x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

O'Neill waiting in the wings if Newcastle make a change

Martin O'Neill is eager to get back into top-flight management in 2011 and that will make the position of Chris Hughton, Newcastle United's manager, less secure.

Newcastle ground staff attempt to clear the pitch of snow in time for today’s visit of Chelsea to St James’ Park.
Newcastle ground staff attempt to clear the pitch of snow in time for today’s visit of Chelsea to St James’ Park.

Martin O'Neill is eager to get back into top-flight management in 2011 and that will make the position of Chris Hughton, Newcastle United's manager, less secure.

O'Neill stunned Aston Villa on the eve of the season when he quit the club following a breakdown in his relationship with Randy Lerner, the owner.

He has since maintained a low profile, rebuffing several inquiries about his availability and turning down many offers of work as a media pundit.

But O'Neill was a guest at a horse racing function last week and told a source that he has enjoyed his break away from the game, wants to keep his feet up over Christmas, but will then be back on the market.

He refused to suggest that he has been lined up by any club, but it is understood that if the job at Newcastle did become available it would appeal.

Hughton's position at the club remains unstable in what has proved an erratic season for the club. Dismal displays, such as last week's 5-1 drubbing at Bolton Wanderers and home defeats to Blackpool, Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City, have been juxtaposed with exciting victories - a 5-1 win against north-east rivals Sunderland, 6-0 over Aston Villa and 1-0 at Arsenal.

Such performances have meant the club have settled in mid-table on their return to the Premier League. That a relegation battle now looks unlikely should have earned Hughton, who led the club back into the top flight at the first attempt, the comfort of a new contract.

But, despite suggestions by the club that they would hammer out a new deal soon, it has yet to materialise. Hughton's current deal expires in the summer and at £400,000 (Dh2.3 million) a year he is one of the lowest paid managers in the Premier League.

The former Tottenham Hotspur assistant manager has maintained a dignified silence about his situation, but is bemused he has not done enough to warrant a new, improved deal.

He increasingly feels he has been put on "trial" this season.

On that front, Hughton has done well given the modest budget he has been provided with, and his team will fancy their chances today against a Chelsea side who have suddenly hit a wall.

It is understood, however, that owner Mike Ashley - who has been trying to sell the club for two years - is not convinced Hughton is the right manager for the long term, possibly because he is perceived to lack the high profile normally associated with Newcastle managers. It is thought that Hughton will be offered little scope in the January transfer window.

However, an improved budget would probably be available for a coach of O'Neill's pedigree, despite many questioning the vast amounts he squandered on players who failed to hit the heights while at Villa.

 

sports@thenational.ae