Thursday, March 31, 2005

What a difference seven months makes

On a wet night at St James's Park England claimed the three points, as expected, against Azerbaijan, but the two goal margin of victory was perhaps surprisingly slim considering they'd been thrashed 8-0 by our main group rivals Poland. Indeed, the opposition even came close to scoring themselves on three separate occasions, Paul Robinson forced into two fine second-half saves.

Truth be told, though, the scoreline was less a reflection of the Azerbaijani workrate and defensive resolve and more of some profligate England finishing. David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney all struck the woodwork, while Michael Owen kept getting into excellent positions only to fluff very presentable opportunities. On another night he might have had a hatful, but as it was he couldn't hit the proverbial cow's arse with a banjo.

From a Newcastle perspective, JJ's arse remained firmly in contact with the bench but it was good to see Kieron Dyer getting a run-out on familiar turf, if only because the contrast of the warm reception he got with the booing of the August friendly with Ukraine should remind him how far he's come and what it would be like to fall from grace yet again.

Dyer only had 13 minutes to impress, but, after nearly setting up a team-mate with almost his first contribution just as he did on Saturday, he spent most of that time trying to take on and beat too many players rather than being satisfied with the easy ball.

It was another hard luck story for Aaron Hughes, whose Northern Ireland side succumbed to a late sucker punch in Poland after holding the hosts 0-0 for nearly the entire match. Craig Bellamy too had another night to forget in the red shirt of Wales - despite tormenting the opposition defence, having several chances and even having a goal disallowed, he ended up on the losing side as Austria claimed a late winner.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Irish eyes aren't smiling

England may have cruised to a 4-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Northern Ireland, but it wasn't really a particularly good afternoon for Newcastle players.

Aaron Hughes captained England's Old Trafford opponents, and with the rest of his side worked hard to preserve a goalless scoreline at the break. He wasn't culpable for their defensive self-destruction of the second period - the blame for that could be laid squarely at the door of left-back Tony Capaldi and Hughes's central defensive partner Colin Murdoch. Trying to contain Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney for 90 minutes was always going to be a tough task.

Kieron Dyer can also consider himself unfortunate, despite coming off the bench to set Frank Lampard up perfectly with his first touch, only for the Chelsea midfielder to crash the ball against the bar. By that time, Joe Cole had scored a fine goal to cap an excellent display of skill and tenacity, effectively securing the fourth midfield berth alongside Lampard, Gerrard and Beckham and consigning Dyer to an extended period on the bench. For once, I actually feel sorry for the lad, because he's at last started translating his undoubted talent into consistently decent performances at club level and deserves a proper run-out for the national side.

Elsewhere, Craig Bellamy, close personal friend of Graeme Souness, couldn't prevent Wales from crashing to a 2-0 home defeat to Austria. After so nearly qualifying for Euro 2004, the wheels have well and truly fallen off for Wales - this result leaves them bottom of England's group and almost entirely out of the reckoning for qualification.

Friday, March 25, 2005

It's a knockout

Pete's been writing about the latest bout of whingeing from Fish-Eyed Ferguson. Hardly newsworthy in itself, you might think, though the fact that he's in agreement with Arsene Wenger on the issue probably is.

The source of their mutual irritation on this occasion? The seeding arrangements for the knockout stages of the Champions' League - or, rather, the lack of them.

According to Wenger, the current random draw doesn't help "the best teams" - a group which implicitly includes (you can be sure) Arsenal and Man Utd. Both of whom, lest we forget, were eliminated in the first knockout stage this year.

What a load of nonsense. The cream always rises to the top. Porto and Monaco may have been unfancied supposedly "lesser" sides in last season's competition, but the reason they contested the final was because they were better than their opponents. It's as simple as that - nothing to do with turnover, expenditure, merchandising, gates, fanbase.

Ferguson and Wenger's grapes are rarely sweet, but on this occasion they're offensively sour - no doubt partly because their new nemesis Mourinho and his Chelsea team have marched on. Both their sides just weren't good enough - that's all there is to it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Passport to the sun

In mid-February, having suffered a series of indifferent results and poor performances, the Newcastle squad jetted off to Dubai for what many fans, including myself, saw as an ill-deserved holiday in the sun.

