Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Has he been fooling around with Nancy?

Sven Goran Eriksson has announced the squad for England's final warm up game prior to the announcement of his World Cup Squad, and there are no Newcastle players in it.

Now with Owen and Dyer injured there was only ever going to be one player in Newcastle who stood a chance, and who no doubt feels absolutely gutted by his omission:

Scott Parker.

Our outstanding player of the season by a country mile, Parker is the player best equipped to play the midfield holding role that Sven likes as an alternative to his usual 4-4-2 formation. Why he persists in thinking that Ledley King can do a job Parker is much better suited to is beyond me.

As a mark of how farcical the squad is, step forward Michael Carrick and Jermaine Jenas. Now don't get me wrong, Spurs have enjoyed an excellent season, and both Carrick and JJ have played their part in that, but how many of us would swap Parker for either of those players? He's better in the tackle, and rarely plays a loose pass, and his commitment can't be questioned. (Despite their respective birthplaces, I'd still stick with Scott over Geordie boy Carrick).

It's a tired cliche to ask which you'd like next to you in the trenches, but put another way, which of the three do you think would try and tackle a bull if it meant the difference between winning and losing a game of football?

Can't see young Jermaine fancying that one, can you?

I'm sure that Scott will take this latest rejection from Sven and use it to spur himself on, safe in the knowledge that whilst this tournament might now be beyond him, the next is only two years away, and England will have a new manager in charge by then.

In the mean time, if he continues to grow as a player for Newcastle, then so much the better - Sven's loss should continue to be our gain (and at least he can't get himself injured playing for England).

Monday, February 27, 2006

Thank you Mr Linesman*

Newcastle 2 - 0 Everton

Two goals from Nobby Solano, the second an absolute peach, may have ultimately proved the difference between the two sides, and the Peruvian may have taken all the plaudits, but we were also indebted to a linesman. No, not one of the much maligned frequently myopic referee's assistants galloping up and down the touchline, but our very own Emre. Twice in the first half his diminutive presence on the line was just enough to prevent Everton skipper David Weir from giving his side the lead, providing Solano with the platform he needed to go on and win it.

The injured Bramble was replaced by Babayaro, returning from suspension, with Elliott moving inside to partner Boumsong in central defence. The only other change saw Luque pay for his listless substitute performance against Charlton, his place on the bench taken by youth prospect Matty Pattison.

We started brightly, and within two minutes Emre exchanged passes with Ameobi before bursting into the box and delivering a cross that Solano could only put into 'keeper Sander Westerveld's hands from an acute angle. In stretching for the cross, Ameobi had collided hard with the post - it made for an uncomfortable couple of minutes as we prayed we weren't about to lose another striker to injury.

The neat and tidy interchanges of the opening period came to nought, though, and Everton gradually came back into the game, helped no end by the fact that Boumsong looked intent upon gifting their forwards chances at every opportunity. His pairing with the tortoise-paced Elliott doesn't exactly inspire confidence. First Ramage and then Elliott were called upon to clear dangerous crosses into the area, and then Weir's header from a Mikel Arteta corner was hacked off the line by Emre. Given could probably have reached it, but it was a narrow escape all the same.

This should have spurred us into action, but instead Given continued to see more action, tipping a dangerous curling free-kick from Arteta over the bar. As if to illustrate that he cannot learn from past mistakes, Boumsong again allowed Weir a free header from the resultant corner and this time acrobatics were required of Emre with Given well beaten.

We were still sighing with relief when Babayaro outfoxed his marker upfield and pulled the ball back to the waiting Solano, whose close-range shot was superbly tipped over.

That was practically the last action of the first half, and the second saw us emerge more purposeful. Ameobi was unlucky to see a shot blocked, though at the other end Boumsong's less than limpet-like attention to Leon Osman allowed the midfielder to fire in a shot that flew wide.

It was fitting that when the first goal arrived our two best players on the night were both involved. Emre went on a run before feeding the ball inside to N'Zogbia who underlined his importance to the side by skipping past a flimsy challenge and squaring the ball for Solano to knock it into the net ahead of his marker Nuno Valente.

The crucial second came twelve minutes later, and will live long in the memory. Crisp, confident passing saw Bowyer advancing towards the area with the ball. He pushed it wide to Solano, who knocked it inside Valente with his first touch and stroked a gorgeous shot with the outside of his right foot past Westerveld with his second. Yesterday saw the incredibly tedious Winter Olympics come to an end - I could watch Nobby's type of curling all day long. "He scored an even better one in training on Friday", said Glenn Roeder later. I'd have liked to have seen that one.

That effectively finished the game off as a contest, Everton playing like they knew they were beaten, though James Beattie spurned a late chance. Emre was replaced shortly after the second goal and left the pitch to a standing ovation, while midfielder Pattison made his first team debut, coming on for N'Zogbia in the dying minutes. "Bellamy with a big wig on", according to my companion.

So, a splendid goal, another win and another home game without any dirty linen for Boumsong and co to wash. For that, though, they have Emre to thank. I just hope that after the game, while Nobby downed his man-of-the-match champagne, our defenders clubbed together to buy the pint-sized Turk a lager of equivalent stature. He thoroughly deserved it. Had things worked out differently in the summer, of course, both he and Parker could have been lining up for the visitors. I think they made the right decision.

* The report was going to be headed "Peru beauty!" until I noticed NUFC.com had beaten me to it. Bastards.

An Everton fan's perspective: Real Life Blues

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Firing blanks

Newcastle 0 - 0 Charlton

No goals conceded (again) but once again our lightweight strike force failed to find the goal which would have won last night's rearranged fixture against Charlton.

With no Shearer or Owen up front, and Dyer suffering a fresh hamstring strain that will rule him out for at least three weeks, Newcastle started the game with Bowyer coming into a five man midfield and Ameobi up front on his own. With the visitors also playing five across midfield, it was a largely uninspiring start to the match, as both teams fought for supremacy in the congested midfield.

Eventually, we began to gain the upper hand (at least in terms of possession) and began to pressurise the visitors.

