Thursday, August 31, 2006

What is going on?

According to, we're now trying to stop the transfer of James Milner to Villa, because Boro aren't willing to sell Mark Viduka.

Assuming Jimmy is still happy to return to a club who appear not to want him, this strikes me as the biggest let off ever. Have we seriously considered selling one of the most promising youngsters in the country for a slightly chunky Aussie who is most definitely the wrong side of thirty?

Perhaps more promisingly is the news that Robert Huth hasn't yet completed his transfer to Boro because Peter Kenyon is busy (presumably with the transfer of Ashley Cole) - in which case, there's still seven hours to rummage down the back of the St James' Park sofa for enough spare change to sign Wayne Bridge.

Deadline day rumours. Don't you just love them?

Deja vu?

Deadline day, and the scrabble for new signings is reaching fever pitch across the premiership. Following last night's loan signing of Giuseppe Rossi, our only involvement today appears to be the possible sale of James Milner to Aston Villa.

Whilst still behind Solano in the St James' pecking order, I can't help but feel that if he stays at the club, Milner could soon leapfrog everyone's favourite Peruvian trumpet playing love-rat and secure a place on our right wing. Quite why we would be willing to countenance the sale of Milner is uncertain.

Perhaps the fact that Duff can play on the right (thereby allowing N'Zogbia to play down the left) is enough to convince Roeder than Milner is now surplus to requirements.

However, I'd like to believe that given our thin squad, the truth is that we need the money to finance a transfer later today.

We wouldn't sell a player without a back up plan, would we?

Out of the blue red

And there we were, lamenting the fact that today's transfers had bypassed us completely, when the news broke that we've signed Man Utd's Italian U21 striker Giuseppe Rossi on loan until January.

Following the long-term injury to Michael Owen and the fitness doubts hanging over Shola Ameobi and new signing Obafemi Martins, it's not surprising that we were in the hunt for reinforcements up front - but the identity of the new recruit certainly is a surprise.

As Taggart himself has admitted, ""It was a big decision for us especially as we don't have the choice of strikers". Little more than two weeks ago I wrote of Man Utd: "They now look short of firepower up front, particularly given Louis Saha's injury record - Fergie must have an awful lot of faith in Giuseppe Rossi". So much faith that he's allowed him to go out on loan...

Cynicism aside, Rossi is obviously very highly rated by someone I must grudgingly admit is one of the best managers the English game has ever known. Whether or not they've got someone better lined up as a replacement (our other last minute striking target David Trezeguet perhaps?), he's a good signing. Regardless of the fact that it will be a short term move, Rossi being tied to Old Trafford until 2010, he's a good signing. And as for whether we should be stooping so low as to be accepting charitable handouts from the big boys, we're not currently in a position to quibble.

However, Fergie has claimed that "this is something that Giuseppe wanted as he needs regular first-team football". Is he good enough to be guaranteed that? We'll see.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bypassed by the action

On this day a year ago, we pulled off a massive coup in securing the signature of one Michael Owen for £17m. (Of course, so far it's not quite turned out as we planned it, but that couldn't have been foreseen and we may well yet see a significant return on our investment.)

Today, though, all the transfer action passed us by with several rumoured targets signing for other clubs. In most instances it's not clear quite how firm our interest was, so it's impossible to know whether we were beaten to their signatures or whether it was our decision not to push for a deal.

In any case, Senegalese defender Souleymane Diawara has moved from Sochaux to Charlton for £3.7m, and Dane Thomas Gravesen - who would have been an asset and a bargain at just £2m, though our midfield is already strong - has left Real Madrid for Celtic.

Another player leaving the Bernabeu today was Jonathan Woodgate, someone we can be certain we were keen to recruit and will be disappointed to have missed out on. Our former star defender (two words you rarely find in close proximity when we're concerned) has plumped for a year's loan at his hometown team Middlesbrough. It would have been great to have had him back on Tyneside, but the real concern is over his fitness. If he can stay injury free, we'll be rueing his decision even more.

Meanwhile, the Smogs can also lord it over us after landing Chelsea's German centre back Robert Huth at the second attempt. Huth failed a medical earlier in the summer, but has now signed for £6m.

All of which - regardless of our level of interest in the players concerned - must leave us looking around enviously. At the time of writing Glenn Roeder and Fat Fred have just over a day to make the promised additions to the squad. We still need two defenders and a striker (the Mark Viduka rumours having resurfaced, along with a new link to Juventus's David Trezeguet). No doubt the pair of them are "working away extremely hard behind the scenes", but that won't be good enough if there aren't new faces to show for it come midnight tomorrow. Now's the time to produce the goods.

All gone quiet

Following yesterday's summary of potential transfers, the last twenty four hours seems to have seen us lose ground and potentially miss out on all of the players mentioned below.

Jonathan Woodgate is reportedly having a medical on Teeside with a view to joining the smoggies.

Robert Huth is reportedly also on Teeside for a medical, before signing up to play alongside Woodgate.

Thomas Gravesen had a medical at Celtic yesterday, which the papers suggest didn't go smoothly, but still looks set to sign for them.

Wayne Bridge doesn't look likely to leave Chelsea, as their attempts to sign Ashley Cole appear to have bitten the dust.

Which means that we're left with the prospect of no defensive reinforcements coming in before the transfer window closes.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Through the black and white window?

With less than sixty hours to go until the summer transfer window slams shut, it seems like an opportune time to consider the prospect of our bringing in any further reinforcements.

Of the names being linked with us (and for that matter the glaring failings in our current crop of players) it is clear that we need to bolster our defence, or face several more months in which phrases like "hapless" and "comical" are trotted out with all too much regularity to describe our latest failure to keep a clean sheet.

With Boumsong and Robbie Elliott now gone, we also look somewhat short of numbers at the back, and our ability to withstand even a moderate number of injuries could leave us in major disarray. It's therefore hardly surprising that we are reported to be after a number of defenders.

Looking at each of the names in the frame in turn:

Jonathan Woodgate - as I mentioned earlier today, I'd love to see a fit Woodgate back playing for us. However, noises emanating from Teeside suggest he's favouring a move there, and in truth, if he's not going to be fit enough to play, he's bugger all use to us. However, the fact that he's available on loan would definitely find favour, given our seeming lack of transfer cash, and we know precisely what we'd be getting.

Robert Huth - with his dodgy ankle now apparently repaired, Huth seems destined to leave Chelsea this season in a bid to find first team football. Whilst physically imposing, I've not seen enough of him to be certain that he can command the defence (which is what we need). However, he's young, and doesn't seem prone to the sort of lapses which have prevented Titus from becoming the world beater he's physically equipped to be.

Wayne Bridge - unlike the Huth transfer, this one seems wholly dependent on what Chelsea and Arsenal manage to do with regard to Ashley Cole. If Cole joins Chelsea, then I suspect Bridge will be on his way up the M1 quicker than Craig Bellamy on his way out of a Cardiff night club. However, if Cole stays put, then there's absolutely no chance of any Tyne Bridge headlines being wheeled out. If this is going to happen, I expect it'll be at about five minutes to midnight on Thursday.

Thomas Gravesen - the other name continually linked to us. He now appears bound for Celtic, and despite our woeful performance on Sunday, midfield isn't our priority at the moment. If he were to come, he'd be welcome - but a resurgent Nicky Butt has probably done enough to allow Roeder to let this one go without too many worries.

A N Other - Despite the arrival of Obafemi Martins, we still look short of attacking options, and it wouldn't surprise me to see us pick up someone on loan, although quite who is available and fits the bill, I'm not really certain.

The clock is ticking.

Woody return?

According to reports, Jonathan Woodgate flew in to Teeside Airport yesterday to discuss a possible loan move to the premiership this season. Woodgate is supposed to have met both officials from Newcastle and the smoggies.

Interestingly Gareth Southgate (fresh from seeing his side get stuffed by Portsmouth) claimed "We've done everything we can to try and make it happen", whilst Glen Roeder (following our woeful showing away to Aston Villa) said of three potential new signings: "We're in pole position in all three". If the report is true, then seemingly both men are confident of landing their man, and inevitably one will be left disappointed.

Personally, I maintain that Jonathan Woodgate is the finest defender I've ever had the pleasure of seeing play for Newcastle, and provided he was fit, would be welcomed back to St James' Park with open arms. However, the problem for Woodgate (and the reason he wants to go on loan) is that over the last two years, he's been almost permanently injured, and there is little sense in recruiting a player who is going to spend more time in the treatment room than on the pitch. Equally, with Boro his home town team, I wouldn't be too surprised to see him look to take the opportunity to spend a year living at home and playing for his local team.

Hopefully, he's now a fully fit player, and presumably Madrid have spent their money ensuring nothing but the best in medical treatment has been his for two years. If so, and provided we can persuade him that a return to St James' Park is the best showcase for his talents (and I'd hope that European football might play a part here) then he's one player I'd love to have back.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Aston Villa 2 - 0 Newcastle Utd

A limp away defeat without scoring or even seriously threatening the opposition's goal - sound familiar? Because it should - we made it something of a habit last season. And old habits die hard.

