Thursday, March 30, 2006

Kiss Germany goodbye

According to reports, Scott Parker has been playing with Glandular Fever for the last month, and it is likely to rule him out for the rest of the season.

This is yet another blow to the side, in what has been a pretty lousy year for illness and injury (although we've not mentioned it much since Souness left). The news will surely finish off any hope that Parker had of making the World Cup.

However, in every cloud there must be some positives. If he can get himself sorted, and come back fit and raring to go in August (when I suspect he will be captain of the side), then hopefully he can drive us forward for a good campaign next season. We've got nothing really to play for (the race for the top half doesn't really inspire me), and it's as good a time as any for him to be out of the team. Probably as a result of the illness, his recent performances have not quite lived up to those he was producing earlier on in the campaign.

With reports earlier this week that Michael Owen's recovery has been slightly delayed due to him needing a screw tightening it's heartening to hear that Steven Taylor is returning to first team training.

Hopefully all three will still be at the club next season, and will all be fully fit and raring to go, having taken care not to rush back to the side when there is nothing but pride left to play for.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The inside story

Following on from his account of his move to Newcastle and life under Jim Smith and Ossie Ardiles, former Toon striker Andy Hunt recalls his less than happy relationship with Kevin Keegan.

I must confess that I can't remember Hunt having been a fixture in the side only to be frozen out by Keegan, but that's the way it happened. Hunt offers a refreshingly different and personal perspective on Keegan's reign, one which (certainly in these dark days) most Toon fans look back on as our most recent halcyon days.

To his credit, despite having seen his Toon career go down the pan, Hunt is never bitter, only disappointed that things didn't work out differently:

"I admire him for his achievements and his will to win. I also cannot argue with the job he did at NUFC by saving them from relegation and then going on to becoming one of the leading teams in the Premiership, with an outstanding side full of flair and exciting forward play. I just wish he would have given me a more even shot at playing for the side and allowed me to contribute to the team".

West Brom and Charlton fans: there'll be material of interest to you coming soon...

Monday, March 27, 2006

No defence

Charlton 3 - 1 Newcastle

Three soft goals and one absolute belter told the story of our afternoon yesterday. Sadly, we were once again the team conceding the soft goals, with abysmal defending leaving us to return home from London empty-handed again.

With Boumsong restored to the defence in place of the injured Babayaro and suspended Elliott, we tried yet another back four combination. This time it was Ramage at left back, Moore and Boumsong in the centre, and Stephen Carr down the right.

Sadly this combination was to prove no more successful than any we've previously tried, as individual mistakes once again undermined an otherwise decent team performance.

Charlton's first goal came after quarter of an hour, when a hurried Newcastle clearance landed at the feet of Jerome Thomas. His surging run into the box ended when Craig Moore tackled him to the ground, and referee Mark Halsey awarded a penalty. Darren Bent, in front of the watching eyes of Sven-Goran Eriksson, stepped up and slotted the ball past Given to give the home side a one-nil lead.

Despite our early lapse, we continued to press forward, and after good interplay between Emre and Shearer the ball was fed back to one-time Charlton player Scott Parker, who blasted a cracking 30 yard drive into the top corner, to bring us level and silence the Valley boo-boys with the goal of the game.

Sadly our return to parity was to last less than two minutes, as Charlton promptly went back down the other end, and flighted an aimless ball into the box. With no real pressure on him, Moore hammered his clearance off the other ex-Addick in our ranks, and the ball rebounded off Bowyer and into our goal to give them a two-one lead at half time.

Roeder took action at half time, taking off Solano, moving Ameobi on to the right wing, and bringing on Dyer up front, and Kieron did cause them problems with his pace and strong running. Sadly not enough problems to force an equaliser.

Then, with time running out and Newcastle pressing for a share of the points, Dennis Rommedahl broke forward, and fired in a cross which substitute Jay Bothroyd was able to head home, and wrap up the points. That Bothroyd was able to get to the ball must have been an intense source of frustration for Roeder, as nobody tracked his run, and the whole defence stood statuesque instead of moving to intercept the cross.

Shearer's last trip to London ended, as they so often have, pointless. Our defence's performance this season captured in a nutshell: an unsettled line up making individual errors which cost us points.

Come the summer, serious investment is needed at both ends of the pitch. The alternative doesn't bear thinking about.

Charlton fans' perspectives: All Quiet in the East Stand, Addick's Premiership Diary, Chicago Addick, SE7 Dreams

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Let down

My first reaction to former Mackem striker Niall Quinn slagging off Newcastle in his Guardian column was to bristle and mutter some choice comments about the gangling oaf.

But, reading his article more closely, it's hard to disagree with much of what he says. Shearer didn't have the best of games on Wednesday, but as Quinn says he seemed to be continually out on the wings or tackling back, doing the jobs of other players. And he's also right that during his time at the club our skipper has played his heart out only to be repeatedly let down by those around him, forced to bear a burden of responsibility too great even for his shoulders.

That said, Quinn is wrong about Bellamy - he was a very important player to us, yes, but once he'd labelled Souness a liar in public he had to go. That wasn't mismanagement, though the decisions that had led Bellamy to sound off were. Neither will Shearer have many regrets - certainly not about not joining Man Utd. He hates 'em. He might have hoped for better in terms of trophies (and he's certainly deserved better), but he's still immensely proud to have captained his hometown club - as a Geordie, playing for the Toon is as good as it gets.

One final thing. "The sheer determination of Chelsea not to lose was impressive and as they walked off you could tell that their players were exhilarated by their hard work". Really? I thought their performance was lacklustre, and the enthusiasm with which they (and their fans) greeted the final whistle was practically non-existent.


Saturday afternoon, and here I am listening to Chelsea cheat their way to another win as the rain lashes down outside.

