Thursday, December 30, 2004

1-0 to the Arsenal

Another defeat, then, but this time honourable rather than abject – a rarity this season. No points, but plenty of guts and passion – and a conspicuous and pleasing absence of defensive howlers.

Souness was forced into reshuffling the back line once again, Bernard and Bramble back in the side with O’Brien and Elliott out. In midfield Bowyer returned after suspension, whilst the manager opted to counter Arsenal with a flexible 4-3-3 formation, Ameobi leading the line and flank attackers Robert and Bellamy moving back into wide midfield positions to impede the offensive charges of Lauren and Ashley Cole.

We made an uncertain start, feeding Given a succession of back passes as the Arsenal attack smelt blood and we looked overrun in midfield. Pires in particular caught Taylor out on a couple of occasions, but to the youngster’s credit he regained his composure, going on to have another solid game as we raised ourselves and hit back.

It was like Barcelona away all over again with Ameobi emerging from a poor run of form to play out of his skin. That he single-handedly rattled Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure, probably the most physically dominant central defensive partnership in English football, speaks volumes. One shot forced Almunia into making an excellent save, but the deserved corner was not forthcoming.

This was not the only time in the first half that hapless referee Steve Bennett incensed the home crowd. When Cole, already guilty of a succession of fouls, handled in the area, his eyes never leaving the ball, Bennett inexplicably waved away the appeals of Newcastle players and fans alike. A more blatant penalty you will never see, and when things are going against you…

After an encouraging first half display the inevitable sucker punch arrived on the stroke of half-time. Following last season’s hard-fought 0-0 home draw with the Gunners, a local paper hailed Jenas as having the potential to be England’s Vieira (hyperbole and apologism being its stock in trade). Standing alongside each other in the tunnel before last night’s game, though, it looked very much a case of Vieira the king, confident and focused, and JJ the young pretender, nervy and agitated. When the goal came, it was from a JJ mistake, his attempt to get out of a tight situation seized upon by the Arsenal skipper. The ball fell invitingly to Vieira’s right foot, and his powerful shot flew over Given into the net, crucially aided by a slight deflection off JJ’s outstretched leg as he tried to make amends for surrendering possession.

The second half was more of the same – most of the pressure and possession from Newcastle but Arsenal always looking threatening on the break. Dyer and Robert continued to show admirable application, whilst defensively we looked more solid than we had done for several games, Bramble’s errors limited to a few badly misplaced long balls.

The problem was that the formation we’d chosen as a means of containing the Arsenal full-backs was also an impediment to our attacking intentions, and this became more apparent as the game wore on. After his energetic exploits of the first half Ameobi understandably began to tire and our most potent striker Bellamy was too often the man attempting to cross the ball in from wide positions rather than being in the box to pounce on any inviting crosses himself. Arsenal’s deeply suspect keeper Almunia was consequently afforded a quieter night than we would have liked.

Bennett did his best to prove he wasn’t in Wenger’s pocket by awarding a free-kick on the edge of the Arsenal area after Bowyer had brushed past Robin van Persie and taken an extremely theatrical tumble. Disgraceful conduct, admittedly, but if a goal had resulted, it would have been nothing less than we deserved given the first half penalty decision – but, like all the rest of our manful efforts, it came to zero.

The imperious Vieira aside, this was a very ordinary performance from a team of superstars, and yet they still emerged with a second successive 1-0 away win. Despite their occasional wobbles they’re still the team to beat, and Mourinho will have his work cut out to wrestle the Premiership title out of Wenger’s grasp, despite their five point advantage going into the New Year.

From our point of view, though, there’s no disguising that we’re in real trouble and need to pick up points fast. There’s not often any shame in losing to the Gunners, and our performance probably deserved better, but the fact is that we can’t afford to lose many more games, regardless of the quality of the opposition. Still, to look briefly on the bright side, for once there were some encouraging signs, enough to suggest that we’re still capable of beating Birmingham and West Brom in our next two games. Here’s hoping – and praying.

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian

Monday, December 27, 2004

No festive cheer

Well, that's Newcastle Utd for you. Just when you're thinking things can't possibly get any worse, they do.

We had a full week to recover from the defensive hari-kari of Anfield, and to reshuffle (Bramble and Bernard were both dropped to the bench) and get reorganised and refocused. And yet at Ewood Park we still endeavoured to concede two of the sloppiest, softest goals you'll ever have the cringing misfortune to see.

