Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Star in stripes?

Following on from yesterday, the BBC is now carrying reports confirming that Oguchi Onyewu is our first recruit of the Transfer Window, with the American defender joining on loan from Standard Liege, with an option to make the move permanent in the summer.

To be honest, I don't know a great deal about the player, who looks to have the physical attributes needed to play in defence, together with being young enough to develop (in the event we make the move permanent). However, I have doubts that if he is a really great player then he'd probably not currently be playing in Belgium, and for all the positives of youth, the down side is that he probably lacks the experience that our defence is crying out for.

Still, as with all our players, I'll be willing him to do well - safe in the knowledge that if it doesn't work out, we haven't wasted a massive amount of money on the player.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Yankee Doodle Dandy

After, what seems like weeks of complete inactivity, it appears that Newcastle might finally be on the verge of bringing in some additional recruits.

According to the BBC Oguchi Onyewu is currently on Tyneside undergoing a medical, with a view to joining on loan for the rest of the season. Interestingly enough, his was one of the names floated in the comments to our post at the start of the transfer window period.

NUFC.com also suggest that we are looking to bring in striker Frédéric Piquionne on loan from St Etienne, with the player unhappy with his current employer, and unsurprisingly reluctant to go to Charlton.

"R" problem

From one "R" that haunts Newcastle fans to another "R" which is currently on the lips of society thanks to some ignorant women in the "Celebrity" Big Brother House.

Having been accused of racism in the December game against Everton, it has been reported that Emre is to contest the charge by way of a personal hearing due to take place at Soho Square in the next few weeks. Having studiously phoned in sick ever since the incident, it remains to be seen whether Emre is guilty - and it would be ill conceived and badly informed of me to attempt to pre-judge the situation. Suffice to say that he remains innocent until proven otherwise, and as such will continue to receive our support.

Mind, if he's found guilty, we'll be reviewing our approach to a player who at times has looked amazing, but more often than not has flattered to deceive.

Ronnie fucking Radford

Guess which game came top of a recent Observer poll to identify the greatest FA Cup game of all time.

Masochists can read the thoughts of Supermac, Motty and a certain part-time footballer and joiner (amongst others) about the game which continues to haunt us all (courtesy of the BBC) 35 years after the event.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Mr Fix-it speaks

In this article on the BBC site, Colorado-based knee specialist / saviour Dr Richard Steadman confesses to having never been to a Premiership match. Given his career-prolonging treatment of Alan Shearer and more recent care for Michael Owen, surely the very least we could do is invite him over and give him a match ticket? He should really be on the payroll...

Competition result

Congratulations to Gordon Wilkinson, who has won the copy of 'Newcastle's Cult Heroes' we had to give away. He correctly named Tony Green as the player featured in the book who made the fewest appearances for the club.

New faces

A warm welcome to the B&W&RAO blogroll to...

EPL Talk

Footie Girl

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Competition time

Written by North-East-based journalist Dylan Younger, 'Newcastle's Cult Heroes' is a celebration of the twenty players whom the fans have held most dear throughout the club's history - from Colin Veitch through Hughie Gallagher, Wor Jackie, Bobby Mitchell and Supermac right up to a certain sheet-metal worker's son from Gosforth.

Courtesy of publishers Know The Score, we have one handsome hardback copy of the book to give away - if you can answer the following question correctly:

Which of the featured cult heroes won the hearts of the fans in the shortest period of time, making the fewest number of appearances for the club?

(a) Len Shackleton

(b) Kevin Keegan

(c) Tony Green

Email your answer to blackandwhiteandreadalloverATyahoo.co.uk, making sure to put "Competition" in the subject line. The deadline for entries is Friday (26th January) and the first correct entry out of the hat wins.

A hive of inactivity

With the transfer window swinging shut next Wednesday, in just over a week's time, time to take stock of the comings and goings at St James' Park.

It won't take long.

In a nutshell: Pav's staying on until the end of the season; Giuseppe Rossi has been recalled to Old Trafford by Taggart only to be immediately sent out on loan again, this time to Parma; PSV showed an interest in Albert Luque and then decided they didn't want him after all; reserve defender Liam Atkin has left for Cumbria; and today it was announced that young striker Carl Finnigan has agreed to join Falkirk.

