Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Have a say on replays

An interesting debate is currently taking place on the Guardian's website, with Glenn Roeder and Brian Barwick going head-to-head on the issue of FA Cup replays.

Glenn is (perhaps unsurprisingly given events of this season) keen to see them consigned to the same fate as the Anglo-Italian Cup and Tab Clear, whereas Barwick displays the FA's typical approach to forward thinking and change, and seeks to defend them on an historic "think of the great replays of the past" basis - presumably he also still takes his rattle to matches.

To be fair, I was with Barwick's plucking of the heart strings right up until the point that he notes that if we hadn't had FA Cup replays, Newcastle would never have been forced to play Hereford on a quagmire back in 1972.

I don't suppose there's any chance of them being scrapped retrospectively?

Monday, February 26, 2007

JJB-eaten again

Wigan Athletic 1 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Three times Newcastle have now visited the JJB Stadium, and three times we've left nursing a 1-0 defeat.

This time, we started brightly, and after several decent moves had bought good saves from Wigan keeper John Filan, Newcastle were awarded a penalty when Antoine Sibierski was fouled by Ryan Taylor in the box. Solano it was who took the ball, only to see Filan pull off an excellent save to tip the ball on to the post, and then watch as Solano's follow up sailed over the bar.

Sadly that was to proved the closest we would come to scoring all afternoon, and when Onyewu gave away a free kick near our box, it was Taylor who stepped up and fired the ball across Given and into the far corner. Question marks might be raised over the returning Irishman's positioning, but in fairness it was a very well struck free kick which flew inside the far post.

Coming just before the interval Newcastle's heads inevitably went down, and in the second half we failed to create the chances we'd managed in the first half, and as Wigan's tackling grew increasingly robust we descended to their level and started hoofing long balls down the middle. Having previously been reduced to this tactic by Watford, it remains a source of immense frustration that when confronted with direct teams we seek to outplay them at their own game, rather than simply pass them off the park - something we should be infinitely capable of doing.

As it was, we were left rueing three more points dropped, and with those around us enjoying good results we dropped back to 11th place, and watched as the chances of us qualifying for Europe via the league receded again. Scratching around for positives, the return of N'Zogbia (from the bench) is a welcome boost for the squad on what was otherwise a pretty grim afternoon in the north west.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Progress, but not pretty

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 SV Zulte-Waregem

(Newcastle win 4-1 on aggregate)

Text message received from a Wolves supporter in the wake of tonight's game: "That was shite but job done so never mind". True enough - but then, as Toon fans, we had no option but to sit through it...

On the occasion of Nolberto Solano's 300th appearance for the club (the most of any of our foreign imports), there was precious little to get excited about, with Waregem never having sufficient faith that they'd be able to claw their way back into the tie, and us content to ride out an easy game and avoid any injuries. Our opponents in the last sixteen AZ Alkmaar, who emerged victorious from a thrilling tie with Fenerbahce, will hardly be quaking in their boots.

And yet it was Waregem manager Francky Dury who rang the changes, drafting in no fewer than seven fringe players, while Glenn Roeder opted to keep the same side that secured a 3-1 advantage in the first leg, save replacing the injured Antoine Sibierski with Albert Luque.

We started well enough, Steven Taylor unlucky to see his firm and well-directed header cleared off the line after just three minutes, but that attacking intent soon evaporated as Waregem's saviour on that occasion Stijn Meert began to exert his creative influence further up the pitch.

The two best chances of the first period probably fell to the visitors, angled balls into space allowing blue-shirted forwards in on goal only for them to be denied by superlative tackles, first by Titus Bramble and then by Taylor.

At the other end, James Milner teed Luque up twice only for the Spaniard to fluff his lines before himself shooting inches over the crossbar from distance, while Kieron Dyer fired a long-range volley straight into young 'keeper Sammy Bossut's midriff. One of the few things we could take from the first half was the unerring accuracy of Nicky Butt's curved passes out to the right wing, where Milner, Solano and Dyer frequently engaged in neat interplay without actually hurting the Belgians.

