Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Back in for Barton?

Today's Mirror claims that Fat Sam is working on a deal to bring Joey Barton to St James' Park, but also suggests Captain Scott could well be on his way out, with a move to West Ham in the offing.

At £5.5m, the price stipulated in his contract, Barton would I think present very good value for money - in footballing terms, at least. Even though our midfield is still potentially very strong, we would benefit from the extra goals and drive from the middle of the park that Barton would bring to the side.

But, having shipped out some of the biggest troublemakers of a couple of years ago, most notably Craig Bellamy and Lee Bowyer, it's debatable whether we should really make a move for a player whose antics are more suited to Bobby's Borstal Boys. Do we want someone who will attack team-mates on the training pitch and at club functions, who will bare his arse to opposition fans and who, in voicing his opinions, clearly regards himself as bigger than the club he plays for?

It would be a shame if Parker were to be sold to finance the deal, but it's a distinct possibility, West Ham's interest our skipper plausible given the presence of Alan Curbishley as manager and the news that Nigel Reo-Coker will be moving on. Last term Parker never quite hit the heights of his first season on Tyneside, and if we can get a direct replacement in the form of Barton for significantly less than West Ham offer, then it will be looked at in many quarters as a good deal for the club.

All that said, of course, transfer activity at Eastlands could be suspended until a new owner and manager are in place - and the Mirror piece is completely quote-free and so should come with the important caveat that it could all be nonsense...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

View From The Away End

With the close season now a fortnight old, it's high time we stopped blathering on ourselves and ran a View From The Away End feature - so we asked some of the regular VFTAE contributors for their objective perspectives on our season, on Roeder's departure and Allardyce's arrival, and on our likely activities over the summer.

El Tel (How-You-Say-It)

Newcastle United are a gorgeous and peculiar phenomenon. So often, they prove themselves to be so very newsworthy - players’ and executives’ indiscipline, the managerial not-so-merry-go-round and injuries upon injuries, but perhaps we’re on the brink of something bigger and brighter.

The 06/07 season never got going for Newcastle – and what felt like the reluctant recruitment of Glenn Roeder as manager ("Well he has done well as caretaker, so I guess he should be given the chance...") was maybe not the most confident of starts to this latest installment of the Geordie soap opera. Here, I have to acknowledge that I was disappointed and surprised that Roeder didn't deliver more. Looking ahead though - cos that's what we're meant to do, if we are to regard Sam Allardyce’s reign at Bolton as a marker of what might lie ahead for Newcastle, then there are at least as many reasons to be cheerful as there are to be gloomy.

Working with a fantastically unfashionable and uncultured football club, Allardyce sustained levels of team performance that often exceeded expectations - he led them to a domestic cup final and twice into Europe through league performance – all good. He also proved himself to be a shrewd practitioner in the transfer market – who could have predicted Lancashire landings for Djorkaeff, Campo, Okocha and Anelka. Based on available resources, Allardyce and Bolton produced – as did 'Panorama' – but I guess it would be uncouth to go there.

Put another way – Newcastle now have a manager who may well have had an office at Lancaster Gate, were it not for a low-brow accent, indiscrete agents and some probing reporters (I’m in no doubt that the FA had sniffed out potential trouble before Mr McLaren plodded into the England #1 job).

So, what now for Newcastle? A leader who will not only lead, but who will be seen and heard to lead (note the sharp exit of messrs Bramble, Moore, etc). His greatest challenges: keeping Mr Shepherd quiet, and keeping the lovers of "good football" satisfied – regardless of the results. Here, it is worth keeping in mind the most recent years of under-achievement.

What Newcastle United plc now have is the man in charge who they want and have wanted to be in charge.

Newcastle’s biggest summer signing will be a defender/midfielder – a leader who Allardyce will see as cut from the same mould as himself.

This time, there can be no excuses – and there won’t need to be.

Pete (Round And White)

So Newcastle fans... From an outsider's point of view 2006-2007 seemed like the usual story: a season that never really promised much after the first few weeks had passed. A manager whose ability was frequently questioned, eventually becoming a victim of Mr Shepherd, while Titus Bramble continued to patrol (if I may use the term loosely) the back four. Nevertheless, there were signs of hope throughout the season. Obefami Martins' form (while it lasted) showed that the team might have acquired a half-decent forward to partner Mickey Owen (more on him later), and Emre and a few others occasionally put in a good performance. And to cap it all, Big Sam turned up at the very end.

