Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Lion at the back is carrying reports that Titus Bramble is carrying an injury, and as a result will miss tonight's game against Wigan. With Babayaro already joining messers Taylor and Carr on the treatment table, our lack of defensive cover means that Robbie Elliot is likely to start at left back, and be joined in defence by Alan Shearer.

Now, I've no doubt Shearer will be able to anticipate the runs of any of the strikers he faces, and will also be quite tidy in the air – but whether he's up to the task is open to debate. Surely Souness have been better blooding one of the youngsters against what Paul Jewell has already described as being a virtual Wigan second XI?

Whilst it should make life interesting when we send forward our defenders for corners, the wisdom of flogging Aaron Hughes in the summer must once again be questioned.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Assault 'n' vinegar

As the punchline to the old "What's Lee Bowyer's favourite flavour of crisps?" joke goes.

Master Bowyer will find himself in the headlines in the wrong part of the paper tomorrow after agreeing an out-of-court settlement with Sarfraz Najeib and his brother - a move that, his solicitors have stressed, has been made "without any admission of liability by Lee".

When I read the headline given to the story by the BBC - "Bowyer payout for attack victim" - my initial response went something along the lines of: "On top of his standard £80,000-a-week wage? That Kieron Dyer's a lucky little bastard"...

Speaking of which incident, have today made the very valid point that, whereas Bowyer and Dyer's lamentable bout of fisticuffs could result in prosecution, the incredible violence that broke out during the England v Samoa eggchasing match at the weekend is likely to be brushed off as "part and parcel of the game". But then that's because it's a gentleman's sport.

Also in the dock today (metaphorically if not literally) has been Alan Shearer, who faced trial-by-Daily-Mail-and-Guardian-Fiver-amongst-others for clobbering Everton's David Weir with an elbow in Sunday's match. A witchhunt it may have become, and the FA may be powerless to act because Howard Webb saw the incident and did nothing, but there's little doubt that Shearer is lucky not to be facing a suspension.

The best on Best

There's been an awful lot written over the past few days about George Best - some might say too much - but if you can stomach only one more piece then be sure to read Robin's meditations on talent and self-destruction on his blog Speaking As A Parent. He's not a football blogger, but then that's the beauty of his piece - it's about so much more, the bigger picture, and it's incredibly well articulated.

RIP George.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Webb of deceit

Everton 1 - 0 Newcastle

Ah, the not-so-sweet smell of injustice.

You may have caught a whiff of it round these parts last week, when we reported how John Terry got away with a blatant penalty area foul on Bowyer with the score at 0-0 at Stamford Bridge.

And this week, thanks this time to referee Howard Webb, we've again got the feeling that we've been cheated. But more of that in due course.

After circumstance and the calibre of the opposition induced Souness to opt for a 4-5-1 formation at Stamford Bridge, he reverted back to the more customary 4-4-2 for the visit to Goodison Park. That meant Bowyer dropping to the bench as a fit-again Shearer returned to partner Ameobi up front.

We weren't just slow out of the traps, we were still evacuating our bowels trackside while Everton raced after the hare. The Toffees' front men - James Beattie, Duncan Ferguson, Marcus Bent and James McFadden - could hardly be said to have terrorised opposition defences so far this season, but Beattie and McFadden ensured our back line endured a torrid opening period.

Gradually, with a series of free-kicks and corners, we worked our way back into the game. Ramage had headed disappointingly wide when well-placed from a corner, and Ameobi had already failed to really test Nigel Martyn with a shot when he played Shearer in behind a static Everton defence. Martyn rushed out to put our number nine off, but he still managed to hook a shot in from a tight angle that Beattie scrambled off the line for a corner.

At the other end Mikel Arteta came perilously close as our defence dawdled, but then came the moment on which the whole game turned. Ameobi fired in a goalbound shot from just inside the area which hit McFadden - stood on the line - on the hand and deflected round the post. Despite the protests, neither referee Webb nor his assistant saw anything amiss and play continued.