And that's it.

We've been linked with numerous players, but as yet we don't even seem to have lodged any firm bids, let alone held talks. Whither the signings we were hoping for? More specifically, where are the desperately needed defensive reinforcements?

I appreciate the desire not to get sucked into paying ludicrously inflated prices(exhibit A: Ashley Young costing Villa the best part of £10m - surely he's not worth that much?), but when Spurs can pick up a seasoned Portuguese international central defender for £3.3m surely we could have found one or two players who fit the bill and who wouldn't cost the earth?

What amazes me is that we never seem to have any kind of masterplan. I can't stand Neil Warnock, but fair play to him - his board decided how much they were prepared to spend, he identified the players he wanted and then acted decisively to get them as soon as the window opened. Whether the likes of Matthew Kilgallon, Luton Sheldon and Michael Mifsud ultimately prove to be good enough to keep Sheffield Utd up is neither here nor there - the point is that Warnock, with the backing of his board, went out and got in players he felt could do the job. Is it too much to ask that we work at our strategy?

Of course, this may be doing Fat Fred and Glenn Roeder a disservice - they may still have a couple of talented players lined up. But somehow I doubt it. And the longer the eerie quietness around St James' continues, the more likely last-minute panic buys are.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Rennie gives Clarets the blues

Newcastle Utd 2 - 2 West Ham

Newcastle staged a come-back (of sorts) on Saturday against a West Ham team deep in the relegation mire, having gifted the visitors a two goal head start.

Starting the game as they had finished on Wednesday - with no confidence, no cohesion and no defence - it was hardly a surprise to see West Ham attacking Newcastle in the opening period of the game. With Stephen Carr returning to the side in place of the suspended Taylor, Paul Huntingdon was moved in to his favoured centre-half position along side Peter Ramage.

It was Ramage though who looked the more jittery of the two, as West Ham sought to turn their bright start into goals. As it was they didn't have long to wait, with Carlton Cole volleying home from four yards out, the West Ham striker latching on to Calum Davenport's knock down from a corner.

With Ramage looking increasingly lost, it was no surprise to see Harewood turn him easily to get through on goal, and his calm finish gave West Ham a two-nil lead with just over twenty minutes gone.

Newcastle's injury crisis promptly worsened, with Ramage succumbing to a hamstring strain, and David Edgar coming on to replace him and line up alongside Huntingdon in defence. Thankfully, Edgar looked calm and composed on the ball, and it was no surprise to see Newcastle (finally) settle in to the game and begin to press forward.

Newcastle's eventual riposte came as Solano fed Milner on the right, and our right winger fired a low shot into the far corner. Perhaps reasonably, West Ham were incensed that the goal was able to stand, with the ball passing through the legs of the offside Scott Parker on its way towards the goal, with Uriah Rennie's unique interpretation of the laws of the game for once coming to our aid.

Starting the second half as we had finished the first, and with West Ham looking nervous, Newcastle were able to force the error with Milner's free-kick being blocked in the West Ham box by Boa Morte's left arm. Solano, restored to penalty taking duties, sent the keeper the wrong way and tucking the ball in to the bottom left hand corner.

West Ham could still have taken all three points late on only for Rennie to rule out Davenport's header for a foul on Huntingdon, and Harewood to spurn a good chance when through on the Newcastle goal, with Harper to save well (having come on for Given, who picked up a groin strain in the second half).

Overall, the injury crisis has worsened, but it was heartening to see us recover from being two-nil down in light of the abject capitulation last Wednesday. That defeat means we now have a free weekend, which will hopefully allow a few more players to recover, and Roeder to focus his efforts on bringing in some new recruits.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, January 19, 2007

Belgravia says no

The Belgravia Group have now confirmed that they are not intending to make a formal offer for Newcastle United, having failed to agree a price and transaction structure with the club.

In essence, it appears that the Halls and Shepherds wanted more cash, although I'm sure there were probably other issues as well. Interestingly, the BBC's report suggests that were another investor to come in with an offer then the Belgravia Group would be back. However, for the time being we're left with Fat Fred, with Polygon having also pulled the plug on any deal at the start of the month.

