Newcastle troubled both on and off field


Newcastle supporters demonstrated their loyalty with a passionate performance off the field at St James' Park last night but unfortunately the players were not able to lift their performance above mediocrity on it.

They had all the play throughout but even Alan Shearer, skipper for the night, didn't have it in him to produce the usual heroics until 13 minutes from time.

He blazed home a superb direct free kick from 22 yards to end his Premiership drought and then three minutes on David Batty crashed a great volley goalwards only for Kevin Miller to pull off a superb save.

Bottom club Palace's eight-game losing streak had finally ended and how they and their small band of fans celebrated on the final whistle after goals from Attilio Lombardo (after 14 minutes) and Matt Jansen (23rd minute) gave them a much-needed victory.

The crisis in the United boardroom has now reached those same troubled proportions on it.

Freddie Shepherd and Douglas Hall, the two senior directors named in a string of weekend tabloid press allegations about their private lives, yesterday issued a joint statement of apology.

They said that they were extremely sorry for causing offence to their families, to Newcastle supporters and, most of all, to the women of the North-east whom they ungraciously labelled "dogs".

But last night speculation was growing that Shepherd, the chairman, and his close friend Hall, the club's largest shareholder, were on their way out St James' Park in the face of an imminent revolt by supporters of the team and directors of the club's parent company.

They had allegedly ridiculed fans for paying inflated prices for replica Newcastle shirts, disparaged their ú15 million striker Shearer, boasted about their sexual conquests and gloated over the "sacking" of the former manager Kevin Keegan.

With the News of the World apparently promising more revelations, the two hired a Glasgow public relations company specialising in damage limitation in an attempt to prepare the ground for a comeback, but the ploy failed.

Yesterday Shepherd rushed out another statement to explain their absence from last night game. "After long and careful consideration, Douglas and I have decided that it would be a distraction if we attended," it said.

Though some interpreted this as a near-valedictory, club sources indicated it was merely a tactical withdrawal while tempers cooled in the city. The men who run Newcastle United are facing a popular revolt which, if anything, has gained momentum over the past four days.

Although the text of their joint apology concluded that "anybody who knows Douglas and Freddie would realise the comments attributed to them are totally out of character and do not represent their true views", it was noticed that the statement included no outright denial of the allegations.

To complicate matters further Sir John Hall, the former club chairman who handed over the reins to his son Douglas last year, said yesterday that he had no intention of returning.

Newcastle: Given, Barton, Pistone, Howey (Peacock 36), Dabizas, Batty, Speed, Gillespie, Ketsbaia (Tomasson 74), Andersson (Barnes 52), Shearer. Subs not used: Hislop, Griffin. Booked: Shearer, Batty, Dabizas, Barton. Goals: Shearer 77.

Crystal Palace: Miller, Edworthy, Gordon, Lombardo (Hreidarsson 72), Brolin, Rodger (Billio 68), Bent (Padovano 66), Smith, Ismael, Fullarton, Jansen. Subs not used: Nash, Linighan. Booked: Brolin, Ismael. Goals: Lombardo 14, Jansen 23.

Referee: S J Lodge (Barnsley).