Exclusive: Lee shock at Hughton axe

FORMER Newcastle star Rob Lee has condemned the St James’ Park hierarchy for sacking manager Chris Hughton just seven months after leading them back into the Premier League.

Magpies chiefs yesterday showed Hughton the door, despite being in 11th place after a solid return to the top flight, saying they now wanted someone with more experience.

Coach Peter Beardsley has been placed in temporary charge, while outraged fans are planning to wear all black for Saturday’s visit of Liverpool in protest at the shock move.

Ex-England midfielder Lee was stunned by the decision and warned that his old club would have trouble attracting managers who weren’t prepared to let owner Mike Ashley interfere.

“I’m totally amazed, surprised and shocked,” Lee told City A.M. last night. “Chris Hughton has done a tremendous job, all you could have asked of him. He took over when they were in a poor position and got them back up into the Premier League with a record points total. Then he’s had some great results this season against Arsenal, Aston Villa and Sunderland.”

Newcastle said they felt “an individual with more managerial experience is needed to take the club forward.” But Lee warned many candidates would be put off by Ashley’s regime, adding that fans would turn against the owner again now.

“Mike Ashley had just started to get fans back on side. But he has taken one step forward and now four steps backwards,” added Lee (inset), who began his career at Charlton and is now a director of Fortress Wealth Management

“I’d have thought someone used to running the club from top to bottom would have issues about who was making the decisions. The alternative is they get someone in who does what they’re told.”

Hughton said he was “immensely proud” of his spell, adding: “I enjoyed a fantastic relationship with the players, my staff and the supporters.”

Uncertainty over Hughton’s future lingered, with his contract due to expire at the end of the season, although in October the club pledged to offer him a new deal.

Defender Sol Campbell said the former Tottenham coach’s departure would “hit the players hard”. He added: “The players admired him and liked him and won’t be happy now he’s gone like this.”

WHO’S NEXT FOR TOON HOTSEAT?

MARTIN JOL
The former Spurs boss would represent a hugely popular choice. He left his post at Dutch giants Ajax last night which saw his odds fall dramatically. Odds: 5/6

ALAN PARDEW
Has some decent top-flight experience with West Ham but is hardly the stellar name the Newcastle board appear to be eager to recruit. Odds: 7/4

MARTIN O’NEILL
Fits the board’s criteria but doubtful he would enjoy working for an overbearing owner given his power struggle andfractious exit from Aston Villa. Odds: 9/1

ALAN CURBISHLEY
Would represent a safe choice, but he’s been linked with the job before and has been out of work for well over two years since leaving West Ham. Odds: 10/1

TOON MANAGERS SINCE SIR BOBBY
Manager Win Percentage
Glenn Roeder 40.4%
Sam Allardyce 33.3%
Chris Hughton 31.3%
Graeme Souness 28.6%
Kevin Keegan 26.3%
Joe Kinnear 20.8%
Alan Shearer 12.8%

* Figures relate to PL matches