Hopefully, the resolution of this whole saga will allow the club to focus on the present, and with twelve days left in the January transfer window, look to bring in some fresh players to take the club forward.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Newcastle Utd 1 - 5 Birmingham

Where to start?

Well, how's about posing the question: where the FUCK did THAT come from? From a spirited if slightly fortuitous win on Sunday to easily our most humiliating defeat and abject performance of the season in the space of just three days.

As if the extraordinary margin of the home defeat - and to a lower division side, albeit one that sit atop the Championship, and one managed by plastic Geordie Steve Bruce - wasn't bad enough, there is no way we can possibly write it off as a freakish result. Much as it pains me to say it, but Birmingham were far and away the best side and thoroughly deserved their crushing victory.

Glenn Roeder sent out the same side that came from behind to beat Spurs on Sunday, as much out of necessity as choice, and they were soon on the back foot as our opponents started brightly. Plenty of visitors to St James' Park do that, though, only to succumb eventually. Two things prevented that scenario from unfolding tonight: we were utterly shit throughout and Birmingham scored after just five minutes.

Peter Ramage gave away the ball, not for the last time in the match, and when it ended up at Gary McSheffrey's feet he left Nobby Solano on his arse and fired into the net with his right foot. And that was just the beginning of an appalling evening for two of our best players of late - and a very good one for the former Coventry striker.

At the end of a first half in which only James Milner had shown anything approaching a decent performance, and in which Kieron Dyer had been (wrongly) flagged offside before putting our only chance of note wide, it got worse for Ramage and Solano. The former was easily outpaced by Cameron Jerome on the right, and his cross was slid into the net by the Peruvian, under pressure from DJ Campbell.

As might have been expected, Roeder sent the team out with a flea in their ear for the second period, and there was a brief upturn in proceedings. Still nothing would come off for Dyer or Obafemi Martins, and when our goal came it was a stunning long-range effort out of nowhere from Milner.

That should have been our springboard back into the contest - and yet two minutes later we had contrived to ensure it was all over. Steven Taylor hauled back Campbell as he advanced on goal and was rightly red-carded, underlining the contrast with alleged target Matthew Upson in the opposition defence, who marshalled those around him superbly well and managed to stifle what little threat we posed. From the resulting free kick, Larsson's shot deflected kindly off the wall to Bruno N'Gotty who calmly shot into the top corner.

Birmingham eased off then, but there was never any real suggestion of us getting back into the game. It was no real surprise when the Blues ground salt into the wound with late goals from outstanding Arsenal loanee Larsson and the equally impressive Campbell, our defence once again not worthy of the name. Shay Given, as superhuman as he often is, could have done nothing about any of the shots that flew past him.

The players have reason to be thankful that there was such a shocking attendance (under 27,000) because, had the ground been anywhere near capacity, the volume of booing would have been deafening.

This has to go down as real incontrovertible evidence that cracks have been being papered over. Tonight those cracks were clearly visible, and seemed more like faultlines. As committed as our young defence has been, it has also shipped sixteen goals in six games. You can't win anything with kids...

One thing's for certain: West Ham may have been woeful of late, but if we play like that again on Saturday they'll be travelling back down the A1 with all three points and a much improved goal difference.

To conclude, here are the thoughts of Dyer before the game: "Kieron Dyer expects Newcastle to learn the lessons from their failure to see off Birmingham at the first attempt and kick-start their FA Cup campaign". Two things there, Kieron - firstly, I hope you're not a betting man, and secondly, as a Newcastle fan I'm used to being mocked by fate but that's just ridiculous.

"We got very complacent in the first game", Dyer is quoted as having said. He then added: "Of late we've turned St James' Park into a fortress and after Birmingham it's a home tie against Reading. If we keep getting home ties then who knows." Er, do you see what you've done there, Kieron?

Other reports: BBC, Guardian (no surprise to seeing Michael Walker relish writing that report)

A fond farewell

With the return of Paul from his travels, Jonathan's loan period at Black & White & Read All Over has come to an end.

A huge thanks to him for stepping into the breach at a particularly hectic time of year - and for raising the bar significantly in terms of match reports.

And who knows? He may be back some time in the future - if he can face it...

