Monday, March 31, 2008

Sweet ...

Anyone else still on cloud nine following yesterday's blitzing of Spurs? Kevin Keegan certainly is, claiming: "We're starting to look up now. There is a chance we can catch Spurs and one or two others who get stuck in that middle area where there is not a lot to play for other than pride".

One step at a time, eh Kev? I know it was a superb win, and our best performance of the season, but let's concentrate on ensuring survival before getting any loftier ideas. All the same, it's great to hear that kind of naturally infectious enthusiasm and optimism once again coming from someone who looked deflated and desperate at home to Man Utd and then at Anfield.

... and sour

"The last job well and truly sickened me. The Newcastle one was a bad experience ... I'm sure if you asked Sam Allardyce he would tell you the same, it was just an unhealthy situation there. I believe Newcastle is a club that gets 52,000 people paying to watch them every other week and they have 22,000 supporters and 30,000 customers. They are extremely critical".

Funny you should say that, Graeme, but even though no one asked him Sam Allardyce HAS said very much the same, on several occasions. Aren't you slightly miffed at no longer being the most bitter, most vocal and of course most utterly unjustly maligned former Newcastle manager around?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tales of the unexpected

Spurs 1 - 4 Newcastle Utd

Hands up who saw THAT coming?

The win over Fulham last Saturday - the first of Kevin Keegan's second stint in charge - might have come as a huge relief, but needed putting into perspective: defeating a side who'd not won away since September 2006 hardly called for street parties. All the same, the players seem to have been as buoyed with renewed confidence and optimism as us fans. The result? Our most comprehensive and satisfying win of the season, on an afternoon when most of us would have looked on a point as a bonus.

Given our recent revival, it wasn't a great surprise that Keegan sent out the same side for the third game in a row. Once again, then, we lined up with a three man strikeforce, Michael Owen playing in the hole behind Obafemi Martins and Mark Viduka. Away from home against a team that attacks with the incision and freedom of Spurs, it may have looked suicidal, but in the event it was the supposed master tactician Juande Ramos who was made to look naive and foolish. Shuffling his own pack to incorporate Darren Bent and match our 4-3-3 formation, Ramos must have been dismayed to see Nicky Butt and ASBO dominate their opposite numbers and dictate all the play, particularly in the second period. Not even reverting to their more familiar 4-4-2 could stem the black and white tide.

The way we started out suggested a determination to draw first blood, and we could easily have taken the lead inside the first ten minutes. First Habib Beye robbed Jonathan Woodgate inside the area - our old boy was mercifully sluggish and out-of-sorts throughout - and smashed a left-footed shot against the face of the bar with Paul Robinson static, and then ASBO brought an uncomfortable sprawling save from the 'keeper.

Our hosts, suddenly stung into action, went close themselves when Woodgate's header was pushed away by Steve Harper, and then edged ahead in the 26th minute, Bent placing his header wide of Harper's despairing dive. It's saying something that the £17m striker is widely considered to have been an expensive flop, but has still scored about as regularly as our front three.

The familiar away-day collapse was on the cards, but credit must go to the players for digging deep and when our equaliser came, in first half stoppage time, it was deserved. Butt grabbed the winner in this fixture last year, and it was he who calmly stroked a shot into the bottom corner from Geremi's pass.

That was just the platform we needed and, spurred on by Keegan's rallying half-time team talk, we took to the pitch for the second period and proceeded to take Spurs apart. A fiercesome long-range drive from ASBO which whistled past the post served notice of our intent, and five minutes later we were in front. Michael Dawson's clumsy push on Martins gave us a free-kick on the edge of the area, and Geremi seized upon the opportunity belatedly to register his first goal for the club. In truth, though, it owed as much, if not more, to Viduka's pasty-enhanced girth as to the Cameroon international's deadball prowess. Having attached himself to the end of the Spurs wall, the Australian then shifted his considerable bulk at the last minute to give Geremi's low shot a clear path into the net.

