Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Who's who

Handy pen pics from today's Guardian of Jeff Vetere and Tony Jiminez our new Technical Coordinator and Vice President (Player Recruitment) respectively. With the addition of Dennis Wise as Executive Director (Football) it seems that the review of the club which Chris Mort originally carried out, and presumably the recommendations which were made after that report, is now prompting changes.

Whilst some people might make scathing comments about the restructuring, it seems to me that implementing business models which must logically have worked for Mort and Ashley in the past should work for Newcastle in the future. Obviously, football is awash with big egos, but then so too is big business, and Mike Ashley will clearly want to see his massive investment bear fruit. So, provided everyone involved (Keegan included) knows their role and the expectations upon them, and sticks to their remit, then hopefully it will all make a big difference to the club going forward.

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Arsenal 3 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Two trips to Arsenal within a matter of days, and two 3-0 victories for the home side. You can read Ben's take on our FA Cup defeat here, and the key differences between the two performances can be summarised as follows:

The goal scorers this time were Adebayor, Flamini and Fabregas, with Flamini's strike being the pick of the three. The Frenchman enjoying a strong game, completely outplaying Butt and Rozehnal in the middle of the park.

Jose Enrique didn't even make the bench, having been thoroughly torn to pieces by Theo Walcott at the weekend, with N'Zogbia returned to left back.

Joey Barton was able to make an appearance from the bench, following the alteration to his bail conditions. Sadly he did little of merit in the forty minutes he was on the pitch.

Abdoulaye Faye's reputation continues to be enhanced by his absence - Cacapa was again shown to be found wanting, and it must be hoped that his days in a black and white shirt are numbered.

We still can't fashion much in the way of shooting chances, and Michael Owen remains a player who may or may not be in form, but without the ball we'll never know.

In truth there was little of merit to report from a game in which Arsenal proved how far we have to travel if we are to harbour genuine hopes of competing at the top of the table again. The team currently lack confidence, depth and above all creativity, and Emre's return from suspension can't come soon enough.

Sunday's game against the smog monsters now takes on a far greater significance, with anything less than a win seeing us drawn into the relegation dog fight. However, a win (and a goal) might finally be the much needed kick start to this chapter in Keegan's time on Tyneside.

An Arsenal fan's perspective: East Lower

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Wise move?

When 'Appy 'Arry Redknapp turned down the manager's job, it seemed as though there wouldn't be aitches being dropped in the corridors of power at St James's Park anytime soon. Not so, with today's news that Dennis Wise has left his job at Leeds to take up a position in our reshaped managerial structure, probably as a director of football or general manager.

It's all a bit bewildering, it has to be said.

On the one hand, the agent behind the appointment seems to have very much been Mike Ashley rather than Kevin Keegan (though Keegan's reported to be happy with it, and satisfied that Wise's role won't encroach on his own), and Ashley has to be commended for taking decisive steps to improve things off the pitch. There's a pleasing suggestion that we might actually be abandoning our chronic short-termism, looking to emulate the likes of Arsenal and Spurs by building up our youth squad - in some ways correcting the mistake Keegan made in his first spell as manager of disbanding the reserves.

But is Wise really the man for the job? At 41, he's very young for a senior position like this, unlikely to have much clout or reputation in the world transfer market (important, given that part of his role is set to involve scouting and identifying targets), and the mind boggles at the sort of bad habits he might teach our prospective youngsters. Do we want a squad of Lee Bowyers? At least he'll be able to look the youth squad in the eyes, quipped the other half of B&W&RAO - but I can't get over the feeling that he's a nasty little man best suited to the nasty club from whence he came. Either Ashley wasn't aware of our antipathy towards him, or felt he could safely make the move having built up a huge fund of goodwill with the appointment of Keegan.

Two things are for certain: given his colourful past, taxi drivers in the city will be treading carefully, and he'll get on like a house on fire with Joey Barton...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

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Arsenal 3 - 0 Newcastle Utd

It was always going to be a very tall order to keep our FA Cup dream alive, and so it proved, as an Arsenal side evidently stung by Tuesday's 5-1 league cup defeat to Spurs and spearheaded by Emmanuel Adebayor, a man in a blistering run of form, ran out victorious. The surprise, though, was that we did at least give them a decent game, going close on a few occasions and only really lost our grip in the last ten minutes.

Nicky Butt and Alan Smith were both back from their two game suspensions, and Kevin Keegan elected to pitch them straight back into the side. That meant David Rozehnal dropping to the bench, and Shola Ameobi dropping out of the squad altogether, presumably as a result of an injury - if not, he may already be regretting excitedly referring to Keegan's return as "music to my ears"...

If the News Of The Screws and their "club insider" are to be believed, Keegan's team talk was simply "Arsenal are a great passing team. We must make sure we pass the ball better than them". Ultimately we didn't and lost - though it didn't help that we didn't have a player with the same cutting edge as Adebayor, either. At least we worried them in the first half, though, with Smith particularly unlucky to see his shot headed off the line by Gael Clichy. Steven Taylor, up from the back, headed just over, and Michael Owen also had a half-decent opportunity.

As is so often the case, though, we had Shay Given to thank for the fact that we made it to the break with our goal intact. The Irishman pulled off excellent saves to deny Eduardo, Clichy and Abou Diaby.

It only took five minutes of the second half for the Gunners to get their noses in front, though. Eduardo was given the time and space to curl a shot past Given's outstretched hand and off the foot of the post, which rebounded to Adebayor who calmly ignored the black-and-white-shirted players flinging themselves at his feet and fired high into the top corner.

I doubt I was alone in fearing a repeat of the Man Utd second half horror show, but thankfully it never materialised. Neither, though, did an equaliser, and as Arsenal (and particularly Cesc Fabregas) began to enjoy their superiority, opportunities in front of Jens Lehmann's goal dried up. Owen claimed a penalty for handball against Philippe Senderos, but it would have been harsh. Keegan's post-match assessment was typically honest: "We could not keep it up and they stepped up, we stepped back and in the end, the gulf was pretty big".

It took our opponents until the 83rd minute to double their advantage, though, Adebayor jinking past Rozehnal too easily and shooting underneath Given and past Taylor on the line, for once unable to keep the ball out, and leaving us to rue Togo's failure to qualify for the African Cup of Nations.

With the game over to all intents and purposes, it was unfortunate for Nicky Butt that he glanced Fabregas's free kick past Given for an own goal that put an unflattering sheen on the scoreline - we were well beaten, but not that well beaten.