Monday, January 15, 2007

White Heart Lane

Tottenham Hotspur 2 - 3 Newcastle Utd

And Sunday is supposed to be the day of rest. Of repose. Of relaxation.

Not when Newcastle Utd are concerned.

In a thrilling game at White Hart Lane, we beat Spurs by three goals to two to put an end to our unenviable record of having lost every league game in which we had gone behind this season. It was a good all-round performance from the men (or, in many cases, boys) in black and white - but our hosts will still be scratching their heads this time next week wondering just how they failed to pick up at least a point.

Peter Ramage was back on the teamsheet, but with Scott Parker and Emre both missing through injury our central midfield duo was comprised of Kieron Dyer and Nicky Butt, just about recovered from flu, with Matty Pattison coming in on the left.

Spurs came out of the traps at breakneck speed, no doubt keen to make amends for their pathetic display at St James' Park just before Christmas that saw them two down with barely seven minutes on the clock. Missing that day was Jermain Defoe, injured in the warm-up, and it was he who was the major threat in the early stages, forcing Shay Given into a couple of good saves and blasting over on the volley, while Steed Malbranque also tested the Irishman's reflexes.

It was little surprise when the pair combined to put our opponents ahead. A Newcastle attack was broken up, Tom Huddlestone's long ball enabled Malbranque to advance into space and curl a perfect ball into the box with the outside of his right boot. Defoe was offside, but the flag stayed down and he slid the ball wide of Given's dive.

Thankfully, we were back on terms only two minutes later when, as in the Man Utd game, our youthful out-of-position left back scored his first senior goal. Then it was David Edgar; this time it was relative first team veteran Paul Huntington who fired home from an acute angle via Paul Robinson's foot after the ball dropped kindly for him from James Milner's right wing free kick.

Spurs shaded the remainder of the first half, with Given called into action on a few more occasions as Aaron Lennon got the bit between his teeth and set about terrorising our defence, while Malbranque lobbed wide of an open goal with Given having raced out to block a through ball. At the other end, Robinson wasn't allowed to be a complete spectator, Obafemi Martins forcing him into an important tip over.

Frustrated by our 'keeper's heroics, the Spurs players then started trying to unsettle him by underhand means, Pascal Chimbonda barging him over and Dimitar Berbatov insisting on blocking his goal kicks. A furious Given complained to referee Steve Bennett at half time - and then all hell broke loose, Chimbonda slapping Butt and receiving a shove in the chest in return with the scuffles continuing in the tunnel. The Frenchman could and probably should have walked, but instead received a yellow, the same punishment as Butt.

Less than ten minutes into the second half Spurs regained the lead - and inevitably Chimbonda was involved. Pattison squandered the chance to give us the lead, heading just wide from Milner's cross, and Spurs immediately went down the other end of the pitch. Malbranque played in Chimbonda, Taino's shot from the resulting pull-back was blocked by Nobby Solano, but Berbatov was on hand to volley into the ground and past Given.

The sucker punch, it seemed. Not so - to the enormous credit of our young patched-up side.

Martins, who had for much of the game cut a forlorn figure up front, exchanged passes with the lively Dyer before rocketing the ball past Robinson from distance - an extraordinary strike, and one which will live long in the memory.

Suddenly it was Spurs who were deflated, and a minute later we were ahead. Martins slid a cute ball into Butt who, having stolen a march on his marker Tainio, fired in a low shot across Robinson and in off the post.

A bemused Martin Jol rang the changes, sending on Robbie Keane and Didier Zokora, and his revitalised side reacted to dangerous effect. Defoe, who had been much quieter in the second period, belted the ball off an upright and out to safety, while another shot hit Solano on the arm - though he was turning sideways to avoid the shot and made no voluntary attempt to handle, so a penalty would have been horribly harsh. Berbatov made a laughable hash of a late chance, and finally the rollercoaster ride was over.

Not an unmitigatedly brilliant performance, then - our defending in particular was often desperate if committed against a very pacey and attack-minded Spurs side - but it was hugely gratifying to see us refuse to buckle under the strain and recover from deficits not just once but twice, and then go on to win. And a splendid goal to celebrate, too.

