Saturday, December 30, 2006

A spot of trouble

Everton 3 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Oh for this afternoon's game to have suffered the same fate as the Watford v Wigan game. Cricket may have been the last thing any of us wanted to think about of late, but there I was praying for the conditions to worsen and force abandonment.

And why? Well, as quickly as the water pooled on the Goodison Park surface our pre-Christmas optimism evaporated, Everton condemning us to a second successive defeat, our heaviest of the season. It was tempting to dismiss the Bolton game as a hangover, the consequence of a brave young defence being outmuscled by a more experienced and wily side. But this was very poor (not least because we took to the pitch with a stronger side - Shay Given, Nolberto Solano and Emre all returning).

And yet, as at the Reebok, it could all have been so different, hinging on not one but two fateful moments. Firstly, Peter Ramage picked up an injury and had to be substituted on 37 minutes. And then shortly before half-time Kieron Dyer won a penalty, going down under a challenge from Leon Osman. His strike partner Obafemi Martins took responsibility for the spot kick - but then proceeded to blast it hopelessly high and wide.

That would have sent us in level at the break, Everton's young Nigerian striker Victor Anichebe having given his side the lead within the first ten minutes. We had gradually worked our way back into the game, forcing a succession of corners, and Emre had seen a drive whistle narrowly past Tim Howard's post.

But the equaliser never came, and in the second period Martins was left to reflect on that dreadful miss as Everton punished us twice. Anichebe it was who grabbed his second on 58 minutes, and four minutes later we suffered the added indignity of conceding a goal to Phil 'Steptoe' Neville, bringing to an end four barren years in front of the net.

3-0, just over an hour gone and it was all over. We had the odd corner and shot from distance, but Everton remained in control and could easily have added to their tally and our misery, Andy van der Meyde in particular causing problems on the left. The seventh game this season in which we've fallen behind, and we've lost all of them - that indicates a serious and very worrying lack of mental resolve.

Glenn Roeder should shoulder some blame for the magnitude of the defeat. The injury to Ramage may have been out of his hands (and could hardly have come at a worse time given our current defensive crisis - Carr, Babayaro, Moore and Bramble remain on the treatment table), but the decision to replace him not with David Edgar but with Antoine Sibierski and to drop Nicky Butt back into an utterly unfamiliar central defensive position was curious in the extreme. Butt may not have been up against the tallest front pairing in the world, but surely a natural defender - even a rookie like Edgar - would have been a better bet?

Anyway, an instantly forgettable afternoon against a side we're more than capable of beating, on a ground fast becoming one of our least favourites in the Premiership. Certainly not the result we wanted or needed prior to the visit of the league leaders and their in-form w(h)inger Cristiano Ronaldo...

Other reports: BBC

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


With the other half of Black & White & Read All Over away enjoying himself on the other side of the globe for the next three weeks, we've moved swiftly and decisively to secure the services of Jonathan, on loan from Crinklybee for the duration of Paul's absence - Ben

Bolton 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

This afternoon's game turned on a single incident, just after the half-hour mark. With the visitors deservedly a goal ahead, a typically artless home attack is petering out, quite pleasingly really, just on the edge of our area. With only the clumsy battering-ram Davies in attendance, Ramage and Srnicek seem to have plenty of time to deal with a ball bouncing invitingly between them on the penalty spot. One moment of joint hesitation later, Davies is wheeling away in celebration, while Ramage and Srnicek exchange doleful glances and pantomime-esque arm gestures. The ball is in the back of the Reebok net: one-all and game on.

I say "joint hesitation", as the multiple repeats on 'Match Of The Day' have not helped me to work out who was at fault for the calamitous own goal. The heart, of course, says the Newcastle goalie cannot be held to account. The Hollywood-esque script that has decreed the prodigal Pavel's unlikely return surely did not incorporate everyone's favourite Czech Geordie gift-wrapping a vital equalising goal to the opposition.

But then that would mean we have to blame Ramage, and I'm not sure that the ginger youngster - who, despite a string of assured Premiership performances, still looks to me like an acne-ridden lad picked at random out of a Blakelaw chip-shop queue and deposited into the Newcastle first team - is yet ready to shoulder responsibility for Premiership defeat alone without unmanageable damage to his still-fragile psyche.