And so we get to concentrate on the league - and Tuesday's return to the Emirates. Joy...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Shearer: I'm no number two

Following Alan Shearer's meeting with Kevin Keegan on Thursday night, the man who brought the striker to Tyneside announced that he won't be filling the vacant position of assistant manager after all. Shearer's comments after the meeting suggest that there may have been a grain of truth in the suspicion that the two couldn't work together after all: "We're very similar people, very opinionated and at times you might need something different in a number two". Better they acknowledge that now, I suppose.

Further talks are planned, though, with Keegan remaining keen on getting Shearer involved in the coaching set-up if a "worthwhile" role can be found for him (presumably his current position as club ambassador isn't exactly deemed "worthwhile"...). And the desire to have some familiar faces around the club isn't limited to just Shearer - Keegan's admitted: "I would like to encourage the old players to come back". That might explain the presence of John Beresford and Robbie Elliott in the crowd for last weekend's game against Bolton, as well as Sir Bobby Robson and Sir John Hall. Presumably we won't be seeing the likes of Peter Garland and Darren McDonough anytime soon, though...


Time for a quick round-up of some of the other recent goings-on at St James's...

Disappointingly, it looks as though we've missed out on Jonathan Woodgate, who's reportedly agreed terms with Spurs. Once we'd had a fee accepted by the Smogs and been given permission to talk to him, it looked as though he'd be returning for a second spell on Tyneside - but Juande Ramos, also very definitely on the market for a commanding and composed centre back, seems to have wooed him.

There's no denying that re-signing him would have represented a significant gamble, given his serious and chronic injury problems during his time at the club - do we really need another Michael Owen? But the fact remains that when he did play, he was outstanding, and when fully fit last season his quality really showed - little wonder he was named North East Player Of The Year. Our defence is crying out for a player of his ilk and calibre - and, with time fast running out before the end of the month, it's looking increasingly likely that we'll have to go without until the summer.

At least there's no danger that Keegan might be panicked into re-signing another of our former central defenders - Jean-Alain Boumsong having just completed a £2m move from Juventus to Lyon...

Meanwhile, Keegan's offered the captain's armband to Owen on a full time basis, much to the striker's surprise. Owen said, "It was a tremendous honour and, at 28, it's a role I'm ready for and I'd love to continue in", but of course it smacks of being a fairly transparent olive branch in the light of the much-publicised criticisms of Keegan in his autobiography. Let's just hope that both can put whatever differences they had behind them, and that Owen can stay fit and start scoring regularly - though for that to happen Keegan will have his work cut out on improving the service to him...

Abdoulaye Faye and Geremi both scored the opening goals in their respective nation's latest games in the African Cup of Nations. Faye headed in for Senegal after 20 minutes, but their opponents Angola then hit three in reply, while Geremi scored a curling free kick to set Cameroon on the way to a 5-1 thrashing of Zambia. Both were Allardyce signings, as was fellow ACoN participant Habib Beye, and it'll be interesting to see whether Keegan rates them when they get back to Blighty.

Lastly, Antoine Sibierski's been talking about the "disrespect" the club showed him that led to his departure for Wigan in the summer. After Glenn Roeder's sacking, "suddenly, my contract had been changed to one year, with 40% of the wages guaranteed and the other 60% if I played. I could understand if I had been injured or basically crap but I had played well and didn't deserve that. It was a complete lack of respect and I'm disappointed about it to this day because I still love that club and I class myself as a Newcastle fan."

Good on him for refusing the deal - it was a typically clumsy move on the part of Fat Fred, and it's no wonder that most of Siberski's bitterness is directed at him: "I'm very happy that Shepherd has gone, even if it came too late for me. I don't know him as a man so I can't judge him as a man, but as a chairman he was not a good chairman. The players did not like him." Nice to know we were all on the same wavelength, then...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Relit my fire

The Bolton match report is now up on and Niall appears to have hit the nail square on the head as far as this Geordie is concerned. All of a sudden I have found myself reinvigorated as far as Newcastle United are concerned.

Do I expect us to win things?

Put bluntly: no.

The bitter experiences of the mid/late-nineties put paid to that, but I once again have my hope back, which is more than I had under Allardyce, Roeder and Souness.

As a fellow Geordie in work said: "We still won't win anything, but at least it'll be more entertaining".

I can't wait.

Fighting for equal treatment

Is it just me, or is it faintly reassuring to find another club making the news for spats between their players. Presumably if Adebayor is found to have struck Bendtner then he'll be investigated by the police, and not just the FA (after all, wasn't that what happened when Dyer and Bowyer had their little disagreement?)

I'm sure the papers will, of course, adopt the same piece of moral high ground which they took back in April 2005. If anything, given the high profile nature of the game (a Cup semi final) and given that Arsenal are currently second in the league, you would think this to be a bigger story than the Bowyer/Dyer debacle.

Wouldn't you?

Monday, January 21, 2008

No fizz

Newcastle Utd 0 - 0 Bolton

We cracked out the bubbly on Wednesday, but by 7pm yesterday it had gone a bit flat. With hindsight, it was inevitable that the first game of King Kev's second spell as manager would end in goalless stalemate, wasn't it?

Our free-scoring exploits on Wednesday against a hapless Stoke side already seemed a distant memory, and Keegan's post-match assessment that "we weren't quite good enough to win the game" was spot on. Despite keeping possession for long periods of time, we were unable to translate our dominance into clear chances, a couple of shots from Stephen Carr and Shola Ameobi aside, and Jussi Jaaskelainen never even had to dirty his gloves once. Keegan now has a better idea of the magnitude of the job he's taken on, if not of our defensive frailties, which were only seriously tested by an unadventurous Bolton side in the first five minutes.

It wasn't really down to a lack of effort on the players' part. Charles N'Zogbia did what he could to inspire things with some dynamic play through the middle, while David Rozehnal, pushed into an unfamiliar defensive midfield role, was initially very much a square peg in a round hole but gradually got to grips with it.

But Ameobi, brought back in from the cold in Mark Viduka's absence, seemed to be penalised for breathing every time the ball went near him, and Michael Owen, while a consummate opportunist from close range, really isn't the sort of striker who fashions chances for himself, dependent instead on service from others. In that regard, neither James Milner nor Damien Duff did enough on the flanks. We were like drunks, fumbling around for the key that might unlock the door, and the returning Andy O'Brien hardly did us any favours at the heart of the visitors' defence (why couldn't the old boy in Bolton's ranks have been Titus Bramble instead?).

