Sunday 2 November ~

Nothing happened at Newcastle on October 17, a date that that was supposed to mark the deadline for bidders seeking to buy out Mike Ashley. Now the critical date is November 22, identified as "D-day" by Newcastle's interim boss Joe Kinnear. That's not a new target for various consortiums but the day his team play Chelsea. When he took over in September, Kinnear had been told that the visit to Stamford Bridge was likely to be his last match in charge. Now, with buyers seemingly put off by the global recession as well as by Ashley's unusual sales methods, Kinnear's stay is set to be extended. Indeed he has been discussing January transfer targets with the club's executive director (football) Dennis Wise: "He’s looking for ones for the future, but I’d like ones for the first team, because I’m selfish."

Mike Ashley hasn't yet ventured back to watch Newcastle matches after being warned off attending the game with Hull City which was preceded by a supporters’ march through the city. But he appears to have little option other than to sit tight as it's clear that no one is prepared to make the sort of offer that would enable him to make a big profit on the £210 million he has put into the club. In fact, he might have to spend more in January to try to ensure that club stays up. Most pressingly there is the issue of Michael Owen's contract. Owen will be able to leave on a free next summer but has so far declined to consider extending his deal.  

However, if the none of the handful of clubs who can afford his weekly wages of £100,000 make a bid for him in January – and clubs chasing honours rarely make significant buys in mid-season- he will have to stay put at least until the end of 2008-09. In which case the Newcastle board may feel that it is worthwhile to offer the improved deal he has demanded, thereby keeping him happy, and suitably focused on helping them to stay up. If he is still determined to leave they would at least then get a significant fee for him.

If Newcastle were to drop into the Championship Ashley would have to sell at a big loss or linger on for at least another year, or until such time as they can get their snouts back in the Premier League trough. So, far from being a stopgap, the caretaker is increasingly becoming a very important figure. Having been widely ridiculed after his appointment, and again after a unleashing a torrent of abuse to reporters while complaining about his negative press coverage, Kinnear has lost only one of his four games in charge. While the team are still in the bottom three, they do seem to have some semblance of organisation. This may prove to be no more than the “dead cat bounce” that a change of command nearly always brings.

It will be tested by tomorrow's opponents Villa, who are the strongest opponents Newcastle have faced during the Kinnear interregnum. If he bothers to watch the broadcast, Mike Ashley can expect to hear his name taken in vain once again. Should James Milner, whose sale to Villa is said to have prompted Keegan's walkout, make a decisive contribution, Ashley may feel inclined to turn the sound off.

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