Sunday, October 30, 2005

Owen Baggies a brace

West Brom 0 - 3 Newcastle

A fine second half performance from Newcastle left the Boing Boing Baggies feeling decidedly flat and ensured it was the Toon fans joyously pogoing away into the night.

Last time we swatted aside Premiership opposition on enemy turf by a 3-0 scoreline, the other half of B&W&RAO was away swanning around the West Coast of America - but this time he was right next to me in the stand, both of us shouting ourselves hoarse, though his many-eyeletted boots meant that unlike myself he was unable to participate in the now-customary "Shoes off if you love the Toon" chant...

So much for the action off the pitch (superb, as it always is at away matches), what happened on it was actually enjoyable too - though the less said about the turgid first half the better. We were the superior side and fashioned a few chances but failed to take them. Ameobi, back from injury, had a shot well blocked for a corner early on, and later in the half good work from Parker set up Owen, but the striker, back having missed two games, miscued badly. He did have the best chance of the half though, darting onto a through-ball only to see his shot well saved by West Brom 'keeper Tomasz Kuszczak and his attempt to hook the rebound into the danger area elude his team-mates.

At half-time there was little to shout about. We had bossed things, West Brom had only rarely threatened and in Parker we had the best player on the park, excellent alongside the quietly effective Emre - but goals hadn't been forthcoming.

But, with the team playing towards our end, it took Owen just 21 seconds of the second half to break the deadlock. N'Zogbia's cross from the left may have been dangerous, but there was still plenty to do. Owen scented blood, though, and nipped in front of the ponderous Darren Moore to flick a superb volley past Kuszczak.

There then followed a succession of chances for the only player in the West Brom side who caused us any problems, Robert Earnshaw. First he completely missed a low driven cross into the six yard box, then he was foiled by a fantastic Given block and later fired narrowly wide when set up by Kanu.

At the other end, however, Owen continued to terrorise the Baggies' back four. Scampering onto a fine through-ball, he saw his toe-poke blocked by Kuszczak, who had raced out of his area. The initial reaction of myself and all those around me was that the 'keeper should have been walking, but television replays confirmed that referee Howard Webb was indeed justified in allowing play to continue, the ball having struck Kuszczak rather fortuitously straight in the chest. There was also nearly a repeat of the Wigan incident when Owen's goalbound header from a corner was nodded off the line by Junichi Inamoto, but unlike Shearer's effort two weeks ago this one didn't creep into the net so there was no sense of injustice.

Shearer, who had been rested after Wednesday's bruising 90 minutes against Grimsby, came on for the largely ineffective Ameobi, while Dyer replaced N'Zogbia, both substitutes going on to have key roles in securing the victory. On 78 minutes Dyer skinned his man (which incredibly he managed several times in his 20 minute cameo) and pulled the ball back for Owen who, having left Curtis Davies in his wake, hit another perfect finish into the top corner from close range.

That knocked the stuffing out of the Baggies, and two minutes later, with Albion fans already streaming out of the ground, the points were safe. Neat interplay in midfield ended with the ball being played out wide to Ramage, whose inviting cross was poked into the net by Shearer, his marker Moore again at fault. Shearer continues to edge ever closer to Jackie Milburn's scoring record - just three to go now...

The scoreline perhaps flattered us a bit, and the confidence and slickness with which we stroked the ball around in the last ten minutes at least partially erased the memory of the poor first half, but there's no doubt we played well enough to thoroughly deserve the win. As for West Brom, they looked desperately poor at times, and Bryan Robson can't have been happy with the way heads sank when the second went in. Not that their problems concern us - we cared about nothing else than the sight of Taylor vigorously pumping his fist in delight on the final whistle.

Add that to the Mackems' hilarious Saturday comedy show and consequent descent to their rightful position in the table, and it was a good weekend all round.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Wig whammed?

Great. A couple of weeks after our lacklustre 1-0 defeat to Wigan, we're handed a return trip to the JJB Stadium as a reward for dumping Grimsby out of the League Cup on Wednesday.