I had contemplated the possibility of taking advantage of the fact that our game against Charlton has been switched to tomorrow by taking in a Welsh Premier League game. Cwmbran would have probably been the nearest option had they been at home, but unfortunately they're away at Connah's Quay, so I'd decided I'd be off to Llanelli instead to see them take on Newtown.

But the combination of a raging hangover and the prospect of travelling for over an hour just to stand in the pissing rain soon put paid to that idea. And I'm rather glad, too - I've just noticed the game was abandoned at half-time due to a waterlogged pitch...

Of course, you wouldn't find hardier souls like Skif or Jonathan wussing out that easily...

More new faces

And there's more...

Welcome to the Black & White & Read All Over sidebar:

Footballing World (via The Whole Wide World Of Fat Buddha!)

And two new blogs from the Real Life News:

Anfield Road

Wiganer Mad

And a special mention for Tartan Red On Tour (via Chelsea Blog). Tartan Red, a Wrexham fan living in the Scottish Highlands, suffers from the degenerative genetic condition Friedreich's Ataxia and is confined to a wheelchair. To raise money and awareness for the condition, he's touring British football grounds. You can follow his progress on his blog, and sponsor him here.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Over and out

Chelsea 1 – 0 Newcastle

And so the FA Cup dream is dead, for this season at least. But for Alan Shearer, it’s all over. When he retires in May, he’ll have just one medal to his name. A sorry state of affairs for one of the finest players to grace the modern game.

Last night’s defeat at Stamford Bridge wasn’t exactly unexpected, though the manner of it perhaps was. Having been trounced 3-0, 5-0, 4-0 and 3-0 in our previous four visits, and going into the game on the back of being outplayed and outclassed by Man Utd and Liverpool, we could have been forgiven for fearing the worst. In other words, a repeat of the mauling the Scousers had dished out to a comically awful Birmingham side in Tuesday night’s tie.

But, as it turned out, the margin of defeat was remarkably narrow, and it’s hard to assess why. Was it our resilience and determination to hang in there? Or was it down to the Chelsea performance – either simply out-of-sorts or arrogantly complacent? Probably a combination of all three.

For the first time in his reign as caretaker Roeder made significant alterations to personnel and formation. Two were enforced, N’Zogbia injured and Boumsong suspended after Sunday’s aberration, while Emre was a tad unfortunate to find himself dropped to the bench. In came Bowyer in central midfield, Dyer playing deep off Shearer with Ameobi switching to the left, and Carr at right back, meaning Ramage took up a central defensive position for the first time in his first team career.

At first it looked like a step too far for the youngster. He was all at sea for the goal, which came after just four minutes. From Damien Duff’s corner, John Terry escaped Ramage’s attentions to fire in a low shot. Solano instinctively stuck out a boot on the line but only succeeded in diverting a ball Given might well have saved through the ‘keeper’s legs. Not Solano or Given’s fault, though – the damage had been done already. If you really wanted to be critical, you could apportion some blame for the end of Shearer’s trophy hopes to the man himself – had he reacted quicker and not frozen in his customary defensive position on the near edge of the six yard box, he might have prevented Terry from getting his shot in.

Thankfully the rout that that early goal seemed to forecast never materialised. Chelsea fashioned one or two chances in an oddly subdued first period, Ricardo Carvalho going closest from a dangerous Frank Lampard free kick, while Ramage and Elliott were conspiring to make Didier Drogba look like a good player. At the other end, though, Solano was unlucky to see a free kick curl just wide of Carlo Cudicini’s left hand post after Asier Del Horno’s rash challenge on Bowyer, while Bowyer himself hit a decent left foot shot that Cudicini would have parried into Shearer’s path were it not for Terry’s intervention. Other than that, our skipper didn’t have a sniff. Looking lumbering and leggy, he just hasn’t got it in him to play as a lone striker any more.

After the predictable rocket from Mourinho at half time, Chelsea came out full of murderous intent. Three great chances were spurned within the first five minutes of the second half as we were totally overrun. But somehow we survived that pressure and the loss of Babayaro, who’d been one of our best performers against his old club. His departure meant a debut – at last! – for permainjured Aussie Craig Moore, whose appearance was greeted with boos from the Toon fans, and Elliott moving out to left back.

Despite Carr and Parker enduring poor games, we worked our way back into the game, not least by defending resolutely. Dyer in particular was lively and played the full 90 minutes – a real bonus. It might seem strange to say it, but the game was there for the taking had we had more belief and cutting edge. Chelsea were listless, allowing us to have the ball and pressurise them in the later stages – though there remained the possibility that if the equaliser had come, they would merely have shifted through the gears and brushed us aside. Sadly, neither scenario took place, Cudicini’s palms allowed to go cold by our shot-shy attack.

There was time for one last kick in the teeth, though, with referee Steve Bennett awarding Elliott a second yellow for a “block” on substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips. Unlike Boumsong’s dismissal, it was utterly unjustified – contact was minimal if not non-existent. Wright-Phillips’s fall to the turf was not unprecedented either, Del Horno getting Parker wrongly booked and Joe Cole and Hernan Crespo also guilty of amateur dramatics. Perhaps, Jose, you should look closer to home before lambasting the players of opposing teams for “simulation”. I’m sure the proverb “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” translates into Portuguese…

The lifelessness of the Stamford Bridge crowd and the relatively unenthusiastic celebrations of the Chelsea players on the final whistle was all the more galling – they had expected to win, and, to them, it’s just another semi-final. The FA Cup would be just another trophy, nothing more than a consolation prize having missed out on the European Cup. For us – and for Shearer – it would have meant more than that. A little more conviction, a little more quality, a little more determination, and we could have done it. Ifs, buts and maybes are all we have to cling to now.

