Ten days that will determine the fate of Allardyce

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The Independent Football

Sam Allardyce may not have received a bulletin directly from the Newcastle United chairman, Chris Mort, but the news from the top floor at St James' Park is that Allardyce's position is safe for now. However, should Newcastle's form continue to deteriorate against Chelsea and Manchester City in the coming six days, then Sunday week's FA Cup third-round tie at Stoke City will be pivotal to Allardyce's future on Tyneside. Lose that and it is difficult to see how Mort and the Newcastle owner, Mike Ashley, can stand by Allardyce.

Loss is now a dominant theme at St James' and not just because of the demoralising 1-0 defeat at Wigan on Boxing Day, which followed the shapeless 2-2 home draw against the bottom club, Derby County, on Sunday.

Allardyce has unquestionably lost a majority of Newcastle fans, while his public questioning of his players' attitude after the Wigan game was matched by his private dressing-room address in the moments after the match. It is understood Allardyce asked his players whether he still had their support.

The general response is not known definitively, but recent displays do not convince that the team is in total agreement with the manager's tactics or his selection.

"Some of our players have not lived up to their reputation," Allardyce said on Boxing Day. "The front players have not held the ball up and the creative players have not created. Today the appetite to beat the opposition was not there." If a manager is prepared to be this strong publicly then his private views must be scathing.

Thus, for the second time in a matter of weeks Allardyce has had to ask searching questions within the Newcastle dressing room and for some of the players in there, and fans outside, the situation carries an echo of Graeme Souness' final days at the club. Souness, too, lost an important match 1-0 at Wigan, in the League Cup on 30 November 2005, and staggered on until the end of January. But it was Wigan that sealed the Scot's fate and after Alan Shearer, Martin O'Neill, Allardyce and Martin Jol had declined to succeed him, Glenn Roeder was appointed, initially as a caretaker. A rumour about Jol resurfaced on Tyneside yesterday.

Emotionally, Souness was scuttled at Wigan and the same feeling applies to Allardyce. He may go on, and there does seem to be a determination from Ashley to persevere with Allardyce, but supporter discontent, which manifested itself most forcefully during last month's 3-0 home defeat by Liverpool, is back. It had been put on hold in a conscious effort to display loyalty but 5,500 fans singing "We're shit and we're sick of it" at Wigan are hard to ignore.

This is more so because Ashley was among Newcastle's away section. It is alleged by supporters there that although no one confronted Ashley about Allardyce and the woeful performance, a steady flow of them asked politely for a change at the top.

Ashley and Mort are sensitive to football's knee-jerk reputation, and Mort always stresses that Ashley's business success is based on a long-term strategy, but such is the lurch into despair that an accusation of short-termism is unlikely to be made locally.

Shearer's name was heard for the first time being sung at Wigan as a potential saviour and there is a belief that the former Newcastle captain would instigate a Keegan-esque revival. But even Shearer would accept that he would require serious investment in the transfer market and while Ashley has spent an additional 75m addressing inherited debt since he bought the club for 133m, he is yet to sanction a major step into the market.

Allardyce has spent 6.3m on Jose Enrique, who is yet to impress, and 5.8m on Joey Barton. Those are not the sort of purchases to reassure an owner about the value of transfers.

An indication of the downbeat mood came from Damien Duff. "With all due respect to Derby and Wigan, we should be beating teams like that," Duff said. "We're gutted and surprised because we thought we'd turned the corner."

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