The first equaliser was a goal of such horrific simplicity that it beggared belief. Paul Dickov, Blackburn's only in-form striker, was left unmarked from a free-kick whilst three players clustered around his blank-firing strike partner, and when the ball was slid into the Scotsman he finished neatly.

Then, having ratcheted up the pressure on a jittery Newcastle in the early stages of the second half, Blackburn got what they deserved in the form of a second equaliser. Our defenders handed Barry Ferguson a card marked "You are cordially invited to have a shot", he did, Given did his best to parry, and when the ball came back off his body the Newcastle defence was rooted to the spot and there were no less than three Blackburn players waiting to pounce. Andy Todd it was who got the goal, his mishit shot bouncing just inside the post. It's a wonder Given has any hair left.

Why are supposedly "average" teams like Charlton, Portsmouth, Spurs and Birmingham ahead of us in the table? Simple: all four kept clean sheets yesterday. We've achieved that feat in just two league games all season.

But hey, 'tis the season to be merry (allegedly), and there are a few positives to be gleaned from yesterday's debacle. Even more remarkable than Robert's wonderful free-kick (his sole contribution to the game, of course...) was the fact that Dyer actually managed to hit the back of the net rather than fluffing his shot miserably as per usual. The more cynical amongst us might well regard the two goals as increasing our chances of getting the pair of overrated underachievers off the wage bill in January in exchange for a decent amount of money. Myself? Well, despite everything, some small part of me would STILL be sorry to see the back of both of them. Fuck knows why.

Another consolation: at least we didn't lose. Defeat would have increased the pressure on Souness, and also given the Blackburn faithful much to smile about. Even still (and I'm switching back to a negative outlook here), to lead twice at a place where the home team have only been victorious on one occasion all season and not to win is very poor. At times in the first half of the season Blackburn have looked like relegation fodder, and the fact that we struggled to match their desire and drive is very worrying. We're down to 14th - any further and we'll have to start contemplating the possibility of a relegation battle ourselves, rather than striving for the European places.

If there's a good time to be facing Arsenal, then this certainly isn't it.

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian

Thursday, December 23, 2004

View From The Away End

2005 is almost upon us, and that means the reopening of the transfer window, for one month only. For Newcastle, does that mean blessed relief or the continuation of our bleak midwinter? Who might be out? Who should be in? And will anyone take Bramble for a couple of pints and a packet of pork scratchings? We asked opposition fans for their thoughts.

The participants:
Pete of Round And White
Kenny of Parallax View

Pete: "Perhaps Souness isn't the Scrooge that the media have portrayed him as after all. He cancelled the players' Christmas party, not because he's a killjoy (ha), but because they apparently decided to celebrate Christmas a few weeks early in a London hotel and lost it. The only real surprise for me is that we didn't see a 'Toon Players Go Crackers At The Ritz' a headline on the back of a tabloid.

However, the whole affair really hasn't helped his rapport with his players, regardless of whether they deserve it or not. Hence it's likely that we'll see a few changes in January. Laurent Robert has recently been quoted as saying that Graeme isn't talking to him anymore. So he'll be off then, although I think we all saw that one coming. However, with Viana back in Portugal, they'll need a proper replacement for the mardy Frenchman.

And with Shearer retiring at the end of the season, Souness is likely to be looking for another forward to warm the bench alongside Ameobi, while Kluivert and Bellamy begin to form what could be an effective partnership up front.

However, Newcastle's priority is a central defender (or even two). Titus Bramble, once hailed as a future England star, is simply not up to the job. Neither is Robbie Elliot. Liverpool's third goal on Sunday was a good example of this. Milan Baros was left completely unmarked with a clear-run on goal, and you have to feel sorry for Shay Given who has such a comically bad partnership in front of him.

If either of them were to play alongside an experienced defender, then Newcastle would probably stop leaking easy goals. Will Boumsong be the man? I doubt it. If a Premiership club is thinking of buying from Rangers, it's usually a sign of desperation. Newcastle need to look very hard, perhaps in the Championship, and see if there is a solid centre-back playing for one of the top teams there.

