Monday, March 26, 2007

Judgement time nearing

By his own recognition, Glenn Roeder will be judged next season. Having so far brought in only three players on full time contracts, Roeder has expressed a public acknowledgement that the approaching summer transfer window will effectively shape his time on Tyneside.

Typically measured and cautious, the press reports I read over the weekend talk about building steadily, about turning down second rate players last summer so that he can ensure he gets the right people this time out. All of which is heartening stuff.

But until we've actually seen the door at St James' Park revolve a few times, with departures as well as arrivals (and more arrivals than departures, please) we're going to be none the wiser.

According to the interview, Roeder is convinced that Michael Owen will be a Newcastle player next season - which is good news, and if we can get him and Martins fit and playing well together we could have a frighteningly quick strike force. (Although having only played about twenty games since he joined us, I can't believe there are that many clubs who pay the wages we do desperate to take Owen off our hands even if we wanted to sell him.)

What we need is defenders capable of defending and maintaining concentration for an entire game (well, actually for lots of games - even Titus occasionally manages the odd one). But then surely Roeder knows this - and knew it last summer when he was unsuccessfully sniffing round Robert Huth, but still no defenders on permanent deals have arrived.

This summer can't come quickly enough for me, with the remaining league fixtures nothing more than a prelude to the summer of transfers which we must see at St James' Park. If we don't, then next season will be a long and painful affair, the blame for which will start to land firmly at the manager's door.

Glenn knows what he needs to do, the question he now must answer is whether he's capable of delivering the goods.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Off the hook

After weeks of feeling he was being tried in the media, Emre finally appeared before an FA Disciplinary Committee meeting today accused of using "racially-aggravated abusive and / or insulting words" during the match against Everton on 30th December - and subsequently walked free, the charge having been judged unproven.

Emre was supported in claiming his innocence not only by Glenn Roeder, Fat Fred, Russell Cushing, Kieron Dyer and Nicky Butt, but also by his national coach Fatih Terim and former Inter teammate Clarence Seedorf.

With a similar claim from Watford's Alhassan Bangura currently "under consideration" but unlikely to result in a charge being issued, Emre is hopefully almost free to get back to what he has done very well for much of the season: playing football.

Nevertheless, it was obvious from the footage from the Everton match that something he said to Joseph Yobo incensed both Tim Howard and Joleon Lescott. In certain quarters, doubt and suspicion has been cast on the verdict. Let's just hope that our fiery Turk has learned of the potential perils of giving vent to his anger and frustration - even if what came out at Goodison Park was, in Roeder's words, "unpleasant rather than racist". Let your feet do the talking, eh?

New face

Welcome to the B&W&RAO sidebar: Albion Road, "a soccer club encyclopedia" which is all the more astonishing for being the work of just one person, Jeremy Reuter.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Although a headline which could currently be attached to Newcastle's recent defending, this is actually a post to draw your attention to Shaggy Blog Stories - a collaborative effort featuring a whole host of excellent British bloggers (and me) who have been galvanised in to knocking together a book of humorous posts, in the space of seven days, by Mike.

All the profits go to Comic Relief, and you can buy the book here.

Given the way our recent performances have gone, it's may be the only thing that will raise a smile between now and the end of the season.

New defenders, same result

Charlton Athletic 2 - 0 Newcastle Utd

The hangover of Thursday's dismal capitulation in Holland continued yesterday, as Newcastle once again failed to overcome a more spirited side. Glenn Roeder opted to replace three of Thursday's back four, but despite the reshuffle the result was the same, with Given once again forced to retrieve the ball from his net twice.

With Huntingdon, Bramble and Taylor all paying the price for Thursday's non-performance, we started the game with a back four featuring Oneywu and Moore in the centre, with Duff and Solano at full-back. With Emre restored to midfield, in place of the suspended Butt, the team looked likely to be a strong attacking force, only to misfire badly in front of goal.