So, new manager and same old failings, then. I wasn't totally despondent after the game, though, for a couple of reasons.

First, because it could have definitely been worse had Shay Given not pulled out a top-class save to block substitute Jlloyd Samuel's close-range shot with the clock having ticked into injury time. The point, as disappointing as it was, stopped the rot, ensuring we weren't facing up to a fifth consecutive Premiership defeat, and the clean sheet was to be celebrated too.

And second, because with Keegan at the helm rather than Allardyce, and with midfielders back from suspension and the African Cup of Nations, I know things will get better or at very least more watchable. If anyone can help us find that elusive key, Keegan can.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, January 18, 2008

Blank cheque

According to the press today, Mike Ashley has promised Keegan somewhere between £20-30 million to spend in this transfer window, and then a bottomless pit of money to spend in the summer in an effort to bring some entertaining football to Tyneside. (Presumably funds which weren't made available to Sam Allardyce.)

Inevitably, the press have bandied around names such as Wes Brown, Jermain Defoe, Wayne Bridge, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Deco. Of course, whether any of these players ever find their way into a black and white shirt remains to be seen. I'd have thought that Brown and Bridge were significantly more important acquisitions than Defoe or Wright Phillips (although I think if we could get Deco and guarantee that he'd settle on Tyneside then he'd be an amazing acquisition).

However, I think the most important signings that Keegan needs to make are to sort out his backroom staff (with or without Alan Shearer). On the Shearer subject, I've got to be honest and say that I'm not really that fussed as to whether he joins the staff or not. If he does, then he'll need to earn his keep by either sharing some of the strain of management as an assistant, or helping improve the players in a coaching capacity. If he isn't going to do either of those things then my view is that he might as well stay in the Match of the Day studio.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The KK factor

Newcastle Utd 4 - 1 Stoke City

Mere hours after announcing the return of Kevin Keegan as manager, Newcastle produced a performance which appeared to turn the clock back approximately 12 years and blew Stoke away.

Opting for an attacking front six (although, to be honest he had little option given the lack of available midfielders for this game), caretaker boss Nigel Pearson sent a team out which showed real attacking intent. Despite an early Stoke effort, which Given did well to palm away, Newcastle eased into the lead after only 7 minutes when Michael Owen forced the ball home from James Milner's cross. It was Owen's first FA Cup goal for the club, coming a mere 28 months after he joined us.

Uriah Rennie then decided to place his own mark on the game, firstly letting a rash foul on Emre by Stoke captain John Eustace go unpunished, before promptly brandishing the red card to the Turk when he decided to take matters into his own hands (or studs) a few minutes later. The complete lack of consistency from a referee with a penchant for penalising Newcastle should hardly come as a surprise. However, the loss of Emre for Saturday's game with Bolton means that Keegan's first task will be to try and find someone to accompany Charles N'Zogbia in central midfield.

Despite being reduced to ten men, Newcastle continued to attack, and only one minute after the Turk had seen red, Cacapa headed home James Milner's corner to leave Stoke with a mountain to climb.

Having initially suggested they might find a way back into the match (not lease due to some sloppy defending from Jose Enrique) Milner effectively put the match beyond doubt with a low right footed shot from 20 yards. With Damien Duff adding a fourth following a three on one break towards the end it was a good night all round.

In typical Newcastle fashion, there was still time for Stoke to snatch a late consolation goal, as ex-mackem Liam Lawrence cut in from the left to clip a shot past Given into the far corner.

However, it was too little too late. The pre-match excitement around the city was clear for all to see, and Stoke proved sufficiently complicit to allow Keegan's second stint in charge to begin with a win.

Obviously, one win against a Championship side doesn't really mask over the cracks. Keegan will quickly realise that we need bodies in before the close of the transfer window. For the moment though, let's simply savour the excitement which comes with having KK back at the helm, and look forward to what lies ahead.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Back to the future

Caught your breath yet? How's about a slightly more considered response to the news that Kevin Keegan's back on Tyneside?

Yesterday we welcomed Torygraph readers to the site by saying: "If you were after one long howled duet of anguish punctuated by stabs of bitter humour and the occasional obscure music reference ... then you've come to the right place". Well, that howl of anguish has been replaced by whoops of delight, both on Tyneside for tonight's FA Cup 3rd Round replay romp against Stoke and here at Black & White & Read All Over Towers.

So, why are we so excited about the return of a man who never actually won a major trophy?

As a player Keegan inspired us to promotion to the old First Division in 1984 before retiring, but then really began working miracles when he came back to the club as manager. February 1992, and we were in serious danger of a humiliating relegation to the third tier, but Keegan (and David Kelly's goal against Portsmouth) saved us by the skin of our teeth.

Then came the transformation - an eleven game winning gallop at the start of the following season which saw us canter comfortably to the title and promotion; a third place finish in our first season in the Premiership during which our football saw us crowned as The Entertainers, everyone's favourite second team; then, after a year of consolidation, the year we motored to a seemingly unassailable lead at the top with some exhilarating football, only to be pipped by Man Utd. We might have failed, but you knew - you could see - that Keegan was as hurt as the fans. Even when he resigned unexpectedly, halfway through the following season, we'd seen Fergie's mob thrashed 5-0 at St James's, and 7-1 and 3-0 wins over Spurs and Leeds were still fresh in the memory.

As fans who've had to endure months of appalling and literally pointless mediocrity under Fat Sam and who crave both exciting football AND victories (not just the former, as the media might have you believe), is it any wonder we're so delighted by the appointment? Mike Ashley might well grin, knowing he's managed to secure the services of the popular choice.

And it's not just us welcoming him back, either. A little over two months ago Scott Murray used an On Second Thoughts piece on the Guardian Sport blog to appraise Keegan as "if not one of the most successful, then certainly one of the GREATEST managers this country has ever seen. And should be celebrated as such". The consensus seems to be that his return is good news for the Premiership, and good news for football in general. Even on a neutral site highly critical of Ashley and Mort's handling of Allardyce's sacking, Cheer Up Alan Shearer, they've brought out the bunting for his replacement.

In many ways, the club Keegan comes back to is unrecognisable from the one he left. We're no longer the force we were, either on the pitch or in the transfer market - but then we weren't so much sleeping giants as comatose or even flatlining when he took charge the first time, so that's not to say he can't jumpstart a revival in our fortunes and profile.

