Wednesday, December 31, 2008

'Keeper's a kept man

According to JFK, Shay Given - "the best goalkeeper in the Premier League by a country mile" - is going nowhere in January.

With the transfer window about to open and Given's outstanding performance against Liverpool on Sunday the only thing that prevented the league leaders from registering double figures, that the Irishman's future would once again be the subject of speculation was inevitable - with perennial suitors Arsenal and (surprise, surprise) Moneybags FC rumoured to be circling. But JFK's adamant: "He won't be leaving - he has no interest in that whatsoever. He loves the football club. He's part of the city and that suits us because he's a world-class goalkeeper. He's very happy here, he's very comfortable at Newcastle United".

To reiterate what's been said here many times before: Given owes us absolutely nothing, and in fact the opposite's true - if an offer came in and he was to decide to leave, he has every right to feel the club shouldn't stand in his way. And, indeed, at a time when we're desperate for new recruits in a number of positions, the club may eye the cash and gladly offer him the opportunity to actually win something other than man-of-the-match awards week in week out...

In other news, JFK has sought to protect our hopes of progressing to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup by cancelling training. An unusual move, you might think - even when our Third Round fixture is against a demoralised Hull side with one win in 11 games. The reason? A simple lack of bodies. Of course we're used to acute injury crises and have limped through them before - but our perilous position in the league makes it all the more worrying. Presumably building work on the extension to our treatment room has been completed by now, at least...

Today's transfer rumours, both in the Sun, have linked us with Wolves winger Michael Kightly, rated at around £4m and also allegedly wanted by Everton and the Smoggies, and Andy Carroll with a move to Ipswich for £1.5m. We're more in need of defenders, central midfielders and strikers than wingers, but I suppose that if Charles N'Zogbia was to leave it might be wise to replace him rather than rely on just Damien Duff and Spiderman.

The Currant Bun also claims that Jose Mourinho wants to sign Little Saint Mick for Inter Milan, using Honduran striker David Suazo as part of the deal. My opinion remains the same, though: taking the bait and showing a proven Premier League hitman the door with five months of the season to go and safety far from assured would be daft in the extreme.

Fight night

So, Steven Gerrard MBE has been charged with assault and affray after an incident in a Southport nightspot on Sunday evening. It's alleged that being part of a group of men who administered a severe beating once that day just wasn't enough...

While we can be forgiven for bemoaning why the incident and arrest couldn't have taken place before the demolition job at St James's, in which Gerrard was instrumental, we can also sympathise with the Liverpool fans - after all, we're no strangers to coming to terms with hot-headed Scouse midfielders who wear our colours being arrested for physical overexuberance over the festive period...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Another fine mess

Newcastle Utd 1 - 5 Liverpool

And there I was thinking the demolition job the Scousers did on us last season was bad. Having contrived to put a positive slant on the news that the club has proven unattractive to investors, Mike Ashley presumably had his head in his hands when the final whistle blew on this latest debacle, wondering what on earth he's done to deserve being left saddled with it.

A sullen-faced JFK may have plucked the expected excuses from the shelf - the spate of injuries to defensive personnel in particular, tiredness from the packed festive programme (funny that - I could have sworn Liverpool had a game on Boxing Day too...) - but nothing would have been acceptable as justification for the shambles the largest home crowd of the season was forced to endure. As appalling as our defending was - and make no mistake, it was absolutely atrocious - the midfield protection afforded to our makeshift back four was non-existent. Liverpool may be top of the league and in good form, but we could hardly have given them an easier ride.

With Mark Viduka joining Obafemi Martins on the sidelines and Shola Ameobi not considered fit enough to start, Damien Duff was named as Little Saint Mick's strike partner. In defence Jose Enrique had recovered sufficiently from Friday's warm-up strain to allow Charles N'Zogbia to resume his position on the left wing, but the injury to Habib Beye and suspension of Sebastien Bassong meant JFK had to turn to Steven Taylor and David Edgar.

After an opening few minutes during which we pressed Liverpool high up the pitch, won a succession of throw-ins and saw Fabricio Coloccini fire powerfully over the bar, the Scousers took charge. Chances came and went with such frequency that no sooner had we caught our breath after one miraculous escape than there was another jaw-dropping incident. Shay Given saved Dirk Kuyt's close-range blast with his neck, then superbly foiled Steven Gerrard twice (once with his legs and once with a diving save to his right). Next it was Lucas Leiva's turn to be incredulous on two occasions in quick succession as the Irishman smuggled one point-blank prod off the line with the Reds fans prematurely celebrating and then used a firm outstretched hand to divert a header away to safety. And that's not to mention Sami Hyypia's unchallenged header from a free-kick and N'Zogbia's goalline clearance from the same player.

It was only a matter of time before we paid the price for repeatedly ignoring the alarm bells, pressing snooze and dozing off again, and sure enough that time came shortly after the half-hour mark. Enrique, who'd been capably demonstrating his full repertoire of sliced and mishit clearances and passes, allowed Yossi Benayoun to sneak in behind him and pull the ball back from the byline for Gerrard to crash in off the post. Five minutes later and it was 2-0, Hyypia profiting from our inability to learn lessons and from Coloccini's interest in wrestling rather than outjumping him by heading home a corner.

