Sunday, April 30, 2006

No Brucie bonus

Birmingham 0 - 0 Newcastle

A week after effectively sending the Baggies down, we waved Steve Bruce and his Birmingham side off to the Championship. It gave me immense pleasure that it was us who sent the cauliflower-faced plastic Geordie packing.

As Bret Michaels and co well knew, though, every rose has its thorn - and in this instance there were several, of which more later.

Chasing a sixth successive win, Roeder opted for an unchanged side, which meant Pattison and Chopra kept their places. The appearance on the bench of a certain M Owen gave further reason for optimism, but, as it turned out, Birmingham side will feel bitterly disappointed not to have taken all three points. They attacked us like dogs backed into a corner, though fortunately their reliance on the lumbering form of Emile Heskey meant their bark was much worse than their bite.

The impetus was with Birmingham from the off, on-loan midfielder Jiri Jarosik trying his luck twice in the opening 15 minutes. At the other end, though, Mario Melchiot did well to put off the in-form Ameobi (how strange it is to type those words consecutively...) after a moment of defensive confusion. Mikael Forssell's shot skimmed the side netting with Given beaten, and in the only other decent chance of the first half fell to Heskey, who planted his shot into Given's arms.

The second half began in a similar fashion, Birmingham pressing us back but lacking the cutting edge that has eluded them all season. They were extremely fortunate not to fall behind when Melchiot made his second timely intervention to deny N'Zogbia, who looked odds on to beat Maik Taylor from six yards.

Owen's arrival off the bench after an hour coincided with the news that Portsmouth had got an equaliser at Wigan, the shellshocked St Andrews crowd falling pathetically silent rather than roaring on the increasingly desperate efforts of their team. Before long, Owen had headed a presentable chance over as we posted notice of our threat on the break.

The game turned, though, on two passages of play. First Babayaro, under pressure from Heskey, handled in the area. Birmingham may well feel aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty, especially given their precarious circumstances, but there may have been a shove in the back from Heskey. Second, in injury time when Jarosik's free-kick struck the wall and was played back in, Given pulled off a tremendous double save, first from Forssell and then Heskey.

We could and perhaps should have then banged the nail into their Premiership coffin more emphatically, Bramble (of all people) breaking clear in a one-on-one with Taylor, but his central defender's first touch was far too heavy and gave the onrushing Northern Ireland 'keeper a chance to clear. The final whistle, and confirmation of Birmingham's demotion, followed shortly afterwards.

So, those thorns. Firstly, there was Owen, who came off complaining of a dull pain in his foot: "My foot does not feel right. I felt something go after 10 minutes. I don't know how serious it is but it's not perfect". Thankfully - for both Newcastle and England, given the injury to Shrek which looks to have ruled him out of the World Cup - tests and an X-ray conducted this morning has revealed no damage.

Secondly, Birmingham's relegation - as welcome as it is - means that we now won't be able to offload Nicky Butt to them under the terms of his loan. I very much doubt he'll be welcome back at St James' Park, so we'll be left hoping someone else will conveniently forget about the past two seasons and snap him up on the basis of his career at Man Utd. One of the promoted clubs, perhaps?

And thirdly, the draw - though with another welcome clean sheet - has effectively scuppered our bid for sixth place and the UEFA Cup because our main rivals Blackburn took advantage of a lacklustre Charlton side deflated at the news of Alan Curbishley's impending departure to chalk up an easy victory at The Valley in the Saturday evening kick-off. We now have to beat the newly crowned champions Chelsea at home next week to stand any chance, but if Blackburn can beat them in their game in hand on Tuesday then it's mathematically impossible. Disappointing, given our form of late, but then anyone who suggested back in January that we might be challenging for Europe come the end of the season would have been instantly certified and locked up, so we can't really complain.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Shear class*

At 4.26pm on Monday 17th April 2006, Alan Shearer’s playing career came to an end.

A typically committed challenge with Mackem midfielder Julio Arca resulted in an injury that ruled him out for the remainder of his final season before retirement. The announcement wasn’t made until the following Friday once a scan had revealed the extent of the damage (torn knee ligaments), but both he and we knew, as he sat there on the Stadium of Shite turf, that his time was up.

He had, of course, already scored.

So, no more will we thrill to the sight of the opposition net bulging and the skipper wheeling away from goal, arm aloft and finger pointed skyward.

No more will we feel the blood pumping that much more furiously in our veins when he rallies the troops on the field of battle.

No more will Martin Tyler’s “SHEARER!” bring us leaping to our feet.

It’s largely with sadness that we see the great man hang up his boots. Those that suggest the end has come prematurely may be right – but only just.