He will be greeted by a couple of familiar faces, though. Terry McDermott, his old assistant, has been back at the club for a couple of years, while Peter Beardsley - whom he played with in the '80s and then as a manager brought back to Tyneside - is on the Academy staff. Speculation is already rife as to who he might want to make up the rest of his backroom team. More old faces from the '90s in the form of Derek Fazackerley and Arthur Cox? It's been claimed he's very much his own man and wouldn't want to work with Alan Shearer, but Shearer himself seems to be angling for a position, having hailed Keegan as "a special person with great charisma" and emphasised his eagerness to talk to the man who signed him for his hometown club with a view to helping in any way he can.

Of course, amidst all the delirium there are pessimists (or are they realists? Either way, they're party poopers) who argue you should never go back and that Keegan - and Shearer, if he joins him - can only tarnish or damage the halos the fans have conferred on them.

There are the voices sniping about his less-than-successful managerial career since leaving Newcastle and the fact that he's effectively been out of the game for over two years.

There are people who continue to point to his tactical naivety, and laugh that a side with a calamitous backline should have given the task of making it watertight to someone for whom defending was anathema in his first spell in charge.

And there are those who label him a quitter who's out of his depth at the highest level.

To them, I say bollocks, let's just see what happens. We tried tactical nous with Allardyce, and look where that got us: the team six points above the relegation zone and the fans desperate and demoralised. It may not last, but Keegan's restored the feelgood factor. And I see his being a quitter as a good thing - if things don't work out, then rather than arrogantly clinging onto power like Gullit, Souness and Allardyce, he'll call it a day, being a man who knows his limits and when it's time to go. Isn't there something honourable and dignified about that?

But let's leave any pessimism out in the cold, for tonight at least. For only one man the job was not a poisoned chalice but a throne, and it's a great feeling knowing that King Kev's got his royal posterior perched on it again.


Mere minutes after I posted this now redundant series of ramblings, news breaks that Kevin Keegan is to return as Newcastle manager.

I'll be honest: I'm completely stunned by the news.

I'll be the first to admit that I loved Keegan when he managed us first time around, but I can only hope that he'll be even more successful at the second time of asking.


Chris Mort has used his programme notes for tonight's game against Stoke to set out the job spec for the manager's role, which unsurprisingly focuses on the merits of good football and youth development (you can read the whole thing on Interestingly, it also highlights the need for an English speaker (which would presumably have ruled out Fabio Capello should he still have been available).

Which leads us to a brief survey of the current names doing the rounds.

As far as I can work out, the rumour mill has been working over drive in the last week, and can be summarised as: Redknapp (he said no), Shearer, Keegan, Hughes, Houllier, Deschamps.

From what I can understand, Shearer didn't want it, but now does. Only we don't want him.

Hughes refused to rule himself out of the running, but for whatever reason now appears to be drifting away from the post.

Houllier is possibly interested but reports suggest he's not going to leave his job with the French Football Federation.

Which leaves Deschamps. He did well with Monaco and managed to get Juventus promoted. However, he did sign Boumsong for Juve and he's only actually got a handful of seasons of management under his belt. If experience of management is such an important part of the job description, does he really have enough? Oh, and what has he won as a manager?

At the end of the day, I don't think any of us are any the wiser. Although I think it's safe to assume that Mourinho has his eye on bigger prizes...

Midfield generals

'Allo 'allo 'allo. No, not aitch-allergic 'Arry Redknapp greeting the squad - we, at least, are pleased the flabby-faced hounddog almost certainly won't be taking the reins on Tyneside - but the squad greeting the return to training of one Joey Barton esq.

"What I can tell you is that the bail rulings are in place. Outside of that, I can't really comment because I am not totally au fait with the details", said caretaker manager Nigel Pearson, whose eyes look like those of a man on Death Row who can't wait to get it all over with. "All I will say that any rules and regulations which are in place will be met by us". So presumably while the other players haul tyres around Rocky-style, Barton can just make do with his ball and chain? Come to think of it, he's been playing as though he's had a ball and chain on all season.

And onto another Newcastle player fraudulently answering to the description of "midfield general" - Alan Smith has been given a two game ban for being dismissed for dissent on Saturday. Well, better than a one game ban, I suppose. Smith must either have no common sense at all, or a hell of a lot more faith than we do in his own abilities and those around him that he thought making up a five goal deficit in injury time at the end of the game was still possible...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A not-so-cheery wave from stranded youngsters

Welcome to anyone who's stumbled across this 'ere blog via the link on the Torygraph's site. If you were after one long howled duet of anguish punctuated by stabs of bitter humour and the occasional obscure music reference (see the title of this post), then you've come to the right place.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Man Utd 6 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Let's look on the bright side: it could (and should) have been double figures.

Man Utd are the one side you don't want to come up against when you're vulnerable, and they were in no mood to be merciful as soon as they smelt blood. Having survived the first half with our goal intact, we then collapsed in spectacular fashion, conceding six without reply and extending our winless run at Old Trafford to 27 games. Quietly hoping for a 2-0 loss before kick-off felt defeatist, but it certainly didn't once the humiliation was complete.

And yet, incredibly, it all have been different, had Michael Owen's smart finish in the first half not been incorrectly ruled out for offside. We did also have opportunities through James Milner and Damien Duff, but admittedly Wayne Rooney could have scored four times in the first quarter of an hour, and at least one decent penalty shout (Alan Smith's clumsy challenge on Ryan Giggs) was waved away by referee Rob Styles.

We couldn't ride our luck forever, though, and came a-cropper early in the second period. Cristiano Ronaldo plundered a hat-trick, his first a soft free-kick hit underneath an obligingly airborne defensive wall, while Nick Nack grabbed a couple and Rio Ferdinand also volleyed in. The second goal was a calamitious collective cock-up on the part of Messrs Jose Enrique, Cacapa and Shay Given - not content with being sitting ducks, we set about helpfully painting targets on ourselves for the benefit of the Reds' marksmen - and if throwing on an extra defender, David Rozehnal, for Owen was an attempt to prevent a rout, then it certainly didn't work, what with the last three goals coming in the final five minutes.

Only three players in black and white could claim to have done themselves anything like justice: Given, who may have been partly at fault for the second but also denied Rooney and Ronaldo with excellent saves; Charles N'Zogbia, who troubled John O'Shea with some tricky runs and at 2-0 had a curling shot saved by Edwin Van der Sar (though he did also gift Man Utd possession in the build-up to their third); and Steven Taylor, who heroically threw himself in the path of anything and everything that came at him, clearing off the line twice in a matter of seconds at the start of the second half.