Bizarrely, though, in first-half stoppage time we struck back, and this time it was the visitors who failed to heed the warning signs. Taylor had already headed wide from a corner when Edgar rose at the near post to plant an excellent header past Pepe Reina. His celebrations weren't exactly vociferous - presumably out of recognition that the scoreline was utterly undeserved and that he had been one of our worst performers, running around cluelessly and giving Ryan Babel the freedom of our right flank.

Any artificial gloss that goal put on proceedings was stripped off early in the second half. Ameobi, thrown on to put the hapless Enrique out of his misery, had inspired some optimism with a well-timed lunge on Javier Mascherano and a couple of decent breaks down the right (one ending with a blocked N'Zogbia shot), but Liverpool were assisted in restoring their two-goal lead when six statuesque defenders couldn't prevent Babel from tapping in after another set-piece.

When Little Saint Mick was scythed down cynically by Mascherano, substitute Geremi came desperately close to reducing the arrears with a free-kick that smashed up off the bar and behind. Our only other second-half opportunities of note came in the form of a low Danny Guthrie shot from distance and an Owen effort deflected behind by Jamie Carragher after Reina had dropped Geremi's ambitious free-kick - but by that point we were 4-1 and then 5-1 down respectively.

Gerrard got his side's fourth, motoring onto Lucas's precise through ball and outpacing a sluggish Coloccini to dink beyond Given. With Fernando Torres out injured and Robbie Keane rewarded for his Boxing Day brace against Bolton by being dropped to the bench, we might possibly have fancied our chances - but the wily Benitez's decision to give Gerrard free rein behind Kuyt was a tactic we failed to cope with miserably.

The fifth, a penalty scored by sub Xabi Alonso following Edgar's trip, inspired a defiant barrage of noise from the home fans, who - in amongst mocking the Scousers for their relative muteness in the circumstances and indulging in some fine gallows humour ("6-5, we're gonna win 6-5...") - paid tribute to Sir Bobby Robson. The Newcastle United Supporters' Club's suggestion that the day should be earmarked for fundraising for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation seemed to have been enthusiastically embraced by the fans - so the club's lack of obvious support for the initiative was mean-spirited in the extreme.

In the rousing atmosphere of the final 15 minutes Given was again called upon, this time to claw away Lucas's header, but by that point the horse had not only bolted but galloped several furlongs off into the distance. I'd never witnessed a 'keeper afforded three separate standing ovations - one at half-time, one when he re-emerged for the second half and one at the final whistle - but they were certainly no less than he deserved.

At least we now have the distraction of an FA Cup game against Hull to look forward to - perhaps we can haul ourselves back on track against a side who are currently going through a very sticky spell themselves. But staying in this division is the most important thing, and JFK was right to stress the need to bring in new faces in January. Mike, if you're serious about doing your bit to "drive the club forward", then you're going to need to put your hand in your pocket.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Back seat driver

According to a statement released today, 2009 will be the year in which "we drive the club forward together", with owner and fans back in harmony and striving to achieve the best for the club.

Ashley has apparently taken the decision to withdraw the club from the market so that we might "continue to progress under the new management team".

Far be it from me to raise a cynical eyebrow at all of this, but given the current economic climate, and for all the reported interest in the club clearly nobody put their money where their mouth was.

If Ashley really does want to prove that he's committed to Newcastle, he's got the perfect opportunity to do it over the next month, with the transfer window about to open, and our pressing need for a decent left back still a matter which is outstanding from the summer.

Of course, if a left back had arrived on deadline day instead of a Spanish striker and a permanently injured Uruguayan midfielder there probably wouldn't have been a need for a press release at all...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wig-whammed - again

Wigan Athletic 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Ah, the annual festive ritual: picking over the bones of the Christmas turkey and then picking over the bones of another miserable Boxing Day defeat. Given the catalogue of misery recorded in the history books and the four defeats we'd suffered on our four previous visits to the JJB, the fixture computer's Christmas gift of a Boxing Day trip to Wigan was about as welcome as a cold turd in a particularly garish pair of novelty socks.

It was an afternoon on which pretty much everything that could go wrong did. It began with Jose Enrique injuring himself in the warm-up, the Spaniard no doubt relieved to escape a roasting at the hands of another pacy winger, Antonio Valencia, after being tormented by Spurs' Aaron Lennon on Sunday. That meant pushing our most potent weapon from that game, Charles N'Zogbia, back into defence, with Damien Duff lining up on the left wing and JFK forced to press Mark Viduka into grudging service up front.

We didn't start too badly, in all honesty. Danny Guthrie was exerting a controlling influence in midfield and only stout defending - a goalline clearance from Mario Melchiot and a superb sliding block from Paul Scharner - denied Mark Viduka and Little Saint Mick respectively from giving us the lead.

But any optimism we may have had disappeared on the half-hour mark. Anyone foolish enough to bet that we might continue our sequence of clean sheets on our travels would have been ignoring the fact that history can repeat itself - and indeed has with remarkable regularity in this fixture. That's certainly what our defence did. Despite having conceded curling free-kick winners to Wigan in both the 2006-7 season and the 2007-8 season, we had no one on the post and the ball flew past Shay Given from 20 yards. The scorer, henceforth known only as The Wigan Player, was responsible for those two previous efforts and also his side's first in the reverse fixture at St James's Park last month - meaning that of the six times he's netted in Wigan colours, two-thirds of his strikes have come against us. Did the muted celebration hint at a degree of sympathy for the suffering he continually inflicts upon us, or was it just because scoring came as no surprise?