Despite appalling weather, we started well, with the midfield working well, but were unable to really carve out any decent openings up front. However, we also stifled Charlton, who looked clueless as to the best means of providing Darren Bent with any opportunities. However we failed to build on a decent start, and by the end of the half had allowed the home team to settle.

The first goal was always going to prove crucial, and when Martins managed to get through on goal his glaring miss proved to be the turning point. Charlton promptly trundled their way up the pitch, won a free kick and after Darren Bent had hit the bar, Zheng Zhi was on hand to nod the ball into the empty net. After that we huffed and puffed, but there was only ever going to be one winner, with confidence now flowing through the Addicks they forced Given to produce two quality saves before Solano fouled Zheng in the box in the final minutes. Jerome Thomas duly dispatched the penalty, to condemn us to our eleventh defeat on the road this season.

Charlton may now be looking upwards, but for us the end of the season can't now come soon enough. We'll pick up enough points to finish in mid-table, but the top half is the best we can hope for, and even that seems a long way off if this is all we are going to offer between now and May.

A Charlton fan's perspective: Addicks Premiership Diary, All Quiet In The East Stand

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The future's not bright, the future's orange

AZ Alkmaar 2 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Well, wouldn't you just know it? After last Thursday's 4-2 defeat on Tyneside, AZ Alkmaar went into tonight's game knowing they needed a 2-0 win to progress - and that's exactly what they got.

Were we a vaguely professional outfit, we would have gone to Holland and kept it tight, disciplined and robust with the aim of eking out a scoreless draw or perhaps even nicking a winning goal on the break. But we're not. Neither did our much-trumpeted pre-match ethos of attack being the best form of defence against Alkmaar bear fruit - primarily because for the most part we were shockingly bad in forward areas and also comprehensively lost the battle for midfield, despite the considerable endeavours of Captain Scott.

The home side had already gone close once, Shay Given forced to save well from Julian Jenner, before they took the lead in the 14th minute. Apparently, our opponents were so relaxed prior to the match that they were playing pool and darts up to an hour before kick-off. One can only presume that Paul Huntington - the only change to the team which took to the pitch for the first leg - had spent the afternoon and early evening sampling the local produce in a Dutch "cafe". Not content with granting striker Danny Koevermans acres of space on our left, his attempt to block the subsequent cross was pathetic - though he wasn't the only culpable defender, both Titus Bramble and Steven Taylor guilty of bad errors of judgement. Shota Arveladze pounced from close range and it was 1-0. I'd say he couldn't believe his luck, but given that he will have studied our defence in pre-match videos, he probably can't believe he didn't get a few more chances like that.

Parker came close to an immediate response, curling a lofted shot just over the bar from the edge of the area. Then we got our first slice of luck of the night, when Taylor, clearly suffering from an itchy left elbow, decided to scratch it vigorously on Koevermans' skull. Referee Bertrand Layec's lack of action can only suggest he missed it.

For the remainder of the half, Alkmaar dominated comfortably, and Huntington nearly compounded a miserable first half for both himself and his side when he clumsily felled tormentor-in-chief Jenner right on the edge of the area. Alkmaar must have been as mystified as Glenn Roeder was as to the precise whereabouts of the team which had torn them apart for half an hour last week - but rather less unhappy about it.

The crucial period came in the first fifteen minutes of the second half. Nobby Solano, whose distribution was uncharacteristically terrible all night, for once found his man with a delicate chipped free-kick and the onrushing Kieron Dyer beat both the offside trap and 'keeper Boy Waterman but pulled the ball right across the face of goal and behind when Obafemi Martins was unmarked square. Shortly afterwards, Alkmaar doubled their advantage to take the lead in the tie for the first time. Judging by his marking of Koevermans from the decisive corner, Bramble can't have gone rockpooling as a child, as he seems to believe that "to stick limpet-like" to someone is to give them a couple of acres in which to frolic and gambol. The Dutch striker duly planted his near-post header past Given.