Viduka himself was next to try his luck, his curling shot pushed wide and behind by Robinson, but we didn't have to wait long for a third. Having beaten his man wide on the right, Martins looked to be crumbling to the turf but somehow kept his footing and slid the ball into the area for Viduka to dummy and Owen to finish sweetly. Man Utd's demolition of Villa yesterday had even this avowed Red Devils hater salivating, mainly with envy, but here we were, watching champagne football being served up by players who so often this season have barely managed the equivalent of flat Lambrini.

We were thankful to Jose Enrique for a goal-line clearance to prevent Dimitar Berbatov pulling a goal back, and Owen spurned a great chance for his second, but, with seven minutes remaining, we caught Spurs cold on the break, Martins racing away from two defenders and slipping the ball past Robinson. Cue the gymnastics in front of the away fans.

And there it was - 4-1 to the goldfish bowl. Hope you enjoyed watching it from the stands, JJ. Can we play you every week?

The three points, unexpected but eagerly accepted, saw us move onto 35 points and up to the relatively heady heights of 12th. Of course, the other key result of the weekend was Arsenal's victory at their bogey team Bolton, one that looked extremely improbable given that they were two goals and a man down at the break - the upshot being that we're now nine points clear of the relegation zone. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Gunners, then - how's humiliating your North London rivals in their own back yard by way of thanks, lads?

So, beat Reading at St James's on Saturday and we should be fine. Safe to say the Royals won't be looking forward to their visit as much as we will.

A Spurs fan's perspective: Harry Hotspur (you might also like to take a look at the match preview mocking our "turgid brand of football"...)

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pottering off

It's farewell for now, at least, to Shola Ameobi, who today joined Stoke on loan for the rest of the season. Despite being chased by his former gaffer Glenn Roeder's Norwich as well as Ipswich and Plymouth, Big Lad (copyright the bloke who used to sit next to Paul at St James's Park) has instead lumbered off at no great pace to the Championship leaders.

Having been brought in from the Antarctic for Kevin Keegan's first game in charge, at home to Bolton, Ameobi subsequently made one substitute appearance against Arsenal in late January and succumbed to injury. He's been fully recovered for a while now, but even with Keegan opting to stock the side with strikers, he's found himself back out in the cold, Andy Carroll ahead of him in the queue for the bench. The writing on the wall certainly doesn't seem to spell out good news for Ameobi's continued career on Tyneside, and indeed there have been suggestions that discussions about the possibility of making the move permanent if the Potters are promoted have already taken place.

While one player's youthful promise dwindles, another's continues to catch our eye. Bournemouth's 18-year-old striker Sam Vokes has said: "I know that Newcastle have shown interest, but I do not expect anything now until the summer". So, patient, sober and level-headed - the same player who it's been claimed "is busting a gut to play for Newcastle, and the delay on his move up there is killing him"? The fact that the quote comes from a mysterious unnamed source and that it appeared in an article by the Evening Chronicle's Alan Oliver naturally casts a lot of doubt on its veracity...

Micky coming up on the rails

The focus for last night's England friendly against France in Paris may have been on some bloke from Leytonstone winning his 100th cap, but it's perhaps worth pointing out that our very own Michael Owen is now just 12 caps short of achieving the same feat. Of course, there's a little way to go - it all depends on him avoiding injury and staying in Fabio Capello's thoughts, neither of which are certainties - but he did at least get a half last night and has a few years left in his little legs yet.

As for the game itself, a return to the disappointing and tedious days of Steve McLaren, by the sounds of it - I didn't see it, having sensibly opted for being depressed in a far more entertaining fashion by Malcolm Middleton. Perhaps his failed bid for the Christmas #1, 'We're All Going To Die', would make a good choice of song for the Newcastle team to run out to - the implication being "Life is short, you only live once, go out and give it your all". But knowing our lot, they'd probably take one listen and conclude that the futility of human existence meant a poxy game of football was even less worth bothering about...

