Monday, April 30, 2007

Dirty Dozen

Reading 1 – 0 Newcastle Utd

Newcastle were left to face the sorry fact that defeat against Reading represented our twelfth league away defeat of the season.

Welcoming Michael Owen back to the starting line up, and Shola Ameobi to the bench, we still looked toothless up front, with the Reading goalkeeper largely untroubled throughout the game. In midfield, we started with Emre in the holding role, with Dyer, Milner and Sibierski charged with the task of providing Owen and Martins with chances.

It nearly paid off in the first minute, when a ball in from the left saw Owen almost getting a touch on the ball, only to be (wrongly) flagged offside. Our number 10 did manage to get the ball in the net later in the half, but again he was offside (this time correctly). Unfortunately, that was to be the highpoint of an otherwise deeply frustrating game.

Goalless at half time, Newcastle failed to match Reading after the break, as the home side increased the tempo in their game. However, we were to prove masters of our own downfall – with Taylor guilty of unnecessarily dwelling on the ball in the middle of the pitch. He was tackled, and Reading were able to get the ball down the left, before swinging in a cross which Dave Kitson latched on to at the back post to score in the league for the first time since the opening day of the season.

Whilst that was Taylor’s only error of the game, alongside him Bramble seemed determined to allow Reading to add to their goal tally, with a selection of mis-hit back passes, and poor decisions fortunate to go unpunished.

Things grew worse as first Sibierski, and then Emre left the pitch to injuries, leaving Newcastle with a three man strike force, and a midfield featuring Dyer, Milner and the Zog. Despite a seemingly potent front six, we were unable to fashion a sufficient number of chances for our two slightly rusty strikers, and one who looks slightly out of form. As it was, our best chance of the second half fell to Milner, whose shot from outside the area just failed to curl inside the far post.

By then though, we’d long since lost our shape, and as the clock ticked down, we couldn’t fashion any decent spell of sustained pressure or break Reading’s incredibly well drilled defence down. The contrast between the two back fours, ultimately, proving to be the difference between the sides.

Other reports: BBC

Friday, April 27, 2007

Woodgategate: the saga ends

The story so far...

In January 2003 we paid £9m to Leeds Utd for the services of Jonathan Woodgate. Over the course of the next 17 months we saw him make a total of 36 appearances in black and white due to protracted injury problems, before Real Madrid came knocking and offered us £13.4m. Fat Fred duly bit their hand off while publicly suggesting the bid couldn't be refused.

Woodgate then endured two miserable seasons in the Spanish capital, taking months to make his first appearance for his new employers - and even then he contrived to score an own goal and then get himself sent off.

When the possibility of his returning to England was mooted last summer, we were quietly confident we'd be able to get him back - and how desperately we wanted it to happen; despite his myriad injury problems, Woodgate remains the best defender I've ever seen at St James' Park. So it was a hammer blow when he pitched up on Smogside, signing for his hometown club.

There remained a chink of light, though - the move was only a loan. Surely he'd soon come to realise the error of his ways and disregard those childhood loyalties?

But no. Despite having enjoyed an average season (to say the least), the Smoggies are today crowing about the fact that Woodgate has put pen to paper in a permanent deal worth £7m. And just when I was wondering whether it could get any more galling than knowing that he's been pretty much injury free and in imperious form all season...

I believe the word is "bollocks".

Sunday, April 22, 2007

No way Jose

Newcastle Utd 0 - 0 Chelsea

A fourth successive home game without bulging the net, but at least we can take real satisfaction from a superlative defensive display which denied title-chasing Chelsea the win they needed to put pressure on Man Utd. Indeed, with a little more self-belief we could well have won ourselves.

For a multi-million pound side desperate for points, Chelsea showed a curious lack of urgency and quality in a first period over which we exerted a quiet domination. Steve Harper could have got his deckchair and knotted hanky out, so little action did he see. What half-chances there were fell to players in black and white shirts. Kieron Dyer and Obafemi Martins both fired wide of Petr Cech's goal, while James Milner, lining up on the left of midfield in Damien Duff's absence, set about giving £13m Portuguese right back Paulo Ferreira a torrid time.