Unfortunately, having reached half-time in the ascendancy our injury jinx struck early in the second half. Titus Bramble's hamstring decided it had done enough work for the night, and he limped from the pitch to be replaced by Albert Luque. With no defensive cover available, Roeder was forced to switch Elliott to centre back, and N'Zogbia to left back.

Though still looking the better side, we were unable to force a goal, despite hitting the woodwork twice (once by Emre directly from a corner) and Boumsong once again failed to score from a good heading opportunity inside the box. However, our best chance of the night fell to Ameobi, who put the ball wide of the goal when he really should have done better.

However, despite threatening to score the one goal that would have decided the contest we let the game slip away towards the end, and only good work from Boumsong and Given prevented Charlton returning home with all three points.

So one point gained, one place gained in the league, and one more clean sheet to add to the list. Unfortunately this all came at the cost of Bramble's hamstring, and with news that Dyer is also out with a similar injury the squad has already started to look very thin.

At least they managed to play the game this time...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian, Addicks Premiership Diary , All Quiet In The East Stand

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

In defence

There's a popular belief that Newcastle can't defend: that Boumsong and Bramble are to defending what Laurel and Hardy were to piano moving.

It's bollocks.

Looking at the league table as it stands today (before our game with Charlton) we've played 25 games, and conceded 29 goals. More than a goal a game, and obviously not ideal. (Of course, ideally we'd have conceded no goals and be miles ahead of Chelsea at the top of the table).

Looking at the league, the following teams have better defences than we do:

Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Bolton.

That's it.

The top five teams in the league, and Fat Sam's bunch of cloggers who currently sit in ninth.

This year we've kept eight clean sheets, conceded one goal on seven occasions, two goals eight times and three once (away to Chelsea). Yet the the myth remains that we can't defend.

I'll accept that there have been times when we've shot ourselves in the foot - but to say our defence in porous is absolute rubbish, and does us (and in particular Shay Given) a massive disservice.

You might argue that but for the Irishman we'd have conceded a load more goals, which may well be true.

But firstly that's what he's paid very good money to do and secondly if you employ that argument you could equally say that Arsenal's defence is less effective without Campbell, Liverpool's without Reina, Spurs' without King, Chelsea's without Terry or Cech and Man Utd's without Ferdinand. It's true, because they are some of their best players.

We've already seen something of an improvement in results since Roeder replaced Souness, and hopefully the improvement will continue, but the biggest difference he has so far made to our side is have us create more chances and score more goals. If we can continue to do that and combine it with our solid defence, we'll keep climbing up the table and give our defence the league placing that their efforts deserve.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Geordie Chronicles

It gives me great pleasure to announce a new series on Black & White & Read All Over. Well, when I say "new", what I really mean is "old" or at least "recycled" - for the posts that comprise The Geordie Chronicles have appeared elsewhere long before now, both in Toon fanzine The Mag and on the Bonkworld site. Don't expect any topicality - their appearance is likely to be about as well-timed as an Andy Cole jump for an airborne ball. But they're tremendous pieces and, in any case, class is permanent.

A note about the author: Jonathan's a born-and-bred Geordie and is currently resident in Manchester (but we won't hold that against him - he's vowed not to allow his son Frankie to be swayed by the Dark Side...). He has a blog of his own, Crinklybee, where he writes about all sorts including football (most often Stockport and FC United). If you like what you read here, then pay him a visit.

Right, without further ado, here's the first installment, in which Jonathan reflects on the "bastards ... collectively responsible for taking approximately 15 years off my life. So far".

Between the sticks

International footballing bar-room generalisations have always been with us - but some stand the test of time better than others. Teams from the former Soviet Bloc, no matter how shambolic their performance, will always be described as "well-drilled". Mediterranean national teams have talent to spare, but suffer from that footballing affliction, the "Latin temperament". Africans are "defensively naive". But what about the English?

Well, until a few years ago, that one was easy. The English were unburdened by false modesty. We had the "best league, the best referees, and the best goalkeepers in the world". Yes, strange as it may seem today, that's right. And in the days of the flapping David Seamans and James it may seem scarcely credible, but it was the third of the common bar-room claims to global domination which rang the truest. In Clemence, Shilton, and Corrigan, the English really did boast the most able set of custodians anywhere. Which brings me to the point of this tale, for at Newcastle, we had to be different. We had Stevie Hardwick.

Actually, even that four-word statement doesn't sum up our woeful inadequacy between the sticks as the 80s dawned. One useless goalie wasn't enough for Newcastle, we had to have Kevin Carr as well. Between them the one-time Chesterfield custodian Hardwick (yes, the stable of Banks, Shilton, and Ogrizovic) and the future Northumbrian copper Carr (let's hope he catches villains more confidently than footballs) flapped and fumbled their way through five seasons of second division futility. In retrospect, perhaps an adequate goalie could have been manufactured by a combination of the pair's assets. Hardwick could be a brilliant shot-stopper, but was often likened to Dracula (that's right, scared of crosses). The taller Carr dealt better with the high stuff, but had a crazy tendency to dash thirty yards off his line with all the composure of a man being chased by lions. The Gallowgate faithful were kept on their toes by these two, right enough.

Hardwick and Carr set something of a precedent on Tyneside. Where other clubs have bothered to obtain one decent goalie at a time and stick with their choice through thick and thin, Newcastle managers have tended to sign up pairs of custodians and proceeded to chop and change between them almost on a whim. What this approach does for the confidence of the catlike figures condemned to a weekly cat-fight for the number one jersey is open to debate. Witness Keegan's pair, Srnicek and Hislop. For this observer, the Czech, after some early calamities under Ardiles, was at his most proficient before the arrival of the Trinidadian. Hislop's arrival seemed to sow doubt in the mind of Srnicek, who knew any error would lead to the drop. And of course Hislop, brilliant before at Reading and again now at West Ham, never really fulfilled his potential up here, perhaps for similar reasons.