Now, I understand the notion of hand to ball being penalised and not ball to hand, and McFadden had little opportunity to get out of the way and even less knowledge of what happened. But the fact remains that, had the ball not struck his hand, it would have continued unimpeded over the line and into the net. A penalty was the very least we deserved. As it was, from the corner Emre's header fell invitingly at Shearer's feet inside the six yard area. The striker pivoted on the spot but saw his shot saved by the 'keeper's outstretched leg.

In the event, we could have gone in at the interval one down rather than one up, Given forced to make a decent stop from Andy van der Meyde as the clock ticked down. Babayaro and Tim Cahill can consider themselves very fortunate not to have been sharing an early bath after they both raised their arms in anger. Incredibly, neither was even booked.

So half-time arrived, and we were once again left to curse the referee under our breath. Still, the game was there for the taking, wasn't it?

It took Everton precisely 54 seconds to underline that they had been thinking in exactly the same terms. Given was forced to make up for the sluggishness of his teammates by turning McFadden's shot round the post, but could do nothing to stop Joseph Yobo powering a header past him from the resultant corner. If fingers were to be pointed, they would probably be directed at Ramage, but then that would detract from the sterling work he did throughout, putting out fires and plugging holes in a shambolic defence in which his elders - Messrs Boumsong and Bramble - were poor.

Souness took a gamble by replacing Babayaro with our lesser-spotted Spaniard Albert Luque, N'Zogbia dropping back to left-back and the formation changing to 4-3-3. But it had little impact. Luque looked rusty and opted to go for goal on at least one occasion when Shearer was better placed, while our creative forces in midfield Solano and Emre were virtually anonymous. Bowyer replaced Nobby for the last half hour but also failed to make an impression. Only recent star man Parker was showing anything like commitment to the cause, and manfully though he tried, he couldn't do it on his own. He should however have done better with a shot from twelve yards that he sliced wide.

Shearer, nevertheless, showed some fighting spirit - unfortunately, it manifested itself in the form of an elbow-in-the-face shove on David Weir. It would be hypocritical to overlook the challenge given our disgust at Grimsby defender Justin Whittle's assault on Shearer last month, and Shearer was lucky not to have landed himself in hot water.

In footballing terms, we were found wanting - wanting Michael Owen. Capitulating against a side that the previous week had been thrashed 4-0 by West Brom was as predictable as our second half collapse against Chelsea. Everton were much the better side in the second period, and the scoreline could have been more severe, had Beattie not blazed over from close range when unmarked and Given not pulled off a breathtaking triple save right at the death.

Hmm, death. Now there's a thought: Howard's end.

So, on Wednesday it's onwards to Wigan's JJB Stadium, the scene of another gross miscarriage of justice last month. But, hey, it all evens itself out over the course of the season, right?

An Evertonian's perspective: Everton Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Mark E Smith 1 - 0 Ray Stubbs

I'd completely forgotten about this, but did anyone else see / hear The Fall's Mark E Smith reading the football scores during BBC1's 'Final Score' on Saturday?

It's the second time the Man City fan and notoriously grumpy old man has been invited to do the honours - stemming from the fact that they use The Fall's 'Theme From Sparta FC' as their theme music.

Smith hasn't quite mastered the James Alexander Gordon inflection, but substituted for it a whole new style which involved declaring the home team's name boldly but then mumbling his way through that of their visitors as though losing enthusiasm mid-score - not without its charm, it has to be said, and it made hearing the 3-0 scoreline at Stamford Bridge almost bearable, though there was no variation depending upon whether it was win, lose or draw for the home side.

Best of all was the impromptu "post-match" chat with Ray Stubbs, in which Smith enquired as to why "Stubbsy" (sorry, I've come over all Lawrenson) had had a #1 haircut, telling the presenter that it made him look as though he'd just escaped from Strangeways.

And then it was back to the diamond-encrusted insights of Garth Crooks and Carlton Palmer.

Personally, I'd have thought that handing Smith a role on live TV would be about as perilous as playing Russian Roulette with every chamber filled, but full credit to the 'Final Score' team for sticking their necks out in the name of entertainment.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Not knowing whether to laugh or cry

New to the B&W&RAO blogroll: The Daily Hairdryer, as recommended by fellow exiled Geordie Jonathan. It's over to him to explain:

"It is the work of an American Newcastle fan in London (not an American Werewolf Newcastle fan in London, at least as far as I know...). The writing I think is well-informed, thought-provoking and sometimes really funny... and he's got NUFC worked out, he says he was attracted to us by our 'tragicomic aspect'. Now is that a word that could have been invented for our club or what? Anyway I think your man there deserves a wider audience..."

He's right, you know - take a look.

Monday, November 21, 2005

No depth – no points

Chelski 3 – 0 Newcastle

With the news before the game that Michael Owen was injured, our lack of depth up front proved crucial in a game that we could have won. Even without our two main strikers, we still started well and had referee Mark Halsey given one of the most blatant penalties of recent times we could have added to Chelsea’s recent "woes".

As it was, John Terry's clear foul on Lee Bowyer went unpunished, and our lack of a cutting edge meant that for all our huff and puff we simply lacked the quality up front to blow Jose's house down.

Chelsea themselves looked edgy and out of sorts, and failed to really threaten our goal in a first half which saw plenty of skirmishes in midfield but little threat to either goal.

Sadly we failed to start the second half with the same gusto with which we began the match, and two minutes in, Titus Bramble's attempt to knock a long pass went astray, and Eidur Gudjohnsson was able to feed the ball to Joe Cole in space. Sadly for Newcastle, he was able to put the ball past Shay Given, and the game was probably lost.

Three minutes later, and after N'Zogbia lost the ball in midfield, Chelsea counterattacked swiftly, and Hernan Crespo was given far too much time and space on the ball (by Titus who had a game to forget) and his shot confirmed that Chelsea's mini-slump was over and the points were theirs.

That Damien Duff was able to add a third in the final minute, courtesy of a deflection off Scott Parker, only served to give the home side an overly flattering score line. However, the cruel fact is that a side with the depth of Chelsea's (replacing the injured Makele with Michael Essien illustrating this point beautifully) was always going to have the upper hand against our lot when shorn of our two most consistent strikers.

With a fully fit squad, we could well have come away from Stamford Bridge with at least a point, and if the penalty had been given at the start even our semi-fit squad might have managed an upset; however the home side simply proved to have too much class on display.

That their first came from a horrible mistake by Titus only reaffirms the belief that he needs to learn to concentrate and that the lessons learnt last season need to be reinforced if he is to have a long term future at the club. Otherwise we'll need to be on the look out for an additional centre half in January to go with the additional striker that we so badly need.

A Chelsea perspective: Chelsea Blog

Other match reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, November 18, 2005

Quote of the day

"[Alan Shearer] at least attempted to compensate for merely parroting Alan Hansen last Saturday by sitting in a manner which foregrounded the contents of his trousers, a move which sustained callers to 6-0-6 for much of the programme. (Incidentally, given that all these players-turned-pundits now receive media training, perhaps they could spend a week being given finishing school tips on how to sit in a way even approaching demure.)"

The Guardian's Marina Hyde suddenly comes across all hot under the collar at the sight of Alan Shearer's package.

Only a couple of weeks ago we posted about Shearer's response to the question "Who's the longest in the shower?" - "Titus Bramble", said with a wry smile. If Ms Hyde and many female viewers are to be believed, then he's a pretty modest chap. Me? I couldn't possibly comment - I was far too engrossed in the match analysis to be glancing at crotches.

For some reflections on the Guardian article, see Musings From Middle England - not a football blog, but a very astute commentator: "Now there's nothing about either Alan that has ever led my eyes to wander southwards during their analysis of the match. But I think I might have noticed if any blatantly rule-breaking tackle had been on display. It's true that both Alans got rather excited by England's stunning victory but I don't think it was the kind of excitement that would have led to tumescence, or what the Young People now call a 'stiffy'".

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Shoulder Shocker

News reports coming out of the club state that Steven Taylor is expected to be out of the side for 8-10 weeks as a result of the shoulder injury he picked up whilst with England’s Under 21 side.

Undoubtedly this is a shame for Taylor, who has been our most consistent performer in defence this season, and one of the principle reasons why we've looked fairly solid at the back.

Fortunately, Titus is now back fit after his earlier injury bout, and hopefully he and Boumsong can re-forge the partnership which showed real promise in the latter half of last season. Perhaps more alarmingly, with Craig Moore still injured that leaves Peter Ramage and Robbie Elliot as the only players with first team experience as possible central defensive cover, before Souness has to start dipping into the reserve team.

With Stephen Carr still recovering from his hernia op, it would appear likely that Ramage will continue at right back, leaving Elliott as cover should anything happen.

Whilst undoubtedly a committed player who loves the club, the prospect of Robbie coming off the bench or stepping in to the breach if we suffered any further set backs before Saturday's trip to Chelsea is not one that fills me with much confidence, and highlights the fact that whilst seemingly blessed with some really talented individuals, and a decent supply of midfielders our squad still looks desperately thin both in defence and attack.

Owen is a Geordie

Ah, the joy of watching wor very own Michael Owen grab two goals in the dying minutes to snatch a fantastic victory for England over Argentina - especially as I was in the company of a Mackem, to whom I made sure to point out that while Owen's turning out for us they're expectantly awaiting the mighty Kevin Kyle's return from injury.

As ever, I was fearing the worst with regard to Owen, but not only did he emerge unscathed but he also got another full 90 minutes under his belt. That, added to his two late headers (it has to be said - where on earth was the marking?), should mean he's returned to Tyneside in buoyant spirits.

One thing's for sure: we'll need him to be at his predatory best this weekend if we're to have any chance of getting a result at Stamford Bridge - over the course of the last three seasons, we've lost 3-0, 5-0 and 4-0, so it's not looking too promising... That said, a good performance from Owen might persuade Mourinho he needs a goal poacher of Owen's calibre, and that could spell trouble for us come the summer. I think we all know he could be playing at a higher level - perhaps we should just enjoy it while it lasts and hope he can fire us to some kind of success this season.

Back to the Argentina match. I genuinely had very little interest in it before kick-off. The old enemy, yes, but only a friendly after all. Given recent competitive performances against Northern Ireland and Poland, I was expecting a dour and sterile affair, but I couldn't have been more wrong - fluent, exciting, end-to-end stuff with both teams going for the jugular from the word go. On the balance of play we perhaps didn't deserve to win the game, but there's no denying it was an excellent performance against a very good side. Let's not get carried away in all the tabloid euphoria, though, eh? What it means - if anything - in the long term is unclear.

So, there you have it. Black & White & Read All Over - always first with the news and views...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Truths, Half Truths, and a moaning Frenchman

With the void presented by the international break, it’s worth picking up a few stories that slipped through the net in recent weeks:

Alan Shearer has taken the chance to have his hernia operated on, and will hopefully miss no more than one game on the road to recovery. Hurrah.

Worryingly, Steven Taylor may have dislocated his shoulder in training with the under 21’s. Bugger.

Amacrapfootballerdy Faye is allegedly wanted by West Ham and Wigan (haven’t they seen him play this season?) but is reported to be keen to stay and fight for his wage packet place. Shame.

On the subject of crap midfielders it has emerged that Nicky Butt has a clause in his contract that says he won’t join Birmingham City if they get relegated. It’s almost enough to hope Steve Bruce’s boys survive. Almost.

I suppose then Wigan could buy him, and West Ham could buy Faye, and then everyone goes home happy, while we spend the cash on Papa Bouba Diop (the latest Fulham player we've been linked to, presumably because they want a new contract rather than because we will actually go out and buy them).

Laurent Robert has apparently fallen out with all of his new colleagues at Portsmouth, and now claims they won’t pass to him – although fat Fred has already ruled out the prospect of him returning to SJP. Quelle suprise!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Turkish Delight for Souness

Newcastle Utd 1 – 0 Birmingham City

A twenty yard strike from Emre, midway through the second half, which Birmingham keeper Maik Taylor made a mess of saving, proved to be the only highlight in an otherwise dreary game on Saturday.

With the visitors without a league win since August, it was hardly surprising that they began the game intent on stopping our midfield creating anything; particularly after we had carved West Midlands rivals West Brom to pieces last Sunday. Unfortunately, Newcastle struggled to overcome the cloggers from Brum, and as a result the first half unfolded with few chances for either side.

The second half saw a speculative shot by Chelsea reject Jiri Jarosik beat Given only to come back off the far post, and Newcastle seemingly afraid to shoot.

That we should be so wary of shooting perversely led to the only goal of the game, with Owen and Ameobi preferring to lay the ball off rather than fire at goal, only for Emre to take matters upon himself, and drill a twenty yard shot towards the goal. Whilst clearly well struck, it should have proved a comfortable enough save for Maik Taylor, only for the Birmingham keeper to dive out of the way of the ball, and allow the ball into the Gallowgate net.

With our new found defensive solidity, and Birmingham's lack of attacking flair, one goal was always going to be enough to leave Manc lover Steve Bruce to bemoan his luck at the post match press conference, and see us remain in tenth as the International break takes hold.

It's hard not to find Steve Bruce's situation faintly amusing. Had he taken the Newcastle job when Fat Fred offered it to him, I hate to think which cloggers would now be populating our midfield, as it is, he remained "loyal" to Birmingham (a characteristic previously missing from his managerial CV, and I'm sure it had nothing to do with an eye on Alex Ferguson's impending retirement at Old Trafford) and we went looking for a manager in Blackburn.

As it is, he's now hoping David Sullivan and Karren Brady stay loyal to him (and let's be clear, she sold her own husband to a different club, so how loyal is she likely to be to old Steve?). Instead, we've got Souness, who has yet to truly convince that he's up to the job, but whose record in the transfer market is broadly sound (Faye and to a lesser extent Babayaro aside) and who now has a side capable of grinding out results as well as playing some good football whenever possible.

If we can keep scrapping our way through games like this, and producing flowing football when allowed it could prove to be the season where we get ourselves back on track. However, it's now a question of keeping this good run going through November and beyond, and if we can manage that we might be able to catch Wigan by Christmas.

Whether Steve Bruce will still be in a job by then he'll have to wait and see.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Sunday, November 06, 2005

You read it here first - possibly

Over on, Niall and Biffa have chosen to title the post about yesterday's narrow win over Birmingham "Emre of sunshine", our recent Turkish acquisition having notched the only goal of the game. But we got there first two weeks ago, when Emre got the winner against the Mackems. Well, I say that, but I imagine it appeared in the tabloids long before it occurred to me. Expect more bad puns around these 'ere parts, especially if Emre continues to shine.

Match report to follow.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Dyer Straits again

What is it with Kieron Dyer? Amid reports that he is injured again the question must be asked: why does this keep happening to him?

The suggestion that his persistent hamstring problems might be connected to a problem in his back must surely have been considered previously, after all, I seem to recall both Ryan Giggs and Steven Gerrard suffering similar problems. So why didn't anyone pick up on this with Dyer?

Surely any one of the "top hamstring specialists" he’s seen over the years should have spotted that one.

That they didn't, or the fact that the problem is still recurring, leaves us without a player who on his day can win games for us, but throughout his time on Tyneside has been blighted with repeated hamstring problems and at times appeared to undermine his own performances when fit through his playboy lifestyle.

Let's just hope that for the reported 80 grand a week he's being paid that he has to cover the cost of his own medical bills.