Thursday, September 30, 2004

Watching the lads and a wife beater

Tonight, will no doubt see us forced to endure John Barnes stilted deliver and horrendous mugging to camera in an effort to watch Newcastle play in Israel. Obviously, I'm grateful to Channel 5 for giving me the chance to watch the match, but surely they must be able to find a more relaxed, natural, presenter?

On the match front, I expect Bellamy's twisted ankle to keep him on the bench at best, and with Butt suspended I wouldn’t be surprised to see Robert start in a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation. Obviously this will leave us slightly vulnerable down our left (unless Souness has taught Laurent to track back and defend properly – which I doubt), but we should have enough going forward to score the away goal which will put the tie safe.

Sakhnin showed very little in attack at St James', and whilst the onus will be on them to push forward in front of their own fans, I don’t expect to see a great deal of difference in their tactics. So, expect more late tackles and sly digs in a bid to unsettle our lot. I only hope that with Butt missing two further games after this one that Bowyer manages to keep a lid on his temper.

Fingers crossed we'll get another early goal, and then catch them with on the counter when they are forced to attack. Hopefully, the ref will also clamp down on any early attempts by them to disrupt rhythm and break legs, and we'll all enjoy a pleasant evening in front of the TV. If we manage that, even John Barnes might be bearable.

Monday, September 27, 2004

It's a hard life...

There were 2 classic moments from Saturday’s match, which I feel compelled to highlight, both involving the somewhat luckless Ricardo Scimeca. Firstly he was elbowed in the face by none other than his own Captain Darren Purse, whose attempt to smash Andy O’Brian’s already large nose was thwarted when Scimeca got in the way.

The second occurred when Scimeca threw himself in front of a Patrick Kluivert shot and successfully blocked the ball with his groin. Lying curled up in agony on the deck, the bloke sat behind me suggested how the West Brom physio should deal with the situation, by shouting: “Count them and get him off”.


Liquid gold

Fluidity was the key to Newcastle's victory over West Brom on Saturday. Souness sent out the same team as that which started against Southampton last Sunday, but this time he pushed Bellamy further forward and played a 4-3-3 formation, with Kluivert sometimes dropping off Shearer and Bellamy.

In the first half, with Carr and Bernard getting forward down the flanks, and the midfield bossing play, we saw a lot of the ball. To my mind, a goal always looked like coming, but despite several chances, resolute West Brom defending saw us reach half time goalless. Arguably we should have had a penalty, when Bowyer went down in the Leazes end penalty area (or if not a penalty, then surely a booking for a dive) however Mavis Riley lived up to his reputation by refusing to make a decision, choosing simply to ignore the whole incident.

Goalless at half time then, and whilst I felt confident that it was only a matter of time before one would come, it’s always slightly worrying when we fail to score despite a lot of possession.

The second half saw Geoff Horsfield replacing the ineffective Robert Earnshaw up front for the Baggies, and a change in tactics, with the more physical ex-Birmingham player putting himself about in an effort to unsettle the defence. One late challenge on Given from a corner leaving the Irishman in a very unhappy mood.

The change in fortunes came after Darren Purse fouled Kluivert on the edge of the Baggies penalty area in the second half. Already on a booking for doing something similar to Bellamy in the first 45 minutes, Mavis Riley produced a second yellow card and left West Brom without their captain for the remainder of the match.

Robert appeared for the seemingly injured Bellamy (how serious it is remains to be seen) and it was his ball in, which eventually found its way to Kluivert who knocked it into the net, and then picked up a booking for removing his shirt in celebration.

The Dutchman came off to be replaced by Milner, and it was he who scored the second following excellent work from Jenas, now playing on the right after Robert’s introduction saw a change to 4-4-2. Milner appeared to fluff his first attempt, with the ball trickling towards the net; however he was able to smash it home before anyone could get in and clear it.