Thenceforth we had to press forward, and, with Emre on for the anonymous Damien Duff, that's what we did. Parker, played in by Solano, had a close-range shot well held, but we left ourselves vulnerable at the back, Huntington heading Moussa Dembele's shot off the line. Having failed in a second attempt to get a red card by hauling Koevermans back, Taylor repeated the trick, blocking the striker's shot after he had rounded Given. The Irishman was also called upon late on to divert Arveladze's shot onto the crossbar and away to safety when the Alkmaar captain seemed certain to wrap up the tie.

At the other end, Martins - disappointing after he had terrified the Dutch defence last week - squandered his only real opportunity, taking too long and firing straight at Waterman. We were desperately unlucky when Parker's late, late goal was disallowed for a non-existent foul by Dyer, but the truth is that otherwise we had the benefit of nearly all of the referee's decisions and we didn't deserve to progress anyway.

Tempers flared shortly before the final whistle, Nicky Butt belatedly showing his combative side and fortuitous not to be dismissed for a kick on Ryan Donk. But it was all just handbags - unlike Valencia and Inter, or Chelsea and Arsenal, we can't even do fights properly. It was our going out without a fight that hurts the most.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian (Michael Walker seems to have been too busy rubbing his hands to have remembered our disallowed goal...)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It must be glove

Well, what else could have persuaded Shay Given to commit himself to Newcastle for so long? He could have earned a fortune elsewhere whilst being called upon on far fewer occasions, but it's to his credit and our immeasurable benefit that he's stayed on Tyneside for as long as he has.

As .com have pointed out, if our Irish custodian plays in Holland tomorrow and at The Valley on Sunday as is expected, he'll notch his 408th and 409th appearances for the first team, taking him above Bobby Mitchell in our all-time record appearance list. Quite a feat.

In his comments before the AZ Alkmaar rematch, Given hinted that he'll be on Tyneside for the rest of his career - and beyond: "I am only a few months away from being at Newcastle for 10 years and that feels great. I've played over 400 games for the club and I don't think I'll ever move away, even when I've stopped playing. There have been rumours linking me with some of the Premiership's biggest clubs but I just ignore that." Good on you, Shay - in your position, behind a defence that routinely affords you as much protection as a bullet-proof vest would in a nuclear explosion, most of us would have seized the opportunity for an easier life long ago.

And yet, despite his 407 appearances, Given isn't the longest-serving player at the club. In fact, he's not even the longest-serving goalkeeper at the club. So, take a bow Steve Harper, who has been with us since 1993 and who today celebrates his 32nd birthday.

Despite being on our books for four years longer than Given, Harper has made just 85 appearances. If it was any other player, you might be tempted to accuse him of a lack of ambition or, worse, greed and idleness - but not Harper. He's played the part of the patient understudy to perfection, stepping into the breach to perform heroics as and when required, putting the club he loves before all else (including the possibility of a career in professional cricket).

So congratulations Steve - and thanks.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

G spot

You may find the grass is currently greener over at Cheer Up Alan Shearer, where the latest installment of the A-Z Of Football finds me reflecting on "hallowed turf", while Paul recounts the experience that led him to vow never to bet on the outcome of a Newcastle match ever again. Lots of other good stuff, too, about everything from greatness to Gretna and the dearth of sensibly named Premiership players.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Goals to Newcastle

Newcastle Utd 4 - 2 AZ Alkmaar

After Saturday's snoozeathon against the Smogs, tonight we produced a first half performance of astonishing flair and verve, tearing AZ Alkmaar to shreds - and yet Louis van Gaal's side go into next week's second leg knowing that they're in a better position than they would be if we'd only scored twice without reply.

With Antoine Sibierski restored to the attack, Damien Duff back on the left and Kieron Dyer pushed out to the right, wide men James Milner and Charles N'Zogbia were the players unfortunate to miss out, while in our one enforced change the ineligible Oguchi Onyewu sat the game out, Stephen Carr returning from injury to line up at left back.

