Sunday, July 31, 2005

Moore - but not enough

Right, it's that old good news / bad news combo again...

The good news: at last, an incoming defender!

The bad news: it's Craig Moore, signed by Borussia Moenchengladbach in January and then sacked after allegedly turning up for training in a "dishevelled" state (term courtesy of Kevin Keegan, as applied to Richard Dunne). Moore, of course, disputes all this.

Moore strikes me as being the new Ronnie Johnsen - a player long admired by Souness and available on a free but probably past his not-particularly-stunning best and only a short-term solution at best.

To quote on the deal: "He has been given the number 18 shirt vacated by another international captain, Aaron Hughes - something which draws attention to the fact that we have effectively swapped a 25-year-old home internationalist for someone who is four years older and plays his international football for a team on another continent. (Next two Australian fixtures? Versus the Solomon Islands, home and away.) No fee was announced by United for the Hughes deal, but various media sources reported that Aston Villa paid £1,000,000 for him. Are we that hard up?".

As ever, logic is in short supply.

(Another) new kid on the block

Kicking, screaming, still wet behind the ears - but showing plenty of promise: Footballist. A warm welcome to the blogging club for Mr Terry Venerables.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Down but not out

Deportivo La Coruna 2 - 1 Newcastle

Newcastle left Spain battered, bloodied and beaten last night, but by no means out of the Intertoto Semi-Final following a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Deportivo La Coruna.

The game began fairly slowly with it quickly becoming obvious that the Spanish side were happy to knock the ball about with precision, while we were left chasing shadows and lacking any creative spark. Sure enough, after ten minutes, Deportivo carved us open down our left, with N'Zogbia and Babayaro seemingly missing in action, before pulling the ball back into the middle for the waiting Ruben Castro (the only player in the Deportivo side without a full cap) to side-foot the ball home and give the home side a one-nil lead.

The remainder of the half saw the Spaniards continually on the attack, although thankfully mostly shooting from distance, and Newcastle chasing the game, before aimlessly hoofing the ball forward in the odd times when they obtained possession, thereby giving the ball straight back to Deportivo. James Milner appeared to be a marked man, as he was firstly whacked in the face, and left bloodied and black-eyed, and then caught firmly on the side of his ankle, and perhaps lucky to escape with nothing more than a bit of soreness, when a broken ankle looked a distinct possibility.

Still, through a combination of Deportivo's profligacy, and our own dogged rather than well organised defending we reached half time only one goal down – although the prospect of us mounting a comeback looked remote.

Emerging for the second half, Newcastle set about Deportivo with renewed purpose, upping the tempo, and forcing Deportivo to defend, and concede a corner. Stephen Carr's ball in was deflected away, but only as far as Lee Bowyer, who cracked a stunning left foot volley in to the corner of the goal, and give us a much needed but probably undeserved away goal, and drag us level.

This upsurge in our performance prompted Deportivo to go up a gear, and attempt to force the pace. Fortunately, we appeared to have been able to reorganise at half time, and as a result presented a much more organised defensive unit, although the Belgian referee's determination to whistle every time a Newcastle player made a sliding tackle which made even the slightest contact with a Deportivo player (regardless of whether the ball was played first) left us defending numerous free kicks, and resulted in bookings for several players.

Unfortunately we couldn't manage to hold on to the draw, and one time target, Jorge Andrade picked up the ball in his own half, before being able to run forward unchallenged (with Shearer seeming to admit defeat in the chase to tackle the centre-half) and curl a beautiful left foot goal into the corner of Given's net.

We then spent the last fifteen minutes of the game defending resolutely, with one save from Given showing our number one has lost none of his sharpness over the summer, and with Steven Taylor thankfully on hand to mop up, together with Deportivo slamming several potentially dangerous free kicks into the wall, we were able to hold on to a 2-1 defeat.

Strange as it may seem to be reasonably pleased with a defeat, taking an away goal back to St James' is far from the worst result we could have got (just ask Celtic), and provided we can get a few more bodies off the treatment table and on to the pitch we can go into next week's game with a fair degree of hope.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

An objective viewpoint

Now up on Hobo Tread: Skif's take on Saturday's Intertoto match against Dubnica, complete with a photo of this half of B&W&RAO and some cutting comments on individual performances: "That Michael Chopra apparently can't remember anything of the ten minutes he played between being sparked out by the keeper, and his substitution, is also faintly amusing considering he still looked more alert and interested in those moments than Celestine Babayaro did at any time during the game".

