NEWCASTLE are ready to hand Lee Bowyer the chance to be reunited with former Leeds teammate Jonathan Woodgate.

Sir Bobby Robson has renewed his interest in midfielder Bowyer, who is available on a Bosman transfer following West Ham's relegation from the Premiership.

Bowyer joined his boyhood heroes in January in a cut-price move from Leeds with the aim of helping the Hammers escape the drop.

But he missed the run-in through an ankle injury and was powerless as they followed Sunderland and West Brom into the Nationwide League.

Sacked Sunderland boss Howard Wilkinson failed to persuade Bowyer to link up with the Black Cats shortly before the England international moved to Upton Park.

And Newcastle manager Robson later admitted he had tried to land Bowyer prior to signing centre-back Woodgate from Leeds in a £9m deal.

In their time together at Leeds, Woodgate and Bowyer were at the centre of two high-profile Crown Court trials which ended with Woodgate's conviction for affray and Bowyer's acquittal on charges of GBH and affray, following a city-centre attack on student Sarfraz Najeib.

Robson faces competition from FA Cup winners Arsenal for Londoner Bowyer.

But the Magpies are hopeful that they can lure the 26-year-old, whose proposed £10m move to Liverpool last summer collaped at the 11th hour when Anfield boss Gerard Houllier had seconds thoughts about the deal.

Robson is due to meet chairman Freddy Shepherd this week to draw up his summer transfer plans.

Another topic for discussion will be left-back Olivier Bernard, who could be fighting for his future at St. James' Park following an alleged outburst against the club in a Sunday tabloid.

Shepherd is said to be "spitting blood'' after Frenchman Bernard was quoted as saying "there are too many businessmen and not enough people passionate about football at the head of Newcastle''.

He is also said to have described Newcastle as a "grey'' and "boring'' place.

Teammate and fellow countryman Laurent Robert was forced to issue a statement in January distancing himself from reports claiming he felt there was a dressing-room split at St. James' between English and foreign players.

Bernard may now find that he, too, has to go public in a bid to clear his name.

First of all, however, he has some explaining to do to Shepherd and Robson, who have both warned they will clamp down on any further indiscipline in the ranks.

Newcastle fought hard to keep hold of Bernard last summer after he claimed he was entitled to join West Ham on a free transfer.

The Magpies successfully argued at a Premier League tribunal that they had an option on the former Darlington loanee for another year.

Bernard subsequently lost an appeal against the decision - then promptly signed a new three-year contract with the Geordies.

A Newcastle source said yesterday: "The chairman is spitting blood. If Olivier did say these things, he'll have played his last game for Newcastle.

"Remember it was Freddy who went in to bat for Bernard when there was a dispute over his contract. If he hadn't, Bernard would be looking forward to playing for West Ham in the First Division next season instead of in the Champions League.

"Olivier will be given a fair hearing and an opportunity to defend himself.

"But he needs to come up with some good answers because the club is getting sick of reading stuff which puts them in a bad light."

Shepherd is also fuming after winger Robert - as exclusively revealed in Northern Echo Sport last week - said he would welcome a move to Manchester United or Arsenal.

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