Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Luque who's talking

According to reports in the Spanish press, Albert Luque has laid the blame for his failure to make the Spanish squad for the World Cup on Glenn Roeder, and his move away from Deportivo.

Whilst it's fair to say his move hasn't gone as well as any of us had hoped, it can hardly be said to be Roeder's fault that Luque isn't going to Germany. If he hadn't been injured early on, it's possible that he would have settled into the team quickly and established himself. However he didn't: his hamstring went, and he was subsequently out for a long time.

Having returned from injury, Luque looked off the pace and disinterested. He also looked incapable of hitting a cow's arse with a banjo.

Whilst injuries are an occupational hazard for a footballer, the blame for Luque's failure to impress should not be directed at Roeder. As a purchase he seems a poor choice - as he doesn't fit into the system which we were always going to play, once Owen arrived. If anything his acquisition revealed that, at the time, messers Souness and Shepherd were far from certain that Owen would join us. That he did firmly scuppered Luque's chances of performing on the left of a front three (which seems his preferred position).

However, had he trained hard, and given his all on the pitch he would have been welcomed by all and sundry at St James. That he repeatedly looked non-plussed and off the pace can only be considered his fault.

Sadly his omission from the World Cup squad means we'll either be forced to sell him at a cut price, or keep him. Hopefully he'll take some time to address his attitude and return a revitalised player, but his latest quotes suggest he's liable to become the new Laurent Robert (only without the good games to compensate).

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Campbell swoop?

In one of those classic "some bloke I met down the pub's sister reckons..." moments, I was reliably informed by a friend over the weekend that they had it on good authority that Sol Campbell would be lining up in the centre of our defence next season (apparently someone they knew had seen him talking to Fat Fred).

Now, I'm certainly not claiming this is a nailed on certainty, and I would advise against gambling anything you aren't prepared to lose at the best of times, however, I was surprised to note that today's Guardian rumour mill is also carrying the story.

Considering the possibility, it seems clear that if someone paid the right money, Arsenal would sell, and we're one of the few premiership clubs who would be willing/foolish enough to meet Campbell's no doubt massive wage demands. (Particularly now that we are no longer paying Shearer's massive wages.)

Clearly, our defence needs an experienced leader, and if Boumsong and/or Bramble depart we'll also be short of numbers at centre-back, which again points to recruiting Campbell.

However, whether this automatically means that we'll be in for Sol remains to be seen, but depending on the money, I think we could do a lot worse.

Monday, May 29, 2006


In the light of recent events we thought it might be worth setting this in writing...

If you'd like to syndicate any Black & White & Read All Over posts or reproduce them at length on your site, or to add us to your news aggregator site, then please email us at first.

This isn't us being arsey or up ourselves - in most instances we're perfectly happy for our material to reappear elsewhere, as long as it's properly sourced. It's just that we'd rather not have unscrupulous individuals taking liberties with content which has taken us time and effort to produce.

The blog world is just a big playground, isn't it? If everyone plays nicely, everyone gets along just fine.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Let's go buy Dirk Kuyt*

About time we did a rumours round-up, eh?

Naturally most interest is focused on who we'll be getting in to replace Shearer wear the number nine shirt. Roeder has publicly expressed his interest in 25-year-old Feyenoord striker Dirk Kuyt, announcing that he'll be watching the Dutch international closely in the World Cup.

Kuyt has quite a reputation in the Netherlands as a tall, powerful and potent centre forward, and he must be quite a player to edge the likes of Bayern Munich's Roy Makaay out of the squad.

On the plus side Kuyt has declared that he'd be keen on a move to St James' Park - but several other British clubs are reportedly interested in him too. We needn't worry about Everton, but Spurs would probably be an equally attractive proposition and if Liverpool have made enquiries, as has been reported, then we might well miss out.

Would it be such a bad idea to bid now? It looks like there'll be a bidding war, and a good performance in the World Cup will only inflate his value.

