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Premier League

Souness opts to rest tired Shearer

Graeme Souness, the Newcastle United manager, will leave his captain, Alan Shearer, out of the starting line-up for tonight's Premiership game at Fulham.

Shearer, who is without a League goal in his last 10 games, will be named only among the substitutes as Souness opts to pair Shola Ameobi - whose only League goal of the season came at home to Birmingham in January - and Patrick Kluivert in attack.

Kluivert, who has not started a League game since the trip to Blackburn on Boxing Day, has five Premiership goals among his 12 for the season, two behind Shearer, whose seven from 19 put him level with Craig Bellamy, now at Celtic following his loan move in January.

Asked if the Dutchman had a chance of playing, Souness replied: "Kluivert will because we feel Alan Shearer needs a rest."

Shearer, who signed a new one-year contract last month, has found chances hard to come by in recent weeks. However, Souness' decision may raise an eyebrow or two as both Ruud Gullit and Sir Bobby Robson chose to rest the former England captain in what proved to be their last game in charge at the club, although the latest incumbent's position seems secure despite a disappointing first season.

Newcastle head for Fulham lying 14th in the table with just 40 points, and their worst-ever Premiership finish was 13th on 44 points in 1997-98 under Kenny Dalglish. With trips to Fulham and Everton to come before the champions, Chelsea, visit St James' Park on the final day of the season, they will have plenty to do if they are to avoid an unwanted record.

Indeed, if they do not win two of their last three games, they will finish with their lowest number of League victories since they first entered the division - they are currently on nine - and they are within one goal each of matching their highest total conceded, the 54 they conceded in both 1998-99 and 1999-2000.

Despite reaching the Uefa Cup quarter-finals and the semi-finals of the FA Cup, Newcastle's season cannot be regarded as a success, and having presided over Bellamy's departure, the fight between Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer and a dramatic slump in from, Souness admits it has been a tough eight months in charge.

"It has been an extremely frustrating season, as frustrating as I have ever had," he said. "But it has not put me off at all.

"You do not get a job at a club like this if everything at the club is rosy," Souness added. "This season, we are learning what players we want to retain and others we want to try and sell.

"It has been a steep learning curve, but something whoever was coming in would have to go through."

The trip to Fulham provides those of his players still left standing - Robbie Elliott, with a thigh strain, has been added to a casualty list which now extends to seven senior players as Lee Bowyer completes his seven-match suspension - with a chance to end a run of seven League games without a win, and an opportunity to avenge a 4-1 home defeat in November.

Souness has played down suggestions that the Portuguese midfielder Hugo Viana, who cost Newcastle £8.5m three years ago, could return to the club after Sporting Lisbon failed to make an offer by the weekend deadline they had been set, and Bowyer is up for sale at £2m.

"Hugo is wanted by Sporting Lisbon and certainly Lee Bowyer is a player I would like to keep here," he said.