Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Baggies boing boinged - but only just

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 West Brom

If at the start of the season you'd have told me that we wouldn't register our second league win of the season until most of the country was experiencing flurries of snow, I'd have been very, very worried indeed. The situation is hardly ideal as it is, but at least we're talking about the tail end of October rather than the post-Christmas period, and the overwhelming sensation at the final whistle was one of immense relief.

JFK made three changes to the team which lost to the Stigs of the Dump on Saturday, only one of which was enforced. Nicky Butt missed out through injury, the captain's armband passing to Shay Given, while Sebastian Bassong and Geremi dropped to the bench, the latter rather unluckily given his excellent assists in the recent games against Everton and the Mackems. In came Jose Enrique, Jonas Gutierrez and ASBO.

While in the first half the former gave a textbook display of a left-footer who should never, ever use their right, Spidey was a livewire and ASBO it was who gave us a thoroughly deserved lead in the ninth minute. We'd already gone close twice when Shola Ameobi just about kept himself onside to receive a pass inside the penalty area, nudge the ball beyond his marker Ryan Donk and tumble gratefully over the Dutchman's clumsy challenge. Aided by Scott Carson's unconventional decision to position himself two thirds of the way across the goal, ASBO dispatched the spot kick with aplomb and ran to the crowd in fist-pumping exuberance. Shame the badge he was patting on his shirt was imaginary - it's in the middle, Joey, not on the left hand side. Did I feel dirty celebrating the goal? Yes. But I still celebrated.

For the remainder of the first period we seemed content to play like the away side, allowing the Baggies bagfuls of possession in front of us but trusting that they lacked any cutting edge - which they did, except for one hairy moment when Robert Koren slid a through-ball in for ex-Smoggie James Morrison, whose shot brought a fine save from the stand-in skipper between our sticks.

While Gutierrez was purposeful and direct on one flank, Damien Duff was no less so on the other, and Ameobi was busy reprising his first half display at the Stadium of Shite, holding the ball up to bring teammates (most often Obafemi Martins) into play and continually finding valuable space on our left. He missed an opportunity and then set up an even better one for Habib Beye to squander before our Senegalese full back made amends with the assist for Martins's simple close-range header which doubled our lead three minutes before the interval. Happy birthday Oba.

So it was an unfamiliar position we found ourselves in at the break - 2-0 up, having had a deficit to claw back in each of the last nine games. That we (and JFK, presumably) didn't know quite how to approach the second half was obvious. West Brom again had the greater share of possession, but now they suddenly looked dangerous rather than just mock-menacing, just as two of our main threats Ameobi and Gutierrez faded.

Key was Tony Mowbray's introduction of Ismael Miller - it took the pacy former Man City striker all of 11 minutes to make a real mark on the game, collecting Koren's through-ball as Fabricio Coloccini floundered, rounding Given and slotting into the empty net. Miller went on to give our back four many more problems than his colleagues had in the previous hour. Had the Baggies gone into the fixture with a little more confidence themselves, Mowbray might have started with Miller in a 4-4-2 formation that would have tested our mettle - so thanks to Man Utd and Hull for dishing out thrashings which ensured the visitors approached the game with caution.

Duff continued to give his marker Gianni Zuiverloon a torrid evening, and Xisco came on for Martins to cock up a promising attack, but otherwise it was all West Brom - so when Mike Dean finally blew his whistle there was a collective puff of the cheeks before the significance of the win sank in and the grins spread. Up to 15th - until tonight, at least.

But lest we should get carried away - and, given that for 45 minutes tonight a poor side had our backs very firmly against the wall on our own territory, we really shouldn't - this means very little if we then lose on Monday night. Let's just hope the next confrontation with West Midlanders at St James's Park has the same outcome - though I could do without the same frayed nerves.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The end is nigh

Sunderland 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Mulling over yesterday's defeat by the Great Unwashed - which, in another season of humiliations, was very definitely a humiliation too far - I came to the only sensible conclusion: namely, that the world must be about to end. How else to explain a victory for the forces of evil over the forces of goodness (ASBO excepted, obviously)? It must feature in Nostradamus's predictions somewhere.