Other players rumoured to be on our wishlist include Charlton's Darren Bent and Chelsea's Shaun Wright-Phillips. Although Bent has had a phenomenal first season in the top flight, I'm not sure he'll be able to repeat it and it's also doubtful that he'd be an ideal partner for Michael Owen. As for Wright-Phillips, he's an excellent player who would improve the team - but a move on that front would seem to signal the end for fans' favourite Nobby Solano and also pave the way for James Milner to be allowed to leave for Villa (provided they can stump up the cash, that is - we shouldn't be letting him go on the cheap given the season he's just had). Swings and roundabouts.

The lack of defenders' names being bandied about suggests it's business as usual, disappointingly, but the Sun is reporting today that we've turned down the option of re-signing Jonathan Woodgate from Real Madrid.

On the departures front, it was disappointing to hear Roeder say that he would be happy to keep both Nicky Butt and Lee Bowyer. The latter is a target for West Ham, and I'd ship 'em both out without a second's thought.

* This is Paul's doing - and the pun only works if you know how to pronounce the name...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Fighting talk

And so the feud between John Barnwell of the League Managers Association and our very own Freddie Shepherd over Glenn Roeder's appointment edges ever closer to a bout of fisticuffs outside in the car park. Fat Fred's latest comments are a combination of "Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough" and "Chicken!"...

""If he [Barnwell] was standing in front of me, I would punch him on the nose. But he hasn't got the courage to pick up the phone to speak to me - he's got my number. I'll throw Frank Clark [the LMA's vice-chairman] into that as well ... another Geordie and ex-captain of Newcastle".

And this from a man who threw the book at Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer for their on-pitch scuffle last April.

Naturally it's very disappointing that the LMA have been so critical of Roeder's appointment - he, incidentally, feels like "a football being kicked around" - but Shepherd spoiling for a fight is just another incident in a long history of unsavoury and undignified behaviour from our chairman.

You got what you wanted, Fred, and there's nothing the LMA can do to change that - so shut the fuck up, calm down and get on with planning for next season.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

In and out of luck

It seems like Nobby Solano had a brush with death the other day - probably not for the first time, given the likelihood of team-mates wanting to throttle him for his trumpet playing...

Solano, back in Peru, crashed his car and admitted: "It was because of driving fast. I hit the pavement and lost control of the car". Less embarrassing than pranging your Ferrari into the swing bridge (Kieron Dyer) or driving into a Metro train (Andy Griffin), but stupid nevertheless.

If Nobby is a lucky boy, then our other flying winger Charles N'Zogbia can consider himself rather less fortunate. Having been called up for the France U21 squad for the European Championships for the very first time, he was then promptly dropped when the squad was trimmed. He shouldn't be too downhearted though - another season like the last and he should become a fixture.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

With these jobs you're really spoiling us

Confirmation from the club that Glenn Roeder has been appointed Manager of Newcastle United, having agreed a two year contract.

At the same time, Alan Shearer has been appointed the club's Sporting Ambassador. Aside from hosting receptions with pyramids of chocolates on offer I suspect this means that Shearer will be charged with selling the club to any player who we are looking to sign (in much the same way as he sold it to Michael Owen last summer).

On the face of it, both look like reasonably astute moves on the part of Fat Fred. Roeder's earned the opportunity to see if he can take us forward next year. However, if he does screw up, we won't be faced with a massive bill if we want to pay up his contract. Equally, the concerns that some (myself included) have about Roeder not being sufficiently renowned when it comes to attracting big players should be off-set by Shearer's involvement.

How Shearer's role as ambassador for the club will sit with his TV work remains to be seen. I can't imagine he'll be too objective when it comes to assessing the performance of a team comprising players he was involved in signing, or that presumably still pays him a wage.

Of course, the BBC have never really been that fussed about objective punditry, why else would they employ messers Lawrensen and Wright? At least with Shearer there we might have somebody who doesn't take every opportunity to disparage our performances.

Writers wanted, kemosabe

We've been contacted by Tyneside publisher Tonto Press with regard to a book they are hoping to publish this autumn about a certain goalscoring record holder.