Roeder's presumably angry half-time team-talk, and the introduction of Paul Huntington for Celestine Babayaro, had negligible effect, Steve Harper forced to dirty his gloves from Wouter Vandendriessche's piledriver soon after the restart. The turning point probably came when substitute Tim Matthys curled in a perfect free-kick and Bart Buysse contrived to send his free header wide of the post.

The winning goal, when it came, involved two of our most frustrating and frustrated players. In stark contrast to last week, when his marker had nervily stood off him, Damien Duff had found himself double-marked and continually forced backwards. But one dart forwards infield and a precision through-ball from our Irish winger found Obafemi Martins, who skipped in and lofted the ball over the advancing Bossut into the net.

By this time Martins' strike partner was Andy Carroll, who had replaced the once-again-useless Albert Luque, the Spaniard having disappeared straight down the tunnel upon leaving the pitch. Not good enough.

With Dyer and Milner showing little of their recent good form, we showed regrettable compassion in refusing to go for the jugular of a disspirited side, and in the event the preservation of our first clean sheet for 18 games needed the timely intervention of man-of-the-match Bramble, sliding in to deny Matthys when the striker looked odds-on to score.

So, the opportunity to send out a warning signal was spurned, and we know we'll have to raise our game significantly to make it into the quarter-finals.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sign up now

Obviously on-line petitions are something of the flavour of the month, but I would urge you all to sign up here, and support the Football Supporters Federation in their bid to cap away ticket prices at £15, freeze home ticket prices and use TV revenue to reduce the costs faced by fans who are frequently inconvenienced by the vagaries of the television schedule.

Don't forget to validate your signature, and please make your voice heard.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Not-so-secret stalker

Without actually naming him, Glenn Roeder today admitted to being an admirer of Southampton's teenage prodigy Gareth Bale.

Roeder blew his cover ahead of the Saints' game at the Ricoh Arena tonight: "I don't normally talk about specific targets, but if I am spotted at Coventry, it will be obvious who I am watching". So, no need for the hat, fake glasses and moustache, long coat and binoculars, then.

The BBC's headline, "Roeder stepping up chase for Bale", conceals the fact (conceded later in the article) that we are hardly in pole position for the 17-year-old Welsh international left back. With Arsene Wenger and Taggart both reportedly sniffing about him like dogs on heat (an unpleasant image, that - sorry), the chances of us securing his services in the summer are slim to none - and with fees of £9m being bandied about, it's not certain we'd be able to afford him even if the competition did drop away fortuitously.

Forgive my cynicism, but in reality Roeder's not-so-subtle admission - as well as his comment that "As far as our scouting is concerned, we are now in overdrive for next season" - seems calculated to get the fans excited. It smacks of the Rooney saga in August 2004, when we kicked off a bidding war we were never going to win. In other words, a pointless and transparent PR stunt.

Feel free to remind me of this post if Bale arrives at St James' to sign on the dotted line in the close season - but I very much doubt I'll be eating my words.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Take this with more than a pinch of salt (it is the News Of The World, after all) but it seems as though our old friend Craig Bellamy felt he was in danger of losing the "bad boy" label and decided to do something about it.

Following Liverpool's defeat on Tyneside last weekend, they went off to a Portuguese training camp in preparation for this coming week's Champions League tie with Barcelona. After many an ale on Thursday night, it's alleged that a furious row broke out (over karaoke, of all things) which culminated with Bellamy giving team-mate John Arne Riise a good rap on the shins with a golf club.

We have to applaud the no-necked one on finding a novel way of landing himself in hot water for club-related antics...

Great to be able to look on and laugh safe in the knowledge that he isn't our problem any more, isn't it?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Emre faces further probe

According to reports the FA are now investigating a possible further charge of racism against Emre. This second incident (following on from the alleged incident of racism during the Everton away match) apparently occurred during the Bolton match on 15 October.

Now, is it just me or does anyone else think that if something had occurred during the Bolton match, would it not have come to light straight after the game, and not four months later? The BBC claim that the FA have written to El-Hadji Diouf and asked if he wants to submit a written statement. Presumably this means that he hasn't already done so. In which case, what (or who) prompted them to write to Diouf in the first place?