Could it have got much better? Well, yes, JJ could have been in the losing side...

A Spurs fan's perspective: Harry Hotspur

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, January 12, 2007

Quote of the day

As drawn to my attention by the Guardian's ever-superb Fiver:

"We try to do our best but I'm not lucky like other managers who have defenders in their reserve team. Glenn Roeder can call up [Paul] Huntington, as he did against us. Then he has the young player, [David] Edgar, who he called up against the MU Rowdies. We have no players."

Aww, someone get the violins out for The Special One. Because that's right, Jose - Roeder has been LUCKY with his club's injury situation this season. Of course he has.

Seriously, though, I'm glad my suspicion that Chelsea's squad was left a bit thin by all the summer departures has proved to be true. All that money and no players, eh?

No fun?

Ever wondered why the hell you bother with football, when it can get you so damned depressed? You're nodding, aren't you? Well, you might find the piece I've written for the latest installment of the Cheer Up Alan Shearer A-Z Of Football strikes a chord. The feature, which has got as far as E, is well worth reading for other reasons, too - not least Lord Bargain's disbelief at the sight of an escalator at Goodison Park and Skif's musings on power failures at evening games. Plus Paul takes the opportunity to rant about the Premiership plague that is the "Easy" chant.

Elsewhere, Losing The Dressing Room is the marvellous new blog from the chap previously responsible for the now-defunct It's Up For Grabs Now and for co-ordinating Finals Fantasy, the World Cup blog that kept me busy in the early part of the summer. A very welcome addition to the B&W&RAO blogroll.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


It's not really on. While I've roped Jonathan in in Paul's absence to work his fingers to the bone on match report after match report, there I am moonlighting for another Newcastle site.

Thanks to Nick for inviting me to contribute some thoughts on the season so far to Tyne Talk - the first instance of what will hopefully be a regular column.

Read it and weep?

Yesterday lunchtime's draw for the Fourth Round of the FA Cup pitched the victor of our replayed tie with Birmingham against the winners of the Reading v Burnley clash, postponed until tonight due to adverse weather conditions at the weekend.

The Premiership it was who eventually triumphed, and so Steve Coppell's men lie in wait for us should we succeed in doing what we should have done at the first attempt and dumped Bruce's Blues out on their arses.

We've already beaten the Royals at home this season, and although there are still a lot of ifs and buts it's fair to say that the draw could have been more unkind and we'll be disappointed if we can't make it through to the last sixteen.

Pavel is (still) a Geordie

Good news for fans of the revived "Pavel is a Geordie" chant: our returning Czech hero is to remain on Tyneside for the remainder of the season. With Shay Given fit again and both Steve Harper and Tim Krul on the road to recovery, though, Pav will probably only provide cover - so it's not unlikely that I was there to witness his last ever Toon appearance. If he does make it onto the pitch again, let's just hope he can sort his kicking out...

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Four goal thriller (yes, another one)!

Birmingham 2 - 2 Newcastle Utd

So - two helter-skelter games in a week, each ending two goals apiece. But if the league draw at home to Manchester United felt like a victory, yesterday's identical Cup result at St Andrews has already taken on the aura of a defeat. David Edgar, the rookie full-back for whom these 180 ultimately deadlocked minutes have represented a crash-course induction into top-flight football, may be forgiven for wishing for something more straightforward from his third full outing with the first team - you know, like a two-two draw that actually feels like a two-two draw. Some hope; the youngster will soon learn that life with Newcastle United is rarely so straightforward.

The Canadian Geordie, of course, had proved the hero of the hour on New Year's Day when his late, speculative twenty-five yarder found the bottom corner of Edwin Van der Sar's net to earn a point from a match that had seemed beyond the reach of Glenn Roeder's patched-up eleven. With time approaching yesterday the youngster again found himself at the centre of the action. At the culmination of a passing movement which had seen the ball shifted, somewhat ponderously, across the width of a St Andrews surface turned into a treacherous mudbath by eighty-six minutes of pulsating FA Cup football in the West Midlands drizzle, a hanging home left-wing cross dropped at the visitors' far post, where the lively forward Larsson, facing away from goal with Edgar stuck limpet-like to his right shoulder, seemed to present only marginal danger to Shay Given's goal.