Will the outcome of the Cup match be any different? Well, we'd struggle to play much worse than we did that day (though of course Shearer's goal-that-never-was should have got us a draw), but Wigan continue to defy the odds and turn in impressive performances founded on a surprisingly resolute back line. Yesterday's last-gasp victory over Fulham made it five Premiership wins out of five and saw the Latics sitting pretty two points clear in second place. I suspect that when the rigours of the season kick in and they lose a few key players through injury they'll slide down the table, but at present we have to look at the tie as one in which they will probably start as favourites.

Back of the net

New to the NUFC links section in the sidebar: Toongoals is a site offering online video clips of goals and highlights from recent Newcastle games - a very helpful resource. Keep up the good work, Tim!

New faces

The latest additions to the B&W&RAO blogroll:

I Love 1865, a Forest blog. Does that make them the best represented English club in terms of blogs? We've already got Exiled In Yorkshire, Mist Rolling In From The Trent... and Trent End Talk.

Escribbler, online home of former Toon striker Andy Hunt. Now living in Belize, Andy writes mainly about football and travel but also has a fair bit to say about politics. As you might have guessed, Andy is not your average retired footballer.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Incredible Sulk strikes again

It seems all is not rosy down on the English Riviera. I was under the impression that our old friend / source of interminable frustration Laurent Robert was doing a decent job for new side Portsmouth, but apparently not.

Not only has a section of fans been getting on his back, he also apparently stormed away from the Stadium of Shite this afternoon when told by Reggie Perrin that he'd only be among the substitutes. Temperamental and moody? Lui?

As a consequence, Robert finds himself up for sale - on eBay...

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bloodied but through

Grimsby Town 0 – 1 Newcastle United

Last night saw Newcastle return to the scene of jubilation in 1993, where we confirmed our promotion to the Premiership under Keegan which prompted Lee Clark to don a very fetching afro.

Unlike last time, there was little party atmosphere last night, as Grimsby, and in particular their captain Justin Whittle, took it upon themselves to beat us into a bloodied pulp.

Few assaults in football can have been more blatant than Whittle's forearm smash, delivered with more intent and venom than any shot Grimsby managed on target during the match, and leaving Alan Shearer spitting blood and needing three stitches at half time. What referee Mark Halsey was doing, only he will know. Stood less than 5 yards from the incident he raised his whistle to his lips, only to bottle making a decision, and leaving Shearer bloodied and fuming at Halsey's arrogance and inaction.

Happily for Newcastle and Shearer in particular, his was to prove the only goal in an otherwise tight contest, and secure our passage into the last sixteen.

The game itself had started promisingly, with Newcastle out of the blocks and flying at the home side and managing 5 shots in the first 11 minutes. Significant efforts from N'Zogbia and Shearer boded well, with the Frenchman looking particularly threatening down the left.

Unfortunately, after a storming opening which gave cause to hope it would be a case of how many we'd score rather than whether we'd win, we allowed Grimsby to get into the game. They settled down, and managed to sort their organisation out, and became a much more compact unit, and one which we found much harder to break down.

Then with approximately 30 minutes gone, Whittle decided to impose himself on Shearer, having previously been unable to get near the ball, and having come off worse in an accidental clash of heads with our number 9. On that occasion, there was clearly no intention on Shearer's part to do anything other than win the ball, with Shearer even going over to Whittle to apologise following the clash. This time, Whittle set himself for the jump, checked where our captain was, leapt into the air, and slammed his arm back as hard as he could into Alan's face. With the referee only 5 yards away the very least he should have given was a free kick, although a red card would not have been unjustified. To give nothing, having already raised his whistle to his lips, can only be described as gutless. (Incidentally, if the police are prepared to spend time and money investigating Bowyer and Dyer’s flare up, surely this brazen assault which drew blood and was clearly pre-meditated should surely merit an investigation.)

The following fifty minutes featured very little of merit from either side. Newcastle laboured to break down their well organised opposition, with solid shifts from Parker and even Faye (although to be fair, if he can’t play well against a team three divisions below us I'd have been particularly worried) preventing Grimsby from establishing any sort of control in the midfield.

Then, a moment of quality, to brighten up a pretty grim night: substitute Martin Brittain's quick feet allowed him to play Chopra into space, and with his marker slipping on the turf, Chops was able to cut the ball back perfectly for Shearer to hammer a left foot shot into the corner of the net and give us the lead that our dominance of possession merited.