Good work again from Jenas meant that Shearer was able to add a third shortly afterwards and St James' was bouncing. Only some slack defending which allowed Horsfield to get in at the far post to slot a header home took the edge off an otherwise excellent performance.

True, West Brom are a team in trouble, and certainly a team we should beat. However, for me the important thing was that we didn't panic when the goal didn't come quickly and sure enough our persistence paid off. Defensively, aside from the lapse for the goal we dealt with the various threats posed against us well, and in midfield the triumvirate of Butt, Bowyer and Jenas linked up well together. Up front, the big three also played well together, and Kluivert in particular looked every inch the class player with one touch play and forty yard passes all inch perfect.

So, plenty of positives to take into Thursday's UEFA Cup tie in Israel provided the injury to Bellamy isn't too serious, and we are able to cope with Butt suspended we should be able to safely negotiate that, before looking to put one over on Steve Bruce's blues next weekend.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Wingless wonders?

This weekend sees the arrival of the currently beleaguered West Brom to St James Park. Without a league win all season, and crashing out of the League Cup to Colchester on Tuesday surely there is no better time to be playing the Baggies. Reports suggest that Gary Megson has just two games to turn things around or face his P45, and whilst I'll be sad to see him lose his job, I certainly don't want to see him getting any points on Saturday.

It will be interesting to see how Souness approaches his first home league match in charge. Whether he continues with Bellamy down the right and Robert on the bench, or whether he decides to go for the jugular by replacing JJ with the erratic Frenchman and attempt to play with width and get plenty of crosses into the box for Kluivert and Shearer to capitalise on we shall have to wait and see.

Similarly, will Robbie Elliot continue to feature at the heart of the defence, or will Hughes (or even Johnson) be able to oust him from the team. I appreciate the fact that so far Robbie’s done OK, but can't see that lasting forever -he wasn't languishing in our reserves without reason, and whilst he may be enjoying his latest spell in the side his presence is hardly likely to guarantee a quiet afternoon for Given every week.

Whatever team he picks, we should be too good for them, but then how many times have we said that before, only to under perform on the day? They showed last week that they had some fight about them, but hopefully we won't allow any crunching tackles to knock us off our stride as easily as Sakhnin managed last week, and we should walk away victorious. You never know, with a couple of early goals and a bad refereeing decision to get the crowd going it could be a cracking result.

Here's hoping.

Birds in Toon again soon

Well last night’s league cup draw could certainly have been worse. The trophy which we’d all crawl through broken glass to get our hands on (OK, so we’d do that for any trophy – shame the team haven’t always appeared to feel the same) sees us entertain Delia’s canaries at St James’ for the second time this season. Hopefully Souness will be able to prevent the dreadful lack of concentration and half-arsedness which saw us throw away a two goal lead last time and secure a comfortable win.

Lets just practice some penalties though, to be on the safe side.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Sou far, Sou good

A Stephen Carr thunderbolt ensured that for the first time since 1972 we returned from Southampton with all three league points. A cracking result, which has lifted us to the heady heights of 8th in the table, and seemingly set us on an upwards trajectory.

Interestingly, Souness chose to start with Kluivert and Shearer up front, with Bellamy down the right and the triumvirate of Bowyer, Butt and Jenas occupying the other midfield births.

Unsurprisingly, we seemed to lack width in the first half, with only Bellamy’s forays down the right giving any breadth to our attack. However, it was only when he scurried over to the left hand-side right at the end of the half that we were able to unlock a fairly stubborn Southampton defence, and despite Kluivert’s flick completely missing the ball, Alan Shearer was on hand to fire home, via the outstretched boot of David Prutton.

1-0 at half time then, and everything was going reasonably well. Our creaky defence hadn’t succumbed to the threat posed by rat boy and Beattie, and despite an apparent lack of creativity and width in the side we were a goal to the good.

The second half saw an increasing threat by the home side bear fruit, when once again we got caught in defence when we should have pushed out and played the offside trap. At 1-1 it was starting to remind me of so many other trips to the south coast where we’d started well and faded.