The whole thing strikes me as having been whipped up in a bid to further unsettle our already beleaguered (and presumed innocent) midfielder. If Emre is found guilty of either charge then that's a whole different matter, but at present he's innocent. To start digging into games which happened months ago strikes me as somewhat far fetched. If Emre had abused Diouf, can anyone honestly imagine that the Bolton player would have meekly accepted the insult and carried on with the game, rather than respond (possibly via the medium of phlegm) at the time?

Update: Change the title of this post to "probes" plural. There's a suggestion that Watford's Al Bangoura is lining up a similar complaint against Emre. Once again, we can only express our incredulity. His guilt as regards the incident at Goodison Park needs to be decided, but both of these latest claims should surely be thrown out.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sib story

SV Zulte-Waregem 1 - 3 Newcastle Utd

"There's no such thing as cannon fodder in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup", opined Joe Royle before tonight's match against Belgian outfit Zulte-Waregem. Such was the evident gulf in class we ought to have proved otherwise - but to return to St James' for next week's second leg with a 3-1 aggregate lead was reward enough for a professional if not ruthless performance.

With Scott Parker rested due to a tight hamstring and Oguchi Onyewu ineligible, Glenn Roeder sagely decided that attack was our best form of defence - after all, if the ball's with our forwards, then it's nowhere near our back line... With regard to the team that started against Liverpool, that meant Steven Taylor pushing inside, Nobby Solano dropping to right back, James Milner switching wings to make room for Damien Duff, Kieron Dyer operating in the engine room alongside Nicky Butt and Antoine Sibierski coming in up front.

It was a special day for Sibierski, as it meant he came up against Frederic Dindeleux - not only did they play together at Lille, but the Waregem centre back was his best man.

Waregem started brightly as we took a little time to settle in, but gradually our quality began to show through. Obafemi Martins dragged one shot wide and then saw another comfortably saved before a chance finally fell to his favoured left foot, but he sliced wide when he should have done better. The same was true of Damien Duff soon afterwards. The dynamic Dyer's energetic bursts forwards became a regular feature of our play, while Titus Bramble was having a commanding and steady game at the back.

Even still, we weren't creating a great deal, and it was only with barely a minute to spare of the first half that Waregem 'keeper Pieter Merlier was seriously extended. Solano's flat cross from the right somehow found its way straight through to Martins, who, having anticipated the ball arriving at his feet, was unlucky to see his prodded shot deflected past the post by Merlier's leg.

Following his first half exertions Martins was the last to emerge from the dressing room after the break, holding up the restart, and then promptly spent the best part of 30 seconds tying his bootlaces while play went on around him.

But all thoughts that that suggested we were in for a sluggish and complacent start to the second period were banished on 47 minutes. Solano's clever ball found the ever-willing Dyer bursting into the area, and his low cross was diverted into his own net by Dindeleux, who had Martins breathing down his neck. Bizarrely, Dindeleux then had to suffer over-fastidious Bulgarian referee Anton Genov's commiserations.

From then on it looked like being a stroll in the park. Duff, who benefited from his ageing marker Tjorven De Brul's decision to sit off him, dashed into the penalty box, beat two players with a neat bit of skill and then went down under challenge from Merlier. Replays suggested that the Irishman took a tumble - something learnt at Chelsea, perhaps, and not something we should be condoning. Despite Solano having hit the winning goal from the penalty spot on Saturday, Martins persuaded our Peruvian winger-cum-full-back that the responsibility should be his, and he duly made amends for the dreadful ballooned miss against Everton - albeit aided by the fact that Merlier committed himself far too early.

2-0 and plain sailing: cue more shots from Martins (one a long-ranger which whistled just wide) and more renditions of the Phillippe Albert song from the fans.

But, with Channel Five's commentary team continually reminding viewers that we hadn't conceded in previous five away matches in Europe this season, a Waregem goal was inevitable. Celestine Babayaro conceded a daft free-kick on the touchline, Loris Reina swung a dangerous ball in and the unmarked Karel D'Haene flicked a header past Steve Harper. It's now 17 games since our last clean sheet, away to Eintracht Frankfurt in this competition.

