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Milner: We wont do a "Leeds"

Guest smoggeordie

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Guest smoggeordie

As Glenn Roeder spoke about the rising heat at St James's Park from within a well-insulated training ground dressing room yesterday morning, James Milner stood and shivered inside the capacious tent that houses Newcastle's artificial indoor pitch.


The temperature had plunged like the spirits of those who were unfortunate enough to have witnessed one of the darkest days in the club's recent history six days earlier.


But although the manner in which United's fortunes have declined has raised concerns a further drop could occur on Tyneside this season, Roeder and his players are keeping their cool.


"Being down there plays on your mind but we have to be strong as a squad," said Milner (pictured left), who experienced relegation as a Leeds United player two-and-a-half years ago. "We have some good characters, strong characters, and we have regrouped in the changing room. If you allow things to get on top of you, you will not perform.


"But we're a strong group and we have to stay positive. It's not easy when you're down towards the bottom but we want to put smiles on peoples faces again."


The only smiles at St James's Park last weekend were on the faces of Yorkshiremen as Sheffield United condemned their benevolent hosts to a 1-0 defeat that left the Magpies entrenched in the Premiership relegation zone and saw tempers boil over both inside and outside the stadium.


Given the depth of the club's top-flight troubles, it is inevitable that comparisons have this week been drawn between Newcastle and Leeds, Milner's previous employers, who just five years after reaching the Champions League semi-finals are only kept off the bottom of the Championship table by Southend. It is a suggestion the 20-year-old will not entertain.


"I went through relegation there and it wasn't nice," explained the player. "That's why I know we have got to get out of this as soon as we can. We need to start looking above rather than below and I'm sure we will get to that point soon."


But are there similarities? He went on: "They are two completely different situations, two completely different clubs. You can't compare the confidence of the two, there's no comparison to make."


It is remarkable that Newcastle's players retain such confidence in their capabilities given the depth of their struggles. While Roeder insists his satisfaction with his side's league performances - with the exception of their most recent - remains intact, the statistics do not make for good reading. United have gone eight hours and 45 minutes without a goal from open play, have not won a Premiership fixture for eight weeks and are at the bottom of the top-flight form table, having collected just two points from their last six league games.


Defeat in Manchester would see them hit rock bottom in the Premiership standings and, although Roeder believes his players do not deserve such a fate, Milner has no complaints.


"The league table doesn't lie, we deserve to be down there and we have got to pick it up," he said. "We should be playing a lot better (than the performance against Sheffield United with the squad we have got.


It's not ideal to be down there and we need to turn it round. I'm sure we will do that - hopefully starting this weekend."


Much has changed since Newcastle's last visit to the City of Manchester Stadium - although the general mood of dissatisfaction remains the same. That game on February 1 was Graeme Souness' last, with the hapless United manager sacked within 12 hours of a 3-0 defeat that left Freddie Shepherd furious.


Roeder assumed control the following morning. But although he had a remarkable effect on first-team fortunes during the remainder of the season, he has found the current campaign much harder.


"It's a complete mystery," said a manager whose league strugglers have excelled in the cup competitions. "I'm like the players, I'm mystified as to why our cup results have been so good and our Premiership results haven't. There's no reason and I don't think anyone could put their finger on it."


When United last played at City's impressive home, Roeder was celebrating a fine cup triumph having steered his young team to victory at Brentford in the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup. Having done the same with the senior side at Watford this week, the 50-year-old hopes that his Carling Cup quarter-finalists can finally replicate their knock-out form on the league stage.


"Quite a few of the performances in the Premiership have been as good, if not better, than those in the cups," he said with bewilderment. "But for some reason, we just haven't picked up points."


Few have performed more determinedly than Milner in the quest for success and the winger is desperate to help ease the heat mounting on his manager.


It is a process that must begin this weekend. He added: "The win at Watford has helped the mood because you always get momentum from wins. We need to take that momentum and push on in the league. The Sheffield United performance has been put to bed now and it's time to move on."



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