A Chelsea perspective: Chelsea Blog (where they were sufficiently concerned about their own side's lack of form to predict correctly the 1-0 scoreline)

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Geordie Chronicles

The third installment of Jonathan's Geordie Chronicles, and on this occasion - as we, er, look forward to this evening's FA Cup Quarter Final at Stamford Bridge - we've timed it so that it's topical. Well, vaguely. An unlucky defeat to Aston Villa in a Third Round replay in January 2001 inspired these reflections on the "magic of the Cup", which first appeared in The Mag and on the Bonkworld site.

Up for the Cup

So this year it's Darius Vassell's turn to make me miserable. At least he thought of a novel approach, looping the ball over the hapless Harper with what looked to me like his arse. Mind you for novelty value he had a lot to live up to. Take Trelford Mills in '83 v Brighton, disallowing not one but two perfectly valid injury time equalisers. Or Stuart Boam two years previously, choosing for reasons I'm sure entirely explicable to himself to prostrate himself on the edge of his own goalmouth and play onside the entire Exeter City frontline. Or Ian Woan in '97, arrowing the winner over Srniceck and into the roof of the net from somewhere near the bastard corner flag. And I've not even mentioned the Ian Rush-inflicted defeat of 1980 - that's Ian Rush of Chester, by the way - or the Wembley finals of 1998 and '99, gruesome moments from which can still flash unbid into my mind with awful clarity at any moment of the waking day.

What am I on about? The "Magic of the FA Cup" of course. A two-foot high, unlikely-shaped tin pot, the vain and hopeless pursuit of which has been making me miserable now for the best part of 25 years.

It all started so hopefully. But then, in 1977/78, I was ten years old and a lot more innocent. I was also, for the duration of the winter, a Blyth Spartans fan. Weren't we all, as the team of plucky Northern Leaguers somehow battled through to a Fifth Round replay against 2nd division Wrexham, played in front of 42,000 at St. James', with 6,000 more locked out, and a Quarter Final v Arsenal on offer for the victors. Arsenal? Never mind them, I had it on good authority (my uncle Mike from Cowpen) that the Cup had Spartans' name on it already. The local heroes had been fitted out for their Wembley suits. Little surprise that at the final whistle, Wrexham having scraped through 2-1, I was in tears. I've been close to them ever since.

The green and white Spartans having returned to non-league obscurity, Newcastle quickly regained their rightful status as the unrivaled object of my affections. Of course, my experience with the plucky Northumbrian pitmen had taught me nothing about the dangers of placing blind, pitiful faith in lost causes - and so I fully expected my glorious cup-fighting Magpies (I had it on even better authority - me dad - that we were glorious and nationally feared cup-fighters) to launch a determined yearly assault on Wembley's twin towers. Then, of course, Ian Rush came along. Then Stuart Boam. Then Trelford bleeding bastard Mills. By 1983, I was no longer innocent, I was scarred. And bitter. And at a worldly fifteen years of age, a bit too wise to be taken in by the "Magic of the FA Cup".

Except of course, we never get wise, do we? Which is why we always believe, come the first weekend in January, that this could be our year. That Newcastle United can suddenly transform themselves from the useless bunch of goal-shy laggards they reveal themselves to be weekly in the League, and become all-conquering cup heroes. After all, you only have to win six games to lift the damn thing. The apparent surmountability of the task, of course, is what takes us in. Really, we know Imre Varadi (or Mark McGhee, or Shola Amoebi) isn't going to win us the League - that's only for the elite. But the magical FA Cup? Maybe, just maybe.

Maybe. And - to look on the bright side for a minute - there have been games when the heightened intensity of the knockout cup-tie has seemed to bring out the best in both the players and the fans; heart-lifting games which help you to understand why you put yourself through all the misery. I'm thinking of the three 1990s victories at Blackburn, each featuring massive traveling support in full song. Or Shearer's thunderous strike to end Spurs resistance in the second Old Trafford Semi. Or back in the '80s, the Gascoigne-inspired 5-0 routing of Swindon.

Yes, there've been a few glorious triumphs. But never those six together that bring the glory. In each of the last three years, of course, we've come very, very close. And I have to admit, this near-but-oh-so-far stuff is getting a little too heartbreaking for me. Which is why, in a strange way, I feel almost grateful to Darius Vassell. Because I don't think I could stand another year of Wembley torment. Another sunny train ride North from my Manchester exile on the Saturday morning, "just to be there for the celebrations". Another Sunday afternoon standing in the pouring rain outside the Civic Centre, waving my overpriced black and white flag at the likes of Alessandro Pistone and feeling wretched for even being there at all.

No, call me defeatist, but just for one year, if we're going to get knocked out, let's get it over with, as big Ron might say, early doors. For God's sake, after 23 years I need a rest from this demonic "magic of the Cup". Next year I'll come back stronger, I promise. And, as if it needs saying, with the same entirely illogical conviction as ever that this year is the year when really, our name is on the Cup. Darius Vassell's arse permitting, of course.

* * * * *

The first two pieces in the Geordie Chronicles series, "Between the sticks" and "The bovver boys", can be found here and here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A lot of fuss over nothing

No fewer than five "news"papers - the Sun, the Mirror, the Star, the Mail and the Times, bastions of truth and journalistic integrity the lot of them - came out this morning declaring that Freddie Shepherd was lining up a "shock" move for Everton boss David Moyes. It would only be a shock, of course, because his seems to have been one of the only names pitched into the speculation by the papers in question.

In any case, both clubs have moved swiftly to quash the rumours.

Shepherd: "Newcastle United have not approached David Moyes, will not approach David Moyes, and wish him and Everton Football Club only the best of success".

Toffees chairman Bill Kenwright: "Fabrication and total nonsense".

So, is that the end of it? Probably - but stranger things have happened in football and you certainly can't trust Fat Fred enough to take him at his word. We know that from experience.