Happily, we managed to hold out for the final ten minutes, as Grimsby lumped long balls forward towards make shift centre forward Rob Jones who enjoyed a strong game in the air, and probably had the better of both Taylor and Bramble in that department without ever really threatening our goal.

The whistle bought an opportunity for Shearer and Whittle to cap their evening's battle, with Shearer refusal to shake Whittle's hand prompting the Grimsby captain to seemingly offer to carry on the discussion with Shearer in the car park. Never one to shirk such an invitation (just ask Keith Gillespie) Shearer looked to have accepted the challenge, and it was notable that rather than follow Shearer down the tunnel, the Grimsby captain had a change of mind and returned to the relative safety of the pitch.

The bottom line is that a pretty laboured performance was enough to get us into the hat for the last 16, with solid performances by Bramble on his return from injury and Parker as always, another 70 minutes of football for Nobby, a nice cameo from Martin Brittain and Shearer taking another step closer to Milburn's record.

Disappointingly, Chopra failed to seize the chance Shola's hamstring twinge had given him, and apart from his ball to Shearer for the goal he looked off the pace and not up to the standards he needs to meet if he is to have a future at the club. Whether Titus has done enough to replace the currently out of form Boumsong at the heart of our defence for Sunday's game is open to question, but the Frenchman will need to find some form quickly if he isn't to grow accustomed to a place on the bench.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Quote of the day

"I wanted to go out there and stick one on him".

Alan Shearer on Grimsby defender / professional thug Justin Whittle, who will with any luck be banned for his disgraceful elbow to the face of our #9.

Thankfully, Shearer answered in the best way possible, by dumping Whittle, the Mariners and their foam-handed fans out of the League Cup. Hardly a vintage performance, but job done. Match report to appear tomorrow.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Emre of sunshine

Newcastle 3 - 2 The Great Unwashed

Miraculous what a derby victory over the Old Enemy can do for a crippling hangover - though yesterday's game did infinitely more harm than good for the nerves. One for the neutral, as they say - but on the final whistle it became one for the Toon fans too, as they cheerfully waved the miserable Mackems off. The narrow win was deserved, if only just.

Our pre-kick-off hopes of triumphing had been struck a blow by the news that neither Bowyer nor (more importantly) Owen were fit. The out-of-form Ameobi came in to replace Owen, while Bowyer's place was filled by Solano, injury-free and appearing in the first team for the first time since his return from Villa. Emre started ahead of Faye (thankfully), and at left back Ramage was preferred to Elliott, and our Geordie contingent swelled to four (Shearer, Ameobi, Taylor and Ramage).

We started brightly, Solano and Emre giving our midfield a refreshing attacking and creative impetus, and came close on a few occasions in the first half hour. Shearer curled a fine shot just wide, but surprisingly it was Ameobi who was catching the eye, seemingly intent on "doing a Titus" ie confounding all expectations by playing out of his skin following what could be described as at best an indifferent series of displays. When Emre burst through the middle and fed Ameobi, the striker turned neatly and quickly dispatched a left-footed shot which Mackem 'keeper Kelvin Davis did well to parry.

When the game exploded into life in the 34th minute, it was Ameobi who broke the deadlock, left completely unmarked from Emre's corner to plant a firm header past Davis. Not just a goal from Ameobi, but a header too - a rarity indeed.

The lead lasted less than two minutes. Stung into action, the Mackems responded with a long-range Liam Lawrence shot that Given only saw late and which crept just past his hand and inside the post.

Undeterred, we went back up the other end and regained the advantage. N'Zogbia rescued Carr's overhit cross and Ameobi unsettled his marker Stephen Caldwell sufficiently for the ex-Toon defender to put past his own 'keeper. In post-match interviews Ameobi sounded determined to claim it, and there's no doubt that Caldwell would rather not be credited with it.

Three goals in four minutes became four in eight, when Boumsong allowed Stephen Elliott too much space 25 yards out and the Republic of Ireland striker and Given lookalike fired an unstoppable shot past his international team-mate.

