Monday, July 31, 2006

A man of his word (of sorts)

Our ex-skipper and current club ambassador Alan Shearer announced this weekend that he's turned down new England boss Steve McLaren's invitation to join the international set-up alongside himself and former manager El Tel.

Shearer's reason for declining the invitation appears to be twofold: he had already verbally agreed to a contract extension with the BBC and is also keen to steer clear of the high-pressure side of football for the time being at least.

The story of McLaren's approach broke during the World Cup, which led to a mixture of flimsy denials and outright lies from Shearer. "It would interest me in the future and it's very flattering to be linked, but I haven't heard anything", he said, despite the approach having been made prior to the tournament starting. Why the secrecy, then? Perhaps just to avoid unnecessary distractions for the England squad, or to give Shearer time to mull it over.

Either way, McLaren doesn't seem to have been left even more red-faced than usual by Shearer's announcement: "I fully understand the reasons behind Alan's decision. He is a top professional and a great guy". And so say all of us. Enjoy your holiday, Alan - and don't come back till you're ready.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Off to a Duff start

Damien Duff's Newcastle career got off to an inauspicious start yesterday as we suffered a disappointing friendly defeat at home to PSV Eindhoven.

Defensively it was a throwback to the pre-Roeder days as we gifted the Dutch champions a three goal lead, with Jefferson Farfan, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Jason Culina punishing some atrocious marking.

Shola Ameobi continued his good run of pre-season form, heading in at the back post after good work on the right from James Milner and then bursting into the area only to be brought down. Albert Luque, recovered from whatever condition it was that kept him out of the second Lillestrom and Norwich matches, tucked away the spot-kick, but we couldn't find the equaliser we scarcely deserved.

A defeat like that was probably what we needed, actually, to temper the optimism that's been building up over the last few days with a dose of realism.

Yesterday's defensive shambles means I'm even more inclined to look with interest and anticipation on the reports carried by several of today's papers that Sol Campbell is keen on a move to the club. The defender, now a free agent following his departure from Arsenal, may be nearing the end of his career and isn't the player he once was for the Gunners - but he'd still be a very useful organising influence at the back to shore things up.

Another player linked with us repeatedly over the last few days has been Wayne Bridge. With Ashley Cole's move to Chelsea looking increasingly likely, we might well be in line to get another of the Blues' cast-offs - the fourth in less than two years, joining up with Duff, Scott Parker and Celestine Babayaro. Again, Bridge would be a very welcome addition to the side, a decent defender as well as a threat in forward areas - and infinitely better than Babayaro in every respect. Any move hinges on whether Jose Mourinho opts to let him go, though - and that's far from certain given that the sale of Asier del Horno to Valencia leaves the champions a bit short in the left back department.

Friday, July 28, 2006

"A trip into the unknown"

This lunchtime's UEFA Cup second qualifying round draw saw us pitched against Latvian outfit FC Ventispils.

What do I and the club know about them, other than that they sound like some kind of medication for people with breathing difficulties? Absolutely nothing.

Roeder has commented: "It's a trip into the unknown for us, but one thing for certain is that we will prepare thoroughly for these two matches".

So, maps at the ready...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Not without a fight

It seems as though, rather than being disheartened by the arrival of Damien Duff, Charles N'Zogbia has been spurred on to prove his worth even more, if last night's testimonial for Norwich's Craig Fleming is anything to go by.

Lining up at Carrow Road in his more familiar left-sided position in a 4-5-1 formation that saw James Milner operate as the lone striker, N'Zogbia was lively throughout and scored a belting goal shortly before the hour mark for what proved the winner. (Peter Ramage had opened the scoring, and Paul McVeigh got a consolation goal back for the Canaries.)

The message for Duff seems to be: you're not getting my place without a fight. Players in form and healthy competition for places - just the sort of thing managers want when they talk about having a pleasant headache.

In other news, Robbie Elliott's second spell at St James' Park appears to be at an end. He's turned down a new contract, and since had a trial with Leeds who subsequently opted not to sign him up. Rumour has it he's currently training with the Mackems. What with Steve Caldwell already there, could they have an all ex-Toon central defence in the Championship this coming season?

Though Elliott certainly won't be missed half as much as our other outgoing Gosforth-born player, he's been a professional and patient member of the squad, having been frozen out for long periods. Last term his experience was invaluable in the midst of our defensive crisis, but he did often look exposed with his lack of pace both in the centre of defence and at left back so perhaps the time to move on had come.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


After the heady transfer activity of the last couple of days comes the most preposterously amusing rumour I've heard in a long time.

