Thursday, November 30, 2006


When your luck's not in, it really isn't in. There was Albert Luque thinking life couldn't get much more depressing on Tyneside, only for his Chelsea tractor to get a puncture on the way to Newcastle Airport yesterday afternoon - and then get smashed into by a lorry. Fortunately for the Spaniard, Lady Luck didn't completely desert him - he was unscathed in the incident and is due to play when we kick off in Frankfurt in less than an hour's time.

Seriously, though, what is it with our players and car crashes? Luque joins a long and ignominious list including Kieron Dyer, Andy Griffin and, most recently, Titus Bramble. The roads would be safer if none of them was allowed to get behind the wheel...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Pompey sunk

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 Portsmouth

The sun was shining, the football was (for once) flowing, and the Toon walked away from St James' Park with a home league win. But for the cold chill in the air, it could almost have been August.

Unfortunately, the start of the season has long since passed, and with a third of the league programme already behind us, the table does not look too rosy at present. However, with a few more performances like Sunday, and preferably against teams showing a similar level of ambition as Portsmouth, we should be capable of starting to climb the table in the forthcoming weeks.

With the club finally handing out free scarves to those in attendance (something they had hoped to against Wigan back in August) there was a good atmosphere in St James' Park at the start of the game. Having withstood some early Portsmouth pressure, which saw Solano (again excellent at right back) block a goal bound Kanu shot, Newcastle were able to assert their authority over a lacklustre Pompey side who came for the draw and were time-wasting throughout. Dyer, in particular, started well, and given a free role behind Martins, saw a lot of the ball. It was he who released the Nigerian to finish smartly, chipping over David James, only to be wrongly adjudged off-side.

The only threat to Newcastle seemed to be that we wouldn't be able to complete the game with eleven fit players, as first Parker and then Milner departed before half time with injuries, to be replaced by Butt and Thursday's goal scorer Sibierski. The first half also saw Emre shoot just over, and Portsmouth's defence almost gift us an own goal, only for David James to somehow claw the ball over the bar after it had looped past him.

Half time brought general cheer and applause, rather than the disgruntlement of recent weeks, and the only concern was that our first half dominance hadn't yielded the goal we richly deserved.

The second half saw us reorganise, with Sibierski going up-front alongside Martins, and Dyer coming out on to the right wing. With Kieron, running well with the ball, and passing intelligently, it was a real worry when he (having again beaten his marker) wound up slamming into the advertising hoardings at the Gallowgate end. Thankfully, after treatment for what looked a nasty gash in his thigh, he was able to continue.

Pompey were clearly struggling to deal with the pace of Dyer, Martins and N'Zogbia, and it was clearly going to be through their influence that a goal would come. In the end it was Martins who drove at the heart of the visitors defence, before feeding the ball wide to N'Zogbia. The Zog's low cross being met by the onrushing Sibierski to sidefoot home his first league goal for the club.

Even having fallen behind, Portsmouth failed to offer anything going forward, and it looked like Newcastle who would go on to score several more. Dyer, in particular looked dangerous whenever he had the ball, and with substitute Taylor struggling at left-back, he was regularly skinning his marker, and creating chances, only to find David James in outstanding form. One save from Emre, low to the keeper's right, was brilliant - although again the chance was fashioned following good work down the Newcastle right.

The only concern was that our inability to score a second kept Portsmouth in the game, and when N'Zogbia crumpled in a heap, and Mark Halsey thinking Portsmouth had kicked the ball dead, it was with a great deal of consternation that the visitors continued to bear down on goal. A wayward shot over the bar amounting to their best effort in the second half, although the Newcastle players (and in particular Steven Taylor) were incensed that play had continued, with N'Zogbia clearly prostrate.

With Luque replacing N'Zogbia, Newcastle safely saw out the remainder of the match, and with it picked up a much deserved win.

As a whole, Newcastle played really well - with the pace and vision of Dyer clearly lifting our collective game. If he stays fit (a big if) I expect that the team will really start to fire, and Martins in particular will find himself enjoying plenty of opportunities in front of goal. Also of praise was Solano, who again enjoyed a solid game at right back, and his assured touch and experienced head was clearly of assistance to our back line.

