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Sunday, Dec. 30, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

Odds for Big Sam's future at Newcastle starting to look grim


LONDON — Bookmakers are rarely wrong and Sam Allardyce, who took charge at Newcastle six months ago, should be worried that he is favorite to be the next Premier League manager to be sacked.

Christopher Davies

Allardyce seems to be losing the support of owner Mike Ashley, chairman Chris Mort and crucially the Toon Army who chanted for Alan Shearer during the 1-0 Boxing Day defeat at Wigan.

Ashley is not like other chairmen. Look not for him in the directors lounge or the comforts of the directors box. The Newcastle owner wears a black and white club jersey like most fans and sits among the supporters so he can hear first hand what the rank-and-file think of his manager.

Which is not much. The 5,000 traveling fans at Wigan left no one in any doubt what they thought of another wretched performance coming a few days after the embarrassing 2-2 home draw with basement club Derby.

They want Newcastle legend Shearer to replace Allardyce but there are two major hurdles to overcome before that happens. Shearer has never indicated he wants to swap the comfort of the television studio for the demands of the manager's office at St. James' Park, which should have a revolving door fitted.

Also, Allardyce has 2 1/2 years of a contract worth around £3 million a year remaining plus his backroom staff. Ashley would have to dig deep into his pockets for the necessary compensation. Newcastle is in no real danger of relegation — the frustration is they seem to be going nowhere.

The manager who established Bolton as a Premier League force before leaving last summer went on the front foot and pointed the finger at his players for the defeat at Wigan with some stinging criticisms.

He said: "We simply didn't cope with Wigan's attitude. Some of the players didn't live up to their reputations. We should be big enough to handle what is thrown at us, not shrivel up and die. You roll up your sleeves and fight because ability alone isn't enough."

Allardyce is realistic and philosophical about his own position. He said: "It's the same old story isn't it? You lose a game — and lose it badly — and you are under the cosh, especially if you are the manager.

"You can't blame the fans for what they were singing. We weren't good enough and you don't need to be an expert to see that. They spend their hard-earned money and they want to see us fight and do an awful lot better than we did here today."

Newcastle travels to Chelsea on Saturday where they have never won in 14 Premier League visits. Their next four away league games are at top two clubs Manchester United and Arsenal, then high-flying Aston Villa and Liverpool.

It is difficult going on impossible for a manager to turn things round once he loses the support of the fans, and Big Sam could be set for a big payoff early in 2008.

* * * * *

I WILL always argue on behalf of footballers when outsiders doubt their intellect. My stock reply is that Einstein couldn't take a decent free-kick. Why on earth should footballers be intelligent and eloquent?

They do what they are good at, which is playing football.

Having said all that, some things they say are indefensible. Here are some of 2007's best — or worst.

"Ninety-nine percent of the letters and emails are supporting us and that's not bad. That's as good as Saddam Hussein did and he was fiddling the figures."

Ken Bates on his popularity level after buying Leeds United.

"Just as many times I have cried with the Iraqis, in this circumstance I rejoice with them."

Pope Benedict XVI follows Bates' lead as he sheds a tear after Iraq's unexpected triumph in the Asian Cup.

"I am not the Special One. I am the Normal One. But my wife says I am special. What am I like? I am 180 cm."

Chelsea head coach Avram Grant with an unusual statistic.

"I hope that Napoli win these last few games. You watch. If we go up, I will do a striptease."

To the disappointment of Napoli fans, Sofia Loren broke her promise — in public anyway — after they won promotion back to Serie A.

"I am not going to leave. Never. I am staying here for life."

Thierry Henry had a short life — he left Arsenal for Barcelona during the summer

"Any team can beat any other in this league and just to prove it there were seven draws yesterday."

Ditto Don Goodman.

"Our performance today shows other teams are going to have to score more goals than us if they want to win."

Tottenham's Darren Bent shows his brains are in his boots.

"You people are like those serial killers you see in films who send out horrible messages. The serial killer who cuts out the words 'I am going to get you' or 'your wife is next.' You are the very same."

Gordon Strachan enjoying a warm relationship with the Scottish media."

"Fourth spot is what we are aiming for — we don't want to be second best."

Phil Neville on Everton's ambitions, whatever they are.

"If you are the son of the Queen, if you are not good enough, you do not play for Arsenal. Has Prince Charles played for Arsenal?"

Arsene Wenger explains Prince Charles' omission from the Arsenal side.



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