Which centre-half and World Cup runner up is rumoured to be a target for one time Serie A Champions, and soon to be Serie B also rans, Juventus?

Step forward (preferably without slipping, although I wouldn't bet on it) Jean Alain Boumsong.

Suggestions that it's a player plus cash deal (i.e. here's the player and some cash, if you'll take him away) may prove spurious.

Having said that, they wouldn't be the first side in black and white stripes to look to recruit him after selling their best defender to Real Madrid...

What might have been

Interesting revelations from young Master Rooney, who claims in his autobiography that he came closer to joining Newcastle than we had all imagined.

Apparently a blazing row with David Moyes - whom Rooney came to find "overbearing" (probably not his word - too many syllables) - prompted him to declare that he never wanted to play for him again.

"If no-one else had come in I would have gone to Newcastle", he says. "But I knew that United was the club I wanted to join". If it hadn't been for that pesky Ferguson... (Surely it wouldn't have taken much to confuse Rooney to our advantage given that we too are United?)

In August 2004, we had just sold star defender Jonathan Woodgate to Real Madrid, and, flush with cash, Fat Fred was keen to appease the disgruntled fans. Cue the bid for Rooney, which at the time was seen as desperate and laughable (by me too - see the inaugural post on Black & White & Read All Over), only serving to provoke Man Utd into lodging a far more attractive bid of their own.

So it's interesting to know that we really weren't that far off landing the jug-eared wonder (even if he would have been signing to escape Moyes rather than out of a desire to play at St James'). Interesting - and saddening too. How much I would have enjoyed seeing him leave stud imprints on the bollocks of opposition players while wearing a Newcastle shirt...

Monday, July 24, 2006


Apparently Damien Duff only cost £5 million, and not the £10 million which was being reported over the weekend.

Now, whilst this is hardly pocket change it represents a significant "saving" in terms of the cash which we presumably have available to sign players this summer, and as such, must be seen as being an excellent piece of business by the club.

I don't say this lightly, and I doubt you'll catch me repeating it too many times, but well done to Fat Fred for a canny piece of business.

A winger and a prayer

The winger: Damien Duff, who - following a medical on Saturday - signed a five year deal. Genuinely exciting if also slightly injury-prone, he's the sort of player we were sceptical we were still capable of attracting, particularly with the likes of Liverpool and Spurs bidding for his services. So, good work Freddie and Glenn, but Duff's Republic of Ireland teammate Shay Given was also keen to claim some credit - and rightly so. "The manager and the chairman have done a fantastic job persuading a player of Damien's calibre to sign. But I also spoke to Damien a few times myself, so I musn't have done a bad selling job either". And I thought Shearer was supposed to be the club's ambassador? Good news all around - unless you're Charles N'Zogbia, that is...

The prayer: That we now sign a striker. Duff's arrival leaves us plentifully stocked in one position but just highlights the deficiencies in others. Who's he going to be crossing to and creating goals for? Of course, as Roeder acknowledged, UEFA Cup qualification (see below) "is certainly going to help in terms of finance and transfers". He's confirmed his interest in Germany's Golden Boot winner Miroslav Klose, but as yet no bid has been lodged. Watch this space. Hopefully.

The professionals

Lillestrom 0 - 3 Newcastle

(Newcastle win 4-1 on aggregate)

Cheers lads. I was anticipating an afternoon of having my heart in my mouth, but for once it stayed put, all thanks to a performance of such consummate professionalism that it was hard to believe we could possibly be responsible.

A brace from the returning Shola Ameobi and an icing-on-the-cake blast from Emre made sure the passports don't have to go back in the drawer just yet, while, having re-committed himself to the club in the close season (a decision for which he might have expected to be committed...), Shay Given will be hoping he enjoys many more afternoons as quiet as this - he didn't have a single save to make.

As a reflection of quite how significant this game was, Glenn Roeder sent out the strongest side available to him. The only change from the first leg saw Ameobi start in place of last Saturday's goalscorer Albert Luque (out with a bad back or blisters, depending who you believe), though Craig Moore - back in training following his World Cup exploits with Australia - secured a place on the bench. The formation allegedly changed to a 4-5-1, with James Milner on the left and Charles N'Zogbia in the centre - though to my eyes Milner seemed to be running the channels striker-style, in the first half at least.