Could it be that Newcastle have signed a manager who can turn them round (no, really, I mean it) and make them a top seven club? Well, his first step was to sensibly not renew Bramble's contract, something Roeder et al failed to do and thereby presumably endearing himself to the Toon faithful (if not to opposition forwards).

So what's next? As so many have pointed out, the key thing is for a new back four to be in place by the beginning of the season and I've little doubt that this will happen. With the emphasis elsewhere, the midfield won't see many major purchases. It remains to be seen if one of the Big Four (I hate that term by the way) will cough up the suggested £9m for Owen. I can't really see that happening though. He may still be a class act, but remains too liable to injury for them to take the risk. So come August he'll be there, along with Martins and AN Other to fight it out upfront. I'd like to throw Viduka's name into the ring at this point...

The danger in my opinion is that Newcastle will become another "Bolton", for the most part playing effective, yet unattractive football. As a neutral, I still have a sneaking suspicion that the fans at St James' Park would still prefer the defensively naïve, but superb attacking football of Kevin Keegan's time there (am I right Ben?). Nevertheless, Sam's time at Bolton made them a "proper" team, who put in the graft, are a pain in the arse to play against and have deserved their league places in the last few seasons.

In short, this is just the sort of man that Newcastle have been crying out. He'll sort out the wheat from the chaff, bring in new players to provide the team with a backbone and make sure whoever is left is focused. I doubt it'll be pretty to start off with, but frankly, who cares. Bar the defence, Newcastle have some good players and should be in the top half of the table. Perhaps it's too early for predictions, but Newcastle, for the first time in years, you have a real chance of bettering yourselves.

Danny (Bitter And Blue)

Much like at City, the off-season now provides an opportunity to banish another season of disappointment, underachievement and false hope.

Probably more advanced than we are – in that you actually have a manager in place and new ownership set, there is hope that you could be heading in the right direction.

A nasty ownership battle will hopefully be avoided, but Fat Fred is seemingly ready to rise Lazarus-like off his sick bed to fend off all-comers but his position now appears to be untenable and I don’t see him lasting the summer.

Sam Allardyce for me is a good choice. He doesn’t seem to be too popular a choice with too many fans, but finally he will add some stability to the club long-term after having relatively short-term appointments in recent years. The issue of his sides being negative and dull is also over-blown a little, and his approach has always been to get the best out of an average Bolton side.

Player-wise, there is undoubted talent at Newcastle but this has been hampered by too many average players, and more crucially too much underachievement.

It will be interesting to see the pulling power of Allardyce now he will potentially have a big pot of cash to spend as opposed to scraping around for Bosmans and revitalising careers.

Michael Owen will continue to be the big headline over the summer as the concern over his commitment will always be under the spotlight. My own view is the club should probably cash in on him if the £9m fee is met as I don’t believe his heart has (or will ever) be at the club.

Prospects for next season? Early days I know but I would fully expect a comfortable top ten finish, and if Allardyce manages to strengthen in the right areas then a challenge to the UEFA places is a real possibility.

Special mention must go to Antoine Sibierski who was cast aside by Stuart Pearce but found favour and a supportive manager in Glenn Roeder to emerge as surely the best business in terms of performance against cost of any players last season.

* * * * *

Thanks to Tel, Pete and Danny for their thoughts, which make for very interesting reading - perhaps I should be re-evaluating my dismay at Allardyce's appointment then? Someone else who thinks Fat Sam could be the man to turn things around is former Toon striker Andy Hunt - thanks to Andy for pointing us in the direction of his thoughts on the appointment, which can be found here. We shall see...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Shock to the system

Judging by the comments attributed to him from his sick bed, Fat Fred is most displeased at having been caught unawares by Mike Ashley's buy-out of Sir John Hall - and, given his friendship with Hall's son Dastardly Douglas, it's hardly surprising that he should be cheesed off.

He's quoted as having responded: "There is nothing Mike Ashley can do with this club unless he gets 75 per cent of the stake. He can’t take full control, he can’t change resolutions or the club’s articles of association. He has spent more than £50million, but he will have to spend a whole lot more as he must now make an offer not just for my shares, but the shares held by all the other shareholders". Clearly he's piqued by the very real prospect of control of the club soon being wrested from his pudgy fingers. It's fighting talk from a man who knows he has indeed got a fight on his hands - and I think that, despite Ashley being a non-Geordie and an unknown quantity, most of us would welcome regime change.