Steven Taylor was imperious at the back, and together with Titus Bramble managed to shackle the ever-dangerous bullying powerhouse that is Didier Drogba. An equally fascinating head-to-head took shape between John Terry and Antoine Sibierski, our Frenchman determined to prevent the Chelsea skipper from getting on the end of free-kicks and corners delivered by Frank Lampard into our area.

If Sibierski was perhaps rather fortunate to get away with his part in a couple of those tussles, Stephen Carr was even more fortunate that referee Mark Halsey didn't see Salomon Kalou's cross strike his outstretched arm - predictably enough leading Jose Mourinho to wheel out the persecution complex and conspiracy theories in his post-match interview.

After the break, a reinvigorated Chelsea soon served notice of their rediscovered attacking intent, Lampard blasting over from a good position and Drogba too finding the fans behind the goal. But - to our immense credit - we refused to buckle, steadfastly resisting all attempts to wrest control of the game from our grasp and continuing to cause the Londoners' defence problems.

The busy Dyer latched onto skipper-for-the-day Nicky Butt's slide-rule pass (albeit from an offside position) but saw his dinked shot from close range superbly smothered by Cech, and from the subsequent corner Martins escaped the attentions of the daydreaming Ferreira only to plant his header high and wide. Sibierski too was off-target with a header from a deep curling Milner cross, but we were living dangerously at the other end when a scrambled effort from Kalou rolled past Harper but was calmly collected by Butt before it crossed the line.

Mourinho threw on Andriy Shevchenko on 75 minutes, and Glenn Roeder responded by replacing the tiring Sibierski with local lad Andy Carroll - and Carroll it was who nearly helped us grab the victory. Slipped in on the right side of the area by a neat pass from Emre, he drove the ball square but unfortunately couldn't pick out Martins. There was still time for another lucky escape at the other end, flouncing turf-tumbling substitute Joe Cole diverting a Ferreira cross inches wide of Harper's far post - but that would have been far more than the visitors deserved.

Just a shame to know that the result will have pleased Fergie and Man Utd fans the world over...

Chelsea fans' views: Chelsea Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Christmas for Carroll

Safe to say it's been a good week for Andy Carroll.

Having played a full half at Portsmouth on Saturday, coming on for the ineffective N'Zogbia and contributing to a much improved display after the break, our 18-year-old striker then bagged a fifteen minute hattrick in a 5-1 win for the reserves on Smogside on Tuesday - and on Thursday was rewarded for his promise with a new contract which runs through until 2011.

It'll be interesting to see how involved he is in the remaining games this season. This summer we're almost certain to add to our firepower, having drawn far too many blanks this time out, but the length of Carroll's contract suggests the management clearly see him as having a contribution to make.

Carroll's strike partner in the reserve match on Tuesday was another gangly local lad, Shola Ameobi, who marked his comeback from a long lay-off with a goal. After the game he revealed the seriousness of that injury: "I have had the problem for two years and it was career-threatening. I can say that now. But I never wanted to think about it as I wanted to get it right". Good to have him back - though tomorrow's game against Chelsea will come too soon for him, as it will for Michael Owen.

(A contrived title for this post, to be sure - let's just get the puns out of the way now, shall we?)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Every silver lining has a cloud

I've probably used that title for a post before, but then when it comes to Newcastle Utd it's pretty much a constant state of affairs...

As our season peters out in a succession of hopelessly gutless and endeavour-free displays (the win at Bramall Lane aside), it's been a small crumb of comfort to know that Michael Owen is on the comeback trail and could well make his first appearances of 2006/7 in our last few remaining games. But even that reason to be cheerful has been tempered by the claim in yesterday's News Of The World that Taggart is intent on poaching our pint-sized crockpot as soon as he's fully fit.