Right from the first whistle Lillestrom's lack of quality was the source of much bemusement - my thought being that we must have been truly dreadful last week for this lot to have left St James' Park with a draw and an away goal.

That said, we didn't exactly pull up any trees in the opening exchanges, our only effort on goal being an Ameobi header from Emre's perfect corner that sailed wastefully over the angle.

But, just as the half-hour mark approached and the fact that that away goal meant we had to score at least once began to prey on my mind, Ameobi made amends. Emre had struck one free kick straight at the wall so, when presented with an opportunity in an identical position, we tried something different. The ball was rolled to N'Zogbia, whose venomous 25 yard drive was beaten away well by Lillestrom 'keeper Otto Fredrikson. Ameobi was on hand to collect the parry, though, and showed strength and composure in escaping his marker's attentions and sidefooting the ball calmly inside the far post.

Seven minutes later and Big Lad (copyright the season ticket holder who used to sit behind Paul) doubled our lead. Stephen Carr released new skipper Scott Parker, whose perfect low cross was steered into the net at the far post. Roeder commented afterwards: "Shola should not have been out there. We kept it a secret. He picked up an ankle injury in training and he had no chance on Thursday. It just shows the character of the lad and the spirit in the team". It's far too early to say whether he can play his part in scoring the goals with which Shearer's boot would have provided us, but all the same it's encouraging to see him continue to mine the rich vein of form he found at the back end of last season, even against poor opposition.

That second goal effectively ended the tie, leaving the home side needing three goals without reply to get through. Their second half attempts to do so were pitiful, the only half-scare being an Arild Sundgot header which drifted harmlessly wide, and we remained comfortably in control throughout, continuing to threaten more goals every time we ventured forwards with menace.

Frederikson nearly made a hash of a long-range Parker shot, only just deflecting it wide for a corner, and also saved from Nobby Solano, while Emre should have done much better with a shot he screwed wide with his wrong foot. Like Ameobi, though, our Turkish international made amends for a bad miss with a goal, working space for himself on the edge of the area and firing home high into the corner with Frederikson rooted to the spot.

There was still time for another chance, Parker played in inside the area but delaying his shot long enough for Frederikson to get a block on it. If there was a disappointing aspect to his displays last season, it was the lack of goals - hopefully that'll be rectified this time out.

So, a job very well done and a place in the hat for Friday's UEFA Cup draw. Europe here we come...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, July 21, 2006

Duff man

Reports doing the rounds and now being carried on (which is normally a good indication of story having substance) suggest we're about to clinch the signing of Damien Duff for £10 million from Chelsea. On the positive side, Duff is an excellent creative player, who is quick and also appears to have a good temperament.

However, his injury record isn't the best, and he's not a striker. For the money we're reportedly spending on Duff, I can only hope that we've got more cash in the bank to buy the striker(s) we need.

It also makes Roeder's recent comments about only signing players who spend more time on the pitch than in the treatment room sound slightly hollow...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Watching the world go by

Another day passes and still no incoming players.

In fact, most of the talk seems to be centred on Jean-Alain Boumsong's apparently imminent departure for Marseilles (if they can stump up the cash) - which will mean we need two more defenders rather than just one.

All the more depressing when exciting moves are afoot elsewhere.

Over the last two days the Italian fire sale has got into full swing, the two Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona plundering Juve's treasure chest for their prize assets. The best player of this summer's World Cup Fabio Cannavaro and Brazilian midfielder Emerson will be at the Bernabeu next season, while Lilian Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta have been recruited to strengthen the European champions' already awesome squad.

I can't help but look on wistfully. Of course in our current state we wouldn't have had a hope in hell of attracting players of that stature - but it's frustrating to see it all going on before your eyes.

More upsetting on this front are the moves being made by a club like Spurs, who not so long ago we looked down on and even two years ago were very much our equals. Now they have the appeal and financial clout to attract the likes of Dimitar Berbatov and Didier Zokora, while Damien Duff could still be on his way. All good players at high (but very reasonable) prices. Even Everton - whom we trumped twice in the transfer market last summer in beating them to both Scott Parker and Emre - have bagged Andy Johnson and Joleon Lescott, albeit at inflated costs.