I’ve written elsewhere about Shearer’s qualities as a talismanic leader and goalscorer, about what he’s meant to the football club we both hold dear to our heart. His decision to defer his retirement and stay on for another season has been vindicated, not least on 4th February when he fired home against Portsmouth to break Jackie Milburn’s goalscoring record, an achievement which occasioned our feature looking at his six best strikes for the club. His penalty against the Mackems means the record now stands at 206.

But increasingly this season Shearer has needed the ball delivered to him on a plate, or placed on the penalty spot. Those two terrible knee injuries cost him his pace, but his legs really have started to go to the extent that in some games this term he has come to seem a weary, forlorn figure up front. The mind and spirit may be willing, but the body is no longer able. Had Shearer reacted quicker to block John Terry’s shot during our FA Cup Sixth Round tie with Chelsea in March, who knows? He might have ended his career with some silverware. But Shearer’s a proud man and he will be glad to bow out with dignity rather than heeding calls for him to hold off his retirement for yet another season.

So, where does this leave us? With a massive hole both on the pitch and in the dressing room. Whoever comes in up front will have to expect to bear the burden of being Shearer’s replacement, but that job would be beyond anyone – he’s irreplaceable. Other senior players are going to have to shoulder more responsibility – which is another reason why it’s imperative that we do our utmost to keep hold of Shay Given.

Though he’ll be sitting alongside Glenn Roeder for the final two games of this season, Shearer has repeatedly ruled out the possibility of being there come the start of the net. He’s got punditry commitments to fulfil, and I expect the golf course will be seeing almost as much of him as his family. But he won’t sever his connection to the club (as if he could), and one day we may well see him back in the dugout at St James’.

In the meantime, there’s his testimonial match against Celtic to come – a complete sell-out, of course. Hopefully the man himself will be able to hobble on and kick the game underway.

But for his last competitive action for the club to come in a thumping derby win over the old enemy is almost too perfect for words. That it was in many ways an ideal scenario for someone who bleeds black and white, whose ambition it was to play for and even captain his hometown club, was evident from the smile that crept onto his face in the post-match interview.

Trophies? Pah. Scoring against the Mackems – that’s what matters.

So long, Al, and thanks for the memories.

* Well, you’ve got to allow us that title this once, given it’s most likely the last chance we’ll get to use it.


Alan Hansen on Shearer

Rob Lee on Shearer

Shearer’s career in pictures

View From The Away End

So much for my ramblings. What have opposition fans made of Alan Shearer and his career, both with us and elsewhere? We asked Danny of Bitter And Blue, Cameron of A Town Called Malice, Swiss Toni of, yes, Cheer Up Alan Shearer, Simon of West Ham Utd Blog and Pete of Round And White for their views.

Danny: “Perhaps it is inevitable with the British press that in the days after his retirement the question Alan Shearer faced most often was still: ‘Do you regret signing for Newcastle’?

It is the question that has been thrown at Shearer whenever Newcastle endured another trophy-less season and is set to continue long into his retirement.

To his credit, Shearer has not shied away from the question this week and has been unequivocal in the fact that ‘he lived the dream’ and that meant more to him than a drawerful of medals to look back on.

He retires as one of England’s all time scorers; the all-time Newcastle scoring record and a tally of Premiership goals that may never be surpassed.

It is easy to take for granted just how good Shearer was – clearly he is the best striker the Premiership has seen so far and may turn out to be the best of this generation.

He did irk many people though – his selfishness did not endear him to some and his play bordered on the legitimate at times which made him a target for fans.

I think looking back on his career Shearer has achieved everything he ever wanted to – and ultimately I think that is why he can honestly say he has ‘no regrets’ about anything in his career.

Cameron: “Alan Shearer was the personification of the old-fashioned British target man, big, strong and with the casual knack of leaving defenders on their arses.

Shearer has always been like that, but in his last couples of seasons at Newcastle he became the archetype of the role. One too many injuries forced Shearer to change his approach, and in the last few seasons, seeing Big Al in any other position bar back to goal has been about as likely as a Sunderland win.

I remember a time though, when Shearer first signed for Blackburn, that not only was he strong, but he was nubile and had pace too. On his home debut at Ewood, he picked up the ball around the halfway line; absolutely burst into Arsenal’s half with a gallop, before unleashing an unswayable rocket into the back of the net from about 30 yards out. I might be sensationalising here, 1992 was a long time ago, but then what about all the Shearer goals since that words simply don’t do justice?

What Shearer never lost was his eye for goal, and however his approach in matches might have changed they still kept coming. It’s a shame he won nothing at Newcastle, because I admire and empathise with the reasons he left my club. If he’d have signed for Manchester United, that would have been it, I’d have lost all respect.

Some Rovers fans resented that he left us, regardless of the fact he was going back to his boyhood club, and never stopped letting him know about it. But when Shearer was substituted on his last appearance at Ewood Park last September, despite compounding our woes that day by scoring to add to a 3-0 defeat, every single person in the stadium rose to applaud him.