Big name, big money arrivals not really living up to their billing (and of course, "failing to settle up North") is another Gallowgate specialty. Between the sticks we've had our share of expensive flops. Remember when Dave Beasant played for the Toon? I bet you do. The curly-topped Cockney arrived fresh from Cup heroics at Wimbledon only to flounder in the North East like a beached whale. A 4-0 reversal at Goodison was a poor start, and it didn't get much better. The overriding memory of Beasant has him stranded helpless off his line as another speculative lob drops into the net.

If Beasant was a comparative youngster, John Burridge was just about pensionable by the time he arrived at St. James'. "Budgie" has been a great goalie in his day, as the endlessly repeated penalty stop for Blackpool testifies, but at Newcastle he was, well, a bit shaky. My strongest recollection of him was the 1-4 home defeat by Wolves on New Year's Day (remember the one-incensed-man pitch invasion?). Old Budgie was caught and rounded by the same sucker punch Stevie Bull step-over not once or twice but three times as the Tipton terror bagged all four. And God knows the bulldozer-like Bull was no Maradona (or even Roeder!) when it came to the likes of step-overs.

So we've had the lot defending our black and white striped net on Tyneside these past twenty years (what's happened to those nets by the way?). We've had bright-eyed rookies, grizzled veterans, pairs of exotic and more home-grown number ones vying for the spot. A rich history, and I've not mentioned Mike Hooper even once (there's kids read this Mag, after all), or the infamous 1-8 reversal at West Ham when Martin Thomas went off injured, Peter Beardsley went in goal and got injured himself, and young defender Chris Hedworth stepped in to concede the last four or so. And now, we have another pair of likely lads - the identical goalies, Harper and Given. So what line to take on these two, which number one should be the Number One?

You know what, I'm going to sit on the fence. Or stay on my line like Hardwick faced with a dangerous cross.

New faces

A raft of new blogs under the Real Life News banner...

A-League Of Their Own (the Australian A-League)
Blue Murder (Chelsea)
The Bundesliga (the German Bundesliga), written by Pete of Round & White
Real Life Blues (Everton)
The US Soccer League

And to that list you can add one more, 45 Minutes Each Way (England), which currently features a post comparing the jobs the prospective candidates for the Newcastle and England managers' position face

Monday, February 20, 2006

Blue Monday

Having overcome Southampton on Saturday, a favourable cup draw could have given us real cause for optimism this season.

Sadly we've been drawn away to Chelsea.

So it's off to the Stamford Bridge potato patch, where we haven't won in years, against the best side in the league by miles.


The draw in full can be found here.

Back in black (& white)

Newcastle 1 - 0 Southampton

A goal by one Mr K Dyer, making his first start for the club since August, was enough to carry us in to the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup on Saturday in front of the watching BBC audience.

Apparently Dyer was only told of his inclusion in the starting line up at about 2pm on Saturday, when the club finally admitted that Alan Shearer wasn't fit enough to feature in the game due to a calf injury. With Dyer coming into the starting lineup to partner Shola Ameobi up front, his place on the bench was filled by Albert Luque, with Glenn Roeder demonstrating his stated position of seeking to keep Luque in the fold despite his airing grievances in the Spanish press in recent days.

Dyer himself had previously observed that his only disappointment with his comeback so far was that he had been unable to link up with Nobby Solano, having replaced the Peruvian in his two games so far.

Within minutes of the kick-off it was clear that Dyer had a point, as he and Nobby exchanged quick-fire passes, and carved their way through the visitors' five man midfield at will. With Emre and Scott Parker also using the ball well, and N'Zogbia driving forward down the left, the first half was a storming performance by Newcastle. That we went in at half time still goalless was testament to some slightly weak finishing, and a couple of stirring saves by the visiting keeper. As it was, both Boumsong and Ameobi hit the woodwork, and Shola also had a strong shot brilliantly deflected over the bar following an Emre corner. The only threat to our goal coming from a hurried Boumsong clearance, which allowed Kenwyne Jones to burst into the penalty area, only for Titus to cut across and clear the danger.

Frustratingly, with George Burley's side reverting to a 4-4-2 formation at half-time, we allowed the visitors back into the game. Having played at a good tempo in the first half, the pace noticeably slowed in the second, and things were starting to get a bit nervous as our early superiority gave way and we allowed Southampton to force a couple of good saves from Shay Given.

Thankfully though the breakthrough eventually came our way, as N'Zogbia strode forward through the centre of midfield, evading a couple of challenges before playing a cracking through ball into the path of the just onside Dyer. He took the ball into the penalty area and crashed it into the bottom corner, before leaping jubilantly into the Gallowgate end (and picking up a booking for his troubles). Having clearly been wilting due to his lack of match fitness, it was hardly a surprise to see Glenn Roeder opt to change things around, and he brought on Bowyer for Dyer, and Luque for Ameobi as we looked to see out the game.

With Saints using up their final substitution to bring on young striker Dexter Blackstock they were unlucky to see their keeper stretchered off with ten minutes to go having jarred his knee. After much discussion it was Blackstock who was given the gloves and goalkeeping shirt (both of which were much too big for him).

With an untested outfield player in goal, Southampton were always likely to spend the remainder of the game trying to hold on, and so it proved, with the young keeper making a couple of good saves. One from a quickly taken free kick by Luque was well judged - and the Spaniard must wonder what he has to do to finally break his duck.

Ultimately though, it was a case of job well done, with a particularly strong first half performance showing what a bit of confidence and the return of Dyer's pace and movement does for the side. Hopefully he'll be able to remain fit for the rest of the season, and if so we'll be looking to move up the league and battle onwards in the Cup.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Money, money, money

The headlines may have all been about the fact that Man Utd are no longer the richest club in the world, having been supplanted at the top of the Deloitte Football Money League by Real Madrid, but of interest to us is our position in 12th, one place lower than last season. Our income (ignoring transfer fees and players' wages) is given as £87.1m. British clubs make up nine of the top twenty, and, as you might imagine, of those only Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal rake in more than us.