We just can't compete. Glenn Roeder is left to rub his two pennies together to see if anything transpires. A striker or two is still the priority, but I hope some thought and effort is being expended upon trying to bring in defensive reinforcements too. Am I the only person who thinks we could do a lot better than to take a leaf from the book of cynical opportunism from which Real Madrid and Barcelona have been reading and try to sign Fiorentina's Czech Republic centre-half Tomas Ujfalusi on the cheap?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Hitmen wanted

According to reports in the local press (and who would ever doubt the Chronicle?) we can expect to have two new strikers on our books come the start of our league campaign.

(Which is good news, seeing as Michael Owen's impending surgery has been delayed due to some swelling round his knee).

Glenn Roeder has already commented that he's looking to bring in hungry players, with Premiership experience and something to prove. But who falls in to that category?

Ignoring strikers who command first team places in their current sides, there are very few names that spring to mind.

Jermaine Defoe?
Bobby Zamora/ Dean Ashton?
Massimo Maccarone?!?

Perhaps Darren Bent (who has nothing to prove to Charlton fans, but everything to prove to the new England manager)?

Whilst the signings of Defoe, Bent and Ashton would be welcomed (by me at least) I can't help feeling that we simply lack the money to buy more than one of them. Which means that our second striker needs to be available on the cheap - thus ruling out anyone with much Premiership experience.

Robert Earnshaw, anyone?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Nor score draw

Newcastle 1 - 1 Lillestrom

A first European goal for the club by Albert Luque gave us a barely deserved draw against a much fitter and better organised Lillestrom side on Saturday. The draw, which leaves us needing to better this result in Norway on Saturday in order to progress, was a decent return against a side in the middle of their football season, but casts doubt over whether we'll be able to progress to the UEFA Cup.

The game itself followed a fairly predictable pattern, with the visitors dominating the opening exchanges, forcing a good save from Given and a goal line clearance from Babayaro before Robert Koren opened the scoring with a shot which deflected off Steven Taylor and looped over Shay into the Gallowgate net.

For the remainder of the first half we created little, with an Emre free-kick perhaps the closest we came to an equaliser.

With the need to try and restore parity of paramount importance, we started the second half well, and within five minutes our makeshift strike force of Milner and Luque combined to allow the Spaniard to set inside his man, and curl a left foot shot into the net, and score his first competitive goal and St James' Park.

With Newcastle finding renewed impetus in the second half, we began to compete more, and showed impressive stamina given our relative lack of training. Nonetheless, a second goal was not forthcoming, with our best chance falling to Alan O'Brien (on as a substitute for Luque) who shot wide in the last minute of the match. The win would have been undeserved, though.

With the game now behind us, we can approach next Saturday's game with an extra week's training, and with Lillestrom in action of Wednesday in their domestic league, it could be that we've got the edge in terms of stamina next week. However, to progress we'll need to score goals, and for that to happen our midfield will need to play a lot better than they did on Saturday (the reliable Parker aside).

Reports: BBC, Guardian,

Friday, July 14, 2006

Loan period expires

The World Cup's over so I'm back permanently from my loan spell at Finals Fantasy, just in time for our season to kick off tomorrow. I think I did well, and so I'm now looking to force my way into the reckoning for the first team here at Black & White & Read All Over...

(You can read my end-of-tournament round-up feature here.)

Captain Scott

The club have today confirmed that Scott Parker has taken over the role of club captain from Alan Shearer, with Shay Given taking on the role of vice captain.

Having taken the armband for a time last season, when Shearer was out injured, Parker looks to be a captain who leads by example, and if reports of his excellent motivational speeches are to be believed, should be able to galvanise the side before their games ahead.

For Shay, it's justifiable recognition of the respect which he has from both fans and fellow players alike, and as he proved during our unbeaten run at the end of last season, he's perfectly capable of delivering results as captain, despite being (hopefully) a long way from the action.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

To see or not to see (Steed in a black and white shirt)?

Conflicting reports in the media today as to whether we can expect to see Fulham's Steed Malbranque saddle up and ride into Toon.

The Sun claimed the Smogs had pulled out of the race to sign the Londoner's want-away Frenchman, but the Evening Chronicle is now reporting that we're the ones who've pulled out.

If we have withdrawn our interest (and let's just say Alan Oliver has been known to be wrong...), I imagine it'd baffle many more fans than just me. Malbranque has proven himself a consistent attacking threat from midfield over the last few seasons, performing well in a side that has often struggled. His contract expires next summer, and as a result of turning down an extension he's been made to train with the Fulham youth team. Given these circumstances, with both the player and his club seemingly itching for a divorce, surely he wouldn't cost a great deal?