The return departure of the King

They said he wouldn't last. Well, Kevin Keegan's outlasted his fake counterpart, who yesterday called time on The Return Of The King. Quitting - how very Keegan-esque...

The site's author may have attracted abuse from some quarters, but I at least took his ramblings in good spirit as very often being on the money - not that satirising a club as shambolic and hapless as ours is particularly difficult, of course...

Anyway, as a tribute to the now-defunct site, I think we should start referring to Joey Barton as ASBO.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

View from the Cottage window

Whilst on my internet meanderings last night I stumbled across Fulham blog Craven Cottage Newsround, where a Fulham fan's reaction to Saturday's game can be found. I'm not sure about Jimmy Bullard "peppering the Newcastle goal with long-shots" - peppering the hardy souls sat behind the goals, more like - but there you go. Had Bullard been on song, the result could have been different - but he wasn't, we picked up three invaluable points to move six clear of Bolton in 18th, and Fulham are left staring relegation right in its ugly mug. (Note to any jubilant readers out there: leaving a comment to the effect of "Can we play you every week?" wouldn't be very nice.)

Also discovered on my travels, a couple of decent general football blogs:

Some People Are On The Pitch

Back in the archives of the latter is this post about awful football strips, which features our very own thick-and-thin-barcode shirt of the early 90s. Don't think it was that bad, myself - not as bad as the canary yellow away strip we had at the time, for a start - and it brings back fond memories of a time when Kevin Keegan's main striking option was David 'Ned' Kelly. Now it's £17m worth of England striker - how times have changed.

Incidentally, Ned also turns up in one of Some People Are On The Pitch's recent Friday Lists Of Little Or No Consequence. The subject? "13 Places Where Players From The 1994 Republic of Ireland World Cup Squad Were Born". I'll give you one guess as to where those 13 WEREN'T born...

(All three blogs have been added to the sidebar. One of these days I'll get round to giving it a proper spring clean - compared to personal sites, football blogs seem to have an extraordinarily short existence.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Class tells

Newcastle Utd 2 - 0 Fulham

Snow fell in flurries before, during and after Saturday's home game with Fulham, but whilst the weather remained cold and bleak the first win of Keegan's third coming was enough to warm every Geordie heart.

Sticking with the same starting eleven, and formation, which had earned a point in Birmingham in the previous match, Newcastle again played with three up front, and the creative trio of Butt, Geremi and Barton in midfield.

After an early long shot by Fulham's Jimmy Bullard (back at the ground where he broke his leg 18 months ago) it was the home team who managed to string some passes together, and after good work by Butt down the right, he found Geremi who fed the ball into Viduka on the edge of the penalty area. With his back to goal, the Australian was able to create sufficient space to turn and fire the ball low into the Leazes goal with his left foot, and give us a much craved lead.

With Fulham having a four man midfield, Bullard (undoubtedly the visitor's one decent player) was repeatedly able to pick the ball up in space and drive at Steve Harper's goal. Thankfully, however, this was a day in which Bullard had left his shooting boots at home, and as a result, we never really looked in danger of conceding.

Going forward, it seemed clear that Owen was dropping deep to pick the ball up and augment the midfield whenever possible, however he, Martins and Viduka didn't look particularly comfortable with the formation. Owen should have doubled our advantage when, having started the move, he had a free header from six yards out, but could only scuff it in to the turf, and the grateful hands of Kasey Keller.

With Beye enjoying plenty of space down the right, it was hoped that we'd continue to enjoy sufficient time and space in the second half to double our advantage. With Fulham offering even less after the break, Newcastle should have been able to press ahead and start redressing the abysmal goal difference which has come as a result of our poor performances this season. Enrique too started to get forward and enjoy some of the space which Beye had begun to exploit in the first half. However, it wasn't until Martins was replaced by N'Zogbia that we were finally able to double our advantage. A Geremi free kick (which bizarrely Steven Taylor appeared to be orchestrating) was whipped in and Owen made no mistake with his second free header of the match and made the game safe.

