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By ESPN Staff

Decision time for Ashley as Newcastle revolts

Mike Ashley is facing a series of decisions which will determine the outcome of one of the most turbulent episodes in the colourful history of Newcastle United. The club's fans are in open revolt over the departure of Kevin Keegan and the shell-shocked team he left behind is dangerously understrength and devoid of confidence.

Billionaire Ashley has three options: swallow the enormous slice of humble pie he cut for himself on Friday when he attempted to broker a peace deal with Keegan; press ahead regardless with the blueprint he drew up when he appointed Dennis Wise as "executive director (football)" and find a manager who is willing to work under that regime; or decide enough is enough and get out.

It is understood the dialogue between Ashley and Keegan is ongoing, although cynics have suggested the timing of Friday's meeting as fans prepared for mass protests ahead of Saturday's 2-1 defeat by Barclays Premier League new boys Hull was little more than a stunt.

Keegan's disquiet with the roles of Wise and vice-president (player recruitment) Tony Jimenez were well documented long before matters reached crisis point, and there is little doubt there would have to be a significant change in policy to persuade the 57-year-old he could return.

But while hope, albeit dwindling, still remains that Keegan could return, the Magpies hierarchy's search for a new manager has covered some ground with Blackburn's Paul Ince, Tottenham number two Gustavo Poyet and former France captain Didier Deschamps heading a list drawn up from dozens of interested parties.

However, the remaining alternative was made abundantly clear to Ashley - at least it would have been had he turned up to face the music at St James' Park yesterday - by thousands of angry fans.

"Cockney mafia out" was perhaps the least offensive of the messages carried by a series of banners, while another suggested the way forward: "Wise up, drink up, sell up".

Ever since the Sports Direct magnate completed his £134.4million takeover, there have been rumours that he has been trying to offload the club.

Former chairman Chris Mort and current managing direct Derek Llambias - the only member of the regime to take his seat inside the stadium for Saturday's game - have strenuously denied that, pointing to the investment in the business of a further £100million or so since.

But in the wake of Keegan's departure, the Ashley camp has indicated that a series of suitors has emerged.

Indian tycoon Anil Ambani has publicly ended his interest after failing to get a response from the club, although that may not be the end of the story, while Chinese billionaire Xu Rongmao has also been linked with a bid.

But what is clear is that something needs to change and change fast if the Tyneside rebels are to be appeased and the Magpies are to avoid a slide into a relegation fight.

For all there were protests outside the stadium before kick-off, the players selected by caretaker Chris Hughton could not have asked for better support from the stands as they set about their task.

However, the team-sheet told its own story with young central defender David Edgar pressed into service as an emergency right-back and skipper Michael Owen playing behind a new-look front two of deadline day signing Xisco and Shola Ameobi.

Keegan had no say in the Spaniard's arrival and that was one of his central grievances as he headed through the exit door.

Having seen the Spaniard squander three gilt-edged chances in the first half, the home fans could perhaps understand his concerns.

Xisco did get himself on the scoresheet nine minutes from time, but by then, the game was lost with striker Marlon King having converted a 34th-minute penalty and then taken advantage of some kamikaze defending to double the lead nine minutes after the break.

Danny Guthrie completed a black day on Tyneside when he took a senseless swing at Craig Folan and earned himself a red card and a three-match ban his side can barely afford.

Hughton said: "What you want at a club is, you don't want a club that has gone through what we have gone through in the last couple of weeks. I think that is quite obvious.

"What you want is you want stability at the club, and that's quite obvious for anybody to say, not just me.

"But all we can do as a group of coaches and players is get on with what the situation is and work around it the best way we can."

But City boss Phil Brown was all smiles as his side bounced back from their 5-0 home mauling by Wigan in style.

He said: "Maybe we are turning one or two heads, I'm not too sure.

"Maybe it was fortunate today that we caught Newcastle at the right time, I don't know."


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