True, the basis for the story is the dubious testimony of a mysterious "well-placed source", who is quoted as saying: "It is no secret that Sir Alex wants another striker and he is bound to be attracted by someone of Owen's pedigree at such a competitive price". Indeed it isn't any secret - but does that necessarily mean that Owen's both available and a target? A few too many leaps in logic there, I think - but in our current mood it's hard not to be pessimistic.

Sticking with this source, apparently Man Utd will only make their move if he proves his fitness: "We want to see him in action for several games between now and the end of the season". Well, they'll be lucky, especially as it seems Sunday's game against Chelsea may well come too soon. That'll leave just three club games left before it's time to get out the buckets and spades (I would say "time for a well-earned rest for the players", but I wouldn't want to make you laugh).

Roeder's response to the speculation? "I certainly haven't waited all these months to write Michael Owen's name on my team-sheet to even contemplate selling him". Ah, but Glenn, you can refuse to contemplate all you want - it could be out of your hands, dependent more on Fat Fred and any rogue clauses in his contract. Let's just hope that a sense of loyalty to the club that has nursed him back to fitness induces him to stay on and repay us next term.

Added Roeder: "Personally, I can't wait to see him scoring goals for us that no-one else can". A bit harsh on Obafemi Martins, perhaps, but certainly no-one else seems to be able to score goals at the moment...

The News Of The World article also claimed that Owen has "earmarked England's Euro Championship qualifier against Estonia in June for his international return". Er, not if Fat Fred gets his way he hasn't - we've threatened the FA with an injunction to prevent Owen from playing in that game, and according to Shepherd "our lawyers believe there is a very good chance we can win this case". Not surprising we're less than thrilled at the prospect, really, given that Owen's anterior cruciate knee ligament injury while on international duty has cost us goals and points as well as in excess of £150,000 in treatment...

Meanwhile, as one multi-million-pound superstar looks to return to the side (and then potentially get snaffled by a Champions League chasing team), another has kicked his last ball of the campaign. Yes, just as he was hitting something like the form we've been expecting of him all season, Damien Duff has gone and done his ankle in, and will be unable to add to his paltry return of one solitary goal. Bloody typical.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

One man band out of Toon

Portsmouth 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Despite the best efforts of Obafemi Martins, yesterday saw us slump to yet another away defeat down on the English Riviera. Such were the performances of the some of Martins' colleagues, particularly in a dreadful first half, that one might have been forgiven for wondering if they'd been plucked from their retirement deckchairs along the coast at Bournemouth and pitched into the action. Certainly, a bunch of pensioners could hardly have been more clueless...

Before the match not only were we speculating as to which Newcastle would turn up, but also as to which Portsmouth we'd be facing - the tight-knit and determined team who deservedly defeated league leaders Man Utd (to put it in context, the Red Devils' next opponents Roma were thrashed 7-1 three days later), or the hapless rabble who crashed to ignominious defeat at basement club Watford just two days later. Unfortunately for us, with Pompey back on home soil, it was the former.

With Steve Harper, Charles N'Zogbia and Craig Moore replacing Oguchi Onyewu and injured duo Shay Given and Kieron Dyer, we started brightly enough, Martins stinging David James' fingers with a rising drive. But that initial hope soon dissipated. Only six minutes had elapsed when last Saturday's hero Steven Taylor took pity on our opponents' much maligned record signing Benjani Mwaruwari, the sort of striker who is hard-working but possesses a worse goalscoring record than Paul Robinson. Having allowed himself to be mugged in the area, Taylor presented Benjani with a scoring opportunity which he duly took.

From that point on we were swamped by the blue tide. Our supposedly talented midfield quartet were overrun, and our defence torn apart by Benjani and Kanu, who was unlucky to see a shot hit the bar, bounce down onto the line and spin out back into play. The Nigerian missed the target when well placed to score on another occasion, and Harper made an excellent stop to deny Benjani a second. Moore was withdrawn on the half hour because, Glenn Roeder commented later, "he was struggling and we thought it was right to make the change". Why he decided to rush the Australian back from injury when Onyewu had a perfectly sound game against Arsenal is quite beyond me.

