FREDDY Shepherd last night signalled the end of Craig Bellamy's Newcastle career by accusing the under-fire striker of "cheating" the club, the supporters, manager Graeme Souness and his own team-mates.

The United chairman's comments were made in response to an earlier outburst from Bellamy in which he accused Souness of telling "a downright lie" in an attempt to drive him out of the club.

After a day of claim and counter-claim that was incredible by even Newcastle's standards, Bellamy now looks certain to leave St James' Park before the transfer window closes next Tuesday.

Souness and Bellamy spent yesterday at loggerheads and, after each publicly questioned the other's integrity, any hopes of a reconciliation were blown out of the water.

Shepherd was left with the stark choice of backing either his manager or his player and, by supporting the former, he has effectively shown Bellamy the exit door.

"I wish to put the record straight regarding the Bellamy situation," said Shepherd, who had hoped to keep a lid on the situation until the Wales international made yet another unscheduled television appearance yesterday afternoon.

"He walked off the training ground (last week) saying his hamstring was tight, but what he failed to reveal in his interview was that he had told other members of the squad before training that he intended to feign injury.

"When Graeme Souness discovered this, he immediately ordered Bellamy to attend a meeting with us in my office.

"At that meeting, Bellamy admitted to Graeme and I that he had told the players that he was going to fake an injury in training and walk off. He also agreed at that meeting to apologise to his team-mates for his behaviour.

"He didn't do this, which resulted in the action taken by the manager at the weekend - which I fully support.

"In my book, this is cheating on the club, the supporters, the manager and the player's own team-mates.

"Craig Bellamy is paid extremely well by Newcastle United and I consider his behaviour to be totally unacceptable and totally unprofessional."

Yesterday began with the club's supporters expressing sympathy for Bellamy's plight. Playing in midfield has tempered his impact this season, yet he has still managed to score ten goals from a position that is largely alien to him.

But much of that sympathy has drained away after a series of accusations from both Shepherd and Souness painted him in a far less flattering light.

Far from being surprised at the striker's threat to feign injury last week, Souness suggested he might have actually carried out the ploy in December.

"The Newcastle United management team were suspicious of what happened at Liverpool when Bellamy stood down after what he said was a back injury after warming up," said the Magpies boss. "Yet he managed to train the following day."

By publicly questioning Bellamy's motives, Souness effectively forced Shepherd to either back him or sack him as the disagreement intensified.

Yet allegations of feigning injury were not even the most damning accusations levelled at the striker yesterday.

"Bellamy said in front of (Celestine) Babayaro and (Jean-Alain) Boumsong that this was a rubbish club with a rubbish manager," revealed Souness.

"I told him on Friday that I wanted him here - but on my terms. There has to be a boss and, at the moment, that's me."

Bellamy, who joined Newcastle in a £6m move from Coventry in 2001, admitted he had threatend to feign injury rather than play in a position he felt uncomfortable with.

But the 25-year-old claimed he had never carried out that threat and accused Souness of lying about why he did not even make the bench for Sunday's 1-0 defeat at Arsenal.

Bellamy had been prepared to let the dust settle in the aftermath of events at Highbury but, after listening to Souness accuse him of refusing to play on the right of midfield, he felt compelled to provide his own version of events.

"I couldn't believe it," said Bellamy. "I was in shock. I just thought 'Not only has he gone behind my back - in front of my face, he's lying.

"He couldn't say it to my face. It hurts a hell of a lot. I've kept my nose clean this season, I've trained as hard as I could. Certain situations happened and I rose above it.

"It seems I'm not wanted by a certain person and the only way to do it is to turn the fans against me."

Alan Shearer was quick to criticise Bellamy after the final whistle on Sunday, and the Newcastle skipper insists that the club's players are firmly behind Souness as he battles to overcome the multiple crises that are threatening to tear United's season apart.

"We had 11 players out there (at Arsenal) who were pulling in the same direction and all working very hard for each other," said Shearer.

"We all want to go in the same direction and we all want success for Newcastle. If there's anyone who doesn't want that, the manager will replace him with other players.

"I think Graeme's been great. You never get a job at a time when everything's been right at a football club.

"He came in and knew of one or two problems, and he's trying his very hardest to sort those problems out. If anyone can do it, then he can."

Bellamy is one problem that now looks like being removed from the equation, and even the player himself admits he might have overstepped the mark this time.

"The situation has gone a bit too far," he conceded.

"But I've got two and a half years left on my contract and I'd never ask to leave because this club means too much to me."

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