They are looking for fans thoughts and reflections on Shearer's career - be it as a whole, or one specific incident that lives in the memory, with a view to compiling them all together.

Should you be interested in being involved, then either email your articles (any length) to or log on to their website for more information.

Submissions need to be with them by the end of May.

Season review 2005-6

Another year over, and what have we done? In a piece written prior to the news that Roeder's caretaker role would become permanent and that Given was staying on too, Paul looks back on the season, and forwards to the summer and beyond.

* * * * *

Last August, in our preview of the season, Ben and I made the following observations:

* We need to add more players to those we brought in over the summer (especially a striker).

* We’ll do well to finish in the top half, and given the size of our squad, injuries to key players could see us scrapping against relegation.

* If we are scrapping against relegation, Souness will be sacked.

Looking back it’s clear that despite adding a top striker the injuries which afflicted the squad (including the aforementioned striker) and the reliance on that as an excuse for countless poor performances saw Souness sacked as we headed down the table.

However, that doesn’t really tell the tale of our season.

With the exception of Albert Luque, who (to put it politely) has yet to convince, Souness’ summer signings have done well. Parker and to a lesser extent Emre and Solano have been superb in midfield. Clark has done a job as required. Owen, when fit, has scored goals, and when he finally found his way onto the pitch (after Souness had already been sent packing) Craig Moore has looked solid in our defence.

However, despite players individually performing well, the team that Graeme built was only ever heading down the table because they rarely performed like a team. The defence (built around Souness’ signing Boumsong) looked like they hadn’t even been introduced, and with injuries taking their toll we couldn’t score enough goals to overcome our repeated shortcomings.

Our lowest ebb was reached on 1st February when Man City tore us apart, and in doing so forced Fat Fred to pull the trigger on Graeme and his band of cronies. With the transfer window closed, our caretaker manager Glenn Roeder (returning to top flight management after his relegation with West Ham) had to rely on the same players. Doing just that, Roeder took us from fifteenth to seventh in the space of 16 games, only losing three league games in the process.

So where did it all go right for Roeder?

The injuries largely remained, with Owen and Dyer managing barely any football, Taylor out since December, and Parker (our most consistent outfield player) stricken with glandular fever for the last few weeks of the season.

Yet the goals started to flow, and the defence stopped leaking. Without additions to the squad, the simple answer must be because of what happened on the training ground. Getting the defence to talk to one another made a massive difference, as did the emphasis placed on attacking football which relied on good passing and exciting wing play.

Put bluntly: Roeder looked at the players he had available, improved what he could and got us to play to our strengths. Hardly rocket science when you look at it that way, but nonetheless a task beyond Souness, Murray and Saunders. Even Shola started to look like a player who could offer more than two great games a season.

Subject to some regulations regarding his qualifications, Roeder looks set to get the job full time which, given his record so far, is understandable. The one concern which I have (echoing those voiced in the latest edition of The Mag) is that he almost appears to be getting the job by default. Fat Fred talked about top quality managers queuing up, but they all appear to have drifted away. Which begs the question, did they even exist?

Hopefully Roeder will identify the shortcomings in the side, and rectify them this summer. At least one striker and some committed and tactically astute defenders seem a must, whilst the deadwood needs to be cut, and the lack of depth in the squad needs addressing.

However, with at least a small carrot in the shape of European football, and the clout that having 52,000 through the turnstiles each week brings, we can hopefully keep hold of the quality, and bolster the squad with some astute purchases, before looking forward to next season with renewed confidence.

* * * * *

My own season review, for the Focus On Football site, can be read here. Thanks to Keith for inviting me to contribute.

View From The Away End

In the interests of objectivity, we asked Pete of Round And White and Lord Bargain of Cheer Up Alan Shearer for their views on the season just gone and the summer ahead. (NB These pieces were also written before Roeder's appointment was confirmed and before Given signed on the dotted line.)