A moment later the home crowd (or at least, those among an unforgivably paltry home turn-out who had not already headed for the exits) were on their feet. Larsson, seemingly taking advantage of Edgar's inexperience, had swivelled fully 270 degrees anti-clockwise as the cross traversed the goalmouth, shielding the ball from the young defender as he did so - and he ended this balletic, Gerd Mulleresque manoevre in perfect position to apply a sublime coup-de-grace; a rising first-time half-volley whose venom was sufficient to leave Given grasping a mid-air at his near post, and to earn the battling Championship high-flyers a replay.

The second meeting between the teams, as Glenn Roeder was quick to acknowledge in the post-match interviews, will be no simple proposition, home advantage for his Premiership charges notwithstanding. Birmingham had been more than a match for their illustrious visitors here - and had seized the initiative when DJ Campbell, who made his name in this very competition when facing Graeme Souness' Newcastle in the colours of non-league Yeading, shot them ahead with an opportunist strike following a corner.

The nature of the early strike raised questions as to the cohesion of the Newcastle rearguard - and these were underlined just moments later when, after Huntington was found wanting for strength in a tussle down the left side of visitors' penalty area, the comparative veteran Taylor was forced into one of his trademark goal-line clearances. At this point in proceedings, as the increasingly treacherous surface played merry havoc with the Premiership visitors' more refined passing instincts, the smart money was on the Championship hosts capturing a notable Cup scalp.

It was left to Taylor to put paid to such fanciful notions, the Gosforth-bred stopper thundering into the goalmouth as half-time approached with the unstoppability of a coastbound Metro train before applying a cute volleyed finish to a near-post corner. As the visitors looked to build on this timely breakthrough, they received a further fillip. The hosts were reduced to ten men after Jaidi's pantheresque lunge at the back of Martins - who was escaping goalwards with the joyous litheness of a young gazelle - left the referee with no option but to impose the ultimate sanction.

The opening exchanges of the second half did nothing to dispel the notion that the balance of play had swung decisively in favour of the Premiership outfit. Milner, looking to reprise his long-range heroics of New Year's Day, had already seen a swerving free-kick rebound down from the underside of the crossbar, off a thoroughly flummoxed goalkeeper, and somehow out behind for a corner, before, with the half not yet ten minutes old, the visitors took a deserved lead. The goal owed much to the persistence of Martins, who, freed from the shackles of the departed Jaidi, advanced daintily and with menace across the rutted St Andrews undergrowth before releasing a diagonal through pass which bobbled handily under the studs of the oafish home centre-back Upson. Dyer was on hand, and the quicksilver if occasionally quixotic makeshift forward made no mistake from the edge of the box - taking a marksman's moment to settle the nerves before shooting low and across the bows of helpless goalkeeper Maik Taylor.

Dyer's strike gave way to a lengthy but largely uneventful denouement, during which the visiting rearuard, watchfully protected by holding midfielder Butt, appeared more than capable of withstanding a limp, toothless and utterly drizzle-drenched home siege. And then came Edgar's moment of hesitation, Larsson's spinning finish- and the final whistle to bring an end to a compelling, but ultimately inconclusive cup-tie. With home advantage secured, Newcastle will enter the replay on Wednesday 17th as favourites, but will have seen enough of these wily opponents to know that progression to the last thirty-two is far from assured. At these rarified levels of competition, glory and ignominy are divided only by the most imperceptible of lines - as a young man named David Edgar may be just beginning to learn.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Window of opportunity

Shortly before jetting off to the other side of the planet, Paul laid down some thoughts on what we might get up to during the transfer window... - Ben

If the first half of the season has taught us anything, it is that our squad lacks depth in certain positions, both in terms of quality and basic numbers. Consequently, a couple of injuries leads to a crisis, and we're left either playing people out of position (eg Solano at right back, Duff at left back), or looking to the Academy to provide cover.

The transfer window gives us the opportunity to bring in reinforcements up front and correct our summer failure to sign decent defensive reinforcements.

As a minimum, I would suggest we need another defender and a striker, although ideally I'd like to see us pick up two of each.