Enrique, by contrast, was pathetic, one goalline clearance of his own aside, continually hitting aimless crosses straight to Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, putting Given under pressure with a backpass that led to the second and deflecting Ronaldo's third past the Irishman. Captain Alan Smith, meanwhile, led by example - an absolute disgrace, culiminating in his injury time dismissal for disputing the linesman's call for the sixth goal. At least we'll be deprived of his "talents" for a game or two as a result.

The result wasn't without precedence. In 1999 Steve Clarke, caretaker manager following Ruud Gullit's dismissal, took a team to Old Trafford. On that occasion, though, we only shipped five, and even got a consolation goal (though we had to rely on one of our opponents, Henning Berg, to help us out).

Mike Ashley must have been tearing his hair out - as if trying to sell the club to a new manager wasn't already hard enough... Hughesie, if you are seriously considering taking the job if it's offered, then may I suggest you seriously consider getting your head read?

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, January 10, 2008


With the Allardyce reign now consigned to the bin of history, the focus inevitably shifts towards who will be next to take the helm of the good ship Newcastle Utd.

Back in May, following Glenn Roeder's departure, I wrote:

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

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

In my view, the new manager needs to:

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


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

I remain convinced that these criteria remain in place. The only change I'd make is that the new manager must to be committed to attacking, attractive football. Allardyce wasn't and he's gone.

Whoever it is that comes in, their task doesn't actually look an insurmountable one - we're currently sitting in 11th place, and despite some pretty lacklustre performances under Fat Sam, we should be more than capable of ensuring we're still in the Premier League next season. With a resurgence we might even start to worry some of the teams above us scrapping for a place in the UEFA Cup, but in truth whoever comes in will have the next few months to get a feel for the squad and decide who should stay and who should be ushered out of the door come the summer.

At least having ditched Allardyce at the start of the transfer window there's a slight chance that the new person will be able to bring in a couple of new faces before the end of the month. What is certain is that they need to get the team passing the ball around, and looking to cause our opponents (whoever they might be) some problems.

To that end, we'll hopefully have seen the last of the Butt/Smith axis which is about the least creative midfield combination I've ever seen. As I mentioned at the start of the transfer window, an additional creative midfielder wouldn't go amiss, together with a decent centre half to support Taylor and Faye (particularly whilst the latter is at the African Cup of Nations). Getting the players to play with a smile on their faces would be a start!

Of course, the first question is who will be the one to seek to instill the confidence and humour back into our dour squad. What it will take is a manager who commands respect, and is able to convince the squad to all pull in his direction (something Fat Sam never managed).

The options seem many and varied, but then I'm always unrealistically hopeful about the quality of manager we realistically can expect, so here's a few thoughts:

Harry Redknapp

Apparently, he's been heavily linked with the job and has a proven track record of attractive football. He also has a record for signing hundreds of players, half of whom last one game before sinking away in the reserves, and is also happily ensconced on the south coast. If he brings his daughter-in-law with him then so much the better, but to be honest I'm not sure I can see him swapping the South Coast for the Northumbrian one. His refusal to speak to the BBC should at least provide one element of consistency between managers.

Alan Shearer

This will inevitably happen at some point. However, I sincerely hope that this won't happen until Shearer has left the TV studio and had a few goes managing other clubs. I just don't think he's ready for the job. According to press sources, both Shearer and Mike Ashley agree on this point, so it seems unlikely that this will happen. When we do appoint an ex-player as manager, I wouldn't bet against it being Gary Speed rather than Shearer. In any event, neither is ready.

Mark Hughes

Did well with Wales, before keeping Blackburn up after Souness had worked his magic on them. Now manages a well organised, neat team who are unlikely to ever really climb much higher. Having taken them as far as he can, might he now be interested in a significantly bigger challenge?

David Moyes

A possibility, although it took him several years to get Everton where they are now (time which he might not get on Tyneside) and equally I'm not sure he'd consider moving to us to be a real step up. If he fancies the challenge then he could be a good appointment, but then we've had more than our fair share of dour Scots already.

Steve Coppell

Attractive football, and miracles on a shoe string budget have seen Coppell's stock rise. However, the relatively low expectations which he has in Berkshire seem to suit him, and I suspect that he probably doesn't want the hassle of the Newcastle job.

Steve McClaren

International experience, a house down the road, and wonderful CV as a coach. I'm kidding of course - he's an imbecile and I'd rather have Sam back than appoint the ruddy faced imbecile. Seeing as England's failure to qualify (and the impact it will have on the economy) has probably impacted Mike Ashley more than most, I can't ever see this happening.

Martin Jol

Out of a job, but did good things at both Spurs and previously in Holland. An intelligent, articulate man who likes attractive passing football. Things only went sour at Spurs when his chairman started behaving like a complete arse. We could do a lot worse.

Jose Mourinho

The self styled special one remains a great coach. Ignore the fact that he had roubles to burn at Chelsea - he made a mediocre Portuguese side into Champions of Europe with very little cash to spend. He's certainly arrogant enough to think he could do the job. But would he want to? Probably not.

Roy Keane

Only kidding.

Jurgen Klinsmann

Attractive attacking football seems to be his preferred style, and his self deprecating humour would certainly help to endear him to the masses. But unless we bombard him with old McEwan's Export adverts ("Florida's horrider than Whitley Bay...") the chances of him relocating seem remote.

With a new regime in place, it's heartening to think that we won't be calling Steve Bruce for once, and it will be interesting to see who Ashley and Mort eventually go for. What is certain is that whoever takes the job must be given time to settle in.

The last remaining tie to the old regime has been cut, we stand on the verge of a new era. Let's hope for all our sakes that the decision made is the right one.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

All over for Allardyce

"'I’m the man who knows what’s right for [the players] and I know it more than they do. That’s why I sit in this chair', he declared at the beginning of December. You may not for too much longer, Sam."

Famous last words, eh?

In truth, though, I didn't expect the announcement that Allardyce's time on Tyneside was up any more than any other Newcastle fan. Indeed, Fat Sam himself was only talking at lunchtime about Saturday's trip to Old Trafford and his plans for the transfer window, so it seems to have taken him by as much surprise as it did us.

Perhaps Mike Ashley and Chris Mort had been reading the Independent at breakfast and nearly choked on their cornflakes to discover that those plans apparently involved spunking £5m on Kevin Nolan, a man who continually talks up his own England prospects and yet who is currently the subject of constant abuse for poor performances from his own fans. Certainly, all the talk had been that Sunday's FA Cup tie at Stoke was make-or-break, but having escaped with an ultimately fortuitous draw it seemed as though Allardyce would live to fight another few days at least.