The Stadium of Shite was a suitably apocalyptic setting, living up to its name with a pitch festooned with rubbish. There were so many plastic bags swirling about I wondered whether they were trying to recreate the scene from 'American Beauty'. And the bags and assorted takeaway packaging weren't the only things littering the turf. No, you can add the various gifts generously lobbed from the stands at ASBO's head as he prepared to come on (presumably in recognition of his intellectual superiority); the two morons who confronted Shay Given as he picked Kieron Richardson's winner out of the back of our net (I thought they were supposed to be welcoming towards the Irish?); and the rabble who spilled out onto the pitch at full-time. The FA are currently investigating, but according to Roy Keane they should show some leniency. I'm inclined to agree with him - after all, how do they expect a bunch of brainless fuckwits to behave when their side notches a once-in-a-lifetime victory?

All of the unsavouriness aside, the fact remains that the Stigs of the Dump played well, while we didn't and deserved to lose. A very, very hard truth to swallow.

Following Monday's very encouraging draw with Man City, JFK understandably selected the same starting line-up, something only made possible by the FA's decision to rescind Habib Beye's red card. We made our customary sluggish start, though, finding ourselves 1-0 down after 20 minutes. Steed Malbranque, a player I'm insistent we should have tried to buy on several occasions, cut in from the right unchallenged and saw his skewed shot across the face of goal turned in by the outstretched foot of Djibril Cisse. Initial suspicions he was offside proved unfounded, though the fortuitous nature of the finish was still galling.

Nevertheless, we took falling behind as our cue to start performing, and had much the better of the half from that point on. A pair of shots were blocked in one frenzied attack and in another only a well-timed lunging interception by Anton Ferdinand prevented Shola Ameobi getting on the end of a dangerous low cross from the right by Obafemi Martins. The pressure told on the half-hour mark, Ameobi peeling away at the far post to nod in a Geremi free-kick from near the by-line which had initially appeared too high but turned out inch-perfect.

In the home fixture three seasons ago, Ameobi scored once and pressurised Stephen Caldwell into an own goal, and he was once again proving himself something of a bogeyman for the Mackems, giving their central defensive duo some real problems. Had we finally found a use for him? Well, probably not. He was poor in the second period, his only real contributions of note being to squander a great opportunity which would have given us the lead and, when time was running out, to shank a cross straight into the stands.

The second-half malaise that affected Ameobi affected everyone, and a game we could easily have gone on to win slipped away from us. Richardson came close to giving the Great Unwashed the lead on the volley, and then punished Nicky Butt's cynical trip on the edge of the area by smashing his free-kick into the top corner. It could have been worse had Kenwyne Jones (the Mackems' own Ameobi-shaped battering ram) not headed over or Cisse's 25-yard snapshot not rebounded off the foot of the post. All we could muster in reply was an injection of pace and trickery from the bench in the form of ASBO and the fit-again Gutierrez, but chances to salvage a point never came and that 28 year unbeaten record fell.

The root of our problem is clear: we keep giving sides a headstart that they really don't need. The opposition have struck first blood in each of our last eight matches in league and cup. What's more, we've conceded two goals in each of our last nine matches, Arsenal adding an extra one just for good measure. With stats like that, and a defensive performance like ours yesterday (where everything, even if it was positive, was last-ditch and desperate, particularly with respect to Fabricio Coloccini), we can't hope to win games. It's as simple as that. We're second bottom only by virtue of the fact that Spurs have contrived to be even more awful than us so far this season - and even they've now recorded a win thanks to the arrival of the fleshy-faced Churchill dog from Portsmouth.

West Brom are next up, and will travel up to Tyneside on the back of heavy defeats to Man Utd and Hull. We have to make sure the pattern continues. Anything less than a home win is unthinkable.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Judgement Beye: not guilty

As we'd hoped (I'd say "as we expected", except the FA have too often proven their incompetence and idiocy for us to have too much faith in them), Habib Beye's red card from Monday's match against Man City was rescinded today.

It's all hypothetical, of course, but it's interesting to speculate what would have happened if referee Rob Styles had made the correct decision at the time. Man City wouldn't have been awarded the penalty from which they took the lead, but conversely we wouldn't have been galvanised by the sense of injustice into producing the determined and spirited display. Mark Hughes may have sounded perverse in claiming us being down to ten men worked in our favour, but it's true that Man City seemed to think they could win the game purely on the strength of their superior numbers. That, though, would be to seriously underplay the mismatch of talent in the two sides. The fact remains that Beye was sent off (wrongly), that we turned in a really good shift and that we can consider ourselves unlucky to have missed out on the extra two points.