Perhaps, on balance, we should concur with the ever-wise Roeder, who, showing that he is slowly getting the hang of this top-level management lark, was quick to blame the referee for not spotting the nudge in Ramage's back applied, at just the right moment, by battering-ram Davies. These Bolton forwards are nothing if not cunning, as we seem to learn to our cost, anew, with every passing Reebok fixture.

Whoever was at fault, the own goal was the turning point. Suddenly Srnicek looked like - well, like a semi-retired, slightly groggy goalie suddenly called upon to return to Premiership action when he really should be considering nothing more serious than a fourth turkey sandwich of Boxing Day evening. Just past the hour, another bouncing ball (from a set-play of course, like everything Bolton produced) left our Pavel stranded on his near post, reduced to adopting a dramatic hands-on-hips stance, like a half-drunk uncle stumped by a particularly difficult charades challenge, as the predatory Anelka pounced on a knock-down to score an ugly but effective Bolton second. We never really looked like bouncing back.

It was all so upsetting, because Newcastle - with Martins lively and Milner little short of rampant - had shaded an open first half. Reward for our attacking exploits had come within ten minutes - the resurgent Dyer latching onto a loose ball on the edge of the box and for once in his life electing to give the thing a damn good belt, instead of trying to pass it delicately into the bottom corner (even if the latter tactic did work against Spurs at the weekend). Maybe Kieron's been watching old videos of Malcolm Macdonald. If so he should try it more often. One-nil, and behind the goal three thousand largely shirtless Geordies exulted in the Lancashire drizzle. It was surely going to be our afternoon.

And it was - until fate, in the shape of that hesitation between rookie centre-back and veteran goalie, intervened. Next Saturday, we travel to Goodison - another North-West ground where we have in recent years toiled for scant reward against no-nonsense home tactics. For the fraught trip to Merseyside, the return of the peerless Given may be a pre-requisite. Or at the very least, a change in the script for the returning, prodigal Srnicek. The goalkeeping hero of the Keegan years deserves a more fitting swansong than that cruel bouncing ball at the Reebok. We will see what fate has in store. Fatalism, after all, is something we do very well indeed.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Four wins in five games, Martins banging them in, 11th in the table and upwardly mobile - and now no longer the biggest laughing stock in the Premiership. Merry Christmas indeed! Best wishes to you and yours from Paul and myself.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

"Merry Xmas NUFC Supporters!"

Newcastle 3 - 1 Tottenham

"Merry Xmas NUFC Supporters" - so read Kieron Dyer's T-shirt, lifted over his head in celebration at scoring the first goal in today's comfortable 3-1 win over Spurs. If our current run continues (the only blots on the copybook being the two desperately narrow defeats to Chelsea), then it could still be a happy New Year.

Glenn Roeder stuck with the same starting XI as took to the field against Chelsea on Wednesday, while Martin Jol's game plan was disrupted by an injury to Jermaine Defoe sustained in the warm-up, which led to his replacement by a midfielder, Danny Murphy, and a switch in formation from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1.

And things soon went from bad to worse for our visitors - to our obvious delight. There were just three minutes on the clock when Obafemi Martins took down a Nobby Solano ball out of defence and set Dyer away. Faced with no fewer than three defenders and the current England goalkeeper Paul Robinson, Dyer ran on and calmly placed the ball into the bottom right hand corner from 20 yards. The T-shirt-displaying celebration promptly followed.

Four minutes later and we really were walking in a winter wonderland. James Milner, restored to the right wing after being deployed on the left on Wednesday, slid the ball inside to a clearly offside Scott Parker, whose perfect cross was buried beyond Robinson by the forehead of Martins. Cue the increasingly familiar gymnastics from Martins, and a mad dash along the walkway in front of us by a black-and-white-clad Santa, to the cheers of thousands of Geordies. He too had a Christmas message, but this one - a simple "Merry Xmas" - was felt-tipped straight onto his pie-enhanced gut.

Spurs' goal, which came when a mishit Murphy shot deflected off the unlucky Steven Taylor to leave Shay Given completely wrong-footed, took some of the gloss off proceedings, as did our subsequent tendency to sit deep and allow Spurs long periods of possession. Equally frustrating were Given's continued long balls to Milner, hardly the tallest player on the pitch, and the fact that Emre's natural inclination to drift inside meant a complete lack of threat on the left.