The official line is that the decision was taken "by mutual agreement", but given how firmly Allardyce was entrenching himself towards the end of his days, much like Graeme Souness before him, I suspect there wasn't much that was "mutual". Don't know about you, but I wouldn't have fancied being Mort, having to invite Allardyce into his office and broach the subject - he's probably still peeling bits of himself off the walls.

Allardyce's reign started well enough. Arriving on 15th May, he had all summer to bring in new faces and mark his mark on the club, but no sooner had he got his feet under the table than Fat Fred was on his way, ousted by Mort in the wake of Ashley's takeover. Once our promising start to the season - including a sweet 3-1 triumph at the Reebok, Fat Sam's old stomping ground, on the opening day of the season - had faded, the late summer rumours that the new hierarchy were less than enamoured by the managerial incumbent began to resurface.

The successive capitulations at home to Portsmouth and then Liverpool and the miserable defeat at Pride Park - still Derby's only win in 21 attempts, lest we forget - were bad enough, but undoubtedly the lowest point came immediately after Christmas with the appalling loss at Wigan and, in the early hours of the following morning, news of Joey Barton's arrest.

Barton showed no signs of repaying the faith Allardyce had shown in taking a gamble on him, while few of his other signings have so far worked out. Habib Beye's been solid, admittedly, and Mark Viduka and Abdoulaye Faye have both displayed flashes of quality, but the form of David Rozehnal, Geremi and Cacapa has slumped and Jose Enrique's hardly seen any action - unlike Alan Smith, who inexplicably not only became a fixture in Allardyce's side but was named as captain, despite contributing nothing of any merit whatsoever for game after game.

Allardyce will no doubt claim he wasn't given the time for his methods and ideas to bear fruit - and arguably he's got a point - but he didn't seem up to the task of organising our back four into a solid unit, and for a man whose pigheaded insistence on the rightness of his tactics and opinions was staggering, he never seemed to know his best team, chopping and changing every week as though he had a pathological fear of stability and continuity. (Should've fitted right in, then.)

It gives me no satisfaction that Fat Sam failed - how could it, given that it's been my club that's been suffering as a result? - but he was never really liked or accepted either on Tyneside or by the authors of this site, and has learned a valuable lesson: poor quality, brutish, zero flair football is only ever palatable if it actually gets results.

Tomorrow Paul will be assessing the prospective candidates for what journalists seem duty-bound to refer to as the poisoned chalice, and reflecting on what the successful (or should that be unfortunate?) candidate will need to do to sort things out (that should be a nice short list), but in the meantime answers on a postcard for what Allardyce's next job will be. My money's on working in a call centre - he's already got the little microphone, after all...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A Month Of Saturdays: December 2007

Perhaps it was a childish excitement at the approach of Christmas and at last being allowed to raid their advent calendars for chocolate (or, in Mark Viduka’s case, mini sausage rolls), but there was a marked change in attitude amongst the Newcastle players at the beginning of December.

Fresh – or rather stale – from the comprehensive 3-0 defeat by Liverpool, a second successive drubbing on home turf, they suddenly seemed to perk up and turned in a performance actually worthy of the name against Blackburn. OK, so they still managed to squander a lead and leave Ewood Park empty-handed, but there was at least something in the display to cling to. I think they call it hope.

And when Arsenal arrived on Tyneside a few days later, hope sprang if not eternal then certainly afresh. Having fallen behind to Emmanuel Adebayor’s goal with just four minutes on the clock, they kept their heads up, persevered and, roared on by one of the most vociferous St James’s crowds of the season, levelled through Steven Taylor. "If we play with passion like that we won't go far wrong", said man-of-the-match Alan Smith afterwards, and pre-match talk of a dressing room revolt was all but forgotten.

Birmingham were next up, and again an early goal for the visitors failed to knock the self-belief out of the players as they rallied for Obafemi Martins’s penalty equaliser. The winner may have only come in second half stoppage time – Habib Beye’s near-post header inspiring a new chant in his honour based on the ‘Happy Days’ theme – but it was no less than we deserved for having remembered how to attack.

Another late, late winner the following week at Fulham – but, other than the sight of Sam Allardyce jogging camply across the pitch at the interval, that was just about the only thing to give the travelling fans anything to cheer. Most had been sent to sleep or to the verge of suicide by the time Joey Barton scored his first goal in a black and white shirt from the spot. Whither that passion you were talking about, Al?

There was at least more spark, invention and desire to press forwards against Derby, but that was scant consolation when we needed to be thankful to the returning Viduka to bail us out of trouble and snatch a point, the side set to accompany the Mackems through the relegation trapdoor having scored their second and third away goals of the season with the aid of some decidedly festive defending.

Worse was to come with the Boxing Day display at Wigan, which could be written off as a Christmas hangover if it wasn’t for the fact that the players seem adept at performing like a disgracefully dishevilled and disorganised pub team at any time of year you care to mention. Our only effort on goal, an ambitious overhead kick from Viduka, was headed off the line by one Titus Bramble, who was man of the match, naturally. The man dressed as Borat in the green thong for the half-time fancy dress competition quite literally showed more balls than all the Newcastle players put together.

A good time for a few underperforming individuals to rediscover their stomach for the fight – or so we thought, until it transpired that Barton had chosen to do so outside a McDonald’s in Liverpool city centre at 5.30am, having imbibed rather more than just Christmas spirit. This was trouble Viduka couldn’t bail him out of. Some footballers are named in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list; for Barton, by contrast, New Year was to be spent at her pleasure.

Without him, we were ourselves victims of a crime at Stamford Bridge, a valiant effort completely at odds with what was witnessed at Wigan yielding absolutely nothing when the assistant referee’s failure to flag Salomon Kalou offside with four minutes remaining robbed us of a richly deserved point at a ground where we very rarely prosper. But inevitably the headlines continued to focus not on that injustice but on Barton’s latest brush with the criminal justice system.

The question simply has to be asked: having got shot of short-tempered, rabble-rousing, trouble-making, local-constabulary-bothering oiks like Craig Bellamy and Lee Bowyer, why did we choose to sign a man whose idea of friendly banter involves stubbing a cigar out in a youth team player’s eye and who was suspended by his previous club for attacking another team-mate in training? The answer, I suspect, is because Allardyce convinced the board he could tame Barton, reform his character off the pitch while getting the best out of him on it. With the lack of official comment from the club suggesting that sympathy for the Scouser’s cause is in very short supply, perhaps now Allardyce will have to recognise that he’s failed and hope that someone else is arrogant (or foolish) enough to think they can do the same and take him off our hands in the transfer window,.