It turns out Fat Fred wasn't the only person taken by surprise by the development. A bewildered Fat Sam responded: "I'm as shocked about this as chairman Freddy Shepherd. I didn't know this was going to happen. I will be talking to the chairman to see what it all means and we'll go from here. I don't know anything about the person hoping to take over. But he must want good things for Newcastle if he's spending such an amount on the club". Welcome to the Toon, Sam - you'll have to get used to not knowing what's going to happen from one day to the next.

One thing is certain, though, is that Michael Owen will be continuing his rehabilitation by captaining the England B side against Albania at Turf Moor tomorrow night. Fingers will be crossed - we remember all too well what happened the last time he took to a pitch in an England jersey. Fat Sam's apparently urged him to stay on for next season - for the time being, his future still hangs in the balance.

Still, there's more chance of him lining up on the first day of the new campaign than there is of Damien Duff putting in an appearance. According to Steve Staunton, our underperforming Irish winger will be out for five to six months recovering from an operation he needed after sustaining an injury against Portsmouth. That said, there's been no official word from the club on that front, and it wouldn't be the first time Staunton has proved himself to be clueless...


A warm welcome to the latest additions to the Black & White & Read All Over blogroll:

Footballocks, a general site covering the European leagues
When The Seagulls Follow The Trawler, the site of a New York based Man Utd fan

Special mention too for Newcastle-Online, a Toon site under new stewardship and undergoing something of a rehabilitation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Changing hands?

According to reports, Buckinghamshire billionaire Mike Ashley has today bought out Sir John Hall's share of the club, with a view to seeking to obtain overall control of the club.

Ashley is apparently the 25th richest man in the country, and has a range of sports related businesses.

Obviously it remains to be seen what Fat Fred thinks of all this (expect his comments to appear on YouTube sometime soon), but it looks as though we might all finally get our wish and see the fat idiot depart.

The next few days could prove to be very interesting indeed.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sib to depart, Sid never to arrive

A few days after Steven Taylor told the club he didn't want to be "messed about" over a new contract comes the news that another player has been busy making his demands known, albeit through his agent. Out-of-contract midfielder-cum-striker Antoine Sibierski has rejected the club's offer of a one year deal and is holding out for two years.

Having been met with a distinctly underwhelmed response by most fans, myself included, Sibierski was undoubtedly one of our best players last season, proving himself to be possibly the best free transfer signing of the summer and scoring some vital goals in the process. However, with Glenn Roeder - the man he credited with resurrecting his career and showing some faith in his abilities - having left St James', it looks unlikely that he'll be with us come the start of the new campaign. That said, Big Sam does have a reputation for getting the very best out of apparently over-the-hill players - just look at Gary Speed...

At the same time that the Frenchman's Toon future looks less and less certain, another player's isn't even going to get underway, it having been confirmed that Reading's star midfielder Steven Sidwell has plumped for a place on the bench at Stamford Bridge next season (bitter, moi?). Not so long ago it looked like it was a done deal in our favour, but now we can only speculate as to whether Roeder's departure really did cause him to reconsider.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Fat Fred effect

It seems as though Fat Fred's dubious public negotiation tactics over Michael Owen have come back to bite him in the arse, with Steven Taylor issuing what amounts to his own ultimatum to the club over his new contract.

Taylor's declaration that "I don't want to be messed about" implies that he's already feeling "messed about", but as with Fat Fred's Owen outburst it doesn't strike me as the smartest course of action, far more liable to anger the chairman and board by backing them into a corner than to result in an entirely amicable arrangement. Why can't the strong words be kept behind closed doors?

Of course, it's very unlikely that talks will be allowed to break down. The local lad was our one solid performer in defence last season, also finally finding his scoring touch and chipping in with vital goals against Celta Vigo, Blackburn, Birmingham and Sheffield Utd. Letting him go would leave an even bigger hole in our defence than there already is, and with Moore, Bramble, Bernard and Onyewu already having packed their bags, we've got quite enough work to do to bring in replacements in that area.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bye five

It has been confirmed that messers Srnicek, Moore, Bramble, Bernard and Onyewu have now left the club.

Obviously, Pav leaves with our best wishes, and I also appreciated Moore's somewhat cynical and uncompromising approach to defending.

However, the others can sod off, particularly Titus who always had the potential to be a world beater, but clearly has the concentration span of a goldfish, and as a result let us down far too many times.

Onyewu never looked better than those already at the club, and Bernard's departure was a blow the first time round but this time, like his post-deadline arrival, his departure is equally low key on account of him not getting anywhere near the first team all season.

