August is a dangerous month for Newcastle managers. Kenny Dalglish and Ruud Gullit both perished in high summer and yesterday it became clear that the relationship between Sir Bobby Robson and his chairman, Freddy Shepherd, is under extreme strain.
That this will be Robson's final season in charge at St James' Park is not a surprise. That Shepherd should say so on the record is. His comments that Robson would not be on Tyneside next August and that Newcastle had not had value for the £70m he had spent in the five years since succeeding Gullit was a stinging rebuke.
"Hugo Viana didn't make it, Carl Cort didn't make it, Christian Bassedas didn't make it," Shepherd said. "There comes a time when you have to say enough is enough. We must have value for money. We are not going to be anybody's mugs any more." When asked if Robson would be manager next season, Shepherd said "no".
Robson, wisely, refused to become involved in an altercation with his chairman. "Until I find out the situation, it would be inappropriate of me to comment on that," he said. Significantly, Shepherd took charge of the summer transfer policy. It was his decision to take Patrick Kluivert from Barcelona, rather than try to prise James Beattie from Southampton, and it was his decision to embark on a wearying Far Eastern tour which brought Newcastle little in the way of meaningful practice.
The format of the Newcastle-Gateshead Cup reflected Tyneside's craving for a trophy, featuring three teams Joe Harvey's side overcame to win the 1969 Fairs Cup, which remains their last significant piece of silverware. It is not known what Alan Shearer did with his loser's medal yesterday, but he would not be rushing back to clear his sideboard to display it. The trophy, ironically enough, went to Sporting Lisbon, who sacked Robson when they were top of the Portuguese Superliga.
There was symbolism in the way Kluivert replaced Shearer after an hour. These days the atmosphere at St James' Park is such that Robson felt obliged to demonstrate that no slight was intended and he clapped madly as his captain trotted off. But Shepherd knows Newcastle supporters and understands that they crave glamour as well as silverware. Glamour drips from the Dutchman's body.
It may be more than a month before he is fully match fit but they cheered when Kluivert warmed up, cheered when he threw the ball back from the touchline and cheered wildly when he took his training top off. Had Anderson Polga not cleared off the line, Kluivert might even have marked his debut with a goal.
It is at the other end that Newcastle require attention, as without Jonathan Woodgate their defence remains a frail thing. Knowing Robson is looking for a right back to replace him has done nothing for Aaron Hughes' confidence and when Rodrigo Tello took the ball on the halfway line and ran at him, the Ulsterman stood off as the shot swept past Steve Harper. If Robson and Shepherd are still on speaking terms this morning, they should talk about how to find £10m for Benfica's right back, Miguel. On his form in the European Championship, even that would be value for money.
Goal: Tello 33 (0-1).
Newcastle United: Harper, Hughes, Bramble, Elliott, Bernard, Brittain (Chopra 69), Dyer (Butt 50), Bowyer, Milner, Ameobi, Shearer (Kluivert 60).
Sporting Lisbon: Ricardo, Garcia, Polga, Beto, Rui Jorge, Castro (Tinga 45), Moutinho (Vieira 66), Tello (Paita 77), Rogerio, Douala, Niculae (Pinilla 60).
Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).
Attendance: 22,500.Reuse content