intention to keep Bowyer and Dyer close at hand for tonight's tie. Both were included in the 19-man squad named by the Newcastle manager, after confirmation that Dyer would receive no financial punishment for his part in the fracas which broke out in the closing stages of the 3-0 home defeat against Aston Villa, and that Bowyer's fine of six weeks' wages - around £200,000 - has already been deposited with the club's academy.

"It did not take us long to hand it over to the players who are the future of this football club," Freddy Shepherd, the Newcastle chairman, said rather pointedly.

Whether Bowyer has a future as a first-choice first-team player at Newcastle remains to be seen. "He's in the squad," Souness said, when asked whether the former England midfielder would be in his starting line-up tonight. "I'm going to try to field a team to win us the game. That's my priority. That's all I'm interested in."

The likelihood is that Bowyer will at least be dropped to the bench, with Dyer, ironically, filling the subsequent void in midfield and with Shola Ameobi replacing Dyer as Alan Shearer's striking partner - a phrase that has assumed a new meaning in the Newcastle football lexicon this week.

It was put to Souness yesterday that his team had a history of "coming out fighting" in the face of adversity and, without smiling or snapping at the questioner, it was a theme he was keen to explore.

"I think all good football teams are at their most dangerous when they've been hurt," he said. "In a perverted sort of way, it can bring you closer together. When you go through bad experiences collectively, you see what people are made of.

"Everything in the garden was rosy and then we managed to shoot ourselves in the foot, but we've got to put it behind us. You get nothing in this business for looking back. All of the experts have offered their opinion, but we can't keep talking about it. We've got to be focused on playing Sporting Lisbon, a really good team who will be difficult to play against."

It is likely to be all the more difficult for Newcastle tonight, with Jean-Alain Boumsong ineligible for European competition, with Patrick Kluivert and Titus Bramble still on the injured list, and with Célestine Babayaro now requiring an exploratory operation to determine the nature of a knee problem which has mystified two specialists.

Newcastle United (probable, 4-4-2): Given; Carr, O'Brien, Taylor, Hughes; Dyer, Jenas, Butt, Robert; Ameobi, Shearer.

Sporting Lisbon (probable, 4-1-3-2): Ricardo; Rogerio, Beto, Enakarhire, Rui Jorge; Rochemback; Carlos Martins, Joao Moutinho, Pedro Barbosa; Sa Pinto, Liedson.

Referee: I Baskakov (Russia).

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