One day in to the new regime, and the first batch of departures. Admittedly all players whose contracts were due to expire this summer, but I suspect they won't be the last to be heading out of St James' Park in the coming months.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cometh the hour, cometh the Sam

As expected, Newcastle Utd have today unveiled Sam Allardyce as our new manager on a three year contract.

You can read quotes from the press conference on the BBC and Guardian websites. Unsurprisingly, recognition that we're a club who have underachieved are fairly prominent. Equally, the need for us all to pull together to achieve success comes through. Michael Owen also gets a mention, with Allardyce expressing a desire to sit down and discuss Owen's future - presumably he'll be doing the same with all of the players, although he might get a better response if he just sends N'Zogbia a text.

Whilst not always a manager I've warmed to, nor one whose teams I've enjoyed watching play, I've got to acknowledge that at least Allardyce seems to have adopted the Clive Woodward approach to staff appointment, whereby if there's a job that needs doing to improve the team by 1% then he appoints someone to do that. Which, I think, shows a progressive attitude, which hints at something more to come from the team - at least we shouldn't be allowed to slide backwards.

I'm still not over the apathy which has (dis)affected me for much of the last season, but with the appointment of a new broom - and a new broom who I strongly suspect won't take much shit from the players - we might at least get a team who want to be on the pitch playing for the club.

The difference that I see between Allardyce and Souness (the last manager I thought who wouldn't take any crap) is that Souness appeared stuck in the 1970's - at least Allardyce looks to have embraced the 21st century.

It may not always be pretty, but hopefully it'll be committed - something which we've sadly lacked this season. Perhaps at long last, the revolution starts here?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Last throw of the Allardyce

So, the club have called a press conference for 1pm tomorrow at which there seems little doubt Sam Allardyce will be unveiled as our new manager, his "break from football" lasting less than a month. Our haste to tie him down has no doubt been partly determined by the news of old boy Stuart Pearce's sacking by Man City.

For Freddie Shepherd it's surely last chance saloon, especially after his recent quip about Michael Owen to a couple of Scousers, just the latest in a long, long line of offences to have invited ridicule and scorn upon the club. If the appointment comes off, then he'll have saved his bacon. But if it doesn't, the calls for the fat bastard to fuck off will surely penetrate even that thick skull.

Talking on the BBC's 'Inside Sport', Alan Shearer has been diplomatic rather than enthusiastic about the probable appointment: "Sam is an expert at getting the best out of players. I hope dearly he goes up there and wins a trophy. It is such a huge club and they are starved of success".

Our former captain is evidently under no illusions about the scale of the job the new man will face, having commented: "There are a lot of personalities there that need sorting out. I think a lot of players have gone stale". Interestingly, similar noises have been coming from within the squad itself; Nicky Butt - whose own commitment to the cause was in question not so very long ago - has declared "it's important to say" that there are currently "a few players that don't want to play for the club".

Two whose futures may well be in doubt are Obafemi Martins, whose whereabouts still appear to be unknown following his decision to declare himself unfit for yesterday's match, and Charles N'Zogbia, who allegedly threw a strop having originally been named on the bench - a far cry from last season, when he finished a man in form and one of our brightest prospects.

Meanwhile, the speculation about Michael Owen's future is inevitably ongoing. In the 'Inside Sport' interview Shearer responded to the question of whether he'll still be at St James' next season with a firm "Yes" - but then Shearer's sense of Owen's loyalty to the club may be warped somewhat by his own, and Fat Fred's idiotic comments to all and sundry over the past week can't have helped matters at all.

One player who looks likely never to make it to Tyneside at all is Steve Sidwell, the departure of Glenn Roeder having apparently fatally derailed what had been billed as a done deal. Sidwell, released by Reading, has now agreed to join an unnamed club, with Chelsea his likely destination. Of course, whether we would have had any chance of signing him even if Roeder had stayed in charge once Chelsea declared their hand is not exactly a moot point.

Suffice to say that we are currently in an even greater state of tumult than normal - and that, despite our miserable season having mercifully come to an end (see below), Black & White & Read All Over is likely to remain a busy place over the coming days and weeks.

The final curtain

Watford 1 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Thank fuck for that.

At last, our painfully disspiriting and disillusioning season is over. It is no more. The final curtains closed on it after yesterday's draw with Watford, and we gladly waved it off into the flames. With no early start in the Intertoto required, it means a blessed three match-free months - months during which the club has somehow to be brought back from the dead, resuscitated and revived.