Finally, I like to point out that before I started writing this post I was going to comment on the rumours surrounding potential transfers, but unfortunately after browsing the various football websites, the only player apparently linked with a move to Newcastle in the transfer window is the above-mentioned Frenchman. I'll leave the reader to make their mind up as to whether this is a good or bad indication of the current state of the club.

Kenny: "Can't say I've given this an awful lot of thought, but if I could be Graeme Souness for the period of the transfer window I'd be a very worried man, probably, as your squad doesn't seem right at all, imbalanced in quality and personality. On the other hand, the window offers very little in the way of choice or value, you're unlikely to get relegated, so probably imprudent to splash the cash too much when it could be spent wiser on a better choice of players in the summer.

But some sort of spring cleaning is required. One of the idiots has to go, and Dyer looks most dispensable and is still young enough to bring in at least £3m. A commanding centre-half wouldn't go amiss but you won't really find any sort of quality going cheap in the window. Hierro hasn't settled in at Bolton and wouldn't be a long-term option but I could see the Newcastle crowd taking to him as a kind of Phillipe Albert character. Boumsong's a bit risky for the price quoted, in my view. Best bet of the Championship defenders would be Millwall's Darren Ward, or you could be cheeky and pinch Calum Davenport from Spurs (not getting in first team at the Tottscum and very far from the finished article, but huge potential nonetheless).

If all else fails, Tomas Repka I believe could go free to a good home. Battersea won't take him because of the rabies infection risk, but he's the sort of nutter Souness loves to bring into the mix (cf Ruddock and Dicks in his Liverpool days).

Thanks to Pete and Kenny for their comments.

View From The Home End

To follow up the latest View From The Away End feature (see above), we thought we should both offer some reflections and speculations of our own...

Paul: "Three words of advice as to where we need to strengthen in January: defence, defence, defence.

The first thing to address is who should we ditch from our current squad, and who should we cling onto at all costs.

On the untouchable front, we should bend over backwards to keep Bellamy, Jenas and Given, and really should give Bernard a new contract he's happy to sign (but I don't think that last one is going to happen).

Of those I'd like to see leave, only Dyer stands out as a good riddance to underperforming rubbish, although I would be inclined to take the money if anyone was foolish enough to offer us a good price for Titus.

Of the rest, I expect the injury-prone Ronny Johnsen depart when his contract expires in January, and wouldn't be surprised to see Laurent Robert given the chance to mix genius with petulence for another employer.

In terms of reinforcements, it's obvious that we need defenders and a commanding, competant centre-half who is not injury prone is a must. To that end, I'd like to think Boumsong can come in and fulfill that role, although if we can land Ledley King from Spurs I think he'd also be an excellent acquisition as would Sammy Kuffour.

I wouldn't be shocked, or particularly unhappy if we signed Michael Dawson from Forest as well to give a bit more depth to the squad, although his record with injuries hasn't been great this season, and Steven Taylor's emergence as a first team player with a massive amount of potential might satisfy the need for more depth without the need to spend any money.

If we are going to lose Bernard, we also need to be thinking about a new left back, but unless Wayne Bridge is really sick of the Chelsea bench I can't think of any other outstanding candidates.

If we are planning to flog Robert and Dyer, then some more midfield blood wouldn't go amiss. I'd plump for Andy Reid of Forest and wouldn't be surprised to see Souness return to Blackburn to try and pick up Barry Ferguson, although Scott Parker would also be welcome (injured foot permitting).

If we aren't planning to extend Kluivert's deal in the summer, then picking up Beattie if he becomes available wouldn't be a bad plan, but I'd rather that happened in June, as the priority for the money MUST be defenders.

Ben: "At the moment Newcastle fans appear to me to be divided into two camps: optimists who regard the January transfer window as some kind of panacea during which time we can make the changes that will completely transform and revitalise the club, with spring results sending us rocketing up the table; and pessimists who don't think Souness will be around for too much longer and are so petrified by his history in the transfer market that they are earnestly praying that January is an exceptionally quiet and uneventful month.

Though normally the glass-half-empty half of the B&W&RAO partnership, I'm not entirely on the pessimists' side of the fence - but neither do I subscribe to the rather naive fantasies of the optimists.

Shepherd is not about to admit his error in hastily appointing Souness just yet, so we're stuck with him for the time being at least, and as long as Fat Freddy has a fat finger in the pie of potential incomings and outgoings, there will be transfer activity of some sort.