In defence, I'd really like to see us go for Matthew Upson now that he has recovered from his injury problems at Birmingham, particularly as Titus' contract runs out in the summer and Craig Moore is planning to return to Australia. He would represent a strong addition to the squad now (which in terms of defenders has looked alarmingly thin at times) as an experienced player who still has something to prove and is still young enough to prove it.

On the subject of Titus, it could be that he has done enough to secure a fresh deal, but none has been forthcoming yet. In any event, I suspect any would-be suitor will wait until the summer before making him an offer, in which case it is in his interests to perform to the best of his abilities (when fit) in the meantime.

In an ideal world, we'd also pick up Wayne Bridge, who can now be found kicking his heels on the bench at Chelsea. However, Bridge recently signed a new contract, so I suspect is happy enough to sit back and collect the roubles, and is unlikely to be available on the cheap. Perhaps scorer of wonder goals Matt Taylor at Portsmouth might be a more readily available option, and with Charlton needing the cash, Luke Young might available to replace Stephen Carr (and by the looks of his performances this season, is a player badly in need of a fresh challenge).

As our record shows, this season we've not scored enough goals, and that must be also be a priority (although Martins has done much better of late and is starting to look an excellent purchase). To my mind, we clearly need a big striker to play alongside our number 9 as cover for Ameobi. Sibierski has done really well in this role, but with Shola and Michael Owen on the long road to recovery, we still need cover upfront, and with Rossi returning to Old Trafford on New Years Day, an additional nippier striker would also be an advantage, provided the price were right.

Ideally, I'd love to see us sign Klaus Jan Huntelaar from Ajax, but I suspect they won't be too keen to part with him without a hefty wedge of cash going the other way. I also still have a sneaking suspicion that Robert Earnshaw has the ability to score goals in the Premiership, so I'd be happy for us to go after him as a back-up striker (provided the price was right).

I won't even bother mentioning the Spaniard, except to say I anticipate he'll spend the whole of January camped at Newcastle Airport in the hope of picking up a bargain flight home, and I sincerely hope he finds someone willing to cover his air fare - whether we recoup any money or not. However, his should be the only departure, as the squad simply isn't big enough to cope with any more.

Having said all of that, I thought Tevez and Mascherano were the best two signings on deadline day in August, and was massively underwhelmed by the signing of Sibierski, so what do I know?

Turk in trouble?

It seems as though Emre could well have landed himself in hot water. It's been alleged that the melee which occurred immediately after we were awarded the penalty at Goodison Park on Saturday, Emre racially abused Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard and defender Joleon Lescott.

The precise details are all rather murky, though. Dermot Gallagher's match report made mention of the allegations, though the referee didn't hear them himself. Everton have kept remarkably stumm if something did happen, but the FA have announced an investigation all the same. On NUFC.com Biffa and Niall have pointed out that the FA spokesman has inflamed the situation by essentially asking for complaints from home fans, and that Obafemi Martins was a target for racist abuse by a minority of those same fans.

Emre is innocent until proven guilty, of course - but should the investigation find him guilty, then I hope it's not just a combination of club and FA fines and bans that he faces. He may be having a terrific season, but that shouldn't come into consideration if it comes down to it: he should be sacked, as should any player found guilty of this sort of offence - after all, a fan spouting racist abuse can expect to be ejected and banned. Our national outrage at the behaviour of fans in Spain and Italy would have a very hollow ring about it if the punishment wasn't that severe.

I hope for his sake - and ours - that it was just a heated exchange of insults with no racist overtones, but it doesn't look particularly good.

Deal's off


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

If the kids are United

Newcastle Utd 2 - 2 Man Utd

Manchester United were back in town yesterday, ten years since their most celebrated visit of the Premiership years. On a sublime October afternoon in 1996, Phillippe Albert's perfectly lofted twenty-yard chip floated over stranded goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and dropped, in cinematic slow-motion, into the Gallowgate net, bringing the curtain down on an astonishing 5-0 victory. Albert was back yesterday too, to make the interval lottery draw - and also, it seems, to demonstrate to the Geordie faithful that the passing years have done nothing to dim his acute sense of theatrical timing. In a departure from the bashful shuffle and half-wave to the thinly-populated stands favoured by most besuited Half-Time Heroes, our Phillippe deigned to carry out his ticket-and-hat related duties only after completing a stately lap of the St James' turf - in which he made sure to milk the generous applause which tumbled down, in turn, from all four sides of the ground.