Obafemi Martins - the man brought in to score the goals in the absence of Messrs Shearer, Owen and Ameobi - endured a particularly miserable debut. He tried hard and showed some good link-up play, but didn't have even a sniff of a chance before succumbing to injury in a second period during which we all but gave up.

Martins had taken his place in the side along with Shay Given, Craig Moore and Nobby Solano, all returning after Thursday night. Albert Luque, Steve Harper, Steven Taylor and Charles N'Zogbia dropped to the bench - the latter can justifiably feel especially aggrieved about that decision.

Just 48 minutes after the Newcastle team bus arrived at the ground, Villa were ahead, Luke Moore firing home from just inside the area to the delight of a beaming Randy Lerner. We then wrested back control of the game and dominated possession for long periods, James Milner and Damien Duff both trying their luck, but never looked genuinely dangerous.

It wasn't particularly surprising when, in the 38th minute, the Brummies doubled their lead. Lively youngster Gabriel Agbonlahor, who was crucifying Celestine Babayaro every time he got the ball, slipped it to Juan Pablo Angel, and the goalshy Colombian striker managed to round Given and finish.

Glenn Roeder took drastic action at the break, removing Babayaro as well as Solano, anonymous against his former employers. N'Zogbia came in at left back, while Luque mooched on up front and turned in a performance that was lethargic and uninspired even by his own low standards. Gareth Barry and former Mackem Gavin McCann had dominated our £10m central midfield pairing of Scott Parker and Emre, and so barely ten minutes after the restart Roeder withdrew the Turk for Nicky Butt. And then, bang on cue, Martins fell awkwardly and was stretchered off, leaving us to play out the remaining half hour with ten men and two goals down.

With the odds against us, we might have been expected to go for broke - but instead there was only weary resignation to our fate, our twelve game unbeaten run coming to an end with barely a whimper. No zest, no spark, no commitment. Most bafflingly, we suddenly started playing the balls over the top that the pacy Martins thrives on - but only after he'd left the pitch...

Villa - an average if well-organised side under Martin O'Neill - seemed to take pity on us, declining to press home their advantage, but only the width of the crossbar denied Luke Moore from claiming his second of the game in injury time. By that point we could have been reduced to nine, Craig Moore lucky to get away with an off-the-ball trip on Agbonlahor.

Fortunately it has since transpired that Martins only suffered a dead leg, and should be fine to line up against Fulham in a fortnight's time. All in all, though, an afternoon that all of a black and white persuasion will be eager to forget.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Saturday, August 26, 2006

New faces

A couple of additions to the Black & White & Read All Over blogroll.

First up is Harry Hotspur, a Spurs blog with a sense of humour - at least judging by the reaction to Damien Duff's opting to sign for us rather than them, which I'll be charitable and label "satire" rather than "sour grapes"...

Secondly, calling all groundhopping addicts and fans of Hobo Tread - The 100 Football Grounds Club is one just for for you.

One other link for anyone interested in finding out more about Sunderland - all you need to know can be found here.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Money for nothing

Following confirmation that Obafemi Martins has signed for the club for a reported fee of £10 million it's interesting to note that the Guardian today report on the vast fortune we've been paying to agents.

Now it's hardly news to learn that agents take a cut for any bit of work they do, but what staggered me most was the sums of money involved. It's a case of a few hundred thousand here, and a few hundred thousand there.

It almost makes the vast sums of money fat fred and dirty doug take in share dividends seem reasonable by comparison!

Speaking of which, there were also reports this week that the Belgravia Group had approached Sir John Hall about acquiring his shares in the club. A fact which they confirm on their website.

Now, I'll be honest and say I've never been Sir John's biggest fan, and I'm certainly no lover of his son, or for that matter fat fred (albeit that I've grudgingly praised his efforts in the transfer market this summer), however, I'm equally uncertain that a takeover would be a good thing.

Whilst I may get frustrated by the money they take from the club, I can't believe that an outside investor wouldn't take exactly the same dividends as the gruesome twosome. This is hardly a Roman Abramovich style Championship Manager for billionaires approach. At which point, is it not a case of better the devil you know?

As it is, I can't see fat fred wanting to part with his 28% of the shares, seeing as he'd lose his platform to spout off about the state of football, and I can't see any investor wanting to buy into a company where fat fred was keeping his feet firmly under the table.

Tallinn bound

Today's draw for the first round proper of the UEFA Cup saw us paired with the Estonian side FC Levadia Tallinn. Levadia having previously overcome Dutch side FC Twente 2-1 on aggregate, to become the first Estonian side to progress beyond the qualifying round of any European competition.

Hopefully, we'll fare better than the Dutch, and progress to the group stage of the competition.

The ties are currently scheduled to be played on 14th and 28th September with us playing the away leg first.

The draw in full can be found here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Too many wingers spoil the broth

Newcastle Utd 0 - 0 FC Ventspils

(Newcastle win 1-0 on aggregate)

Had new £10.1m signing Obafemi Martins not been unveiled on the pitch before kick-off, we'd all be a lot more depressed about this result - though, yes, for those of you with half-full glasses we are at least through to the UEFA Cup First Round proper.

With Shola Ameobi unfit and Martins not registered in time to be available, Glenn Roeder had little option but to pack his side with wingers, James Milner and Albert Luque paired up as the non-natural strikeforce up front and Charles N'Zogbia and Damien Duff on the flanks (Nobby Solano was rested). The game panned out just as you might expect with that line-up - we created numerous chances and put in countless dangerous crosses and corners without converting a single one.

Tasked with firing us comfortably into the UEFA Cup, Luque in particular was for the most part hapless, despite showing occasional and very welcome glimpses of application. By contrast, Duff, N'Zogbia and Milner shone (all ably prompted by Emre in midfield) but were themselves unable to find the net.

The pattern was set from the first whistle: us attacking and Ventspils defending deeply and stoutly, if fortuitously. Duff worked himself several presentable opportunities in the first half, while N'Zogbia danced into the area before firing in a low shot, Emre stung 'keeper Andris Vanins' palms, Celestine Babayaro blasted just wide and skipper Scott Parker should have done better at close range from a Milner cross. Ventspils, meanwhile, seemed content to lose the game by showing absolutely zero attacking intent. Steve Harper (in for the unfit Shay Given) was a spectator, and Titus Bramble and Steven Taylor (in for the injured Craig Moore) can't have ever been less troubled.

The second period followed in exactly the same vein. The closest we came was James Milner's superb curling free-kick which rebounded from the underside of the crossbar with Vanins nowhere near it, while Milner scuffed a very decent chance wide from Duff's pull-back barely a minute later. Luque's control let him down on more than a couple of occasions, as did his head, but Emre and N'Zogbia were more unlucky, their long-range shots being less than convincingly dealt with. First leg goal hero Bramble went close again with a clever lofted shot from the edge of the area following a corner. When Parker burst into the box late on, a goal looked inevitable, but a wonderful sliding block from defender Gorkss denied him at the last moment.

And that was the story of the match: chances squandered and shots continually bouncing back off the bodies of Ventspils players (hopefully they've now got the bruises to show for it). And, though we did at least have plenty of efforts on goal and can consider ourselves unfortunate not to have registered, it's worrying that we couldn't even put that team of virtual no-hopers to the sword, and in attempting to do so relied so heavily on shooting from distance.

Martins will give us an offensive weapon we haven't had since Craig Bellamy's departure: sheer pace. With the midfielders (and particularly wingers) we can boast, there's no doubt he'll get plenty of chances - we're all just hoping his finishing is half as remarkable as his 100m time...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Nearly there

According to reports, Obafemi Martins has flown in to Newcastle this afternoon to take a medical and hopefully sign a contract, before being paraded at tonight's game against FK Ventspils. Obviously, should it all go to plan, he won't be able to take part in the game, but he might be available for Sunday's game against Aston Villa.

With the deal seemingly done and dusted (and I don't really want to tempt fate here) the papers have inevitably begun their latest round of speculation as to where Fat Fred might next direct his cheque book.

We've long been linked with a move for Wayne Bridge, should Chelsea and Arsenal ever sort themselves out so as to allow Ashley Cole's transfer to happen. The difficulty with this could well be down to timing, with the Cole transfer looking like it will go down to the wire, I can see us trying desperately to transport Bridge around the country this time next week, as the clock ticks down to the transfer deadline.

Similarly, with Boumsong now (thankfully) gone, rumours of our interest in Robert Huth have begun to resurface. Apparently he has now had an operation on the ankle injury which prevented his transfer to the smoggies going through earlier this summer. Whilst physically imposing, and possessing a very powerful shot, I'm yet to be convinced that Huth will prove to be the commanding defensive leader we need (and Craig Moore aside, do not appear to possess).

Elsewhere, reports suggest that Gravesen might be Celtic bound. Which, in the grand scheme of things, isn't a disaster. He'd add depth to the squad, and is a good defensive midfielder, but with Butt doing his best to rediscover some form, and Parker able to play the holding role if required, our money would clearly be better spent elsewhere.