But our increasingly beleaguered manager’s response to the pressure has not been to accept his mistakes but to insist ever more vocally on the correctness of his methods and decisions, despite all the evidence to the contrary. "I’m the man who knows what’s right for [the players] and I know it more than they do. That’s why I sit in this chair", he declared at the beginning of December. You may not for too much longer, Sam.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Balls: Arse

Assuming we manage to somehow get past Stoke in the replay (now scheduled for Wednesday 16th January) we get rewarded with a trip to the Emirates, so that Arsenal can knock us out of a domestic trophy for the second time this season.


The draw in full can be found here.

Must do better

Stoke City 0 - 0 Newcastle Utd

We currently couldn't score in a brothel. Thankfully, Stoke also drew a blank - although there's was down to a combination of wayward finishing and staunch defending by at least a couple of members of our team. However, they'll come to St James' thinking that they can beat us, and on the strength of last night's performance that couldn't really be described as an upset. I don't really want to dwell on the game, because, to be honest life's too short. However, in the spirit of a match report, I'll at least try and pick out a few points of note:

Positives first:

Steven Taylor enjoyed a storming game at centre back, and Allardyce has hopefully realised that he remains our best defender, and played him in his best position.

Abdoulaye Faye also enjoyed a solid game at the back, and he and Taylor look a reasonable combination.

Shay Given remains a world class keeper.

Um... we're still in the Cup, as we didn't lose.

I've run out of positives now, anyone else feel free to add some in the comments box.

Looking at the other side of the ledger:

Jose Enrique and David Rozehnal clearly didn't fancy the battle on a cold January night in Stoke. Clearly both need much longer to adjust to speed and physicality of the English game, which means that the Zog will be back at left back next week, and judging from last night's sub bench, David Edgar will be running out at right back. Whether either is capable of adjusting to the Premiership, I suspect it'll be next season before we can really reach a judgement.

Smith and Butt lack any semblance of creativity, the latter also proving incapable of shooting on target, and I currently doubt whether either could pass wind let alone a football.

Damien Duff and Michael Owen are both someway short of their best on the comeback trail.

Mark Viduka looks class on the ball, but appears unwilling to move his portly frame around the pitch to make himself available. Thereby nullifying his usefulness.

The Zog is currently taking it all on himself to win games singlehandedly - meaning he holds on to the ball for too long, and in any event will be at left back again before he has time to think.

From the look of the bench, half the senior squad are unwell (Milner), injured (Emre), unavailable (Geremi) or have simply vanished (Ameobi).

We've just lost one of the two decent centre backs to the African Cup of Nations for several weeks.

We're lacking confidence, creativity and cohesiveness.

In short, we need a boost - be it in terms of a new signing(s) or a flukey result to go our way (don't hold out much hope of that at Old Trafford) or the mood will deepen. Stoke are a limited side, but we made them look world beaters (particularly Sam Parkin who looked like every pub team's token fat knacker with a beard). However, unless we plunge into the bottom three, I suspect that Allardyce will remain in situ until the end of the season. However, if things don't improve before then, we'll be looking over our shoulders all the way to May, having long since seen our one (slim) remaining hope of silverware having long since disappeared, and with better clubs eyeing up our small handful of decent players. We simply must do better.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Bailed out - but for how long?

So, after spending New Year's Eve in the nick, he's free to do what he wants to do - though presumably not to get loaded, have a good time and kick off outside another city centre McDonalds.

Following today's videolink "appearance" at Liverpool Crown Court, Joey Barton was granted the bail previously refused him by the magistrates - but in the knowledge that he'll be back on 16th January.

The prospect of him turning out for us in Sunday's FA Cup tie at Stoke - even with a Jermaine Pennant style tag - seems unlikely. Barton may have been picked up from prison by Peter Kay, chief exec of the Sporting Chance Clinic, but the club's refusal to comment on events - and thus refusal to lend any backing to Barton's cause - suggests that he may have already burned his bridges on Tyneside.

Through the transfer window

I know we should know better than to echo and add to all the spurious speculation and tabloid tittle-tattle, but c'mon, give us a break - we're in desperate need of something, anything to take our minds off the club's current predicament...

First up, Spurs are in talks with Rangers with a view to signing a player we've apparently had our beady eye on, right-back Alan Hutton. There've been glowing reports coming out of Scotland, but then we all know the quality of the league north of the border and £8m does seem very steep for a defender, especially when the current incumbent Habib Beye is one of the few players doing a sterling job - even if we will be without him for the duration of the African Nations Cup.

The Telegraph has revived the pre-New Year rumours that we're interested in Valencia's out-of-favour midfielder and former captain David Albelda - with the added twist that Real Madrid are also keen. Tough choice, Dave, huh?

As for outgoings, the Star claims Shola Ameobi could be set to join Wolves on loan. If it happens, it's a move that's bound to irritate Glenn Roeder, what with our ex-boss eager to recruit him to help haul Norwich away from the Championship's drop zone. I'd hang around if I was you, Big Lad, what with Oba about to jet off to Ghana and Little Saint Mick never more than five minutes from a six-month-long lay-off with knee knack.

As expected, Tim Krul has had his loan period at Falkirk extended, amidst glowing praise from manager John Hughes: "It's great news because Tim has been excellent for us. I think the boy would agree that he's learning a lot as well as enjoying himself here". And that despite the red card for violent conduct he picked up in his last appearance, an away win at Kilmarnock in which ex-Newcastle youngster Carl Finnigan netted the winner.

Further afield, it looks as though our old friend Laurent Robert could be on his way back to the Premiership, Derby having offered a trial to the man who probably sulks at missing out to Nicolas Anelka for the title of The Incredible Sulk.

And finally, with Fat Sam still very much in the market for a robust, commanding, in-form central defender, we could perhaps do worse than look at Wigan. They've got a player who's currently all that and a regular goalscorer to boot, fella by the name of Bramble...

Quote of the day

"Meanwhile, everybody else is roaring at the demeaning spectacle of Mike Ashley attending matches in a black and white shirt. Perhaps Mort should organise a whip-round to buy him a suit, a shirt and a tie. Newcastle may be a long way from London, where both men make their living, but there are such things as gentlemen's outfitters. At the moment the owner's 'man of the people' act is making the club a laughing stock".