However, only a few minutes later, a free kick was awarded to us in their half of the pitch, and with the ball touched to Stephen Carr he hammered the ball into the bottom corner of the Saints net, leaving Niemi with no chance.

Southampton reacted to this by withdrawing rat boy and chucking on the human beanstalk that is Peter Crouch, and resorting to route one. However, with nobody to pounce on the knock downs we were able to close out the game and claim a very valuable, and somewhat unexpected (given the history I always consider any points gained at Southampton as a bonus), but nonetheless thoroughly deserved three points.

Souness took off Kluivert in the second half, and bought Milner on to play on the right, allowing Bellamy to play upfront, and this seemed to give us a better shape in midfield. Whether he persists in playing Craig on the right in an effort to accommodate him, Shearer and Kluivert next Saturday, or whether he brings Robert back into the side we shall have to wait and see, but I doubt Bobby would have sent out this team had he still been in charge, and I also doubt we’d have left with the win.

Friday, September 17, 2004

The story of a Butt, a brace, and a clean sheet.

Two goals, a clean sheet, and surely we all go home happy? Wrong. Despite Patrick Kluivert notching a brace on his home debut for the club: the first the product of a goalmouth scramble, the second a strong header which bounced off post and bar before crossing the line, I can’t help but feel disappointed by the performance. The fact that Nicky Butt lasted 133 seconds on the pitch before being sent off for grabbing someone round the throat didn’t exactly help matters. Whilst we should be able to cope without him in the away leg, the possible length of his suspension could see him actually miss games where we will need him, which is no use to anyone.

Sakhnin’s spoiling tactics, which became increasingly rougher as the match wore on, allowed them to disrupt our rhythm and prevent us from putting four or five past them. A better referee would have clamped down on their persistent fouling earlier on, and so kept control of a game which became increasingly fractious as it went on. One challenge on Jenas was deserving of a straight red, as he was scythed down at shin height with the ball already well gone, and had it been properly handled Bowyer wouldn’t have felt inclined to try and take matters into his own hands, and charge round like a bull in a china shop, thereby collecting a booking for his troubles. However, hats off to the visitors - they came with a game plan, and despite conceding an early goal, they were able to keep themselves in the tie and frustrate a side with far more class, but less cohesion.

Congratulations to Robbie Elliot, who captained the side in Shearer’s absence, a truly remarkable turnaround for a player who twelve months ago was the only scorer in a reserve game at Kingston Park, and was about as far from the first team as he could get. Plaudits too should go to James Milner, who replaced Ameobi with about twenty minutes to go and looked lively whenever he got the ball and ran at a tiring Sakhnin defence. The other highlight of the night had to be Kluivert, who with two goals, and a number of deft flicks and touches looked every bit a class striker. Who Souness starts with up front on Sunday against Southampton will be anyone’s guess, with only Shola out of the goals at the moment.

On the down side, we really should have scored more than two against a side who wouldn’t look out of place in division 2. Injuries to Aaron Hughes and the king of bling aren’t likely to help matters (although Dyer was pretty woeful anyway) and Butt’s red card was a classic example of us shooting ourselves in the foot.

Still, a win is a win, and a clean sheet in Europe is always welcome. However, the tie should have been safe, and whilst I can’t see them scoring three, and early goal away could set a few nerves on edge. If Souness didn’t realise the extent of the malaise in our side before he took the job, he probably does now. Whether he can take us forward and get a league win at Southampton, we will have to wait and see.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

New beginnings

It's Souness's first game in charge of Newcastle tonight, as we take on a team of unfancied unknowns from Israel, Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin, in the UEFA Cup First Round.

Whilst we need to show them some respect, all that really means is that we mustn't be complacent. As long as we play to our strengths, as we did against Blackburn on Saturday, we should be able to notch a comfortable win - I say "should" because nothing is predictable as far as Newcastle are concerned.