Of concern is the ever growing injury list, and it is a cause for thanks that we don't need to beat Frankfurt on Thursday to ensure progress in Europe, and as such I wouldn't be surprised to see several emerging youngsters given a chance to gain some experience ahead of the forthcoming December schedule.

Highlights: Toongoals

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, November 24, 2006


Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Celta Vigo

* OK, so it would have been more so had Steven Taylor's first first-team goal for his hometown club come against the Mackems. But let's not let the truth get in the way of a good headline, eh?

Taylor it was who proved the matchwinner, as we continued our good form in the UEFA Cup, overturning a one goal deficit to march on into the knockout stages.

Unsurprisingly, Glenn Roeder rang the changes. Two were enforced, owing to the injuries sustained by Damien Duff and Craig Moore at the Emirates Stadium. That meant Taylor moving inside to partner Titus Bramble, and Nobby Solano dropping back to right-back. In midfield only anchorman Nicky Butt retained his place; Emre returned from suspension, Charles N'Zogbia replaced the rested Scott Parker, and James Milner and Albert Luque were drafted in on the flanks. Neither Kieron Dyer nor Obafemi Martins were risked, with Antoine Sibierski handed the challenge of leading the line on his own.

We nearly got off to a spectacular start after just twenty seconds when Milner's cross-field ball was missed by the defender, letting in Luque at the left side of the area. The Spaniard should at least have hit the target, but instead showed all the hallmarks of a man low on confidence, dragging it wide of the far post.

That early promise soon evaporated, and by the tenth minute the visitors had taken the lead. A flighted long ball into the area induced a bad mix-up between Taylor and Shay Given, and when the ball ended up at the feet of Fabian Canobbio, the Uruguayan midfielder evaded Emre's weak challenge and curled the ball into the corner of the net from the edge of the area.

Given our recent record of recovering after going behind, it was an early blow we really didn't want. Celta Vigo soon had control of the match, their passing slick and tidy and Brazilian forward Baiano in particular showing some neat touches. We, on the other hand, looked devoid of ideas going forwards and nervy in defence, as encapsulated in a dreadful miskick by Bramble which fortunately looped up into Given's grateful arms.

But then, around the half hour mark, something changed. We stepped up the pace and concentrated on knocking them out of their comfort zone with some good old-fashioned English hustle and harry. That said, our equaliser still came out of the blue. Milner did well to get the better of Vigo's excellent Argentianian left-back Diego Placente, before delivering a cross every bit as good as the one with which he supplied Luque in Sicily which left Sibierski with the relatively simple task of heading the ball beyond Esteban.

It could have been even better by the break. It took some strong defending from Yao Yago to prevent Sibierski getting on the end of a delicious Luque ball from the left, and with referee Dick van Egmond poised to blow the whistle Bramble should have done better with a free header from a well-flighted Emre free kick.

The goal had eased the nerves, and we continued to shade it in the second period. Emre had an early snapshot on the volley that would have been spectacular had it not flown wide. We also had occasional bursts forward from N'Zogbia and more good wingplay from Milner to cheer, as well as a quick dart into the box from substitute Captain Scott, but there wasn't any real urgency about our attacks because we knew that a point would be good enough to see us through.

But a point became all three four minutes from time, when Taylor made amends for his costly error of judgement earlier and showed his central defensive partner how to do it. Luque swung a corner into the six-yard danger zone and Taylor flung himself at it to power a header past Esteban.

Over to Jonathan of Crinklybee, by way of a taster for what you can expect when he joins the B&W&RAO team as a guest blogger over the festive period: "Steven Taylor's goal celebration was a joy to behold - he reacted like me or you would do if by some miracle we found ourselves heading home the winning goal in a St James' European tie - sprinting the length of the West Stand touchline lost in bulging-eyeballed wonderment (I think he was looking for his mam up in the stand or some other proof that he wasn't dreaming the whole thing)... I think if Roeder hadn't managed to catch him on the half-way line he'd have ended up in Fenham - moment of the season so far (although Lord knows there haven't been many...)". Too true, too true.

So, 2-1 it was at the final whistle. Three wins out of three in the group stage, and a visit to Frankfurt to look forward to next week with qualification already assured.