Today's decision means that Beye will be available for the trip to the Dark Place on Saturday, and in even more encouraging news Jonas Gutierrez, along with Shay Given the star of our decent early season showings, may well be fit too. Just a shame, then, that there's no chance of Little Saint Mick taking to the turf in the Stadium of Shite, having been ruled out for both Saturday and Tuesday's home game with the Baggies.

In other news, ASBO trotted out some stuff about how he's really sorry, really he is, and, in a splendid display of verbal confusion, that he deserved "every bit of criticism that was labelled at me". He's also aware he's in "the last-chance saloon" - familiar surroundings then, Joey? Consider yourself extremely fortunate to have been handed the opportunity to pay another visit. Given he's been off the sauce since celebrating Boxing Day with an enthusiastic assault, I can only assume the saloon hasn't got a bar?

Quote of the day

"It came at a time when people have been desperate for reasons to be proud of their club. Some people might think journalists deserve what they get; my belief is it took the club down another peg or two. A manager of Newcastle speaking like that? It should never happen. It's a job of dignity, integrity and responsibility."

Under JFK we may have shown hints of having turned the corner of late, but predecessor Sir Bobby Robson clearly wasn't impressed by the current incumbent's now infamous press conference rant.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fighting spirit

Newcastle Utd 2 - 2 Manchester City

After the tirade, and the apology, we're finally starting to see the fruits of JFK's labour on the pitch, as a team of his making fought hard in the face of adversity to take a point at home to a Man City side boasting the most expensive player ever to play in the Premier League.

Starting well, the game had barely got going as a contest before Shaun Wright-Phillips flick released Robinho only for Habib Beye to produce a brilliant covering tackle to flick the ball away.

Well, that's what history should have recorded. Unfortunately Rob Styles decided that rather than it being a brilliant tackle, he thought our right back had, instead, clattered the diminutive Brazilian, and pointed to the spot, before reducing us to ten men.

Robinho duly sprung to his feet to send Shay the wrong way and give the visitors an early lead.

Down to ten men and a goal down, it didn't bode well; a few weeks ago it would have been a case of how many more will Man City score?

However, JFK's clearly instilled some of his fighting spirit in the team. We regrouped, Man City thought they could simply pass the ball around and we'd roll over, and we slowly fought our way back into the match. With Martins returning from injury, but forced out on to the left following Beye's dismissal, it was left to Shola to plough a lone furrow up front. Something which the man apparently destined to become the new John Fashanu ("Awooga") did to good effect, taking his reward just before half-time, when his miscued shot found the net, sending us in level.

No doubt employing his natural eloquence, JFK's half time team talk had its desired effect, and rather than allow Man City back into the match after the break, we carried on where we left off, and with Shola continuing to harry and hassle Richard Dunne, the City captain fired a storming own goal to give our team men a thoroughly deserved lead.

Mark Hughes sought to change things around for City, throwing more and more people forward in a bid to get back into the game, and in doing so left space at the back. With N'Zogbia on for Martins, the Frenchman nearly set Shola away, only for Ameobi to fire wide. With Given pulling off a brilliant save from Stephen Ireland it looked like we might just squeeze home.

However, at that point we saw what £32.5 million gets you, with Robinho creating space and then threading a through ball for Ireland to latch on to, and fire past Given to earn City a draw.

Going in to Saturday's derby on the back of a strong performance packed full of fight and character, there's a real chance that our excellent record down the road will continue.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

A Man City fan's perspective: Bitter and Blue

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Groin pain

Sod's fucking law.

More on the excusable use of industrial language below, but this has to be pardonable when confronted with the news that Little Saint Mick has managed to injure himself during the international break, despite not featuring for his country . A scan today revealed a groin strain rather than the feared tear, but he'll still be out of action for seven to ten days.

Without our one in-form forward, we'll have to rely on the stellar striking talents of Shola Ameobi and The Xisco Kid at St James's on Monday night. Meanwhile, our opponents are likely to field Elano, Jo, a rejuvenated Shaun Wright-Phillips and some fella by the name of Robinho. Our prospects of getting the win we desperately need for the sake of our league position and our chances of avoiding defeat at the Dark Place really don't look too good...