The half-time whistle brought much shaking of the head in disbelief. We had completely dominated proceedings, and yet thanks to two bolt-from-the-blue goals the Mackems remained on level terms. But it was our foes who emerged with greater intent for the second half, and we were fortunate to survive as Dean Whitehead's shot deflected just wide of the post and Given saved brilliantly from Elliott.

Then, just after the hour mark, came the game's decisive moment. Ameobi once again inspired panic in the Mackem backline, winning a free-kick in a central area 25 yards out. Shearer and Solano left it to Emre, who curled a beauty with his left foot in off the post to join the likes of Shearer, Liam O'Brien and Scott Sellars who have scored spectacular free-kicks in this fixture in recent years. Emre headed straight for Souness on the touchline, seemingly proving that he was one summer signing for whom the claim that he'd come to Tyneside because of the manager was not merely empty rhetoric - and for that, at least, we have to be grateful.

Taylor would have added a fourth shortly afterwards had his header not been saved at point-blank range by Davis, but the real danger was at the other end. N'Zogbia unadvisedly stuck out a leg to impede Lawrence's run but a penalty wasn't forthcoming, and immediately after Souness had replaced three of our best players Emre, Solano and Ameobi with Clark, Faye and Chopra, Stephen Elliott lobbed a loose ball onto Given's crossbar with our 'keeper a helpless spectator.

Add to those incidents the fact that Carr should have been sent off for two bookable offences (his first yellow card being erroneously awarded to Parker) and it's safe to say that fortune favoured us - but then we were cheated out of a point at Wigan last week, and it's inevitable that the gods should smile on us and help us to defeat the forces of evil.

Defensively ragged and seemingly content to invite pressure upon ourselves, we were hanging on at the final whistle against a very poor side. The second half display gave much cause for concern, but we had the three points and in the short term that was all that mattered.

We also had a new hero to celebrate. In the post-match interview Emre - a broad grin plastered across his face - revealed an appreciation of just how much it means to beat the Mackems. To accomplish that feat with your first goal for the club - well, it was a very special day for the little fella. Hopefully the first of many.

Isn't it a shame how pre-match boasts can come back to bite you in the arse?

Other reports: New Links, BBC, Guardian

New faces

New to the B&W&RAO blogroll: Rushinandrantin, a blog dedicated to League Two side Rushden & Diamonds. Add to that The Pickled Shrimp (Southend) and this Doncaster Rovers blog, and it's good to see the beginnings of a network of blogs representing lower league clubs, just as it is to see that the world of football blogs is no longer just a boys' club.

One other addition: MCFC Blog, which like Bitter And Blue is dedicated to Man City.

A warm welcome to all.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Coast to coast?

This is getting ridiculous - not content with relieving us of our cast-offs (and supplying us a dud - Faye - in return), Portsmouth now seem keen on recruiting Sir Bobby Robson as their new director of football to replace the now departed Velimir Zajec.

Reggie Perrin is positively rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect, but whether his enthusiasm is shared by chairman Milan Mandaric is as yet unclear.

How would Bobby respond to an official approach? Well, he'd be a big fish in a fairly small pond, certainly, but I'm not sure he'd like being at some remove from the day-to-day hands-on work of coaching the players.

He'd be reunited by three players he brought to Newcastle, two of whom he had, er, interesting relationships with - Laurent Robert alternately delighted and frustrated the hell out of him (and we knew just how he felt), while he enthused about Lomano Lua Lua, famously labelling him "gymnastic fantastic", but also got annoyed by his excursions to play for DR Congo and eventually let him go. The fourth ex-Toon player in the Pompey squad certainly wouldn't welcome Robson's arrival - Andy Griffin never really had much of a chance under Bobby, and left St James's chuntering about the lack of opportunities.

Anyway, Messrs Mandaric and Perrin - anyone else take your fancy? Faye? Ameobi? Babayaro? Because you're welcome to them...


Oh, come on Graeme, get your act together - if you want to follow in Man Utd and Arsenal's footsteps by indulging in petulant buffet-related shenanigans then you've got to be quicker off the mark. The big boys got there ages ago.

Two things I love about this story. Firstly, the Wigan spokesman's marvellously euphemistic use of an active verb for an inanimate object: "A tray of sandwiches did find its way on to the floor". It just fancied seeing what was going on down there, then, did it?