I was a bit surprised that Roeder opted to keep the fit-again Emre on the bench and start with Nicky Butt, given the need to establish a decent first leg advantage, but his decision was soon vindicated. The erstwhile target of the boo boys put in a solid shift alongside Captain Scott, the often brittle central defensive partnership of Titus Bramble and Steven Taylor performed admirably, and Nobby Solano was a dynamic presence at right back.

The headlines and plaudits will probably go to our forwards, though, for whom they provided a solid platform. Alkmaar soon demonstrated their talent for quick passing, but Duff had already slid a dangerous low ball across the six yard box when his smart backheel deceived two defenders and let in Dyer to cross for Icelandic international Gretar Steinsson to knock it into his own net under pressure from Obafemi Martins.

We continued to look threatening and went further ahead on 22 minutes with a goal that was as beautifully finished as it was crafted. Alkmaar surrendered possession in a dangerous area and Butt played the ball into Sibierski who with the deftest of flicks sent Dyer in to clip neatly over 'keeper Boy Waterman.

We'd barely caught our breath when Martins picked up a curled pass from centre midfield, burst past two defenders and fired low into the bottom corner with his right foot.

23 minutes gone, and we were pinching ourselves. Not to worry, though - reality soon rudely intruded on our blissful reverie. Shay Given was called into urgent action to repel a long-range shot from the skilful Maarten Martens, and then to pick the ball out of the net, Alkmaar captain Shota Arveladze bulleting a header in off the crossbar from Julian Jenner's right-wing cross.

But back we came. Sibierski nearly gained a reward for his efforts, before Solano spotted Martins pulling off his man to create space and the Nigerian squeezed the ball home between outstretched hand and post with unerring accuracy.

It was as exhilarating a half of football as we've produced all season, but there were still enough signs - fluent passing and half-chances - that Alkmaar carried a significant threat.

Inevitably, the second period was something of an anti-climax. Van Gaal sent his men out early with a flea in their collective ear, and it needed a superb tackle from Bramble (even better than a similar first half intervention from Butt) to prevent Dutch hotshot Danny Koevermans from reducing the deficit.

But reduce the deficit they did. Taylor was (rather harshly) adjudged to have handled substitute Moussa Dembele's cross and, although Given kept out the Belgian teenager's dreadful penalty, he and Bramble were unable to stop Koevermans from following up from close range.

In the time that remained, Martins should have claimed his hattrick, his persistence winning him a clear run through on goal only for Waterman to save rather fortuitously with a combination of his legs and his arse. Parker too could have done better with a near-post header he flicked over the bar.

4-2 it finished - to the satisfaction of Roeder, who stressed that in the second period they need to attack us and we can exploit the space they leave behind. Hmm, I'm never that confident when we invite teams to attack us - not unreasonably, either...

On tonight's performance, though, it is van Gaal who will be regretting his pre-match comments: "There will be plenty of goals across the two matches, and we are superior in that aspect. But the key to the game will be in defence, and I have more confidence in AZ there too"...

Other reports: BBC, , Guardian (Michael Walker dwelling on the negatives, for a change...)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Month Of Saturdays

We've decided it's about time we had some kind of regular editorial on Black & White & Read All Over. So, welcome to the first edition of A Month Of Saturdays, in which we take a topical glance back at the previous month's events. Some months the column will be written by me (in which case it will also be appearing on Tyne Talk courtesy of Nick), and other months it'll be written by Paul.

So, without further ado, here's the first installment, which focuses on a certain Peruvian trumpet-player...

A Month Of Saturdays: February 2007

Every cloud, as they say, has a silver lining. Having enjoyed a period under Kevin Keegan which was definitely more silver lining than cloud, in the late nineties we suffered under particularly dark skies thanks to the endeavours of Kenny Dalglish and then Ruud Gullit. Hopelessly losing our way in the league was bad enough, but to make two consecutive FA Cup finals and then not bother turning up for either was even more painful.