D'Haene then tried his luck from distance, forcing Harper to tip over as renewed belief coursed through our opponents and their fans, but thankfully it wasn't long before we wrapped up the win. As Martins tussled with defenders at the edge of the Waregem area, the ball broke loose to Sibierski who cleverly played himself in, calmly and easily rounded the 'keeper and rolled the ball into the empty net.

A word about our bald-headed Frenchman. He didn't enjoy his best game for us tonight, but that was his fourth goal in this season's UEFA Cup campaign, all of them vital, and he now has eight for the season in total. Not bad for a free transfer, and certainly not bad for a player many fans, myself included, were less than enthusiastic about welcoming to St James'. I for one am more than happy to eat humble pie when it tastes as good as this.

Once Sibierski had restored the two goal advantage, we were back in comfortable control and saw out the remaining quarter of an hour without any difficulty. Barring a catastrophe of Birmingham-sized proportions next Thursday, we can start looking towards meeting either Fenerbahce or AZ Alkmaar in the last 16.

Other reports: BBC (photos), Guardian

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Spring clean

A bit early for spring cleaning (or perhaps not, with global warming gathering pace...), but you may have noticed that the B&W&RAO blogroll is now significantly shorter. That's because we've had a long-overdue cull of dead or dormant sites.

It got me wondering: WHY were there so many dormant football blogs in our blogroll? What is it with football sites dying, whether slowly or abruptly? Perhaps it's because setting one up seems like such a good idea in the first instance, but subsequently proves to be difficult to keep up. The world of football is fast-paced, so generally a football blog needs to be updated regularly and frequently for it to be worth reading - and that's a definite challenge, one which Paul and I occasionally struggle with ourselves, having Real Lives as well. But (modesty be damned) I don't think we do too bad a job of it, all told.

Anyway, apologies to anyone reading this whose blog has been removed from the list - if it's still got a pulse, let us know and we'll reinstate it. And if you're thinking of winding things up, then you couldn't hope to bow out in much better style than Trent End Talk, which has been quiet since this post in October, about the irrational passion for and allegiance to a team that the gloryseekers and moneymen just don't understand.

Has the hotbed gone cold?

An interesting article on the BBC site, with ex Newcastle and Hartlepool striker Joe Allon pondering why things have been so quiet on the North East footballing production line of late.

A little bit misleading, I feel. Fair enough, there haven't been any Beardsleys, Waddles or Gascoignes for a while, but we have turned out a fair few players in the last ten or fifteen years: Steve Watson, Alan Thompson, Robbie Elliott, the Caldwell brothers and Michael Chopra off the top of my head (though none of them quite made the grade on Tyneside in the long term).

No wonder Glenn Roeder is enthusiastic about the value of the Academy, particularly as its former manager - homegrown talents like Shola Ameobi, Steven Taylor, Peter Ramage, Paul Huntington, David Edgar, Matty Pattison and Alan O'Brien have all found themselves in and around the first team in the last couple of seasons. Of course, whether they prove to have the same impact on the game as the likes of Beardsley and company is far from certain - and that, I suppose, is the point of the article.

Goochy Goochy who?

My February column for Tyne Talk finds me reflecting on our transfer window activity (or lack of), and particularly on the signing of Oguchi 'Gooch' Onyewu. I'll be more than happy if I have to eat my sceptical words come the end of the season...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Gobshite beaten

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Liverpool

An impressive comeback in rotten conditions gave Newcastle a deserved win against Liverpool on Saturday.

Given their relative good form, it was no surprise that the visitors started the brighter side, and with Bellamy's electric pace worrying our back four, it wasn't a massive surprise that we promptly gifted Liverpool a goal inside the opening ten minutes. Steve Harper, choosing to dwell on a Babayaro back pass was promptly harried by Bellamy. His poor clearance fell straight to Jermaine Pennant who fed the ball back into the little gobshite, who promptly fired home into the Gallowgate net.

