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Will the fates never end their sport with Newcastle? Two goals in the space of six second-half minutes gave Sporting a 4-2 aggregate victory in Thursday night's Uefa Cup quarter-final and dashed, once again, their dreams of European glory, writes Jonathan Wilson.
An FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United on Sunday offers at least the sniff of salvation but it is bewildering how rapidly this season has unravelled. They had just got over the Kieron Dyer-Lee Bowyer spat when Laurent Robert complained that the club had declined over the past year. A grim Graeme Souness on Thursday night admitted to have been "disappointed and amazed", and omitted the Frenchman from his squad. He may never return.
Many on Tyneside would say good riddance but his absence was decisive last night. In his place on the left of midfield came his compatriot Charles N'Zogbia, but he seemed overawed by the occasion. It was after he had been isolated against Moutinho five minutes before half-time that Sporting, having conceded what could have been a fatal away goal, equalised through Marius Nicolae's header.
That away goal came through Dyer, his pace carrying him on to Anderson Polga's weak back-header, but once he had succumbed to a tweaked hamstring on the hour, the game was up for Newcastle. No longer so fretful about being caught on the break, Sporting poured forward and when Sa Pinto tapped them ahead on the night after Shay Given had parried Pedro Barbosa's drive, there were still 20 minutes to play.
Newcastle almost visibly wilted. Beto headed in Carlos Martins's right-wing corner six minutes later and Fabio Rochemback added the fourth after a Steven Carr error in injury-time. For Sporting a semi-final against AZ Alkmaar awaits; for Newcastle, there is only more disappointment, and, if they lose on Sunday, the dubious privilege of the InterToto Cup next season.
* Peter Moores, coach of Sussex, is to take over from Rod Marsh at the end of this season as England's national cricket academy director. Moores has impressed the England and Wales Cricket Board with his vision for the development of the academy, which has been under the directorship of former Australia wicketkeeper Marsh for the four years since it was established.
Moores, 42, who made his name when he oversaw Sussex's first county championship title in 2003, said of the opportunity to develop the country's best young players: "I am thrilled to have been given the chance to build on the foundations laid by Rod Marsh at the national academy. It is a terrific opportunity for me to work with quality individuals, and I hope by working together with both the academy staff and the England management team to play an important part in the development of the next generation of England players."
Moores, like Marsh a former wicketkeeper but also a graduate of the Bradford Management Centre, has a hard act to follow. Marsh's reign has coincided with a big upturn in the national team's fortunes. The academy has produced players of the calibre of Robert Key, Kevin Pietersen and Matthew Prior.
* Warwickshire's Ian Bell staked his claim for an England place with a knock of 96 and put the champions in control against Glamorgan at Edgbaston on Thursday. Warwickshire started day two trailing the visitors' first-innings total by 130 runs, but ended it at 415 for 4 thanks to Bell's innings and one of 144 not out by Michael Powell. Bell hopes to be selected for the one batting slot in the England Test team expected to be available. He was eventually trapped leg before after playing back to spinner Robert Croft, and Warwickshire will start today 217 runs ahead with six wickets remaining.
* Chelsea, the team of the season, are set to dominate the Professional Footballers' Association player of the year award, with three players nominated - Frank Lampard, John Terry and Petr Cech. They are joined on the shortlist by Liverpool's Steven Gerrard, Crystal Palace striker Andy Johnson and Arsenal's Thierry Henry, the winner for the past two years. The winner will be announced on April 24.
* Newcastle Falcons will not announce until an hour before kick-off whether Jonny Wilkinson will be involved against Northampton on Friday night. Rugby director Rob Andrew confirmed his starting line-up, but not the replacements' bench, where England captain Wilkinson could feature. Wilkinson, who is recovering from a knee injury, has until the end of the season to prove his fitness if he is to join the Lions tour of New Zealand in May.
* US sprinter Marion Jones returns to the track on Sunday hoping to revive her faltering career. In what will be her first competitive race since last summer's Athens Olympics, Jones will race over 400m near Los Angeles. Last year Jones suffered a troubled time of doping accusations and her failure to make the US Olympic team in either the 100m or 200m. She competed in the long jump and 4x100m relay at Athens, but failed to win a medal.
Steve Riddick, her coach, said Jones's goals were to make the US team for August's Helsinki world championships in the 100m and 200m and the 4x100m and 4x400m relays. The US Anti-Doping Agency put Jones under scrutiny last year, but she has not been charged, has denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs and has never failed a doping test.
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