As our grip on the game was loosened by Wilson Palacios, and Amr Zaki and the dangerous Valencia began to see more of the ball and create opportunities, things got worse when a crunching tackle from Palacios's partner in central midfield, ex-Smoggie Lee Cattermole, saw Habib Beye limp off to be replaced by Steven Taylor. "I'll be kind and call it a reckless challenge", said JFK afterwards, no doubt mindful of the fact that Cattermole was also responsible for ASBO's current injury lay-off.

The second half continued in much the same vein: short of ideas and commitment, we ceded control to a spirited but very average side far too easily. But the finger of blame for Wigan's second goal can only pointed in referee Mike Dean's direction. Fair enough Sebastien Bassong needed to be punished for taking a shine to Emile Heskey's shirt, but the offence first took place nearer the halfway line than the penalty box. Quite why Dean waited until the pair had made their way into the area and Heskey's legs had conveniently buckled beneath him to blow his whistle is a complete mystery. Bassong received the inevitable red card and Zaki buried the spot-kick.

The decision to withdraw Little Saint Mick for a defender, David Edgar, was curious - even though he'd hardly been at his most effective, this was tantamount to waving the white flag to the Wigan dug-out. But credit where it's due - we could and very nearly did snatch an undeserved point.

There were only two minutes left on the clock when we finally got our first goal at the JJB. Andy Carroll, on for the lumbering Viduka who'd been barracked off the pitch, was clattered by Chris Kirkland. Naturally the 'keeper stayed on the pitch to face the penalty, but was powerless to prevent Guthrie from notching his second goal in successive away matches.

Perhaps drawing inspiration from our hosts' last-gasp equaliser at St James's Park, the 10 men sensed the possibility of grabbing an unlikely draw. That they didn't was partly down to Duff, who fluffed a glorious chance to reprise his late, late show against Spurs, and to that man Dean, who rewarded a clumsy challenge in the area with a yellow card for the floored Carroll rather than the penalty it merited. Old Cauliflower Face conceded: "I thought their second shout for a penalty at the end was more of a penalty than the first one". JFK, meanwhile, said: "I can't find words to express his [Dean's] performance". Somehow I doubt that, though the words in question probably wouldn't be fit for a family website such as this. Words like "an absolute fucking disgrace", for instance.

So, 2-1 it finished, we get to be patronised by Brucie and his gobshite chairman Dave Whelan for another year, and league leaders Liverpool are looming large on the horizon. Joy of joys.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Season's greetings

Merry Christmas from us at Black & White & Read All Over. Enjoy your day - after all, our annual 1-0 defeat at the JJB is just around the corner...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The waiting game

So the wait is over, kind of: Little Saint Mick's staying - for the time being.

The good news is that the man whose goals kept us up last season has "no intention of leaving Newcastle United in the January transfer window" and remains "committed to ensuring the club ends the season on a high" - which at the moment, mindful of how tight the bottom of the league is and knowing our own capacity for self-destruction, would probably be anything other than relegation.

The bad news is that he's not making any promises beyond that. The contract currently lying on the table will remain unsigned until then, and even then he may decide to walk out on a free transfer.

Is this non-committal commitment defensible? Will it be perceived among the fans as "positive, and not disloyal in any way", as he hopes?

On the one hand, he's right that, at 29, his next contract is an absolutely key one. Few would disagree that things haven't gone quite as planned since he signed on the dotted line in 2005, and little that's happened has actually been his fault. With the future of the club itself still uncertain, and Mike Ashley's chances of finding a buyer seemingly as remote as ever, it seems sensible and pragmatic from a personal perspective. At least we can count on him for the crucial next five months - injuries permitting, of course.

But on the other hand, as fans we're not so interested in what's right for Michael Owen. As unwelcome as it's been to have Fat Fred squeezing his oversized frame back into the limelight to claim that "Morally, he owes Newcastle another year", his comment will strike a chord with many a fan, and does so with me too, to an extent. We fought for compensation in the wake of his injury in the 2006 World Cup, and supported him through his long rehabilitation - and so walking out in the summer would I think be disloyal. As important as his predatory instincts have been (and will hopefully continue to be), he's certainly no Shay Given, who could have left on numerous occasions with our complete blessing for his sterling service but who has instead, no doubt always against his better judgement, decided to stay put.

Of course it might well be argued that signing an injury-prone player fast approaching his 30th birthday on a lucrative long-term deal is hardly a very astute move, so perhaps it might still be best for the club if Little Saint Mick rejects the contract in favour of a move to pastures new. I'm not convinced of this argument - Owen remains a valuable asset, and sourcing a new striker who has anything like an equivalent goals-per-games ratio will prove extremely costly, even in the current climate. Unless the Xisco Kid turns out to be the answer, that is...

Little Saint Mick's being rather naive if he's hoping his statement might put an end to the speculation - if anything, it'll now intensify, particularly towards the end of the season. But what's done is done, and now he has to get his head down to ensure we can still hold ours high come May.