Undone by an early goal, Newcastle continued to look shaky - with Bellamy in particular a menace. Thankfully through a combination of poor finishing and some last ditch clearances and saves, we stopped Liverpool adding to their total, and then benefited from some generous defending from the visitors. This time it was Reina who was at fault, needlessly hoofing a clearance into Agger, who was under pressure from the advancing Martins. The ball bounced off the defender, and left Martins with the simple task of slotting the ball into the empty net.

At one-all, we suddenly looked like a side who thought they could play at the same level as Liverpool, and from thereon started to make a game of it.

Level at half time, it was Newcastle who emerged the stronger after the break, and sure enough the breakthrough came when Steven Taylor dribbled into the Liverpool penalty area, only to be tripped by John Arne Riise. Solano coolly fired the ball home, having sent Reina the wrong way. From there, the Liverpool onslaught failed to materialise, with Oneywu competing well against Crouch when Benitez chose to throw the tall striker on late in the game.

Newcastle were able to hold on, and as such can be justifiably pleased with the result, which lifts us up to ninth.

On the plus side, Oneywu enjoyed a decent game, second half in particular. So too did Babayaro - playing despite the death of his younger brother from TB 24 hours previously.

Our sympathies go to the Babayaro family at this time.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, February 09, 2007

Mum's the word

Our in-form Nigerian hitman Obafemi Martins could be facing an international ban after missing his country's heavy defeat at the hands of Ghana this week. After a bit of misunderstanding and negotiation, we cleared Martins to play in the game - only for him to disappear off back home to be with his sick mother.

The furious Nigerian coach and FA chief could be accused of a lack of compassion, were it not for the fact that Martins didn't even think to let them know that he wouldn't be turning up. As coach Austin Eguavoen has said, "All he needed to do was make a single phone call but he never thought it wise to reach us". When Clarence Acuna was released from his Newcastle contract, it was to care for his mother back home in Chile - but that was all agreed and above-board.

Perhaps Martins could be approached as the new face for O2 (as was) - after all, it's good to talk...

F-f-f-flippin' great

The A-Z Of Football on Cheer Up Alan Shearer has reached the letter F - you can read the latest installment, complete with contributions from both myself and Paul, here.

We all continue to look at the game from peculiar angles, and Skif's effort is particularly inspired, not least because it contains the following sentence: "You might also be willing to risk running the gauntlet of getting through the 90 minutes without attempting to erode your zip fly with a sudden goal-propelled jet of backed-up russet-hued urine".

Quote of the day

"Noel drags it out a little bit, but it’s still pretty good. I switch off once the big money boxes have gone"

Michael Owen tells the Sun that 'Deal Or No Deal' is helping him get through his injury lay-off. Fair enough, Mickey, but just remember that when you're finally fully fit it's no deal - you owe us a big one...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Dire - but not Dyer

No doubt much to the dissatisfaction of Glenn Roeder, Kieron Dyer played the full 90 minutes in tonight's disappointing friendly defeat to Spain. (I was about to write "disappointing friendly stalemate" there, but then realised I'd forgotten about Andres Iniesta's superbly-struck winner - must have been straying back and forth across the border of sleep...)

Surrounded by players turning in very flat performances, Dyer didn't disgrace himself, and was actually England's liveliest forward, often stretching the defence and unlucky not to pick up the pieces in the six yard box on a couple of occasions.

After a hopeful penalty appeal was dismissed in the second half, though, Dyer faded and errors began to creep into his game. We can only hope that Steve McClaren's decision to leave him on for the duration doesn't impact on his fitness for Saturday's important home game against Liverpool. At least he didn't get injured, though, eh?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Capital gain loss

Fulham 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Q. What does the goal-shy attack of every side that has gone on a long winless run dream of?

A: The sight of the Newcastle Utd back four.

In truth, though, it wasn't just the defence that cost us the points on Saturday afternoon - as Glenn Roeder admitted afterwards, we were "flat" all over the pitch. Hugely disappointing, given that our four previous Premiership trips to the capital this season had gleaned a very respectable seven points, only champions Chelsea managing to beat us.