How could we not show appreciation for a man who helped our little club to the Premiership title? My abiding memory of Alan Shearer, will always be with that trophy aloft, something I’m sure Newcastle fans were always dreaming of seeing too.

Big Al… loyal, dedicated and hard as nails. They don’t make them like that now do they?”

Swiss Toni: “Alan Shearer has got to be one of the greatest strikers ever to play the game. He has certainly been one of the most effective. His record of 341 goals in 651 appearances at a ratio of 0.52 goals per game more or less speaks for itself. In fact, I’d say that he’s been almost as good as Steve Bull (306 goals in 561 appearances at a ratio of 0.55 goals per game).


Simon: “I don’t like to try and speak on behalf of all West Ham fans, I just speak as one of them, but I think the Premiership will be a poorer place without Shearer. In fact, I can’t believe the amount of people crawling out of closets to have a go at him. What Shearer represents to me is the one of the last of the Roy of the Rovers type strikers that English football has bred over time. Good old-fashioned, tough centre forward capable of scoring all types of goals.

My best memory of him is the goal against Holland in Euro 96, after Sheringham dummied and he emphatically tucked it in. Everyone remembers where they were when that happened. Fortunately, Rooney looks set to take Alan’s place in the modern football legends’ handbook, but for scoring goals when it mattered and conducting himself with dignity off the field, I’ll miss Alan Shearer. Just don’t try and buy Dean Ashton to replace him, he’s ours!”

Pete: “So long Super Al. It's been nice knowing you. Well, sort of. I've always admired Alan Shearer for his ability, but never really warmed to him as a player. He's scored some stunning goals, but the only one that gives me goosebumps, ten years on, was his second against Holland in Euro 96 and even that was more to do with the occasion rather than person.

The best striker the Premiership's seen? Very possibly. No matter what team he's played for he's always been consistent, a goal machine if you like, but I've never had much affection for him, even when he's played for England. He's a good… no, excellent finisher, but even as a Spurs fan (there, I've said it), unlike Andy Gray I enjoy watching Henry more than Al. Ok, perhaps that's an unfair comparison, as they play two different styles of football. I can't really think of a solid reason why his retirement doesn't really bother me, but it doesn't. Perhaps if he had achieved more for England I'd think differently.

He'll no doubt be missed by Newcastle fans, but as a neutral I'll always wonder what might have happened if he had moved to a different club. In a parallel universe somewhere, is Al playing for Man United and has he led them to a second successive Champions League win?

Quite what will happen at St. James’ Park next is anyone's guess. Will anyone step into Al's shoes? Well, with a bit of luck Owen will be fit again for the start of the new season, but I can't really see him replacing Shearer as a Newcastle icon, unless he starts scoring goals in really important games, ie FA Cup finals, title deciders, Europe, etc. I'll leave it to the Newcastle fans to discuss the likelihood of that.

* * * * *

Well, I’m glad you seem to be confident we’re going to hang on to Owen in the summer, Pete…

Thanks to Danny, Cameron, Swiss Toni, Simon and Pete for their thoughts.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Gunners Given boost

Congratulations to Arsenal on making the Champions' League final.

No, not simply a gesture of support for a British football team (albeit one which last night featured a solitary Brit), but a simultaneous expression of relief as a Newcastle fan. Let me explain.

I've never rated Jens Lehmann very highly at all, but this season he's performed admirably, sufficiently so to tempt me into eating my words. Last night's 88th minute penalty save surely sealed his position as the Gunners' number one for some time to come.

All of which means that, even though he's out of contract in the summer, our chances of hanging on to Shay Given are looking much more healthy. A couple of seasons ago, both Arsenal and Man Utd seemed to me to be crying out for top quality 'keepers. At Old Trafford, Taggart moved to remedy the situation by bringing in Edwin van der Saar from Fulham, but Wenger did nothing - the suspicion being he was waiting to pounce for Given.

Our level-headed Irish custodian has once again been at his frequently incredible best this season, preserving leads and salvaging points single-handedly. What with Petr Cech not living up to last season's form, age catching up a bit with Brad Friedel and Paul Robinson playing behind a more solid defence and therefore being called into action less frequently, it wouldn't be an overstatement to say he's been the best 'keeper in the Premiership this season, as acknowledged by his appearance between the sticks in the Premiership Team Of The Year.

It wasn't long ago that our season looked like being a disaster, but now that a very encouraging run of results has turned things around, with Europe somewhat bizarrely in our sights, Given might well be tempted to sign a new deal - especially if there are no other major British suitors.