Undoubtedly a game between two poor sides, in which the telling difference was that we had more players with a touch of class to ensure the points were all ours. A few years ago, I'd have been far more scathing of our performance, but given the bilge that we've endured this season this was a real bright spark.

Beye and Enrique both had good games going forward, Butt had a good game in midfield, and Owen and Viduka were able to show a touch of class at the vital moments. With the players we have, we should do better, but at least we've gone a long way to ensuring that we'll still be in the Premiership to try and improve next season.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, March 21, 2008

Our future's in your hands, Steve

Given the state of our defence, our Premier League survival now rests largely in the goalkeeping gloves of Steve Harper, with the news that Shay Given, who hasn't played since the home thumping by Man Utd, will be sidelined for six weeks by surgery on his groin injury and the subsequent recovery period.

It's a blow, as the Irishman has so often proved inspirational in bailing us out of trouble, but Harper has waited patiently for his chance and Given's injury problems this season have handed him the opportunity to impress. We could certainly have far worse replacements to step into the side.

In other news, Michael Owen, evidently buoyed by his goal and performance at St Andrews on Monday night, has insisted talk of a new contract is at the back of his mind. "The moment you say the club have not offered you a contract, it is the club snubbing you and vice versa, but it’s not like that. The club have not offered me a new contract and I have not knocked on the door and asked for one. There are more pressing things". Very true, Mick - starting with the six-pointer against Fulham tomorrow afternoon. We really ought to be able to put to the sword a side that haven't won away for 31 fixtures, even if that last win came at our expense...

Meanwhile, our former coach John Carver has taken over as head coach from Mo Johnston at MLS side Toronto FC, currently gearing up for their second ever season. Nobby Solano's reportedly turned down an offer to join him, preferring to extend his stay at Upton Park. No doubt that will have disappointed Carver, but probably not as much as the realisation that his new club's star striker is ex-Mackem lump Danny Dichio...

And finally, hats off to Matty Pattison, who's proven that even a move to Norwich couldn't cure him of the stupidity and propensity towards bad behaviour he must have picked up from the likes of Craig Bellamy and Kieron Dyer when on Tyneside. Following enthusiastically boozy celebrations of his side's 2-0 defeat at Sheffield Utd, a result which dropped the Canaries right back into relegation trouble, Pattison - nicknamed 'Party' - woke up drunk, thought he was late for training and jumped into his car wearing only pants and a T-shirt, only to be arrested by police when he arrived at the training ground. Glenn Roeder's probably wondering what he's done for the same old problems to have followed him from Tyneside to East Anglia - but then he did sign him...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Second city salvation?

Birmingham 1 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Only time will tell quite how precious Michael Owen's equalising goal was tonight, but right now it certainly feels very precious indeed.

Had we lost, the despondency of players and fans would have deepened further. The point is not just a point gained, but two denied to one of our closest relegation rivals, whom we've managed to keep at arm's length. In truth, though, with a little more fortune in front of goal and the in-form Maik Taylor indisposed, it could have been even better.

Not that a win looked likely at half-time. Deprived of the services of Damien Duff and James Milner through injury, Kevin Keegan opted to leave Charles N'Zogbia on the bench, but rather than playing a wingless four across midfield, he plumped for a characteristically cavalier front three of Owen, Mark Viduka and Obafemi Martins. But for the first half it was a chemistry experiment in which the three explosive elements were failing to react with each other. Instead, after a moderately promising opening five minutes, Birmingham seized the initiative and had the bulk of the efforts on goal.

Mikael Forssell fired just wide of the post and Rahdi Jaidi headed wide from a corner, but most dangerous was James McFadden, the Blues' recent capture from Everton, who couldn't have made Abdoulaye Faye look more clownish if he'd handed him some big shoes, a red nose and a squirty flower. The Scot already had a shot deflected just wide by Habib Beye by the time he gave his side the lead, escaping Faye's "attentions" (if it isn't against the trades description act to refer to them as such) with ease and finishing calmly past Steve Harper.