Sibierski got the man of the match award, and probably deservedly so - he scored a crucial goal, was battered around by uncompromising defenders while giving them significant problems, and held the ball up well. But a quick word about Solano: he may not have got forwards as much as we'd have anticipated, but he did an excellent job in nullifying the threat of Vigo's danger man Nene. His performance was a real plus, and should have highlighted to Roeder a useful option given our shortage of defenders and surfeit of midfielders.

Dare I say that we seem to be witnessing the first shoots of spring? It may only be November, but it's not before time...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Reading list

If you only read one football-related blog post this week, read this one: Havant & Waterlooville fan Skif comes to terms with the fact that experiencing "the magic of the Cup" comes at a hefty and seriously damaging cost. "Y’know, if Santa came down the chimney, bitch-slapped your Nan and nicked your wallet, you’d struggle to keep hold of a sense of magic there too."

And if you only read two football-related blog posts this week, make the second the latest installment in the Cheer Up Alan Shearer A-Z Of Football, featuring contributions from Skif and ourselves, amongst others.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Trouble at the back

Just as we've discovered a modicum of defensive resilience, injuries threaten to derail the whole thing. With Celestine Babayaro, Stephen Carr and Olivier Bernard already out, Craig Moore limped off with ten minutes remaining at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday and could well miss Thursday's UEFA Cup game against Celta Vigo (and a few more) with a hamstring problem.

Promising young reserve defender Paul Huntington could find himself pressed into action as a result - but this situation just underlines the folly of allowing Jean-Alain Boumsong and Robbie Elliott to leave without bringing in quality defenders to replace them.

In other news, today's papers see us linked with three players north of the border, and another who used to ply his trade up there. The Express claims we, like Rangers and a whole host of English clubs, are keen on Hibernian midfield duo Kevin Thomson and Scott Brown. Meanwhile, the Mirror reports on our continued interest in picking up Celtic's Shaun Maloney on the cheap, and the Times has us and Fulham both sniffing around Leicester's former Hearts central defender Patrick Kisnorbo, one of Moore's international colleagues.

Additional bodies would be welcome, yes, and not too pricey - but are any of them really players of the calibre we need? I remain sceptical.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Just capital!

Arsenal 1 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Right, here's the theory: set out with low expectations (or, better still, none at all) and you can't be disappointed.

Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work like that in practice.

Before yesterday afternoon's game, I feared the worst and was steeling myself for a four goal drubbing at the Gunners' new North London home. But at full-time there was a twinge of disappointment at the thought that we were just twenty minutes away from escaping from the capital with all three points and a first league win in nine games.

But, of course, a draw itself represented a tremendous achievement, given our recent run of form, and the performance - dogged and determined, albeit aided by a couple of strokes of good fortune - was enormously encouraging.

Glenn Roeder opted to shuffle things around, bringing fit-again duo Kieron Dyer and Obafemi Martins into the front line in place of Shola Ameobi and Antoine Sibierski, while Nobby Solano returned at James Milner's expense. Emre's suspension meant a start for Nicky Butt, but perhaps most significantly Shay Given was back in goal, two months after sustaining a bad injury at Upton Park and fresh from having to do absolutely nothing for the Republic of Ireland against San Marino on Wednesday.

Arsene Wenger, on the other hand, decided to leave Thierry Henry on the bench after his 90 minute workout for France in midweek. Be thankful for small mercies, I thought.

As expected, even without their talismanic forward Arsenal began on the front foot and pressed us back. Julio Baptista had a very early header off-target and that set the precedent for what was to follow - the Gunners creating half-chances and shooting from distance but finding themselves unable to break through.

And then, remarkably, we took the lead with half an hour gone - our first Premiership goal since the home defeat by Bolton on 15th October. Martins flicked on to the lively Dyer, who baffled his marker and finished clinically past Jens Lehmann with a right-footed curler from the edge of the box. According to today's People, Dyer has confessed to feeling "embarrassed" at picking up his wages when he's spent so much time out through injury. That, added to this goal and performance, is a start - but he'll know he's got a lot more to do yet.

Predictably this stung Arsenal into action and Emmanuel Adebayor and Alexandr Hleb both had decent efforts. Robin van Persie went particularly close before succumbing to an ankle injury which led to the introduction of Henry for the second period.