Indeed, should we have any cash left over, then a further strong physical striker, who can provide cover for Shola (never thought I'd write that!) would be a welcome addition to the fold.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Juve done us a favour*

Having been the beneficiaries of arguably the summer's best transfer deal (ie getting Damien Duff for just £5m up front), we can now proudly claim to be the beneficiaries of the most unlikely. Paul may have scoffed at the prospect when it was first mooted (as did I), but today Jean-Alain Boumsong slipped over off to Juventus for £3.3m.

Our deposed and disgraced black and white brethren might have been haemorraghing players fast, but, seriously, who's the genius who thought: "We've just lost Fabio Cannavaro. Who's the man to fill his boots and help get us out of Serie B? I know..." That said, the move is no less mystifying to us Toon fans than Raymond Domenech's recurrent inclusion of Boumsong in his French squads.

Boumsong was one of Graeme Souness's first signings, arriving in January 2005 for the princely sum of £8m. Rangers fans were laughing at us for two principal reasons: for paying that much for a player who'd cost them nothing six months before, and for paying it for someone who'd not exactly pulled up trees north of the border. But, for a player derided as a waste of money who couldn't even excel in a Mickey Mouse league, Boumsong didn't start too badly and turned in some pretty decent performances as we staggered to the end of the season.

Last season was a different story, though. If ever there was a player who could justifiably be labelled "hapless", it was Boumsong. He looked utterly clueless - and yet somehow continued to get picked for France. So far this season he's been behind Titus Bramble, Craig Moore and Steven Taylor in the pecking order, so it was clearly time to move on.

No-one will be sorry to see him go (apart perhaps from those who enjoyed the "Boum Boum Boum, let me hear you say 'Way aye'!" song in his early days), but it's not all rejoicing and street parties round here. After all, for the benefit of the non-mathematicians amongst you it's worth pointing out that we've made a £4.7m loss on him over the space of little more than a year and a half. Chelsea might be able to absorb the damage of letting expensive signings go cheaply (see: Adrian Mutu, Hernan Crespo, Duff), but we can't. It just ain't sustainable.

Anyway, Boumsong's departure now means that defensive reinforcements are more urgent than ever. But who? Sol Campbell's gone to Portsmouth, and, with William Gallas out of favour and possibly on his way to the Emirates Stadium, Wayne Bridge has started the season as first choice left back for the champions - and started it well. Whoever the targets are, let's just hope Roeder doesn't take his eye off that particular ball while chasing strikers. (And, for the record, I think we should have gone in for Khalid Boulahrouz long before Chelsea snapped him up - just the sort of strong, commanding and versatile player we need at the back.)

* I can't (or at least won't) take credit for this - it was Paul's suggestion.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Spare a thought for the Mackems. No, not a charitable one.

Niall Quinn rode into town a month or so ago, a knight in shining armour on his trusty steed, determined to rescue his damsel in distress (that'd be Sunderland, relegated last season with a new record lowest points tally, "beating" their own worst total set two seasons previously). Suddenly the sun was shining over the wasteland that is Wearside. Hope sprung eternal.

A month on and Quinn looks increasingly like a man wrapped in tinfoil carrying a plastic sword and sat astride a fat, flatulent, flea-ridden donkey bound for the glue factory any day now. And he's also discovered to his chagrin that his damsel in distress is not so much a damsel as a pasty, lardy, gap-toothed, chain-smoking, betracksuited denizen of the town's Bridges shopping centre.

Five competitive matches so far this season, and five defeats - the latest to League 2 outfit Bury in the League Cup, a game in which their new signing Arnau Riera (from Barcelona, no less) was sent off three minutes into his debut. And all that on a day that fans' hero Sewpa Kev showed his passion for the club where he made his name by choosing to sign for West Brom instead.

And now Quinn is claiming "it's 70-30 now we'll have a world-class manager in place [for Monday's defeat against West Brom]". I can't wait to hear who it is. I don't think I could laugh as much as I did the day they unveiled the Howard Wilkinson / Steve Cotterill dream team, but you never know.

Schadenfreude - isn't it marvellous? As well as being a word with at least three syllables too many for the Great Unwashed to cope with...

Blind and committed

If the Guardian are to be believed, then the fact that we have now agreed a £10 million fee for Obafemi Martins : "continues Newcastle's almost blind commitment to attacking football, a policy whose genesis lies in the romantic ideals that Kevin Keegan imposed upon the club in their halcyon period of the mid-90s."

Or maybe it just shows that we need a new striker, on account of our strikers either being retired (Shearer), seriously injured (Owen), not yet up to the task (Luque), or having to do the job on their own (Ameobi).

However, to be fair to Rob Smyth, he does go on to say that:

"Roeder is also hoping to improve his side's defence before the transfer window. If he does so, and given the quality of attacking players already on the books, Newcastle may finally be equipped to live up to the expectations of their chairman and their fans."

I don't know about you, but I hope he's right.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Four fifths ours

According to the player, Obafemi Martins transfer to Newcastle is now 80% complete.

Quite what the remaining 20% is, I'm not sure?

At a guess, I'd say that we must have agreed a fee with Inter, presumably having reached a conclusion as to the player's age and relative worth. On top of that it sounds as though his wages must have been sorted, and all that's left is some haggling over the size of his signing on bonus, and for him to pass a medical.

Alternatively, it could simply be that the player is happy, and that it's his agent's 20% cut that needs to be sorted.

Either way, his signing can't come soon enough, given the doubts currently hanging over Shola after the knock he picked up on Saturday.

What is heartening about the whole thing is Roeder's desire to find somebody to play with Shola, not take his place in the team. I may have had my doubts about Ameobi in the past, but if he continues to use his undoubted talents as he has done in recent games, then I'll be happy to see his name on the team sheet for a long time to come. The prospect of him linking up with a player of reportedly exceptional pace is a very exciting one indeed.

Shola shines in the rain

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Wigan Athletic

There's something deeply magical about 2.59 pm on the first Saturday of the football season. Before you stretch 38 league games, during which time your team might storm the league, capitulate horribly, or more likely something in between. However, the fact is, until they start playing you just don't know. Which is why I was sat excitedly in my new seat at St James' Park on Saturday, drenched by the downpour that had preceded the game, but still excited about the impending season.

Two hours later, and I was still happy, thanks to goals by Scott Parker and Shola Ameobi (although our customary bout of shaky defending has lift me with doubts about the likelihood of us winning the remaining 37 league games we have to play).

Despite the rain, Newcastle started brightly, with Nicky Butt looking solid at the base of our five man midfield, Duff looking lively down the left, and Craig Moore looking solid at the back. Unfortunately, with the pitch turning more and more into a cloggy bog, our bright start soon lost its lustre. Nicky Butt slid into a challenge, and looked to have taken a knock to the head. He disappeared down the tunnel (presumably for stitches) but when he returned he looked groggy and off the pace. Roeder took the only sensible option, and withdrew him, bringing N'Zogbia on to the left, and pushing Duff up front as we switched to 4-4-2.

The half itself threatened to liven up at times, and with the weather appearing to brighten up Parker hit a 25 yard belter, which new England cap Chris Kirkland did well to get a hand to. Our play continued to look lively, and a long ball out of defence found Ameobi, who brought the ball down brilliantly on his chest before turning Fitz Hall and delivering a cross for Scott Parker to run on to and head into the Leazes net. (I must admit that hearing the tannoy announce the goalscorer as "number 17 and captain Scott Parker" was a bit strange.)

Back came Wigan, and Camara struck a header against the foot of the post, as the heavens opened and the players (and fans in the front few rows) were drenched, and the match squelched its way to half time, and a chance to put on some dry kit.

The second half saw us bring Taylor on to replace the commanding Moore, who was apparently suffering from a knock to his knee. Immediately, we looked a bit less sturdy in defence, with Moore's capacity to marshal the defence missed, as Wigan began to press forward. Thankfully, from one period of pressure, Nobby was able to clear the ball from the goal line at a corner, but with the rain having now ceased it was clear that Wigan were the team in the ascendancy. Sure enough, one long ball forward saw Taylor leave the ball for Carr, whose header went straight up in the air, before falling to McCulloch (occupying the position Carr should have been in, had he left the ball for Taylor), and the Wigan player was able to curl his shot past Given and give Wigan an equaliser.

Having lost our lead, we continued to look hurried and under pressure, with the ball being needlessly given away. Then a ball out of defence from Carr was beautifully flicked through his legs by Duff, and into the path of the onrushing N'Zogbia. The Frenchman drove forward, before hammering a twenty yard shot on target, Kirkland parried the shot, but could do nothing about Ameobi's follow up, which Shola expertly knocked into the far corner, and restore our lead.

From there, the game took a turn for the worst, as first Ameobi (who had previously collided with Kirkland) and then Babayaro succumbed to injury. The first was replaced by Luque, while the latter was forced to remain on the pitch with all of our substitutes used. What was heartening to see was the way the team reorganised themselves, with N'Zogbia dropping in at left back, and Babayaro pushed into midfield. However, with only ten effective men on the pitch (and Emre also looking a bit sluggish having taken a knock) it was inevitable that we would come under pressure as the game reached its climax. Thankfully we were able to stand firm, although Wigan had one possible shout for a penalty turned down, as the ball struck Bramble's arm. We even looked lively enough on the break for Luque to score a goal, albeit one ruled out for offside. It was heartening though to see how well the Spaniard finished it though, when there were times last season when he'd probably have scuffed it wide.

The upshot of the game is that we're off the mark with a win, and Shola looks to have carried his excellent form from last season through to this (although the knock which he took only highlights our need to sign striker cover sooner rather than later). Duff remains a promising acquisition to the squad, and our midfield as a whole has plenty of talent.

Although Parker later praised the defence, to my mind we still looked shaky after Moore went off, and it is to be hoped that he can recover from his knock in time for Thursday's UEFA Cup game.

Highlights: Toongoals

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Cole to Newcastle?

Apologies for the inevitable title of this post...

Today's News Of The World is apparently reporting that the ongoing Ashley Cole saga has taken a new twist, with Arsenal having offered him to us because they've got a substantial debt to reduce and talks with Chelsea have reached an impasse.

While we're in the market for a left back, Celestine Babayaro not being up to the job, this should be taken with a very large sackful of salt. It's the kind of story designed to sell papers and inflate the optimism of the gullible.

But, quite apart from whether there's any grain of truth in it, would we actually welcome him at St James' Park? Personally I'm not sure I would. Great player though he is, he habitually dives, trips and whinges his way through games against us, and his recent conduct with regard to the club that pays his wages suggests that he'd be a potential troublemaker. Add to that his superstar's ego and it's not such an appealing prospect.

But at least the new Mrs Cole wouldn't have a problem developing an allegiance to the Toon, eh?

The News Of The World are also claiming that we're back in the hunt for Inter's Obafemi Martins, now that we've ascertained that his real age is 21 rather than the 28 that had been rumoured. It's obvious we need reinforcements up front, especially with Shola Ameobi picking up another knock yesterday after notching the winner over Wigan.

In a pre-match interview on BBC Radio Newcastle Roeder stressed how difficult it's been trying to identify quality strikers to bring in at the right price, and assured fans that he and Fat Fred are doing everything they can. He added that he didn't think he'd missed out on any strikers who've moved this summer other than those going to the top four. Don't know about that, Glenn - I would have welcomed Dimitar Berbatov and Benni McCarthy, at least.

In much more serious news, it turns out that the scans our old boss Sir Bobby Robson had after being taken ill at an Ipswich match earlier this month have revealed he has a brain tumour. It's only small, though, and apparently easily removable, and he's due to undergo surgery on it on Wednesday. Best wishes Sir Bobby.

(A report on yesterday's Premiership opener against Wigan will follow tomorrow.)

Friday, August 18, 2006

My kingdom for a striker...

With the kick-off of the Premiership season now less than 24 hours away, and following the overview of other clubs posted earlier in the week, here we offer an assessment of our own summer activity and prospects for the year to come.

Paul: A year ago I wrote:

"We can only hope that we manage to bring in some more new faces before the end of August, and that for once we start the season well, thereby easing the pressure on Souness and allowing the team to find a rhythm and style to suit them. However, if we don't sign a decent striker, we could be scratching around for goals, and if we don't score enough our defence is unlikely to help us scrape too many one-nils. It could be a long and not hugely enjoyable season. I just hope I'm proved very very wrong".

To be honest, twelve months on and not much has changed. Souness has thankfully taken his unique brand of man-management elsewhere, and there is far less pressure on Roeder going into this season, given the enormous amount of goodwill he currently enjoys. The fact that we are still in Europe also helps.

However, the need to sign a decent striker (or two) is perhaps even more pressing, with Shola now carrying the burden alone until Owen hopefully recovers sometime in 2007. Our defence also looked reasonably solid towards the end of last season, although appear to have returned to their less watertight ways in our pre-season games and I'd still like to see us pick up some additional cover at left back (at the very least). To that end, our reported interest in Wayne Bridge is definitely a good thing, although the fact that Ashley Cole's move to Chelsea has apparently collapsed suggests that we won't be picking up England's second best left back any time soon.

On the positive side of things, we have signed Damien Duff, a player who should improve the side (despite displacing last season's star performer Charles N'Zogbia). If we can manage to bring in a striker or two before the end of the month (sadly I'm already looking beyond the start of the season, which is when I'd like us to have completed our summer transfer activity) then this could be a good year for us.

The midfield looks strong, with the departures of Bowyer and Faye unlikely to see anyone on Tyneside wipe a tear from their eye, and the return of Nicky Butt (hopefully in the form he started for us, rather than the disgraceful crap he served up in the FA Cup semi final) or possibly the acquisition of Thomas Gravesen, allowing Scott Parker to be even more dynamic. If we could get Kieron Dyer fit as well, we could really dominate games in midfield.

However, without the addition of strikers (and preferably pacy ones) we're still going to struggle to score goals - Shola's looked a much better player under Roeder, but he's still going to need support, and I doubt his hip problem has finally been cured.

Still, Roeder's got my support, and the fixtures list looks to have been kind to us this year so we might just get that elusive good start for once, although if we don't sign a striker before the end of the month the outlook for the season could become immeasurably bleaker.

Ben: Inspired by seeing The Blockheads live last weekend, I’m wondering what our reasons to be cheerful are – and there are a few.

The £5m signing of Damien Duff, for starters – pound for pound the best deal of the summer (though Arsenal’s signing of Tomas Rosicky for £7m runs it close, as do Michael Ballack and Sol Campbell on frees). Even if his arrival might impede the progress of Charles N’Zogbia and signal the end of Albert Luque’s short career on Tyneside, Duff will give us added width and attacking threat down the left, and our midfield now looks stronger than ever.

Secondly, we’ve managed to retain the services of our best players (our retiring skipper the notable but unavoidable exception), with Given signing a new deal particularly significant. Glenn Roeder has also offloaded the useless (Amady Faye) and the unwanted (Lee Bowyer), while allowing the local lads who couldn’t quite make the grade (Michael Chopra, Martin Brittain) to move on.

Thirdly, rather than being panicked into paying over the odds for decent but vastly overpriced players (I’m thinking of Emile Heskey, Andy Johnson, Joleon Lescott and particularly Michael Carrick here), Roeder and Fat Fred have played a prudent and patient game.

But then this is where the unease creeps in. Prudence and patience are all well and good, but our shortage of strikers is a grave concern. What’s the point of having Duff if he’s got no-one to cross to? Roeder and Shepherd have had all summer to bring new faces in, and it hasn’t happened. Even if Michael Owen’s injury couldn’t have been foreseen, Alan Shearer’s retirement should have inspired us to scout for suitable replacements (as far as anyone could be called a “replacement” for the great man) long ago. We seem to be remarkably complacent for a side which failed to score in 16 of our 38 Premiership matches last season.

If we’re not going to score many, then we have to be sure of being able to keep teams out at the back – and, worryingly, our old defensive frailties have once more been exposed in pre-season friendlies, the lessons Roeder taught last season apparently unlearnt. Craig Moore impressed during the World Cup, and all of our centre-backs are capable of good performances on their day (yes, even Jean-Alain Boumsong), but I would feel much happier if we’d brought in someone like Campbell to marshall things and lead by example.

Last but not least, there’s Roeder. I agree with the decision to appoint him manager permanently, but there’s a danger that his heroics last season could have raised expectations too high this term. As fans of other clubs never tire of telling us, Roeder has always done well in his first season in charge elsewhere, and then taken the side down the next. We’re too good for relegation, but there remains a question mark over whether Roeder can sustain the same levels of performance and belief that he achieved in the final few months of the season.

View From The Away End

Enough of our partisan ramblings. What do fans of other clubs make of our prospects? We asked Pete of Round And White, David of From The Doncaster Road End, Danny of Bitter And Blue and Swiss Toni and Lord Bargain of Cheer Up Alan Shearer for their views.


Pete: “So, a new season dawns for Newcastle and it seems as though the club have started exactly where they left off. While most clubs have been busy frittering their money away (this means you Man United and Chelsea), the most exciting thing to happen to the club this summer was Titus Bramble driving his Beemer into a garden wall in Norfolk. Ok, so they signed Damien Duff as well, but while he's definitely a top-class player, he won't be changing their fortunes a great deal.

Those now heavily ironic Northern Rock World Cup ads of Mickey heading off to Germany on a luggage belt captioned with "Can we have him back in one piece" highlight the problem for the Magpies. Where are the goals going to come from? Even when Owen returns, with Big Al gone, the club will still be searching for a 20 goals per-season forward, who is injury-resistant, physical, strong in the air and a consistently good finisher. Unfortunately for Newcastle, Ruud moved to Madrid, Berbatov signed for Spurs and Kuyt is overrated.

Happily, in Roeder, the team probably have a manager who is more capable than Souness ever was of making the most of the players he has available to him. Nevertheless, there must be a fair bit of head-scratching going on at St James'. Shay is thankfully still there, but the defence is yet to see any beefing up. As long as Emre, Parker and Dyer are all fit at the same time (a rarity last season), the midfield could prove handy. Up front, Glenn looks as though he'll be relying on Amoebi and Luque to put away the goals, at least until the transfer window reopens; not necessarily a pair that strike fear into the hearts into the defences of the top four. All in all, a recipe for results ranging from the tremendous to the terrible.

Time for me to stick my neck out then. Mid-table all season, quarter-finals of the league and FA cups and an embarrassing result against a Eastern European team in the 3rd round of the UEFA Cup”.

David: "At the end of last season, we were all hearing how great Harry Redknapp was for saving Portsmouth - mainly because he achieved Champions League qualification form by getting 20 points from 10 matches - but not many people mentioned Glenn Roeder. From his last 10 matches, he got 19 - over his time in the job, he got 32 points from 16 matches, and hauled the team into that Intertoto place, something that is easily mocked.

It is also worth remembering that this was without the over-priced Michael Owen. Don't get me wrong, if he regains his fitness, he will score twenty goals a season and be adored by the St James faithful. But without Shearer as well, we're told it becomes a tall task for Newcastle to obtain at least the modest objective of UEFA / Intertoto cup qualification - or so the press likes to tell us.

But that isn't the case - looking at Roeder's games in charge, it is clear that team was preparing for the departure of Shearer and adapting to not having Owen for the almost all of those games. Of 23 goals scored in open play, only three were scored by Shearer - six were Shola Ameobi's, the other 14 coming from eight players across the park, of which you still have all but Lee Bowyer. What's to say this form isn't going to continue?

Plus, there's the England effect - we've got a new manager, and Beckham has departed. Two Newcastle players have been called up to the under 21 squad - Milner and Taylor - but none to the main squad. I'm pretty sure that by 2008 Milner will want to be on the fringe of the squad, and that Scott Parker will want to be in it, and Kieron Dyer will want to get back in there.

I can't see you bringing home any silverware this year unless you get a lucky cup run. But that shouldn't be what this season is about - Roeder may not have the funds to buy anyone other than a bargain priced Damien Duff - this season is about building and stability for the club to move on. You don't need any new players - okay, maybe a striker might be useful - there's a terrific amount of untapped talent in that side, a solid midfield, an improving defence, a terrific keeper and a forward pairing of Ameobi and N'Zogbia that has potential and the ability to score.

That fifth, sixth place is going to be hard. There'll be Tottenham, West Ham, Everton at least to fight for it. The top four is going to be even harder. You have a long 38 weeks - don't give up five matches in. However, if you do meet Scunthorpe in a cup run, give us a break, hey?

Danny: “A surprise in the off-season has been the lack of reinforcements into both the defensive and striking departments – both areas identified from last season as needing improving. The loss of Shearer and Owen leave an attacking combination of Luque and Ameobi, who will not have Premiership defences overly concerned whilst a defensive partnership of Bramble and Boumsong leave opposing strikers salivating.

Still, a good reinforcement by Roeder was that of Damien Duff and at only £5 million must have left a few managers questioning why they didn’t make more of an attempt to sign him and it is Duff who I think could be the key to success this season, but will he have to carry too much of a burden attacking wise?

Roeder has also trimmed the squad, ridding the likes of Bowyer, Faye and Chopra and looks likely to lead the side in the UEFA Cup proper, successfully navigating the wastelands of the Intertoto.

Roeder was a strange appointment to me, and I would have thought that a “bigger” name with a greater track record could have been enticed following the World Cup – and surely Martin O’Neill would have chosen St James’ Park over Villa Park? To his credit though, he does appear a steady hand and the lack of a “headline” name at the helm may actually benefit the club.

Looking at last season, a final standing of seventh may have been slightly inflated but sort of position will again be the aim for this season. It is achievable if Roeder can garner a consistent season but the lack of attacking threat and distraction of a UEFA campaign could hit real Premiership hopes”.

Swiss Toni: “There surely isn’t a club anywhere in the world to compare with Newcastle. Oh yeah, I know that loads of other clubs have ambitions and expectations that far outstrip their achievements. Many have remarkably loyal fans that will put their hands deep into their pockets to follow their heroes to the gates of hell with precious little in return. Hapless, greedy, arrogant chairmen are ten a penny. And yet there’s something unique and special about Newcastle United and the way that they can turn even the sanest men into misty-eyed romantics. Logic tells me that although they have the makings of an enviable midfield (and Duff must surely be one of the steals of the summer), there simply isn’t anyone up front to score the goals needed to really threaten the top half of the table, even if the slightly hapless defence is able to concentrate for long enough to keep things tight at the back.

... and yet.

Somehow when I sat down to have a go at predicting the final standings (something you can do here), I found myself automatically placing the top five and then looking to see if I thought Newcastle might finish sixth. I quickly came to my senses and tucked them in at 11th, which if I applied more logic and less sentiment to my thinking, probably still looks too high.

And how did Glenn Roeder end up in the manager’s dugout when Martin O’Neill was clearly on the market? Roeder seems like a lovely man, and he did a great job towards the end of last season, but does anyone really believe he’s the man to turn things around and take the Toon back up the table? Really?

I wish you well, but I have my hankie at the ready

Nick: “I was walking past my local Ladbrokes the other morning when I spotted their Premiership betting poster in the window. Odds for the title for Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool… and Spurs. It was then that I realised what has happened to Newcastle United in the last few seasons. Have Newcastle ever been favourites for the Premiership? Maybe they haven't. Have they been on that top five list at the start of the season? Surely. And how recently? Two, three years ago?

I don't think Newcastle fans can expect anything different this season from last. As I have said before, you go back in time three years and tell a pub full of Toon fans that they would be fighting the Premier League to appoint Glenn Roeder as manager, and they would have laughed you out of the door. Whilst I admire his stance on signing hungry players (rather than the complacent shower of dross that millions has been wasted on over recent years) I am not sure he is the man to take Newcastle back into the Champions’ League. Far better would have been the appointment of someone like O'Neill or Le Guen.

And then there's the side. Damien Duff is an excellent signing. A midfield quartet of Parker, Emre, Duff and Solano is pretty good, and with back up in Milner, N'Zogbia and Butt that looks pretty strong. The defence still looks shaky - the addition of a Wayne Bridge would certainly help - and so I am not sure there will be enough clean sheets. But it is up front where Newcastle could face their biggest challenge this season. With an opening day strikeforce of Luque and Ameobi that is a hell of a burden for two unproven strikers to carry. It looks like Owen will miss most or all of the season and so the necessity to sign a proven goalscorer is immense. Having trifled with Kuyt and Martins to no avail, the latest few players they have linked with would make me decidedly pessimistic as a Toon fan. Henri Camara? Really?

So, I can see it being another mediocre season. I can't see the top five changing this year, and then there are probably three teams safe from relegation, of which Newcastle are one. What's the best that can be hoped for? Pushing Spurs for fifth? Pushing Bolton for eighth? Pushing the Boro for 15th? Who knows?"


Thanks to Pete, David, Danny, Swiss Toni and Nick for their views.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Doom and gloom

With the start of the Premiership season only two days away, we could have forecast dark clouds would be gathering ominously overhead.

Where should I begin?

How's about with the news that we've almost certainly missed out on Dirk Kuyt, with the Feyenoord striker set to undergo a medical at Liverpool? As I've long suspected, he was angling for a move to the Scousers, and has told their website: "For me, Liverpool is sure to be the dream club I was looking for". That we didn't stand much of a chance is just underlined by the comments of Feyenoord chairman Jorien van den Herik: "Many clubs have tried to contact Dirk over the recent period, but he's said no to clubs every time. That characterises Dirk's attitude: either Feyenoord or my dream club".

Meanwhile, a report in yesterday's Guardian claimed we've earmarked Fulham's flying Dutchman Collins John, and are prepared to pay £5m for the 20-year-old's services. He might be quick and have a decent goalscoring record despite the limited first team opportunities Chris Coleman has afforded him - but £5m would be way over the odds and he's certainly not the player to shoulder Alan Shearer's goalscoring burden.

So, still no incoming striker - a fact which is even more worrying in the light of Glenn Roeder's recent comment about Michael Owen on a BBC Radio Newcastle show: "It's a long term injury. I don't know if he'll play again this season". No wonder that Les Ferdinand is worried about our prospects. (Good on Sir Les, though, for reiterating his fondness for the club, a fondness which is certainly reciprocated: "I really hope Newcastle break their trophy drought this season. It's the one club I played for, apart from QPR, that I'd love to see win a trophy because their supporters are amazing".)

The news from the international friendlies was hardly any more encouraging. While Steve McLaren's Beckham-less England romped to a 4-0 win over Greece at Old Trafford, the Republic of Ireland went down by the same scoreline at home to Holland. Two of the Toon's Irish stars Shay Given and Damien Duff had already pulled out through injury, though both are expected to line up against Wigan on Saturday, but Stephen Carr is now likely to miss out, having picked up a hamstring strain in the defeat. Young Toon winger Alan O'Brien made an appearance from the bench in the second half, but it was hardly the most auspicious of debuts.