There is an enormous amount of work to be done - not least because being cremated alive would be too good a fate for some of those who've turned out in black and white this season.

The only reason we avoided defeat in our final match, against already-relegated opposition, was down to Watford midfielder Lee Williamson's rush-of-blood-to-the-head finishing. True, he nearly grabbed a winner with a long-range volley that the returning Shay Given couldn't have reached, but he also blazed a more presentable chance over when team-mates were better placed to score.

Nigel Pearson had given starts to Shola Ameobi and Matty Pattison, but his hand was essentially forced by the absence of Obafemi Martins (who had diagnosed himself injured) and Scott Parker's hernia operation (the fourteenth time a Newcastle player has gone under the knife this season).

Watford looked the livelier from the start without testing Given, so it was somewhat against the run of play that Kieron Dyer broke the deadlock, poking the ball past a prostrate Ben Foster following an exquisite pass inside the full back from Nobby Solano. Dyer's lack of celebration may have had something to do with the smattering of abuse directed at him from the away end - unwarranted on this occasion, at least.

We never looked like increasing our advantage, though, and early in the second period the Hornets drew level, Marlon King scoring from the spot after Nicky Butt - one of our few decent performers on the day - was very harshly adjudged to have handled deliberately despite having had the ball blasted at him from point-blank range.

The rest of the game was - like much of what had gone before - instantly forgettable, perhaps destined to be remembered only as Michael Owen's last appearance in a Toon shirt. Of course, Mickey didn't actually manage to see the afternoon out, colliding with team-mate Matty Pattison and being stretchered off with concussion in front of the onlooking Steve McLaren. Our place in the history books as the masters of tragicomedy is surely assured.

And so a pretty miserable point - gained rather fortuitously in the end, thanks to Williamson's misses - on the 13th day of May brought confirmation of our 13th place finish. Appropriate for what is currently an accursed club.

What will 2007/8 bring? Things can only get better? I wouldn't bet on it.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, May 11, 2007

Cheap gag

Blair and Scolari are the two names being linked to us in the press today.

One has an international pedigree stretching back over the last decade, the other is MP for Sedgefield.

I'll get my coat.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Owen own goal?

So, to summarise:

In August 2005, Newcastle paid somewhere in the region of £17 million pounds for England striker Michael Owen, who had spent the previous year as a Real Madrid substitute. Despite rumours to the contrary Fat Fred insisted that there was no get out clause in the contract, and that Owen was with us for the foreseeable future.

In December 2005, having made a handful of starts, and scored better than a goal every other game, Owen injured his foot and was ruled out for ages.

In May 2006 having played only one further game for Newcastle, Sven Goran-Eriksson named Owen is his World Cup Squad and took our barely recovered striker off to Germany.

In June 2006 Owen ruptured knee ligaments, leaving England's chances of scoring any goals, and our chances of doing anything this season, in tatters.

In April 2007 Owen plays his first game of the season for Newcastle. The press instantly talked about his expected return for England this summer, despite his not scoring in the two games he has played.

In May 2007 with Glenn Roeder (Owen's second Newcastle manager) having resigned, and with Newcastle languishing in mid-table after a crap season featuring far too many goalless (and clueless) performances, press speculation that Owen's contract contains a £9 million release fee resurfaces. Despite having previously denied such a clause exists, Fat Fred (in his infinite wisdom) decides that the best way of dealing with this is to speak to the press, and publicly state that Owen should declare his intentions to stay at Newcastle and repay some of the loyalty shown to him during the last two years (not to mention the vast fortune spent in wages), and that even if he wants to leave none of the top four clubs want him anyway.

Which all sounds a bit like a small child going off in a sulk because he is worried bigger boys might come and use his favourite toy.

As man-management ploys go, it's got to be up there with Souness' handling of Bellamy.

One thing is for certain, it is will either see Owen forced to say something he may, or may not, want to; or more likely is simply going to piss him off to the point where he jumps at the chance to go elsewhere.

I'm all for encouraging Owen to stay, but is calling his bluff in the papers really the best way to do that?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Who's next?

With Roeder now simply the latest name in a long list of managers who have failed to win a trophy (and I'm sorry Glenn, but the Intertoto doesn't really count) the search for his long term replacement continues apace.

In terms of his departure, I'm sorry to season Roeder go, in so far as he appears to be a thoroughly decent, honourable man, who was an excellent academy director, and did well when he took over as caretaker last season. As Ben has already commented, his departure, in contrast to that of Souness shows the measure and class of the man - falling on his sword early rather than clinging on to the bitter end.