The pattern remained the same: occasional breaks from us, with Martins holding the ball up well for once, as a brief respite from incessant but unproductive Arsenal pressure. Captain Scott and Nicky Butt were tigerish in their protection of the back four, for whom Titus Bramble was excellent - and even when our massed defensive ranks were breached, Given reminded us (and Steve Harper) exactly what he's capable of, performing his usual heroics to deny Fabregas and Henry.

The only question was whether we could hold out until full-time. In last season's curtain-raiser, we'd lasted until the 80th minute, when Henry tucked away a penalty awarded for a Charles N'Zogbia foul on Freddie Ljungberg, our ten men eventually succumbing to a 2-0 defeat. And it was the Frenchman who did the damage again, curling home a superb 25 yard free-kick via the underside of the crossbar after he had been fouled by Steven Taylor.

Desperate for victory, the Gunners continued to push forwards, and Henry came horrifyingly close to a second when his deflected shot clipped the post, Parker once again getting in the way of a strike on goal. Mercifully, though, they couldn't score again and we could breathe a big sigh of relief. All the talk since has inevitably been of Arsenal's faltering, of their title challenge being over, but much credit has to go to a resilient and focused display from the opposition.

The point took us above Sheffield Utd (who lost at home to Man Utd) and out of the relegation zone on goal difference, while next weekend's opponents Portsmouth did us a massive favour by condemning Watford to a last-gasp defeat. Happily Charlton continued to play as haplessly under Les Reed as they have been under Iain Dowie, going down 2-0 at Reading.

All good, then - but it could have been just that little bit better...

An Arsenal fan's perspective: East Lower

Other reports: BBC, Observer

Friday, November 17, 2006

Luquing for a way out

Albert Luque's response to being omitted from the 16 at the City of Manchester Stadium was disappointing but also inevitable, the Spaniard issuing what could only be described as an ultimatum to Glenn Roeder: "My situation is now desperate. I'm unhappy. I want to play in every game. The final decision is with the coach and if he is not interested the best solution is for me to go in the winter market."

While there's no way that he should expect to be guaranteed a place in the first team, he does perhaps deserve a little better, having scored the vital winner against Palermo and livened things up significantly when he came on in the dreadful home defeat by Sheffield Utd less than 48 hours later.

Even for those of us who were prepared to be patient with him, though, there's no denying that he's been an expensive flop. You don't become a bad player overnight, and Luque certainly isn't a bad player - but for whatever reason (poor form, lethargy, complacency, managerial tactics, an inability to settle in England...) it just hasn't happened for him at St James' Park.

Like Luque, I'm now coming round to thinking it'd be better for both parties if we cut our losses and let him leave. The latest team to be linked with him are Bordeaux, though the lure of a mooted move back to Spain with Barcelona, who are desperately short upfront, would no doubt prove far more attractive.

Nothing can really happen until the transfer window reopens in January, so in the meantime it'll be interesting to see if Roeder is prepared to give him more of a chance and if he can take it and begin to turn things around. And of course that depends upon whether or not he really wants to.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sitting ducks missed

Perhaps now we really should be worried.

Despite lining up for the Republic of Ireland tonight against the international side with the most accommodating defence in Europe, San Marino, our goalshy winger-cum-striker Damien Duff still couldn't find the back of the net. They'd conceded 20 in their last two matches, and Duff's teammates managed to score five times without reply, Robbie Keane notching a hat-trick. I prescribe some intensive shooting practice.

At the other end Shay Given was making his return from the perforated bowel inflicted upon him (accidentally, it has to be said) by Marlon Harewood back in mid September. Whether Glenn Roeder was happy for him to return in this fashion is unclear, despite Steve Staunton's protestations that he was, but at least he kept a clean sheet.

Defensive solidity hasn't been our problem at club level of late, though - scoring has. Might things change on Saturday at the Emirates Stadium? We live in (misguided) hope...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Drawing a blank

Man City 0 - 0 Newcastle Utd

It was a result I initially greeted with a mixture of satisfaction and relief, but which on reflection came to seem rather less than impressive.

