Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Euro Berth Set to Save Robson's Job

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Euro Berth Set to Save Robson's Job

Article excerpt

Byline: By Luke Edwards

It might only be a consolation prize, a Champions League afterthought, but Uefa Cup qualification was also the minimum requirement for Newcastle United and Sir Bobby Robson.

It should have been a final-day tussle to determine which of these well-followed, yet well- beaten title challengers, would be able to join the European elite next season.

But when the whistle was blown to mark the end of 90 minutes the relief was etched all over the faces of Newcastle's under-achieving players, their exasperated fans and their under-pressure manager. Something, at least, had been salvaged from the wreckage of their ambitions.

It might have been a sense of relief which had more in common with the emotion which sweeps through a club avoiding relegation on the final day of the season - the escape from the hangman's noose - but it at least means the outlook for the summer is not all storm clouds.

The Magpies will once again fly the flag in Europe and Sir Bobby Robson will more than likely still be the man in the dugout, with or without Alan Shearer as a player-coach.

Had Newcastle lost at Anfield on Saturday, it was likely to have been Robson's last act as manager. Without European football, a prerequisite for any so-called big club, the difficult decision facing chairman Freddy Shepherd over the future of his football club might have become an easier one.

As it is, a fifth-place finish and a journey to the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup, against a background of an untimely injury crisis, should be enough to ensure England's footballing knight will ride again in Newcastle's trophy quest.

But when Shepherd and Robson meet for talks this week, the veteran manager will be left in no uncertain terms that another season like this will put him into the retirement he has proudly avoided for so long.

That it should be a draw which secured fifth spot was apt. This was Newcastle's 12th draw away from home this season and their 14th trip without a win. It does not take long to see where their challenge faltered.

But it was also a performance of character and resolve. The two veterans, Shearer and Gary Speed, along with the half-fit pair of Craig Bellamy and Kieron Dyer, all somehow managed to draw on the last of their energy reserves to help their side cling on in the second-half.

And Andy Griffin, in his last game for the club ahead of a widely-muted summer move to Portsmouth, gave a hugely commendable display at right-back.

But it was also a result which was testimony to Shola Ameobi's blossoming ability. Had the England Under-21 international shown better finishing in the games against Marseille, Manchester City and Wolves, Newcastle may well have gone to Anfield on Saturday still able to make the Champions League.

Yet, his all-round game in those three fixtures and again at Southampton on Wednesday night, where he did finally find the back of the net, show the signs of a player starting to justify his manager's considerable faith in his ability. …

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