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Sharing the love?

With rumours abounding that not one but two investors are considering buying Sir John Hall's shares in the club, presumably with a view to making Fat Fred and/or Dirty Doug an offer for their shares, and taking over control it's difficult to know what to think.

On the one hand, it'll be sad to see Sir John sever his ties, and credit must go to him for the resurgence we enjoyed in the nineties, with Keegan at the helm and glorious football on the pitch. However, his oft stated dream of a team of Geordies never looked like getting off the ground, and his plan to emulate Barcelona with an umbrella of sports clubs under one roof has long since died a death, with the rugby, basketball and ice hockey teams sold off years ago, and Sir John retiring to Spain.

On the other hand, the prospect of waving farewell to Sir John's much loathed progeny is a very welcome prospect. Presumably having run daddy’s business into the ground Dirty Doug will welcome the chance to flog his shares and raise some more money to fund whichever vice he currently favours.

For Freddie, if he does depart, it's unlikely to see any wailing and gnashing of teeth. Whilst he managed to resurrect his reputation following the News of The World expose, his repeated utterances in the media and general demeanour around the place have once again seen his reputation slide into the gutter. The results of the recent Mag Poll revealed over 90% of respondents holding the board responsible for our current state of disarray.

So from that point of view, any investor has got to be welcomed.

Looking at the two prospective investors, it would be hoped that anyone looking to invest money would do so on the basis that a successful club is a profitable one, and for that reason they would presumably be forthcoming with money to invest in the side.

Perhaps worryingly for Souness, some of the stories suggest a possible return for Keegan (although how keen he'd be to return to Newcastle remains to be seen – a prospect probably made more appealing if Dirty Doug is out of the picture.) Whether everyone would welcome a return for the man once hailed as King is open to debate. Whilst few would argue that the football we enjoyed under his tenure first time out was anything but a joy to watch, his later experiences of management have hardly been sweeping successes, and it’s always worrying to see a manager return in the hope of recreating past glories (e.g. Howard Kendall at Everton).

Whilst Souness has his critics, it’s clear that another change of manager would only further destabilise the club, and for that reason alone he needs to be given a chance to bed in his signings, hopefully adding to them along the way, and have a crack at making the team his own.

Of course, this could all simply be idle gossip, conjured up by Sir John to boost the share price. We'll have to wait to find out whether a change of shareholders is forthcoming, but I can't see many people expressing anger or outrage if a new investor were to come forward, with the vast majority likely to welcome new blood on to the board, particularly if they happen to be media shy puritans.

Monday, July 25, 2005

No sweat

Newcastle 2 - 0 ZTS Dubnica

(5 - 1 on aggregate)

Two goals from the head of Alan Shearer were enough to win Saturday's return match with Dubnica at St James's Park, but - at the risk of sounding very grouchy indeed just two games into the new season - neither the scoreline nor the ease with which the victory was achieved can prettify what was in some respects a disappointing display.

Even against a poor visiting side, and taking into account the absence of several first-teamers through injury and unavailability, the team did little to impress me or the visiting Portsmouth / Havant & Waterlooville fans I was sat with, who were subsequently unanimous in predicting a season of struggle.

Souness made two changes to the side that was victorious in Slovakia, JJ and Bowyer coming in and Chopra and Butt dropped to the bench - the former unlucky, the latter thoroughly deserved.

I'd describe the opening exchanges for you if I'd seen them and not been engaged in a game of musical chairs with a group of idiots who thought they were in the right place but had actually come in at the wrong access gate.

The first action of any real note (as far as we were concerned, anyway) saw Milner scampering towards goal and cracking a left-footed shot which was tipped round the post. JJ was having an influential game in the centre of midfield, and it was he who came closest to breaking the deadlock in a relatively uneventful 45 minutes. First he struck the bar with a brilliant curling free-kick, Dusan Pernis statuesque and hopeful between the sticks, and a minute later his firm downward header was very well saved by the Dubnica 'keeper.

Chopra replaced him at half-time, but within a minute the striker was involved in a collision with Pernis and had to leave the field with concussion shortly afterwards, Souness opting to call upon Martin Brittain rather than Butt.