Subs stun Spurs

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur

At long last, a precious three points at home lifted us back towards the relative security of mid-table.

Goals from Charles N'Zogbia, and a last gasp winner from Damien Duff were sufficient to overcome a Spurs side whose only goal inevitably came from one-time Toon target Luka Modric.

With Ameobi replacing Martins in the starting line up, with the Nigerian still suffering from the injury which inhibited his goal celebration against Portsmouth, Newcastle started the brighter, and took an early goal when N'Zogbia latched on to Given's long clearance. Easily beating his man, the Frenchman seemed to be hauled down in the area, only to recover sufficiently to slot the ball home past Heurelho Gomes in front of the Gallowgate crowd.

We were showing sufficient steel in midfield, with Butt and Guthrie combining to good effect, and there was real optimism that we could go on to add a couple more. However, Dawson's toe-punt interception of a Guthrie pass to Ameobi released Modric who broke through on goal and the Croatian was able to score his first goal for the visitors. That proved to be Shola's last involvement, as he then left the field with what appeared to be a hamstring strain, to be replaced by Viduka, who looks like he's already enjoyed several large turkey dinners.

With less mobility up front, and Gutierrez having a quiet day on the right, it was left to N'Zogbia to provide our most potent attacking threat; however, both sides seemed to be cancelling each other out. With little in the way of attacking chances, there was precious little to excite the crowd, and the atmosphere appeared to suffer accordingly.

With time running out in the second half, JFK withdrew Enrique, who'd had a fairly torrid afternoon attempting to cope with the pace of Aaron Lennon (the Spurs winger creating a number of decent chances having run rings round our Spanish left back). In his place was Damien Duff, with N'Zogbia dropping back to cover the defence. It was our two subs who combined to break the deadlock with only minutes left on the clock. The Irishman controlled the ball on his thigh before feeding it to Viduka. The Aussie displayed his excellent touch and laid the ball back into the path of the onrushing Irishman with a deft back-heel, and Duff was able to gently tuck the ball past Gomes to give us a decisive lead.

With so little time left on the clock, there was little Spurs could do, although they still managed to create one good chance for Frazier Campbell, only for the on-loan striker to aim a weak header at Given.

All in all, a good win which saw us climb to the giddy heights of 12th. If we can manage a rare win on Boxing Day away to Wigan then the top half of the table could start to beckon, which in turn should make us a more appealing destination for players in January, and potentially a more appealing place to stay for Michael Owen when he eventually decides what he wants to do at the end of the season.

One final comment, by my reckoning that makes it 5-0 to the Goldfish bowl JJ. Happy Christmas!

Other reports: BBC, Guardian,

A Spurs fan's perspective: Harry Hotspur

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Quote of the day

"Joe's the man to do the job. He's my hero. Is he better than Capello? Definitely."

Mike Ashley's clearly either too much in the charitable Christmas spirit, or he's been at the Christmas spirits.

Interesting, then, that while he's been bigging up JFK, the latter has for his part been busy reminding his boss that he won't be dictated to when it comes to transfers: "But I'll certainly identify the players; no-one's going to be bought without my wishes - without me having the final say." I'm sure King Kev said something similar - so if you didn't give him free reign, Mike, then why might you be prepared to do it for JFK? What's changed?

In other news two of this afternoon's results were rather depressing: the Mackems racked up another win, scoring four for the second successive game since Keano departed to walk his dog, and went above us into 12th, while Fat Sam was fortunate enough to find his new Blackburn side up against an exceedingly obliging Stoke defence.

All of which makes it imperative that we avoid defeat (at very least) at home to Spurs tomorrow. In that respect, our cause looks as though it'll be helped by the absence through injury (what else?) of Jonathan Woodgate. Given the traumatic conclusions of the last two home games, it comes as something of a relief that the visitors will be without their own ex-Toon central defender... Jermaine Jenas is likely to miss out too - though, thinking about it, both were absolutely appalling when we last met the Spuds at White Hart Lane in March, so perhaps their absences aren't to be celebrated at all...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Quote of the day

"Allardyce and Rovers: it is an intriguing proposition and it should make for fascinating viewing."

Fascinating viewing for who exactly? The BBC's Paul Fletcher obviously has everyone except Blackburn fans in mind. And just when those poor Lancastrian unfortunates really needed some Christmas cheer.

In other related news, congratulations to Blyth Spartans for their FA Cup replay triumph against Bournemouth - needless to say we're wishing them the best of luck against Allardyce's new side in the next round...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Harbour masters

Portsmouth 0 - 3 Newcastle Utd

Well, they do say the sea air has marvellous restorative powers. After the vicious psychological wound inflicted by last week's tragically inevitable last-minute capitulation to Stoke, yesterday's game at Fratton Park was balm of the most soothing kind, for the second half at least.

Our prospects of avoiding defeat, if not actually winning the game, looked much brighter when it was clear both Nicky Butt and Danny Guthrie were fit to start, banishing memories of the central-defender-heavy side that finished the previous game.

But while it was important that the pair eventually exerted a dominance over their opposite numbers, Richard Hughes and Sean Davis, then it was even more so that for the third away day in a row our defence achieved a shut-out (reminded at one point of that target by Shay Given making a '0' with his fingers). Even Jose Enrique had a good game, by which I mean his only contributions of note weren't misplaced passes or sliced clearances (though there were still several of them).