On the other hand, I can see January being a crushing disappointment to anyone who thinks we'll be able to utterly revamp the squad. Transfers take time, and of all the moves we might potentially want to make, very few will come to fruition. Quite simply, we've got to be realistic and we've got to prioritise, and as nice as a new striker and a wide midfielder (left or right) would be, it's glaringly obvious that it's our horrendously porous defence that is in most desperate need of strengthening.

We need three or four players (especially if Johnsen goes), which means we'll probably end up with two - not necessarily a problem, as long as at least one of them is a commanding and experienced centre-half capable of shoring us up at the back and marshalling the halfwits he'll have to work with into some semblance of order and organisation. Boumsong still looks like a possibility, and Matthew Upson has been mentioned in the past. If we do make a move for Michael Dawson, we'll definitely need to bring in an experienced pro too - we've gone down the "talented but young and raw" route with Bramble and O'Brien and look where that's got us.

Further upfield, if Robert leaves as expected, having torched his bridges with Souness in spectacular style, then Stewart Downing would be a dream signing, and if Dyer packs his bags then Steed Malbranque would fit the bill perfectly - but why would either player want to leave for an underachieving club likely to miss out on the European places altogether? The same goes for players like Joe Cole, Ledley King and Wayne Bridge, all of whom we might at the start of the season have confidently expected to be at least interested in joining us.

Up front, with one eye on Shearer retiring, we could certainly do worse than monitor the situations of Robbie Keane and James Beattie, as well as taking an interest in Crewe's Dean Ashton and Ipswich's Darren Bent.

If Souness absolutely HAS to return to Blackburn to pick up a familiar face, I suppose we could do worse than Brett Emerton or David Thompson. Lorenzo Amoruso? PLEASE GOD, NO!!!

Also currently giving us nightmares is the distinct possibility that we'll be unable to shift any of the rubbish and that one of our must-keep players will depart, the favourite being Given. Fingers crossed we can persuade him to stay, at least until the summer.

Question time

Try your hand at the Guardian's end-of-year football quiz. Not particularly taxing, it has to be said, but entertaining all the same...

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


In what must be the most pathetic punishment ever dished out in football, Spain have been fined a whopping £44,750 following the racist chanting directed at England players during the recent Under 21 and full International matches.

There were 48,000 people in the stadium to watch the full match, as well as countless more in attendance at the under 21 game.

Assuming they charged £20 a ticket (which I admit is a rough guess, and probably on the low side) the Spanish FA will have received £960,000 in gate receipts for the match. On that basis, they were fined 4% of their income for the game, or just under £1 per ticket.

That's taught them a lesson then.

Unfortunately it's taught them that turning a blind eye to racism (and the fact that Luis Aragones is still in their employ speaks volumes for their views on the matter) is an approach that FIFA condone, and will do little to punish.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but weren't England threatened with expulsion from the European Championships following equally unpleasant abuse in the Turkey game at the Stadium of Shite?

The only way we can ever hope to kick racism out of football is if the people running the game set a good example.

The problem is they don't.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Another fucking disgrace

Oh joy. The Ritz have sent an official letter of complaint to the club about the conduct of certain Newcastle players at a pre-Christmas party which was held there.

So, on top of everything they've forced us to stomach in terms of on-the-pitch behaviour, we're now expected to forgive more off-the-field "hi-jinx" (read "irresponsible fucking around from a bunch of grown and very well paid men).

Look at the league table, lads. Doesn't really call for a celebration, now, does it? Anyway, I was under the impression turkeys had no cause to celebrate Christmas.

I'm not one of those fans who sees us as being incessantly targeted by national media vultures who love the smell of blood - let's face it, those clowns that pass for players do their very best to make the club easy meat.

Update: Bellamy is quoted in the Chronicle talking about the incident...

"There is no story. What are we supposed to have done? All that happened was that when I went back to the hotel early in the morning they would not give me my key.

So I said to them let me go to the room and get my bags and give me my money back.

They rang another guy who said it was all right for me to go to the room.

Patrick is used to things and stories like this in Spain but he cannot believe all this. There is no story - it's not even laughable.

Damn right it's not even laughable. C'mon Bellers - there must have been more to it than that, for the club to have received a letter of complaint...