Milner and N'Zogbia both looked lively, but the former's play continued to lack end product and the latter wasn't being given the ball anywhere near enough. Much more alarming, however, was Faye's seeming inability to tackle after the break, and the appalling performance of Babayaro, whose every move seemed to scream "Bothered?" His distribution was awful, and even tracking back and tackling looked to be too much effort. We might not have needed to break into a sweat, especially given the first leg score, but it would have been nice.

Our mounting frustration and unease was compounded by the odd hint that Dubnica might have it in them to sneak a goal. On one of the few occasions the Slovakian forwards pierced our defence, in which Taylor was superb, Given was forced to dirty his gloves, touching a rising shot over the bar.

And then, a few minutes after a good run and cross from N'Zogbia, sweet relief. Bowyer's run and shot brought a decent save from Pernis, and the resulting Milner corner found Shearer's forehead and the net bulged.

The goal knocked the stuffing out of Dubnica, and Milner spurned two decent opportunities. Shearer meanwhile struck the bar with a header from a cross that looked too high to reach, and then scuffed a shot straight at Pernis from close range.

The skipper wasn't to be denied, though, and at the death added a second from Carr's pinpoint cross. Two goals to end his lean spell stretching back to Easter, and two goals closer to Jackie Milburn's record.

As expected, Deportivo overcame Buducnost and so now face us at the Riazor on Wednesday night. A much sterner test of our lethargic side is guaranteed, and with either Lazio or Marseille to play after that it certainly won't be a stroll in the park.

Other reports:, BBC

"I call it bereavement"

Sir Bobby Robson talks to Donald McRae of the Guardian about what went wrong at Newcastle: "During the three preceding seasons we'd never finished outside the top five. Then, four games into a new season, I'm gone. I hadn't even lost two consecutive matches so I was devastated. I say I'm almost over it but it will always rankle. I'll never forget what they did".

It's a very honest interview, and quite revealing about the current state of the club.

I'm not entirely sure what to think about Robson's forthcoming autobiography 'Farewell But Not Goodbye' (which the interview is plugging). On the one hand, he's obviously bitter about how shabbily he was treated by Shepherd in the end - and justifiably so - and therefore entitled to get it off his chest. On the other hand, however, it's resulting in more bad press for the club, and underlining once again how badly run the whole show is. We know already - do we really need it spelling out for the amusement and delight of opposition fans?

Self-congratulatory guff

Black & White & Read All Over: as featured in the Times!

Well, the Times Online, at least.

And they have kind of mangled our words.

But no matter - free publicity and exposure without even having to OFFER sexual favours. Which makes a change.

New kid on the block

Literate, amusing, well-written - that'd be A Matter Of Life And Death added to the B&W&RAO blogroll, then. Though it's written by a Liverpool fan, it's not just about the European Champions. Go see for yourself.

"His lion-esque barnet ponytailed into obedience, the moustache bristling like a WWI Colonel"

Over on Hobo Tread, Skif is thrilled to have had a close encounter with a former Toon defensive colossus: "it was a great thrill just to walk within a couple of feet of Brian 'Killer' Kilcline as he contemplated a saveloy and a bag of chips. Ever the athlete".

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

It's a Krul Krul summer*

Following the high-profile signings of Parker and Emre, a less trumpeted arrival at St James's Park. Tim Krul, a young Dutch international 'keeper, has been snapped up from Den Haag.

I know only what has appeared about Krul on, but the fact that we've been prepared to offer a three year deal to a 17-year-old suggests he's a fine prospect - though, of course, astute judgement isn't always something you associate with Souness and Shepherd.

So much for investing for the future - what's desperately needed now is investment in the present, starting with a new defender and a new striker.

*Because what the world needs is more puns on Bananarama song-titles...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Chop leaves Souey delighted

ZTS Dubnica 1 - 3 Newcastle

In sizzling Slovakian heat our season swung into action yesterday, nearly a month before the Premiership campaign kicks off. Without even a meaningful friendly beneath their belts, a makeshift side secured a decent enough first leg lead in the Intertoto Cup Third Round tie.

Back in Blighty were Ameobi and Bramble (injured), JJ and Carr (only just back in full training after end-of-season international commitments) and Parker and Emre (as yet unavailable). Add to this the fact that Dyer and Bowyer both picked up knocks on Saturday (presumably not inflicted by each other), Given was left on the bench and we've had a host of departures over the past few weeks, and the team took on an unfamiliar look.