We couldn't have achieved it on our own, though. In the first half referee Chris Foy turned down penalty appeals for handball against Butt and wrestling against Sebastien Bassong (the latter a far more creditable claim than the former), while Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe - who I'm still happy to tip as winding up the league's highest scoring double act at the end of the season (even if they look more like the sort of double act that should be on a stage than on a football pitch) - tried their luck on countless occasions, but only very rarely caused alarm for Given. Hughes thought he could beat the Irishman from 30 yards not once but twice (he couldn't), and the closest we came to conceding in that opening period was a deflected Niko Kranjcar shot that Given did well to parry for a corner.

Despite our hosts shading the possession, we looked the more threatening side. Obafemi Martins was desperately unlucky to see a rocket of a 30 yarder crash against the post, Enrique's rising drive was clawed away from the top corner by David James, and Habib Beye should have done much better with his header from a set-piece delivery which was really quite decent, for a change.

What was perhaps most pleasing, though, was that, having got to half-time at 0-0, we decided not to stick - or at least try to, as that tactic inevitably fails. No, we set out to build on the platform we'd established and twisted, and six minutes into the second period it played handsome dividends. Arnold Mvuemba's misplaced pass left Little Saint Mick space to run onto Spiderman's perceptive through-ball, and he recovered from a heavy first touch to lift the ball over James with the deftest of chips. Pompey really don't like saints, do they?

We started to sit a bit deeper, but the expected response never really materialised - one flashing shot from Defoe aside - and we continued to look menacing on the break. Key to our tactics was Martins's pace, and it was he who made the result safe with twelve minutes remaining. The Pompey fans were still howling with derision at a shot the ever-mercurial Nigerian sliced for a throw-in when Enrique supplied him on the edge of the six yard area and he calmly waited for James to go to ground before placing his shot.

There was the hint of a fly in the ointment when he left the pitch nursing what looked like a slight strain, but even that was sugared over by his replacement Shola Ameobi setting Guthrie up to sweep in a shot that James couldn't repel.

A thoroughly satisfying afternoon, then, and one that propelled us up to 14th (above the Mackems) and into the festive programme with renewed confidence. Three wins from three aren't beyond our capabilities - neither are three defeats, of course, but if we can replicate our mean-spiritedness at home and stop conceding stupid late goals then it may yet be a happy Christmas.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Don't leave us this way?

So, the first question - will we offer Little Saint Mick a new contract? - has been answered in the affirmative. Now for the second question: will he sign it?

Last week he put the ball squarely in the club's court, and now they've volleyed back into his, so outwardly he's got what he asked for. But of course the precise terms aren't known - the offer may (and probably will, given his injury problems) involve a drop in salary, and it may not run for as long as he'd like. Add to that the scowl that he's worn like an unchanging mask for much of this season (yesterday being a pleasing exception) and the presence of suitors with marginally better immediate prospects (Everton and Spurs) waiting in the wings, and JFK's lack of confidence that he'll still be at the club when the 2008-9 season kicks off looks well founded.

That said, he is at least guaranteed of being a big fish in a relatively small pond on Tyneside, and if we can continue to give him the good service of late and he scores the goals to keep us comfortably in the Premier League he may be convinced that it would be worth signing on the dotted line.

Either way, JFK's adamant he won't be sold in January - and rightly so, as it'd be suicidal to sacrifice the man who did more than anyone else to keep us up last season for the sake of a couple of million quid when four times that wouldn't be enough to find a replacement of a similar calibre. If he decides not to sign the contract and leaves in the summer, then so be it - but we have to hold on to him until then.

In other recent news you may have missed if you rely upon Black & White & Read All Over as your source of Toon news (ha!), one of Mido's abusers got nothing more than the equivalent of a sharp slap on the wrist, much to the disappointment of both the Smogs and the FA; the Mirror claim Academy Director Richard Money has now been formally offered the manager's position at Swindon; Lee Clark left Norwich with the praises of Glenn Roeder and the Canaries' players ringing in his ears to be confirmed as the new manager of Huddersfield, naming Derek Fazackerley as his assistant and watching his charges record 1-0 win at Southend; and if the odds are to be believed, Messrs Souness and Allardyce will soon be back in work, skilfully guiding Blackburn and the Mackems respectively to relegation and Championship mediocrity. Joy!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Quote of the day

"Michael Owen was hailed as the most important signing for Newcastle since Alan Shearer. But any fan who thinks Owen will be at St James's Park next August must be deluded. Good players who allow their contracts to expire always move on."

Er, it seems as though someone hasn't been listening to what Little Saint Mick's been saying. Still, we should know better than to expect anything other than moronic drivel from a prat of a pundit like Mark Bright...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"Don't blame me..."

... was the gist of the comments Little Saint Mick made about contract negotiations in the wake of the Stoke game. Instead he laid responsibility squarely at the door of the "turmoil" which has engulfed the club since Kevin Keegan's departure: "We had a few meetings earlier on in the season and things were going fine. Then the manager left as did someone on the board who we were negotiating with - talks haven't picked up since." The fact that he immediately added "Before it's gets twisted again, that's not me snubbing Newcastle" suggests an understandable weariness and cynicism about the press speculation.