In other recent news, Steven Taylor captained the England U21s to a very narrow aggregrate victory over their Welsh counterparts, meaning they will go to next summer's European Championships ball in Sweden. Taylor can claim to have been instrumental in the decisive goal - it was his header that Wolves striker Sam Vokes deflected past his own 'keeper to level the scores on the night. Makes up for our man's monumental cock-up in the first leg, at least...

Meanwhile, Gerry Francis and his preposterous mullet won't be defecting from Stoke to join our coaching staff because the move wouldn't have been "practical", despite having received what he described as a great offer, and the man who made him that offer, JFK, has tried to justify and defend turning the air a shade of dark navy blue at his press conference by harping on about his tough upbringing: "I come from a one-parent family. My dad died when I was young and my mum brought up five on a council estate." Are we going to get this sob story every time we lose under his stewardship, I wonder?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

You must be Joe-king

What's more disturbing than the thought of JFK being our interim manager? Yes, you guessed it - the thought of JFK becoming our permanent manager. Admittedly the man himself hasn't quite said as much. "This is a great chance for me to put my name back in the frame", he's quoted as saying in today's Star. "And if I do a good job here, who knows what might be around the corner?"

The horrifying thing is that, with completion of the sale of the club still some way off (despite the insistence of Seymour Pierce's Keith Harris* that it's progressing "extremely well") there really is a good chance JFK will be in charge a lot longer than just until the end of November as first thought - perhaps even to the end of the season.

Of course, all this begs the question: what exactly in the situation and circumstances at St James's Park has reignited JFK's passion for management? Surely it would be enough to put you off for life? The man's clearly a masochist - and so, in that sense if none other, a prime candidate for the job.

* Fair play to Mr Harris for taking time out of his busy schedule to hawk us around to the highest bidder, given that he's also trying to flog Everton and instill self-confidence in a big fluffy green duck wearing a nappy...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

One down, three to go

Tony Jimenez's brief tenure as Vice President (Player Recruitment) came to an end today. According to the official club statement, he's left to "pursue other interests" aka get away as far as possible from the lunatic asylum that is St James's Park.

My feelings on this are mixed. On the one hand, this would seem to be a first step in paving the way for King Kev's return once the club's under new ownership. The real friction was between Keegan and Messrs Wise and Llambias, but as an integral part of the structure Mike Ashley put in place soon after his arrival, Keegan may well not have looked on him kindly.

On the other hand, Jimenez had some good connections in Europe, by all accounts - exactly what DFW hasn't got - and, having had plenty of time to digest what Ashley had to say in his statement announcing he was putting the club up for sale, I'm inclined to feel that the structure itself may not necessarily be the problem, and that if Keegan had been assured of having the final say on transfers and not had players foisted on him against his will, it could have worked.

Anyway, the question now is how long before Ashley, Llambias and DFW follow him out of the door?

Speaking of which, I was a little bemused by the following sentence, which appeared in a statement put out by the recently formed Newcastle United Supporters Club: "What is clear is that Mike Ashley is not acting quickly enough to end his disastrous relationship with our club". Now, while I don't doubt Ashley wants to make some money out of any deal, he's clearly also desperate to get out of Toon as quick as he can, having had it made plain to him that he's not welcome. Regardless of the rumours in the media, it's hard to believe there could be too many interested potential buyers of the club, given that our finances are still in something of a parlous state and we're evidently in such turmoil - certainly, that's what the extended deadline for the submission of bids suggests. And even if and when serious bids do come in, the bidders will no doubt take heed of Ashley's mistake in steaming in with a bid to wrap up a deal overnight, by ensuring everything's done with due diligence. If that's Ashley's fault, then it's only indirectly so.

Still, at least today we can laugh at the Mackems instead of the other way around, following Roy Keane's claim that FA rules are unfair on his side: "If you look at our academy, we are restricted in terms of our location. You can only bring in kids from a certain area. It's a certain radius and a lot of our radius is in the water. We have to look at whether there's any good fish out there." No, Roy, kids don't want to come to Sunderland because IT'S A SHITEHOLE.

And if that wasn't funny enough, Scott Murray of the Guardian has decided the time is right to re-evaluate Graeme Souness's managerial career and conclude he's really not as bad as he's been made out to be...

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Month Of Saturdays: September 2008

I only hope you appreciate how painful it's been to write what you are about to read.