Secondly, the picture and accompanying caption: "IN A PICKLE ... sandwich like the ones thrown". Just in case you can't visualise a cheese and pickle sandwich. Talk about not crediting your readership with any imagination... Presumably they couldn't include a picture of the actual sandwiches which "found their way on to the floor" because after Souness had finished with them, they were no longer recognisable as sandwiches.

Getting our hopes up

Still smarting from our lunchtime defeat at Wigan, I spent Saturday afternoon listening to Alan Green's Radio 5 commentary on the Chelsea v Bolton match. Imagine my amazement and delight at the fact that Green repeatedly referred to the presence of "Amdy Faye" in the heart of the Bolton midfield.

Amazement at the way he had put in a 45 minute "shift" for us at the JJB Stadium and then apparently jetted off to west London for a more punishing 90 minutes.

Delight at the possibility that we might be shot of him, the useless oaf.

What a shame, then, that it was all a big cock-up and Green really meant Abdoulaye Faye. Just goes to show - you can't trust the BBC. Or a Man Utd fan.

New signings

More new additions to the B&W&RAO blogroll - twin sites written and maintained by a chap called Ben, a Gloucester City fan.

Football To You
Non League To You

Might I hazard a guess that the latter will be of interest to Skif?

Monday, October 17, 2005


Wigan 1 – 0 Newcastle

This game can be neatly summarised as a story of two goals. The first was a good finish through the legs of Shay Given by Jason Roberts, after some sloppy defensive work allowed him to get through on goal.

The second, a towering header by Alan Shearer, which crossed the line by a good foot before being hacked away, only for incompetent officiating to see it not given, and leave us goalless and pointless at the JJB Stadium.

In truth a draw would have been the most we deserved, as our first half performance in particular was woeful. A weak Bowyer shot, which somehow hit the post, was the best we could muster in forty five minutes of turgid football in which our one tactic seemed to be punting the ball up to Shearer and hoping Owen latched on to a knock down. He didn't, and instead we kept giving the ball away to Wigan and inviting them to attack us. Something that they did with far more effectiveness than we could muster, and their goal and subsequent half-time lead were thoroughly deserved.

The decision to start with Parker and Faye in midfield had presumably been taken with a view to making us harder to break down in the centre of the park, but given Faye's inability to do anything useful on the pitch it was hardly surprising that we failed to impose ourselves on Wigan. The loss of Bowyer to a knee injury and his replacement by Ameobi was a blow, not least because Shola was unsure of how to play on the right of a midfield four and looked short of fitness, and Bowyer had been our best player up to that point.

Half time saw the need for action being taken in the dressing room, and the return of Emre to the side in place of the ineffective Faye, allowing Souness a rare opportunity to field his first choice central midfield pairing.

Despite a lack of games, and presumably a lack of fitness, the Turk began to influence the game and turn the tide in our favour. Whilst our approach in the first half had involved attempting to bypass midfield by hoofing the ball long, we now began to pass the ball about, retaining possession and building the pressure on Wigan, with a string of free kicks and corners forcing the home side back.

From one such corner by Emre the ball came into the box, and Shearer, climbing all over Arjan De Zeeuw, headed the ball goalwards. Beating the keeper, the ball was knocked clear by Leighton Baines who had been stationed on the far post. However, in true Kieron Dyer fashion, he clearly allowed the ball to cross the line before clearing it.

Well, it was clear to people in the crowd, it was clear to Michael Owen, who wheeled away in celebration, and it was clear to the defender who admitted as much when interviewed later. Unfortunately the one person who was uncertain and whose sole job it was to check if the ball crossed the line, was referee's assistant Andy Williams, a man who on appearances made Clive Dunn's "Grandad" look young. With no helpful flag, referee Phil Dowd had little option but to play on and deprive us of the parity our second half performance merited.

Williams was to further endear himself to Newcastle players and fans later in the half when bizarrely flagging for a foul by Shola Ameobi when he controlled the ball with his chest, seeing a swinging elbow that nobody else noticed, and getting Shola booked for his trouble.