JFK - whom Mick claimed "has had a steadying influence on the club and has done really well" - has said he's keen to see the striker stay at the club beyond the summer, but it looks as though the ball's very much in Mike Ashley's court. It's no surprise Little Saint Mick wants to feel wanted, but at the moment, despite his continuing goalscoring exploits when not exactly bang in form, there's not much evidence he actually IS wanted. By us, that is - according to a suspiciously quote-free article in the Sun, both Chelsea and Spurs are looking on with interest.

In other news, to no surprise whatsoever JFK has received yet another red-headed letter from the FA for his antics on Saturday afternoon. Someone should tell him it's wins he should be trying to collect, not touchline bans - or maybe he's just trying to identify with the common fan by getting a similar perspective on the game?

There being precious little to smile about at St James's Park at the moment, we're having to look further afield for cockle-warming cheer - so congratulations to old boy Matty Pattison for scoring one and creating the other in a 2-0 victory for Norwich in the East Anglian derby, under the stewardship of Messrs Roeder and Clark, and also to Sir Bobby Robson for being awarded the freedom of the city of Durham. Not sure what that gets him - a big key? The licence to graze his flock in the city's parks?

And last but not least, looks as though we're not going to have the pleasure of welcoming Monkey's Heed back to the Stadium of Shite. Shame, that...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Faye fuck's sake

Newcastle Utd 2 - 2 Stoke City

For 90 minutes this game seemed like a carbon copy of the West Brom game at the tail-end of October, in which we raced into a two goal lead at the break, re-emerged without a clue of how to defend our advantage, conceded a goal and ended up clinging on desperately for a victory that should have been so much easier.

No such luck.

With the game into injury time, it suddenly became a carbon copy of the Wigan game, a recently discarded Toon central defender - this time Abdoulaye Faye - popping up to crush our spirits and deny us a vital two extra points.

Truth be told, Faye's goal was much more painful a blow than the one inflicted on us by Titus Bramble. After all, just ten minutes before Bramble headed home, we'd been losing so in a sense it was still a point gained - whereas yesterday we had the lead from the eighth minute, and our first half display was such that throwing it away looked impossible.

With Charles N'Zogbia and Spiderman marauding to great effect down the flanks and Little Saint Mick in deadly form up front, we spent the first 45 minutes tearing a shellshocked Stoke apart. Spiderman's clever threaded pass set Little Saint Mick for the first, an inch-perfect finish across ex Mackem Thomas Sorensen and inside the far post. A quarter of an hour later, shortly after Stoke had been forced into a substitution, Little Saint Mick doubled his tally, sliding in to prod home from Obafemi Martins's fizzing low cross. At the time it only looked a question of how many we would score, and certainly I would have put money on Owen completing his hat-trick.

But then came half-time, with hindsight as welcome as being trapped in a lift with a farting Mackem. Tony Pulis said a few choice things to his charges, while his opposite number JFK had to decide what to do in the light of Danny Guthrie's injury. With Nicky Butt and ASBO already on the sidelines and no midfielders of any description on the bench, Steven Taylor came on at right back, Habib Beye was pushed into midfield and Spiderman was instructed to operate in a more central area with Geremi.

Our Argentinian winger instantly became markedly less effective and only a desperate tackle from Taylor foiled Richard Cresswell as we began the second half seemingly convinced that all we had to do to beat a side that had amassed a grand total of two points away from home was to turn up.

A even more key substitution came just before the hour mark. We'd managed to nullify the threat of Rory Delap's gargantuan throw-ins to such an extent that he was withdrawn, but with top scorer Ricardo Fuller introduced in his place we then set about giving the visitors the opportunity to show they're not the one-dimensional team everyone's been labelling them as.

Fuller's impact was instant, making a mockery of Fabricio Coloccini's recent displays by easily outfoxing the Argentinian and crossing for Mamade Sidibe to side-foot past Shay Given. Infuriatingly, we failed to heed what was rather more than a warning and continued to sit back, inviting pressure from a side with three forwards whose tails were up. Even more infuriatingly, JFK only compounded the problem by replacing Geremi, our only remaining recognised central midfielder, with yet another centre-back in the form of Cacapa.

We would have gotten away with it, though, if it hadn't have been for pesky official Mavis Riley, who spotted an imaginary infringement by Sebastien Bassong on Fuller. It was from the resulting free-kick that the man deemed surplus to requirements in the summer prodded home unchallenged. JFK continued his one-man protest against the Respect initiative, being sent to the stands for his colourful complaints - but if the officials will keep provoking him...

As well as we performed in that first period, we simply didn't deserve all three points on account of the lifeless, gutless, complacent showing of the second. A fourth consecutive draw, in a game we really should have won - and indeed pretty much had by half-time. Thankfully, none of those below us could capitalise: Blackburn lost to Liverpool, West Brom threw away a lead against Portsmouth and only got a point, and the Keane-less Mackems lost at Old Trafford as expected - though the fact it took a goal as late as Faye's from Nemanja Vidic to do the damage certainly wasn't.