In March last year, I began what was only the second of these round-up pieces by claiming that "in the recent history of Newcastle Utd there can have been few months more thoroughly depressing than that which we’ve just had the misfortune to endure". For a seasoned and careworn fan to make such a statement was sheer foolishness - an appallingly underhit backpass upon which fate would of course gleefully pounce, intent on teaching me the true meaning of the description "thoroughly depressing". Hint: it's rather worse than playing out a bore draw at home to the Smoggies and exiting the UEFA Cup to AZ Alkmaar.

At the start of September, we were idly speculating as to how many different potential punning headlines we could dream up using the name of our new £5.7m mystery man striker Xisco. Mike Ashley was in the news for the crime of downing an illicit pint at the Emirates Stadium. How he must have wished that pint anaesthatised him for the whole month, rather than just numbing the pain of that 3-0 defeat at the tail end of August.

By the end of September, King Kev was long gone (and Terry Mac with him), his replacement was an "interim manager" still serving a touchline ban from his last job in football four years previously, the club was up for sale and we'd lost five successive matches. As for Ashley, he was well aware he'd never again be able to sit in the stands in his Newcastle shirt among the fans, whether downing an illicit pint or otherwise, and had had to suffer the indignity of being ridiculed by Dave Whelan, a business rival who could declare in all seriousness that his manager Steve Bruce was "one of the best four managers in the world"...

So, did - as Whelan claimed - Ashley deserve all the flak he got? The simple answer has to be yes.

When Keegan was appointed, several commentators in the media saw it as a shrewd move on Ashley's part, as we did - but for far more cynical reasons. Their thinking was this: if Keegan succeeded, then Ashley would be hailed as the man who brought him back to the club; and if he failed, as was expected, Ashley could then point out he'd given us what we wanted, that perhaps we didn't know best after all and that the next appointment would be very much his own man.

But those commentators got it totally wrong - as did the owner. When, as the transfer window closed, Keegan reacted angrily to having the fruits of Dennis Wise and Tony Jiminez's European scouting missions imposed on him, Ashley must have realised that, by implementing the new structure and misleading the manager into thinking he'd have final say on any transfer dealings, he'd got himself into a terrible bind. There was precious little room for manoeuvre - it came down to a simple choice: either he had to show faith in Keegan, give weaselly Wise the boot and reform the system; or he had to remain resolute in his support for the scouting structure and personnel and thereby force a living legend ignominiously out of the door. Surely he must have realised that anything other than the former would make his position untenable - but much to our disgust, he opted for the latter.

As inevitable as the outraged response from the fans was Ashley’s subsequent decision to sell up and ship out. Unlike Fat Fred, Ashley was never so arrogant as to presume to know the views of the "Geordie nation" while maintaining a rigid distance (he may have been widely mocked for his habit of sitting in with the masses, but at least made the effort of appearing approachable) - and when those he sat amongst made their views on King Kev's departure crystal clear, he listened. Those "Cockney Mafia" banners were an indicator he'd never really been one of us. The defence of the system he gave in the public statement announcing the sale was actually quite thoughtful and persuasive - evidently, he'd taken a look at the state of the finances and realised that a radical restructuring was necessary for the long-term survival and success of the club. But that couldn't detract from the fact that the treatment of Keegan had been unforgivably shabby.

The rest of the month saw rumour pile up upon rumour, as shadowy consortia allegedly jostled for position in the race to buy the club - a race that it's a wonder anyone wants to win, frankly. The manager's position wasn't much coveted, though. Chris Hughton, thrust unwillingly into the limelight, was horribly out of his depth - but, even still, the appointment of Joe Kinnear as interim manager (after El Tel had turned us down) was a staggering decision. Perhaps it would be too uncharitable to suggest that it was Ashley's malicious way of inflicting further humiliation on the fans who were forcing him out, but at the time that's what it felt like.

Lest we forget, we did also play some football matches in September, though the extent of our involvement can be questioned...

Still shellshocked and in utter disarray over a week after Keegan's exit, we slumped to a 2-1 home defeat to Hull. Of course, in the wake of the Tigers' famous back-to-back victories in North London, this wasn't quite the embarrassing result it appeared at the time, even though they had been thrashed 5-0 on their own turf in their previous outing. More memorable than the result and Xisco's debut goal (he was dreadful otherwise) were the anti-Ashley protests and Danny Guthrie's horrendous leg-breaking tackle on Craig Fagan, for which he was very lucky to escape with just a red card and three match ban.