Parker and Nicky Butt were tigerish in centre midfield and Dyer came close once again, but Spurs were passing the ball better and it came as something of a relief when the third arrived on 34 minutes. With Emre off the field receiving treatment, Milner curled in a free-kick which Robinson could only parry. In the ensuing scramble other Newcastle players tried their luck but Parker it was whose header finally found the back of the net.

Early in the second period Jol acknowledged his side were chasing the game and threw on Mido for Didier Zokora, but to no discernible effect. Aside from one half-decent chance Dimitar Berbatov was anonymous. The ever-charming Spurs fans briefly made themselves heard with a chant of "We're only here for the slappers" - well, given the urgency and incision with which Spurs were attacking, I certainly hope they weren't there to see their side win.

At the right end Martins, a continual handful for Ledley King and Michael Dawson and rewarded with frequent chants of his name, fired in a good shot that Robinson held. Meanwhile, substitute Giuseppe Rossi, on for man-of-the-match Dyer and making his last appearance at St James' before his loan period expires, looked lively and fired in one shot that was deflected behind for a corner.

The game threatened to peter out, albeit to an entirely satisfactory conclusion, but then came perhaps the loudest cheer of the day. Given, who had been leaving his goal kicks to Peter Ramage, was replaced with three minutes remaining, the man coming on being Pavel Srnicek. Probably unnecessary, so full credit to Roeder for allowing Pav the opportunity to savour the St James' atmosphere again after a gap of several years - and for the fans to dust down the "Pavel is a Geordie" chant. A couple of confident claims were greeted with massive cheers - though his kicking was dreadful...

Another three points and grins all round. In truth Spurs put up precious little in the way of a fight, and we can expect a much tougher time in the next three games. We should be quietly confident about picking up some useful points, though.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I hate Didier Drogba

Newcastle Utd 0 - 1 Chelsea

The lads at Cheer Up Alan Shearer recently claimed they came out top on a google search of the phrase "I hate Didier Drogba". Well, after last night, last week, and the UEFA Cup semi final a couple of years ago, I think I'm justified in doing my bit to try and knock them off that particular perch.

For the second time in eight days, Drogba proved to be the difference, as he again came off the bench to score with about quarter of an hour left to play. This time his goal coming from a well struck free-kick, won after first Solano and then Nicky Butt had done their best to flatten Arjen Robben (unsurprisingly Butt proving the more effective). However, that foul took place a good four yards from where the free kick was taken, with Chelsea surreptitiously relocating the ball to give Drogba a better angle to strike the set piece, and in doing so enabling him to curl the ball beyond Shay Given.

By that stage, Newcastle could have been in front, when Obafemi Martins latched on to a Solano ball in the first half and crashed a thunderous shot off the underside of the bar only to see it bounce down and out. With the linesman nowhere near a position in which to make a decision, referee Chris Foy ruled that the ball hadn't crossed the line. Having seen a replay, it was probably the correct decision, with a small sliver of the ball on the line, although a handily placed Russian linesman may well have seen it differently.

The visitors, who again chose to rest some of their better players (leaving Ashley Cole, Ballack, Lampard and Drogba on the bench), were generally restricted to long shots, and with Shevchenko enduring a pretty barren season, they lacked a real cutting edge up front (although the Ukrainian did hit the post).

Goalless at half time, it was the strength in depth (and some repositioning of the ball) which made the difference in the second half, with Mourinho bringing Lampard, Ballack and Drogba on as the half progressed. By comparison, Glenn Roeder brought Sibierski on for James Milner with five minutes to go.

By the end, we were desperately trying to get the ball forward when Given's poor clearance fell to Lampard, whose instinctive lobbed shot came back off the post to safety. By that stage though, the game had gone, and with it the hopes of this season lifting the one domestic trophy to have so far eluded us.

On the plus side, the game saw a return to action for Solano, and a full 90 minutes for Dyer, Emre and Parker, as well as another good showing by Huntingdon - this time at left back. It is to be hoped that the defeat won't deflate the team spirit which has been apparent in recent weeks, and with Spurs the visitors on Saturday having had to play an additional 30 minutes last night in their struggle past Southend, the return of fresh(er) legs to the team might be cause for optimism.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

View From The Away End

On the day of Newcastle United plc's AGM, it seemed appropriate to provide you with the latest installment of our View From The Away End feature, in which we asked El Tel to give us his views on the current spate of big money takeovers which are happening in the Premiership.