During those dark days countless players arrived at St James’ Park, with Keegan’s team of oh-so-nearly men gradually dismantled. The new faces were in the main either too old or simply not good enough to wear the shirt. But amidst the Marcelinos, the Garry Bradys and the Ian Rushes, there were a few genuinely excellent signings. Gullit, for all his failings, was the man who brought Kieron Dyer to the club, and though the former Ipswich man has endured a constant struggle both with his fitness and with his own worst tendencies, he remains a match-winner on his day. Dalglish, for his part, was responsible for the capture of three players absolutely key in the subsequent revival of our fortunes after he and Gullit had departed: Gary Speed, Shay Given and Nolberto Solano.

February, and the low-key UEFA Cup second leg at St James’ against Belgians Zulte-Waregem, saw Solano notch up his 300th appearance for the club. Given the fact that overseas players don’t have exactly have a tendency to stay around on Tyneside for long before clearing off, their back pockets stuffed with tenners, this is a remarkable achievement; he’s the first foreigner to reach this milestone in a black and white shirt.

Nobby is in many ways the consummate professional. Occasionally peripheral to the action, admittedly, but never guilty of giving less than his all (Albert Luque, are you paying attention at the back?), at his best he’s a superb creative force on the right flank, our best crosser of the ball and also the scorer of some very useful goals (48 to date). Perhaps most admirable of late is the way that he’s uncomplainingly accepted the manager’s decision to push him back to right back in the absence of Stephen Carr, his more customary berth on the wing handed to James Milner. Contrast that with the childish tantrums the likes of Dyer, Luque and Craig Bellamy have thrown when asked to make similar personal sacrifices for the sake of the team. What’s more, he’s been a revelation back there, as disciplined off the ball as he’s been dangerous on it – though it’s about time commentators and pundits alike were acquainted with the fact that he was a wing-back when Dalglish signed him in 1998...

But it’s not just his on-pitch efforts that have endeared him to the fans. An amateur trumpet enthusiast, Nobby is famed for leaving cheeky musical messages on his team-mates’ answerphones – probably about as welcome to the rap and MOR rock fans of our dressing room as a kick in the swingers from Robbie Savage…

If bringing Solano to Tyneside was one of Dalglish’s best decisions during his time as manager, then letting him go – and for just £1.5m – was undoubtedly Sir Bobby Robson’s worst. Robson decided to get tough when former Peruvian captain Solano reneged on a vow to commit himself 100% to Newcastle by retiring from international competition, and Villa were the lucky beneficiaries. He only spent one full season in Birmingham, though, during which time he was their top scorer, before Graeme Souness made one of his own few sound moves and brought Solano back to the club he’d never wanted to leave in the first place. The idea was that he’d help provide the ammunition for Michael Owen, signed the previous day – it hasn’t quite worked out like that, but it’s been great to have Peru’s greatest export since Paddington Bear back in the side all the same.

All that said, if Solano’s 300th Toon appearance came in a distinctly unmemorable match, then his 301st will be one he’ll be desperate to forget. His missed penalty at Wigan on Saturday was the turning point in the game, our early promise dissipating as our hosts took heart and went on to inflict a third successive 1-0 defeat at the JJB on us.

February was a funny month results-wise. The Wigan match was the second of two desperately disappointing away losses to opposition we should be capable of beating in our sleep (Fulham being the other). We also recorded routine wins home and away in Europe against Waregem, landing ourselves a much tougher tie with Dutch dark horses AZ Alkmaar – but most eyecatching was the 2-1 win over Liverpool. We may have been fortuitous, our old boy Bellamy mercifully spurning numerous other chances to double his goal tally on the day, but in the second half we dug in and emerged with an extremely hard-won three points – no mean feat, given that in their very next game the Scousers managed to score a notable triumph over Barcelona in the Nou Camp. And all that after their two scorers had been involved in a comical drunken training camp contretemps, Master Bellamy blotting his already ink-sodden copybook once again by introducing his golf club to John Arne Riise’s shins.