With five minutes to go, the influence of Emre on the game looked to have reached a premature end as Lee McCulloch chose to halt his run with a thigh-high swipe, injuring himself and the Turk in the process, and leaving Phil Dowd to red card him as he limped from the pitch for treatment. Souness must have wondered what he has to do for Emre to last a full game, but thankfully after some attention from the physio our midfielder was able to continue.

With Newcastle probing away at the Wigan defence, it was perhaps inevitable that we would contrive to leave ourselves stretched at the back and in the final minutes 10 man Wigan broke away following an appallingly slack pass by Shola and it was only thanks to an excellent defensive block by Stephen Carr that we didn't concede a second goal.

The end of the game followed shortly, and left us to make the journey home pointless. Looking back, we certainly didn't deserve to win, with our inability to create meaningful chances for Shearer and Owen our biggest undoing. The sooner we can get Nobby into the side the better, and we might then see better service to the strikers. On a positive note, Emre appeared to survive relatively unscathed, and looks an incredibly promising player – one who could start to really pull the strings in midfield and make us tick – particularly if we can get Solano fit to provide width and some quality crosses.

However, until that day comes we continually flatter to deceive, and it won't be long before Souness again starts to feel the heat. Next Sunday's game against the Mackems could be crucial to his long term hopes for gainful employment on Tyneside.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Rivalling Sir Les?

Watching Soccer AM on Sky on Saturday, I was amused to hear Alan Shearer's thoughts on his team mates. Unsurprisingly he listed Steven Taylor as the best trainer, and Kieron Dyer as the biggest moaner at the club. However in response to the question "who is the longest in the shower?" our captain smiled knowingly and without hesitation said Titus Bramble.

Presumably that's because it takes him at least ten minutes just to wash his ample posterior.

A sign of things to come

A quick diversion from the round ball game, to highlight the fact that Newcastle United weren't the first team from the region to be robbed by a crap linesman last weekend. In the first instance, Newcastle Falcons Rugby Union team were held to a 16-16 draw away to Leicester on Friday night, when the home side benefited from a shocking decision by the touch judges, who ruled a conversion which actually sailed wide of the posts went between them: ultimately depriving the Falcons of a win away to Leicester Tigers.

Not that I'm suggesting a conspiracy against teams from Newcastle or anything…

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Fright night

For once, fortune smiled on us.

England's qualification for the World Cup Finals having been guaranteed on Saturday, last night's match against Poland was essentially meaningless - which meant the stage was set for captain-for-the-night Michael Owen to do himself some damage and leave us without our most potent goal threat just when we need to continue our recent upturn in results.

Mercifully, though, when Owen left the Old Trafford pitch with six minutes to go it was not due to injury. Owen had once again underlined his worth to the national side, cleverly diverting Joe Cole's shot into the net just before half-time, and then crossing perfectly for Frank Lampard to volley home the winner.

I will readily confess that I'd never have played Ledley King in the defensive midfield role Eriksson asked him to occupy last night, but he was very impressive, breaking up attacks and allowing Lampard to play his more natural offensive game. After the recent dismal displays, it was an encouraging victory, the margin of which would have been greater had we taken more of our chances and had Luke Young not fallen asleep in first-half stoppage time and allowed the Poles to equalise.

Good news from elsewhere, too. It's a shame for Shay Given that the Republic of Ireland's 0-0 draw with Switzerland meant they wouldn't be making an appearance in Germany next summer, and that Saturday's heroics ultimately counted for nothing, but at least he too returns to St James's injury free.

In Paris, Jean-Alain Boumsong played the full 90 minutes and emerged unscathed as France thrashed Cyprus 4-0. Despite having not featured for us for some weeks through injury, Emre was pressed into service for his country, coming on for the second half of Turkey's vital qualifier away to Albania. Hopefully he'll be fit enough to make the bench for Saturday's game at Wigan - Souness will no doubt be more cautious about rushing him back after what happened last time. Just Solano, Luque and Dyer to get back now for our first choice midfield...

One other performance on the international stage deserving of a mention. Steven Taylor seems to becoming something of a goal machine for the England U21s - he scored a couple of games back, and then notched two more in his side's 4-1 defeat of Poland U21s on Tuesday. A more useful option than Ameobi if either Shearer or Owen are missing?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Dynamic duo do it again

Another break for international fixtures, and it was the star performers in our last two Premiership games who both shone for their respective countries.