For once, I must give the board a small bit of praise too - the lessons of history seemingly learnt with Roeder going in early summer, not in late August. The benefits of this approach are clear, not only will we get to pick our new manager from a theoretically bigger pool of candidates, but the newly appointed manager will enjoy an entire transfer window and pre-season to stamp their authority on the squad.

So far, so good.

The question now comes as to who will be the man to drink from the "poisoned chalice" as the media have dubbed the post. A description which I think is absolute rubbish - Dalgleish went because he signed crap players and wrecked a perfectly good team and we promptly played shit football, Gullitt went because we only had room for one ego and Shearer's was more important, Robson went because his time had finally come, Souness should never have been appointed and his bully boy tactics didn't work and Roeder has now gone because he doesn't appear to be a big enough bastard to motivate multi-millionaires.

Anyway, on to the question of who to bring in...

In my view, the new manager needs to:
- have a proven background in management
- be a strong personality who can impose his will on the team and cope with the "goldfish bowl"
- understand that we are now living in the 21st Century and not the 1970s, and that players are different now

- be committed to attacking, attractive football
- be connected with the club

The media would have us believe that Fat Sam already has the job, in all but name (and that may well be the case). Assessing what I know of him against the criteria above, he ticks the first three, but falls foul of the wish list. We could do worse (Souness being a prime example of how we have made worse appointments in the past, at least Allardyce left Bolton chasing European football not fending off relegation). I know he's an ex-mackem, but so were Paul Bracewell and Barry Venison.

One other option who has been linked to us in the past is Sven Goran-Eriksson. Given his views on the English press, I can't see him fancying the one city/one club atmosphere of Newcastle, even if we wanted him (although today's Guardian suggests he might fancy it). The Guardian also suggests Gerrard Houllier might fancy a return to England, after a period of league success at Lyon. From the tone of the article it suggests that Houllier is disenchanted with his chairman's involvement in transfers. He'd love working with Fat Fred then...

Looking further afield, Sevilla coach Juande Ramos has proved successful in Spain, and may fancy his chances of following Rafa Benitez to England. His record is a good one, but whether he'd take to Newcastle is another matter entirely.

Back in the Premiership, the only prospective candidate to jump out seems to be Mark Hughes, and I think we could do a lot worse. However, he might be content to bide his time until Fergie finally packs in life at Old Trafford, but otherwise there are very few candidates who leap out. Outside of the top flight, candidates seem pretty thin on the ground.

With Shearer safely ensconced in the Match of the Day studios, and without a full raft of qualifications to his name (admittedly something which didn't stop Glenn or Gareth Southgate this season) it seems doubtful that he'd fancy the job.

With no stand out candidates available, we're almost inevitably drawn back to Allardyce - he may not be my ideal choice, but unfortunately I can't see Arsene Wenger leaving Arsenal anytime soon.

So will Fat Fred surprise us, or will we be raiding Bugsy Malone for headlines for the whole of next season?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Hello and welcome

If you're new to Black & White & Read All Over, then thanks for dropping by 'n' all - but, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, it's a bit gutting that our visitor numbers have increased dramatically in the wake of Roeder's resignation. Forgive my customarily depressive outlook, but it's rather like rubberneckers slowing to gawp at a car crash - though, in truth, our club is something of a car crash more or less all the time...

Anyway, now you're here, may I take the opportunity to point you in the direction of the latest installment of The A-Z Of Football up now on Cheer Up Alan Shearer, which has now reached H and to which both Paul and I have contributed.

Also well worth a read is A-Z Of Football contributor Skif's report on the second leg of the Conference South play-off semi-final featuring his beloved Havant & Waterlooville. As tense and dramatic as Chelsea v Liverpool in the Champions League, and no doubt it was a better game too.

Monday, May 07, 2007

End of the Roeder

When the other half of B&W&RAO phoned me last night to break the news that Glenn Roeder had resigned as Newcastle manager with immediate effect, it came as no great surprise.

After the recent series of desperately disappointing performances and results (the draws against Arsenal and Chelsea aside), Roeder looked increasingly likely to be ejected from the hotseat in the summer, but Saturday's appalling home defeat to Blackburn proved to be the straw that finally broke the camel's back. Roeder was summoned to a swiftly arranged emergency board meeting yesterday, no doubt with the fans' boos still ringing in his ears, and later offered his resignation.