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Suicidal tendencies

Another pathetic excuse for a Newcastle performance, and you just can’t argue with the statistics.

Liverpool’s comeback against us, and their ultimate 3-1 triumph, means that we’ve now thrown away a lead twelve times this season, more than any other Premiership side. Quite incredible, when you recall how many times we came back from deficits to draw or win games only a couple of seasons ago. Where’s all that resilience gone?

It also speaks volumes about our defence that a side with our undoubted attacking prowess and goalscoring power can still find itself with a goal difference of minus six.

The pre-kick-off omens weren’t good: Shearer still out injured along with Carr and Butt, Hughes and Taylor (the latter one of the only bright spots in recent games) laid low with a bug, our one sharpshooter Bellamy injured in the warm-up – and all for a game at a ground where we hadn’t won in the league in the previous ten attempts.

As has been the case in recent weeks, though, it all started very promisingly. For the first half hour we had the measure of Liverpool, restricting them to a smattering of half-chances and containing the lively Milan Baros to good effect. Bowyer and JJ were working hard in midfield to close players down and deny them space, whilst also prompting and probing well when in possession.

And then Kluivert scored – a tap-in from a Bowyer cross after an excellent ball from Dyer which bisected the Liverpool central defence – and everything fell to pieces.

Liverpool hit back within two minutes, Bramble losing Hyypia and heading a wicked corner into his own net – Titus gets even more charitable than usual nearer Christmas, it seems. Shortly afterwards Baros turned Elliott with ease and fed his strike partner, fat Gerrard lookalike Neil Mellor, who finished with aplomb.

Benitez got his tactics spot on – play his strongest attacking side and they’d knock the stuffing out of us. That meant selecting two strikers as well as two very attack-minded midfielders in Luis Garcia and Harry Kewell, and giving Gerrard licence to maraud all over the pitch. It was always going to be far too much for our rag doll defence to cope with.

There could and should have been many more for Liverpool in the second half, but poor finishing rather than robust defending saw them limited to just the one, Kewell’s turn and through-ball allowing Baros in to round Given and notch the goal his all-action performance deserved.

If the rumours are to be believed, our Irish custodian wants out and who can blame him? He’s currently forced to watch farcical scenes unfold before his eyes every single game. Against an on-form Liverpool side frothing with confidence and attacking verve, his task was akin to trying to catch a wrecking ball protected only by a glass shield. I’m now very much of the opinion that it’s not just organisation that we lack, but defenders with any real semblance of talent and ability.

At no point did we even look like getting back on terms, even before Bowyer was sent for an early bath following a stupid challenge and a second yellow card. Kluivert, ineffective aside from his goal, was replaced by Robert, who came on, almost immediately stung Jerzy Dudek’s fingertips with a devilish free-kick and then contributed nothing else whatsoever. Souness’s decision to remove Milner, who he’d just moved up front, and switch to a 4-5-1 formation was at very least curious, given that we desperately needed a goal to get back on terms. With Ameobi alone up front, and a man down, any hopes of a comeback were dashed and the continuation of our miserable record at Anfield was ensured.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, January can’t come soon enough. At the moment, though, it’s not just a few new faces we need but a fucking miracle. Are Souness and Shepherd miracle workers? I – like most other Newcastle fans wondering what the fuck we’re doing in 13th – have my doubts.

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian

Friday, December 17, 2004

Going Dutch

Following today's draw for the next two rounds of the UEFA Cup, we face Heerenveen in February, with the first leg to be played in Holland.

If we successfully navigate that tie, we will then either face Olympiakos or our old friends Sochaux in the last sixteen.

Thankfully we can now try and concentrate on re-finding some form in the league and staying in the FA Cup, before having to worry about finding our passports again. Fingers crossed when we do there might even be some new faces in the side.

Reshuffled pack does job

A looping header from Craig Bellamy was enough to secure the draw we needed to qualify top of the group last night in a pretty tedious match against a team of Hugo Vianas.

Obviously wor Hugo wasn't given permission to play, but in his place a side of technically proficient but not particularly threatening footballers took to the field. That said, Sporting Lisbon were quite happy to kick lumps out of Bellamy all night, with several heavy tackles in the second half ultimately prompting Souness to withdraw our most potent player on the night and give Lewis Guy eleven minutes of football that he won't forget.