* * * * *

Pete: "I should be a betting man given what I said back in August.

'It's not an ideal start to the season really. Sixth or seventh and a good cup run is the best I can foresee, which is unlikely to keep Souness his job, but frankly that's a good thing'.

Newcastle's season was simply about the two Gs: Graeme and Glenn. Under Graeme, they looked a miserable team, frequently lacking in inspiration and morale, while under Glenn they won 10 of their 16 Premiership and cup matches, which frankly speaks for itself. Exactly why there was such a turnaround in fortunes is beyond me, but I think it was something to do with the new manager not being Graeme Souness and playing Jean-Alain Boumsong less often.

So what's next? With Emre back from injury and Nobby settled in again, the creativity has seemingly returned to the midfield, so Glenn's summer shopping list will probably focus on a replacement for Super Al, although quite how you replace your top goalscorer of the last decade is definitely a head-scratcher.

Fingers crossed, Shay and Michael will stay, although I can't see Mickey leaving as what club would wish to spend so much for such an injury-prone player (apart from Newcastle that is)? The odd defender would be a good idea too. While Titus 'Volley King' Bramble has raised his game under Glenn, finishing in the top five on a regular basis will require more than just repeatedly relying on Shay to cover
defensive frailties.

I'm curious to see how well Glenn does next season. I never really rated him when he was at West Ham, so it'll be interesting to see who he signs over the summer and if the club continues to progress in 2006/2007 in the same fashion as it has over the last few months

Lord Bargain: "Most managers keep a team pretty much where they are expected to be. Their players perform as expected, the results they obtain are as predicted. Some managers help a team outperform. These individuals either have tactical or motivational skills that lead them to produce a side which is more than the sum of its individual parts. Think Adie Boothroyd at Watford, Phil Parkinson at Colchester - even someone like Paul Jewell at Wigan.

And then there are the managers that, for whatever reason, end up in a position where they are having a negative impact on a side. Gary Megson at Forest is a great example of this, as is Graeme Souness at Newcastle.

The second he had gone, the team started to perform again. But here is the key point. I don't think that makes Glenn Roeder a genius manager - I think Newcastle are currently performing at that 'equilibrium' level - it is just a significant improvement on the displays under Souness.

Football fans and chairmen are fickle. Go back in a time machine eighteen months and tell your mates that Peter Crouch will be leading England's assault on the World Cup and that Newcastle will be fighting the Premier League to appoint Glenn Roeder as their manager. How hard, exactly, do you anticipate they are laughing at you?

It's been a funny season for Newcastle. Bumbling around the bottom third of the league under Souness and then ending in a creditable seventh place seems like success, although would Newcastle fans have taken seventh in August? I'm not sure.

I still think Newcastle need an experienced (if not necessarily big name) manager to take them forward. Whilst Glenn has stabilised the club, I'm not, sure he is the long term answer. I still think they would progress better under the stewardship of an experienced man like O'Neill, Curbishley or even Allardyce (although I appreciate the argument that the fans wouldn't like the style of play.) I also think that with a crocked Owen that they are in desperate need of a 15-goal-a-season striker. I'm not sure Luque, Ameobi or Chopra is that man. A horse-like Dutchman is surely not daft enough to make that move, is he?

I do think that the club has slipped far enough behind others that they will struggle to better seventh place next season. The 'big 4' are streets ahead, and Spurs have probably overtaken the Toon this year also. Bear in mind that a bit of investment could revitalise sides like Everton or Villa, and that if Bolton and Blackburn spend a few bob then they could push on also, whoever gets the job will have the same uphill task in terms of silverware as their many predecessors".

* * * * *

Thanks to Lord Bargain and Pete for their thoughts.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Shay to stay

It seems that the sound of Fat Fred crooning the East 17 classic 'Stay Another Day', far from inducing Shay Given to flee St James' in terror, has inspired our ever-reliable Irish custodian to sign a new five year deal.

