Belfast Telegraph

Steve McClaren awaits fate as Rafa Benitez stands by

By Damian Spellman

Steve McClaren's ill-fated reign as Newcastle's head coach finally appeared to be drawing to an end as the club closed in on potential successor Rafael Benitez.

A grim-faced McClaren left the club's Darsley Park training headquarters yesterday after working with his players for a third successive day following a deeply damaging 3-1 home defeat by Bournemouth on Saturday.

Perhaps significantly, he departed shortly after 2pm, some two hours earlier than he had exited on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, reports from Spain had suggested intermediaries working on the club's behalf were in advanced talks over a three-year deal with Spaniard Benitez, who was sacked by Real Madrid in January.

Barclays Premier League clubs are required to hold a press conference before each game and the Magpies have yet to confirm arrangements ahead of Monday night's trip to leaders Leicester amid the ongoing uncertainty.

There was no official comment from the club as the saga over the former England manager's situation rumbled into a fifth day.

McClaren is in a seemingly untenable position as he prepares his players for the clash with the league leaders, not knowing if he will make it to the dugout.

With the Benitez camp indicating a willingness to accept both the short-term challenge of keeping the club in the top flight and a longer-term project, the situation was coming to a head.

There was support from January signing Jonjo Shelvey, appointed captain by McClaren.

Shelvey said: "It's a sticky situation that we're in at the minute and he's at the forefront of it, which he doesn't deserve."

Newcastle have just Aston Villa below them in the Premier League drop zone.

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