Fabrice Muamba might not be Patrick Vieira in his prime, but he certainly looked like it up against Joey Barton, who was, even by his own remarkable standards, fucking useless. Just do everyone a favour, Joey, and plead guilty.

Owen fired a shot narrowly over from distance, but the closest we actually came to scoring before the break was Stephen Kelly's admirably inventive attempt at an own goal. Unfortunately for us, Taylor was on hand to collect his sliced volley at the second attempt.

Not that a seachange was evident immediately after the interval, either. We started sloppily, and were thankful to Harper for a couple of smart interventions at the feet of onrushing strikers before Owen popped up at the other end to haul us onto level terms. Undeterred by being brilliantly denied by Taylor when six yards out just minutes earlier, Owen reacted like Viduka spying the last pasty in the shop, darting between two defenders to prod the ball home when the Brum 'keeper could only parry Martins' shot.

Suddenly all guns were blazing and Birmingham were in danger of being torn apart. Martins was terrifying their back line with his pace, Owen was finding space and causing problems in an unfamiliar deeper right-hand-side role and even Viduka - having one of his turning-circle-like-an-articulated-lorry nights - started holding the ball up. With Faye uncertainty personified, Harper could never relax completely, but it was his opposite number who was seeing all the action, pushing venomous shots from Jose Enrique and Martins round the post.

And amidst all the endeavour and drama, there was a moment of pure farce - and it was an opposition player who was responsible for it. The ball was lobbed up, and with Viduka ambling back from an offside position, Liam Ridgewell gathered it in like a rugby full-back calling a mark. The flag was duly raised, but unfortunately for Ridgewell, Viduka had been making no effort to collect the pass and so the decision was handball.

Keegan's decision to introduce N'Zogbia for the last ten minutes in place of the visibly upset Martins baffled the travelling fans - after all, hammering the ball downfield for the Nigerian to rampage through the Brum back line had been by far our best form of defence - but, despite inviting pressure, we hung on for the point we more than deserved anyway.

So there you have it: not the win we were craving, but for the first time in weeks, we're looking up at the way out rather than staring mournfully down at the abyss below. Until Saturday, at least.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tell us another one

It came as no surprise that Michael Owen's recent comments about fearing for his place in the England set-up under new manager Fabio Capello were taken in some quarters as an excuse to trot out the old line about him being far more concerned about his country than his club.

But that ignores that Owen has rightly acknowledged he can only hope to ensure he's at the forefront of Capello's mind by performing at club level and helping to drag us out of our current increasingly dire predicament - and, in fairness to him, he's looked a different (much improved) player under Keegan, Saturday's game at Anfield aside.

Owen claimed: "I'm at a club where you feel like a spark will get us back on the crest of the wave and help us move up the league - that can give us a platform to build on". That's as may be, but the spark of Keegan's arrival had us "back on the crest of the wave" only temporarily, and no acceleration out of trouble has followed - if anything, we're in danger of being engulfed and swept away in a tidal wave of despair...

Thanks to Portsmouth for keeping our next opponents Birmingham two points and two places below us in 17th, but it goes without saying that Monday night's meeting at St Andrews is a relegation six-pointer.

Look north

"We're like any club - we will look anywhere for talent and, at the moment, Scotland's got four or five players".

Hmm, really not sure about that, Kev. I suspect you may be talking up Scotland because (a) that's where your Soccer Circus is based and (b) because we're no longer in a position to attract the cream of other footballing nations...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Kop'd a load

Liverpool 3 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Once again, Newcastle started reasonably steadily, only for one goal to completely deflate the team, and see us fall ever closer to the bottom three.

This time, the goal came as Enrique's attempted clearance hit Jermaine Pennant and lobbed up and over Harper into our goal. That goal came only minutes before half time, after forty minutes of solid endeavour, in which the home team had rarely threatened our goal. Unfortunately, with the team reeling, it was left to Gerrard and Torres to slice us open to allow the Spaniard to quickly add a second, and at 2-0 down there was little hope of a way back.