I just hope I haven't spoken too soon - or dismissed too lightly the idea that he might like to try his luck on the continent. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Given owes us nothing, and would be perfectly entitled to leave in search of success and a bigger pay packet (his current salary being dwarfed by others at the club, despite his inestimably greater contribution to the team).

But if we can keep hold of him it'll be a major coup - and the chances of that happening look to be going from slim to good.

New faces

It was only a matter of time, I guess.

Soccer Shout is the first football-centred podcast I've come across. Put together by a couple of chaps by the names of Phil and Tony, it's a daily podcast lasting around twenty minutes and featuring match reports, news and views on the British game.

The odd patches of dead air indicate that they're still feeling their way in a new medium, but they're well on their way to finding their feet, and their dedication is to be applauded. And in any case it's infinitely preferable to listening to the clueless rantings of callers to Radio 5's 606...

Phil and Tony are looking for contributors, too, so if you're interested you can contact them at

Also worth a look: Footblog - a general football site which currently features some thoughts on the prospect of Fat Freddy appointing Glenn Roeder on a permanent basis.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Quote of the day

"It’s disappointing but I’ve got no regrets, I’ve had a great career ... My dream as a kid was to play for Newcastle United and to score goals at St James’ Park. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t win a trophy because I did it my way and I lived the dream. Unless you come from the area you wouldn’t understand that mentality. Playing for the club is everything. I broke Jackie’s record and no one can take that away from me. I’ve never had any regrets. Some people think it was a fantastic way to go out anyway by scoring in our 4-1 win at Sunderland last week. I think they might be right".

The one and only Alan Shearer rewrites 'My Way': "Regrets, I've had, er, none actually".

More on Shearer's retirement later in the week.

Bye bye Baggies

Newcastle 3 - 0 West Brom

A second 3-0 victory of the season over West Brom on Saturday gave Bryan Robson's Baggies a firm shove in the direction of the relegation trapdoor.

There's no room for sentiment at this stage of the season, given our European ambitions - ruthlessness is the key, and thankfully we set about the task in a manner that made clear that claiming the three points was just as important for us as it was for them.

The margin of victory was comfortable and could have been significantly more, so poor were the Baggies against a very unfamiliar-looking and patched-up Toon side. Chopra took the place of Shearer, who - as expected - has announced his career is over, with Given handed the honour of the captain's armband. Meanwhile Dyer's hamstring niggle saw N'Zogbia move into the centre of midfield and youth product Matty Pattison given his first start in the first team wide on the left.

We were soon on top, the only surprise being that it took us half an hour to capitalise. Solano had been desperately unlucky to see a superb long-range volley smack off the crossbar, and it was he who opened the scoring. Pattison's pass found Chopra in the area, and when the striker's shot was deflected into Solano's path by Neil Clement, the Peruvian supplied a Shearer-esque poacher's finish. Having taken a frustratingly long time to recover fully from injury since his return to St James' Park, Nobby is now very definitely back to his best, that being his sixth Premiership strike of the season.

Ten minutes later we doubled our advantage following Clement's clumsy challenge on Chopra. There remains some debate over whether the foul was definitely committed inside the area, but Ameobi - preferred to Luque despite the horrific facial injury he sustained against Wigan and the Spaniard's goal against the Mackems - had no qualms about taking over Shearer's penalty-taking responsibility (following some debate with Solano) and tucking the ball into the corner past Tomas Kuszczak.

A furious Robson made all three substitutions at half-time (and later said he'd have made eleven if it had been possible), but to little discernible effect. As a strike pairing Nathan Ellington and Kanu were almost as anonymous as Kevin Campbell and Diomansy Kamara had been in the first period, Ellington squandering the Baggies' only real opportunity.

Shearer, looking on from the bench as we cruised in the comfort zone, was honoured with some warmly appreciative chants, and responded with a wave, while Roeder brought Pattison off with ten minutes remaining to give the youngster the opportunity to savour the fans' applause for his personal efforts.

The icing on the cake of a fifth successive win came in the last minute, Ameobi played in by N'Zogbia to score the goal that meant we had notched three for the third successive home game - a distinct improvement on our shot-shyness of earlier in the season (though, admittedly, that blighted us predominantly in away games).

The win sees us level with Blackburn, and just four points behind Arsenal. Both have a game in hand on us, though, as do Bolton and Wigan who are below but well within striking distance. Saturday's game at St Andrews is going to be crucial.

Roeder has been given FA permission to continue in charge until the end of the season despite not having the requisite qualifications, so we won't have to indulge in any ridiculous superficial juggling of the coaching staff. The question now is whether his tenure in the managerial hot seat will continue on into the summer on a permanent basis.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, April 21, 2006


What a shame. Nary a mention of that bewildered squirrel in the report of last night's Champions League semi-final on B&W&RAO's favourite Arsenal blog, aside from what I assume is an unintentional pun about Villareal being "a tough nut to crack".