Right at the end of the half we at last showed the guts to stick our heads out of the bunker and fire a shot in reply, Martins unfortunate to see his header cleared off the line by Lauren, but by that point we could and should have been several goals down.

Roeder rightly rattled a few eardrums during the break, and at the start of the second period hauled off the anonymous N'Zogbia, beanpole striker Andy Carroll his replacement. Invigorated by the arrival of a proper strike partner Martins, no doubt whistling 'With A Little Help From My Friends', matched his Nigerian compatriot Kanu by heading against the bar from James Milner's cross. Just as he did last week against Sheffield Utd, he was tormenting the opposing defence - but this time he was being left to perform miracles single-handedly.

Soon after that chance Pompey doubled their advantage, Matt Taylor smashing a shot in from 30 yards. We could have few complaints about the scoreline, such was their dominance in the first half. But, as if a switch had been flicked, that second goal brought our players to life and we suddenly - unexpectedly - started to exert ourselves. Even then, though, we needed Dejan Stefanovic's assistance in getting a foothold back into the game, Milner tricking the big defender into scything him down. Emre converted the resultant penalty, thereby prolonging James' wait to claim the record for Premiership clean sheets.

It wasn't the last action he saw, either. With his side very much on the back foot, only an excellent save prevented Martins from finally registering the goal his display merited and stealing us an improbable point. Despite some sustained late pressure, it wasn't to be.

Our 11th away defeat of the season combined with Villa's win on Smogside saw us drop to 11th in the table - the psychological blow of slipping out of the top half of the table. The European dream is all but dead in the water, though Roeder is still talking about the possibility of maximum points from our last four games - laughable, really. Lest we forget, our next opponents are a Chelsea side desperate not to allow Man Utd to wrest the Premiership trophy from their grasp without a fight, while we've failed to score in each of our last three home games. It could be bloody.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, April 13, 2007

"Sheer and utter garbage"

The Sven-to-Newcastle rumours resurfaced again this week - but so vehement was Fat Fred's denial that our motormouth chairman couldn't get his words out right. Of course, it's hardly the first time that "sheer and utter garbage" has exited his mouth...

Shepherd claims "I have not spoken to Sven since he left the England job and I have no intention of speaking to him", and for once there's little reason to dispute his denial. Considering his forthright opinions on Sven during the Swede's time in charge of England, I for one would be amazed if there's any substance to the speculation.

The story - which first raised its head shortly before Souness was sacked in January last year - seems to have been stirred up once again by the presence at Monday's game of Tord Grip, formerly Eriksson's right hand man with England - but Grip was only there as the guest of Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein. Given the snoozeathon that subsequently unfolded, Eriksson's sidekick no doubt regretted accepting the invite even before the rumour mill cranked into action.

Seven up

Now up on Hobo Tread is the collaborative report by myself and Jonathan of Crinklybee on last month's extraordinary derby clash between Stockport and Rochdale - read it here. For us Newcastle fans, it brought back deeply unpleasant memories of our FA Cup mauling at the hands of Birmingham in January - but, given our own team's chronic failings in front of goal, at least we saw the net ripple a few times...

New signing

A warm welcome to the latest addition to the Black & White & Read All Over blogroll: Just Like My Dreams, a seriously good new West Ham blog.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bank Holiday stroll in the park

Newcastle Utd 0 - 0 Arsenal

Soporific is the only way to describe yesterday's match at St James' Park, with neither side seemingly capable of rousing themselves to claim the three points on offer to the first team to raise the pace.

With the sun shining down, the game was very much the Bank Holiday afternoon stroll in the park, with little to trouble either keeper. For Newcastle, the best moments came from an Onyewu shot which Lehmann easily dealt with, and a Milner cross / shot which rebounded off the cross bar early in the second half. For Arsenal it was Gilberto Silva's late efforts which saw Solano block the first and then recover to head the follow-up over the bar to safety. But that was pretty much it.

Despite such a relaxed game, referee Howard Webb still saw fit to penalise anything approaching a physical challenge, yet curiously ignore late Newcastle claims for a penalty when Onyewu was clearly held back in the area.

