Venables may answer Newcastle SOS

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The Independent Online

Newcastle were today awaiting an answer from Terry Venables as owner Mike Ashley turned to the 65-year-old in a bid to improve the club's flagging fortunes.

The former England boss was locked in a second round of talks with the club's hierarchy in London with the Magpies looking to push through plans to appoint an interim manager.

Should Venables reject the opportunity to return to the game, it is understood there is an alternative candidate with David O'Leary, Alan Curbishley, Kenny Dalglish and Glenn Hoddle also linked with the role.

Ashley has had to shelve plans to appoint a permanent replacement after considering Paul Ince, Gus Poyet and Didier Deschamps among others, with his efforts to sell the club after just 16 months ongoing.

Investment bankers Seymour Pierce are currently looking for buyers with Chris Nathaniel, spokesman for the Nigerian consortium linked to the club in recent days, insisting they are deadly serious.

They have hinted they will restore previous boss Kevin Keegan to his post - and that has been well received by sections of the club's support.

However, Seymour Pierce, led by chairman Keith Harris, are understood to be assessing the credentials of several potential buyers - there have also been links with Chinese, American and north-east investors - as Ashley looks to make a quick exit.

That process, which could depend largely on the willingness of interested parties to meet the asking price - varying reports have suggested that could range from in excess of £480m down to less than half that figure - will take some time, and there is little prospect of a sale going through within days.

Indeed, the speed with which Ashley tied up his own swoop without conducting due diligence may serve as a salutary lesson for those looking to succeed him after he found himself facing a series of unexpected bills.

However, the need to provide caretaker manager Chris Hughton with experienced support in the short term is becoming more urgent by the day with the Magpies' tailspin threatening to accelerate.

A crowd of just 20,577 turned out to watch Newcastle slip out of the Carling Cup at home to holders Tottenham last night, when defensive errors and a crippling lack of confidence allowed Spurs to put their own woes behind them.

The Magpies face Blackburn in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday when the rebellion against Ashley and his cohorts, none of whom were at St James' Park last night, is likely to increase in volume if they do not end a run of four successive defeats.

Venables, part of Steve McClaren's England staff, performed a similar role at neighbouring Middlesbrough after being drafted in to assist then manager Bryan Robson in December 2000.

The pair kept Boro in the top flight with a run of seven wins and 10 draws from 22 games, although their approach was at times attritional - at one point, they fielded five men best known as central defenders in the same team.

Venables, who later turned down the chance to replace Robson on a permanent basis, enjoys an enviable reputation with the men who have played under him, a list which includes Newcastle legends Alan Shearer, Peter Beardsley and Les Ferdinand.

Former Newcastle defender Jonathan Woodgate, who denied his old club a precious foothold in last night's game with a goal-line clearance from Damien Duff, admitted he was concerned by events off the park on Tyneside.

He said: "As a former player who had some great times here, obviously I am concerned at what is happening and hopefully they will soon get it all sorted out and get the man back all the fans want to see in charge again."

But if the mood was one of continuing doom and gloom at St James' last night, there was at least light at the end of the tunnel for Spurs boss Juande Ramos after his side completed their first domestic victory of the campaign, although he was not allowing himself to be carried away.

Asked how significant the win could be, he said: "In reality, you never know because you never know what is around the corner.

"It is always good to win, but we will see what happens against Portsmouth in the next game because Portsmouth are a team who are very strong at home."

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