What does it matter? Not much, really. It's one possible measure of the club's stature on the world stage, though - and as such also a measure of our underachievement. With that sort of money flowing into the club direct from the fans, who part with exorbitant sums for season tickets and official merchandise, is it any wonder that we get upset when that income fails to bear fruit, when money is squandered and when the team we fund performs as badly as they have this season? Perhaps, then, the figures just underline the fact that we are well within our rights to grumble, complain and register dissatisfaction.

Babs banned

Celestine Babayaro's attempt to have his red card against Villa overturned has failed. Our left-back will now miss Saturday's FA Cup match against Southampton and the rescheduled Premiership clash with Charlton.

Was it worth appealing the decision? I think so. It was an ungainly challenge, Babayaro's leg colliding with Baros's knee without making contact with the ball, but the striker went down like a sack of spuds (as is his wont) and it wasn't a cynical attempt to prevent a goalscoring opportunity - if anything, Baros was running sideways away from goal. The penalty alone would have been sufficient punishment.

Just a shame the appeals panel didn't agree. I guess this now means Robbie Elliott will start both games. While his lack of pace is more than a little concerning, Elliott would I think be preferable in that role over N'Zogbia, who looked distinctly uncomfortable when played out of position against Wigan in the League Cup, and in any case is performing well on the left side of midfield.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Any moment now, Black & White & Read All Over is going to surpass 20,000 hits. A modest total, to be sure, given that it all began just under a year and a half ago shortly before Sir Bobby's sacking, but pleasing nonetheless.

So, thanks from the pair of us for reading, commenting and linking - it's meant a lot.


And here's to the next 20,000 hits - and an upturn in the team's fortunes!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Woody: would he?

Interesting speculation today that Jonathan Woodgate may cut short his mostly unhappy Spanish sojourn and return to Tyneside in the summer. Mind you, it was in the Daily Express.

Perhaps I'm taking it too seriously by posting about it, just as perhaps the club is by issuing a statement on the subject.

But there's no doubt that the fans would welcome a fully-fit Woodgate back to St James' Park like the proverbial prodigal son. ("A fully-fit Woodgate?", you say, "Fat chance".) He might not be the brightest star in God's sky, but he's certainly got more of a footballing brain than all our current defenders put together. A brilliant player, and without doubt the finest defender I've ever seen in a black and white shirt. How much would he cost, though?

The club statement ends: "He is someone who was very popular with staff and fans alike during his time at Newcastle and, as a person, he is always welcome any time he wants to visit St James'". "As a person"? Scratch that. Jonathan, visit any time you like - preferably on a match day. We'll sort you out with a shirt nee botha...

More Toon blog goodness

You may recall, back in December, that we put out a call on behalf of Real Life News who were looking for writers for a new Toon blog. Well, that blog is Extra Tyne, and it's up and running now.

They're still looking for people interested in writing blogs on other clubs, and on other sports, so if you're keen then drop Martin an email at Martinf@reallifenews.com.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Champagne Charlie

Aston Villa 1 - 2 Newcastle

Last week it was Alan Shearer, but this week the toast of Tyneside was the other player to score as we cantered to victory against Pompey, Charles N'Zogbia. The young Frenchman's near-identical goal against Villa ultimately proved the matchwinner, bagging us all three points in a game from which most of us would have been happy with one.

Glenn Roeder kept faith with the same starting line-up and substitutes' bench that he had selected for his first game in temporary charge, which again meant no place in the sixteen for Luque. Again, though, his decisions were vindicated as we served up some superb football in an excellent first half.

Less than two minutes had elapsed when Solano's ball was expertly laid into the path of Ameobi by Shearer. The striker had time and space to slip his shot underneath Sorensen for his first goal since the Mackem match.

Villa's equaliser came against the run of play, as we were controlling the game and looking the more dangerous side. Luke Moore's near-post header underlined our continuing defensive frailities, though, Bramble having momentarily if customarily gone to sleep. Thereafter, it has to be said, he performed well.

Rather than looking dispirited at being pegged back, as we so often did under Souness, we carried on in determined fashion and got our reward just before the half-hour. Again Shearer and Solano were involved, the former lobbing a ball cleverly over Jlloyd Samuel to the Peruvian. Having been booed relentlessly by fans who seem to have forgotten he was their top scorer only last season, Solano would no doubt have loved to see the net bulge, but Sorensen beat out his firmly struck drive. Thankfully, despite the attentions of three Villa defenders N'Zogbia was on hand to prod the ball home.

The lead could and should have been more by the break, Shearer seeing his shot somehow backheeled off the line by Mark Delaney. By the time the players made their way off the pitch and a banner reading "You're not just a sheet metal worker's son from Gosforth, you're a legend" had been unfurled in the away end, Ameobi had missed another presentable chance.

If Solano had been our outstanding performer in the first half, in the second it was Given - though Emre too came into his own. We spent the vast majority of the half on the back foot, Villa at last showing something of the form that saw them draw with Chelsea and thrash Middlesbrough.

The turning point appeared to have come just after the hour mark. Substitute Milan Baros, running along the six yard line, was felled by a clumsy Babayaro challenge - a certain penalty, but a harsh red card, and one which the club is set to appeal. The Czech striker dusted himself down, stepped up and scuffed his spot-kick down the middle of the goal. Given, who had dived to his left, managed to divert the ball over the bar with his feet.

From the corner our superhuman custodian made a better save from Gareth Barry, and later tipped a vicious Juan Pablo Angel volley over the bar. Solano was the unlucky player withdrawn to allow Elliott to enter the fray, and as the clock ticked down, the attacks were incessant and the defending more desperate. Even Given could do nothing when Liam Ridgewell powered in a header from a corner, but mercifully it smashed against the bar and went behind.

Somehow we held out for the win our first half display possibly merited, Shearer and Parker playing a brilliant game of keep ball in the corner to run the clock down.

Our nerves may have been shot to pieces, but it was smiles all round. The pride, the passion, the spirit, the determination, the resilience - all back, present and correct. Four consecutive home games now, including next weekend's Cup match against Southampton, and we've got to approach them all as winnable.