Next up was a trip to West Ham, whose new boss Gianfranco Zola - installed after Alan Curbishley had left in very similar circumstances to Keegan - was delighted at our capitulation to his side. We generously granted the Hammers a 3-0 lead before looking remotely interested in, and capable of, stringing two passes together.

The League Cup provided no respite four days later, either, with the only side considerate enough to break our fall at the bottom of the league table knocking us out on our own patch. Rarely can so many multi-million pound players served up such an awful match, but while holders Spurs were shockingly bad, they were still too good for us. Once Roman Pavyluchenko and Jamie O'Hara had been gifted goals by Keystone Cops defending from Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor there was never going to be any way back.

Given that they had registered victories on Tyneside in each of the last two seasons, Blackburn would have been one of the last sides we'd have chosen to face next - and sure enough they condemned us to a third consecutive 2-1 home defeat. No matter how unjust Christopher Samba's offside opener may have been, the fact remains that Rovers' 2-0 half-time lead was thoroughly deserved. The second period offered a few precious crumbs of comfort, at least, in the form of an early Michael Owen penalty and a sustained if laboured and ultimately fruitless effort to force the equaliser.

So, what lies in store in October? A new owner, King Kev's fourth coming, an upturn in fortunes on the pitch? Or just more frustration, anger, misery and humiliation? Who knows? We, as ever, just have to keep on doing the near-impossible: hoping and believing that better times are just around the corner.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A Tayl of two full-backs

Everton 2 - 2 Newcastle Utd

For 45 minutes it looked as though we were once again content to play the role in which we had been cast - namely the first Premier League visitors to Goodison Park this season to have the decency to allow the hosts anything other than a defeat. As it was, we could have even come away from Merseyside with maximum points, but the draw was nevertheless very welcome indeed, putting an end to a five game losing streak.

At the centre of everything were two full-backs, Steven Taylor and alleged one-time Toon target Leighton Baines, enjoying a rare start for the Toffees. Ex-Smoggie striker Aiyegbeni Yakubu had already been twice off-target, and Charles N'Zogbia had fired a shot narrowly wide by the time Baines took advantage of Geremi's doziness to sneak into the box and tumble under Nicky Butt's sliding challenge. Initially Baines looked offside, but had actually been played on by Claudio Cacapa in the middle, while replays of the incident revealed we could have no qualms about Howard Webb's award of a penalty. Mikael Arteta's spot-kick was hardly convincing, but Shay Given had dived the other way.

Our response was encouraging, and Baines it was who cleared off the line from Taylor after Michael Owen and the returning Danny Guthrie had both been foiled by Tim Howard. But our insistence on defending like complete cretins proved our undoing again in the 35th minute, Fabricio Coloccini allowing Marouane Fellaini to drift behind him and touch Baines's cross past Given from close range.

2-0 down, and we were staring down the barrel of another defeat which, with the second half yet to come, threatened to become more severe. But deep in first half stoppage time came the turning point. With Everton counter-attacking dangerously, Yakubu lost the ball to Geremi, who curled a perfect cross for Taylor to nod in off the crossbar at the far post.

JFK had already left his seat in the stands by this point, and before he'd retaken it at the start of the second period we were level. Neat interplay on the right flank culminated with Butt finding Taylor's run in behind the defence, and the makeshift full-back pulled the ball back intelligently for Damien Duff to slot home.

At the time parity was more than we deserved, but we went on to exert a measure of control and even looked relatively comfortable. Everton's best attempts to regain the lead came from the boots of Leon Osman and substitute Victor Anichebe, whose powerful shots were pawed away by Given and curled inches wide respectively. We came closest to a winner, though, when Shola Ameobi, thrown on for Geremi in an offensive tactical move, stumbled into the area to square for the lively N'Zogbia, only for the Frenchman to be denied what looked like a certain goal by the outstretched leg of that man Baines. Ameobi could also have scored himself, but stroked the ball wide of the post when well placed.

Afterwards JFK rightly paid tribute to the fighting spirit that hauled us back from the brink, and reiterated his blanket ban on speaking to the press. I wonder if he, like me, is cursing the timing of the international break in the belief that we've at last got something to build on, where before he was desperately looking forward to it as an opportunity to reassess and regroup?