That said, it's a striker or two that we're most in need of at the moment. Oliver claims Shepherd won't be prepared to back Roeder in bankrolling expensive signings like Dirk Kuyt and Miroslav Klose - but the simple fact is that at the moment we're woefully short and players who could possibly have done a job on the cheap and in the short term (eg the Fat Eddie Murphy) have moved elsewhere. Money has to be spent.

Almost as worrying as the striker situation is the rumour that Jean-Alain Boumsong is probably heading back to France with Marseille or Monaco, and not just because we'd have to expect to make a significant loss. His sale would leave us with just Bramble, Taylor, Moore and Elliott with centre-back experience. No matter how poor Boumsong was last season - and he was very poor, especially after a promising opening to his United career - we need to be signing defenders rather than selling them. By all means, Freddie, cut your losses and flog him - but make sure you've got at least two signings on the way first. Might we be back in for Robert Huth now that he's allegedly failed his medical on Smogside?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Looking forward

With the World Cup now confined to history, leaving the debris of a tournament which internationally will be remembered for a Zidane header, and for us contrived to cast a long dark shadow over our season before it has even begun, it is time to look forward again.

Prior to the competition starting, Glenn Roeder said he planned to watch some players over the tournament, with a view to then dipping into the transfer market once it was over. With Owen's injury heightening our paucity of strikers, it was inevitable that we'd be linked with every striker under the sun and so far, the press have linked us to Dirk Kuyt (who enjoyed a mediocre time with Holland), Van Horseface (who enjoyed a rotten time with Holland) and Miroslav Klose (who picked up the Golden Boot). Quite whether we're actually interested in any of these players remains to be seen.

Of the three, I'd favour the ageing, but proven in the premiership, Van Nistelrooy - however, I suspect bigger names will also be interested in providing him with a new stable lined with luxurious hay.

The impending sale that must surely follow the match fixing scandal in Italy means that a whole host of quality players will flood the transfer market, and in my dream world, Italian captain Cannavaro will be running out for us next season, rather than World Cup non-playing runner-up Jean-Alain Boumsong. However, like the Van Nistelrooy story above, I suspect this is about as likely as Michael Owen playing again for us before Christmas.

As it is, this Saturday sees the start of the new season, with a 5pm kick off against the Norwegians of Lillestrom. With only a couple of weeks of pre-season, and the might of Luque and Milner up front, this looks a much harder tie than it appeared when the draw was made. Still, solid performances from players with things to prove (be it to new England boss McLaren - Parker; or simply to the watching fans who pay his wages - Butt) will hopefully be enough to get us past Lillestrom and in to the UEFA Cup.

Friday, July 07, 2006

He's not a striker

According to today's rumour mill, Fat Fred has been chatting to David Beckham about the possibility of his relocating the family to Newcastle.

Now, from Beckham's point of view I can see the attraction - £120k per week, it's nearer to London, he gets to link up with England buddy Michael Owen.

However, I can't see the logic behind the move. At 31 he's hardly a spring chicken, and as the World Cup seemed to show, his best football is probably now behind him. We've already got one of the most creative right wingers in the premiership (Nobby) and one of the most exciting prospects (Milner), so why do we need him?

Whilst undoubtedly a talented footballer, it just doesn't seem logical for us to spend all that money on another midfielder when clearly our biggest concern has got to be bolstering our strike force. To my mind, at least, this story has worrying similarities to the chairman's acquisition of Kluivert and Butt a couple of years ago, and look where that got us...


From today's Guardian Fiver email:

"So is the prospect of Beckham lining up for Newcastle a ridiculous one? Far from it. Signing another big name England has-been is exactly the kind of stunt that Fat Freddy would love to pull off, while the prospect of earning a ridiculously large salary for going through the motions is bound to prove appealing to Becks. And with Newcastle being the only Premiership club boasting fans gullible enough to turn out in their droves to drool over him, it follows that Newcastle is the only Premiership club he would countenance a move to".

Hmm. Gullibility - that old chestnut.

I doubt anyone could accuse us two of being gullible - plenty of healthy (and not-so-healthy) cynicism round these 'ere parts, particularly as far as Freddie Shepherd, publicity stunts and moneygrabbers are concerned (see above).

Might I go so far as to venture that gullibility is the failing of Mackems who believe that when Niall Quinn says he's going to return Sunderland to "where they belong", that means the Premiership rather than mid-table obscurity in the Championship?