Man City might be decent at home; we might have at last stopped the rot away from St James' Park, returning to Tyneside with something to show for our Premiership efforts for only the second time this season; and it was better than last season's 3-0 drubbing that cost Graeme Souness his job - but, on the other hand, it was a fourth consecutive league game without a goal, those games being against the Smoggies, Charlton, Sheffield Utd and City, none of whom are noted for the strength of their defences. What's more, the point won failed to lift us out of the relegation zone, though we did leapfrog Watford following their 4-0 thrashing at Chelsea.

In a frantic late burst of pressure, we actually had several opportunities to take all three points. Charles N'Zogbia, Nobby Solano and a fit-again Kieron Dyer had come on to enliven what had been a very muted attacking performance, with Damien Duff out of sorts on the flank and a patently injured Shola Ameobi ambling around to no effect whatsoever, and Dyer, N'Zogbia and City old boy Antoine Sibierski could all have snatched it at the death.

If they had, though, it would have been rough justice on City who had had the upper hand in what was a desperately dull game (apparently the first half was labelled the worst half of football of the season so far by the Radio 5 commentary team). As expected, Joey Barton was their key man, shooting just wide on one occasion and forcing Steve Harper, who continues to deputise for Shay Given, into a decent tip-over on another.

In the second half Harper was tested from close range by Bernardo Corradi, and the Italian striker showed an ineptitude in front of goal comparable to that of our forwards in contriving to miss two other presentable headed chances. Meanwhile, his fellow substitute Georgios Samaras had a header disallowed - for once, something to be thankful to Graham Poll for.

Our late flurry was too little too late, and as generally sound as our defence has been recently, we have to be concerned with a first trip to the Emirates Stadium on the horizon - particularly when Arsenal are fresh from a 3-0 mauling of Liverpool and we can't buy a goal.

A Man City fan's perspective: Bitter And Blue

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Monday, November 13, 2006

Clutching at straws

Saturday's draw for the League Cup saw us given the unpleasant task of having to overcome Chelsea if we are to still be involved in the competition after Christmas, the only saving grace being that the game will be played at St James' Park.

The game is set to be played on Wednesday 20 December, and will be shown live on Sky.

With both Wycombe and Southend still in the competition, it's fair to say that the draw could have been kinder. Still, if we're to win the thing, it's probably better to tackle Chelsea at home, rather than over two legs or in the final.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Back to business

The euphoria of our first ever penalty shoot-out win at the eighth attempt has now passed, and all thoughts are firmly with tomorrow lunchtime's game at the City of Manchester Stadium. With a trip to Arsenal to come next weekend, we desperately need something from this game - but, having already accounted for one Newcastle manager this year, Man City have every right to feel confident against a team which has scored in just one Premiership game on its travels.

Anyway, thanks to Danny of City blog Bitter And Blue for inviting me to contribute some thoughts in the form of a match preview, which you can read here.

A rocket up the arse


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

We win on penalties

Watford 2 - 2 Newcastle Utd aet

Newcastle win 5-4 on penalties

After years of trying, we have finally won a competitive penalty shoot out, with Steve Harper the hero after he saved Watford's sixth penalty low to his left hand side.

The game itself started well, with Newcastle winning an early free kick on the Watford left. Emre's flighted ball in was met by Sibierski at the back post to nod the ball into the Hornet's goal and give us a very early lead. From then on, we looked comfortable against a Watford side that showed plenty of effort but no real end product. As the half drew to a close, Babayaro gave away a needless free kick down the left. From that free kick, Watford applied pressure and forced Steve Harper to produce a good save low down.

Frustratingly, when we got the ball down and passed it about, we looked a very competent side. The difficulty was that as the game wore on, and particular the second half unfolded, we descended to Watford's level and became embroiled in a long ball game, and allowed the home side to rouse their dormant fans and force their way back into the match. In the end, it was Damian Francis sliding in to get on the end of a Matthew Spring flick on following Ashley Young's free kick.

Despite creating several decent chances, with Rossi and Duff both looking lively on the break, we were unable to convert any of our chances, the Irishman being guilty of wasting several shots when he should have cut the ball back for a better placed colleague to finish. His best chance game towards the end of 90 minutes when he hit the post.

Roeder introduced Solano for Rossi, allowing Duff to push on, and the Peruvian to bring some calm to proceedings as extra time was played. However, it was the home side who pressed home their advantage when Danny Shittu planted a firm header past Harper following another free kick.

