Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The bitter end

Oh dear. I should have remembered the first rule of being a Newcastle fan: namely, no matter how bad things seem, they can somehow ALWAYS get infinitely worse.

Just when the Norwich debacle seemed like a new low, five days later and we've missed out on Wayne Rooney (our bid made to look like a cruel joke played on the fans by Fat Freddie), lost pathetically 4-2 away to Villa (see below) and to cap it all sacked our manager.

Last week, as the pressure mounted before the Villa game, Sir Bobby commented: "I don't intend to change the habit of a lifetime and start breaking contracts ... Walking away from a problem isn't my style". It seems he hadn't considered the possibility that Fat Freddie might be the one to break the contract for him, and give him a friendly push on his way.

My initial reaction was one of great disappointment. Robson is a wonderful character with an enormous passion for the club, and someone who can identify with the fans being one himself. He brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the club, and completely turned our fortunes around, for which we will always be thankful. It's tremendously disappointing that things have turned so sour for him over the past few months, and I feel very sorry for him.

However, I'm not of the same opinion as people like the Independent's James Lawton who suggest that Robson has been treated disgracefully and that Shepherd should be ashamed of himself. Yes the timing is terrible, and yes the whole club is run in an astonishingly cack-handed fashion (something for which Shepherd should take the blame), but that doesn't detract from the fact that Robson had lost control over the dressing room. Not so long ago he seemed unsackable, but by the end his position had become close to untenable.

Some will argue - and indeed are arguing - that Robson's sacking was inevitable the moment the issue of his contract not being renewed was made public knowledge. I'm not so sure. It was obvious that relations with the chairman weren't good, Freddie having clumsily muscled in on Robson's turf by taking over the responsibility for incomings and outgoings, but had we had a decent start to the season I could have seen the manager staying for the duration of his contract.

Now, naturally, all the talk is of who will succeed him. Dozens of names have already been mentioned, but Shearer's keeps cropping up, though I don't think he's quite ready for the responsibility even in conjunction with an experienced coach and it's also debatable whether he'd command any more respect from the likes of Dyer, Bellamy and Kluivert than Bobby did given his "patchy" history with them.

Whoever does fill Robson's shoes will inherit - and I continue to maintain this - an exceptionally talented squad bursting with potential albeit lacking in defensive personnel. However, they will not only have to contend with the squad's staggering arrogance, complacency and lack of focus but also with a chairman who seems intent on involving himself increasingly in managerial affairs and with a club that is quite possibly the most shambolic off the pitch in the Premiership. A poisoned chalice?

The Knight's last crusade

In the wake of Robson's departure, the media have focused in on the fact that, like Ruud Gullit, he left club captain Alan Shearer on the bench for what proved to be his final match in charge before being dismissed. However, those who claim it was that decision that cost us the game at Villa and consequently lost him his job have patently been paying no attention whatsoever to the matches prior to this catastrophic defeat, reality swept aside to make way for a convenient and neatly poetic fiction.

The truth of the matter is that, aside from blasting home a penalty against Middlesbrough on the opening day, Shearer has done precious little. Of course he himself might disagree, but when you've got a striker who's frankly looked poor in the previous two games and two forwards champing at the bit on the bench, then it makes perfect sense to change things around, however big the personalities involved. What's more, the press seem to have ignored the fact that Kluivert enjoyed a successful full debut, combining well with Bellamy in the first half at least, and scoring a great goal into the bargain. No, the problem - as ever - was not up front but in defence.

The really telling comparison for this dismal capitulation is not with the 2-1 washout against the Mackems that saw Gullit packing his bags, but rather with the corresponding fixture last year.

Ten minutes into that game we'd had O'Brien dismissed for a professional foul, leaving Dyer, just returned from injury, filling in at right back, and shortly afterwards Jenas and Bellamy both left the field injured. And yet we got stuck in and ground out a stoical and committed 0-0, even having enough second half chances to nick it.

Barely four months later and it's a different story. We conceded an early goal to Mellberg and then clawed our way back to lead at the break, before a second half horrorshow that saw Villa score three times through Cole (after an awful mistake from that waste of space Bowyer), Barry and substitute Angel. And of course Nobby Solano was instrumental in the victory.

The result leaves us managerless and languishing in the lower reaches of the table with just two points from a possible twelve. We had an identical tally last season, but this term's first four fixtures have undoubtedly been easier.

At the moment we're not so much an embarrassment of riches as an embarrassment.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Roon in Toon soon?

Apparently Wayne Rooney has handed in a transfer request, which should ensure his departure from Merseyside before the end of the month. Given my somewhat pessimistic view, I'd expect him to be appearing in red before too long.

However, BBC Sport's website carried the following:

"And reports on Merseyside are suggesting Rooney now favours Newcastle ahead of an Old Trafford switch."

It couldn't happen, could it?

Israeli Men

The draw for the first round of the UEFA Cup has been made, and we've been paired with Hapoel Brei Sakhnin of Israel. The first leg is due to be played on 16th September, with the second leg on 30th September.

In the event that we win that (and let's be honest our record in such events is decidedly mixed) then we get to play in a group stage with four other teams, with the first match due to be played on 21st October.

However, one step at a time...

Heroes or Villains?

Is anyone else struggling to grasp what is going on with Newcastle at the moment? For once, we've signed players who should be at their peak rather than with an eye on the future, and yet we still look like a side who would struggle to give a good Sunday League team a game? In fact, I think the king of bling might even struggle to get into some pub teams, let alone a central midfield birth for England after the way he performed on Wednesday night!

This weekend sees us travel to Villa, a happy hunting ground in recent years, but with sod-all form, and a worrying lack of harmony in the dressing room. I can only hope that we manage to scrape a win, and that confidence returns on the back of it.

Bobby may think we've been a bit hard done to, but from what I've seen we've had good spells of play but they're like oases in a desert of dross.

Whether signing a new central defender before Tuesday happens or not seems to be an ever more crucial moment in the fortunes of our season with each game that passes. Rooney would be nice (although given our recent strategy, I'm sure we'd immediately flog him to Madrid if they asked anyway), but a new central defender must be the focus of our transfer spending at the moment.

So come on Freddie, stop chasing the jug-eared brothel goer (which is seemingly pissing off our current strike force no-end, if reports of Bellamy and Ameobi's opinions are accurate) and sign at least one (or preferably two) proven centre-halves who can provide Shay with the protection he deserves before it's too late, and we're left to rue another season of missed opportunities.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Season's greetings

A warm welcome from your hosts Paul and Ben to Black & White & Read All Over, a brand new blog dedicated to the discussion of the splendidly self-destructive and calamitous circus that is Newcastle United.

If you're a fellow sufferer then have a read and feel free to share your views / woes, and if you're not then either feel our pain or more likely have a bloody good laugh.

Win, lose, draw or put a £23m bid in for a player we haven't got a snowflake's chance in hell of signing when what we desperately need is a few defenders - life's never dull at St James's Park.