Harper started in goal, Elliott partnered Boumsong in central defence with Taylor and Babayaro in the full-back positions, and the midfield consisted of Milner, Butt, Faye and N'Zogbia.

Up front alongside Shearer, Michael Chopra made only his second start for the first team - and took only four minutes to latch onto Milner's through-ball and find the net with a neat finish despite suspicions of offside. The goal must have done his confidence a power of good. Though he was head and shoulders above the rest on loan at Barnsley last season, there remain serious doubts as to whether the player not so long ago regarded as our Michael Owen can truly cut it at the highest level.

Two minutes after Chopra's first senior goal for the club, N'Zogbia's deflected cross looped into the net - Shearer made absolutely certain, and with Wor Jackie's record to chase you can bet he'll be claiming it.

Two goals in the opening six minutes suggested it was going to be a pleasant stroll in the sunshine, and that's how the players started to treat it, allowing Dubnica back into the game. Marian Adam struck the post, and Harper was called upon to make three fine saves. Ultimately, however, he was unable to keep the Slovakian side at bay, Lukas Tesak scoring with a header shortly before half-time.

In a second half of little incident, Milner continued to look sharp and dangerous. Following a clever run through the Dubnica defence he cracked a shot against the post, but soon afterwards got his just desserts, lobbing home 'keeper Pernis from 25 yards. Too often last season Milner failed to live up to his promise, especially in front of goal and when in excellent crossing positions. Perhaps this term he can start showing more often why we felt he was worth £5m - and why Leeds fans were so upset to see him sold off.

So, a solid if unspectacular start to the season, and a healthy lead to take into Saturday's second leg. Deportivo, Lazio and Marseille still lie in wait, though.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Domino effect?

So, the transfer market is still remarkably slow. It seems that everyone's sitting around waiting for someone else to make the first move.

That could all change, though, if - as seems likely - Patrick Vieira swaps London for Turin and signs for Juventus. The move might well spark a flood of transfers, and we've got more reason to be concerned than most.

Armed with the money from the sale of Vieira, Wenger would no doubt soon be looking at JJ as a potential replacement, and, with both Stuart Taylor and Graham Stack leaving and only Jens Lehmann and the hapless Manuel Almunia remaining, he's still likely to be in the market for another 'keeper.

Souness has moved to quash any speculation about JJ, saying: "If we were to sell Jermaine, which is the last thing on my mind, it would have to be for a lot more money than Patrick Vieira is being sold for, if it is £12 million. He is 22 years old and has the potential to be one of the best midfield players in the world, he maybe doesn't have the aggression Patrick has, but he certainly has the athleticism and technically he is good - he is an outstanding player, but it would take a lot more than £12 million and I don't think anyone has that sort of money at the moment.".

Not a complete hands-off, then - more a "can we interest you, Jose?"

As an intriguing aside, Souness admitted an admiration for Sol Campbell. I can't see anything happening on that score, though - he might have been kept out of the Arsenal team by Kolo Toure and Phillipe Senderos towards the end of last season, but I doubt Wenger would let him go, and he'd also demand a large wage packet.

Turk in Toon

Following Scott Parker's move to Tyneside, another protracted transfer deal has finally been completed this afternoon, the club confirming that Emre has at last signed on the dotted line.

The Turkish international midfielder certainly doesn't come cheap, having cost £4m in transfer fees and been handed a five year contract worth around £60,000 a week.

This is at least in part why the jury's very much out at the moment, but also rather worrying is the former Inter Milan player's temperament. We've just got rid of Robert, Bellamy and Kluivert - we really don't need another expensive primadonna.

Still, I guess we should wait and see what he does on the park. There's no doubting he's a real talent and, as with Parker, money issues will be forgotten about if he performs to the best of his ability and helps us to a more respectable league position than last season, and maybe even a cup.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Not-so-funny bone

More concern for Souness and the fans.

Our defence was threadbare at the end of last season as it was, since when we've sold O'Brien and Hughes without signing any reinforcements. And now, with less than a week to go until our first competitive match of the season, comes the news that Titus Bramble's broken his elbow in a training ground accident.

Much maligned he might be, often on this very site, but the former Ipswich player looked a changed man in the second half of last season, and we can ill afford injuries like this before a ball's even been kicked.

Just a shame he does know his arse from his elbow - if he'd fallen awkwardly on his amply cushioned posterior, he wouldn't have sustained any injury.