With the potentially tricky away tie to come, we need to be as clinical as possible in front of the home crowd. Another good victory would mark Souness's managerial tenure in style and send us into Sunday's bogey match away at Southampton on a high.

Not too much to ask for, surely?

And who knows - at this stage of the competition (ie before a ball's even been kicked), we can still dream of going one better than last year and lifting the trophy.

Indeed, I did hear a rumour that we might be right up amongst the favourites in the betting stakes. Take my advice: spend your money wisely elsewhere...

You can't win anything with kids?

Following Real Madrid's tonking away to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions' League last night, perhaps they could do worse than dropping Becks and company, and giving this promising young Englishman a go.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Graeme Souness's To Do list

1. Bolster the squad with at least one and preferably two new defenders. But perhaps not Ronny Johnsen.

2. Instill some discipline - on and off the pitch.

3. Tell a few home truths to those whose egos have ballooned out of all proportion to their performances.

4. Politely ask Freddie Shepherd to stop sticking his big fat sausage-like fingers into pies which are traditionally the manager's concern.

5. Win silverware.

Any other suggestions?

In today's press conference Souness made all the right noises, sounding genuinely enthused by the challenge. If Saturday's result told him anything, it was that despite all the egos, niggling worries and alleged squabbles, there is huge potential at the club, potential which desperately needs to be realised. If he can keep everyone fit and get everyone focused, then there's hope yet.

Fight club

Admit it. If you heard that the squad and staff of a Premiership outfit had been involved in a mass brawl in the team coach following a pitiful defeat on the road, you might well be more inclined to think it was Newcastle than West Brom.

So, thanks to the Baggies for taking some of the media spotlight away from us and for giving us Geordies reason to believe things behind the scenes on Tyneside are nowhere near as fractious and disfunctional as they could be. Cheers!

What a difference a win makes

At last, we managed to scrape together a credible performance. From what I’ve seen and heard of the game (and I freely admit to not being at St James’ on Saturday), we looked good, played some nice football and generally contained Blackburn. Bowyer enjoyed an excellent game, and deserved at least one, if not two, penalties when he was scythed down in the box on two seperate occasions.

However, it is easy to look good against a very mediocre side, and on current form Blackburn must surely be staring relegation in the eyes. How much the watching Souness will have learnt about his new charges we shall have to wait and see, but hopefully he’ll at least appreciate that when played in the centre, Bowyer is a very good player – something that Bobby never quite seemed to grasp.

I’m pleased for John Carver that after a number of years at the club, under a succession of managers, he was able to lead us to victory when given the reins, and wish him well in the future.

That said, in light of stories concerning disputes with players over the merits of his coaching style, I’m not about to mourn his departure with a wailing and a gnashing of teeth.

Only time will tell whether Souness and his staff are able to coax the best out of an obviously talented bunch of players who have consistently failed to achieve the standards of play that they should be capable of producing, but I for one am quietly optimistic at the moment. It’s only to be hoped that he is able to get us sufficiently well prepared to build up a healthy first leg advantage in Thursday’s UEFA Cup game.

So thanks JC, and over to you Graeme – Newcastle expects.

Don’t let us down.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Last chance saloon

Watching the closing stages of the England match last night, it struck me as bizarre that Kieron Dyer is still considered to be on the fringes of the first team for his country even though he didn't even make the squad for the last game at club level. Clearly Sven sees something in Dyer that most of us Newcastle fans don't, or at least don't anymore.

But, having said that, he repaid some of his international manager's faith during his very brief stint after replacing the excellent Defoe, chasing and harrying defenders, getting into dangerous areas and causing problems at precisely the time when Poland wanted the ball up at the other end. He has his uses, after all.

While it might not mean the slate is wiped completely clean as far as Dyer is concerned, Souness's arrival could certainly be rehabilitating for a talented player who's seriously lost his way of late. It was no secret that his relationship with Sir Bobby had broken down, the fault almost wholly on his side, and now he owes it to the club to make up for the constant disappointments he's dragged us through on and off the pitch, and for the part he played (however inadvertently) in Sir Bobby's sacking. He's got a lot of work to do.