If Skif had been writing the report, he freely admits it'd have been five parts squirrel to one part football.

I was amused to note the reader's comment in today's Guardian Fiver email that even the pitch-invading rodents at Highbury are foreigners...

New face

Welcome to the blogroll...

Two Thousand Holes In Blackburn, Lancashire, a blog focused on non-league football from a Villa / Eastbourne Borough fan

(Thanks to Skif for the link.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Great Unwashed 1 - 4 Newcastle

Who put the ball in the Mackems' net? How long have you got? Chopra, Shearer, N'Zogbia and Luque all added their names to our growing band of players (and former players) who've scored at the Stadium of Shite in recent years, against a team already condemned to Championship football next season.

That we would win with our most convincing derby victory in years was far from a foregone conclusion as the first half unfolded, with Kevin Ball's relegated mob consistently first to the ball, dominating the first half by showing greater desire and commitment all around the pitch, and a goal to the good at half time.

The Mackem goal came courtesy of Arsenal loanee Justin Hoyte, who began a move at right back, and continued his run upfield as the ball was worked down the flank. When the cross eventually came into the middle, Amady Faye's fluffed attempt at a clearance left Hoyte with a simple tap-in to give the home side the lead.

According to his post match interview, Glenn Roeder took the opportunity presented to him by the half-time break to explain in a full and frank manner where he thought we were going wrong, and sent the team back on to the pitch with firm instructions to show a significant improvement.

With fourteen minutes of the second half passing by with signs of improved endeavour but no crucial breakthrough, Roeder took off Lee Clark (who was unsurprisingly booed from first to last by the locals) and brought on Michael Chopra. Chopra jogged forward, and then picked up speed to run on to Titus Bramble's long punt, chest it down and poke it into the net, to score his first league goal for the club.

Eighteen seconds later and Charles N'Zogbia was hauled down in the penalty area, and up stepped Alan Shearer to slam home the spot kick, finally laying to rest the demons of his penalty miss from several years ago and give us a 2-1 lead.

N'Zogbia had been a handful all afternoon, and minutes later his strong twisting run ended with him firing the ball into the corner of the net to give us an unassailable 3-1 lead, with all our goals coming in one glorious six minute spell.

Then, with the Mackems clearly a beaten team, Shearer went down in a challenge with Julio Arca, and twisted his knee as he landed. Despite attempting to play on, it was clear that Shearer was struggling to walk, and he hobbled disconsolately down the tunnel to be replaced by Albert Luque.

That Luque was sent clear in the 87th minute to score his first goal in a black and white shirt, and condemn the mackems to their worst derby defeat since 1956, was the icing on the cake.

Sadly, the news that Shearer may not recover from his knee injury to ever play for us again is a dark cloud in an otherwise gloriously bright sky - but with only three games to go, we may yet salvage a UEFA Cup spot from an otherwise dreary season, and if it is to be Shearer's last game, our biggest derby victory for fifty years isn't a bad way to bow out.

A Mackem's perspective: Sunderland AFC Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Sunday, April 16, 2006

No substitute for class

Newcastle 3 - 1 Wigan

Revenge for two contrasting but equally miserable 1-0 defeats earlier in the season was sweet - and it could prove to be so much more than just that.

Our third successive win and the two goal winning margin took us above the Premiership's surprise package and into ninth place. Is that the scent of a UEFA Cup spot I can smell? More performances like this and we'll be in with a real chance of nicking it at the death. We had to do it the hard way, though, coming from behind to win for the first time since April 2004.

With Emre joining Parker on the sidelines, Roeder selected one-time sparring partners Bowyer and Dyer in central midfield, but only eight minutes had elapsed when the former had to depart with a hamstring strain. By that point, Wigan were already in front courtesy of a superb Jimmy Bullard free-kick that left Given flat-footed.

Ameobi missed a glorious chance to equalise but headed N'Zogbia's cross down and wide from barely a couple of yards, before having to depart himself with a mouth injury following a collision with Latics 'keeper John Filan. Whether he's fit for tomorrow's game remains to be seen, but whenever he does come back it'd be nice if his dental rearrangement means he plays a bit more like Ronaldinho.

Wigan had problems of their own to contend with, though, both central defenders Arjan de Zeeuw and Matt Jackson having to be substituted due to injury by the 20th minute. Their replacements Paul Scharner and Pascal Chimbonda, who had started off at right-back, never looked comfortable, while makeshift right-back Leighton Baines was subjected to a torrid afternoon by N'Zogbia.

It was the Frenchman's cross that caused concern in the Wigan penalty area, left-back Reto Ziegler clumsily bringing down Ameobi's replacement Chopra. Shearer duly dispatched the penalty into the top corner, sending Filan the wrong way.