El Tel: "From the Buccaneering Glazers of Manchester to the West Ham Biscuit Baron, to the imminent New Messiahs of Liverpool and Newcastle, we are undoubtedly in the Footballing Age of the Overseas Investor. For these individuals and consortia, football is about what it can generate – either directly, or as a component in an integrated marketing portfolio – ‘selling soccer to the Americans, its equivalent to the Brits, and using each to sell other stuff’ - that sort of thing. But is it good?

It’s far too late to speak of ‘protecting’ football – as a live spectator sport – for the common man. £30-£50 minimum for a single Premiership home match ticket suggests that that was a fight that never was, but that still managed to be lost anyway – and therein lies the tension that faces the fans of these new investment targets, sorry, ‘football clubs’. What will it mean for ‘us’?

Let’s take Newcastle: pipping Villa to the crown, probably the greatest British footballing under-achiever over the past decade (at least). And why? Poor footballing decisions, decision-makers, and the ugly degenerative aura of that Fred Elliott bloke. So, replace him and all will be well?

Perhaps. For one or two of the in-coming (incoming?) investors, this Premiership football thing will be akin to a hobby enterprise – ‘my club’s bigger than your’s’ type of thing. I’d put Chelsea Roman and Hammer Eggert in this camp. And with that, there’ll be the lucre for big money signings – some of which will work, and some of which won’t. Thus, in terms of this takeover business, there will be on-the-pitch successes and on-the-pitch failures. Put quite simply, as competitors’ short-term financial inputs cancel each other out, it’ll be the people who are making key spending, coaching and tactical decisions that determine whether these investors are to yield good or bad football results. And what does that mean? Simple: Mr Roeder, when is that next transfer window?"


Thanks to El Tel for his views.

If you would like to get involved in future View From the Away End features, please drop us an email at the address in the sidebar.

Update: Kevin McCarra's view on the subject of takeovers in football, as published in today's Guardian, is available to read here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Two more to his total

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Watford

Two more goals by Obafemi Martins helped Newcastle to a further three points and lifted us to the heady heights of 12th in the league, following Saturday's victory over Watford.

Our second meeting with the Hornets saw a similar game to the first, with Watford's direct approach causing us problems, and also encouraged us to abandon our better passing game and play in a less fluid manner. The first half saw little in the way of chances for either side, with Kieron Dyer's twenty five yard shot our best effort.

Happily for Glenn Roeder, Dyer, Emre and Sibierski were all fit to start the game, and Duff and Parker were also able to come off the bench and play in the second half.

For Watford, a looping Jordan Stewart shot which looked innocuous, but forced Given to produce a decent save to push the bouncing ball over the bar, provided their best chance of the half, and with it goalless at half time, it was Aidy Boothroyd who looked the happier manager.

However, it was Newcastle who were able to break the deadlock at the start of the second half, with Butt feeding Milner on the right. The winger cut back on to his left foot, and fired in a good cross for Martins to out jump the centre half, and power the ball home from the edge of the six yard box.

Frustratingly, Newcastle were unable to see out the game, and Watford's direct approach brought dividends when Hameur Bouazza forced the ball home from a corner. Having blocked off Shay Given, the Irishman was left to gripe, but in fairness to the visitors it was nothing more than is seen on pitches up and down the country, and Newcastle should have marked the man and protected the keeper better.

With both sides pushing for a winner, Roeder was able to send Duff on down the left, and it was his ball in which eventually found Martins unmarked 15 yards out, and the Nigerian fired home his second of the game. He took his time to strike the ball, but when he did, it slammed into the net, and with it left the visitors to go home pointless.

He may have taken time to settle, but Martins is currently enjoying a rich vein of form in front of goal, and it is to be hoped that it continues against Chelsea in Wednesday's League Cup tie.

The contrast between one £10 million pound player and another could hardly be more marked, with Martins now starting to establish himself on Tyneside, and Albert Luque storming home in a sulk before kick off once he learnt that he didn't even make the bench.

Highlights: Toon goals

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Any dream will do

The long wait is over: we can finally looking forward to lifting some silverware.

The trophy in question? The Intertoto Cup...

You may be wondering how exactly we've won it in December when we played our last Intertoto fixture back in August. Well, the trophy goes to the last side standing in the UEFA Cup that has made it through the Intertoto qualifying route. And that's us. The trophy is due to presented at our next UEFA Cup home fixture, the second leg against SV Zulte Waragem on 22nd February.