It's not too hard to see why Moyes might have caught the directors' collective eye. He's a passionate manager who has got the very best out of a pretty average set of players, instilled a real team ethic and work-rate, and has forged a mean defence.

That said, Everton haven't always performed well under his charge, narrowly escaping relegation a couple of seasons ago, and at least a couple of his summer signings (Per Koldrup and Simon Davies) were very questionable. Given the fact that they lost out to us over Scott Parker and Emre, would he really have the stature to convince talented European players to join, and the likes of Owen and Given to stay at the club? I'm not sure. In any case, it's irrelevant now - as long as both Shepherd and Kenwright were being honest, that is...

New face

A warm welcome to the Black & White & Read All Over blogroll for More Than Mind Games, a new general football blog without (it seems) specific club affiliation. There's a provocative post on "the romance of the Cup", for starters.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Reds run riot

Newcastle 1 - 3 Liverpool

Red was the colour that swept St James' Park yesterday. It was the colour which adorned the visitor's strip, the colour of the card shown to Jean-Alain Boumsong, and the colour of the rage which stayed with me long after the final whistle.

Arriving on the back of a 5-1 victory, Liverpool's goal-shy strikers had seemingly overcome their recent scoring problems, and so it proved as they scored their first goal inside the opening quarter of an hour. Building from a throw in, Liverpool were given far too much time and space by our midfield (the story of the afternoon) and allowed to cross the ball to the back post, where human beanpole Peter Crouch was easily able to beat Ramage and Boumsong to the ball, and head past a helpless Shay Given.

The initial set back worsened, as the lively N'Zogbia was forced off with a leg injury, to be replaced by Bowyer, with Emre moving out to the left. Sadly the change in personnel bought little improvement, as we continued to allow Liverpool too much time on the ball, and most of our attacking play foundered as Ameobi repeatedly strayed offside.

From one attack, we lost possession (as referee Mike Riley ignored the fact that Shearer was rugby tackled to the ground) and Liverpool swept forward. Good link-up play down our right eventually saw Steven Gerrard play a one-two with Crouch before sweeping home a right-footed shot to give the visitors a two goal cushion.

Two goals down, it was heartening to see some biting tackles in midfield which roused the crowd, and bought an element of spice to our previously lacklustre performance. With five minutes to go before half time, we eventually crafted some space on the right, and Parker's ball to the back post was met firmly by Ameobi who was adjudged marginally onside (for once) and gave us a glimmer of hope, before he headed off to celebrate on his own as his teammates trooped back to half way. Whether this is a sign that the team were keen to get on with matters or a reflection of Ameobi's popularity in the dressing room is uncertain.

Unfortunately for Newcastle, half time came as we were enjoying our best period of the match, with the goal having brought a resurgence in the performance giving hope to all those watching.

Depressingly any hope of the resurgence continuing in the second half was crushed within five minutes of the restart, when Jean-Alain Boumsong completely missed a clearance, and allowed Peter Crouch to get round him, and enjoy a run on goal. No doubt eager to make amends for his glaring error, the Frenchman promptly hauled Crouch to the ground. Unsurprisingly, the striker was sufficiently able to stay on his feet to get into the penalty area before falling, but the lack of protests from the home team told the story of the foul. Mike Riley adjudged that Boumsong was the last man, and promptly sent him off. The defender was last seen walking slowly round the back of the Gallowgate goal before finally jogging along the touchline to the tunnel.

Djibril Cisse stepped up, and calmly slotted the ball past Given who guessed wrongly, before heading off to the celebrate his goal in front of the aggrieved home fans by showing his vest and earned a booking as a result.

With a 3-1 lead now looking unassailable, Liverpool pressed forward and forced a corner shortly after the kick-off. At which point Cisse took it upon himself to rile the crowd, beckoning them to "come on". Despite the obvious reaction of the incensed home fans, Mavis Riley declined to issue the yellow card that antagonising the supporters should have merited at the very least, presumably because it would have meant sending Cisse off, and simply chose to talk to the player.

If Gary Neville is suspended for inciting Scousers, it can only be hoped that the FA take a similarly dim view of Cisse's antics. However, with the game now finished, any subsequent punishment is too little too late. Riley's failure to act left us facing an insurmountable struggle.

Although we briefly looked like we might get a goal back, with some decent endeavour in midfield, we never had possession for long enough spells to force any real pressure.

Dyer replaced Ameobi, but lacked the touch to make use of some good running and positional play - presumably a result of his lack of matches.

Ultimately, it was a frustrating day, with Newcastle too lethargic at times, and Boumsong's error left us with too much to do in the second half. To blame poor refereeing doesn't change the result (although someone really has to question whether Riley is capable of refereeing an under 11's game, let alone a Premiership one), and ultimately the better side won.

Chelsea on Wednesday doesn't provide us with much hope, and Roeder will need to inspire some urgency in his team, and forge a new central defensive partnership quickly if we are to have any hope of progressing to the next round.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Striking revelations

A couple of very interesting bits of tittle-tattle in today's papers which may well come to nothing but which are worthy of a mention.

First up, in the Sun Athletico Madrid striker and captain Fernando Torres has said we've made him a offer in advance of a proposed summer move to Tyneside: "There has always been talk about lots of clubs but I only know one firm offer and that's from Newcastle". Other clubs rumoured to be interested include the London trio of Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs.

While we'd never be able to compete were Chelsea to express serious interest, our chances would also probably evaporate if Arsenal can find the £15m, Torres having already expressed an interest in joining them. (Incidentally, Torres's choice of words was revealing: "If Arsenal and a coach like Arsene Wenger want to speak to you it's really flattering". Coaches really do attract players, which is why not having someone permanently installed in the position might hamper our attempts at recruitment.) With Spurs it would be a straight fight, but it's hard to believe that none of Europe's big clubs would register an interest.