However, though other factors - the departure of the disruptive Bellamy, the arrival of Terry Mac - need to be taken into consideration, the dramatic turnaround in our fortunes since that "team-building" trip cannot have just been coincidence. Upon our return we scraped a crucial win in Holland against Heerenveen and then promptly won the next seven matches in a row.

So, Saturday's draw at Fratton Park having put an end to the winning sequence and an international programme taking place over the next week and a half, Souness has naturally seized the opportunity to take those members of the squad not required for international duty back to Dubai. Let's just hope this jaunt has the same effect.

One player who might have been surprised to find himself sunbathing in the Middle-East is Nicky Butt, deemed surplus to requirements by Sven Goran Eriksson for England's forthcoming matches against Azerbaijan and Aaron Hughes's Northern Ireland. To be fair, he's not having a storming season, but then neither's JJ and he's in Sven's squad. (For once, though, Dyer actually deserves his place.) Even though the decision probably heralds the end of his international career, Butt's omission could well work in our favour, meaning he's fresher and more focused on his club football.

Aside from Shay Given committing to the club following more reported interest from Man Utd and Arsenal - entirely understandable given their identical goalkeeping problems - the only other news of note is that old foe Kevin 'Rat Boy' Phillips's wife has been cheating on him. With a mobile phone salesman.

Laugh? Us?

Yellow peril

Brownie points to Skif of Hobo Tread for making a 26 hour round trip from Liverpool to lend his support - vocal and financial - to a Fans United day at Cambridge Utd.

In return for his generosity he was rewarded with the opportunity to soak up the fans' applause with a stroll around the perimeter of the pitch.

I went along to Meadow Lane a year and a half ago when it looked like our fellow Magpies Notts County might be about to go under, and it's good to see that there was at least one person in Newcastle colours at the Abbey Stadium too, proving that Fat Fred wasn't speaking for all or even most Toon fans when he claimed the club doesn't care about lower league and grassroots football.

It's a horrific perversity that the problems facing the likes of Cambridge and Wrexham - problems which threaten the very survival of the clubs concerned - are continually overshadowed by Jose Mourinho's latest outburst or the most recent morsel of groundless speculation over Steven Gerrard's future.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Steve Stoned - again

Once again, there was a certain inevitability about the identity of the Portsmouth player who would deny us victory at Fratton Park.

Last year it was one of our own, Lomano LuaLua, who we had foolishly allowed to line up against us for the club to which he had been loaned for the second half of the season, and who dutifully popped up to equalise Craig Bellamy's goal in the very last minute.

This time out it was Geordie Steve Stone, repeating the trick he managed at St James's Park in December by bagging an equaliser - all assisted by LuaLua's most incisive contribution of the afternoon, of course.

A point apiece was a just outcome of what was a fiercely fought but ultimately uninspiring match. We were gunning for what would have been a club record ninth successive win, but never really looked good enough to emerge with all three points.

Disappointingly, Souness opted for the very defensive midfield pairing of Butt and Faye, leaving Bowyer out on the right and JJ on the bench. Boumsong returned to partner O'Brien in the centre of defence, while Dyer continued upfront alongside Shearer, Kluivert only considered fit enough to be named among the substitutes.

The first booking came as early as the eighth minute for Pompey's Greek midfielder Giannis Skopelitis, and over the course of a bad-tempered and rambunctious match eight more players found their way into Matt Messias's book, including Carr, Bowyer, O'Brien and Butt.

The regular brandishing of the yellow card aside, the real action of the half came in the closing stages. Robert came tantalisingly close to opening the scoring when his header crashed against the bar and was cleared off the line by Pompey defender Dejan Stefanovic. Soon afterwards we were ahead, Dyer capitalising on a mistake from Linvoy Primus following a cross into the box from Lee Bowyer. The header past 'keeper Jamie Ashdown continued Dyer's pleasingly rich vein of goalscoring form since New Year.

We had only a couple of minutes to hold out before being able to take a lead into the dressing room, but in injury time LuaLua exposed familiar frailties at the back for Stone to tuck the ball past Given despite looking suspiciously offside.

Parity was no less than Portsmouth deserved given a second half in which they dominated their more illustrious opponents. We failed to threaten until late in the game when, with the home side tiring, there was a brief flurry of half-chances, none of which we took.

