Chris Mort makes intriguing return to Newcastle as Mike Ashley considers his next move

There was a familiar face at St James's Park for Newcastle United's home game against Brighton and Hove Albion.

The game, which ended in a 1-0 defeat, was watched by Mike Ashley, the club's owner.

Ashley sat with managing director Lee Charnley and associate Justin Barnes. However, it was the presence of former chairman Chris Mort, sat away from Ashley in the directors' box, that got fans talking.

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The result left the club propping up the Premier League.

Mort, appointed chairman by Ashley on a secondment from law firm Freshfields after working on his takeover 11 years ago, stepped down from his role in May 2008. He was replaced by Derek Llambias.

Mike Ashley.

Mike Ashley.

Mort, respected on Tyneside, more recently acted for would-be buyer Amanda Staveley.

Newcastle remains up for sale, and it is unclear whether there was any significance to Mort's visit.

The lawyer, an expert on mergers, acquisitions, stock exchange listings, has closely followed the club's fortunes since returning to Freshfields.

Ashley, meanwhile, has now watched the club's last four Premier League games, having previously gone more than a year without attending a Newcastle match.

There was another protest against him outside the club shop before the game.

United manager Rafa Benitez, forced to sell to buy in the summer by Ashley after refusing to sign a new contract, is waiting to find out his budget for January's transfer window.

Speaking last week, Benitez said: “The way that you work is not ‘oh, here’s £20million now’. No, we’re still in October.

"We have to concentrate on games, and tell the recruitment team what we’re looking for.

“We have told them we are looking for a certain characteristic of player, or certain positions, they start working on that, and then we have players at different price levels.”

The summer stand-off between Ashley and Benitez was both needless and damaging.

Will Ashley – who refused to hand Benitez a transfer kitty in the summer – now accept that he simply has to invest in a squad which is short in key areas?