I don't know much about Torres, except that he's young, talented and very highly thought of in Spain. He had a disappointing Euro 2004, but then so did Spain and as one of the youngest members of the squad the blame could hardly be placed on his shoulders. That said, £15m is an awful lot of money and I can't help thinking (partly because of our problems with Luque, who is still to come good) that a club like Arsenal, who already have Cesc Fabregas and Jose Antonio Reyes, would be better suited to him.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reckons we're keeping an eye on what transpires at Old Trafford regarding Ruud van Nistelrooy's situation. Like most followers of football, I imagine, I can't quite comprehend what's happening there. Louis Saha might be in a rich vein of form, but he often fails to hit the target and Horseface is an absolutely lethal marksman, one of the best in the business. There must have been some kind of falling-out behind the scenes that we don't know about.

In any case, how it's got to this point is not a matter to concern us. The simple fact is that if Horseface is available - and especially at the £7m figure that has been bandied about in the press before - we should bite Taggart's arm off if he wants to put him out to stud. He might be much older than Torres, but for half the money we'd be getting a striker familiar with the demands of the Premiership and accustomed to terrorising its defences. Plus it would stop him scoring against us...

All pie-in-the-sky talk, of course, but it doesn't hurt to dream once in a while...

No, no, Nobby

"I'm dying to wear the red and white shirt".

Worrying words emanating from the mouth of Nobby Solano. No, not because it hints at a secret passion to turn out for next season's Championship whipping boys Sunderland - the additional word "again" prevents any misunderstanding.

No, Nobby is hankering for a return to the Peruvian national side, Franco Navarro having replaced Freddy Ternero as coach. The country's one-time captain had a falling out with the outgoing boss, but has made himself available again.

Of course this would be bad news for us. After all, it was Nobby's apparent decision to renege on an agreement to retire from international competition that soured his relationship with Sir Bobby Robson and ended in his sale to Villa. The travelling for Copa America games and World Cup qualifiers meant that he either missed games through absence or could only be included on the bench due to jetlag and tiredness.

So come on Nobby. You're in the best form now of your second spell at the club. Show your commitment to the club and rule yourself out.


Remember the piece about Red Bull New York posted on here last week? Well, From The Doncaster Road End has a more considered and better informed post on the same subject: "It must be better that they are owned by one company with no other US MLS interests than being owned by AEG who had owned five teams before this deal, something that would be unthinkable in Europe.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ramage does the damage

Man Utd 2 - 0 Newcastle

The problem with being on a good run prior to a trip to Old Trafford was that we went there more in expectation than hope, which just made the inevitable defeat all the more disappointing. Man Utd put that run of form firmly into perspective (decent victories, but against very average opposition), and could have reached double figures in the process.

An unchanged Toon side took to the pitch to face a Red Devils XI once again minus Ruud van Nistelrooy. Taggart, in his infinite wisdom, had decided that Ol' Horseface's record of eleven goals in nine games against us wasn't good enough to merit a place in the team.

Of course, that didn't stop the players that the fish-eyed one did pick from putting us to the sword in spectacularly gruesome fashion. The moderately promising opening exchanges were soon a distant memory once granny-loving Scouse striker Shrek had pounced upon an awful Ramage backpass to expertly lob the ball over a stranded Given.

Ramage has been one of this season's success stories, giving us a measure of solidity and stability on the right-hand side of the defence in Carr's absence, and so it's a bit harsh to point the finger - but this was by far his worst display for the first team. It was disappointing not to see one of the senior players offering the youngster a consolatory word after his gaffe, and his performance subsequently suggested the error was playing on his mind. Four minutes after gifting Man Utd the opener, Ramage was culpable in allowing Shrek to run onto a John O'Shea pass, outmuscle him and bury the ball in the net.

It was nice to see that after going 2-0 down we decided to get much tighter to the jug-eared boy wonder - so tight, in fact, that he was only allowed thirteen or fourteen other opportunities to claim the match ball... Elliott's lack of pace was exposed time and again, while Boumsong was doing his familiar impression of a drunk in a Laurel & Hardy film.

The chances flowed so thick and fast that I've lost track of which half they took place in. Given made two excellent stops from Ronaldo (the show pony to van Nistelrooy's thoroughbred stallion) and Shrek hit the post when it looked impossible to miss, but most of the opportunities we presented them with were blazed high or wide. The commentator suggested it was like shooting practice - well, it was, but on this evidence Taggart will have them in for an extra-long session tomorrow. If the Champions League places come down to goal difference, then the Reds could well be left kicking themselves.

By contrast, our strikers didn't have a sniff. Both Shearer and Ameobi were anonymous, and the closest we came to fashioning a decent chance was when Solano found himself in a good position on the right of the box but couldn't pick out an onrushing forward.

Ameobi made way for Bowyer at half-time, and his presence helped our midfield get some kind of foothold in the game after the break. Parker was quietly effective, Emre busy and N'Zogbia lively, but there was no cutting edge or end product, Bowyer coming closest to scoring with a shot that Edwin van der Sar pushed round the post. Dyer and Luque came on to minimal effect. Meanwhile, Horseface appeared off the bench for them and the chances continued to flow at our end with such regularity that we can consider ourselves very fortunate to have escaped without a hiding.

Despite it all the Toon fans remained in good voice and good humour, responding to the inevitable chant of "Shearer, Shearer, what's the score?" (still harping on about that - they don't handle rejection very well, do they?) with one of our own: "USA, USA, USA"...

The result means that we have still only collected four points on our visits to Old Trafford since promotion in 1993. It's now 35 years since we last beat the bastards on their home turf, I think.