The same can't be said for the rest of us, who having seen us take the lead then saw Darren Ambrose and Bellamy again go close in the first half. However it was the visitors who scored the only other goal of the game when Custodio headed a free kick past the static Given. The fact that he was unmarked once again highlighted the problems we've had with team selection this season as nobody really seemed to know their defensive role.

The team had lined up with Bernard playing left midfield, with Robbie Elliott at left back, and Aaron Hughes alongside Titus in the soft core of our defence. Fortunately Sporting were unable to exploit any likely weaknesses as their play lacked the directness which more ruthless teams would have used to tear us apart.

That they didn't and we did enough to top the group is a relief to all, and hopefully we will benefit with a kind draw today as a result.

Thursday, December 16, 2004


It appears that Newcastle have had two bids turned down for Jean-Alain Boumsong of Rangers. The first, reported to be a player plus cash deal allegedly involving Aaron Hughes was made informally by Souness, and the second took the form of a faxed bid for £7.5 million cash.

Whether Freddie is prepared to up his offer, with reports suggesting Rangers want £10 million, or whether we have now moved our sights elsewhere we shall have to wait and see. It strikes me as a lot of money for a defender who wasn't exactly setting the world alight last night as Rangers crashed out of the UEFA Cup. That said, he has attracted a fair amount of praise and at 24 is a good age to bring into the side.

Given our somewhat mixed results with French footballers in recent years I always feel slightly worried by our pursuit of Gallic players, but if he turns out to be the steadying influence and authoritative voice at the back we need (and he doesn't prove to be as injury prone as someone I could mention) he could be a bargain.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Stone cold reality

Further evidence, if any was needed that we've been flattering to deceive all season, was again received on Saturday. A storming goal from Lee Bowyer after only three minutes, following excellent work from Steven Taylor, gave us a lead which we should have gone on to compound.

Unfortunately we yet again failed to capitalise when we were playing well, with Kieron Dyer blazing over the bar when he should have done better. Sadly proving that the King of Bling still hasn't learnt to shoot.

With a depressing inevitability, Steve Stone, Pompey's token Geordie, duly took advantage of our inability to finish off the visitors with a well struck shot that deflected off Taylor past the helpless Given to pull them level.

One all at half time, and in the second half, Souness bought the dropped Robert back into the team, but to no avail. In fact, the second half was marked by a truly awful display by Newcastle, with everyone trying to be the one who turned it round, rather than working together for the greater good. Instead it was Portsmouth who had chances to win the game and really put the boot in. Fortunately they failed to take them, otherwise things could look a lot worse.

The thing that has seen Everton do so well this time is what we have been badly lacking of late – a strong team ethic, and a solid defence.

The bottom line is January 1st cannot come quickly enough as our defence currently has more holes than a sieve, and only the acquisition of some quality players will help us to mend our ways and salvage something from what is becoming an increasingly exasperating season.

Otherwise we can expect more of the same: flashy football built on sinking foundations, and a season of mid-table mediocrity with more glances down than up as we bid to secure our Premiership survival, rather than look to conquer Europe.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Bridge too far

Well, on the bright side we have improved since last season.

Thus spake the other half of B&W&RAO following our 4-0 Stamford Bridge defeat to Chelsea. Last season it was 5-0.

In the end, as in our win a fortnight ago at Crystal Palace, class told – the difference being that this time we were very much on the receiving end. However, the emphatic final score flattered our hosts and should not be allowed to detract from the fact that, for the first hour, we played very well indeed.

Admittedly the first half’s two best chances fell to Chelsea, John Terry’s header rightly chalked off for offside and bogeyman Eidur Gudjohnsen somehow contriving to shoot wide after an horrific mix-up between Bramble and Johnsen, but danger men Robben and Duff hardly had a kick. It was us who looked the most incisive in attack, worrying the Premiership’s meanest defence with some lightning breaks. Petr Cech did well to save a Robert free-kick, and then managed to keep out Bellamy when Dyer played him in with an excellent ball.

In midfield, Bowyer and stand-in skipper Jenas were superb, pressurising and tackling with vigour and determination, whilst Dyer was full of running and, refreshingly, eager to take on and beat his man. The only area with conspicuous room for improvement was the left flank, where the right-footed Hughes looked distinctly uncomfortable on the ball and Robert’s distribution was errant and wasteful.

