BOBBY Robson's transfer dealings have helped get Newcastle United back into the black.

The sale of high earners as part of his overhaul of the squad he inherited from Ruud Gullit has reduced the wage bill by 14 per cent and cut the club's player trading deficit by 29 per cent.

Interim figures for the six months to January 31 show that the deficit fell from £7.1m to £5.1m.

Coupled with a 15 per cent increase in turnover from £28.1m to £32.2m - much of it due to the increased capacity of the new-look 52,200-seater St James' Park - operating profit before player trading has risen from £5.8m to £6.8m.

That helped to give a profit on ordinary activities after tax of £5,000 compared with a loss of £993,000 last year.

Perhaps significantly, after a major fall last season, there was a 23 per cent increase in sales of branded products from £2.6m to £3.2m, a reflection of the recovery of the club's name following the Toongate and Save Our Seats controversies.

With increased television revenues due to come on stream at the start of next season, the club finds itself in a relatively healthy position, although John Fender, chairman of Newcastle United plc, is quick to point out that performances on the pitch have, at times, been disappointing.

"The results of this half-year show the beginning of the rewards for the planning and investment of previous years," he said. "We have the supporters and the venue and must now deliver the success on the pitch which everyone associated with Newcastle United expects and deserves.

"Your board's commitment to deliver this is undeterred despite recent disappointing team performances."

Robson was left in little doubt when he took the job in September 1999 that he would have little cash with which to work.

Since then he has attempted to generate a transfer kitty with the sale of players Laurent Charvet, Didier Domi, Duncan Ferguson, Steve Howey, Temuri Ketsbaia, and later, Alain Goma.

Matters have been complicated more recently by the uncertainty over the future of the transfer system, forcing Newcastle to take the decision not to invest heavily until the matter was resolved.

However, injuries to Alan Shearer, Kieron Dyer, Nicos Dabizas and Carl Cort have eaten into Robson's resources, a fact which is acknowledged in Fender's report.

He also said the announcement last month that the European Commission, UEFA and FIFA had reached agreement on the rules governing player contracts had lifted some of the uncertainty surrounding the future of the transfer fee system.

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