The message to Souness is even clearer now: GET ON WITH SIGNING SOME PLAYERS. If we haven't got at least one quality defender in by the end of the week, I'll be tearing my hair out.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The steep and thorny way to heaven

Well, we've brought it on ourselves. If we don't qualify for this season's UEFA Cup via the backdoor route of the Intertoto, we've only got ourselves to blame.

It seems that several other big names found themselves in our position, and entered the Cup, desperate for the annual foray into European competition. We already knew that our first opponents would be Slovakian side ZTS Dubnica, but we now know that we're most likely going to have to get past Deportivo La Coruna and then Lazio if we're to qualify for the UEFA Cup First Round.

No mean feat as it is, but we're going to have to do it with the midfield that underperformed last season, Scott Parker having been given special dispensation to sit the games out in order to ensure he's fully recovered from his broken foot.

All of which means we could well be out of Europe before even kicking a ball in the Premiership. Surely even the most optimistic Toon fan can't be expecting to notch up many stamps in his or her passport this season.

Friday, July 08, 2005

More leavers

News, at last, that Craig Bellamy has finally left for pastures new, and perhaps strangely decided he'd rather keep his passport tucked up safely in a drawer in Blackburn than have to go through the hassle of competing against teams in Europe next season.

Undoubtedly talented, and his goal against Feyenoord remains one of my happiest Newcastle memories, it was his attitude that ultimately saw him depart SJP for pastures new. Whether Mark Hughes is able to coax the best out of him (and for that matter whether Hughes will be happy to see him playing for Wales and coming back injured) remains to be seen – but I can't imagine there are too many in our dressing room who will be disappointed to have seen him leave.

In other news we have apparently accepted a bid from Charlton for Darren Ambrose, whose lack of first team games presumably left him frustrated on Tyneside. That said, his inability to cross a football from out wide often left me (and presumably Alan Shearer) more annoyed. Whilst in some ways it's sad to see a decent young player leave, it's probably the right move, with Ambrose unlikely to get too many games if he remains, and probably not quite good enough to take us back up the league to where we want to be.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The search goes on

Today's brought news that the door has shut on two potential avenues Souness was interested in exploring.

It was always a long shot that he could persuade Christian Vieri to swap Italy for Tyneside, and sure enough the striker has opted to stay in Milan, signing a deal with AC.

Rather more likely was the possibility that we'd entice Daniel van Buyten from Hamburg to strengthen our fragile defence. Unfortunately for us, however, he's apparently decided that his current club's summer transfer dealings have demonstrated sufficient nous and ambition to convince him to stay in Germany.

Where this leaves us is obvious. We've lost four members of the first team squad (Kluivert, Hughes, Robert and O'Brien) and gained only Scott Parker. Not only do we need some new faces quickly to bolster the numbers and improve the playing staff, we also need to shift the remaining deadwood - not least Bellamy, Butt and Bowyer.

That said, we're probably in the same predicament that many clubs find themselves at the moment - the market is currently pretty stagnant, and until things gather pace we're going to be left sweating. There's no doubt that there's still an awful lot of work to be done before we can contemplate getting back to where we were just two seasons ago.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Blue Monday?

Unless there are some unexpected and rapid developments this weekend, it looks very much as though there'll be a tearful reunion between Messrs Souness and Bellamy when pre-season training begins on Monday. I bet neither party can wait.

Despite the fact that recent noises emanating from Bellamy's gob have hinted at a willingness to return, that's frankly impossible as long as Souness, Shepherd and Shearer remain in charge of the club. So Craig better hope he can find a new club sooner rather than later, or he'll be facing up to a life training with the juniors. He might actually enjoy that, what with being taller than some of them, mind...

In other news, we've been again linked with Man Utd's Alan Smith and Italian international Christian Vieri, released by Inter Milan. According to Souness both deals look unlikely, though. Otherwise, there's nothing new on the Emre / Van Buyten / Distin fronts.

What worries me even more, though, is the silence with regard to Given - Fergie might have snapped up van der Sar from Fulham, but Wenger's surely still in the market for a new 'keeper, especially with Stuart Taylor packed off to Villa.

One thing to keep us entertained on a fairly slow news day: Boro's new signing Emmanuel Pogatetz might be banned for six months. Might have been a wise idea to do your research, eh, Steve?