Fortunately for Newcastle, as so often happens in these situations, Watford promptly sat back, and allowed Newcastle back into the match. N'Zogbia replacing the increasingly frustrated Sibierski, who was frequently penalised by the referee when competing for high balls - despite his marker being equally guilty of holding and pulling.

With Milner and Duff upfront, and N'Zogbia bringing new impetus down the left, Newcastle pressed for an equaliser, and it was Solano's well placed ball that split the defence and allowed Parker to surge forward and finish coolly to take the game to penalties.

The shoot out, taking place in front of the Newcastle fans, was the inevitable gut wrenching moment.

Solano's initial strike being cancelled out by Henderson.

Milner's weak effort was then saved, only for Young to blast his penalty high and wide.

Emre's cool finish was followed by an equally good penalty by Spring.

Duff scored only for Bangura's stuttering run up and shot to take matters to sudden death.

Then up stepped Stephen Carr - my heart sank, but the barrel chested Irishman scored. However, not to be out done Bouazza also finished well.

For Newcastle, it was N'Zogbia who was the next to step up, and whilst his penalty failed to convince it rippled the net which was the important thing. Then Harper saved from Jordan Stewart and with that we've finally shown we are capable of winning a shoot out.

Looking back on the game, it was heartening to see committed performances from players all over the pitch - with no ill feeling directed at Parker or Carr for their reported hand clapping gesture's at the weekend. We looked a good side when we got the ball down and played , however we sank into the trap of hoofing far too many long balls forward for Sibierski to try and win. Defeat last night would have heaped the pressure further on Roeder, but perhaps the penalty win, and the euphoria which followed might just be enough to restore some confidence to the team. Steve Harper for one will be a justifiably happy man this morning.

As for the board - apart from a group of fans with a banner talking to Sky at half time, I didn't hear or see any sign of the disgruntlement that is felt be many fans. Events on the pitch taking too much of our nervous energy and the ultimate victory leaving a feeling of general good will.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

He's behind you

Panto season appears to have started early at St James Park, with Glenn Roeder reduced to looking nervously over his shoulder following the revelation that Fat Fred is behind him.

In a statement to anyone who would point a camera/dictaphone at him our charming chairmen has come out fighting, reasserting his position as prize turkey by stating "if it was Christmas I'd be worried" and also trying to sound like a man of the people: "I'm no different from any other Newcastle supporter". Let's not forget that's the same man of the people who described Geordie women as dogs to a News of the World Reporter whilst in a Spanish brothel.

I will agree with Shepherd that he has "made some mistakes" during his time as Chairman: appointing Souness; the chase of Rooney; not sacking Robson when he should have done; sacking Robson when he shouldn't; the whole Fake Sheikh thing; buying players we shouldn't have shown the slightest interest in; etc.

I'm pragmatic enough to appreciate that Newcastle United are a business, and running a business (and in particular a PLC) is a job which has it's own challenges, but equally carries massive financial rewards. To imply that Freddie's doing the club a service by sticking around is absolute crap - the only people benefiting from that are Fat Fred and his cronies. The sooner they accept this, and leave, the better. If that means they enjoy one final pay day from a new investor, then I can live with that - the frustration at seeing his grubby palms lined with more coins offset by the fact that I'll never again have to see his chubby little face or hear his "man of the people" self-opinionated rhetoric.

As for Roeder, I'm happy for him to remain in charge - I genuinely believe he's doing his best, and has the best intentions of the club at heart. Although, I must admit I'm starting to find his repeated references to himself in the third person somewhat disconcerting.

Monday, November 06, 2006

No longer united

Newcastle Utd 0 - 1 Sheffield Utd

As Jonathan perceptively noted, it's my turn to report on yet another dismal performance by Newcastle. Trouble is, that I'm lacking the energy to put in a proper performance, as unlike the players, I'm doing this for love not money and currently there isn't much love there.

Saturday's game was dismal. We created a flood of chances for a tall powerful centre forward. Unfortunately, we played with a diminutive striker who looks like he wants neat balls into feet, not whipped crosses at head height - our big men being either injured or in the 'Match Of The Day' studio having retired.