The second half saw Torres return the favour to Gerrard, and at 3-0 Rafa withdrew his leading lights to save them for their forthcoming European adventure. By that stage we were pretty much dead and gone, with an Obafemi Martins shot from 40 yards which cannoned back off the crossbar the only highlight in an otherwise awful afternoon.

With other results hardly helping, we fell ever closer to the drop zone, and with our next game on Monday we could be in the bottom three by the time we play Birmingham. It's that game, and subsequent matches with Fulham and Reading which will decide our future. Get a win, and some confidence, and we might still be alright. Lose, and we're stuffed. It really is that simple.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, March 07, 2008

In the line of fire

The advert recurrently appearing on the electronic hoardings during tonight's Spurs v PSV Eindhoven game intrigued me: "Like football? You'll love the army". Sorry, but I don't quite follow the logic there.

Unless, of course, it's directed at the likes of Shay Given who seems to get his kicks having shots fired at him, only protected by the flimsiest of defensive shields...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Month Of Saturdays: February 2008

How depressing that a draw snatched from the jaws of victory against the Smoggies was as good as it got for us in February - and that was on the 3rd...

We had dominated the match, and finally gone ahead through a towering header it was hard to believe had bulleted off Michael Owen's bonce, only to be cruelly deprived of all three points by Robert Huth's equaliser just minutes from time, Lee Dong-Gook active in an offside position. With us clinging on desperately for just the one point, referee Mike Dean belatedly (and mercifully) remembered the laws of the game and ruled out Jeremie Aliadiere's lashed shot into the roof of the net for offside. It was one of the only decisions he got right all afternoon, by far the most criminal error being to chalk off Owen's fourth minute shot for an entirely imaginary foul on Mark Schwarzer. They say you make your own luck - yes, sometimes, but at others the man in the middle makes it for you.

A week later, and Owen again gave us the lead, this time away to Villa - but it didn't last. Come the second half, we belatedly remembered we're clueless when it comes to hanging on to an advantage, especially on our travels, while our opponents belatedly remembered how they'd made it into the upper echelons of the league (namely, not gifting easy wins to teams like us on their own turf) and blew us away with a four goal blast to which we had no answer. Chief executioner was John Carew, a player who so often looks lumbering and clumsy, but up against our defence ... well, I think you can finish that sentence off yourself.

If we could self-destruct spectacularly against the West Midlanders, then it was a safer bet than putting all your money on a night out for Joey Barton ending up with a court appearance that we could self-destruct even more spectacularly at home to Man Utd - and this despite them having played two high-profile fixtures while we enjoyed a fortnight's holiday. Let's face it, they're not exactly a side who need much of an invitation to take you to the cleaners, and we managed to leave the door wide open and to gift-wrap the three points with a big bow on top rather than taking a tip from Tony Martin. Abdoulaye Faye can have done little to impress on his first appearance under the new manager having returned from the African Cup of Nations, but at least his consolation strike meant Keegan's nemesis wasn't celebrating a reversal of the famous 5-0 trouncing of October 1996. Probably because he was still too busy celebrating the 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford in January.

The following day, still groggy from nightmarish visions of Rooney and Ronaldo running riot, we were confronted with the sight of Jonathan Woodgate heading his new side Spurs to a Carling Cup final victory over Chelsea. It's a cruel game, football.

I suppose the question that has to be asked is this: what difference, if any, has the new man in the dugout made? After all, it's hard to imagine the month's three results would have been much worse under Allardyce. Well, for one thing, unlike Fat Sam (and his predecessors, for that matter) Keegan seems to have known instinctively how to inspire and get the best out of Owen and Damien Duff. The transformations of both players in Keegan's charge have been pleasing if mystifying - in Duff's case because he's been so poor for so long and now suddenly looks to have the confidence and energy to actually take his man on, and in Owen's case because of their well-documented disagreements in the past. That said, it's not rocket science to appreciate that if you create more chances for Owen and play to his strengths, you'll get the best out of him.