But, just after the hour mark, Mourinho having thrown on Didier Drogba, Mateja Kezman and Wayne Bridge in a bid to break the deadlock, Lampard sneaked into the area unnoticed and, when Drogba headed the ball down to him six yards out, he made no mistake on the volley. From that point we were in desperate trouble.

Our previously rigid shape fell apart, and all of a sudden we looked utterly overrun. Dyer and Bowyer went missing, leaving JJ to try and cope with Makalele and Lampard. His efforts were manful but ultimately in vain. Part of the problem was our inability to keep hold of the ball up front – Kluivert was particularly culpable, and, with quality service at a premium, Bellamy completely disappeared from the game.

On 68 minutes Drogba ran on to a brilliant Lampard long ball, outmuscled Bramble and finished well past Given, and Chelsea added two more shortly before the final whistle. First Robben ran through to slot home with our defence in disarray and then Kezman, who’d earlier hit the post, grabbed his first Premiership goal from the spot in injury time after Given had brought down a marauding Chelsea forward. Gudjohnsen having been withdrawn at half-time, Drogba, Kezman and Robben were all staking their own claims to become bogeymen themselves – the latter scored in our league cup defeat last month, whilst the former pair both hit the back of Given’s net in last season’s UEFA Cup when playing for Marseille and PSV respectively.

Up against an admittedly tremendous outfit, the margin of defeat wasn’t totally unexpected, but was no less painful because the lads had given us hope they could hold out or even nick it. 4-0 was rough justice for a number of our players, not least youngsters JJ and Taylor, as well as Given, who didn’t have a chance with any of the goals.

The harsh reality, though, is that after sixteen games, we’re rooted firmly in mid-table, we’ve lost more games than we’ve won and our goal difference is firmly in the red. Over recent games we’ve had it impressed on us that creditable performances don’t necessarily count for anything. Goals in conjunction with clean sheets do. We remain far too fallible in defence and, even as a high-scoring side, too profligate up front. Things have to change, and fast – starting with Saturday’s must-win clash with Portsmouth, one of the sides that leapfrogged us this weekend.

A final word for the Chelsea fans, who once again dutifully exhibited all the smug superiority and brashness one expects from the nouveau riche. C’mon lads, your team is demolishing the opposition and cruising to an eight point lead at the top of the table, and all you can think to sing is “Champions League, you’re having a laugh”. Why not take pride in your own team, rather than mocking the afflicted? You’d also do well to remember that before the Russian revolution the notion of Chelsea competing in the Champions League was laughable too.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Ronnie fucking Radford

It's that time of year again.

Following yesterday's FA Cup third round draw which drew us away to with non-league Yeading; it's time for the BBC to start talking up the prospect of giant-killing. To talk about the prospect of the plucky underdogs rising above their station and sticking it to the players who earn more in a week than they do in a year.

Just think, they can even drag out footage of all the previous instances of giant-killing.

Who knows, they may even show some footage of plucky Stevenage Borough, almost knocking us out of the cup a few years ago. (Of course, if they had done, I wouldn't have gone to Wembley to see us capitulate horribly in the final – so maybe they'd have actually done me a favour.)

What it definitely means is more repeats of That Goal. A goal I have grown to hate with every year that passes, scored in a game played before I was born, on a quagmire that may once have been a football pitch, on the day John Motson got his big break.

I hate the third round of the cup. Victory doesn't really get you much closer to the final, but defeat is a disaster; and every year, every fucking year, they show that goal by Ronnie fucking Radford.

Friday, December 03, 2004

The View From The Away End

Following his crass comments earlier in the week, the consensus on the Talk Of The Tyne messageboard appears to be that Freddy Shepherd is an embarrassment to the club, and that the fans are angry at both his staggering arrogance and his thoughtlessness in making us the inevitable target of justifiable abuse from other clubs and their supporters. We asked three opposition fans for their verdict on Shepherd's pronouncements.