Eight minutes later we took the lead, the patched-up Latics defence going AWOL and allowing Bramble a completely free header from Solano's corner for his first goal of the season. It's not often he's the beneficiary of lax marking - more often the culprit...

There was still time for an incredible fifth injury-forced substitution before half-time, Wigan's Lee McCulloch replaced by Henri Camara. Shearer must have felt like he'd already hung up his boots and landed himself a special guest appearance on 'Casualty'. (Though no-one fell off any cliffs.)

The break didn't interrupt our rhythm - we continued to dominate in the second period, Dyer's influence growing and N'Zogbia a constant threat.

Solano was denied by a great Filan save and (I think) the post, but we extended our lead soon afterwards, Chopra playing in Shearer and the skipper rounding Filan to finish neatly. Clearly he wasn't going to allow the presence on the pitch of his nemesis Uriah Rennie to ruin his day, despite the referee continuing his personal vendetta against our retiring captain by penalising him every time he so much as brushed against his marker.

Aside from the odd free-kick, Bullard trying to repeat his trick of the first five minutes, Wigan rarely threatened. Neither Jason Roberts nor Camara caused Moore and Bramble any problems, and what started out badly ended up as a very comfortable win. Dyer departed on 75 minutes - but mercifully his substitution was not necessitated by injury.

So, the Latics' fortunes wane and ours wax. Can we keep this good run going? Well, the first hurdle is a trip to the Dark Place tomorrow. Shame Man Utd deprived us of the opportunity to relegate the Mackems, eh?

Other reports: BBC, Observer

Monday, April 10, 2006

Oh we do like to be at the Riverside

Middlesbrough 1 - 2 Newcastle

When it comes to pre-match predictions I'm not often as unerringly close to the mark as I was with this game. It seems that fate was - for once - not tempted.

The 2-1 victory confirmed the Riverside as our favourite Premiership hunting ground, the foam-handed ones having witnessed only one win in ten attempts against us on their own turf.

After Boro's exertions against Basle on Thursday night, it was always likely they'd be tired, leggy and hungover, and so it proved. We could have been well out of sight by the time we took the lead, Ameobi having spurned two decent opportunities by firing wide and then high into the stand.

When the opening goal came, though, Ameobi made amends for his misses by sending a looping header goalwards from Solano's corner. George Boateng, under pressure from a couple of Toon players as well as being jostled by some of his own number, applied the vital touch, glancing the ball into his own net.

We were firmly in control, and at the other end our back four - in which Bramble had returned for Ramage, Boumsong omitted from the squad altogether - was utterly untroubled. Admittedly, they were helped by Steve McLaren's curious but welcome decision to opt for a five man midfield with Yakubu alone up front, with the Fat Eddie Murphy unfit and the Fat Mark Viduka resting his ample posterior on the bench.

It came as little surprise when we doubled our advantage shortly before the break, Ameobi ramming the Smoggies' jeers further down their throats. After good interplay between Solano and Carr on the right, the ball broke kindly to the striker and he swept it expertly across Mark Schwarzer and into the bottom left hand corner.

The appearance of the Fat Mark Viduka at half-time was never likely to inspire a Boro side who were already lethargic in the extreme, and we should have added to our two goal haul. Bowyer had a decent effort, while free-kicks from Solano and Emre went very close.

Roeder then rather bafflingly replaced the dangerous Solano with Dyer when a slightly off-colour Emre looked like a more likely candidate for substitution, and Boro worked their way back into the game. Boateng fired a deflected shot past Given on 78 minutes, and suddenly we were reminded that we never do things the easy way.

For the first time in the game, Boro were putting us under some pressure. Moore could conceivably have been penalised for a handball in the penalty area, but it would have been harsh, and in any case Ameobi had had a very good shout for a spot-kick dismissed in the first half. Given was forced into producing a superb save from Fabio Rochemback's free-kick, while Yakubu squandered a late chance by shooting into the side netting.

But, unlike last season, the Fat Eddie Murphy wasn't on hand to punch in a last minute equaliser, and we held on for our fifth away win of the campaign, the three points elevating us into the top half of the table for the first time in quite a while. Wigan, the next visitors to St James' Park, have built up a reputation for upsetting their hosts this season, but we have to feel confident of consolidating that position on Saturday.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, April 07, 2006

Time for Teesside

Much as there's no real rivalry between us and Middlesbrough (when we play you, Smoggies, it's NOT A DERBY, understand?), I wanted them to lose in last night's UEFA Cup quarter-final - primarily because if they persist in believing themselves our rivals then I wouldn't want to disappoint them by cheering them on in Europe.

So it's only grudgingly that I concede their 4-3 aggregate triumph (4-1 on the night with a last minute goal) was some performance, and a very enjoyable evening's entertainment.