One final observation, regarding Roeder's post-match comments about the goalscorer: "Together with Thierry Henry, he is my favourite Premiership striker". Wonder what Al and Mickey will make of that, Glenn?

A Man Utd fan's perspective: United Rant

Other reports: BBC

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Hu-going, going, gone

So it's farewell to Hugo Viana, the Portuguese midfielder having signed for Valencia permanently in a £1.2m deal.

Viana has been on loan at the Spanish club this season, having been loaned out to our UEFA Cup conquerors Sporting Lisbon last term, so despite being on our books for four seasons since his move to Tyneside in the summer of 2002, he only actually appeared for us in two of those.

The deal represents a massive loss for the club, having shelled out £8.5m for a player who at the time was regarded as one of the finest prospects in Europe. Make no mistake, his signing was a major coup, coveted as he was by some of Europe's largest clubs. When asked in one 2002-3 season preview which summer transfer had most caught their eye, Taggart, Wenger and Houllier all pointed to Viana's move to St James' Park.

But it just didn't work out for the lad, who struggled to adapt to the pace and physical dimension of the Premiership as well as failing to settle in the North East - perhaps neither were surprising given his tender age (he was only 19 when he signed). There's no doubt he was a skilful player, a prodigious talent - but ultimately he didn't have the stomach for the fight and was often all too easily muscled off the ball or utterly anonymous.

That's when he played, of course. I was surprised to learn he notched 60 first team appearances in those two years - I would never have guessed there were so many. He rarely got the opportunity to play in his favourite central midfield position, Speed and JJ consistently preferred. When he did feature, it was often on the left in Robert's absence - presumably (in Sir Bobby's logic) because he was left-footed. Played out of position, lacking confidence, his development stalled (for which the coaching staff have to take some blame), and suddenly £8.5m looked like an awful lot of money. have pointed to the away leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final against Marseille as the game which effectively marked the end of Viana's Newcastle career, a half-arsed challenge allowing Didier Drogba to score and wrap up the tie 2-0 on the night and on aggregate. But I'd prefer to remember the good things. Viana may only have scored four times, but one of those came on that marvellous evening in Feyenoord when we made Champions League history by qualifying from the group stage having had no points after three games, and another (a brilliant free-kick against Birmingham) secured fourth spot and the chance of another crack at the competition (one which we passed up, of course).

But perhaps his finest performance in a black and white shirt came at home to Chelsea in April 2004. He may have been overshadowed by Shearer's thunderbolt shot which won the game and the injury to Jonathan Woodgate that meant it ended up being his last appearance for the club, but Viana was immense - passing the ball neatly, tigerish in the tackle, dynamic going forwards. All of which meant the listless gutless performance in Marseille shortly afterwards - in the same central midfield position - was a mystery.

He'll probably be written off as a costly mistake, and certainly we've lost a lot of money - but no-one could have known exactly how it would pan out. Sadly it was a bad move for both club and player. Time to move on. Best of luck, Hugo - and don't come back to haunt us should we ever get back into European competition...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Red Bull(shit)

Is rebranding a future we'll have to face up to in football on this side of the pond too?

"Red Bull GmbH, makers of the famous energy drink, is looking to bring Major League Soccer's MetroStars franchise into its fold, according to a report in the New York Daily News.

The MetroStars are currently owned by Los Angeles' Anschutz Entertainment Group and play in Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ

The Austria-based Red Bull owns the Red Bull Salzburg soccer club in the Austrian First Division. When Red Bull bought the club in April 2005, it renamed the team, which had been called SV Wüstenrot Salzburg, in a rebranding effort.

The report said a similar renaming/rebranding would take place if the company buys the MetroStars.

So there you have it: Red Bull gives you wings, and whitewashes your football club's name and history. The reaction of American football bloggers to the news appears to have been one of distinct unease.

Of course, the branding of stadia has been happening over here for a number of years - in the Premiership we've already got the JJB and the Reebok, while they'll be joined next season by Arsenal's Emirates Stadium and the name of Boro's Riverside was originally prefixed with that of their main sponsor Cellnet. There are several others outside the top tier, too. It's not too great a step to go from there to alterations to kit and club name to suit the money men. Cash talks, and clubs (our own included) seem only too willing to bend over backwards to get their hands on it. Much as I hope the takeover / corporate shafting of the New York MetroStars doesn't set a precedent, I'm not too optimistic.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Geordie Chronicles

Time for the second installment of Jonathan's Geordie Chronicles series. In this piece, which originally appeared in The Mag a few years back and which can now be found on the Bonkworld site, Jonathan reflects on a bout of fisticuffs, all-seater stadia and the bad old days.

The bovver boys

Shock, horror - hooliganism is back! Well, it had to happen sooner or later. And sure enough, fully ten years since the advent of all-seater stadia brought about the gentrification of the working man's game and the long-overdue consignment of the multi-scarved boot-boy into the dustbin of 70s nostalgia, that vile creature has raised its ugly head again.

It happened during the Leeds game. Just before half-time. The signs of impending "bother", familiar to any veteran of the dark days. A heated exchange of words. A sharp movement in the crowd. A flurry of fists separating alarmed bystanders. The whole thing over with in seconds, but a bitter taste left in the mouth. A full page editorial in the following morning's Sunday Express.

Recognisable enough? Well, of course, this sort of thing was until recently a weekly occurrence at any ground in the country. But hold on a minute - these hooligans differed from the tired stereotype. They weren't skinheads for a start, even if they were receding a bit on top. And they were members of no "firms", unless you count their respectable city-centre workplaces. Last but not least, they were wearing no opposing colours - the fighters were two slightly out-of-shape, forty-something season-ticket holders, and - wait for it - supporters of the same team! Our team, to be precise.