Other reports: BBC, Observer

Quote of the day

"His background was quite wayward away from football, he used to invite his mates over from Colombia and one day one of them was trying to sell me a ring. It was near my mum's birthday so I decided to buy one of them and managed to bargain down to £200, but I have to admit it was one of the tackiest things I'd ever seen. When my mum looked at it she admitted she didn't like it and took it to a jewellers to get it valued. And she was gobsmacked when the guy told her it was pure Colombian gold and it was worth £1,200! Looking back, I wish I'd took the lot off him because he had a great big bag".

One much-loved old boy, Bez, on another, the incomparable Tino Asprilla. The quote comes from this piece from the Evening Chronicle, in which the rubber-legged madman / genius is remembered with fondness a decade after he signed for Keegan's title-chasing Toon side.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Where do we go now?

To quote Axl Rose. Why? Because we too appear to have an Appetite For (Self-)Destruction...

So, who's next for "the poisoned chalice" / "one of the biggest jobs in the world"? With the rumour mill going into overdrive now that the transfer window has closed and journalists have nothing better to write about, I suggest where Souness went wrong and what we need now, while Paul takes a look at the candidates currently considered by the bookies to be in with a chance of being the latest person to get the chance to dip into of Fat Fred's "war chest".

* * * * *

Everyone knows that Souness's appointment was Shepherd grasping at straws, having allegedly failed to tempt five other managers into becoming Sir Bobby's successor. His track record hardly inspired confidence, and we were ultimately proved right. At the time, though, we tried to console ourselves with the thought that Souness had a reputation as a disciplinarian (not the soft touch that Bobby could be at times) and would therefore hopefully root out some of the dressing-room irritants and get the rest on the straight and narrow.

Souness did manage to move on the majority of the troublemakers and wasters, with Kluivert, Robert and Bellamy all shoved out of the door in the summer. But he also came to us with a reputation for being a poor man-manager, and that was certainly borne out in his handling of things. A better manager might have got the best out of Robert and Kluivert, while the situation with Bellamy could have been dealt with so much better. He might be a little toerag, and after his "liar" comments he had to go, but you won't find many Geordies who don't feel at least a bit saddened by the fact that we no longer have Bellamy in our arsenal. Other players have been alienated by Souness, and there have been plenty of rumours that when Roeder and Shearer took the reins it was like a breath of fresh air.

One thing that Souness could - and did - point to in his defence throughout his reign (and particularly this season) was the length of the injury list, and the calibre (or value...) of players on it. He had a point. It has been truly horrific. But matters were not helped by the delay in moving to alternative training facilities when it was discovered the ground could have been causing many of the hamstring problems, and Souness was also guilty on several occasions of rushing players back too soon and seeing them come off limping with a recurrence of the original problem. The training methods endorsed by Souness, Saunders et al were not rumoured to be the best, either - hardly a surprise, given Mark Hughes's comments after taking over from Souness at Blackburn.

The injuries excuse only goes so far, as does the one that says few if any of our key players have been good form this season. Souness was not only utterly incapable of getting the best out of those he did have at his disposal (lest we forget, still a mixture of multimillion pound signings and talented homegrown youngsters), he was also extraordinarily tactically inept. Players were repeatedly thrust into action out of position (Luque, Ameobi, N'Zogbia, Bellamy...), with the result that they played poorly, their confidence diminished further and, in the case of Bellamy, tempers flared.

So, what we need now is this: an excellent man-manager able to summon enthusiasm and commitment from what remains a very talented squad, and sufficiently tactically astute to deploy the players available to him in such a way that he can get the best out of them and put the opposition onto the back foot.

To put it simply, Fred, we don't need another Souness.

* * * * *

(Odds courtesy of Skybet - correct at time of posting)

Martin O'Neill (7/2)

Pros: Proven motivator of men, with a pedigree of winning trophies and an ability to deal with the expectation that managing a club with 50,000+ attendances every week. Strong pedigree and the most likely candidate to revitalise the club in the way we'd all like. Already more popular on Tyneside than Souness ever was.

Cons: Few [alleged Mackem affiliations aside, that is - Ben], although whether his wife makes a sufficient recovery to allow him to take over remains to be seen. Also a prime candidate for the England job.

Big Phil Scolari (5/1)

Pros: Won the World Cup, lead Portugal to runners-up spot in European Championships. Clearly the man has ability to manage big name players in high profile situations.

Cons: English isn't his strongest language, and working with a translator (unless they happen to be Jose Mourinho) isn't easy. Long time out of club management. Does he really need the hassle?

Glen Hoddle (6/1)

Pros: Decent England manager, who would have held on to the job but for pesky journalists asking him questions about subjects other than football...

Cons: Often described as aloof. Doesn't rate Michael Owen as a goal scorer. Terrible man-management skills.

Fat Sam Allardyce (7/1)

Pros: Turned a pretty rotten Bolton side into a top six team. Progressive thinker.

Cons: Bolton are are still pretty rotten to watch. He turned us down last time. Chairman seems unwilling to let him move for anything other than the England job.

David O'Leary (8/1)

Pros: Works well with younger players. Currently getting the best out of James Milner who will be back at the club in time for next season. Led Leeds to semi-finals of Champions League.

Cons: Incapable of taking responsibility when things go wrong. Permanently hides behind excuses. Unlikely to inspire enthusiasm amongst fans or players. Talks shit.

Ottmar Hitzfeld (9/1)

Pros: Experienced coach, with incredibly strong track record, particularly when it comes to handling high profile clubs with massive expectations.

Cons: Unproven in the Premiership. Would he want the job, or is he more likely to wait and see what becomes available after the World Cup?

Claudio Ranieri (14/1)

Pros: Has made steady progress developing young players wherever he's been previously with a fair degree of success. Would welcome the opportunity to return to Premiership management. Dignified man beloved of the media.

Cons: Tinker man, never seemed to settle on a preferred team. Made a bit of a balls up when given Roman's millions to spend. Failed to discipline players when they underperformed.

Alan Shearer (25/1)

Pros: Local hero, guaranteed support of fans and board.

Cons: Strength of personality might well alienate as many players as it motivates. Not enough experience. Doesn't want the job. Unlikely to risk souring his reputation on Tyneside. Already has a job lined up at the BBC.

Paul Jewell (25/1)

Pros: Wigan's rise this season must largely be credit to him. He's produced an excellent team spirit and forged a team who many thought of as relegation fodder into one challenging for Europe.

Cons: Could well be a one season wonder. Not enough experience with "star" players. Hardly a name to attract "big name" players.

Glenn Roeder (33/1)

Pros: Popular ex-player turned Academy coach and caretaker manager. Knows the club, knows the expectations of the fans and board. Already has experience of managing in the Premiership. Currently has a 100% record as Newcastle manager.

Cons: One swallow doesn't make a summer. Experience in Premiership ended when his West Ham team were relegated. Already stated he doesn't want the job.

Sven-Goran Eriksson (33/1)

Pros: Undoubtedly a strong club record, and a good international showing as England boss until pesky journalist got in the way. Bound to enjoy everything the Quayside has to offer.

Cons: Apart from the money, I can't see why he'd want the job. Much more likely to be the new boss at Real Madrid.

Steve Bruce (33/1)

Pros: None.

Cons: Manc-loving Steve professes allegiance whilst constantly scouring the jobs pages for a better offer. Still rates Nicky Butt. Currently taking Birmingham back to the Championship.

Roberto Mancini (33/1)

Pros: Strong club record on the continent. Big name manager.

Cons: No experience in the Premiership.

Kevin Keegan (33/1)

Pros: Still capable of exciting Tyneside with his enthusiasm and energy. Entertaining football guaranteed.

Cons: Yesterday's man. Never go back, just ask Howard Kendall.

Alan Curbishley (40/1)

Pros: Charlton's consistency and ability to establish themselves as a solid top flight side is down to Curbishley.

Cons: Charlton always fall apart in February. Still a possibility for the England job, albeit behind Allardyce. Doubtful he'd leave Charlton. A bit dull really.

(Incidentally, if you want an outside bet, Jimmy Nail and Ant & Dec are both 1000/1 and the Geordie Dancer is 2000/1...)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Six of the best

A mere five days after Alan Shearer broke Jackie Milburn's all-time Toon goalscoring record, it's about time we commemorated the feat. (Of course, were we to be a professional and reputable media source rather than literally amateurish part-timers, we'd have had this feature prepared in advance and ready to trot out at the appropriate moment, much like a Margaret Thatcher obituary.)

So, below I present a personal selection of six of the finest or most memorable strikes from Wor Al's 201-goal-and-counting haul.

1. v Leicester City (h), 2nd February 1997

Where to start? How's about Shearer's first season at the club, 1996-7? We scored an awful lot of goals that season - seven against Spurs, four against Villa, Everton and Coventry, and five against Nottm Forest and (yes, of course) Man Utd - and Shearer personally hit the back of the net 28 times in 40 games. Three of those goals came in desperate circumstances at home to Leicester.

Robbie Elliott had scored in the third minute, but goals from Matt Elliott, Steve Claridge and Emile Heskey looked as though the East Midlanders would condemn us to a very disappointing home defeat.

Shearer had other ideas, and proved to be the architect of a remarkable turnaround. When Robert Lee was felled in a dangerous area with 77 minutes on the clock, our number nine stepped up and absolutely smashed the ball past Kasey Keller. Had any members of the wall been in the way, one suspects they would have lost at least a limb.

An equaliser followed with six minutes remaining, all Shearer's own work, and in injury time Lee gave Shearer the chance to win the match and complete his first Toon hat-trick from close range, a chance he wasn't about to pass up.

NUFC.com match report

2. v Spurs (n), 11th April 1999

After a dress rehearsal in the league the previous weekend, which had ended all square at 1-1, our 1999 FA Cup semi-final seemed to be going the same way. Over the course of the normal 90 minutes, the sides were inseparable, neither goal having been breached.

But four minutes into the second period of extra time, it was Shearer who at last gave us the lead from the penalty spot. Could we hang on to our slender advantage? It was edgy and nervous - until, that is, Silvio Maric made one of his most useful contributions in a black and white shirt, tapping a free kick to Shearer, who blasted a swerving long-range shot into the top corner. Cue the skipper stood, hands aloft. Cue the crowd: "Tell me mam, me mam / We won't be home for tea / We're going to Wemberlee..."

The final may have been a damp squib, the second in successive seasons for us, as we capitulated meekly to a Man Utd side en route for a famous treble, but that afternoon at Old Trafford Shearer had us believing cup glory was a distinct possibility.

3. v Aston Villa (h), 3rd November 2001

A nightmare scenario. My beloved's brother's wedding, I was meeting her extended family for the first time, the alcohol was bound to flow worringly freely, and - to make matters worse - the bride and groom had met at university in Sunderland, and so there were plenty of Mackems in attendance.

Thankfully, everything passed remarkably smoothly, my mood lightened further by the news of this steamrollering of Villa at St James's Park that kept us buoyant towards the top of the league. In a splendid team performance, one of the best home fans had witnessed in a while, Craig Bellamy scored twice (his fallouts with Robson and then Souness not yet visible on the horizon).

The Welshman's strikes, though, sandwiched the pick of the bunch. Lee floated a long pass over to Shearer on the right side of the penalty area, and from an angle Shearer smashed it first time past Peter Schmeichel on the volley.

Needless to say, I spent the evening drinking copiously in celebration of both the nuptials and the result, grinning at the assorted Mackems I encountered at the bar.

NUFC.com match report

4. v Man Utd (a), 23rd November 2002

Shearer's feelings for Man Utd are well publicised. Having turned them down not once but twice, the second time to sign for us in that world record £15m deal in the summer of 1996, no-one was more overjoyed by the 5-0 pasting we dished out to the champions in October that year. Shearer scored that day, and had a hand in the winner in the tremendous 4-3 home win in September 2001 (it was eventually credited as a Wes Brown own goal) before winding up Roy Keane until he was red-carded for swinging a punch.

But his finest goal for us against the Red Devils came at Old Trafford in November 2002. We were 3-1 down at half-time, and it took another brilliant free-kick that bulleted past the helpless Fabian Barthez into the top corner to get us right back in the game on 52 minutes.

Unfortunately, we conceded again the very next minute and went on to lose 5-3 (this was the season, lest we forget, that we also lost 6-2 to Taggart's mob at home...) - but it was a landmark strike, Shearer's 100th Premiership goal for the club, and couldn't have come against a more appropriate side. Apart, perhaps, from the Mackems.

NUFC.com match report

5. v Everton (h), 1st December 2002

100 up, but Shearer wasn't resting on his laurels. Oh no. What he came up with in our very next Premiership match was even more special.

Everton had come to St James's in a rich vein of form, and eternal thorn-in-our-collective-side Kevin Campbell (see also: Gus Poyet, Eidur Gudjonssen, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink, Paul Scholes, Michael Owen until recently...) scored on 17 minutes. Shortly afterwards, Joseph Yobo was sent off for hauling down Bellamy and the Toffees had to face up to playing most of the game with ten men - but, try as we might, we just couldn't break them down. With just four minutes to go, it looked like a distinctly underwhelming defeat.

But, when an optimistic long ball bounced up off substitute Shola Ameobi, Shearer only had one thing in mind. His awesome volley would have decapitated 'keeper Richard Wright - if he'd managed to get anywhere near it, that is.

Buoyed by this equaliser out of the blue, we scented blood and, a minute from time, Bellamy's shot was deflected into his own net by Chinese midfielder Li Tie. As has so often been the case since he arrived on Tyneside, Shearer was the catalyst and inspiration behind a vital victory.

NUFC.com match report

6. v Chelsea (h), 25th April 2004

It was a bright Sunday afternoon when Chelsea breezed into Toon, flush with Abramovich-funded signings like Hernan Crespo, Joe Cole, Claude Makelele and Wayne Bridge. This may have been the pre-Mourinho Chelsea of Claudio Ranieri, but make no mistake, they still posed a formidable threat.

True to form, the Londoners opened the scoring after only four minutes, Cole ghosting in unchallenged to put the ball past Given. But we weren't in the mood to lie down and surrender. Just as Chelsea thought they'd got in at the break with a slender lead, Ameobi pivoted on the edge of the area and fired in a clinical equaliser with his left foot.

Better was to come early in the second half, when it was Chelsea, rather than us, who were caught cold. Shearer underlined to Marcel Desailly that his career as a majestic player at the top of his game was effectively over. The Frenchman allowed our captain an inch of space on the left about 30 yards out, and that proved to be the inch he needed to hammer a venomous shot right into the top corner.

Jonathan Woodgate later limped off, his last appearance for us before being sold to Real Madrid, and John Terry hit the post late on, but we held on for a richly deserved victory. Shearer had done it again.

NUFC.com match report

Of course, there have been many, many other great goals to come from Shearer's boots or head (as well as lots of scrappy but vital tap-ins), but those are my absolute favourites.

My favourite player feature from Cheer Up Alan Shearer (Incidentally, what happened to this, lads? If you're thinking of resurrecting it - and it was a very readable feature - I know a man who'd probably be keen to contribute...)

New faces

A warm welcome to the B&W&RAO blogroll...

Football Predictions
From The Doncaster Road End, a general sports blog but with plenty of excellent football content and written by a Scunthorpe fan and a Swansea fan

Insider information

"Newcastle was my initiation into the world as an independent person, away from friends and family, a place where my career started and where the generous Geordie spirit and infectious sense of humour always made me laugh".

Former Toon striker Andy Hunt reflects on his time on Tyneside on his blog, offering an insider's perspective on Ossie Ardiles's reign and some of his Geordie teammates in the process.


There's a fascinating article in today's Guardian by David Conn, who casts his expert eye across the murky world of the club's finances, with the help of nufc-finances.org.

Needless to say Dirty Doug comes in for particular scrutiny, with Fat Fred not far behind (although at least Freddie still lives and pays tax in this country.)

What frustrates me about the whole thing is my own failure to do something about a situation that clearly galls me. I know that every time I give the club money a percentage of it finds its way to the gruesome twosome by way of the massive dividends they pay themselves, yet still I continue to pay for my season ticket and buy the shirt.

I can't disassociate the club from my sense of regional identity and pride, and as a result I'm a prime cash cow to be milked by the board to pay for their extravagant lifestyles.

Just remember, the next time Fat Fred says that the board always back the manager, it's the fans' money they are backing him with. The same pot of fan's money from which they take their extravagant dividends.

Kieron Dyer may earn over £3 million a year despite not being able to play for much of the season, but the Halls have taken £36,446,153 from the club to date. Who do you think is really taking the piss?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Roeder to recovery

Newcastle United 2 - 0 Portsmouth

One game in charge, and Glen Roeder has already managed to get more out of his squad of players than Graeme Souness managed in the last six months. On Saturday, we played with purpose, passion and a collective will not previously seen this year.

Admittedly, one swallow doesn't make a summer, and three points against a woeful Portsmouth side should have been a foregone conclusion. However, it was particularly heartening to witness the collective spirit within the team, and a desire to work together for the collective good.

Reverting to the tried and trusted 4-4-2, Roeder's men began the match with purpose, and but for heroics by Dean Kiely in the Pompey goal we'd have been out of sight by half time. As it was, his excellent work and some profligacy from Shola (who incidentally enjoyed a strong game) kept the visitors in the match.

Then four minutes before the interval we made the breakthrough. Good interplay between Shola and Nobby down the right eventually saw Solano cross the ball, and Shearer connected with a strong header. However it wasn't to be enough to break Milburn's record, as Kiely once again saved smartly with his feet. However, the ball fell kindly for N'Zogbia, whose clever side foot shot found the corner of the net, when a less cool headed player might have blazed it over the bar.