If that’s the sort of response we could expect, perhaps someone should set about Luque with a sand wedge? The chances of our lethargic Spaniard making it to Solano’s 300 appearance milestone are, I suspect, rather slim.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Derby dud

Newcastle Utd 0 - 0 Smoggies

A drab affair and a disappointing result, but - at last - a clean sheet, our first in the Premiership since November.

In truth, though, it wasn't much of an achievement against a Smoggie side who showed zero attacking ambition, content to neutralise what little threat we posed ourselves to claim a point.

However, rather than risk sounding like Arsene "Sour Grapes" Wenger and bemoan the opposition's stultifyingly negative tactics (how dare teams not open up obligingly to be ripped apart?), I'd prefer to point to our own shortcomings. Obafemi Martins had an off day, while our creative trio of Kieron Dyer, James Milner and Charles N'Zogbia - the former two restored to the side after being rested last weekend, and the latter back from injury in place of Damien Duff - failed to spark much of note. It didn't help, of course, that Jonathan Woodgate is in imperious form and was intent on reminding us of what we missed out on in the summer.

Chances were at a premium. Only Fatty Viduka forced Shay Given to dirty his gloves, firing in a shot on the turn, while at the other end Mark Schwarzer saved well from Martins and Milner.

In the second period the latter came closest to giving us the lead our superior possession and pressure just about merited, striking the crossbar with a free kick, before Scott Parker hit a shot narrowly wide of the far post when played in by Dyer. Glenn Roeder threw on the man who sang his praises in yesterday's Independent, but to no avail. Parker had one last opportunity, his header parried by Schwarzer, and that was that.

Suffice to say we'll have to show a good deal more creativity and determination if we're to beat Louis Van Gaal's AZ Alkmaar at St James' on Thursday and take a lead over to Holland for the second leg.

Other reports: BBC, Independent, Guardian

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Giving a little something back

We're currently seventh in the table. Yes, you read that right - seventh.

Unfortunately, we're not talking the Premiership table here. No, we're talking about the league table of fans' support for the May Day For Nurses campaign, set up to press for a fair pay deal for nurses.

The campaign was founded by Dr Noreena Hertz, who is not only encouraging fans to pledge their support (which you can do by clicking on the link above) but is also calling upon all every Premiership player to donate a day's wages towards creating a hardship fund to support nurses in the early stages of their career.

It's heartening to see that Glenn Roeder is among the managers to have lent support to the campaign - but currently only eight players have signed up, none of them from Newcastle.

So c'mon lads, dip in your pockets for a good cause - after all, you lot seem to require the professional attentions of nurses far more often than most squads. Messrs Owen and Dyer in particular should get their names down quicksmart...

Swings and roundabouts

A funny sort of day for Emre.

On the one hand, it looks likely he'll soon be facing a second charge of racism following the submission of a new claim from Watford's Al Bangura - over two months since we last played the Hornets.

On the other, loveable Bolton striker El-Hadji Diouf has opted not to make a formal complaint, while Glenn Roeder has said he's been impressed by the recovery our Turkish international has been making, suggesting that he could be fit enough to feature in next Thursday's UEFA Cup tie with AZ Alkmaar.

Meanwhile, the club is evidently irritated at the way the issue has been reported: "The conduct of certain sections of the press in ignoring [the] basic principle of fairness is deeply regrettable. It is the club's opinion that the content in these articles is highly prejudicial and seriously reduces the chances of the player receiving a fair hearing. Both the club and player have genuine worries that a trial through the media is effectively being conducted long before the actual hearing will take place".

Fair enough. I'll shut up on the matter for now - but not before reiterating that, should he be found guilty, we shouldn't try to shirk our responsibilities and must take appropriate action.