Now I'm wondering what bearing the result might have on how Sunday's non-derby clash at the Riverside pans out. When the fans have finally stopped waving their foam hands and pogoing to 'Pigbag', how will the team respond? Well, call me foolish, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the onlooking Glenn Roeder will think it plays into our hands.

Not only will they be tired and ripe for a Cup hangover, but they have their eyes on a big prize now, not to mention the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Charlton which follows next week. Sunday's game is easily the lowest in terms of priority - a little bit of grit, determination and quality and we can return with the points from a ground that Chelsea, Arsenal and Man Utd have all left empty-handed this season.

Of course, let's just hope I'm not tempting fate. After all, if there's a Premiership defence that knows how to collapse as spectacularly as Basle did last night, then it's us...

Class in a glass (bottle)?

Scottish & Newcastle Breweries have announced a limited edition black and white labelled batch of Newcastle Brown Ale in honour of Shearer's retirement.

A fitting tribute to arguably our greatest ever number nine from a product with long-established links with the club? Perhaps.

But the cynic in me takes one look at the guff spouted by the company and thinks differently: "The Alan Shearer commemorative bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale is a tribute from ‘The One and Only’ to Newcastle United’s One and Only and we hope football fans everywhere will join us in a celebration of Big Al’s incredible playing career". Yes, it's a marketing stunt above everything, an opportunistic attempt to boost sales by trading on sentiment. Shearer is a cash cow who needs to be milked for every last drop before he hangs up his boots.

But when it comes to Newcastle the head very rarely rules the heart, and so yes, I'll no doubt find myself drunkenly buying one of the special bottles of dog and, with a misty eye, toasting our skipper.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Punctuation no-mark

What's worse than having to put up with the scathingly critical analyses of pundits who home in on our numerous deficiencies with laser-guided precision? Yes, having to put up with stupid, ditsy, clueless twats sounding off about things they know fuck all about.

This week's case in point: Lynne Truss's anti-Shearer rantings in Observer Sport Monthly.

What is her argument? That, for England, Shearer was "a big, waddling, sullen, dirty, immovable and permanently pointing obstacle to beautiful football".

Absolute cobblers. Shearer was the finest striker of his generation, head and shoulders above his team-mates. The quality of the squad overall wasn't as high as it is now, so it made perfect sense to play to our strengths - just as we now play to those of Wayne Rooney, David Beckham and Frank Lampard, often at the expense of Steven Gerrard.

Truss's ravings are little more than pestilent hot air: "Here are the regular questions I would ask, out loud, in exasperation, at England matches during this period: How does he get away with it? Why is he walking? Why doesn't anyone notice that he raised his arm to appeal for that penalty before he artfully tripped over the keeper? Why doesn't he run? Why is he never rested? Why is he never substituted? Would you call that strolling or ambling? Why is he never sent off? Why is he never even booked? Who died and made him God?"

My disgust wasn't just the knee-jerk reaction of a Toon fan who worships the ground Shearer walks on, mind. I might have written about him in glowing terms, but that doesn't mean he's a sacred cow. He can be a dirty player, and he's certainly a sly one (though he's not in the Drogba / Robben / Diouf category of diving cheats). What's more, he has come to seem on occasions this season "sullen" and "immovable".

But that's for us, not England, and only very recently as a result of his legs going (the immovability, not surprisingly emphasised when he's been asked to play as a lone striker) and the sheer incompetence of those surrounding him (the sullenness). Truss seems to complain that Shearer was demanding - well, I'm perfectly happy knowing that if we get the ball to him in good positions he'll still more than likely find the back of the net.

So, Ms Truss, may I politely suggest that you fuck off and stick to what you know: pedantry?

A not-so-closely guarded secret

It's passed without comment for the past fortnight or so, but something needs to be said.

When the rumours surfaced a while ago that Michael Owen needed a second operation on that pesky metatarsal, it was quickly dismissed by Glenn Roeder, Owen and others who insisted that the operation had been a total success and his recovery was going to plan.

Of course, it's now transpired that there was substance to the speculation, that a new replacement screw did need to be inserted, and that it has delayed Owen's return to first team action. If we're lucky we'll have him back for the last two games of the season against Birmingham and Chelsea - but, lamentably but I suppose naturally, all the media attention has been on whether he'll be back in time to make it into Sven's squad for the World Cup, announced on 8th May. We just want to see him in a black and white shirt again.

Owen has recently been quoted as saying: "I feel a bit embarrassed, to be honest, having only played 10 games this season when they have paid £17m or £16m or whatever the fee was. For them to pay that money and me to only play 10 games - obviously, it's no fault of my own, I couldn't pull out when there was a chance to score a goal and these things happen in football - means there is still something inside me feels a little bit guilty for walking into the treatment room every day instead of walking out on to the training pitch. Whether that's right or wrong, that's how I feel and I need to at least show my face one or two more times before the season finishes".