Clearly his hand was forced - it was a case of jumping before he was pushed - but it's a measure of the man that when it became obvious his position was untenable he did the honourable thing, neither kicking up a fuss nor attempting to cling on. Contrast that with Graeme Souness, whose exit was far more undignified.

It seems Fat Fred was prepared to wait until the summer before taking action, but the Northern Echo is today suggesting that player power precipitated the crisis meeting: "several key members of the United squad made the chairman aware that Roeder had lost the dressing room". I sincerely hope they're ashamed of themselves.

Of course, the players have contributed to Roeder's downfall all season. True, we've suffered a horrendous injury list - it's hard to name a single member of the first team squad who hasn't spent a sustained spell on the sidelines - and there were signs that Roeder was struggling to organise and motivate those he could count on. But our multi-million pound squad, stuffed full of allegedly talented footballers, has been primarily responsible for what Roeder himself labelled a "dreadful season". The players need to have a good long look at themselves in the mirror; many of them should be disgusted by what they see.

One question will inevitably be asked is whether Shepherd made a mistake in appointing Roeder in the first place. To which my answer would definitely be no. Following Souness' dismissal, Roeder stepped into the breach, picked up the pieces and did a superb job, guiding us up the table to 7th and into Europe. He deserved his chance - and Fat Fred deserves some credit for giving it to him when he could have plumped for a bigger name. Shepherd has a notoriously twitchy trigger finger and could have fired Roeder in the autumn after our terrible start, but instead gave the manager a fair crack of the whip, again to his credit.

The sad truth though is that ultimately, above and beyond the injury woes and the frequently pathetic efforts of the players, Roeder simply wasn't good enough and a change had to come. I can only hope that the events surrounding his demise as manager don't come to sour his whole relation with the club, and tarnish the memories of his achievements both as a club captain and then as a manager last term. And if they do, then it's a stark warning to anyone who is desperate for Alan Shearer to return and take the reins.

Glenn, you go with our best wishes, at least.

Inevitably Sam Allardyce is being tipped as Roeder's replacement, with Ladbrokes having gone so far as to suspend all betting on the appointment. But, for me, there remain doubts. Would Fat Sam be prepared to put up with Fat Fred's meddling and interference in transfer activities, as well as his regular public pronouncements about the team? And would Fat Fred's gargantuan ego allow him to lower himself to approaching Fat Sam for a second time, having already been rejected once?

My hope - and I'll make no bones about it - is that the answer to both questions is no. I don't want Fat Sam to be the next manager of Newcastle Utd, and despite what you might be reading elsewhere in the media, I suspect that's a view shared by a lot of other supporters. He's an arrogant ingracious oaf whose teams may be ruthlessly efficient in picking up points but play appalling football in doing so. Undoubtedly we need more discipline, determination, effort and backbone - but Fat Sam isn't the only manager capable of instilling those values in a squad.

The timing of Roeder's resignation is such that whoever does come in will have the whole summer to put their own personal stamp on the squad, without the distractions of a World Cup or an Intertoto Cup campaign starting in July. Expect the changes to be wholesale.

A Month Of Saturdays: April 2007

Needless to say, this month's A Month Of Saturdays was written shortly before the Blackburn debacle and Roeder's subsequent resignation...

* * * * *

In my last monthly review, I bemoaned the chronic shortage of goals; we scored four times in March, all in the first leg of the ultimately ill-fated UEFA Cup tie with AZ Alkmaar (and all in the first half at that), and drew a blank in our four other matches.

What a difference a month doesn’t make, eh?

In April, over the course of five Premiership games, we managed just three.

And yet it all started so well, with a 2-1 victory at Sheffield Utd. Given our alarming propensity for allowing supposedly lesser opponents to knock the stuffing out of us, particularly on the road, it would have raised few eyebrows had we capitulated at Bramall Lane. But Obafemi Martins gave our opponents’ defence a torrid time and grabbed a goal, and even when the equaliser came heads didn’t go down – on the contrary, Steven Taylor’s popped up to power in a corner for a deserved winner.

Two days later and a dreadfully sluggish home game with Arsenal concluded in a 0-0 draw, a result that was far harder to assess. On the one hand, faced by arguably the most fluent footballing side in the league, our goal remained intact. But on the other, the Gunners were far from their best and were there for the taking if we could have mustered the energy to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. As it was, both teams enjoyed a lethargic Easter Monday stroll in the park, while both sets of fans were left wondering why exactly they’d given up their Bank Holidays just to be lulled off to sleep.