Anyway, the Fiver's bile and scorn is indiscriminate, and very often hilarious for it, so I suppose the appropriate response would be to shrug one's shoulders and take it. But the urge to shout "FUCK OFF" remains...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Footballer; coach; pundit; singer?

Courtesy of Chloe Shearer, and Sky News, here's a video of our former captain and current ambassador keeping his spirits up.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A dock day for old boys

It's been a day of courtroom drama for two of the most errant players in the club's history.

Lee Bowyer, now with West Ham, has pleaded guilty to using threatening behaviour and has been fined £600 and ordered to pay £1000 in costs following his fracas with Kieron Bowyer during the game with Aston Villa back in April of last year (my how fast and smoothly the cogs of the justice system turn!). This is in addition to the suspension and fine he received from the FA, and the fine of six weeks' wages from the club.

According to the chief prosecutor, "the criminal law doesn't cease to operate once you cross the touchline of a sports field". Fair enough, but as we've said before there's a very dubious double standard in charging footballers for little more than handbags (even if it did bring the game and club into disrepute) and yet taking no action over (and thereby condoning) the much more violent behaviour of players in other sports such as rugby and ice hockey. And lest it be thought that it's affection for Bowyer that's inspired this line of thinking, it's not - I'm glad the little runt got another public dressing-down.

Meanwhile, here in Cardiff, Liverpool's new £6m signing Craig Bellamy has pleaded not guilty to two charges of assault on a pair of women in the city in February. I'm guessing it would surprise no-one if the no-necked ankle-biter was found guilty. Might the start to his career on Merseyside be delayed by a prison sentence? We can but hope.

We're much better off without the pair of them. Good luck Alan and Rafa - you're going to need it.

Blue and white and read all over

Welcome to the B&W&RAO blogroll to The CIS One and Singing The Blues ... And Whites, two new Blackburn Rovers blogs which have sprung up just in time to offer thoughts on Mark Hughes's quite incomprehensible decision to hand Franny Jeffers a two year deal. Still, I guess that at least they're signing players nominally known as strikers (Jason Roberts has joined from Wigan too) whereas we're currently looking at a strikeforce of Luque and Milner for the beginning of our Intertoto campaign in a week and a half's time...

(Thanks to Cameron of the original BRFC blog A Town Called Malice for the links.)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Deja vu?

Away from what has rapidly become a depressing World Cup (England lose on penalties, and we lose our main striker for months), it's reassuring to know that some things never change.

Apparently, one time Newcastle striker and all-round gob-shite Craig Bellamy has been charged by police following an assault on a 19-year-old girl in a Cardiff nightclub last March.

So it isn't only Bobby who couldn't keep Bellamy out of trouble then...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Over and out

Is it too much to ask for just one of the two football teams I follow as a matter of necessity rather than choice to be successful once in my lifetime?

A quarter-final shoot-out defeat to Portugal featuring a red card? As predictable as they come - but no less painful for it, not least because I'd started to not just believe but actually think we could win it.

With our backs against the wall, some of the players were tremendous - the much-maligned Hargreaves in particular, who ended up putting in the forward legwork that Lampard and Gerrard should have been providing. But we never offered enough in attack and so didn't really deserve to get through.

All the more galling, then, that Big Phil Scolari, Portugal's alleged tactical genius, opted to try and find a way past our ten men by playing without a striker for over twenty minutes. They're not a particularly good side, and given the relative ease with which France knocked the Brazilians out, they'll not make it to the final.

Consolations? Very few. At least there was some guts and passion, and a few fine performances from fringe players like Hargreaves, Lennon and Crouch who may find themselves more central under (shudder) Steve Maclaren. And at least it wasn't our old boy Hugo Viana who did the damage - two shots after coming on as a sub were comfortably fielded by Robinson, and he was also obliging enough to strike his penalty off the outside of the post.

Thoughts now inevitably turn back to Newcastle, and the fact that our season kicks off six days after the World Cup final with an Intertoto tie, most probably against Lillestrom. An England World Cup win would have been some consolation for Michael Owen's long-term injury, but it wasn't to be. Rumours in today's papers have it that we might be after £9m in compensation by suing the FA. That would soften the blow of Owen's loss, but we wouldn't be able to count on having that money to find a replacement - and however much money we've got at our disposal, that replacement is unlikely to be Dirk Kuyt or Fernando Torres, given the relative stature of our rivals for their signatures.

One last thing: despite it seeming a good idea at the time, drowning your sorrows in spectacular fashion does not make things seem any better in the long run...