England turned in a mostly awful performance against Austria at Old Trafford, the game won by a Frank Lampard penalty awarded after Michael Owen had been pulled back in the area. Owen should have won his side another penalty later in the half when a rash challenge sent him tumbling, but referee Luis Medina Cantalejo clearly should have been to Specsavers. Worse was to come when he sent off captain David Beckham for two innocuous challenges that hardly merited a free-kick let alone yellow cards. Austria struck the bar and gave our defence some nervy moments, but we could and should have won at a canter. The result, coupled with Holland's victory over the Czech Republic, handed us a place in next summer's World Cup Finals - as things stand, though, we haven't got a hope in hell of coming close to winning it.

Meanwhile, Shay Given was the familiar hero for the Republic of Ireland as they triumphed over Cyprus in Nicosia. Mackem Stephen Elliott scored the only goal of the game early on, but it needed a tremendous performance from Given, including a superb penalty save, to preserve the lead and secure the victory. He's currently in incredible form (even by his usual high standards). If the Sunday Mirror is to be believed, then we're set to offer him a new long-term contract with the aim of keeping him on Tyneside for the rest of his career. I'd love to think he'll commit, but he deserves to win something and I'm not sure he'll feel he can do it with us.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

New faces

Three football blogs new to the B&W&RAO blogroll:

Build A Bonfire (Charlton)
Addick's Premiership Diary (Charlton)
Pompey Gory (Portsmouth)

The latter features some pictures from our game on the "English Riviera" last Saturday.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Deadly but dull

Coldplay? Travis? STEREOPHONICS???!!! Michael, Michael, Michael - confessing to your taste in music really isn't the best way to confound the suspicion that you're, well, a little bit boring. Let's have some more lascivious comments about ogling the ladybumps of celebrities...

Monday, October 03, 2005

Shay saves the day

Portsmouth 0 - 0 Newcastle

A third consecutive clean sheet - wonders will never cease. This one, though, owed much more to the athleticism and reactions of our Irish stopper than it did to the efforts of the ineffectual and sloppy defence that lined up in front of him at Fratton Park.

Dyer's anticipated recovery from injury failed to materialise, and while Taylor returned from suspension to take the place of the injured-again Bramble, we had reason to curse our young centre-back for his part in the training ground collision which left Owen with a dead leg and unable to feature.

Prior to kick-off it was something of a relief to know that we'd ensured Laurent Robert would be ineligible to play against us, given what happened in this fixture two seasons ago with the then on-loan Lomano Lua Lua - himself ruled out of the game with illness.

Pompey started brightly, Uruguayan striker Dario Silva forcing Given into stretching out a leg to make a crucial save reminiscent of the one he produced early on last week to deny Man City's Antoine Sibierski.

While Given was kept busy throughout the half, we looked woeful in possession, never looking likely to threaten the Pompey goal. Shearer was ponderous, and Owen's replacement Ameobi a waste of space. And to think - Owen, like ourselves, must have been rubbing his hands in glee at the thought of facing old boy Andy O'Brien. As it was, the big-conked Irishman won't have had many easier afternoons.

The second half saw more of the same, our only contributions of note being an off-target shot that lacked conviction from Parker and an overzealous tackle on Gregory Vignal from Bowyer that should have seen the hothead booked.

Given preserved the point with two more brilliant saves at the death. First he tipped over from Matthew Taylor at point-blank range, and then, from the resulting corner, he pushed Taylor's header away to his left (though the man on the line would probably have prevented it sneaking in anyway).

So, a scarcely deserved point against a demoralised odds-and-sods team that we should have been able to beat in our sleep, whether or not we were deprived of Solano, Emre, Luque, Dyer and Owen.

Last weekend I noted, along with Stuart Pearce, that Owen was clearly the difference between ourselves and Man City, and without him on Saturday we looked useless. It was down to Given to save us from defeat.

Back to our bad old ways, then, and the international break could have come at just the right time.

Other reports:, Razz's Toon Rants, BBC, Guardian