Given is quoted as saying: "I'm extremely delighted to get my new contract sorted". Presumably, amidst the joy at qualifying for the Intertoto and the euphoria of Shearer's testimonial last night, he's forgotten what's it's been like playing behind Boumsong and Bramble. Our defence generally gives him about as much cover as the skirts worn by "ladies" who frequent the Bigg Market do their modesty.

Of course it's a massive coup for Fred and the club - Given is second to none in the Premiership, and it's a huge relief that we've managed to tie him down before his weekly heroics brought suitors knocking at the door with offers he would have been hard-pressed to turn down. He just seems to love it on Tyneside, and he may yet be rewarded for his loyalty with the captaincy, having skippered the side in the last three games of the season in Shearer's absence.

He did also add: "Hopefully we can win something in that time because I'm still very hungry to win things as a Newcastle player" - something of a veiled warning to Fred that he has to pull his finger out in terms of signings this summer. As for being hungry, Shay - well, we know how that feels. Our stomachs have been rumbling for years.

It's been emotion-Al

Alan Shearer Testimonial

Newcastle XI 3 - 2 Celtic
(for what it matters)

Oh what a night. And on Jackie Milburn's birthday too.

They were all there - Sir Bobby Robson, Sir John Hall, Gazza, Kenny Dalglish, Warren Barton ("... centre parting"), Graham Taylor, Jimmy Naill. (Well, not ALL - notable absentees included Ruud Gullit, Uriah Rennie and Craig Bellamy. Perhaps the latter sent a congratulatory text?)

So were over 52,000 fans, a full house - the vast majority being mask-wearing scarf-swinging Geordies in phenomenal voice, roaring their appreciation of the finest player most of us will ever see grace the St James' Park turf.

It all actually started on Wednesday night with a special testimonial meal - Shearer's pre-match staple of chicken and beans, one hopes. But this was the public spectacle, the Geordie nation's chance to say thank you and goodbye to an idol.

Shearer emerged onto the pitch through a tunnel of players and to a standing ovation, his name and shirt number spelt out in the stands. But what was great to see was that it wasn't just him - he's always been a family man, at times one of the few sensible level-headed professionals at the club, and this was an occasion for his wife and children to enjoy and savour too (though overawed son Will seemed eager for a pair of earplugs, such were the noise levels).

Shearer's knee-knack may have deprived him of the chance to play, but he still kicked off before being immediately substituted. The side which started the game in black and white consisted solely of current players with the exception of Steve Watson on the right side of midfield.

Celtic, meanwhile, included Geordie and former Toon player Alan Thompson in their starting line-up, as well as one player who was no doubt quite glad Shearer wasn't fit enough to play, Neil Lennon. He probably still has Shearer's stud marks on his head eight years on. The other sparring partner of Shearer's in the opposition ranks, Royston Keane, was feeling the effects of his own testimonial on Tuesday and so sat the game out, missing out on the opportunity of increasing his tally of red cards at St James' Park to three.

The first half was very low-key, but we had much the better of it and should have been at least a goal to the good by the break. Chopra, playing like a man hoping to win a new contract (and for what it's worth, I think he's deserved it), was unlucky to see a shot (from a Bramble cross!) clawed away by David Marshall and N'Zogbia had a piledriver tipped onto the bar, while defender Stephen McManus breathed a sigh of relief when the ball struck him and flashed just wide of his own goal with Marshall well beaten.

What was needed to liven things up was the half-time penalty shootout, in which a team of Toon fans including Gazza represented England and defeated Scotland 4-1.

As expected, a raft of changes were made at the interval, but they failed to disrupt our rhythm. We continued to look like the most likely scorers, Pattison particularly going close, and when Luque finally lashed the ball in on the volley (the grin on his face being a real welcome change from the now-customary furrowed brow), it looked like it was going to end well. With the game winding down, Rob Lee (due to play for Wycombe against Cheltenham in the League Two Play-Off Semi-Final on Saturday) and Les Ferdinand took to the pitch to rapturous applause, and with Gary Speed already on the pitch and Terry MacDermott on the bench it was a reminder of the good old days when I were a lad etc etc.

