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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Shepherd blasts poor performances

Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd has fired off a broadside at Sir Bobby Robson and his under-achieving millionaire players after a disastrous Christmas.

Shepherd: Far from happy (StuForster/Allsport)

Shepherd, who has handed Robson in excess of £68million to conduct rebuilding work during his four years at St James' Park, was furious at the club's holiday return of just two points from a possible nine.

United had recovered from a dreadful start to the campaign, which included their exit from the Champions League at the hands of Partizan Belgrade, to put themselves in a good position to challenge for fourth place.

Sunday's home defeat by Blackburn after draws at Charlton and Leicester mean they have lost just two of the last 13 Barclaycard Premiership games, but they have slipped off the pace once again which the chairman finds unacceptable.

'What has happened since the start of the season is just not on,' he said, in his most direct assessment yet of the situation.

'It is not acceptable to the directors and board of Newcastle United or to our supporters, and we are not going to put up with it.

'I am talking about everyone here, from the manager downwards. The management and players of this football club are given Rolls-Royce treatment, but we are not getting Rolls-Royce performances from them in return.

'The board has given the club some of the best players in the country and those players top wages, a fantastic stadium and a training complex that is second to none in Europe.

'It is about time the board got something back in return and they started performing on the pitch.'

Shepherd's stinging indictment of the club's season to date will leave no-one at St James' Park in any doubt as to what is expected of them in the weeks and months ahead, although there is little doubt that that has already been made plain to them, if not in such clear terms.

Robson and his skipper Alan Shearer have admitted that the performances over Christmas, and particularly at Leicester and against Blackburn, were not good enough, and their feelings have been made known within the dressing room.

'He can say what he wants, can't he?' said Shearer. 'He's the gaffer of the place and he's frustrated as much as we are.

'Particularly the last two performances haven't been acceptable. We'd done well to get ourselves back into contention after a dreadful start, but the last two have been poor and we're as frustrated as he is.

'We want success as much as he does. It's just hard work, it's as simple as that.'

Robson, who held a lengthy team meeting this afternoon, added: 'My reaction to the chairman's remarks is that he's the chairman of the football club and has the right to say what he feels.

'I'm not cribbing about it, but we're all frustrated as well and nobody is more frustrated than the players and myself.'

Shepherd's comments will serve to reinforce that message, and a dramatic improvement, starting in the FA Cup at Southampton on Saturday, is the only acceptable response.

Despite being caught in his chairman's line of fire, Robson's future is not under any threat, but as he prepares to invest once again when the transfer window re-opens on Thursday, he knows that the pressure on him has increased a little more.

Big money signings such as Carl Cort and Hugo Viana, who alone account for £15.5million of the manager's expenditure, have as yet failed to make their mark, and injuries to Craig Bellamy and Shola Ameobi have exposed a lack of depth in the striking department.

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