Would we take a point away at Europe-chasing Pompey next Sunday? Probably - but that might land us in the bottom three, so we really need more.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Month Of Saturdays: November 2008

Strange things are afoot on Tyneside. Once upon a time - well, up until the beginning of November, to be precise - you were more likely to come across clean sheets in the bulging morning-after washing basket of a highly frequented multi-storey bordello. In twelve matches we’d achieved one shut-out, at home to Bolton in the first game of the season. But November saw us quadruple that tally - and not just by virtue of extreme good fortune, either.

Not before time, mind. When you’ve got a misfiring if potentially deadly attack that has only scored three in a game once this campaign (and that courtesy of two own goals at Championship side Coventry in the League Cup), you can’t expect to win many games if your back four is as notoriously philanthropic as ours. A major problem when, as happened, other results after our morale-boosting but nervy win over West Brom at the tail-end of October conspired to leave us rock bottom at kick-off against Villa.

Prior to that game the Villain’s pacy attack had been rampant against opponents with defences traditionally more solid than ours, but the likes of Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor were mystifyingly but mercifully off-form - though even then our clean sheet was only preserved at one point by Shay Given’s face. Allied to Obafemi Martins’s two second half goals as we got stronger and more confident, the shut-out brought our best win of the season. That’s not saying much, admittedly, but shooting up to the heady heights of 14th, one place above the Mackems, certainly wasn’t to be sniffed at.

More impressive, though, was the 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge, scene of so many massacres it’s a wonder there aren’t little black and white crosses all over the pitch. JFK turned to the A-Team for inspiration, rummaging around and making use of whatever he could find to construct a heavily armoured bus which he then parked right in front of our goal. Quite what Michael Owen made of being deployed in a midfield role is unclear, but the point is that it worked. Of course, that it did so wasn’t just down to focus, determination, organisation and an excellent display from Fabricio Coloccini. No, we also had to thank Chelsea’s uncharacteristic profligacy and the fact that this year, unlike last, the officials got key decisions right and found in our favour. Those not of a black and white persuasion may have sneered at the perceived paucity of ambition - but surely ambitious is exactly what we were, given that we were trying to do what we’d attempted and failed on numerous occasions before?

A week later and we repeated the trick, escaping from Smogside with another point and clean sheet to go with the usual respiratory difficulties. Admittedly, this time accusations of a lack of ambition would have been met with a "Guilty as charged, m'lud", and holding Boro's attack at bay was a rather less impressive feat than defusing the threat posed by Chelsea - but earlier in the season this was definitely a game we would have lost and Martins was the width of the woodwork away from nicking us all three points. Sadly the achievement was overshadowed by the actions of a mindless minority barracking Mido with abuse for the second year in a row, and this time the FA decided to take action.

Also landing himself in hot water with the authorities in November was JFK, for his comments after our only defeat of the month, at Fulham - a game which meant it certainly wasn't all good news from a defensive perspective. JFK may have described Martin Atkinson as a "Mickey Mouse referee" for his failure to spot a push on Cacapa which indirectly led to Andy Johnson's winner, but it was the defender's contribution to our hosts' opener that was truly cartoonish, the Brazilian heading the ball off the back of partner Fabricio Coloccini to gift a goal to Johnson.

Unsurprisingly, Cacapa found himself back on the bench when Wigan came to Toon a week later, his place taken by Sebastien Bassong in the absence of the injured Steven Taylor. It took the Latics just three minutes to take the lead, though there wasn't much Bassong or anyone else could do about it other than hoofing our nemesis Ryan Taylor several feet in the air from kick-off, before he had the chance to hit a swerving, dipping shot into the top corner. Perhaps as exasperated by our huffing and puffing as the rest of us, Andre Marriner handed Emmerson Boyce a second yellow card for a perfectly fair challenge on Shola Ameobi (strangely, though, this time JFK refrained from comparing the man in black to Disney characters...). We still had to wait until the 80th minute for scowling substitute Little Saint Mick's scrambled leveller, and Martins looked to have won it with a thumping shot three minutes from time - but, just as we'd feared, up popped the other right royal pain in the arse in blue and white stripes, one Titus Bramble, to capitalise on slack marking from a corner to head home an equaliser.

The man we have to credit, albeit grudgingly, with making us harder to beat (if not quite the attractive, fluent, winning side we ultimately want) was handed the manager's job until the end of the season - Mike Ashley's decision not only making a mockery of the flurry of speculation about Alan Shearer (which, lest we forget, sprang from a few loose comments made by Rob Lee in an interview with The Mag) but also indicating that a concession that the club won't be sold any time soon. Whether this is because the club isn't a sufficiently attractive investment opportunity in the current economic climate or because Ashley's simply being greedy (as his business rival and opposite number at Wigan Dave Whelan claimed, amidst spouting all sorts of nonsense) remains to be seen.

Now that he knows how long he's got, JFK's set about drawing up a wishlist of players and using the press to put the pressure on Ashley and Wise to deliver. Rumoured to be among those he's hoping to bring in are Denilson, Johan Djourou and Alexandre Song, suggesting his research got no further than scanning Arsenal's reserves.

Meanwhile, there was also speculation over the futures of several first-teamers including Charles N'Zogbia, Shay Given and (naturally) Little Saint Mick. JFK made positive noises about hanging on to them all, but was also quoted as saying that Wise "has been given the task of removing some of the players that I feel are not good enough for the club" - which conjures up visions of him in the role of Brick Top in 'Snatch', feeding unfortunates to the pigs. Please, Joe, can you start with Alan Smith?