That said, the draw was clearly a fair result, with neither side particularly troubling the other - surprising, seeing as Arsenal at least still have something to play for. For Newcastle, the sight of Given, Dyer and latterly Emre all leaving the field with what looked to be injuries may mean that the season really does limp to a conclusion, but until we can find some means of giving Martins support we're left looking for a flash of inspiration, rather than any likelihood that we can really build attacks.

Milner and Butt once again stood out, but on a day when so little effort was required both teams simply coasted through the game untroubled (more than can be said for the crowd, who were subjected to Rod Stewart record after Rod Stewart Record, the DJ either under instructions to mercilessly plug his forthcoming gig, or simply having only brought one CD with him - either way it was bloody painful to listen to.)

An Arsenal fan's perspective: East Lower

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Sheffield Utd 1 – 2 Newcastle Utd

A win, two goals, a spirited performance worthy of the shirt, and the relief that comes from knowing that we’ve now reached forty points were the outcomes from our game at Bramall Lane on Saturday.

Goals from Obafemi Martins and Steven Taylor were enough to ensure that we left the land of the greasy chip butty certain of our premiership status next season, something which certainly cannot be said of the home side.

The win came in no small part to a decent team performance, with Roeder finally showing he has the ability to make tough decisions, and dropping Dyer in place of Milner. Unsurprisingly, the right winger played a crucial part in both of our goals, with his cushioned header from Duff’s cross falling for Martins to knock home the first, and his corner landing on Steven Taylor’s forehead to restore our lead with ten minutes to go – Christian Nade having briefly given the hosts a glimmer of hope when he sidefooted past Given.

As a team, we performed much better, and could have scored more, with Duff and Martins also going close, and Sibierski blazing over the bar when it seemed far easier to score.

Those misses looked to be costly when Nade scored, but Taylor’s header, and an excellent late save by Given were enough to lift us into the top half. Hopefully this result will now restore some of the confidence which has been conspicuously lacking in recent weeks, and help us to push on up the table. With so many mediocre sides bunched in the middle of the table, a couple of decent wins could really see us push ourselves up the table.

Other reports: BBC, Observer

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Month Of Saturdays: March 2007

In the recent history of Newcastle Utd there can have been few months more thoroughly depressing than that which we’ve just had the misfortune to endure. It’s tempting to zero in immediately on its undoubted nadir – one to rival if not surpass the 1-0 home defeat by Sheffield Utd in November, and the 5-1 FA Cup replay massacre by Birmingham – but first let’s focus on the few positives we can glean.

Firstly, Emre was cleared of his FA racism charge, guilty of nothing more (according to his manager) than making "unpleasant" remarks to Everton’s Joseph Yobo.

Secondly, Michael Owen’s recovery from serious injury continues, and the pint-sized striker has targeted 22nd April and the home game against champions Chelsea as the point at which he begins to repay his considerable debt to us. Of course, fixing a date means something is bound to go calamitously wrong in the meantime…

And that, in the way of positives, is just about that. Honestly, it’s like picking bits of sweetcorn out of a turd.

Right, that nadir. Having raced thrillingly into a 4-1 half-time lead in the first leg of our UEFA Cup tie with AZ Alkmaar, we were then desperately unfortunate to see Steven Taylor penalised for a handball in the area. Moussa Dembele’s spot-kick was woeful, but neither Shay Given nor Titus Bramble could prevent Danny Koevermans from prodding home the rebound.

On such incidents as that – and Obafemi Martins’ fluffed opportunity to claim a hat-trick – did the tie turn. It would not have done, however, had the side with the 4-2 first leg advantage possessed even a modicum of professionalism. Sadly, professionalism is never something we could be accused of. Gross naivety, on the other hand, is our forte and once again we did ourselves proud.

