FREDDY Shepherd last night insisted that Lee Bowyer should "go down on his hands and knees" to show thanks for keeping his job.

The Newcastle chairman admitted that the one-time England international had come within a whisker of being sacked after attacking team-mate Kieron Dyer during Saturday's sensational defeat to Aston Villa.

But, after exonerating Dyer of all blame for the incident, Shepherd also revealed that both players are available for Thursday night's UEFA Cup quarter-final with Sporting Lisbon.

Bowyer was yesterday fined six weeks' wages - understood to be around £200,000 - and given a final warning over his future conduct after head-butting and punching his fellow midfielder at the weekend.

But, while the fine represents the biggest censure ever handed out by the Magpies, the United chief has confirmed that he initially considered an even harsher penalty.

"We certainly considered sacking Bowyer," said Shepherd, who described Saturday's scenes as his worst moments in football. "It would be unfair not to say that. We could have done it. It was gross misconduct and we could have done it.

"But we thought that the fine and the final warning was in keeping with it. What we said to him is private, but he certainly got the message.

"Bowyer should thank his lucky stars he's still with Newcastle United? Yes, without a doubt. He should go down on his hands and knees."

Shepherd met both players at St James' Park yesterday morning, before the warring duo took part in a stage-managed handshake in front of the assembled press.

But, while Bowyer appears to have been given a final chance, it seems certain the Magpies board will be doing all they can to move him on in the summer.

Shepherd is understood to be privately seething at his latest show of indiscipline and, while the former Leeds midfielder still has three years of his contract to run, Newcastle will accept a cut-price fee at the end of the season.

Dyer's future seems more secure, with Newcastle having lodged an appeal with the FA in an attempt to get his dismissal overturned.

The 26-year-old was undoubtedly on the receiving end of the fracas - although television cameras seemed to show him throwing a punch as he was hauled away by Stephen Carr - and Shepherd has urged the authorities not to impose a likely three-match ban.

"In my opinion, Dyer has received the raw end of the deal," said the Newcastle chief.

"He didn't attack anyone - he was attacked. It might not be what people want to hear, but sometimes you've got to stand up.

"He certainly didn't provoke the incident - it was down to Bowyer. Lee stood up and admitted this.

"He (Dyer) had three options. He could have just stood there with his hands down by his side, he could have defended himself or he could have run away.

"Running away wasn't an option and putting his arms down by his side wasn't an option, so he had to defend himself."

Shepherd has been attacked for failing to dismiss Bowyer, with Sports Minister Richard Caborn claiming that his assault would be a sackable offence in "any other walk of life".

"People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones," he countered. "I think he's forgot that his boss, Mr (John) Prescott, was involved in a fight.

"I didn't see him at the time blaming the Prime Minister for Mr Prescott's actions during the fight. Perhaps he should look closer to home. But we've got to put this behind us now and start a new era."

Graeme Souness has echoed those sentiments, insisting that it is now time to draw a line under the whole affair.

The Magpies manager was criticised himself yesterday after revealing that Bowyer and Dyer had "managed to have a laugh" about what had happened.

But, after claiming he did not mean to downplay the seriousness of the incident, the Scot urged everyone involved with Newcastle to turn their attentions towards Thursday's crucial European clash.

"For the good of the club and the rest of the season, we have got to knuckle down and come together again as a team because we have so much to play for," said Souness.

"We have a massive game in 72 hours time, which my players and the staff have got to prepare for. The fight happened, and no-one is denying how serious a matter it is.

"But I am the manager of this club and trying to achieve with the players the best result possible on the field, and that means being focused on football."

Things might not be as simple as that though, as the police have confirmed they will be investigating Saturday's brawl.

A spokesman for Northumbria Police revealed that officers have received "concerns" from members of the public and opened talks with the club.

"A senior officer from Newcastle area command has been assigned to investigate the circumstances of this incident," said a police statement.

* Ipswich Town manager Joe Royle has confirmed he is interested in taking Darren Ambrose back to Portman Road. Royle said: "I spoke to Graeme Souness before Christmas. We know Darren and we like him, but other clubs are also interested."

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