Souness plans 'five or six' signings as Robert is kept in limbo

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The Independent Football

As the Magpies took flight yesterday from the capital of Portugal to the capital of Wales, Graeme Souness was not just counting numbers for this afternoon's FA Cup semi-final at the Millennium Stadium.

As the Magpies took flight yesterday from the capital of Portugal to the capital of Wales, Graeme Souness was not just counting numbers for this afternoon's FA Cup semi-final at the Millennium Stadium. With Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer suspended and Charles N'Zogbia, Jermaine Jenas, Titus Bramble, Celestine Babayaro and Aaron Hughes all carrying injuries, the Newcastle manager is struggling to find 11 players fit enough to line up against Manchester United - let alone an XI with sufficient form to loosen the Old Trafford hold on the old tin pot.

After two weeks of grief from the malcontent members of the squad he inherited from Sir Bobby Robson, and after the pain of Thursday night's Uefa Cup quarter-final exit against Sporting Lisbon, Souness is already looking beyond today's seemingly Herculean task, and the likelihood of another season of thwarted ambition for Newcastle, towards a major influx of new faces.

"I hope we can strengthen big time," he said yesterday. "I'd like to get four or five players - six even - who can play at this level and get results at this level. I have not been told a certain amount that I have to spend, but we will be looking to freshen things up and bring in more quality players - finished articles. We made three signings in the winter window who have improved us [Babayaro, Jean-Alain Boumsong and Amdy Faye] and I hope to make another four, five, six, in the summer. That's my message to everyone, our supporters included. We have some promising young players in Steven Taylor, Charles N'Zogbia, James Milner, but Thursday night bore out what we have known from day one. We don't have enough strength in depth."

It is both strength of character and of physical well-being that Souness will need from the patched-up team he picks today. N'Zogbia flew back to Newcastle on Thursday night after suffering a suspected fractured cheekbone against Sporting, but joined his team-mates in Cardiff yesterday after X-rays showed no fracture. "He has a chance," Souness said, suggesting that Laurent Robert might not be restored to left-wing duty after paying for his ill-timed criticism of his manager with a seat in the stands in Lisbon. "I won't talk about him," Souness said, when asked about the errant Robert.

Having sent himself to Coventry on the subject, the big dilemma now for the Newcastle manager is whether to send out his fiery Frenchman to face the Red Devils in Cardiff today.

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