Souness: We can take the criticism

Last updated at 08:54 17 December 2004

Newcastle boss Graeme Souness has urged his young players to take the rough with the smooth after receiving mixed reviews for the conclusion to their UEFA Cup Group D campaign.

A Magpies side shorn of no fewer than eight senior men battled their way to a 1-1 draw with Sporting Lisbon to claim top spot in the group and what on paper should be a less taxing tie when the draw is made in Lyon later today.

However, Souness' makeshift side was once again booed from the pitch at St James' Park by a section of the paltry 28,017 crowd after failing to win for the sixth home game in succession.

"It is a learning curve," the manager said. "That is what football is about. We have all been there and you are richer for the experience. It is part of being a professional footballer today.

"That is life as well as football. We are all happy to have nice things said about us and people cheering us, but it is not always possible.

"We have to take everything that comes our way, meet it head on and deal with it and be stronger for the experience."

Far from being down-hearted, Souness was happy with the commitment shown by his reshuffled side in the face of a stern test.

They forced their way in front with just five minutes gone when Craig Bellamy headed home his 11th European goal for the club to establish himself in second place behind skipper Alan Shearer in the all-time records book.

Sporting midfielder Miguel Custodio levelled six minutes before the break as a new-look defence wilted momentarily, but despite having to soak up pressure for extended spells, the home side held firm.

The critics pointed to a lack of adventure, something of which Newcastle have not often been accused in recent seasons, but they had their chances while the visitors had few of any note, and in the end, Souness was satisfied that they had claimed the point they needed to put themselves in an unassailable position.

"The scenario is you want to finish first in the group, and we have done that," he said. "We have played some good football along the way.

"This was a different type of game of football for us, and we achieved what we wanted to achieve."

Souness admitted that the club's exertions in Europe have cost them dearly in terms of injuries, but refused to blame the competition for their poor showing in the Barclays Premiership.

"The reason why we are where we are in the league is because we have not scored enough goals when we have created the chances and we have conceded poor goals," he said.

"What effect this competition and the amount of games have had, I do not think anyone can put a figure on that."

While the Magpies will now face one of the third-placed sides in the next round - last season's Champions League nemesis Partizan Belgrade fall into that bracket - Sporting will have to deal with one of the drop-outs from the bigger competition, although coach Jose Peseiro is not unduly concerned.

"We do not fear any team," he said. "We are here to do our best and we will face any team as an adversary. We do not have any particular choice in terms of teams."