Friday, December 05, 2008

I h8 u

Apparently Roy Keane quit as manager of Sunderland yesterday by text message.

Presumably unwilling, or unable, to set foot in the dark place any more than was absolutely necessary, Keane simply texted Niall Quinn to tell him he was off. Suggestions that Roy's Mrs simply didn't want to do her Christmas shopping in the Bridges are unconfirmed, as are reports that Roy was offered some better paid seasonal work on account of his ever whitening beard.

Unsurprisingly a whole host of top class managers haven't been linked with the post.

Instead Fat Sam or David O'Bleary have both been quick to express their desire to take a job, any job, even that one, which presumably means that come January the Mackems will either see a flurry of untested foreigners or load of kids forming an orderly queue to take medicals outside the SoS.

If Fat Sam does get the job, do you think he might be interested in a Spanish left back, or a goal-shy striker turned midfielder? We can only hope.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Stillness and movement

Trust Mark Viduka to publicly welcome the appointment of JFK until the end of the season as key to the club regaining some stability and to declare he doesn't want to go anywhere. After all, it was his role in the three-pronged strikeforce with which we finished last season that Kevin Keegan described as to stand still. To be honest, though, when you've got an unsturdy if not exactly sinking ship, the last thing you need is your major source of ballast moving around too much...

All joking aside, I'd be keen to see JFK taking a leaf out of Keegan's book and plumping for that same strikeforce of Captain Pasty, Little Saint Mick and Obafemi Martins against Stoke on Saturday. It might mean we can't play all our wingers, but with ASBO definitely out and Damien Duff struggling, Spiderman and a pair of more defensively minded midfielders in Nicky Butt and Danny Guthrie would be useful support. Add Charles N'Zogbia at left back in place for the once-again-useless-at-Boro Jose Enrique and there'd be a lot of attacking potential in the team against visitors who've just suffered the indignity of losing at home to Derby. It's a must-win game, and so we need to be bold.

Also expressing a desire to stay put has been Shay Given, linked with a move to Spurs, who are reportedly seeking to ditch Brazilian butterfingers Heurelho Gomes after just four months. Meanwhile, as speculation rumbles on that we'll try to cash in on an unhappy Little Saint Mick in the January transfer window rather than letting him go for nowt in the summer, Rafa Benitez has said: "Clearly I can guarantee that we are not going for Michael Owen". A man of his word? Many more goalless draws at home to lowly sides like Fulham and West Ham and he might change his tune.

Of the managerial speculation, yesterday's Daily Star linked Academy director Richard Money with the vacant manager's job at Crewe, while further afield a more bizarre rumour has it that Lee Clark, the man who gave a new definition to the phrase "tongue-in-cheek", could be about to fly out from beneath Glenn Roeder's wing at Norwich and take charge at Huddersfield. So crazy it just might work?

And last but not least, no doubt prompted by the desire not to look unwanted for any longer, Stephen Carr has announced his retirement. That should put paid to any possibility of us thinking about bringing him back, thankfully...

Amber nectar?

Sunday's FA Cup Third Round draw landed us with an away tie at Hull City. Could that game mark the start of a decent Cup run to raise spirits and confidence for league fixtures? Possibly, though the Tigers have proven to be far from the Premier League pushovers most of us expected. At least, after I laughed heartily at Leeds's defeat in the mudbath of a game that took place immediately prior to the draw, we haven't been drawn against Cabbage Patch Kids Histon away - that might have turned into Hereford II: The Revenge...

Quote of the day

"I was delighted."

Rob Lee reveals his reaction to the dismissal of Ruud Gullit, the man who not only dropped him from the team but didn't even give him a squad number. Hardly surprising there's no love lost there, is it?

Lee was speaking in a Small Talk interview for the Guardian, in which he also claimed Kenny Dalglish is a "funny guy" and the "rubbish-powered DeLorean" is the future...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Monsters of Smog 0 - 0 Newcastle Utd

For the first time in 34 years, our trip to the chemical wasteland ended in a goalless draw. In truth, the game was as dreadful as the scoreline suggested, with little worthy of note.

Highlights, such as they are, can be summarised as follows: Viduka returned from injury, Bassong had another solid game alongside Coloccini in defence, we climbed above the Mackems and out of the relegation zone.

On the negative side: none of our strikers looks to be in form, we couldn't beat a fairly mediocre team, Obafemi Martins had a hissy fit when substituted, and for the second year in a row some idiots have prompted the FA to investigate whether there was any racist abuse directed at chunky smoggy striker Mido.

At least Gareth Southgate has the sense to suggest that it's impossible for the club to control the behaviour of a minority of fans (personally, I'd have thought that job was actually the responsibility of Boro's stewards) but hopefully good sense will prevail.

The other matter of note was the pre-match confirmation that JFK will be with us for the rest of the season.

Given his apparently decent working relationship with the poisoned dwarf hopefully it will mean that it isn't just the Messiah who is visited by a wise man bearing gifts just after Christmas.

(I know Ben has already mentioned this, but I'll leave you to guess whether JFK's list of transfer requests will see us recruiting players called Kuntz and Fuchs in January).

Other reports: BBC, Guardian