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Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge

50-50 Challenge
By ESPN Staff

Souness defends transfer business

Newcastle boss Graeme Souness has defended his decision to offload 10 first-team players during the summer despite the injury crisis which has left him fighting for his job.

Craig Bellamy, Patrick Kluivert, Laurent Robert, Jermaine Jenas, Aaron Hughes, Andy O'Brien and Darren Ambrose all left St James' Park during the summer or just after the start of the new campaign, while Nicky Butt, Hugo Viana and James Milner were sent out on loan.

In their place, Michael Owen, Scott Parker, Emre, Albert Luque, Nolberto Solano, Lee Clark and Craig Moore were recruited, although a crippling catalogue of injuries to several of the new arrivals and others has left the manager desperately trying to put together a team week after week.

Souness heads for Cheltenham for a tricky FA Cup fourth-round tie on Saturday hoping to have Parker, Emre and Shola Ameobi at his disposal again, but he will again be woefully short of numbers, particularly at the back, where Titus Bramble has had to play with a groin problem for weeks.

However, the Scot remains unrepentant, insisting that youngsters Steven Taylor, another long-term casualty, and Peter Ramage would not have got their chance had Hughes and O'Brien remained at St James' Park.

He said: 'If we had kept Andy O'Brien here, people would be screaming and saying why did did we do that when we have got a young emerging centre-half in Steven Taylor?

'Between Steven and Peter Ramage, they have acquitted themselves so well that I don't think we have missed Andy or Aaron.

'Peter has proved he can play right across the back four, as has Steven, because he's played at left and right-back.

'We have replaced two good players with two good players who are only going to get better.'

Ramage is likely to get the nod again at right-back at Whaddon Road with Stephen Carr having undergone a second groin operation for the season last week and, like Taylor, his emergence has been a godsend.

A central defender by trade, he has operated in both wide positions and his efforts have been appreciated by the club's fans.

'He's been playing all season,' said Souness. 'How many games has he played? He must be well into double figures by now, so we have no worries about him.

'He played at centre-back in the first half last week and showed he can play there. That is his favoured position, but he's played at left-back, right-back, and he's just delighted to be in the team.'

Souness has been under intense pressure this week after last Saturday's 1-0 home defeat by Blackburn sparked an impromptu demonstration calling for his head.

However, as speculation mounted that he would be sacked at a meeting with chairman Freddy Shepherd on Monday, he emerged insisting he had Shepherd's continued support and ready to fight on.

Defeat at Cheltenham is simply not an option if the dissenters are to be silenced and, having enjoyed uncomfortable experiences in the past at Stevenage Borough, Yeading and, most infamously Hereford, no-one within the Magpies' camp is under any illusion about just how high the stakes are.