It'd be easy to scoff, but really it's better than the usual kick in the bollocks we're used to every season. If you don't count the old First Division trophy we lifted in gaining promotion to the Premiership in 1992/3, then it's the first silverware we've won since the Fairs Cup in 1969.

That said, I've not heard anything about plans for an open-topped bus parade yet...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Safe passage through unknown waters?

Today's draw for the last 32 of the UEFA Cup pitched us against SV Zulte Waragem.

"Who?!", you might well ask.

Well, they're a Belgian side enjoying their first ever European adventure, having won the Belgian Cup last season. They scraped through the group stages with two wins from four, but were tonked 3-0 at home (or, rather, at their borrowed home in Gent) by Ajax and 6-2 away to Espanyol. Not too much to fear, then, I don't think - the other British representatives were all handed tougher draws. We'll have to do our homework properly and guard against any complacency, though.

Should we prevail, another encounter with Fenerbahce is on the cards. The draw for the last 16 was also made, with the winners of our tie facing the winners of the tie between the Turkish side and Louis Van Gaal's AZ Alkmaar.


If today's club statement is to believed, the Daily Heil's announcement that a £227m takeover had been agreed was premature, if not completely wrong.

"The Board of Newcastle notes the further press speculation in the Daily Mail today concerning a possible offer for Newcastle United.

The Board wishes to clarify that it has not accepted any proposals for the Company from any party nor is any due diligence being conducted on the Company.

Therefore there can be no certainty that an offer will be made, nor as to the terms on which any offer would be made.

A further statement will be made as appropriate.

Dunno about you, but I'm prepared to credit the board with telling the truth on this one, given the source of the speculation...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

No disgrace

Chelsea 1 - 0 Newcastle Utd

A display of dogged-determination and passion was not quite enough to have Jose Mourinho spluttering with rage last night, but it meant that Newcastle could justifiably leave Chelsea with their heads held high, having kept the reigning Champions at bay for over 70 minutes.

The goal, when it came, was somewhat fortuitous, Shevchenko's scuffed shot falling to Drogba six yards out, who made no mistake in slotting the ball home. By that stage though, Newcastle could have been in front, with Sibierski's header hitting the bar following a Milner cross, and keeper Hilario in the Chelsea goal generally looking shaky.

Frustratingly, we were unable to put any consistent pressure on the home goal, but in truth our performance deserved a great many plaudits. As a team we stood up to Chelsea, with Paul Huntingdon (making his first start for the club) settling in well at right back after a few nervy moments early on.

With the injury toll having mounted after Saturday's match, it was a rather makeshift side which took the field, with Rossi playing down the left wing, and N'Zogbia in the centre. Sadly the Frenchman was unable to see out the first half, having sustained what is reported to be medial ligament damage in the first half, with Matty Pattison coming on to replace him.

Despite this further injury, Newcastle continued to battle - and in the first half the side was more than a match for a Chelsea side which was arguably weakened by Mourinho's decision to rest Shevchenko, Makelele and Drogba who all started on the bench. Having said that, any team with Essien, Lampard and Ballack in midfield is hardly struggling for class and it required a good performance from Newcastle to match them (and go closest to scoring) for the first 45 minutes.

Mourinho's decision to bring on Makelele and Drogba at half time gave the home team greater impetus, with Robben and Drogba in particular combining well. Slowly, Chelsea began to create chances, only to either put them wide, or fail to beat Shay Given. That was until Shevchenko's scuff in the 74th minute, the Ukrainian having come on to the pitch minutes before.

Even following the goal, Newcastle refused to buckle, and smart work by Shay meant that our goal difference didn't take the pounding which some feared it might, and ensured we left with a respectable (if still disappointing) result. The loss of the Zog is a big blow, and it remains to be seen how long he is out for.

Hopefully, we can continue to take heart from a strong showing on a ground where better Newcastle teams have been thrashed in recent seasons, and look to press on against Watford on Saturday. The fact that Roeder (who celebrated his 51st birthday yesterday) was in the team when last we won at Stamford Bridge speaks volumes for the mountain which we faced yesterday, but it was a challenge we nearly met, and a performance from which we should hopefully take heart.

A Chelsea fan's view: Chelsea Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mission impossible?