Other reports: BBC

Owen still out in the cold

Michael Owen's omission from Fabio Capello's squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Belarus doesn't really come as any surprise in light of the comments the England coach made yesterday: "It's not a good moment for players at Newcastle. Sometimes, confidence and form depends on the results of your team". You could spin the same facts the other way: the fact that he's scored five times despite our recent results being so poor is a reason to include him. That said, he did look out of sorts against Everton.

Capello continued: "He is fit, but it's not enough only to score. Not contributing for 89 minutes then scoring a goal is not enough. Goals are very important but other things are, too". On that reasoning, Owen is unlikely to regain his place in the squad as long as Capello's in the hot seat - his game has always been about the basics of putting the ball in the net, rather than being a team player.

Still, England's loss is our gain. If we can keep him fit and significantly improve the service he's given, he can be relied on to haul us out of trouble just as he did last season.

Friday, October 03, 2008

JFK lives up to his name

New comedy 'How To Lose Friends And Alienate People' opens in cinemas today, but the lucky gents of the Fourth Estate were treated to a sneak preview at yesterday's pre-Everton press conference. I could have sworn it starred Simon Pegg and not Joe Kinnear, though.

As you'll see from the Guardian's edited but not sanitised transcript of proceedings, swearing was very much order of the day, Kinnear living up to his nickname in spectacular fashion.

Here's a sample exchange:

JFK: "Which one is Simon Bird [Daily Mirror's north-east football writer]?"

SB: "Me."

JFK: "You're a cunt."

SB: "Thank you."

Spare a thought for the beleaguered press officer who was duty bound to say: "What has been said in here is off the record and doesn't go outside". It was a press conference, for crying out loud - of course it's on the record and going to go outside, THAT'S THE POINT.

As with nearly everything at the moment, it would be hilarious if it wasn't our own club.

In some ways, more disappointing than JFK's very public act of self-combustion, personally speaking, was the response from .com:

"From our point of view it's nice to hear some of the press having to swallow their own medicine - as we've found in the past they like to dish it out but few can take it coming back the other way. Ultimately though, the tirade will only strengthen the resolve of many southern-based editors to chip away at the club. But perhaps a siege mentality is exactly what we need at the moment."

I can't agree. While muck has definitely been raked, we simply can't explain it all away by developing a stupid persecution complex. We've brought this farcical situation on ourselves, and "fucking slimy" though some journalists may be, we can't afford to burn our bridges like this. JFK's suggestion that he can somehow communicate directly with the fans without the aid of the media is ludicrous - that's what "media" means, it's a conduit that, yes, may often refract and distort, but it's a conduit all the same. It might also be ventured that there's an element of hypocrisy about .com's reaction - after all, they've not exactly received JFK's arrival with any warmth, and have thus far largely expressed the same negative, cynical take on his appointment as the rest of us.

Whatever, appointing someone with so little grasp of PR manager of a club like Newcastle that lurches from PR disaster to PR disaster looks to be on a par with appointing a bull manager of a china shop.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Fact and/or fiction

Another few days of gossip and fevered speculation, then. Having trouble keeping up? We are too. To summarise:

* Either the chances of Kevin Keegan coming back as manager are "extremely slim" (the Mail) or he's on the brink of returning to the club (everyone else). I know who I want to believe.

* Ever the shrewd businessman, Mike Ashley has apparently realised that when something isn't selling you need to cut the price, so the club is now up for grabs for between £280m and £300m. Yep, he's shaved £150m off the price tag but would still stand to benefit to the tune of £50m...

* The shadowy Nigerian consortium represented by one Chris Nathaniel claim to have submitted their bid for the club, stressing that they won't be held to ransom. Meanwhile, we've supposedly contacted seven different interested parties with a view to gauging whether they really have the necessary funds - and the Nigerians aren't among them.

But if there's one thing that's depressed me more than the ongoing sale saga and moronic platitudes from JFK (You're going to raise the collective spirit of the squad, are you Joe? Well done for recognising the problem - you're really earning your money...) and that's the prospect of us re-signing an old, shit player deemed surplus to requirements in the summer and unable to find a new club since by virtue of being old and shit. If ever we need damning evidence of deficiencies with our recruitment policy, that would be it. Stephen Carr: just say no...