But then that's also part of the problem. We've now got the more forward-thinking football we were hoping for, but chances are going begging too often and, with our defence looking no better and now more exposed, our openness is ripe for exploitation. Nigel Pearson left on the eve of the Villa game, allegedly for grumbling about the naivety of Keegan's tactics. We may be reliving the mid 90s, but all the goals are ending up in our net.

One man who's no doubt enjoying it all no end, of course, is Allardyce. Twice his opinions on his time on Tyneside hit the headlines in February, and the second time they were even more ludicrous than the first. Not content with reiterating that he should be absolved of any blame for the situation and his sacking was unmerited ("As a manager, you’re dependent on two sets of people - your owners and your players. Life is not in your hands"), he declared: "Newcastle probably wasn't big enough for me". With delusions of grandeur on that scale, expect him to be claiming to be Napoleon some time soon - perhaps at a club that is big enough for him, like Rochdale.

Deluded is one thing Keegan almost certainly isn't anymore. After a thoroughly miserable February he'll be all too aware of the problems he needs to tackle - and, increasingly, the challenge he faces to keep us in the division he returned us to in 1993.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Damned if he does...

With Saturday's home defeat by Blackburn being our third in a row, and us being without a league win since mid December or, indeed, a win of any description under Kevin Keegan, it was only a matter of time before chairman Chris Mort was prompted into making a statement of support: "The board is 100% behind Kevin, and there is no doubt or worry that he will walk away".

I feel for Mort, I really do. If, under a barrage of media pressure, he had said nothing, the story would have been spun as the Newcastle hierarchy refusing to give public backing to Keegan - and yet, as it is, it'll inevitably be interpreted as "the dreaded vote of confidence" which signals that the final whistle is not far away.

It better not be. We're in desperate need of a win, to be sure, and Keegan's return has hardly inspired us to the extent that we hoped it might - but there were enough positive signs on Saturday to suggest that, if we can somehow scrape a bit of luck from somewhere, we'll cobble together enough points to stay up.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Three points

Newcastle Utd 0 - 1 Blackburn Rovers

Three points - sadly not the product of an afternoon of creativity and endeavour, but instead the extent of the gap between our current league position and the relegation zone.

For all our creativity, with Milner and Duff enjoying decent games down the flanks, and the influence of Kevin Keegan there for all to see in the short passing game which we've not adopted before, it was unfortunate that Michael Owen left his shooting boots at home and Alan Smith couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo.

Despite giving Blackburn a real run for their money, and with Steve Harper only called in to action sparingly, Newcastle showed enough to suggest that they weren't a team staring down the barrel of a relegation dog fight. Unfortunately, with one minute left of the 90, we were caught upfield chasing a winner, and Matt Derbyshire was set free, and finished well from distance, leaving us without a win since mid-January.

Up front, Owen forced several smart saves from one-time Keegan target Brad Friedel, and had he been able to force one of his chances home, the confidence which almost looked ready to flood into the team would undoubtedly have done so, and carried us on to a win. Unfortunately, we didn't take our chances, and Blackburn did - which is why they are chasing a UEFA Cup spot, and we're worring about the fact that Reading beat the smoggies. With a trip to Anfield to come next weekend, things could be a lot worse this time next week.

However, if we can catch Liverpool with their eyes on the European Cup, and if Rafa's wheel of rotation fortune favours us, then maybe just maybe we can nick something from Merseyside which would probably be enough to help us limp over the line.

We're not home and dry, and the longer we go without a win the worse it is but, flying in the face of all rational thought, I can't help think that we might just be able to find a bit of form over the next few weeks. To be fair, the trip to Anfield can still be written off, with our upcoming games against Fulham and Birmingham likely to prove far more decisive when it comes down to where we are playing football next season. Lose those games, and we're stuffed, but if we start to take our chances we might just be able to start planning for next season by mid-April.

Other reports: BBC, Observer