The moustachioed Belgian's unscheduled valedictory circuit came close to delaying the start of a second half which was already keenly anticipated by the 52,000 present. The opening forty-five minutes, in which Milner's raking, diagonal thirty-yarder into the top corner had been cancelled out only on the stroke of the interval by Scholes's cool edge-of-the-box finish, had proved more evenly-contested than the home support could have dared to envisage at kick-off. Then, the announcement of the line-ups had revealed that, as feared, Glenn Roeder had been forced to call quite unprecedentedly upon untried youth in order to find eleven fit men to take on the league leaders, who had arrived at Gallowgate in full strength.

I say men, but of course we are talking about boys. Twenty-year old Stephen Taylor was being called upon to marshall a home defence comprising himself, the out-of-position Solano at right-back, and a pair of nineteen-year olds Academy products with only a handful of first-team appearances between them. The talk as the home side set play in motion was not of whether points could be gained, but rather of how a defeat of truly embarrassing proportions could be avoided. A repeat of the 1996 scoreline - except this time in favour of the visitors - had not been discounted in some more pessimistic quarters.

Within a minute of the restart, such doom-laden predictions were being given another airing as that man Scholes (what have we done to upset him over the years, by the way?) arrived with by-now predictabe timeliness on the edge of the home penalty area to round off a passage of smoothly-oiled approach play with a first-time airbound drive whose swerving flight left the otherwise flawless Given flailing at mid-air. This cruel strike led to a twenty-minute spell where the visiting team, like a Champion heavyweight boxer toying with a punch-drunk challenger, had the home side exactly where they wanted them. During this spell several presentable opportunities to deliver the knockout blow of a third goal were spurned, with Ronaldo a notable culprit.

If it was conceivable that the red-clad marauders would live to regret their profligacy, the source of the equalising strike that sent the black-and-white followers into near-delirium would not have been predicted by many of them. There seemed little danger when the gangly youth Edgar, making a rare excursion into visiting territory in support of a tidy passing movement, picked up a square ball flush to the touchline, and some forty yards from Edwin Van der Sar's goal. There appeared only marginally more peril as the youngster advanced inwards, then let go a mid-paced daisycutter which proceeded to bobble speculatively in the general direction of a packed goalmouth. A split-second later, however, the ball was nestling in the net - and the teenager was wheeling away in barely-concealed astonishment, pursued by ecstatic colleagues.

Replays showed that Edgar's effort had beaten Van de Sar only with the aid of a crucial deflection off Paul Scholes, the scorer of both visiting goals on the day, and so often in recent years the scourge of the black-and-whites. The delicious irony of this long-awaited reversal in fortune was not lost on the home support, who, after seeing their patched-up defence repel a desperate but fitful last-gasp onslaught from the increasingly frustrated visitors, saluted the 2-2 draw like a famous victory.

That 5-0 win of a decade ago, it will be remembered, seemed at the time to have swung the Premiership race decisively in favour of Kevin Keegan's rampant mid-nineties Newcastle team - and in the process, to have effected a sea-change in the long-term power-struggle at the top of the domestic game. We know now that it did nothing of the sort - and that the coming ten years were to be characterised only by gradual decline, culminating in a quite horrid spell at the end of the unmissed Sounness tenure when the club - squad, management and supporters - appeared to be the laughing stock of the national game's chattering classes.

It is too early to tell whether David Edgar's bouncing bomb will prove to be a truer turning point in our history than Phillippe Albert's cheeky chip, but our valiant display must go some way to showing the wider footballing public that Newcastle United once again have what it takes to become a respected Premiership force in the game. Certainly there is ample reason to trust that under Roeder's skilled, unfussy tutelage the kids will continue to thrive - and perhaps one day form the backbone of a future, primarily home-grown team fit to challenge for honours. Suddenly, if the kids are United, anything seems quite dizzyingly possible. Long may it continue.

Other reports: BBC

(Incidentally, even the normally sour Michael Walker found some positive words for our youngsters - they really must have been impressive...)