Fat Fred and Roeder, in Dublin to cast another eye over Kuyt, must have been gutted to see another injury worry develop. Perhaps they might now be tempted to try their luck for Ajax's Klaas Jan Huntelaar, the Dutch debutant striker who scored twice and outshone the soon-to-be-Liverpool player.

Is there room for one more bit of bad news? Playing for England U21s on Tuesday against Moldova, Steven Taylor missed a presentable second half opportunity to give his side a 2-0 lead, and then promptly cocked up dreadfully to allow Serghei Alexeev to equalise in a game the Moldovans ultimately drew 2-2. The one silver lining? James Milner was left on the bench and thus didn't pick up an injury.

Happy days are here again, eh?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Prediction time

In-depth analysis of our own summer activities and prospects for the season to follow later in the week, but first Paul goes public with his predictions for the final Premiership table and I take a more detailed look at the sides we'll be lining up against.

Be careful to take note so you can mock come May - last time out Paul predicted Arsenal would lift the title, while two of the players I tipped to shine were John Viafara and Ryan Taylor. Hmm.


Paul's predictions

1. Chelsea
The addition of two world class players (albeit slightly past their peak) should be enough to keep Chelsea top - but not by much.

2. Liverpool
Benitez has bought well, and Bellamy could really make a big difference for them in tight games, however it remains to be seen whether he and Pennant will stay on the straight and narrow long enough to help the team and avoid Rafa's wrath. They could run Chelsea very close.

3. Arsenal
I expect Fabregas to have an even better season, and Henry to be his usual self, although they'll need to prove they can withstand the rough stuff this season.

4. Man Utd
Without Horse Face they could struggle for goals, particularly if Saha or Rooney suffer injuries.

5. Tottenham
Berbatov looks another shrewd purchase, although how badly they'll feel the loss of Carrick remains to be seen.

6. Newcastle
If we sign a striker (or two) we could push Spurs all the way; if we don't, and Shola gets injured, we're in trouble.

7. Everton
Due a good season after last year's poor one, and Johnson looks an excellent partner for Beattie, for once they should score plenty of goals.

8. Bolton
The Allardyce bubble looked to have burst slightly when his mind was on the England job, but their robust brand of football should keep them comfortably in the top half.

9. Charlton
Iain Dowie's biggest success must be keeping hold of Darren Bent. If they can sustain their efforts all the way to May they should do well.

10. Portsmouth
Harry Redknapp seems to be like a kid in a sweetshop, having been linked with every player under the sun. It looks like he's might have picked up one or two with plenty of ability, and Pompey should avoid the need to repeat last season's heroics.

11. Aston Villa
Two weeks ago I'd have tipped Villa for relegation, but with Martin and Randy on board I think they should be comfortably mid-table, and may even manage a decent cup run.

12. West Ham
Whilst the best equipped of last season's promoted teams to settle into the division, I think there may be an element of second season syndrome about West Ham. Ashton and Reo-Coker should continue to thrive.

13. Blackburn
Without Bellamy, I think they'll struggle to score enough goals to do anything more than finish in the bottom half.

14. Middlesbrough
If Southgate settles they'll do well; if he finds himself out of his depth they'll struggle. However they've enough talented kids to avoid relegation in any event.

15. Man City
Samaras looks a promising player, and he should score goals; however if City start this season as they finished last then Psycho could well be out the door.

16. Fulham
I expect they'll struggle once again, although if Coleman can finally teach them to win away they could do a great deal better.

17. Reading
Probably just about good enough to stay up, with Coppell having established a good team spirit they could emulate Wigan. Crucially he's also got top flight experience as a manager, for when the going gets tough after the New Year.

18. Wigan
I think they'll really struggle this time, having lost some of their better players and now without the impetus that promotion undoubtedly gave them last year. It could be a long hard slog for Paul Jewell's boys.

19. Sheffield United
Whilst Neil Warnock may be a canny old bugger (or just an old bugger, depending on your point of view), his team appear to lack the depth required to stay up. A reliance on Ade Akinbiyi to score is only going to lead to problems.

20. Watford
Well organised, and extremely well managed, Watford were a real success last season. They'll hope to do a Wigan, but if they start badly they could fare only marginally better than Sunderland.


Ben's guide to the rest

All the talk will probably be of Thierry Henry (as usual) and new signing Tomas Rosicky (a steal at just £7m), but the player who's most caught the eye over the last six months has been Cesc Fabregas, fast becoming the best midfielder in the Premiership. Arsene Wenger has assembled an exciting forward-thinking young team, but will he come to rue letting old heads like Sol Campbell and Robert Pires move on without replacing them? And will he be able to send out a youth team for the Carling Cup as per usual, given all the fringe youngsters seem to have temporarily migrated to Birmingham?

Aston Villa
How they'll fare is anyone's guess. At present they're a very ordinary side, even on those rare occasions when Milan Baros reproduces his Czech Republic form, and they'll miss James Milner's pace and creativity. But in Olaf Mellberg and Steve Davis they've got a decent core to the side, and attracting Martin O'Neill was an massive coup. Now armed with Randy Lerner's millions, they could be the biggest threat to Spurs and ourselves for automatic UEFA Cup qualification. (Incidentally, isn't it great that of Birmingham's two main teams, one has a pornographer for a chairman and the other now has someone who sounds like a porn star for an owner?)

A real surprise package last year, thanks mainly to the now-departed Craig Bellamy. The blow dealt by his loss will be softened by the arrival of Benni McCarthy and Jason Roberts from Porto and Wigan respectively, but Mark Hughes's decision to offer recurrent flop Francis Jeffers a deal bemused many, myself included. Along with Steven Reid and Morten Gamst Pedersen, Lucas Neill is one of their key players, and his announcement that he wants to leave could destabilise them.

This is it. This is the year they finally slide into the lower reaches of the table. Kevin Nolan is a dynamo in midfield, but there just isn't enough quality to keep them in contention for Europe. Several players have left (including, bizarrely, last season's first choice central defensive partnership of Bruno N'Gotty and Radhi Jaidi) without the usual quality of replacements and, while we were definitely wrong to let Gary Speed go when we did, he won't be able to perform at this level and this pace for much longer. It also remains to be seen quite how interested Sam Allardyce still is in the club that pays his wages, following his shameless and ultimately vain self-promotion for the England job. My guess is not very.

A difficult one to call. On the one hand, cauliflower-faced manager Iain Dowie is likely to breath fresh life into a club that had begun to stagnate under Alan Curbishley (and indeed has already started, clearing out much of the dead wood including no fewer than four strikers - Jonatan Johanssen, Francis Jeffers, Jay Bothroyd and Shaun Bartlett), while both Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Scott Carson are sound acquisitions. On the other, Amady Faye and Djimi Traore are questionable signings at the very least (especially at £2m each), they've had an indifferent pre-season, the central midfield is lacklustre (hence a continued interest in Reading's Steve Sidwell) and I've a feeling Darren Bent will struggle to reproduce last season's superb form.

Right, what can I say to give us and all Chelsea's other opponents hope? Well, the eye-catching signings of Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack have I think blinded people to the fact that the squad has in some ways actually been weakened (and in any case the untrumpeted Salomon Kalou could turn out to be the best of Jose Mourinho's summer buys). In particular, letting Hernan Crespo go for nothing was staggering, and they've also sold integral squad members Damien Duff, Asier del Horno, Carlton Cole and Eidur Gudjohnsen cheaply. Their most versatile defender William Gallas is clearly unsettled, Frank Lampard's imperious form deserted him at the World Cup and there remain question marks over whether Mourinho's switch to a wingless 4-4-2 will pay off. Oh, alright then, they'll probably still cream everyone else without breaking a sweat.

Who knows? After a superb season (well, the first six months at least) in which they finished fourth, last year was very poor. Which means the Toffees are probably due another good one. At a combined total of £13.6m, Andrew Johnson and Joleon Lescott were overpriced but decent signings nonetheless. Tim Cahill is still the star in midfield, but the shift from a 4-5-1 formation to the 4-4-2 that the potentially dangerous strikeforce of Johnson and James Beattie would demand might inhibit the Australian's natural game to the overall detriment of the team.

Chris Coleman must be thrilled to have been the beneficiary of Jimmy Bullard's desire to return to London, but otherwise there has been little for the Fulham manager and fans to get excited about. The squad is very thin, and if their talisman, contract rebel Steed Malbranque, continues to be left out in the cold, then they could really struggle again. They've been punching above their weight for a while now, and I don't think anyone would be particularly surprised if they slid through the trapdoor this season.

A poor pre-season aside, everything looks rosy for Rafa Benitez's team. Jermaine Pennant was expensive but, along with Mark Gonzales, will give the Scousers an added dimension: genuine width. Craig Bellamy too is a shrewd purchase, as someone who will stretch defences and create chances with his pace as well scoring his fair share. Add in the capture of defenders Gabriel Paletta and Fabio Aurelio and a few flops being moved on (Djibril Cisse, Fernando Morientes, Bruno Cheyrou) you have to say they've had a superb summer and can probably consider themselves Chelsea's main challengers. Of course, everyone else will be hoping skipper Steven Gerrard gets injured to leave the team without its heartbeat.