Now I've no idea what difference of opinion brought about this sudden loss of decorum among my near-neighbours in the Sir John Hall Stand. It may have been about the selection of Acuna, or over whose turn it was to get the half-time pies in. That's not the point. The point is - in the supposedly dark days of the 70s and 80s, this never used to happen. It was the away crew you had to look out for at St James', not the mild-mannered looking fellow in the checked cardigan in the seat behind you. So what's going on?

Well, I've a theory, and it's to do with the advent of the sold-out all-seater stadium. For, as most of you will remember, when you used to be able to stand, you could stand exactly where you liked. And by exercising that freedom of choice, supporters of a feather tended to flock together, if you like. So the West Centre Paddock was the domain of pipe-smoking schoolteacher fathers and their programme-wielding pre-adolescent offspring, while the Gallowgate East Corner was - well, let's say it wasn't for the faint-hearted, especially when Sunderland came to town. Between these two extremes, you could make your stand among those closest to your own breed of supporter. Myself, I was a Gallowgate scoreboard man. In among the noise and the craic, but not too close to the cracking of knuckles, if you catch my drift.

Anyway, back to the theory. Sometimes a particularly obnoxious individual would come and share your Gallowgate scoreboard crash-barrier. A pissed racist, maybe. Or just a wannabe Jimmy Hill, all pontification and wisdom after the event. What did you do? Well, you turned round, made yourself a gap in the crowd, and walked away. Not too far, either - you didn't have to. The noise of the crowd in those days would drown out the loudest of individual loudmouths at five paces.

Fast forward 15 years or so. The obnoxious neighbour is no temporary problem. Thanks to his season ticket, he's moved in next-door for good. And thanks to your season ticket, you can't turn and walk away. And thanks to the funereal silence pervading the modern-day ground, you can't help but listen to him droning/ranting on. For season after season after thankless bleeding season.

So what happens? Well, it's clear enough. One day, mild-mannered though you are, you snap. You target the individual with a few choice words, and the next thing you know, you're flinging fists, maybe for the first time since secondary school. It's all a bit embarrassing, and it's only ended when some bloke next to you both - the author of this here article, if you care to know - steps in and asks the two of you to stop being so bleeding daft.

Of course, if all-seater stadiums were fine apart from the occasional outburst of male-menopausal fisticuffs, maybe they wouldn't be so bad. But we all know that with the loss of standing areas we've really lost much more than the freedom to move about. The anonymity of the terrace has been replaced by a stifling familiarity more akin to the suburban street, the variety and spontaneity of the crowd lost among sullen rows of identically clad, stressed-out strangers. Blimey, half the time at the game, I feel like I'm at work.

So - a return to terraces it's to be then? Well, don't hold your breath. Our Minister for Sport is pretty much in a minority of one in favouring, or even daring to mention, that possibility - that much was made clear by the knee-jerk "seats are safe, terraces are for hooligans" response of the clubs, the Premier League, and the rest of government to Kate Hoey's perfectly sensible if fairly half-hearted recent murmurings.

The good old days, meanwhile, will remain just a memory. Getting in at half-past one to book your crash-barrier. Soaked to the skin by five-to-three, not seeing half the game, fifteen thousand of you squeezing out of a five-foot wide gap at twenty-to-five - fond recollections all.

On second thought, maybe the seats aren't so bad, eh?

(The first installment in the series, "Between the sticks", can be found here.)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Shuffling up the list?

With our good run of form having quietened the media storm surrounding the manager's vacancy at Newcastle, it was interesting to see that Glenn Roeder's case for the job on a permanent basis is now being advanced in the national press.

In his favour, Roeder is popular with the fans (who sang his name on Saturday), favours creative flowing football which utilises wingers to good advantage, has the ability to coach defenders (something which a string of previous managers have proved incapable of doing) and is also an ex- Newcastle player.

Against these positives must be weighed some negatives. Significantly, Roeder lacks the requisite coaching qualification to allow him to take the job full time, and unless that particular deficiency is overcome he won't be able to take the job regardless of how strong a case he can mount.

Whilst he's done a decent job so far, it's important to remember that we've faced opposition which we should be perfectly capable of beating. The challenge now becomes much sterner, with the four best teams in the country (according to the League Table) as our next four opponents.

It's also worth bearing in mind that Fat Fred appears to want a big name manager. Someone who will attract top quality players to the club, and can be a charismatic leader. Whilst he may have a certain charisma, it's fair to say that Roeder's is not the name that springs instantly to mind when such criteria are listed.

At present, it still seems too early to tell, and I suspect that Fred is still making eyes at bigger fish like O'Neill and Sven (who is a certainty to be our next manager if my local barber is to be believed). However, if Roeder can keep the recovery going by taking us through March with the same level of performance and success that he managed through February, and in doing so get results at unhappy hunting grounds Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge in the process, then Fred may be forced to look closer to home for a permanent appointment.

Damned with no praise

Listening to Radio 5 Live on Saturday I was interested to hear Warren Barton's comments on Roeder's coaching of our defence. Not for what he said about Roeder, but more his observations on different managerial styles.

Essentially, he said that different managers have different styles of approaching coaching, and whilst some coached the defence (e.g. Roeder) others would focus there attentions on where their playing talents lay, and he used the example of Keegan coaching our strikers. He then commented that to overcome that particular disparity Keegan had brought in Mark Lawrenson to coach our defence, and they'd had about one session with him.

Yes, that's right: ONE SESSION in the four months Lawro was on the payroll. That's got to make the smug twat the best paid coach ever. I'm sure that ratio of work to pay must even put Marcelino's games to months ratio to shame.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Mick mocked

What is it with Man City and the demise of managers of North-East clubs?

First Souness was issued with his P45 the day after a miserable 3-0 drubbing at Eastlands, and now the Great Unwashed down the road have decided to follow in our shadow (as ever) in sacking Mick McCarthy less than 24 hours after the Mackems' hilariously suicidal defending gifted City a 2-1 win. Both goals came from striker Georgios Samaras - some might say it was a Greek tragedy for Mick, but not us. More like high farce.

