Spectre of Souness looms over managerless match

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The Independent Football

Graeme Souness will not be at St James' Park this afternoon but both Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers will have the Scot on their minds.

Graeme Souness will not be at St James' Park this afternoon but both Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers will have the Scot on their minds.

Souness left Rovers for United last week but will not be allowed to prowl their technical area until after today's managerless match. Nevertheless, Tony Parkes, Rovers' caretaker who yesterday said he would "welcome" Mark Hughes, the job favourite, as manager, expects Souness to have had some input. Newcastle's players, meanwhile, are already trying to placate their notoriously strict new boss.

"I don't think he'll come in and start banging people's heads together because he knows that's not the right way to go about it," said Jermaine Jenas hopefully. "He's an experienced manager and he's been a player himself, so I don't expect to see that happening. I'm sure he'll go about it in the right way and deal with each player correctly."

Jenas' temporary boss, John Carver, is likely to be out of work on Monday as Souness is bringing his four-man backroom staff with him. However, Carver intends to make the most of the occasion. "Tomorrow's game is not about me, but about the players and the need to pick up three points," he said. "But I have to say that it will be the proudest and biggest day of my life." In an attempt to cap it with a victory, he is expected to recall Alan Shearer, a wise move for anyone hoping to survive at St James'.

The next-manager-in-waiting said himself: "Our season starts now." Shearer added: "It has been a tough two weeks for the club but things will settle down now and it's up to us to get the results on the field. We know we have to start climbing the table, but it is not too late for us. Last season we did not win a Premiership match until October but finished fifth."

Back at Rovers, the chief executive, John Williams, dismissed suggestions that the board have already offered the job to Hughes, although the Wales manager is understood to be one of the leading candidates. Williams said the club was "delighted" with the quality of applications and had already drawn up a shortlist.

Glenn Hoddle and Dick Advocaat are thought to be among the 30 interested parties, while Crystal Palace's Iain Dowie is also in the frame.

In the meantime, Parkes prepares for his 71st game as caretaker spread over six spells. He said: "There is a lot of competition on the shortlist and this could turn out to be the first and last game that I am in charge.

"It doesn't really matter to the team who comes in, but if Mark Hughes is the one, we will welcome him with open arms."

Looking ahead to today, Parkes admitted Souness may have passed on a few of Rovers' secrets to Carver, but said there were no ill feelings, although it was "a bit of shock all four leaving at the same time".

As always in these cases, a few players who had begun to fear that their future may lie elsewhere can expect a second chance. First to benefit are likely to be Garry Flitcroft, who is expected to return to central midfield, and perhaps Matt Jansen in attack.