Man City
Of all the players who left Eastlands this summer, only David James was a regular first teamer. In place of the youngsters let go, Stuart Pearce has gone down the Sam Allardyce route of bringing in experience and quality in the form of Dietmar Hamann, Hatem Trabelsi and Ousmane Dabo (you can include Paul Dickov in that list if you really must). How Bernardo Corradi will fare (and, indeed, whether he'll be able to command a regular starting position when Pearce already has Georgios Samaras, Darius Vassell and Andrew Cole at his disposal) is a matter for speculation, but at least they only parted with £1m so his signing doesn't represent a major gamble. Their fortunes rest largely on the shoulders of their very own Gerrard, Joey Barton, whose troubles now seem to be behind him.

Man Utd
2006 will go down as the summer that Fergie finally lost the plot. Michael Carrick is a skilful midfield string-puller - but £18.6m??? Ludicrous - but scarcely more incredible than the decision to let lethal striker Ruud van Nistelrooy leave for the Bernabeu for just £10.2m. They now look short of firepower up front, particularly given Louis Saha's injury record - Fergie must have an awful lot of faith in Giuseppe Rossi. Of course they've still got players who would grace any side in the world - Gabriel Heinze and Cristiano Ronaldo both enhanced their reputations at the World Cup, even if Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand didn't - but they're very definitely in danger of slipping out of the top three.

A frustrating summer for the new man in charge at the Riverside. Gareth Southgate has allowed Franck Queudrue and old hands Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Doriva to leave, but has found reinforcements hard to come by. Most embarrassing for the foam-handed ones was the collapse of the move for Chelsea's Robert Huth over a failed medical. Mid-table should still be achievable, though, for a side boasting the likes of George Boateng, Stewart Downing and (when fit) Gaizka Mendieta in addition to a strikeforce of Mark Viduka and Ayegbeni Yakubu that scored for fun even when performing within a struggling side last season. What's needed is consistency - how they managed to thump Chelsea, Man Utd and Arsenal and yet lose at home to the Mackems is beyond me, and was evidently beyond Southgate's predecessor.

Not wanting to have to do a Houdini routine again this season, Portsmouth have opted to try and get some defensive solidity by picking up Glen Johnson on loan from Chelsea and, more impressively, Sol Campbell on a free. Not everyone's as 'appy as 'Arry, though, with Dean Kiely reportedly upset that David James looks set to walk straight into his position between the sticks. And, though the midfield looks capable of competing at this level, Gary O'Neil having established himself as their key man, Pompey fans should be worried about the attack - Lomano Lua Lua can't be relied upon for regular goals, and Benjamin Mwuruwari can only continue to be picked for so long when his contributions are limited to tireless running and the odd assist.

The Berkshire club won the Championship at a canter last season, so it's no great revelation to tip them to be the promoted side most likely to avoid the drop. Steve Coppell evidently has great faith in the squad that took them into the top flight for the first time in their history, having made only two additions (and one of those, South Korean forward Seol Ki-Hyeon, hardly set the world alight at Wolves). Strikers Leroy Lita, Dave Kitson and Kevin Doyle will have to hit the ground running immediately, and Coppell knows he can't afford to do a Chris Coleman and freeze contract rebel and star man Steve Sidwell out of the squad.

Sheffield Utd
Aside from a couple of Premiership squad members (David Sommeil from Man City and Li Tie from Everton), Neil Warnock has opted to invest mainly in Championship talent, including Claude Davis and Rob Hulse at a considerable combined cost of £4.6m - a risky outlay for players inexperienced at the highest level, especially considering few existing squad members have such experience (David Unsworth being a notable exception). It's likely to end in tears for the Blades, and with any luck we'll get some comical touchline tantrums from that buffoon Warnock along the way.

Incredibly unlucky (albeit in comically farcical circumstances) not to qualify for the Champions' League last season, Spurs will want to make certain of it this. Michael Carrick might have gone, but that £18.6m is burning a hole in Martin Jol's pocket and a good portion of it is bound to be reinvested before the month is out. The North Londoners have already made two of the most eye-catching signings of the summer in Dimitar Berbatov and Didier Zokora, and in the likes of Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon, Michael Dawson and Ledley King they boast key members of the England side of the future.

Just like last time, in 1999-2000, it's likely to be short and not particularly sweet for Watford. Aidy Boothroyd proved to be a miracle worker last season, forging the decidedly ordinary Darius Henderson and Marlon King into a devastating partnership, but keeping the Hornets up will I think turn out to be beyond even him. Whether Damien Francis (relegated with Norwich, unused at Wigan) is the quality they need - especially at £1.5m - is questionable, but regaining the services of Man Utd 'keeper Ben Foster on loan makes good sense. Ashley Young is a player who could shine, and watch out for young winger Anthony McNamee - a Subbuteo Shaun Wright-Phillips. Yes, really.

West Ham
They survived that potentially horrible first season, comfortably and in no little style too. What's needed now is a season of consolidation, and they look to have the squad to achieve it. With the addition of Carlton Cole, Alan Pardew is spoilt for choice up front, while his recruitment of Tyrone Mears, John Pantsil, Jonathan Spector and George McCartney suggests he had identified the need for defensive cover as a priority. Ghana defender Pantsil could well turn out to be the Hammers' Pascal Chimbonda. One new reinforcement for the midfield is Lee Bowyer, formerly of this parish. Thanks for taking the little runt off our hands, Alan - we owe you one.

Expectations will be high after last season - but that only means it'll be more painful when they're dashed. Paul Jewell has mystifyingly spunked £5.5m of chairman Dave Whelan's money on Emile Heskey, the striker whose inability to hit the net was key in costing Birmingham their Premiership status, while £3m for Crystal Palace's Fitz Hall was also a rush of blood to the head. The club's best player Jimmy Bullard has left for Fulham, and Denny Landzaat, albeit a decent buy, lacks the dynamism and energy to replace him. One ray of light is the loan signing of tricky Ecuadorian winger Luis Valencia from Villareal - but then there's no guarantee the young South American will settle easily in the North West. The signs aren't good for Latics fans.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Crash test dummy

What is it with Newcastle players crashing their cars? First there was Andy Griffin, who famously drove into a Metro train. Then Kieron Dyer wrapped his Ferrari round the swing bridge in the centre of town. And now Titus Bramble has proved that he can as easily lose concentration and control behind the wheel as he can on the football pitch by driving into a garden wall and writing off his BMW.

Bramble and friends were unscathed, and the crash wasn't enough to prevent the man whose header on Thursday night was as meaty as his arse from going out clubbing as planned. The best bit of the story, though, is the comment from the owner of the wall, one Eddie Sargent: "The driver was Titus Bramble but I had no idea he was a footballer. My wife just remarked, ‘What a lovely name’"...

Lat's the way to do it

FK Ventspils 0 - 1 Newcastle Utd

A powerful header by Titus Bramble gave us a crucial away goal in our bid to make progress in this season's UEFA Cup. Running on to an Emre corner, Bramble launched his ample frame through a crowd and connected strongly, to drive the ball into the hosts' net.

The game itself was a largely scrappy affair, with Newcastle's five man midfield (with Butt playing the anchor role to allow Parker licence to get forward) dominating possession, but unable to produce sufficient quality to create a goal. Damien Duff made his first competitive start for the club, and looked to pose a strong threat down the left, with his pace and trickery causing the Ventspils right back problems, and Emre looked to be pulling the strings in midfield.

However, it was the hosts who created the best chance of the half with Igors Slesarcuks forcing an excellent save from Shay Given when through on goal.

As it was we survived until half time without too many other worries, and the biggest question mark seemed to be that which hung over Given, who looked to be feeling a knock to his back, which caused him to wince when he kicked the ball.

The second half carried on as the first left off, with our early dominance diminishing slightly, but with us nonetheless looking the classier team. Then with seventy minutes gone, and Roeder looking to bring on fresh legs with the hope of nicking an away goal, Titus launched himself at Emre's corner and gave us a deserved lead.

With Emre and Shola both being clattered by tackles, it was unsurprising to see the Turk replaced by N'Zogbia, Milner arriving in place of Solano, as we looked to use his pace to stretch the hosts' tiring legs, and Ramage on for Babayaro as the game drew to a conclusion. However, we didn't do enough to score a second, and settled for a one nil lead and a clean sheet.

Given our problems in keeping a clean sheet so far this pre-season, this was a welcome boost, and another good run out before the start of our league season.

However, our lack of strikers was once again drawn in to sharp focus, when Ameobi looked to have taken a nasty blow to his knee. Thankfully he was able to continue, but the need to bolster our squad up front remains a pressing one.

Highlights: Toongoals

Other reports: BBC,

Thursday, August 10, 2006

All quiet on the B&W&RAO front

This evening we play the first leg of our UEFA Cup second qualifying round match against FC Ventspils of Latvia. Damien Duff is in line for his full debut, but Roeder's starting eleven is anyone's guess. I suspect five across midfield and Shola Ameobi alone up front, though, so Charles N'Zogbia can be accommodated too.