As disrepectful as Jose Mourinho's pre-match comments are (see post below), it can't be denied that we will face a very, very serious challenge to our recent unbeaten run tomorrow night.

The current list of players who are either definitely injured or likely to be missing is ridiculous: Owen, Dyer, Ameobi, Bramble, Moore, Carr, Solano, Duff, Sibierski, Parker, Emre, Harper, Krul. Meanwhile Nicky Butt, much improved of late in partnership with Emre, is apparently suffering from a heavy cold.

Then factor in our last six trips to Stamford Bridge, when we have lost 1-0 twice, 3-0 twice, 4-0 and 5-0.


One of those players set to miss out through injury, Nobby Solano, is celebrating his 32nd birthday today. After a solid but unspectacular first season back on Tyneside (the goals against Arsenal and Everton aside), Nobby seems to be back in form and, prior to the injury sustained against Blackburn on Saturday, had been staking a very good claim to the right back position, regardless of Carr's fitness. Many happy returns, Nobby - and best wishes for a swift return to first team action...

No disrespect?

"On Wednesday - no disrespect to Newcastle - I think I will be here saying the points difference is five [points]".

The words of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho following his team's draw with Arsenal on Sunday and the eight point gap between them and Manchester United.

I realise we're struggling to field eleven fit players, and anything resembling a back four, (and part of me is inclined to agree with him) but to paraphrase a former manager of ours, I'd love it, just love it, if we could shove those arrogant words back down his smug little throat.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Off and running

Blackburn Rovers 1 - 3 Newcastle Utd

Having taken his time to settle, three goals in a week suggests that at long last Obafemi Martins has started to find his feet in the Premiership. His brace, and a second goal of the season from Steven Taylor, gave Newcastle a win over Blackburn Rovers on Saturday and lifted us to fourteenth in the table at the same time.

Having earlier missed a golden opportunity to open the scoring, Martins made no mistake when Sibierski's long ball over the top gave him the chance to get in behind Rovers' defence. His excellent touch and powerful left foot shot left Brad Friedel rooted to the spot and gave us the lead.

Minutes later, Nicky Butt won the ball on the right following a Newcastle free kick, and his cross found N'Zogbia. The Frenchman's ball across the six yard box found Steven Taylor, still up field following the set piece, and he turned and finished smartly.

With Newcastle firmly in the ascendancy, dominant in midfield, and Martins in particular looking dangerous up front it was no surprise to see the Nigerian played in behind the Rovers defence following a cracking long pass from Emre, only for him to be hauled down by Stephane Henchoz. Dermot Gallagher's resultant red card may have upset Mark Hughes, but Henchoz was clearly the last man, to leave us two-nil up and playing ten men for the remainder of the game.

Unsurprisingly, Blackburn came out for the second half a re-invigorated side, with Andy Todd bolstering their back line, and Morten Gamst Pedersen's excellent right-footed shot allowed the home team back into the game. With Rovers now competing in midfield, and Emre carried off on a stretcher, Newcastle came under pressure. Thankfully Shay Given was up to the task of keeping out any further chances created by Blackburn, and as the clock ran down they threw caution to the wind, and sent Friedel up front for a corner.

With the first corner turned behind, the second fell to a Newcastle player to launch the ball forward, and with the home keeper stranded up field, Martins comfortably beat two defenders to slot the ball into the empty net and secure the three points.

The price of the victory was the departure of Emre on a stretcher, and Solano and Sibierski both feeling injuries - which leaves our already thin squad struggling to field eleven senior players at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. However, even if we lose on Wednesday, the three points gained on Saturday ensures that we are now looking onwards and upwards, and with Martins upfront we will always have the chance of getting a goal on the break.

Highlights: Toongoals

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, December 08, 2006

Mac: magic

Happy birthday Terry McDermott.

I don't recall us having given McDermott's return to St James' any fanfare on Black & White & Read All Over when it happened two years ago - a pity, because we missed out on the "Terry Mac, when are you coming back? Oh you're back" headline...

With his moustache and bouffant hair, McDermott couldn't be much closer to Harry Enfield's Scouser stereotype, but the man from Kirby can consider himself an honorary Geordie, having pitched up on Tyneside on no fewer than four occasions - twice as a player, twice as assistant manager - and given nearly 15 of his 55 years to the club in the process.