This is last chance saloon for our errant King of Bling - and if he doesn't realise it, then he could and should be booted out in January.

Incidentally, regardless of whether the collective post-match silence from the England players was petulant and childish, can I venture to suggest that it was a pleasant surprise for Dyer to support the decision and consequently keep his troublesome trap shut for a change? Refraining from arrogantly shooting his mouth at every opportunity is an essential first step in any potential Newcastle rehabilitation.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Not-so-great Scot

So, the decision has been made.

It's not Ottmar Hitzfeld.

It's not Steve Maclaren.

It's not Cockney wide-boy El Tel Venables.

It's not David O'Blarney.

It's not even Steve "I'm a real Geordie, me" Bruce.

It's Graeme Souness.

Excuse me a while as I try to find some semblance of logic and reasoning in this decision. I may be some time.


Nope, I'm struggling here.

Souness's managerial record is hardly the stuff of legends - three league titles but all of them north of the border with Rangers so they don't count, an FA Cup with Liverpool while reducing them to a shadow of the all-conquering 80s side, and a flirtation with relegation last season as Blackburn boss which came about mainly because his team had no concept of how to defend (sound familiar?).

Neither is he the Geordie we were promised (though he is just about preferable to Bruce who would have fulfilled that criterion), unless Glasgow has been relocated to Tyneside while I've been away. Nice to see that Fat Freddie's grasp of geography is as good as his grasp of how to run a football club.

All I can come up with in defence of the appointment is that Souness has a real passion for the game and fire in his belly. As his treatment of Cole and Yorke showed, he has no respect for reputations and isn't prepared to tolerate underperforming primadonnas with enormous egos, of which we currently have many - Dyer merely being the most prominent. Perhaps this is what we need - but, on the other hand, if he sets about antagonising players upon arrival then it could be a tinderbox situation.

As the old cliche goes, one thing's for sure - life won't be dull.

(You can read the thoughts of the New Links crew here.)

Saturday, September 04, 2004

When Saturday comes...

... these days it brings with it a feeling of dread and impending doom. Blessed relief, then, that due to the international programme Newcastle aren't required to humiliate themselves and us today. Joy!

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

A week is a long time in football

And so Black & White & Read All Over is nearly a week old. And what a week in which to start a Newcastle blog. In that short time I feel like I've aged by about ten years...

Thanks are due to all those who've offered support in the form of comments, plugs and links - it's been particularly appreciated in such traumatic times: Inspector Sands (All Quiet In The East Stand), Dead Kenny (Parallax View), Pete (Round And White), ILuvNUFC (Look At This...), all at New Links, Lark (Upton Lark), Jonathan (Crinklybee), BykerSink (It's Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware), John (Sore Eyes) and Damo. Apologies if I've missed anyone out.

But whoever you are and however you got here, we hope you enjoy it and we look forward to seeing you around these parts again soon. You never know - by next week we might have worked out why the commenting system isn't doing what we want it to and why we can't get the posts to break down into paragraphs...

The case for the defence - dismissed

Not wishing to parrot the ever-excellent, but what the fuck is going on? Following the sale of star defender Jonathan Woodgate to Real Madrid, Fat Freddie promised us that the club had not proceeded without a long-term plan. Disgruntled as I was (like thousands of others), I assumed that meant we'd be investing the money recouped in a couple of players, one of whom would be a direct replacement for Woody, before the transfer deadline. But no. How naive of me to even assume that much. With the benefit of hindsight the sum total of that carefully considered plan seems to have been simply to spur our Premiership rivals Man Utd into improving their squad with a prodigiously talented young Scouser. All of which means that, after a miserable opening four games which left us winless and managerless, we have to survive until January with a woefully disjointed and frail first choice back line and a terrifying lack of defensive cover. Common sense has perhaps never been in such short supply at St James's Park - and that's saying something.