The participants:
Pete of Round And White
Inspector Sands of All Quiet In The East Stand
Chevington Blue of Portman Road

Pete: "If [Shepherd's outburst] doesn't disturb you as a football fan, particularly as a fan of a lower-division club, then what will? It's a pretty crass and ill-judged statement. My sympathy goes out to Newcastle fans who have once again been reminded that their chairman is a bit of an idiot. I presume that they've been expecting Freddy Shepherd to open his mouth and provide his foot with somewhere to be stuffed for some time now, but he was especially foolish to mention the word 'dog' too, as it's likely to remind (Newcastle) fans of his previous public blunder.

But let's have a look at some of the issues addressed by Freddy Shepherd. To start off with, having 72 clubs below the top 20 provides the latter with the source of future players. Or at least a useful place for them to loan out their future stars to in order to build them up, as well as somewhere to offload them when they're no longer up to the job.

There's also the question of English footballing heritage. Clubs in the lower leagues often have more a more grounded history as well as established links to local communities. The new Emirates stadium is a good example of the growing anonymity of modern top-flight football which for better or for worse is focused primarily on making money. Although being profitable is undeniably vital to a club, the spirit and image of the game plays a huge role in attracting new fans. It is
famously named 'The People's Game', and ignoring this basic rule is simply a bad idea.

Mr Shepherd has also ignored the fact that it is very easy for Premiership clubs to rejoin the other 72. While smaller clubs frequently struggle financially or at least have to watch the pennies, the majority of them do not have the extreme debts that many Premiership clubs now face. I can't see Newcastle suffering this fate at the moment, but in five year's time, who knows what may happen. You only have to look at the much-quoted example of Leeds United to see what a worse-case scenario looks like. Behind the scenes Man City are in trouble, while Liverpool have just announced a record loss of £21.9m at their AGM. While there's no disputing that Freddy's invested a great deal of money (correct me if I'm wrong here Toon fans), that doesn't mean he possesses one iota of business acumen, let alone tact. Something he perhaps also demonstrated during his speech, 'We have a wage bill of over £15m. They are well paid, some of them are over-paid'. That'll go down well with your employees, Freddy.

In any case, I very much doubt that the status of the leagues will change in the near future. I especially can't see the Premier League running the other leagues, partly because they are too elitist and let's face it, would they really be willing to share their precious money?

As for Freddy Shepherd, I still believe that football chairmen should be seen and not heard. His speech at the Soccerex forum has done nothing to change that opinion.

Inspector Sands: "The sooner creeps like Shepherd are driven out of football, the better. The sad thing is that Newcastle's recent performance proves he's clinging on to the bandwagon driven by Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea with his fat arse hanging out of his trousers. If he's in charge of such a big club, how comes they attracted only 15,000 at St James's Park in the early 1990s? Two words, Freddy - 'Leeds United'.

Football's a business, but it's also a community business. Newcastle's success should be inspiring and feeding the grass roots, not fattening his wallet. Of course, the Premier League's such a success, attendances are falling and TV money's tailing off too. I wouldn't trust him to run a piss-up in a brewery. Or a whorehouse. The Premiership needs reforming, and needs attaching more closely back to the league below it so relegation doesn't spell doom, and so the whole competition is reinvigorated. And Shepherd needs to be taken to Newcastle Blue Star, Whitley Bay or Bedlington Terriers - to force him to remember just why people go to football.

Chevington Blue: "I suppose the surprise about Shepherd's latest comments is that everyone is, er, surprised. After all this is the tactless fool that just a few years ago slagged off Geordie women and laughed about how he was ripping off the Toon faithful with cheaply produced replica shirts.

So, as the more savvy in the football world voice their increased concerns about the widening gap between the top sides in the Europe and the rest - and how ultimately the game will implode in upon itself if this is not addressed - good old Freddy just doesn’t give a toss.

This is the same man who also doesn’t give a toss about one of the greatest men in the modern game and is forcing Sir Bobby Robson to take the club to arbitration to settle the outstanding period of his contract.

Despite being one of the richest clubs in Europe on the pitch Newcastle have failed to make the group stages of the Champion’s League for the past two years (sorry!), while off it Freddy has failed to gain entry into the 'elite' G14. And if rumours from Brussels are true, G14 would like to set up an independent league that would ultimately exclude Freddie and NUFC. Now how ironic would that be!

Thanks to Pete, Inspector Sands and Chevington Blue for their thoughts.

If you're not a Newcastle fan and weren't contacted about taking part in this feature but would like to become involved in future, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us an email at