Roeder made only one change from the side that burst out of the blocks and then clung on desperately against Villa on Wednesday. New loan signing Oguchi Onyewu made his debut, with Steven Taylor going to right back and Stephen Carr displacing Paul Huntington on the opposite flank.

In a terrible first half Taylor and Onyewu it was who came closest to giving us the lead. At last prompted into action by a Wayne Routledge shot that dipped over Steve Harper's crossbar just before half-time, we surged upfield and won a corner, from which Taylor's low shot was superbly parried by stand-in 'keeper Jan Lastuvka and our American centre-back saw his follow-up deflected over the bar from close range by compatriot Carlos Bocanegra.

That should have been enough to convince us that, if we raised our game after the break, the points were there for the taking. But the torpor prevailed, to such an extent that four minutes into the second period a sleepwalking Nicky Butt played a suicidal back pass that Heidar Helguson expertly volleyed over the advancing Harper.

It was the gift the Cottagers needed, and, with their confidence flooding back, there was only ever going to be one winner. Michael Brown's shot faded away wide of the far post at the last instant and James Milner did well to divert an effort from Bocanegra off the line and over the bar. Titus Bramble did his best to produce a cock-up worse than Butt's, but some typically sloppy control and a cynical tug back on Helguson merited only a yellow card.

The in-form Milner - one of the only players in black and white to bother turning up - brushed the side netting with a low curled free kick which had Lastuvka scrambling across his line, but substitute Papa Bouba Diop settled it, winning the ball on the flank and easily outmuscling Carr to pull back for Brian McBride to apply the cute finish.

Harper saved well from Helguson before Nobby Solano came off the bench to supply Obafemi Martins with the first decent bit of service he'd had all day, the Nigerian duly firing home his ninth Premiership goal of the season - but we didn't have time to claim the equaliser our performance had in no way deserved.

The result dropped us to tenth, and we need to start putting some back-to-back victories together to consolidate our mid-table position. On that kind of display, European qualification looks a very long way off.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Sing when you're winning

Discovered on my travels through the internet this week: Stylus Magazine's Peter Parrish manages to write about football and music without once mentioning Kevin Keegan, Chris Waddle & Glenn Hoddle or Ossie Ardiles wanting to win the Cup for "Tottingham". Parrish on the adaptation of 'Hot Stuff' to celebrate the 1998 title-winning Arsenal side: "Amongst these disco antics, a rapid namecheck of various squad members throws out a reference to Nelson Vivas — at best a bit-part player during his stay in London — which just goes to show that all men are of equal value when the necessities of poetic meter come calling".

New face

What is it with Charlton fans and the internet? Charlton Life, to which a whole host of Addicks addicts contribute, is the latest site to find its place in the Black & White & Read All Over blogroll.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Not good enough

Phew! Thank goodness the transfer window's shut! I don't think I could have coped with much more of the frantic activity of the last few days...

(No, I think you'll find sarcasm is the HIGHEST form of wit.)

What do we have to show for our endeavours? A 24-year-old USA international centre back called Oguchi Onyewu, signed on loan from Standard Liege, who is a promising talent but essentially unproven at the very top level.

Sorry Fat Fred and Glenn, but that's just not good enough. You might be thinking / hoping that the injury situation can't possibly be as bad in the second half of the season as it has been in the first, and that players will soon be returning from long lay-offs - but I've followed this football club long enough to know that you shouldn't be counting on that.

Our Academy youngsters have performed manfully on a number of occasions, but were found out in the most painful way imaginable in the televised FA Cup replay against Birmingham. Even with Stephen Carr, Steven Taylor and Titus Bramble back against Villa, we looked decidedly shaky, and on another night debutants Ashley Young and John Carew could have helped themselves to hat-tricks and their new club to an even more handsome Tyneside win than their near neighbours. Expecting "Gooch" to sort that out single-handedly is wishful thinking, I'm afraid.

And what about the other mooted signings? In the last couple of days rumours about a number of players - Shaun Wright-Phillips, Ryan Babel, Frederic Piquionne, Joey Barton - came to nought, while others (I'm thinking mainly of Matthew Upson here) went elsewhere.

