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Last Updated: Monday, 10 May, 2004, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Robson faces Newcastle crunch

By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Newcastle United have suffered a miserable week, which has seen their Uefa Cup ambitions end at the semi-final stage in Marseille and their hopes of Champions League football take a dive.

Sir Bobby Robson won't step down and he certainly won't take a job upstairs

The home draw against Wolves came on the back of a damaging league defeat at Manchester City - and now they must win at Southampton and Liverpool to seal fouth place.

Not easy when you are in form - even more difficult when you have only one league win away from St James' Park in the previous nine months.

Newcastle are now not only battling for a Champions League place, but the emergence of Aston Villa has made it conceivable they may not qualify for Europe at all.

This has led to some serious criticism and questions about Sir Bobby Robson's future.

These are questions only Newcastle can answer, but there is no doubt the club is approaching crunch time on several fronts.

In Robson's defence, he has suffered serious injuries to four or five key players at a crucial time, which has badly affected his ability to field his strongest team.

But no European football would be a bitter blow and it would then leave tough decisions to be made.

What then?

Would Newcastle feel it was the right time to bring someone in? Would Sir Bobby feel he's had enough?

Those decisions might have to be made, although having spoken to Bobby at length last year his enthusiasm is the same as it was 15 years ago.

There has been talk of Bobby perhaps moving upstairs but I don't see that. He likes to be totally involved - he had that role at Barcelona and soon returned to full-time club management.

I don't believe he will step down, although even Bobby can't go on forever.

Bobby will actually think he can go on forever and the fact that he is 71 might count against him if someone is looking for an easy get-out and wants a change.

I personally don't think it makes any difference and I certainly don't think a 71-year-old Sir Bobby Robson will have any problems relating to young footballers.

What you should ask in Robson's defence is this: "What actually constitutes a good season for Newcastle United?"

Chairman Freddy Shepherd made his displeasure known earlier in the season but any decision of this sort is very, very hard.

What you should ask in Robson's defence is this: "What actually constitutes a good season for Newcastle United?"

The top three are gone as far as Newcastle are concerned. They may not think that themselves but it's a fact.

And, in reality, the only team that can actually muscle in on Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United is Liverpool.

Liverpool is still massive, a world brand name. They are still regarded as a major player and we are not talking 50 years down the line since their last title success.

The point has been proved with the interest of the Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in buying into the club.

Newcastle, for all their magnificent fan base, have not got that, so we are talking about them aiming for fourth place and having a cup run.

They have been in contention for fourth place all season and got to the semi-finals of a European competition.

Of course there have been disappointments but you can hardly say Robson has been doing a bad job.

But there is no doubt hard decisions will have to be taken - and these apply on the field as much as off.

Newcastle must replace Alan Shearer by the end of next season and one of their main midfield influences, Gary Speed, is nearly 35.

It might cost at least 15m to replace Shearer because he has been magnificent - and there is no guarantee whoever you get will be good enough to replace this outstanding player.

Newcastle's away record has been abysmal. You can scrape wins at home when you're not playing well, but if you are losing away you can get into a rut and almost end up beaten before you go out.

One or two signings, 8.5m Hugo Viana in particular, have not been too pretty, so that has only added to the difficulties.

If Newcastle do not get into the Champions League, or indeed into Europe, their away record is the main reason for it.

All these issues - on and off the field - will need to be addressed and there is no doubt we are coming to a crucial time when it comes to putting down markers for Newcastle United's future.

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