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By ESPN Staff

'Blame the players, not Big Sam' - Duff

Newcastle midfielder Damien Duff has admitted Sam Allardyce's under-achieving players must take the blame for their club's woeful Christmas.

The 28-year-old midfielder heads for his old club Chelsea tomorrow with the Magpies having taken just a single point from their matches against lowly Derby and Wigan.

Allardyce once again found himself the target for the massed black-and-white ranks after an abject display at the JJB Stadium on Boxing Day which saw Steve Bruce's men win by the only goal.

But Duff, who started his first game since April at Wigan after a career-threatening foot injury, insists the players need to help their boss.

He said: 'Newcastle is obviously a big club, but we all love the gaffer.

'We are behind him and we just want to put it right for him. He cannot take all the flak.

'We are the ones on the pitch - so don't hammer him, hammer us.'

The Magpies had managed to ease the pressure on their new manager with a creditable draw against Arsenal and successive, if last-gasp, victories over Fulham and Birmingham.

But a 2-2 home draw against rock-bottom Derby, in which they twice had to come from behind, saw the discontent resurface - and that only grew in intensity at Wigan.

While Duff acknowledged that the manager is under pressure - owner Mike Ashley once again sat among the travelling fans at the JJB and will have had ample opportunity to gauge opinion - he knows only the players can resolve that situation.

He said: 'The players have to stand up and be counted as well.

'It's a massive club, but you cannot just blame the gaffer. We are the ones out on the pitch, so we are all in it together.

'As far as I'm concerned, he's a brilliant manager. I get on great with him.

'Up until recently, I was buzzing to get back on the pitch and starting working for him - so from that point of view, he has been great for me.

'Now we just need to knuckle down and start getting positive results - because we owe it to him.'

Allardyce will hope to have England striker Michael Owen back in the squad at Stamford Bridge - but whoever he sends out on to the pitch will be left in little doubt as to their task.

Allardyce said: 'Instead of taking four or six points out of these last two games after putting a bit of a run together, we have ended up with one.

'Now Chelsea away is looming, followed by Manchester City at home - so it is disappointing we have not been pro-active enough to take advantage of the position we had put ourselves in.

'We are sitting mid-table thinking we can take the next step. But at the moment, we are not capable of taking it - and that's our own fault, because we are not putting in performances to win matches.'