His first spell saw us reach the 1974 FA Cup Final (only to be annihilated by Liverpool), and at the end of his second we achieved promotion. Reunited with the talisman of that promotion season, Kevin Keegan, for his third spell, he helped us narrowly avoid relegation, win promotion the following season, earn the tag "The Entertainers" and reach two successive Cup Finals.

This latest spell, working alongside Graeme Souness and then Glenn Roeder, hasn't been as exciting or enjoyable yet, but if his sharp anti-Bellamy sniping was anything to go by, he certainly hasn't lost touch with the fans.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Emre's Royal stunner

Newcastle Utd 3 - 2 Reading

A brilliant goal from Emre settled a thrilling match with Reading last night, and took us to the heady heights of fifteenth in the table.

The game had started brightly, and Solano's excellent ball into the box allowed Sibierski to give us the lead with a relatively simple diving header. We then proceeded to apply pressure to Marcus Hahneman's goal, but were unable to capitalise and force the second goal which would have allowed us some more breathing space.

Unsurprisingly for a team who lay fourth going into the game, Reading reasserted their authority, and James Harper's shot took an unfortunate deflection from Solano to divert into the corner of the Gallowgate goal, and give Reading parity. Seizing the initiative they swarmed forward, and Given was forced to make a good save from Ki-Hyeon. However, the visitors kept pressurising our defence, and when Babayaro completely missed the ball, Glen Little was able to get hold of it and fire in a strong shot, which Given palmed away, but only as far as Harper who calmly slotted home a second to give his side a half-time lead.

Reading looked the stronger side as the second half started, but a foul by Sonko on Martins allowed the Nigerian the chance to level things from the penalty spot, and he calmly slotted the ball low to Hahnemann's left.

From there, the game really opened out, with both teams going for the win. Sibierski added an extra goal, only for it to be ruled out for a reason that nobody else apart from Rob Styles could fathom (perhaps in recompense for the penalty, which looked slightly harsh on Reading).

It was Emre though, who had the last laugh, when he picked up the ball on half way, and strode forward before taking the ball onto his left foot and hammering it over the keeper into the top of the net, to the Turk's obvious delight. He may not score enough goals for an attack-minded midfielder, but the ones he does score tend to be absolute belters, and the goal capped a fine personal display.

The win lifts us to fifteenth, and a good performance at Blackburn on Saturday would see us start to put real daylight between us and the bottom three.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Come in number 15, your time is up

It's been confirmed that our on-loan striker Giuseppi Rossi will be recalled by his club Man Utd at the end of the month.

Not that the news will come as much of a surprise to anyone. Rossi hasn't had many opportunities to impress - just four starts and four substitute appearances, and only one goal (against Portsmouth in the League Cup) to his name.

Taggart has already voiced his displeasure at the situation, and he's been at it again: "Giuseppe will come back to us because he is just not getting enough football at Newcastle. The understanding we had with them was that he would play more games. Every manager is subject to their own opinions on players, so I don't want to say too much about that. But we could have done with him here, so he might as well come back to us."

As I've said before, Roeder and Shepherd surely wouldn't have pledged that Rossi would start a certain percentage of games - and in any case, he's been ineligible for the vast majority of the games in which he would have been most likely to feature (no fewer than 13 European matches). Rossi hasn't been poor when he's played, but neither has be been particularly impressive.

My guess is - as the comments above hint - that Taggart is most pissed off because he's not been able to call upon Rossi, having left himself desperately short of cover for Wayne Rooney and Louis Saha up front. Don't blame us for your own stupidity, Fergie.

Black and white Christmas

Those generous chaps at Tonto Press have got into the Christmas spirit. No, they're not prematurely bemoaning another woeful Boxing Day performance from the Toon - they're currently offering copies of 'Wor Al: A Fans' Tribute To Alan Shearer' for £6.99 (that's a pound off) with free delivery within the UK. The book would make an ideal stocking filler - and we're not just saying that because we both contributed to it...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Third round, second city

This afternoon's draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup awarded us with a trip to Birmingham City.

It could have been worse (Chelsea remained undrawn for an ominously long time, and we avoided the rematch with Hereford that the media will have craved), but there could certainly have been easier draws than having to travel to a side who currently top the Championship, having recently hit their stride and boasting an on-loan striker who is in red-hot form in Nicklas Bendtner. We'll also be forced to put up with the usual platitudes about being a dyed-in-the-wool Geordie from ol' Cauliflower Face Bruce.