Away to a side desperate for points after a poor run, and having played several vital games in the space of a few weeks with barely more than a couple of days' rest in between, a draw could be regarded as a decent result, even if it did bring the winning run to an end. The fact remains, though, that despite our recent successes in the UEFA and FA Cups we need to make more progress in the league if we're to guarantee ourselves European football for next season - let's not get carried away with thoughts of claiming either cup just yet, eh? Two Premiership victories away from home tells a very frustrating story. Not enough draws have been converted to wins.

Villa's derby defeat to Birmingham today moves us up a place and into the top half of the table for the first time since November, and it's imperative that we follow in the Blues' footsteps and put David O'Leary's side to the sword in two weeks' time. It's just a shame that not all of the players will be able to enjoy rest and recuperation in that period.

Other reports:, Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian

Friday, March 18, 2005

A Sporting chance?

Inevitable, I guess. Having already played Sporting Lisbon twice this season, if you count the pre-season friendly, we've now drawn them for the two-legged UEFA Cup quarter-final.

The away leg will allow us to experience the venue at which the final will be held, and at least now we know that if we manage to make it that far we won't be facing a team playing on home turf.

Of course, the draw was all the more inevitable considering that many Geordies were willing on-loan Toon midfielder Hugo Viana and his team-mates to knock North-East rivals Middlesbrough out of the competition, which they duly did last night with a 1-0 home win to record a 4-2 aggregate victory.

Had Middlesbrough succeeded in triumphing against the odds, we would have probably had an easier tie against a team badly hit by injuries to key players. As it is, Sporting are a very skilful and neat side who gave us a testing examination at St James's Park in the final game of the group stage. Their demolition of Middlesbrough in the first leg suggests we need to be very wary, but the way they relaxed and conceded two late goals to give the Smogs a fighting chance also gives us reason to believe we can progress.

Thankfully, Viana will once again not be permitted to line up against us. Lessons have been learnt from last season's Lua Lua debacle, it seems. Although, of course, there's no such restriction preventing our former striker inflicting damage on us tomorrow...

Thursday, March 17, 2005

McGarry dies

Former Newcastle manager Bill McGarry has died aged 77. Neither half of B&W&RAO was even born when McGarry took the reins at St James's Park in 1977, but the consensus on Tyneside is that the man who had previously managed Ipswich and Wolves was not a great success, presiding over three bleak years in the club's history.

In other news, it's been announced that our FA Cup semi-final meeting with Man Utd will take place on Sunday 17th April at 2pm. Certain factions of the Man Utd fanbase are I think continuing their campaign to get the fixture moved away from Cardiff, but it all looks like being utterly futile.


Four goals from Newcastle last night saw us storm in to the Quarter Finals of the UEFA Cup with a 7-1 aggregate win over Olympiakos. Starting brightly, we never allowed the Greek side into the game, and once Kieron Dyer had scored a cleverly crafted back-heeled goal the tie was never really in doubt.

Starting well, we saw Nicky Butt hit the bar before Dyer scored, and Steven Taylor head wide, Alan Shearer shoot over the bar and head wide of the far post afterwards. However, it was not until just before half time that we doubled our lead on the night when Shearer fired home after good work from Dyer to get to the by-line and cut the ball back for his captain.

5-1 up on aggregate at the interval, it was always going to be a struggle for the visitors to come back. Shortly after the break Lee Bowyer looped a header over the keeper, which he managed to scramble back and claw away, but only as far as Jermaine Jenas. JJ, revelling in the opportunity to play anywhere other than left back, crossed the ball back into the box and Bowyer was able to squeeze his shot beneath Nikopolidis.

With Newcastle in full flow, and the visitors having long since raised the white flag of surrender it was only a matter of by how many we would win, and our fourth arrived on 69 minutes when Shearer got free behind the defence. Having beaten the keeper, Shearer turned and fired high into the roof of the net, over the covering defender to make it 4-0 on the night, 7-1 on aggregate and take him to 191 goals for Newcastle.

In the second half, Souness rang the changes, replacing the once again excellent Dyer with Milner, Robert with N'Zogbia and latterly Stephen Carr with Peter Ramage to give the youngster his first team debut.

Milner had the ball in the net with a fine strike from the corner of the area, only to have it ruled out for offside, and in the final few moments the Greeks forced Shay to pull off a save to a low shot from distance which looked like it might just have been going wide. Fortunately the resulting corner was easily dealt with by the Irishman, and he was able to secure his second clean sheet in a row.

With only the trip to Portsmouth to go before some of the players head off for World Cup qualifiers and the others enjoy a well earned rest, this result made it eight wins in a row. Hopefully that can become nine on Saturday, although Fratton Park is not the most welcoming of locations for both players and fans, boasting the crappest toilet/refreshment combination in the Premiership and probably the most vociferous home support.

Still, Souness can again afford to shuffle the pack, with Faye likely to return to midfield against his former club, and provided Shola or Paddy have recovered, Dyer will most probably return to the right wing.

Aside from being a marked improvement in terms of performance following our slightly fortuitous win on Sunday, the game will most likely be remembered for taking Shearer two goals closer to Milburn's record, and for Ramage's debut. However, a strong performance to secure our progression in to the Quarter Finals of the UEFA Cup is not to be sniffed at, and there can't be many sides keen to meet us when the draw is made on Friday.

Other reports:, BBC, Guardian

Monday, March 14, 2005


FA Cup Semi-Final Draw:

Arsenal v Blackburn
Newcastle Utd v Manchester Utd

Depending on how you look at it, this is either an excellent opportunity to avenge our capitulation at Wembley in 1999 and show Granny's favourite Wayne Rooney what he missed out on when he signed for the Mancs in the summer, or the worst draw we could have been given.

Still, we've come this far, and we've already overcome the might of Chelsea and Yeading. Who's to say we can't beat them, and remove their last chance of a trophy this season, and piss on Taggart's chips.

I can think of at least one person who'd "love it if we beat them", albeit 9 years later than hoped.

Bant A Ni I Gaerdydd*

Resolute defending, sublime goalkeeping and sheer bloody mindedness kept Newcastle in the FA Cup yesterday, and allowed us to progress to the semi finals of this year's competition.

We were ahead after a storming start which saw Kieron Dyer giving Spurs left back Thimothee Atouba a torrid time, and which ultimately saw Alan Shearer get to the by-line and cut the ball back for Patrick Kluivert to score a goal almost identical to our third against Olympiakos.

One-nil up and really flying, it looked like being the start of a performance in which we would sweep aside the opposition and really set down a marker to the remaining three teams in the tournament. Shortly afterwards, Kluivert broke through and put the ball into the net, only to be pulled back for an offside flag.

Unfortunately, we slowly went off the boil, and allowed Spurs to regain the initiative. Although they began to enjoy increasing amounts of possession, we still looked solid at the back, with each of our back four looking well set to keep Tottenham out. Unfortunately, Titus was forced to leave the field before the end of the half, hobbling disconsolately down the tunnel.

With no fit senior defenders to have on the bench, Souness sent Jenas to left back and moved Aaron Hughes into the centre to partner Boumsong, and fortunately we survived the final few moments of the half without any serious threat on our goal.

The second forty-five saw Spurs launch everything at our new left back, who looked terribly lost playing out of position on the wrong side of the field. Credit must surely be given to Hughes who found himself covering both centre back and left back as JJ looked increasingly out of his depth in the full blooded atmosphere of the final 45 minutes of an FA Cup Quarter Final.

Simon Davies sent a shot wide of the Leazes goal, as a warning of things to come, and Spurs continued to keep us pressed back. Unable to control the ball and keep hold of it for any period of time, we sat deeper and deeper, and allowed the visitors to come on to us.

With Martin Jol sacrificing defenders for attackers, Robbie Keane entered the fray and first he then Jermaine Defoe produced an outstanding double save from Shay Given in the Newcastle goal.

With the game becoming increasingly frantic, and Kluivert appearing to be carrying a slight injury, Shola Ameobi came on to the pitch. However, despite charging round the field like a rhino, Shola once again failed to impose himself on an opposition side.

Milner replaced Robert, as Souness perhaps looked to give us a bit more of a work ethic down the left to protect JJ, and still Spurs pressed us back. However, having committed so many men forward it was inevitable that the visitors would leave gaps at the back, and so it was that both Dyer and Ameobi found themselves with good chances to score a second, and put the tie safe. Sadly, neither managed it.

Clinging on as the clock ticked down, it was a case of all hands to the pump and Bowyer in particular (who had enjoyed a very quiet game previously) threw himself into the thick of things, flinging his body in the way of a few shots and according to the visitors (although fortunately not referee Rob Styles) his arm in the way of another. Finally, as Spurs looked to have scored the equaliser that on balance they probably deserved, Styles gave us a free kick for what I believe he saw as a push on Shola.

Regardless of the bleating of Spurs, the bottom line is that their "goal" didn't count, and we were able to hang on to secure our first trip to Cardiff, which is something I doubt we would have managed earlier in the season when last minute capitulations appeared to be our forte.

So from that point, we've clearly progressed – whether we go all the way depends on a favourable draw and Lady Luck continuing to give us the benefit of the doubt.

*Cardiff Here We Come

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian

Friday, March 11, 2005

Olympiak game's over?

A night of high drama in Athens, but thankfully it didn't turn out to be a Greek tragedy for Newcastle.

(Note to readers: my apologies. Note to self: it's never too late to become a sub-editor for the Sun.)

Most of the vital action came in an incident-packed first half that began worryingly, with Hughes - still filling in at left back in Babayaro's absence - coming under severe pressure and Given forced to punch or catch several dangerous crosses.

The game took its first crucial twist in the 11th minute when Dyer raced onto a Faye through-ball. His attempted shot ballooned up off the prostrate Greek international 'keeper Antonios Nikopolidis, and as Dyer jumped to head the ball into the unguarded net from close range he was knocked off balance by Grigoris Georgatos. In his defence the Olympiakos player had his eyes on the ball at all times, but was nowhere near making the header, even up against a shortarse like Dyer. The referee adjudged it a foul, and as it was a clear goalscoring opportunity Georgatos had to go. Shearer stepped up to blast the penalty home.

Just three minutes later, though, O'Brien was penalised and yellow-carded for what looked like an innocuous challenge on Ieroklis Stoltidis, who certainly went down in the theatrical fashion befitting a dramatic first period. Olympiakos skipper Predrag Djordjevic followed his opposite number's lead and made no mistake from the spot.

Even with the opposition reduced to ten men, we could have found ourselves in trouble, with the home fans - starved of action by a punishment that has seen their club play league games behind closed doors - roaring the team on. Souness's decision to leave the unfortunate Bowyer out in favour of Butt, a more defensive midfielder to partner Faye, was vindicated, though, as we regained control of the match, the unmarked Shearer unlucky to see a powerful header from a Robert corner headed off the line.

With 34 minutes on the clock, it was time for another Robert free-kick masterclass. Marginally less spectacular than Saturday's winner against Liverpool it may have been, but the Frenchman's 25 yard curler was equally sweet, leaving Nikopolidis on his knees in despair.

There was still enough time left in the first period for yet more incident, as Athanasios Kostoulas was shown a second yellow card for scything down Butt, who had accidentally manufactured the situation with some poor close control.

At half-time, 2-1 and two men up against a side that had disposed of their last four visitors in European competition by a 1-0 scoreline, there was a danger we could have thought the job was done. But with that passionate crowd behind Olympiakos baying for blood, and with Carr and O'Brien both teetering perilously on yellow cards in a game officiated by a card-happy referee, anything was still possible.

Mercifully from a Newcastle point of view, the second half was much less exciting. Apart from a brief spell when we mystifyingly allowed their nine men to grab the initiative, we were always in control.

I questioned Souness's judgement in removing Robert and the lively Dyer on the hour when we desperately needed to make our advantage count and get more goals, but, though JJ ran about like a headless chicken, the other substitute Milner skilfully worked his way to the by-line midway through the half to set up Kluivert for an easy third. The Dutchman had strolled around the pitch all game, his lack of effort only surpassed by that of his former Barcelona teammate Rivaldo for Olympiakos, but it was a very significant goal.

Whilst Bramble and O'Brien remained resolute at the back, the frustration was that we didn't get the goals which were clearly there for the taking and which would have sent out a louder message to potential opponents in the future. Aside from the third goal, the best moment we had in the second half was a Shearer free-kick driven just wide.

Though next Wednesday's home leg is not quite a formality and minds shouldn't start focusing on the next round just yet, we would certainly outdo ourselves if we were to chuck it away now.

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian

King Kev abdicates again

Like many people I woke up this morning to discover that Kevin Keegan had parted company with Man City.

I'm sure I'm not alone amongst Newcastle fans in still having a real soft spot for the man who took us to promotion to the top flight as both a player and a manager, and so nearly landed us the biggest domestic prize of all, the league title, in 1995-6 - which is why I still feel defensive of someone who has managed three different teams since leaving St James's Park in January 1997.

The received wisdom is that he's a great man-motivator with a tremendous enthusiasm for the game, but lacks the ability to withstand the psychological pressure piled upon him by more wily and astute opposition managers - the infamous anti-Ferguson "I'd love it" rant most often being cited as evidence. Ultimately, yes, that proved a bit of a turning point in the title race, but at the time the vast majority of Geordies were I think thrilled to see that level of passion from the club's figurehead. Not embarrassing, just unflinchingly honest heart-on-sleeve stuff - exactly what every fan wants to see from the people whose wages they pay.

Keegan is often accused of tactical naivety, and that was probably the case when he was on Tyneside, but several of Man City's performances this season - most notably Chelsea and Man Utd away - have suggested he's learnt valuable lessons and now has the nous to compete with those managers acclaimed as tactical geniuses, even with very limited resources.

As for being a serial quitter, that's I guess what the history books show - but isn't it better to know the limits of your own ability and do the honourable thing rather than egotistically and stubbornly cling on to a position without any regard as to the damage that might be caused as a result?


A sympathetic review of Keegan's managerial career from the BBC's Phil McNulty.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

"Well written and very balanced if lacking a certain punch"

Not our words, but those of Ian Plenderleith in the review afforded us in the current issue of When Saturday Comes. It's fair comment. Not unequivocally positive, but as a relatively young blog - we've only been going since the end of August - it's just pleasing to get some wider recognition.

The article itself is hardly comprehensive but does review several football blogs, giving B&W&RAO favourites All Quiet In The East Stand a deservedly favourable write-up.

Unfortunately for Pete, to whom we're extremely grateful for recommending to Ian that he pay us a visit, Round & White comes in for a bit of stick. Full credit to Pete, though, for responding to the unjustified criticisms (I wasn't aware there were any unwritten rules of football weblogging, for a start) with restraint and dignity.

If you have a spare couple of quid, though, and want to read WSC's verdicts on all the football blogs visited, as well as the usual assortment of football related articles, then go and seek it out. It's even got Newcastle on the cover, presumably in tribute to us.

As one of those missed out of the WSC round-up, we'd like to take the opportunity to once again endorse Hobo Tread, fast becoming my favourite football-centred read. Not wholly dedicated to the beautiful game, but serial groundhopper Skif's football posts are so much more than just match reports - witness this account of a trip to Blackpool at the weekend.

And, to wrap up, another three fine reads, the first two discovered via Britblog and the last via Round & White:
Sparkster (Leeds Utd)
A Wee Spot In Europe (Northern Ireland)
Whistling In The Wind ("A True and Accurate Account of English Park Football Refereeing")

Update: Thanks to ChevBlue of Portman Road Blog for alerting us to a link to a scanned version of the WSC article.

(Post by Paul and Ben)

Monday, March 07, 2005

Unfair cop

Championship side Wigan, hopeful of securing a place in the Premiership for next season, are currently embroiled in a row over policing costs with the Greater Manchester Police.

Clubs have to pay for policing at their home games, and there is an enormous and unexplained disparity between the amounts that Wigan have been charged and those asked of their near-neighbours. For example, for their game at the JJB Stadium with Leeds, they were charged £44,000, whereas Preston were charged a mere £7,700.

If Wigan refuse to pay the £300,000 the GMP claim they owe in unpaid costs, then their safety certificate will be withdrawn and they'll be forced to play crucial games in the season's run-in behind closed doors.

It's an issue of relevance to fans of all persuasions, so please take the time to sign this petition. You can also contact the petition's creator, Paul Farrington, at

Kop that!

A Saturday afternoon that began with tears - those of six-year-old Toon mascot Adam Horner, who was comforted by Souness, Shearer and Given - ended with broad smiles as Newcastle fans celebrated a fifth successive win, a tremendous long-range goal and a clean sheet to boot.

Hughes played at left-back in place of the injured Babayaro, whilst a fit-again Kluivert took his seat on the bench. With Faye and particularly Bowyer impressive in last week's victory over Bolton, Butt and JJ had to be content with being named as substitutes once again, both getting a run out towards the end.

Liverpool - lacking a number of important attacking players including Fernando Morientes, Djibril Cisse and Harry Kewell, as well as midfield orchestrator Xabi Alonso - played the part of obliging visitors, no doubt much to the relief of Souness who as an opposition manager had failed to win in 12 previous encounters with them. Particularly ineffectual up front, they allowed Given a relaxing afternoon, not stinging his palms once. Keeping a clean sheet has rarely looked so easy.

After a slow start we were always the better side, with the vast majority of possession, but the Reds had managed to stifle our attacking instincts and with twenty minutes to go a frustrating 0-0 draw looked on the cards - until Robert stepped up to hit a free-kick way out on the right into the top corner from around 30 yards. A splendid goal, inch-perfect and giving 'keeper Scott Carson - making his debut following a transfer window move from Leeds - no chance whatsoever.

Not so long ago, Robert looked to be out in the cold following public criticism of Souness, but now he's rehabilitated, back in the side and playing well. His talent has never been in question, only his temperament and consistency, and it's wonderful to see him rewarding the faith that's seen him forgiven and restored to the side with the sort of performances that make the whole team tick. Another spectacular strike to add to his Toon collection, too.

Kluivert came off the bench and nearly wrapped things up late on, but there was still time for an injury-time scare, when Gerrard burst into the box but pulled his shot across the face of goal. As is so often the case, Gerrard was the only Liverpool player to turn up, and it was his deflected shot in the first half that had been their best effort up to that point.

Another victory in which we've looked unspectacular but encouragingly solid, the only down side of the afternoon being the fact that Boumsong's name was misspelt on his shirt. A win for Man City tonight will drop us back down to 12th, where we were before Saturday's game, but we can only look after our own results and we certainly seem to be moving in the right direction.

Thurday sees us travel to Olympiakos for what is expected to be a much tougher test. The Greek side, eliminated from the Champions' League by our opponents on Saturday, have recorded 1-0 victories in each of their last four home matches in European competition. We're more than capable of grabbing an away goal, though, and our recent defensive resoluteness gives us cause for cautious optimism. A draw would be a decent result.

Other reports:, BBC, Guardian

Friday, March 04, 2005

Best & Worst

Following Damo's suggestion from the other day, we'd like to draw your attention to’s poll of the best and worst players to ever play for your club.

From a Newcastle perspective there seem to be any number of great players, with Beardsley, Shearer, Milburn, Keegan, Waddle, Gascoigne, and MacDonald all set to feature in the mix.

On the other side of the coin, names that spring to mind include: Cort, Fumaca, Rush, Marcelino, Harper, Beasant, Hamilton and Maric, although I'm certain that you can each think of your own.

To vote, simply send a maximum of two hundred words to: with Newcastle United (or any other team you'd care to vote for) in the subject title.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Spurred on

Spurs will be our FA Cup quarter-final opponents, after they easily disposed of Forest in last night's replay at the City Ground with goals from Noe Paramot, Robbie Keane and Mido.

Having lived in Nottingham for seven years, I developed a bit of a soft spot for Forest, and they could have done with the extra revenue that progress would have granted them.

But they've got much bigger fish to fry this season - namely, fighting to stay in the Championship, a battle they're currently losing - and in any case we have to be forgiven for leaving no room for sentimentality in our quest for a first major trophy for 36 years.

I'd take great pleasure in dispatching Spurs, but they've already won on Tyneside once this season, so we shouldn't take anything for granted.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


I see the Spanish FA have really stuck the boot into racist coach Luis Aragones.

Fining him a whole day's pay is really going to show him that racism is a blight on society and as no place in today’s game.

Obviously, it's not going to really ram home the message in the way that a proper fine would have done.

Essentially it’s the equivalent of making someone pay a £30 parking fine. It's an arse, but it probably won't stop anyone from parking on double yellow lines next time such a situation arises.

I can't see Aragones reconsidering his views, or the way in which he airs them as a result of this, and for that reason alone I am bitterly disappointed.

Racism has no place in today's society. It shouldn't have had a place in yesterday's society either, but it did and it is something that needs eradicating.

Only by making a stand against it will we ever hope to change people's views and misconceptions.

Only by making a stand will people in positions of authority learn that what they say matters, and that what they say should be acceptable in modern society.

Only by making a stand.

Shame the Spanish FA didn't make that stand.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Misery loves company

Discovered on the Fanbase page dedicated to Newcastle: Dr Gloom.

A Toon fan disillusioned by forty years of crushing disappointments, Dr Gloom offers a miserable prognosis in advance of each game and then delivers a post-mortem.

Thankfully, at the moment there's less than normal to get him reaching for the Prozac he's stockpiled in that secret cupboard in his surgery...