Knowing that a win, a draw or even a one goal defeat in Holland would be enough to see us through, we duly contrived to forget all the pre-match talk of attack being the best form of defence, or, failing that, keeping it tight at the back. Instead we masochistically invited the dangerous Dutch to try their luck and duly found ourselves sliced apart in the manner of a particularly grisly horror film. The final score? 2-0 to our opponents – just the result they wanted, gift-wrapped and handed to them on a plate.

In the aftermath Roeder exclaimed: "That result against Alkmaar is Newcastle. Not just this season, not last season, it is the Newcastle which threw away a 12 point lead at the top of the Premiership, which you would have thought was impossible. That is Newcastle." Few of us could disagree.

That first half blitzing of Alkmaar turned out to be exceptional not simply within the context of the tie but of March as a whole. In 37 minutes we registered on the scoresheet four times - the only goals we were to score all month. All three Premiership fixtures saw us draw a blank: a 0-0 home draw with a mediocre Smoggy side, a pathetic 2-0 capitulation to relegation fodder Charlton and finally a 1-0 home reverse at the hands of the equally inept Man City. Not only have we repeatedly failed to score, but we have repeatedly failed to create clear chances too – and that, as any budding Robbie Earle could tell you, is bad news.

Roeder claimed in the wake of the Alkmaar tie that our losing mentality is "stitched into the badge", adding that "Somebody has to unstitch it and I want it to be me". On the evidence of that disaster, he looks increasingly unlikely to be the man for the job, his tactics, motivational skills and decision-making increasingly coming into question. Why, for instance, has arguably our best (certainly our most improved) player James Milner been reduced to a peripheral role in recent games, appearing only sporadically from the sidelines? Why was Stephen Carr preferred to Nobby Solano at right back against City? Why leave the in-form Antoine Sibierski on the bench and then set the team out to play as though he’s on the pitch, humping long balls up for Martins and Kieron Dyer? The bafflement and (in some cases) extreme displeasure among the fans has been unsurprising.

Presently, at the start of April, we sit in a deceptively healthy 11th place. Don’t be fooled – only a few weeks ago our conquerors on Saturday Man City were being talked of as potential relegation candidates, and now, two successive away wins later, they lurk one point behind us with a game in hand. Seven points separates us from Charlton, currently occupying the last of the relegation places.

But there is one remaining positive: namely, that there probably aren’t quite enough games left for everyone else to pick up points and for us to land ourselves in the brown stuff. Probably.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Bigger = better?

The club today unveiled plans to expand the capacity of St James' Park by at least 8,000, thereby increasing capacity to over 60,000. What has been labelled the Number 1 St James' Park project will also involve the construction of two separate hotel complexes, a number of apartments and a conference centre.

Two things caught my eye about the proposals. Firstly, they "will be funded completely independently of the football club's revenues" - meaning there'll be no blaming the developments for a lack of funds to invest in the team. And secondly, the first hotel complex, comprising no fewer than 140 hotel rooms, will be "built on the site of the former Magpies Supporters' Club". Symbolic, perhaps, of the way that at Newcastle the interests of commerce increasingly bulldoze and steamroller over those of the fans?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Four word report

Newcastle Utd 0 - 1 Manchester City

Saturday's match report is brought to you in conjunction with my mother, whose four word description says everything you need to know about our gutless capitulation to a Manchester City side largely regarded as poor.

Roeder's decision to leave Milner and Sibierski on the bench was mystifying and frustrating in equal measure, despite the fact that the former has looked our best attacking option, and the latter might have won the high balls we kept pumping forward only for Martins to be beaten in the air.

The combination of Butt and Parker at home is simply not creative enough, with Captain Scott barely doing enough to merit a place on the pitch, let alone the armband he continues to wear despite the presence of at least one candidate (Given) who cares more for the team.

I'll bet Sheffield United can't wait for next Saturday, when the good ship Newcastle comes in to town bringing three points to all in danger of relegation. (The big concern is that if we could still do with a couple of wins just to make sure we'll be around to give mediocre Premiership teams three points next season.)

Anyway, without further ado, take it away mum...

"Turgid boring awful football"

Other reports: BBC, Guardian