Time will tell whether our reluctance to part with cash pays off, but I'm sceptical.

Meanwhile, we failed even to offload Albert Luque, despite PSV having the hots for our grumpy Spaniard. In a statement, the Dutch club laid the blame squarely at Fat Fred's door, labelling him "obstructive". After the Milner saga in the summer, our midweek opponents Villa can probably sympathise.

Back in the fold

Kieron Dyer's reward for finally getting fit, getting his head down (except for the rare-as-hen's-teeth header against Villa on Wednesday) and turning in a series of good performances for the club that pays his wages is an England call-up for next week's friendly match against Spain. It'll be interesting to see if he gets a run-out.

Captain Scott has also made the squad, as has another player with Toon connections who, like Dyer, has more than merely a passing acquaintance with the treatment table. Yes, Jonathan Woodgate's back. Just a shame that the displays that have won him that return have been for the Smoggies rather than us, eh?

Meanwhile, England and Newcastle striker Michael Owen (yes, journos, he does play for us too...) has conceded that he might not make a return to competitive action this season. Not a massive surprise - I'd rather he was totally fit before making his comeback, as in recent years we have a bad record of rushing players back only for them to break down again within a few games (see: K Dyer above).

Mickey has been fulsome in his praise of the way the club has looked after him during his lengthy rehabilitation period: "They've been fantastic right from the moment when I picked up my injury. They paid for the best and most expensive treatment by sending me to Colorado where I underwent two operations carried out by Dr Richard Steadman, who is a fantastic chap. I now have one-to-one physio every day with the guy who worked with team-mate Kieron Dyer when he was injured. I definitely benefit from the one-to-one stuff because it's good to have someone staring at you, pushing you through the pain barrier." I hope that means you'll be rewarding us with your loyalty, Michael, rather than saying thanks and jumping ship as soon as you're fit in the summer...

Quote of the day

"To speak of football right now seems useless. For me this is the end. I will leave the football world. I don't recognise myself in this world anymore. I have loved football intensely but after this right now it seems absurd."

Catania executive Pietro Lo Monaco reacts to the news that a police officer had died amidst the violence in and around his side's Serie A match with Palermo.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Back with a bang

Newcastle Utd 3 - 1 Aston Villa

Three goals, three points and up to ninth in the table represented a good return for Glenn Roeder's men last night against a side rejuvenated by the transfer window.

With Aston Villa having flexed Randy Lerner's cheque book to acquire a new strike force, it was something of a pleasant surprise to see Newcastle roar back after their 10 day break and go two goals up inside the opening seven minutes. There was a degree of irony that it was James Milner (who could have been a Villa player but for our failure to sign Mark Viduka last August) who did the damage, scoring the first with yet another thumping twenty yard effort, before turning provider and allowing Kieron Dyer to score a rare headed goal.

With Sorensen looking shaky in the visitors' goal, Newcastle pressed forward, and Scott Parker was unlucky to see a long-range effort crash back off the woodwork. Had that gone in, then the game would probably have been over inside twenty minutes.

Instead, the visitors started to string some passes together, and from a corner Ashley Young was able to score on his debut, forcing the ball home after some pretty lacklustre attempts to clear the ball by the Newcastle defence.

With Villa now sensing a come back, Carew and Young began to form what could prove to be a very effective partnership, with the former seeing an effort come back off the post.

The second half started with another villa attack, this time Harper saving brilliantly to deny Agbonlahor, and Villa again looked the more likely to score a goal, Carew seeing one effort ruled out for a foul on Sibierski (a decision which could easily have gone the other way without too many complaints.)

In the end though, Newcastle were able to weather the storm, and in the last minutes, Duff broke free down the left before squaring for Sibierski to thrash the ball home and secure the points.

On the positive side, Duff and Bramble both look like they survived the full 90 minutes, with Milner and Dyer both continuing their good goal-scoring form. On the downside, Butt limped off before half time with a knee injury and our defence still looks shaky. It's now 14 games since our last clean sheet (away to Eintracht Frankfurt).

Other reports: BBC, Guardian