We were out-battled in midfield, shoddy at the back (their goal saw Craig Moore in a complete mess, after Emre stepped out and gave Nick Montgomery a chance to surge forward a whip in a cross for Danny Webber to head home) and toothless in attack.

The difference between our current team and one of a couple of years ago is that now we don't look like scoring a goal. Our expensively accumulated strike force are clogging up the treatment room, and the shallow nature of our squad is plain for all to see.

However, injuries are not an excuse - the reason we lost was that Sheffield United were the better side.

How we can go from the team who beat Palermo last Thursday to the shower of crap we served up on Saturday is beyond me, but that's what happened. Don't even get me started on the reason we were playing less than 48 hours after the Palermo game; suffice to say that Fat Fred really is a money grabbing tosser.

For those of you holding out much hope that we'll be better on Tuesday against Watford, I wouldn't get excited - I'm doing that report as well.

If we are going to improve, and I sincerely hope that we are - let's be fair, there isn't much lower for us to go - then we need to sort out a few things.

Firstly, Roeder needs to realise that if he is going to change things around, he needs to do it early enough for the player to have a chance of impacting on the game.

Secondly, our midfielders need to realise that sarcastically applauding fans isn't the way to garner their love and affection, but that putting in some hard graft is. Equally important is playing to the strengths of our striker - if that means head high crosses great, if it means threaded through balls then equally great, but make sure you play the right ones to the right strikers.

Thirdly, Fat Fred needs to go, and take his saggy face and pots of cash back to his scrap metal yard. I may not know much about the Belgravia group, but they've got to be better than the present incumbent. Sack the board.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Live updates

In the desperate hope that we will, at some point in the future, have something to celebrate, and with the assistance of the people over at Football Scores Live!, our sidebar now boasts live Newcastle scores as games are in progress.

Although it must be noted that given our current league form, this could become a very depressing addition to the blog very quickly.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Away the lads

Palermo 0 - 1 Newcastle

Four European away games played this season, four wins, four clean sheets. Pleasant reading, isn't it?

Few (myself included) expected us to nick a point let alone all three at the home of the current joint leaders of Serie A, who less than two weeks ago beat AC Milan 2-0 in the San Siro. Fewer will have had such expectations following the announcement of the team selected to take to the pitch. Fewer still will have believed that if we did manage to pull off a result it would be the consequence not so much of sheer good fortune but of discipline and defensive fortitude.

With Saturday's crucial Premiership six-pointer against Sheffield United less than 48 hours away, Glenn Roeder opted to leave out Stephen Carr, Celestine Babayaro, Scott Parker and Damien Duff. Other notable absentees included Owen, Martins, Dyer, Given, Ameobi, Rossi and Srnicek (the latter two both ineligible). Most notably, though, Steven Harper was only fit enough to make the bench, meaning that 18-year-old Dutch 'keeper Tim Krul was pressed into first team action for the first time in his short Newcastle career.

For their part, the pink-shirted Sicilians made a number of changes to their familiar starting line-up, but still fielded four of their usual back five, including Italian international defender Andrea Barzagli.

The frantic opening five minutes gave little indication of how the match would ultimately pan out, with our defence sliced open twice. On the first occasion Steven Taylor, playing at right-back, deflected the ball behind for a corner, and on the second Craig Moore was forced to clear Franco Brienza's shot from near the goal line after it had just about beaten Krul.

But the initial storm was weathered, and we gradually began to feel our way back into the game. Our defending was solid and mature, but what was pleasing was that instead of inviting pressure (as we did at Man Utd) we showed no fear or respect and started attacking with purpose. With Albert Luque ambling around up front as if to prove that he wasn't not the lone striker we needed, it was imperative other members of our five-man midfield got forward to support him.

James Milner it was who took that responsibility most seriously, setting about tormenting Palermo right-back Mattia Cassani. Barzagli it was, though, who was extremely fortunate not to concede a penalty when Milner outfoxed him with a beautiful turn only to see his close-range shot brilliantly saved by Alberto Fontana, replays showing that the defender had a firm grip of Milner's shirt to haul him to the ground.