All that's left for the Mackems to achieve is a new lowest ever points tally. They've currently amassed a mighty total of 10, and are still three wins away from equalling 2002-3's paltry haul of 19. (As pointed out, since Glenn Roeder replaced Souness we've taken thirteen points from five games, three more than McCarthy managed all season (from 28 games).) Kevin Ball has been temporarily installed at the helm of a ship sinking faster than the Titanic, and if his managerial skills are anything like his footballing talents then he should easily succeed in steering his beloved red 'n' whites to a new low.

Trotting forward

Newcastle 3 - 1 Bolton

Three goals saw us briefly move in to the top half of the table, and helped us to see off Fat Sam's Bolton on Saturday.

In a game which kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday, it was a real return to old fashioned values - commitment, teamwork and a little flair that helped us keep Glenn Roeder's unbeaten run intact. Parker and Emre in particular shone in the midfield, although both N'Zogbia and Solano played crucial roles as we did enough to win a game which had Souness remained in charge would no doubt have seen us sink closer to the relegation mire. Thankfully we no longer live in such dark times.

Instead, we looked sharp going forward, with Emre hitting a cracking twenty yard shot which crashed off the post in the opening few minutes, only for Robbie Elliott to guide a ball on to our own post, blocking Bolton's only attack of the first half.

However, whilst honours may have been even in the opening fifteen minutes, our greater sense of collective effort was starting to pay dividends further forward, with Babayaro and N'Zogbia linking up well down the left to tee up Shola, only for him to completely miss the ball. Whilst his miss bought groans, ten seconds later Shola had got himself back on the ball and was fouled by Tal Ben Haim. Solano stepped up, and curled the ball over the wall and past the dive of Jaaskelainen to make it three goals in two games for everyone's favourite Peruvian trumpet-playing loverat.

Just before half time, more good work by N'Zogbia saw him cross to the far post, and Shearer powered a header goalwards. Jaaskelainen got a hand to it, but only succeeded in palming the ball into his own net, giving us a two goal half-time lead.

Into the second half, and we again continued to outplay a distinctly lacklustre Bolton, and after Bolton had cleared a corner, the ball eventually found its way to Emre, whose miscued shot fell to the unmarked Ameobi, who succeeded in making contact with the ball, firing it into the corner to give us a three-nil lead.

Bolton then woke up, and started to play, forcing a corner down in the Strawberry corner of the ground. With our defence still finding its way back into position (and Scott Parker seemed particularly culpable here - standing hands on hips, back to the ball when the corner was taken short) Bolton were able to cross to the back post, and from the header back across the goal Kevin Davies forced the ball home to give Bolton a brief glimmer of hope.

Now whilst we might previously have looked jittery at this point, we were able to stand firm and see the game out. Giannakoupoulos forced the ball into the net, but despite his protestations to the contrary he clearly handled the ball in the build up, and the goal was rightly ruled out and with it went Bolton's hopes of a point.

With Gary Lineker mischievously suggesting us as late European challengers, fears of relegation now seem to have well and truly lifted. Forthcoming fixtures against Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs will test just how far Glenn Roeder has taken us, but we can at least go into them believing that we can get something from each of the games.

A Bolton fan's perspective: Tails Of Bolton

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Out of time?

So, where does last night's 2-1 friendly win over Uruguay leave our three England hopefuls?

Well, Darren Bent showed plenty of endeavour but insufficient guile against a deep-lying defence - but, regardless of how well he played, Michael Owen was (if fit) always going to be on the plane to partner Wayne Rooney up front.

The situation is more worrying for Scott Parker and Kieron Dyer. Joe Cole's excellent match-winning performance has no doubt further cemented his place in Sven's first team, meaning that, with Gerrard, Lampard and Beckham all fit, there will be no place for a holding midfielder. In any case, Michael Carrick impressed in that role last night.

My guess is that both Parker and Dyer could still make the squad, but they'll need to stay fit for the rest of the season and play regularly. Dyer in particular has an awful lot to prove, and not a lot of time in which to do it - he's just fortunate Sven seems to think the sun shines out of his arse.

Who might make way? Our old boy Jermaine Jenas did precious little to advance his claim for a place in the squad, and Kieran Richardson could drop out too. That said, Parker and Dyer still face stiff competition from the likes of Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton, who will also be hoping to sneak in at the last minute.

New faces

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

Tails Of Bolton
West Ham Utd Blog

(Thanks to Danny for the tip-off about Highbury1913 and West Ham Utd Blog.)

Also worth a peek, setting aside tribal allegiances for a moment: Grocer Jack's personal tribute to the late Peter Osgood on Chelsea Blog.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Shay's skippership scuppered

Having "thought long and hard about it" and deciding that "Shay was the obvious candidate", new Republic of Ireland manager Steve Staunton has handed the captaincy to Spurs striker Robbie Keane. Eh? Is some of Sir Bobby Robson's legendary confusion rubbing off on the former Liverpool and Villa man?

For Sir Bobby's part, I'm sure he will have made Staunton well aware of Given's leadership qualities and capacity to skipper the side - but it isn't to be, much to Shay's obvious disappointment.

Like the Murphy's, though, he's not bitter. Well, not much. "It would be nice one day if Robbie was not fit, or he went off in a game. Just to put the armband on for five minutes would be a fantastic honour because to lead your country is one of the biggest achievements of your career". Hmm, I can see Shay coming off his line for a corner and clobbering Keane in the head accidentally on purpose, can't you?

Gable ended, Dynamo starts

Gable End Graffiti is dead, long live Montrose Dynamo!

(Thanks to Skif for the tip-off.)