The second half saw our performance begin to tale off slightly, but despite lacking the storming performance of the first it contained the game's (and in all probability the season's) defining moment.

A long clearance from Given was flicked on by Shearer. Ameobi, with his back to goal was able to bring the ball sufficiently under control to back heel it in to the path of the onrushing number 9. Free of the last man, he calmly slotted the ball under the advancing keeper, and rippled the net for the 201st time in his Newcastle career. In doing so, he broke Jackie Milburn's record and confirmed his position as the greatest goal scorer to ever play for the club, before celebrating wildly in the Strawberry corner of the ground.

With team mates flocking to him, it was a real pleasure to see the delight, and team spirit which embodied the celebration, with Shola launching himself over his delighted Captain in the process.

Two nil up, and we should have been cruising. Happily, we were, although Given's rash decision to race from his box to try and clear a ball he was never going to reach left us looking slightly shaken for a moment. Thankfully, Bramble and Boumsong both got back to cover the keeper, and Titus eventually cleared the ball to safety.

The stage was finally set to welcome Bowyer and Dyer back from injuries, and with Emre and Parker pulling the strings in midfield the future suddenly looks a lot brighter.

Whilst it must be born in mind that the visitors were woeful, we can certainly head to Villa park on Saturday with renewed optimism. The injury list is now down to four, Villa's best player this season isn't allowed to play, and with players like Dyer and Emre returning to fitness we're starting to create chances.

Obviously it wouldn't be Newcastle without something going slightly awry, and Albert Luque's impression of Sol Campbell when he learnt he hadn't even made the bench on Saturday took the gloss off matters. However, Roeder's comments were based along reconciliation and rehabilitation rather than recrimination and retribution. Let's hope that he's as good as his word, and can coax the best out of the Spaniard. If Saturday's resurgence is anything to go by, he's got a pretty good chance.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, February 03, 2006

One chance

There's an excellent article in today's Guardian which talks about Souness' time at the club and takes the view that sacking him was the right thing to do.

Interestingly, the article comments that neither Luque nor Babayaro were Souness signings, and were in fact foisted upon him. Now this would hardly come as a surprise given that Fat Fred was allegedly the man responsible for Nicky Butt and Fat Pat who Robson was lumbered with.

The question has to be, why? Why does Fat Fred (a man who has made his money in scrap metal) think he is a great judge of a footballer? If he wants to pick the team, can't he just invest in a copy of Championship Manager, or play Fantasy Football, like the rest of us? By doing this, he is seemingly enjoying a massive ego trip. "Look at me" he is saying, "I know best".

Well, sorry Freddie, but your judgment of footballers is not that hot, and you really should leave that side of things to the professionals. Particularly when they are the ones who shoulder the blame when things don't work out.

Of course, the question now is whether Fat Fred has the ability to make one good decision?

He simply must make the right appointment now, or we're going down. Maybe not this season, but certainly next.

Here's hoping he gets it right.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Don't Panic!

The club have officially terminated Graeme Souness' contract with immediate effect, and in doing so have brought an end to his troubled time on Tyneside. Glen Roeder takes over control of team affairs on a temporary basis, with Alan Shearer as his Assistant, presumably meaning that Dean Saunders and Al Murray have followed Souness out the door.

Arriving after the debacle that was our sacking of Bobby Robson, Souness never really managed to win over the fans, with his mix of rubbish football and dodgy transfer record (for every Parker and Owen there's a Faye or Boumsong) he was always going to struggle.

However, despite all of this, I'm still frustrated that we've sacked him now. The transfer window has now closed. The terrible run of injuries seemed to be coming to an end. There are no decent people currently available (with the possible exception of Martin O'Neill).

Our stark choice now is tart ourselves around like we did when Robson was sacked and employ someone who isn't up to the job (I can just see Fat Fred talking to Steve (3 games from a P45 himself) McClaren) . Failing that, we limp to the end of the season, praying we'll stay up, and appoint someone good in the summer. In which case, what was the point in sacking Souness now?

The bottom line is that need to make sure we get the next appointment right. If that takes some time, then so be it, but to make a rash decision now will destroy what little quality we have left in the squad.

Diamond Shite

Man City 3 - 0 Graeme Souness Farewell XI

Events of today have rather conspired against this report, so I'll keep things brief.

We were shit.

We played a diamond formation which nobody was used to, and allowed Man City acres of space down the flanks (which they exploited frequently). We didn't look like threatening one goal, let alone the three we'd need to get back on level terms.

Andy Cole inevitably scored against us, and will certainly have enjoyed putting the final nail in Souness' coffin.

Let's hope for better on Saturday.

P45 time

A Man City match report will follow at some point, but last night's gutless capitulation finally proved that enough was enough for Fat Fred, and Souness has been sacked.

More on this when I have time (some of us still have jobs, unlike Graeme and his gang...).

Apparently, Glen Roeder takes temporary charge.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Window of our discontent

The transfer window slammed shut last night, with one time Toon target Danny Murphy joining Martin Jol's squad of midfielders at Tottenham, and Lee Bowyer allegedly demanding too much money from his next employers to go anywhere.

Or to put it another way, our transfer activity can be summarised as follows:

Players In:
Players Out:

Hardly the strength in depth we identified as being a priority a month ago.

The only positives to emerge from a pretty bleak month are: we're still in the FA Cup and have a good chance of progressing to the Quarter Final Stage; we haven't plunged ourselves into further chaos by sacking the manager; and some of our players are coming back from injury (Parker, Emre, Ameobi and whisper it quietly but Kieron Dyer apparently has a chance of playing football for us soon.).

On the down side: we've not won a league game this year; the chairman's refusal to sack the manager and at the same time failure to give him any funds hardly amounts to full scale support; Bowyer is still on the payroll; no sign of Owen or Taylor recovering any time soon; Shearer looks badly in need of a rest; and Luque still looks lost to the point where he can't even get in the side ahead of a half fit Ameobi.