Any thoughts of injustice were banished on 37 minutes, though, when Milner made his most telling contribution of the game, skinning two defenders and sending in an inch-perfect cross for Luque to nod us into a shock lead.

If I was close to pinching myself then, then the urge only intensified after the break. Milner may have been more tightly constrained, but in the middle of the park Nicky Butt was enjoying his best game in a black and white shirt, while Emre's neat and tidy passing and tigerish tackling were also a joy to watch.

Giovanni Tedesco wasted a good chance for the home side, escaping the attentions of Nobby Solano from a free-kick, but the defence was holding firm - and when Palermo did find a way through, they discovered our debutant between the sticks is a mean shot-stopper. Krul produced one incredible double save and another brilliant block with his leg in a breathtaking five minute spell.

With star men David di Michele and Fabio Simplicio both on the pitch, Palermo's interplay up front became noticably sharper, but not only did they fail to score, but they left themselves exposed at the back. A bit more ruthlessness and incisiveness on the break and we could have had another goal or two.

As it was, one proved enough to put a big grin on my face.

Special mention must go to Andy Carroll - the 17-year-old reserve team striker came on as a very late substitute, and, though his only real contribution was to concede a free-kick, he became our youngest ever player in European competition.

So, what to make of it all? To state the obvious: if we can play like that on Saturday, we can be more than confident it'll be enough to beat Sheffield Utd. The problem is that we're currently a schizophrenic side. Here on Black & White & Read All Over, I've done three of the last six match reports: three good wins against three good sides (Fenerbahce, Portsmouth, Palermo), three clean sheets. Paul, by contrast, has covered two miserable defeats (to Bolton and Middlesbrough) and one equally miserable draw (against Charlton). The difference? All my games have come in the cups, whereas all of Paul's have been Premiership encounters. Let's just hope that this time - at last - some of our midweek cup form spills over into one of our bread-and-butter games...

Other reports: BBC

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A matter of Sven not if?

Given recent results (and, to a lesser extent, performances), it was inevitable that Glenn Roeder would find his job security coming under increasing pressure and scrutiny.

All of which means he can't have been too amused to read the reports linking former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson with his job.

Eriksson's agent Athole Still has dismissed the rumours, commenting: "To say he has targeted the job of another coach is absolutely unacceptable and is malicious". Hmm. Perhaps he's forgotten the idle chat about Aston Villa with the "fake sheik" then...

For his part, Fat Fred has been equally vehement in his rebuttal of the claims: "This is all news to me. I have not spoken to Sven since he left the England job and I have no intention of speaking to him. Neither have I spoken to his agent Athole Still and, as far as I am aware, they have not tried to approach us. In any case if they did, it would not matter because we already have a manager."

Not that Shepherd's vehemence should set Roeder's mind at ease, of course. Fat Fred's nothing if not rarely a man of his word. For him to sack Roeder at this stage of the season, having battled to appoint him in the first place (and threatened to knock John Barnwell of the League Managers Association out in the process), would be remarkable.

Equally remarkable would be the subsequent appointment of Eriksson, for whom Shepherd also had some strong words in the summer.

But, of course, when it comes to Newcastle Utd, stranger things have happened.

As far as I'm concerned, we should persist with Roeder at least for the time being - giving him the opportunity to turn things around as he did last term. If that doesn't work out, though, Eriksson's track record at club level is undeniably impressive (even if his wages would be exorbitant). There would be worse choices for manager - like Graeme Souness, for instance...

You can take the boy out of Newcastle...

In a time of darkness, a rare ray of light.

Michael Chopra may no longer ply his trade for us (or, rather, for our reserves) but he still seems keen to curry favour with fellow Geordies. Following a nightmare showing in front of goal against Derby on Saturday, Chops last night rediscovered the form that has taken him to the top of the Championship scoring table, firing his new side Cardiff to victory over the Mackems.

Of course, Chops is no stranger to scoring vital and dramatic goals at the Stadium of Shite...


... to our Johannesburg-born reserve team midfielder Matty Pattison on receiving his first call-up for South Africa.

Such is the strength of our midfield (even though it's currently underperforming) that it's likely Matty will have to move on to further his international ambitions - though so far he's proved himself an enthusiastic understudy. No doubt he'll be hoping he gets more opportunities in a green shirt than he does in black and white...