Unfortunately, both myself and Paul are off on holiday from today and neither of us is likely to be able to get to internet access before Monday at the latest - so you'll just have to wait for the report I'm afraid. Let's just hope all goes well in Riga - four days is a long time to have the report for a nightmare match festering in your mind...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Final score

... And the winner of the copy of 'Wor Al: A Fans' Tribute To Alan Shearer' is Marc Vowell, who correctly answered that Shearer's father is / was a sheet metal worker. Congratulations to Marc.

Paul and Stu of Tonto Press, the book's publishers, have asked us to publicise the fact that there's a launch party taking place next Wednesday (16th) upstairs in Shearer's Bar (fittingly enough). Entry is free, so go along if you can to celebrate the book's publication and support Al's charity of choice the NSPCC.

Faye bye

Confirmation today that Amady Faye has ended his short-but-not-particularly-sweet stay at St James' Park by joining Charlton. How we managed to recoup the £2m we paid Portsmouth 18 months ago I'll never know, but it has to merit another grudging pat on the back for Fat Fred.

Faye was sold to us as "the new Vieira" - and indeed he was, if "Vieira" meant the Juventus player all at sea during his side's defeat by Arsenal in last season's Champions' League, when the game - superbly marshalled by Cesc Fabregas - completely passed him by. For a player whose game was reputedly built on athleticism and tough tackling, Faye was more often than not lethargic and uncommitted - something which, to be fair, Pompey visitors to Newcastle message boards warned us when Souness signed him.

So, no disappointment whatsoever to see him go. Down at The Valley he'll be hooking up with fellow new signing Djimi Traore. Judging by what I've read on All Quiet In The East Stand, Charlton's pre-season preparations haven't been going particularly well - and those two signings (at a combined cost of £4m) are hardly likely to fire the fans' optimism...

In other news, Faye's old club Portsmouth have pulled off something of a coup in signing Sol Campbell on a free. Of course, quite how much of a coup it was depends on how many other teams were interested - my guess (and I won't even bother saying "no disrespect to Portsmouth") is not many. We sniffed around for a while, though, and even at 31 and past his best Campbell would have been a very useful player to have had at the club. He and Wayne Bridge are the only two defenders we seem to have been linked with all summer...

Meanwhile, Glenn Roeder has at last confirmed his interest in Feyenoord striker Dirk Kuyt (and Inter's apparently surplus-to-requirements striker Obafemi Martins). We still seem to be playing some kind of waiting game, and I'm not sure it's in our best interests. After all, if Liverpool gain a commanding lead in tonight's Champions' League qualifier against Maccabi Haifa and then firm up their interest with a formal bid, then Kuyt probably won't give us a second thought.

Prediction time

A variation on the well-established fantasy football front: Predict The Table. Warning: it could make you look very foolish come the end of the season.

To come next week: Paul goes public with his predictions and I cast an eye over how our Premiership opponents are shaping up, while the View From The Away End crew try to rustle up some thoughts about Newcastle despite the lack of incoming transfer activity.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The ins and the outs

The post-Duff excitement has died down and we're all sat here wondering: "What next?" Time is ticking away, and Fat Fred needs to get his lardy arse into gear.

We continue to be linked to Dirk Kuyt - at the weekend Glenn Roeder went to watch him play for Feyenoord against the Smoggies (who - if today's papers are to be believed - have had a bid snubbed by the Dutch striker), but he wasn't that positive upon his return, claiming that given the hot conditions "it would be unfair and unwise to make any judgment on any player". In any case, I get the feeling Kuyt's angling for a Champions' League club, with Liverpool still a likely destination.

After a burst of speculation towards the back end of last week, fuelled mainly by the player's agent, Roeder publicly dismissed reports of a £7m move for Empoli striker Francesco Tavano. In claiming "we're not even aware of the player", Roeder spoke for most of us - though anyone who can score 19 goals in the Italian league for a struggling club for two successive seasons can't be too shoddy. Weighed up against that, though, is the fact that few Italians have opted to leave their home country for England, and even fewer have been successful.

So much for the forward line. We might be strongest in midfield, but it seems that area might well be bolstered before any other given our continued interest in Danish international Thomas Gravesen. Real Madrid's new boss Fabio Capello has opted to leave the ex-Everton man out of the club's pre-season tour of the USA - probably partly because of his training ground dust-up with teammate Robinho and partly because he's considered surplus to requirements, particularly now that Emerson has arrived from Capello's old club Juventus. Gravesen is a combative and influential presence and would add to the squad - but surely we should be looking to strengthen in other areas as a priority?

Areas like the defence, for instance. Most worrying of all, especially given Saturday's horrorshow (see below), is the fact that we don't seem to be being linked with any defenders...

As for outgoings, Roeder has at last delivered an unequivocal hands off statement about James Milner to the likes of West Ham and Villa (how on earth was Martin O'Neill persuaded to join them, BTW?!). Amady Faye could be a Charlton player very soon, with Skysports claiming he's had / having a medical today - good riddance, I say, and if we can get £1.5m then we'll have salvaged something from the deal. One player who's definitely gone not to return is Robbie Elliott, who following his release and a successful trial has been taken on by the Mackems. Who, incidentally, started their Championship campaign as they no doubt mean to go on, throwing away a lead at the Ricoh Arena to go down 2-1 to Coventry.

One final bit of transfer news that intrigued me. Apparently someone at Portsmouth contacted Nobby Solano to ask how highly he rated his Peruvian teammate Juan Vargas. Lucky to be spared a trumpet solo, Solano's caller was instead furnished with a glowing reference, and it seems as though the full back could soon be washing up on the south coast. Perhaps you could help your club find a defender or two, Nobby? Just a thought...

Back to basics

Glenn Roeder's great achievement after he stepped in to the breach last season was to get the defence playing as a unit. A simple enough task, you might imagine, but one that was evidently beyond Souness and his cronies.

But now, following the second mauling from quality European opposition in the space of a week, it seems that our back line have forgotten all the lessons they learnt.

OK so we didn't lose to Villareal (mainly thanks to unlikely goalgetter Nicky Butt, who came on as a sub to score two splendid headers and gag the boo boys), but defensively we did a good job of making a side dumped out of the Intertoto by NK Maribor look like the side that reached the Champions' League semi-final.

Predictably enough, Man Utd flop Diego Forlan wasn't forlorn for long when he saw what he and his teammates were up against. Villareal led 2-1 at the break with goals from Moreno Josico and ex-Gunner Robert Pires, and Roeder opted to replace the hapless Titus Bramble and Craig Moore with Jean-Alain Boumsong and Steven Taylor. The changes made a slight difference; though Villareal increased their lead through Gonzalo Rodriguez before Butt took centre stage, that was mainly due to Albert Luque being AWOL from a corner.

The only real positives to take from the game were that Shola Ameobi notched another goal, and that we showed a measure of resilience having fallen behind, completing a comeback rather than only going close as we did against PSV.

Plenty of work to be done on the training pitch, then - and new defensive reinforcements are still very definitely desirable...

(For footage of the goals, visit Toongoals.)

Bobby on the mend

Having been taken ill during the first half of Ipswich's Championship opener against Crystal Palace on Saturday, Sir Bobby Robson was today discharged from hospital. Tests apparently revealed nothing untoward.

Our former gaffer has already survived three brushes with cancer, the most recent this May, so initially it was worrying news. But thankfully everything seems to be OK with the man who revived our Premiership fortunes following the dark days of the Dalglish and Gullit reigns.

Long may he continue to compete with Ian Holloway and Gordon Strachan for the title of the most entertaining interviewee in football.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Man of the people

On 14th August, a week on Monday, the fledgling Newcastle-based Tonto Press are publishing a book entitled 'Wor Al: A Fans' Tribute To Alan Shearer'. Amongst those who have contributed pieces are both of us here at Black & White & Read All Over and former Mag contributor and friend of B&W&RAO Jonathan of Crinklybee.

In the modern era, when players' weekly salaries have rocketed through the £100,000 barrier and when the game is in danger of becoming detached and dislocated from the public that nourishes it and is entertained in turn, Alan Shearer was a remarkable figure - a multimillionaire superstar who was at the same time one of us. The identification and bond between player and supporters was underlined most clearly at his emotional testimonial match in May, and it's that bond that the book celebrates. Fans from far and wide, young and old, pay tribute to a Geordie who achieved what we all dream of (trophy winning aside...): captaining the Toon and shattering the club's all-time goalscoring record. And scoring against the Mackems too, of course.

Interested? You can order your copy of 'Wor Al' via the Tonto Press site here. For every copy sold, 50p will be donated to the Alan Shearer Testimonial Fund, which directly benefit's Wor Al's chosen charity NSPCC.


We're also offering the chance to win a copy of the book. All you need to do is answer this question:

What is / was the profession of Alan Shearer's father?

Answers to our email address ( by Wednesday 9th August at 12 noon. Please put the words "Shearer competition" in the subject line so we can keep track of entries (failure to do so will mean automatic disqualification). Entrants who provide the correct answer will have their names put in a hat and the winner will be drawn at random.

Good luck!

New kid in Toon

NUFC Jam is the latest addition to the steadily increasing number of Newcastle-centric football blogs. Go take a look.