Still, the following weekend brought a timely reminder that there are things more worthy of griping about than taking a point from last season’s Champions League finalists. Like a miserable defeat to Portsmouth, for instance. Pompey took full advantage of our slovenliness to banish the memory of their Easter Monday tonking at Watford to record a 2-1 win in which of all the players in black and white only Martins looked remotely interested. At least Lua Lua, introduced as a second half substitute, didn’t score to compound our misery.

After that particular low came another modest high, in the form of a scoreless draw with Chelsea at St James’. Like our previous visitors from the capital, the champions were strangely out of sorts, despite needing to win to keep the pressure up on Man Utd. We controlled proceedings, had the best of the chances and ensured we emerged from our home encounters with the Big Four without suffering defeat – but afterwards there remained the nagging feeling that an opportunity to throw a rather larger spanner into the works of their title defence had passed us by.

That continued the unenviable record of having not scored at home since 10th February, but at least we’d been scoring sporadically on the road, even in defeat. Until, that is, we pitched up at the Madjeski Stadium on the last day of the month. Not even the very welcome presence of Michael Owen in the starting line-up could prevent us from sliding to a very poor loss to Reading. Encouragingly, Owen looked sharp for the first twenty minutes, putting the ball in the net on one occasion only to be denied by the flutter of the linesman’s flag, but as he faded the Royals grew in confidence and shortly after half-time Dave Kitson – a man whose hair is so ginger it can probably be seen from space – scored the solitary goal that ultimately condemned us to defeat. Shola Ameobi also made an appearance from the bench, but there was more injury trauma to endure, both Emre and Sibierski’s summer holidays starting early.

And so we limp on into the final month of the season, patched up and largely out of sorts, knowing that whatever we do we can’t now haul ourselves up into the top half of the table and are destined to finish far closer to the gutter than the stars.

Three words, Fred: not good enough.

Three words, Glenn: watch your back.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Piss take

Newcastle Utd 0 – 2 Blackburn Rovers

Apathetic is the only word to describe yesterday’s "match". Clearly, the players didn’t want to be there. Equally clearly, large swathes of the supporters didn’t want to be there, attending because season tickets were long since paid for, and when all else is gone, a sense of duty remains.

What was most galling is that we came up against a mediocre Blackburn side, and they didn’t even have to get out of second gear to beat us, coming up against our defence in a particularly generous mood. Mystifyingly starting with Bramble and Onyewu in centre defence, and leaving Ramage (the only one of the three still likely to be at St James’ Park next season) on the bench it was Onyewu who didn’t step out quickly enough, and in so doing played McCarthy onside, and the South African duly added to his impressive goal tally.

At the other end, we once again sought to prove that Parker and Butt don’t make a particularly effective creative force in midfield, and that Dyer isn’t a right winger – with Kieron effectively abandoning his touchline at every opportunity to clog up the centre of the park, leaving Solano to have to provide all of the width down the right. Milner, as ever, was our one bright spark in midfield, and looked by far our most creative outlet.

Frustratingly, we spent much of the afternoon humping high balls forward. Given that Owen and Martins are both rather diminutive, and were up against man mountain Christopher Samba this was a completely futile task. It wasn’t until Ameobi replaced the ineffective Dyer that we even looked like we might win a header. Unfortunately, shortly after his arrival, the game was killed off as Bentley crossed from the right and Jason Roberts nipped between Ramage (who had replaced Bramble) and Onyewu to slot home.

It could have been worse, with Bentley wrongly flagged off-side in the first half when through on goal. Going forward, our best two chances of a goal came from Owen, the first a strong penalty shout when Samba hauled him down in the box, the second when Owen latched on to a long ball, chested the ball past Friedel only for Samba to head his shot off the line. He may yet break his duck for the season next week, but his performance, and that of Milner (who was again our most creative and hard working player), were the only bright sparks in an otherwise turgid performance.

Whoever thought that having the stadium announcer request that people remain in their seats so the players could thank them for their support this season wants a good slap. Whilst a number of fans remained, I decided that I’d reciprocate the performances I’ve witnessed this season, and went off to find a urinal.

Other reports: BBC, Observer

Friday, May 04, 2007

New face

A warm welcome to the most recent edition to the B&W&RAO sidebar: NUFC Blog, set up and maintained by Ed Harrison and Ahmed Bilal of general news 'n' views site Soccerlens, does exactly what it says on the tin.