But then, completely against the run of play, Celtic equalised through a Shaun Maloney penalty (Ramage would have been dismissed for the foul had referee Mark Clattenberg not checked himself in the nick of time). Five minutes later they had the lead when John Hartson (whose mind by that late stage should surely have been on where the nearest Greggs was) headed past Steve Harper.

Only then did they start to follow the script - and, yes, there was one. First Sir Les was allowed to get free in the box and scuff in a cross which a defender deflected into his own goal. Then in injury time the man who boasts a better goals-to-games ratio than Shearer plummeted to the turf Robben-style and Clattenberg pointed to the spot. Let's just say that Rennie wouldn't have been quite so charitable.

And then the inevitable. Shearer stepped off the bench to deafening applause, sent Marshall the wrong way (how vilified would the Scotsman have been had he saved it?!) and ran off with arm aloft. For the very last time.

The pantomime over, it was time for Ant & Dec to appear in the centre circle. The Geordie duo had something of their own to commemorate, it having been announced today that the next series of 'Byker Grove' will be the last - but this was all about Shearer. Following some presentations (interesting to note that even on an occasion as sentimental as this, Fat Fred was the recipient of more than a few boos), Shearer got the opportunity to say farewell, the fans cheering and saluting his every word.

And then, after a lap of honour with his kids and one last wave to the whole stadium he was off down the tunnel and it was all over, a career which included a record 206 goals for Newcastle.

I might have shifted the lump in my throat by the start of next season.

Best wishes on improving the handicap, Al.

* Don't worry - we'll be contributing to the NSPCC, one of Shearer's nominated charities, as penitence for that.


BBC testimonial photos

BBC Tyne career photos

BBC Tyne on Shearer's greatest moments

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Every (noxious) cloud has a silver lining

Aw. You've really got to feel for Middlesbrough, haven't you? Thumped 4-0 in the UEFA Cup Final, and back to being just a small club in Yorkshire. And a managerless one, too. Shame, isn't it?

The Smoggies' pre-match optimism can surely only have been due to the excessive inhalation of petrol fumes (ie more than normal)?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Zog on the Tyne Seine

Congratulations to Charles N'Zogbia, whose superb end-of-season form has been deservedly rewarded with a place in the French squad for the forthcoming U21 European Championship in Portugal.

In truth, the as yet uncapped 19-year-old has only sneaked in at the last minute thanks to Mackem teenager Dan Smith's assault on Arsenal's Abou Diaby which Arsene Wenger very definitely saw and which left the French midfielder with a fractured and dislocated ankle.

Given the way he's been performing, though, you have to ask: why wasn't Charlie named in the squad already?

Not seeing red

Stephen Carr, sent off by Mavis Riley in the last game of the season on Sunday for allegedly kicking out at Chelsea's Lassana Diarra, has had his red card rescinded on appeal. Thanks to both Carr and the club making puppy dog eyes at the FA, our Irish right back won't begin next season with a four match suspension - though of course he might still not figure if we sign a more competent player over the summer...

Getting T-shirty



Following Sunday's final whistle, the team embarked on the customary lap of honour. Unlike in previous years (notably two years ago) the vast majority of the crowd stayed behind to say goodbye to one man. Alan Shearer. For those who are not going to Thursday's testimonial, this was a final chance to say goodbye to Shearer the player, and one which seemed to genuinely touch a man who will always remain a Geordie legend.

With regard to the rest of the team, messers Owen and Luque both looked suitably sheepish given their long spells on the sidelines, whilst Shay Given and child were making the most of the lap of honour. If this is to be a farewell to the Irishman (and I sincerely hope it isn't) then he goes with our best wishes, assured of a warm welcome should our paths cross in the future. Thankfully, speaking to the BBC after the match, Shay certainly gave the impression that he was staying - in which case we can be certain of having a top class keeper next season (which is further grounds for celebration.)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Seventh sealed

Newcastle 1 - 0 Chelsea

A stunning volley by Titus Bramble was enough to earn us a thoroughly deserved victory over the Premiership champions on Sunday, and guarantee seventh place in the league, and a place in next season's Intertoto Cup.

Before the game had even started, Chelsea lost goalkeeper (and captain) Carlo Cudicini to an ankle injury, meaning they started the game with third choice keeper Lenny Pidgeley in goal, and only four subs on the bench. Newcastle were without striker Michael Owen, but boosted by the return of Emre to the midfield, with Matty Pattison dropping to the bench to accommodate him.

A bumper crowd of 52,309 packed St James' Park for the last home game of the season, and with every hope that Newcastle might beat a strong Chelsea side packed with international players.

Despite some robust tackling from Chelsea, Newcastle started brightly, and looked to test the nervy youngster in the Chelsea goal, with both Emre and Nobby firing shots just wide of the post. Unfortunately, from one such moment of attacking play, Nobby went up for a spectacular volley, and when he landed on the ground, Ricardo Carvalho landed on his ankle - and the Peruvian's season ended with a wave from the stretcher which bore him from the pitch.

Instead of replacing one midfielder with another, Glenn Roeder opted to bring on Jean-Alain Boumsong, and switch to a 5-4-1 formation, with Chopra moving out to the right. Shorn of Solano's creativity, we started to struggle to create chances, and consequently allowed Chelsea to see a bit more of the ball, although thankfully Given was alert to save a shot from Duff when he got in behind our defence.

Nil-nil at half time looked a decent score, particularly when the half time score from Bolton came through, however a nagging feeling left me thinking that we still hadn't forced the keeper to make a save, and his hairiest moments came from two Chelsea backpasses which Chopra had almost succeeded in closing down.

Ever decisive, Mourinho removed Huth and Duff and half time, and introduced Shaun Wright-Phillips and Carlton Cole in the hope that they'd give Chelsea more purpose going forward. This shift allowed Joe Cole to adopt a floating role in midfield, and as Chelsea began to press in the second half, much of their good work came through Cole.

One such moment led to Robben breaking down our left, only for Babayaro to catch his heels. Perhaps slightly fortuitously, Babayaro escaped with a yellow card. Mourinho was convinced that it should have been a red, but in truth Moore looked in a decent position to cover the run.

Minutes later, Chelsea had the ball in the back of the net twice, the first saw William Gallas rightly ruled offside, and the second saw Wright-Phillips miles offside after Maniche had hit the post.

With news that Bolton were leading against Birmingham, it was imperative that we not only re-asserted our authority but also pushed for a goal. Seemingly, N'Zogbia took the burden upon himself, and forced a corner following a typical driving run into the Chelsea penalty area. Emre's corner was headed back across goal by Amady Faye, and Titus Bramble acrobatically volleyed the ball into the back of the net to give us the lead, and put us in pole position to claim seventh.

Less than two minutes later, and we managed to shoot ourselves in the foot (although in truth Mavis Riley played his part). Stephen Carr, of all people, was chasing a ball down our left wing, and his harrying of Lassana Diarra caused the Chelsea player to fall to the ground. Carr looked to follow in for the ball, but, in the eyes of the referee and a handful of whinging Chelsea players, kicked Diarra. Replays suggest he made barely any contact with the player, but Riley still produced the red card, and left us to play out the last fifteen minutes with only ten men.

At which point, the atmosphere became electric. The crowd roared their support, and in one of the best atmospheres I've heard at St James' for ages carried the team home. The niggling Carvalho left the field bloodied after a clash of heads with Boumsong, and Clark replaced Chopra to give us some fresh legs in midfield as we clung on.

The final whistle was greeted with a massive cheer, from broadly the same crowd who booed Robson's team which finished fifth two years ago. The reason for the different outlook: Souness.

Thankfully, we can now put this season behind us, and look forward to next year, when once again we grace the Intertoto Cup with our presence. Thankfully, with only one two-legged tie to play we should hopefully have enough to make our way into the UEFA Cup proper and make progress in that competition.

A Chelsea fan's perspective (mainly a preview): Chelsea Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, May 04, 2006

It looks like him

Now I'm well aware that videos showing footballer's best bits are inevitably economical with the truth. For every thirty yard screamer there are normally ten you don't see that went sailing over the bar, much to the annoyance of better placed team mates, and for every lovingly crafted team goal there are five weeks out with a hamstring strain etc.

However, this video of Albert Luque at least goes some way to showing why we thought he was worth big money back in August, and hopefully gives an indication of what we might see next season (provided he stays at the club, stays fit and settles into the side).

He could have managed a big club

Last night's draw with Boro means that Bolton must better our result on Sunday in order to pip us for the Intertoto Cup spot. Admittedly that sentence lacks the glamour that pipping us for the Champions League spot or for the league title might carry, but it still represents a magnificent outcome for our season.

Even if we come a cropper on Sunday, and finish 8th, that's still a much better league position than any of us dared hope back in the dark days of January when Souness was still in charge and we looked like a clueless bunch of wasters.

Hopefully we'll do enough against Chelsea to clinch 7th, which would no doubt be a bitter blow for Sam Allardyce to swallow having seemingly missed out on the England job. Just think, in an alternate universe he might have taken the job at Newcastle instead of Souness, and have propelled us to bigger and better things (or crap tedious football).

Instead he's still at Bolton, and going nowhere. Shame.

Keep the beast

According to reports, we've moved to fend off interest from Arsenal in one of our players. For once it appears that it's not Shay Given who is the object of their affections, but rather Charles N'Zogbia. Undoubtedly our young player of the season, N'Zogbia has proved a constant threat to opposition defences with his strong direct running, and has picked up a handful of goals along the way (an all too rare occurrence from midfield this season).

Having eventually joined the club after Le Havre cried foul, N'Zogbia has steadily established himself in the first team, and is now rightly regarded as a player who, when he receives the ball, immediately gets the crowd excited.

Hopefully he'll sign the extended (and doubtless much improved) contract we've offered him, and will form one of the mainstays of our midfield for years to come.

For all his errors of judgement, Souness may just have got one thing right when he predicted N'Zogbia could become a "beast" of a player. Fingers crossed Charles is with us long enough to live up to our rapidly rising hopes and expectations.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Out of time?

Blackburn's win over a predictably understrength Chelsea side last night simply confirmed what we'd feared following Saturday's results, Rovers securing sixth place in the league and a UEFA Cup spot ahead of us.

I'm not exactly the biggest fan of the champions, but I was cheering them on last night, and as upset as Jose that none of what looked like three blatant penalties were awarded to his side. Blackburn, though, did probably play well enough to deserve the points.

So, who will be appearing in which competition remains uncertain owing to Arsenal and Middlesbrough's presence in the Champions League and UEFA Cup finals respectively, but we do know that seventh won't be enough for automatic qualification - and we face a real fight to hang on to that too.

Bolton, three points adrift of us, face a no doubt exhausted Smoggie side with their eyes on bigger things at home tonight, and then already relegated Birmingham on Sunday. A win for the Trotters tonight, and their superior goal difference, will mean we will have to better their result on Sunday in our game against Chelsea - no easy task, no matter who the champions put out. If we relinquish seventh, then the Intertoto looks like a lost hope too, and we can put our passports away for another season - worrying, given our desire to retain key players as well as strengthen in the summer.

Aside from the four game blip in March when we met Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea, we've been a changed side under Roeder, putting in some much improved performances, but it seems as though the headlong charge for European qualification is going to fall just short.


This Sunday I momentarily took leave of my Toon affiliations - and, some might say, my senses - in venturing along to watch Cardiff Grange Harlequins, a team even more hapless than the Mackems, in action in their final Welsh Premier League match of the season. Skif has been kind enough to post my report on Hobo Tread. Let's just say it was quite a game...