Certainly Owen's been fantastic when he's played, and his injury was sustained as a direct result of his determination to challenge Spurs 'keeper and England team mate Paul Robinson for the ball when the cause seemed lost.

But he perhaps should feel guilty - and so should Roeder and the club. After all, by trying to sweep the story under the carpet, they told bare-faced lies to us Toon fans (and to England fans too).

Another insult to our intelligence, and another instance of the incredibly shoddy way we're treated, I'm afraid.

Quote of the day

"He is walking a bit like John Wayne at the moment. He was struggling to move without pain, let alone run. But he is very embarrassed about this coming out".

I should think he is. A "club insider" on Sunderland striker Kevin Kyle, currently suffering from a, er, private agony after his baby son Max kicked a jug of boiling water into his lap. Mackems aren't even liked by their own offspring, it seems.

New face

Welcome to Focus On Football, the latest addition to the B&W&RAO blogroll. They're looking for writers, so if you're keen then drop them an email.

Also looking for contributors is Simon of It's Up For Grabs Now, who is planning a collaborative World Cup blog. What he's looking for is "a number of intelligent, knowledgeable, even like-minded writers willing to put the effort in throughout the thirty days of the finals and who'll be invited to add comments and entries wherever they see fit". If you're interested, drop him an email:

Monday, April 03, 2006


Newcastle 3 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur

One year on from his darkest hour in a black and white shirt Lee Bowyer's rehabilitation appeared complete, as he inspired Newcastle to a fantastic demolition of Champions League chasing Spurs. Bowyer was everywhere, scoring the first, winning the ball for the second, and winning the penalty for the third. In short: he turned in the sort of performance last seen when he was wearing a Leeds shirt and forcing his way into the England team.

Coming off the back of four straight defeats, it was imperative that we got off to a good start on Saturday, to restore some of the confidence which the defeat at Charlton in particular looked to have knocked from the side. Suffice to say, we did. From the first whistle we looked lively, and after a beautifully crafted move in which Solano fed N'Zogbia down the left, the Frenchman cut inside his marker and delivered a low ball across the face of the goal, and Bowyer slid in to make it one-nil after only 65 seconds.

For the next fifteen minutes we continued to threaten Spurs, with swift passing and strong tackling epitomising our play. Bowyer was fouled in the penalty area by Edgar Davids, and had he not kept running in an effort to get his shot in, he could have had a penalty. As it was we continually threatened Spurs with vigorous attacking football.

Then, with twenty minutes played, the visitors finally got the ball. They fed Aaron Lennon on the left, who tricked his way past Stephen Carr and fired in a cross which Robbie Keane was able to bullet into the goal and give Spurs an undeserved equaliser. Perhaps partly culpable were central defensive pairing Moore and Ramage (Boumsong spending his first Premiership game of the season on the bench), but in truth it was a good goal by a man in form.

Whilst the goal might have seen our heads drop, it didn't, and instead we forced our way back in front. Bowyer, winning a ball in midfield, fed Solano, who advanced before firing a shot in from 25 yards. Robinson could only parry the ball out, and Ameobi (enjoying one of his better games) reacted quickest to put the ball in the Leazes net, and taking a whack for his effort. Thankfully, unlike our number 10, Ameobi survived the clash with the Spurs keeper, and was able to continue playing.

Five minutes later and Bowyer again was the instigator of further Spurs misery. Having so far played Davids off the park, he once again got ahead of the Dutchman, only to be pushed over. Referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot, and Shearer duly scored his eleventh (and final) goal against Spurs in a Newcastle shirt.

With Newcastle now two goals in front, there was still time for Robbie Keane to hammer the ball off the cross bar, with Given well beaten, before half time came.

No substitutions were made in the break, although Spurs came out with a bang, presumably having been berated by Martin Jol for their first half non-performance.

Whereas previously they had looked second best across the pitch, they started to compete, and Jermaine Jenas (roundly booed all afternoon) broke free of Craig Moore, and rounded Shay Given. With an empty net in front of him, poor finishing by JJ saw him hit the side netting. (In last year's infamous Villa report we wrote: "Newcastle worked their way back into the game only for poor finishing by Jenas preventing us from pulling a goal back" - some things never change.)

Michael Dawson was promptly sent off for a second booking, and with Spurs down to ten men, the game rather petered out. Newcastle looked comfortable, and Spurs never looked like getting back into the game.

After the dark days of March it must have been heartening for Glenn Roeder to get another win under his belt, and lift us up in to twelfth. Europe may be long gone, but we can still push up the table and ensure a top half finish which has got to be the bare minimum.

A Spurs fan's perspective: The Shelf

Other reports: BBC, Guardian