The Telegraph's Michael Henderson, in the midst of a tediously vitriolic attack on the club's fans (apparently we're all deluded fantasists - not heard that one before, have we?). There are currently countless reasons to consider us a "a laughing stock", but Mike Ashley's choice of attire is not one of them - and may I add that Mr Henderson seems to have forgotten very quickly that until Ashley took over we had Fat Fred at the helm, a buffoon of the hugest proportions who truly did attract ridicule to the club like Joey Barton attracts trouble.

Sub story

Newcastle Utd 0 – 2 Man City

How silly of me to have hoped that 2008 would herald a change in our fortunes. After all, what better way to conclude an unremittingly miserable festive period than by slumping to a third successive defeat, this time at home to a team who last collected three points on their travels on the very first day of the season?

Essentially it came down to two key moments involving substitutes. First, with us a goal down, Michael Owen, who had been on the pitch for barely a minute after replacing Obafemi Martins at half time, was played in by a beautiful defence-bisecting ball from Charles N’Zogbia only to see Joe Hart save his shot – not the first time City’s ‘keeper had frustrated us.

And then with 14 minutes left, shortly after Sam Allardyce had made the decisive attacking move of replacing midfield anchor man Abdoulaye Faye with the more creative Emre, City’s Gelson Fernandes seized upon the opportunity to wrap the game up seconds after himself stepping off the bench. 2-0, and there was no way back.

The truth is, though, that for much of the first half we were the better side, stirring ourselves after a sluggish start and applying significant pressure with a succession of decent balls into dangerous areas. Habib Beye nearly repeated his goalscoring exploits against Birmingham, unlucky to see Hart block his near post header from N’Zogbia’s inswinging corner, while N’Zogbia was combining to good effect with Damien Duff and Martins had a couple of efforts on target.

It was largely one-way traffic, though Martin Petrov was unplayable on City’s left wing, Beye sticking to his defensive task as best he could without much assistance from James Milner. As the half wore on, and with Hart in such good form and Micah Richards and in particular Richard Dunne in no mood to be charitable (contrast that with Cacapa’s dithering and permanent discomfort), it became inevitable that we’d pay a heavy price for our inability to convert possession and territorial dominance into a lead. The goal was created by Darius Vassell and Stephen Ireland, and expertly finished by the Brazilian Elano, our tormentor-in-chief when City ran us ragged at Eastlands earlier in the season.

Then came half time and Owen staring a gift horse in the mouth, and a sluggish second period in which nothing was coming off. Recognising that the brilliant N’Zogbia had been far and away our most potent attacking threat, even from left back, Allardyce withdrew Duff, threw on Jose Enrique and pushed the Frenchman forwards – but to no ultimate avail. On the other flank, Milner looked tired and in dire need of a rest – but who to replace him with? Might it be worth trying Duff out there, so the Zog can play his natural game on the left?

City contained us comfortably, Martins’ withdrawal having removed the unpredictability of our attacks, and when the second goal duly arrived from the boot of Gelson it only confirmed what we’d feared. As the fairweather fans deserted the ground in their droves, Nicky Butt drew one last excellent save from Hart after more good work from N’Zogbia, but the end to another depressing match followed shortly afterwards.

The trip to Stamford Bridge aside, our Christmas fixtures presented a real opportunity to get some points on the board – as it is, we’ve amassed just one, and that from a pitiful home draw against the team far adrift at the foot of the table. Now, with no form, no confidence and no defensive organisation, we face visits to Old Trafford and the Emirates hot on the heels of a very awkward FA Cup tie at Stoke. It’s not looking good, is it?

A Man City fan's perspective: Bitter And Blue

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Only 29 shopping days left this season...

With the transfer window now open, and the African Cup of Nations looming, it seems inevitable that we'll be linked with every Tom, Dick and Harry over the next few weeks. As such, it seemed an opportune time to consider where I think any money should be spent and which players have played their last for the club.

Goalkeepers - Shay and Steve remain, in my view, the best goalkeeping pair in the country, and we certainly shouldn't be contemplating selling or replacing either of them. With Tim Krul currently getting plenty of practice on loan, there seems no need to worry about the our last line of defence and nothing to be gained by even contemplating bringing in a new keeper and unsettling the current crop.

Defence - The perennial problem. Habib Beye appears to have established himself at right back, and although he'll be off to Ghana for the ACN for a few weeks, his loss should be adequately covered by Messrs Carr and Taylor. In the centre of defence, Abdoulaye Faye will be absent, leaving Taylor, Cacapa and Rozehnal. Of them, the Czech in particular has struggled to impress and I wouldn't say that any of them were having decent seasons, so it may be that we spend some cash on an additional centre half. Of course, there's no point if they aren't going to be better than that which we already have, so the focus needs to be on quality rather than quantity. At left back the Zog is doing a sterling job - but in reality needs to be pushed further forward. Unfortunately Jose Enrique has yet to settle sufficiently to displace him. However, given time I suspect the Spaniard will manage that, and given the impending arrival of the youthful Ben Tozer we look reasonably well stocked at left back.

On the departure front, it looks unlikely that David Edgar will ever get a chance to shine under Allardyce, so it wouldn't be a huge shock to see him turning out for someone else, probably in the Championship, come the start of February. Similarly, a decent offer for Carr would be difficult to turn down.

Midfield - With Joey Barton looking more likely to be appearing in a remake of Porridge than our midfield any time soon (and lest we forget with further appearances before the judiciary on the horizon) it wouldn't be a massive surprise to see us look to add to the ranks in midfield. Geremi's departure to the ACN is no loss, but unless Allardyce starts entrusting Emre with some more responsibility, our midfield remains short of creativity for all Smith and Butt's best efforts. So it's a plea for a quality midfielder that is top of my wish list this January. Out wide Milner and Duff seem pretty safe - although some right wing cover for Milner wouldn't go amiss.

Attack - With Martins also heading off to Ghana we're left hoping that Owen and Viduka remain fit, that Smith gets some games up front and finds his goal scoring touch, or that Shola comes in from the cold. Of those options, I think Shola is probably the player who looks closest to the exit this January, and we've just got to hope that Owen stays fit. Of course, if Allardyce persists in playing only one up front, I suspect Owen won't be keen to hang around and turn out in a formation that doesn't suit him, and our strike force could well see some changes. If Shola is to go, I'd hope we'd have the wherewithal to try and pick up Dean Ashton from West Ham as a replacement.

So that's my thoughts - Edgar, Ameobi and probably Carr to be off, and ideally Ashton plus a centre half and creative midfielder to come in. However, it may be that everything waits until the summer, by which time we'll know how sincere Chris Mort is in his support for Allardyce.