Still, at least we should get the chance to run the rule over Matthew Upson, a rumoured January transfer target for ourselves as well as several other Premiership sides. Don't mind if he impresses, given that we need quality defensive reinforcements - just as long as his colleagues in blue have a nightmare...

Skating on thin ice

The events of yesterday afternoon were enough to convince us that, despite the significant upturn in performances and results recently, we remain in very real trouble in the league. Our inactivity coupled with victory for Sheffield Utd over bottom side Charlton meant we slipped back into the relegation zone, while Blackburn's win at home to Fulham also took them three points clear of us. Victory over Reading on Wednesday night has become even more imperative...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Greek tragedy, Geordie joy

Eintracht Frankfurt 0 - 0 Newcastle Utd

A combination of last-ditch defending, good fortune and appalling finishing from the opposition (and their Greek striker Ioannis Amanatidis in particular) ensured we left the Commerzbank Arena with the point we needed to be sure of topping our group.

Glenn Roeder made only two changes to the squad picked for the Celta Vigo win last Thursday. Scott Parker and Steve Harper both missed out through injury, their places on the bench taken by Matty Pattison and rookie 'keeper Fraser Forster. That meant that the starting XI was identical, with James Milner and Charles N'Zogbia passed fit after the injuries sustained against Portsmouth on Sunday, and Albert Luque selected on the left side despite Wednesday's car crash.

Luque may not have been shaken by the incident, but unfortunately neither was he stirred into meaningful action, ambling around aimlessly for an hour. His most valuable contributions consisted of one half-decent ball to N'Zogbia and a spot of time-wasting, jogging over to shake the referee's hand when his number came up. Not good enough for us, Albert - and not good enough for potential purchasers either, I imagine.

To be honest, though, it wasn't just Luque - as an attacking force we were a shadow of the side that repeatedly tore Pompey apart, worryingly content for them to pressure us. In the first half N'Zogbia could and should have done better with a header from a deep free-kick, nodding it back across goal when well-placed to hit the target, and with half-time close Emre fired an excellent set-piece just wide of the near post.

Most of the chances came at the other end, though. Frankfurt had had a couple of half-chances before Albert Streit's free header was blocked at close range by Shay Given's legs. Peter Ramage was giving them too much room on the right hand side, but failed to heed the warning and barely a couple of minutes later when another cross from that side should have been buried by Amanatidis. His header flew wide, though, with the better-positioned Streit furious.

Soon after the Greek striker was booked for a high-footed challenge on Steven Taylor which left our central defender with a ripped shirt and bloody studmarks down his back. In a farcical couple of minutes, Taylor too picked up a yellow card for changing shirts and running back onto the pitch without the referee's express permission.

For Amanatidis, the night didn't get any better after the break. How on earth he didn't nod Naohiro Takahara's inch-perfect cross past Given from four yards is utterly beyond me, and with twelve minutes left he turned his ankle while chasing down Bramble and had to leave the pitch on a stretcher.

Frankfurt continued to press, but with Ramage tighter to his man and Taylor, Nobby Solano and Nicky Butt all enjoying excellent games, we looked a little more sturdy. The Germans' best second-half opportunities came late on. Takahara lobbed the ball over the bar when played through, with Given in no man's land at the edge of his area, and Benjamin Kohler sent a curler just wide of the angle in the last minute.

For all Frankfurt's pressure, though, we also had two gilt-edged chances to take all three points ourselves. Less than a minute after coming on, Obafemi Martins sent in a perfect cross which Antoine Sibierski headed on goal but was unfortunate to see Sotirios Kyrgiakos clear off the line. 'Keeper Markus Proll was well beaten then, but did well later to save from Emre when our Turkish dynamo burst clear on goal from midfield.

As it transpired, we didn't even need the point thanks to Celta Vigo's 1-0 win over Fenerbahce. Top spot means we avoid the teams entering from the Champions' League, and also secures us a home leg second. So now we can sit back and watch the other four teams scrap it out for the remaining two qualification spots. Who would have thought we would not only escape from but top the Group of Death? Not me, certainly. But we have, and comfortably - and that's despite our league form being generally terrible. Our Premiership / UEFA Cup schizophrenia remains mystifying, but at least things seem to be picking up on the home front too.

A well-deserved weekend off ahead, and then time to focus on taking three points from Reading - which'll be easier said than done given the Royals' recent form...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian