Saturday, January 31, 2009

If you can't beat 'em, get 'em to join you

So, which of the big names clamouring for Charles N'Somnia's services has thrown their hat in the ring first? That would be, er, Wigan, with whom we've agreed a transfer fee.

Should Charlie be looking to sack his agent, or is it really a sign of how far we've fallen that the JJB is a markedly more desirable place to be? If the latter, then that's very worrying - given that Ol' Cauliflower Face seems to think it's pointless to sell his club to prospective signings for its own sake, instead preferring to be "realistic": "A lot of people have ... used Wigan as a platform - that's the way we go about trying to entice people to come to us".

But N'Somnia's possible destination isn't the truly remarkable thing about the story. No, that would be the fact that any deal would involve The Wigan Player moving the other way. He, lest we forget, has scored six goals for the Latics to date, and four of them have been at our very considerable expense. Presumably the thinking behind the deal boils down to the old adage: keep your friends close and your enemies closer...

Friday, January 30, 2009

Money shot finds its mark

As previously flagged up by Ben, we have now concluding the "spunking" of £4m on Bolton captain Kevin Nolan.

Whilst Ben may be right in suggesting Nolan is probably in a fairly small pool of people who consider he should be in the England squad, my own take on it is that Nolan is a proven Premiership player, with drive, determination and leadership qualities, who works hard for the team and averages a goal every seven games, whilst also being young enough to have his best years ahead of him.

Given that our central midfield options currently consist of a players who are (a) injured, (b) knocking on a bit, or (c) desperate to leave, then any new blood has got to be a good thing.

Hopefully we can bolster our squad further with the addition of some full back cover before the transfer window closes, whilst also shipping out those players who now clearly don't want to be with us.

Adding insult to injury

Just what we needed after last night's catalogue of disasters: an unseemly and very public spat between JFK and Charles N'Zogbia, one of the few players who might possibly have the talent (if not the application) to haul us out of trouble.

Our wantaway midfielder released a statement in which he declared that, "having been insulted by Joe Kinnear, I will never play for him again while he remains Newcastle manager". His grievance seems to have been simmering for some time, but, bizarrely, the final straw appears to have been JFK unwittingly referring to him as "Insomnia" in post-match comments.

JFK was probably only saying what was foremost on his mind, and inevitably (no doubt to the dismay of our overworked PR flunkey) he retaliated by claiming that N'Zogbia's statement "just smacks of a desperate attempt to engineer a move away from Newcastle United", adding "OK, I got a little tongue-tied, but if I had a pound for every time I've mis-pronounced a player's name down the years, then I'd be a very wealthy man indeed".

JFK must be getting used to weaselling his way out of charges like this - though he was found guilty and fined £500 for his "Mickey Mouse" outburst at Martin Atkinson, a further charge of using "abusive and insulting" language towards an official in the Stoke game went unproven.

It would be a bit rich of JFK to claim to be more sinned against than sinning, but, prior to the N'Zogbia situation flaring up, he expressed the view that he's been insulted himself - by moneybags Man City, who have apparently only offered a paltry £5m for Shay Given, the cheeky bastards.

So much for all the insults - what about the injuries? Well, ASBO goes under the knife tomorrow and won't be troubling opponents' ankles for around eight weeks. At least he'll have Little Saint Mick for close company, though, eh?

Meanwhile, we're apparently on the verge of spunking £4m on Bolton captain Kevin Nolan, about the only man in England who thinks he should be involved in the national set-up; we're vying with the Trotters in pursuit of an exciting attacker who we don't stand a chance of landing (heard it all before - think Rooney, think Modric...); and Albin Ebondo still hasn't signed.

Just another tragicomic day in the life of Newcastle Utd, eh?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cocks, crocks and laughing stocks

Man City 2 - 1 Newcastle

It just had to be, didn't it? On another evening when pretty much everything that could go wrong did, who should mark his Man City debut with what proved to be the winning goal other than that no-necked poison dwarf Craig effing Bellamy?

Prior to this evening, Arab Plaything FC had won six and lost five at home, but in truth our schizophrenic hosts were far more than one goal better than us. We looked as though we'd just turned up to get beaten and ease City's £35m+ of new signings in gently.

With Nicky Butt suspended and Danny Guthrie injured, JFK decided to go for a five man defence featuring David Edgar and brought in ASBO and Geremi, Spiderman dropping to the bench. The biggest news about the teamsheet, though - even if it didn't exactly come as a surprise - was that Steve Harper was rewarded for masochistically lashing himself to the mast of the sinking ship with a starting berth in place of Shay Given, who didn't travel due to an alleged knee injury. Yeah, no doubt it was sustained in his scramble to jump overboard and swim off to the "new challenge" and new wage packet waiting for him at Eastlands...

When Steven Gerrard was charged with assault and affray just hours after his side had humiliated us at home, we complained about the timing - and yet here we were up against a player who in the last week has been heavily fined for going AWOL and then arrested and bailed as part of an investigation into an incident of sexual assault, and we sat back and let Robinho run the show as if he didn't have a care in the world. The Brazilian set up Shaun Wright-Phillips for the first on 17 minutes, the only player more Subbuteo-sized than Bellamy finishing through Harper's legs having escaped the attentions of - guess who? - Jose Enrique.

Much worse was to follow two minutes later, when Little Saint Mick limped off, feeling the effects of debutant Nigel De Jong's challenge. JFK's since confirmed that the ankle injury will keep him out of action for six to eight weeks. Oh the irony of being pleased he was staying until the summer - now he'll miss a crucial part of the season and we can't even hope to flog him for a couple of million just to have something rattling around in the piggy bank.

With ASBO, who used to boss City's midfield, looking laughably lightweight, his old side were totally dominant throughout the first half, and we were lucky they didn't make us pay more dearly. Awakened by JFK to the fact of their good fortune and the possibility of capitalising upon it, the players emerged for the second period with something approximating belief. We could have been level if referee Mike Jones had gesticulated in the direction of the spot when Steven Taylor was clumsily assisted to the turf by Micah Richards, while Damien Duff's cross caused problems in the home defence.

By that point, though, we were another man down, ASBO having been withdrawn and new boy Peter Lovenkrands thrown on his stead. It later transpired that ASBO had cracked a bone in his foot and will be jostling for position in the treatment room with a smattering of defenders and midfielders and pretty much our entire strikeforce for up to ten weeks. Methinks Geremi's move to Turkey might now be off...

We should have known that, in failing to convert any of the few slim opportunities that came our way, we were opening the door for Bellamy to step up and take an almighty shit on our welcome mat - which he duly did on 77 minutes, with assistance from Wright-Phillips and Pablo Zabaleta. That made it two goals in two games for two different clubs against us this month.

Andy Carroll also scored in the first of those fixtures, and he repeated the trick shortly after Bellamy's strike, Edgar pickpocketing City's third debutant Wayne Bridge to set him up. But the fact that it was our only effort on target all game gives sufficient indication that we never looked likely to deny them the win like they did us in October and, ultimately, deserved nothing.

It was a heavy defeat at Man City that spelt the end of Souness's reign almost three years ago to the day, but the chances of JFK taking a hike and someone else volunteering to step into the breach look slim. Down to 16th in the table, two points off the bottom, deprived of our goalscoring talisman (as well as all our other goalscorers) and in all likelihood our saviour between the sticks, and with only Lovenkrands in the credit column for the transfer window, we really are up to our necks in the brown stuff - as if we weren't already. The Mackems must be rubbing their unwashed hands with glee - they certainly couldn't hope to meet us in more favourable circumstances.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Home sweet home

"I'm a north-east lad and United has always been a huge part of my life and I'm delighted that will continue". Thus spake Steve Harper today, in the wake of the news that he's signed a three-year contract extension. What with Ameobi having committed himself to the club for another three years only recently (no doubt unable to believe his luck), it seems the only ones not desperate to flee the sinking ship are the Geordies...

As I've said before, there are two ways of looking at Harper. One is as an unambitious and relatively disinterested individual, content with having made only 111 appearances in his 13 years at St James' as long as the pay packet comes in. The other is as a 'keeper who is fiercely loyal, who has sacrificed his own advancement in the interests of the club, who very rarely if ever lets us down and who is one of the very best back-ups in the Premier League. Guess which view I subscribe to.

Of course the question being asked now is whether this effectively confirms Shay Given's departure for the City of Manchester Stadium. Maybe - though Chris Hughton was having none of it: "The only thing to read into it is that we'd like to keep the quality individuals here". He added: ""We've never seen Steve Harper as a number two". Which I'm sure is reassuring - no one likes being seen as a number two, except, perhaps, for a certain Mr Bellamy who we'll probably be lining up against tomorrow night...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Great Scots?

The latest transfer speculation has us linked with a £4m move for Celtic captain Stephen McManus. The centre-back is a good age (25) and - for what it's worth - has also captained Scotland when Barry Ferguson's been unavailable. (Incidentally, it all seems to have gone quiet on the Ferguson front, and indeed it's refreshing to be linked to a Celtic player for a change - perhaps we've abandoned interest in scouring Rangers' squad for possible recruits now that we've got one of their old boys on board?)

Bizarrely, our interest apparently came to light when the Bhoys made an enquiry of their own about Jose Enrique. If that's true, (a) Celtic's scouts must be blind and/or stupid and (b) surely we can come to some kind of mutually beneficial arramgement (by which I mean an arrangement that's entirely stacked in our favour)? Selling our only natural left back would seem very foolish indeed were it not for the fact that the left back in question is Enrique - and, in any case, it might hasten a loan bid for John Arne Riise, who it seems is too pricey for Hull.

One Scot who very definitely has arrived at St James' Park is Colin Calderwood, the ex-Nottingham Forest boss having been appointed as a coach until May. Only last week he was rumoured to be taking charge of the Faroe Islands national side - if he thinks that by accepting this post he's avoided witnessing disspiriting ineptitude and haplessness of the highest order on a regular basis, then he'll soon discover otherwise...

Quote of the day

"Ashley proclaimed himself as the club's saviour. But he has turned out to be its black plague. Every second he stays around the situation gets worse. He keeps pronouncing that he cares only about what's good for the club. If this is true, then he should cut his considerable losses and run now before he steers what's left of this great club from their current ignominy into bankruptcy."

If there's one thing worse than our current predicament, it's being lectured on our current predicament by self-important, Arsenal-supporting, know-nothing tossers. As it seems to have completely bypassed your attention, Piers Morgan, I think I should point out that trying to cut his losses is exactly what Ashley has been doing - but with no one daft enough to come forward and take the club off his hands, he's found he's stuck with it.

To be honest, I should know better than to read Morgan's drivel in the first place - not least because it appears in the fucking Mail...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mr Loven lover

Confirmation is emerging from the club that Peter Lovenkrands has signed a contract to join the club for the rest of the season.

Undoubtedly a talented player at one stage in his career, the fact that he's available at all suggests that he might not currently be performing to his previous heights. However, he's an extra body, and if he can help us pick up a few points then any contribution will be welcomed.

What I have found frustrating is why, when the club have been linked with a whole host of foreign players whose clubs seem keen to charge £10m plus for them, are we standing by whilst teams like Hull and Villa sign proven Premier League players for less than £5m?

Whilst Heskey might not be top of too many wish lists, he's got to be a better bet than Xisco. Similarly, whilst Jimmy Bullard is now closing in on his 31st birthday, the fact that we've sat idly by whilst he's been allowed to go to Hull is immensely frustrating.

Still, at least it's now 1-0 to us on the transfer front!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It wasn't me

Another week, another FA charge of improper conduct for JFK to add to his ever-growing collection, this time for the touchline fracas with Hull manager Phil Brown last Wednesday. If only we were garnering points with such regularity, eh Joe?

"I don't know whether my reputation precedes me, but if you look at the video, all I did was stand my ground, I didn't do anything else", he said, as butter steadily melted. "Don't point the finger at me" seems to be his new line of argument for everything...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dog day afternoon

Blackburn Rovers 3 - 0 Newcastle Utd

At half time, 0-0 away from home, and looking reasonably comfortable, it looked like we might pick up at least a point away from home to continue our steady crawl towards safety.

By the end, and with three unanswered second half goals conceded, we were once again reminded that we remain desperately in the shit with the only light visible at the end of the tunnel appearing to be an oncoming train.

Even more galling than losing to our relegation rivals was the incredibly smug look on Fat Sam's face.

So what went wrong?

Well, having crumpled under minimal contact from David Edgar, Benni McCarthy calmly converted yet another penalty awarded against us by Rob Styles this season. At which point, we lost the capacity to defend.

A long ball from Paul Robinson over the top was allowed to bounce through and after a touch from Morten Gamst Pedersen, Jason Roberts fired home to give the home team a sadly unassailable two goal lead.

With time running out, Nicky Butt picked up a second booking to see him given his marching orders, which just left sufficient time for Roberts to notch his second of the match after Gutierrez had lost possession. That goal saw the returning Joey Barton try and pick a fight with Enrique, who had calmly watched David Dunn stream past him in the build up to the goal.

What is abundantly clear is that we need reinforcements - JFK has sought to blame his predecessors for the thinness of his squad, but memory tells me that both Keegan and Fat Sam had the same complaints when they were in charge, neither presumably being afforded the time or investment to address the problem sufficiently.

With eleven days remaining in the transfer window the clock is ticking, let's just hope it doesn't strike midnight and leave us with nothing but a pumpkin and some rats keen to leave a sinking ship.

Other reports:, BBC, Guardian

Saturday, January 17, 2009

In for the long haul?

I doubt that, over the last few years, anyone expressing the need and desire for stability and consolidation at the club has had JFK in mind as the man for the job. But now it seems as though we could be stuck with him beyond the end of the season.

In amongst claiming to be loving his time back in the limelight, on the training pitch and in the dugout (or, more often, the stands...) and suggesting a permanent move to Tyneside might hinge on the feelings of his family, JFK described the contract he's been offered as "very lucrative" - so, should he accept, the decision could well be made primarily for mercenary reasons.

Like Little Saint Mick, though, it seems as though he's going to put off further negotiations until the end of the season: "I said to [Ashley and Derek Llambias] that first and foremost, we have to work hard and establish ourselves as a Premier League side and get away from the relegation fight. I really don't need any more distractions than that. What I suggested to the club was that we all sit down in the summer and look at each other and say what direction do we want to take the club in, refinancing it, letting players go and bringing in my own players." Of course, by that point (and perish the thought) we could have lost our top-flight status, which would presumably see the unsigned contract taken off the table and swiftly shredded...

Get 'em while they're young

Paul's not quite correct in saying we haven't made any signings in the transfer window - in the last week we did secure the services of one player. Safe to say that Gazza's seven-year-old nephew Cameron is one for the future, though... In the past we've agreed with Mike Ashley on the importance of snapping up the most promising talents on our own doorstep before others get their hands on them, so hopefully this will bear fruit, even if it is in 2020.

The youngster's most impressive feat in his footballing career to date is scoring 22 goals in a half-hour game. Suffice to say that if we could find someone to do that in the first team then we wouldn't be out of the cups and battling against relegation.

Friday, January 16, 2009

It's still nil-nil

With the club now half way through the transfer window, it seemed an appropriate moment to take stock.

This shouldn't take long...

Players In: 0
Players Out: 0

In truth, the players out column is perhaps the more important, with Messers Owen, Given and N'Zogbia all seemingly inching towards the door, although in the case of the Zog he appears to be standing in the window with more flesh on display than you'd see walking through downtown Amsterdam on an evening.

The one player who does look to be on his way out is Geremi, with a reported bid from Besiktas likely to see the player off to Turkey.

Coming the other way, the press have been full of their usual mixed bag of gossip and rumour. Latest players mentioned in dispatches include Rennes midfield Stephane Mbia, St Etienne's Bafetimbi Gomis, and West Ham's Lucas Neill (much to their annoyance). Chances are that none will actually materialise. Equally whilst Peter Lovenkrands remains at the club on trial the delay in agreeing a deal with the player suggests he isn't proving to be the player JFK had hoped.

In other news, the Guardian's pet mackem has, for once, written something I completely agree with, and spoken for us all in her appraisal of Fat Sam's dismal tenure in charge of Newcastle.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

(Taking a) chance would be a fine thing

Newcastle Utd 0 - 1 Hull City

OK, how could this evening have been any worse? Let me count the ways:

1. We could have succumbed to the killer goal in the last minute of an unwanted half-hour of extra time, rather than eight minutes from the end of the normal 90.

2. We could have picked up yet more injuries.

And, er, that's just about it.

We may have almost completely dominated the game from start to finish and created a catalogue of chances nearly as thick as Argos's Christmas effort, but the fact remains that we lost to a Hull City reserve side to exit the FA Cup lamely at the first hurdle.

At least Phil Brown had the luxury of choice when it came to selecting his side - JFK's hand was most definitely forced. It would be a novelty if we made it through a season WITHOUT more than ten first teamers being out injured at any one time. The absentees from Saturday's starting XI included Jose Enrique (not the first time he's gone missing), Geremi, Steven Taylor and Andy Carroll, the latter pair considered only fit enough for places on the bench. In came Charles N'Zogbia (in his beloved left back role), David Edgar, the suspension-free Nicky Butt and Xisco.

Even our depleted side looked far too strong for the visitors, and so it proved. Our £6m Spanish donkey of a striker was soon exhibiting the qualities that had made him hitherto invisible to JFK despite the injury crisis, blazing over when teed up perfectly by Spiderman. Rather closer to breaking the deadlock was Butt, whose header from Danny Guthrie's free kick came back off Matt Duke's crossbar. Cunning thespianism from Hull striker Daniel Cousin earned Fabricio Coloccini a booking and resulted in JFK being sent to the stand (now where have I read that before?) together with his opposite number Phil Brown for what referee Phil Dowd's notebook probably euphemistically describes as "a frank exchange of views" conducted at such proximity that their noses may have been touching.

Enter Little Saint Mick to miss the first of three opportunities so presentable they weren't just scrubbed and clean-shaven but buttoned up in a tux and sucking on breathmints. Kamil Zayatte and Mackem Ted Danson-alike Paul McShane, momentarily possessed by the spirit of Newcastle defenders past and present, collided with each other, leaving Mick with time and space to score. Instead he launched the ball high into the stand, clearly forgetting he was supposed to be inspiring Xisco, rather than vice versa.

The second came early in the second period, Damien Duff laying on the chance but Duke unfortunately equal to Mick's shot and able to push it behind for a corner. With only one team showing any real ambition or desire to win, we continued to press, N'Zogbia doing well (given the enormous and cumbersome "Lyon / Arsenal / Spurs / Villa, please come and buy me!" placard sticking out from the back of his shirt) to dribble goalwards before Zayatte blocked his shot.

Only a matter of time, we were still thinking - but in fact it was only a matter of time until we were made to rue our profligacy. Richard Garcia created the chance and Cousin finished it off from close range to deliver the punch that really did show us for the suckers we so often are.

There was still time for substitutes Carroll and Kazenga LuaLua to nearly combine to vital effect, and for Little Saint Mick to complete his hapless hat-trick, heading Guthrie's cross up, over and behind, but the equaliser wouldn't come.

So, the first time we've failed to score at home this season, and it cost us dear. No more idle dreams of plum home ties against Millwall and escapist fantasies of progress to the later stages of the competition - it's back to the bread and butter of the league, which, given that the bread is currently stale and the butter rancid, is hardly an appealing prospect.

Was it really only a year ago that we were welcoming back King Kev with a Third Round replay demolition of Stoke? It's a funny old game, isn't it? Just not funny ha ha.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

All 'Krands on deck

So, we're in a dogfight - who better to help us out than a Great Dane? Following his release by Bundesliga outfit Schalke and a subsequent trial on Tyneside, Peter Lovenkrands is set to be signed up - a mere eight years after Rangers pipped us to his services.

A short-term deal seems likely, and there's a nagging feeling that he can't be the player he once was (or at least promised to be) given that he's found himself as a free agent touting around for new employers - but the fact remains that, with players continuing to drop like flies, we're desperate for numbers.

Nicky Butt might be back from suspension for tonight's FA Cup Third Round replay against Hull, but Jose Enrique, Steven Taylor, Andy Carroll and now Geremi have all reported in with fresh injuries since Saturday's draw with the Hammers. Should Charles N'Zogbia take time out of his busy schedule of using the French media to engineer a move away from St James's Park to confirm he too is crocked, then we really will be in trouble.

The situation is so dire that not only is JFK set to hand Xisco a start - hardly a vote of confidence for a player who cost us the best part of £6m, given that he's sixth in the queue to partner Little Saint Mick, behind Messrs Martins, Viduka, Ameobi, Carroll and Duff - but he held what the press will be duty-bound to label "crisis talks" with Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias last night: "The meeting was called very hastily after I explained the difficult position we’re in. I said that we need to act and act quickly. I will make that argument. I have brought it forward because of the urgency of the situation."

In addition to Lovenkrands, JFK has also spoken about the other irons in the fire: "We've agreed a loan fee for two players - two expensive loan fees, may I say - again until the end of the season because of the crisis that we've got at the moment, injury wise. I'll possibly know about those in the next 48 hours and should that be A-OK then we might be in a better position for the Blackburn game. There are two midfield players, one Argentine, one Italian. The loan fees for them are £350,000 and £400,000 until the end of the season because we weren’t in a position to pay what their clubs wanted to buy them". So let's get this straight - we're most depleted in defence and attack, and yet are in negotiations to sign two midfielders and a winger? Priceless.

Still, I suppose his problems could be worse. He could be Glenn Roeder, for example, sacked today as manager of Norwich...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Handy Andy saves the day

Newcastle Utd 2 - 2 West Ham

With time fast running out and a third consecutive league defeat fixing us between the eyes, Andy Carroll chose a very good moment to notch his first senior goal for the club. Perfect timing, you might agree - unless, of course, you're a sub-editor who would've loved to use some variant on a "Christmas Carroll" over the festive period. Still, at least the lanky striker gifted the papers another angle with the ridiculous barnet with which he headed Damien Duff's cross home. That he's taken a lot of stick for it should surely come as no surprise - after all, how many white Geordies with cornrows do you know?!

In the continued absence of Obafemi Martins, Mark Viduka and Shola Ameobi, Carroll kept his starting place, and while Danny Guthrie had recovered sufficiently from flu, Nicky Butt sat the game out through suspension and was replaced by Geremi. In the only other change from the side that escaped from the KC Stadium with a draw Charles N'Zogbia's loose lips saw him benched with Spiderman taking his place.

In the opening exchanges it looked as though it would be Carroll's strike partner Little Saint Mick who would hog the column inches of the Sunday papers. Collecting Spiderman's pass, he shuffled into the space in the box and was unlucky to see his low cross-shot bounce off the foot of the right-hand post. Undeterred, he continued buzzing busily about and reaped the rewards when James Collins generously allowed him the room to advance and plant a skimming shot from the edge of the area inside Rob Green's near post.

Carroll fluffed the first opportunity that came his way, not quite managing to direct his header from Guthrie's cross into the net, and it was a miss he and we soon came to rue. The Little Runt's sole contribution to the visitors' efforts in the first half hour was to be caught offside repeatedly, but inevitably our jeers came back to bite us in the arse when he scampered onto a through ball from who else but Scott Parker to chip past Shay Given.

That we were on equal terms despite our early dominance seemed to unsettle us, and Given was forced into making a decent stop from Mark Noble. Thankfully the Little Runt, following up, could only hit the side netting. Of course, having expressed pre-match bemusement as to why Man City seem prepared to throw money at Parker, I was being forced to watch him put in a masterful performance that only exemplified what we were most lacking: someone to control midfield and protect the back four.

Not for the first time at home this season, we began the second period as though tranquillised and suddenly it was like Liverpool all over again. Given made a stupendous save from Jack Collison, but was powerless to prevent Carlton Cole from giving the Hammers the lead when what should have been an innocuous ball over the top from full-back Herita Ilunga caught our whole defence daydreaming. That 15-minute patch after half-time could only have been more purple for the visitors if referee Alan Wiley hadn't denied them a stonewall penalty for Sebastien Bassong's manhandling of the Little Runt.

And yet we battled on, managed to ride out the storm and, with the Zog booed on in place of Geremi, gradually regained the upper hand. We then had our own reason to question the man in black's parentage when Hammers captain Lucas Neill's spectacular own goal was chalked off because Steven Taylor was alleged to have been a little over-exuberant in his challenge on Collins.

Just as West Ham had been spurred on to score by the injustice of the penalty decision, so that only seemed to harden our resolve to equalise and, with 12 minutes remaining, Carroll got his goal. We finished the game as we began it, pushing forwards and looking eager, and came agonisingly close to getting the win we perhaps just about deserved on the overall balance of play when Spiderman dribbled into the penalty area and hit a shot, only for rumoured target Matthew Upson to deny him.

Another slightly tricky result to gauge. On the one hand, the Hammers arrived in Toon in good form, unbeaten in their previous five trips on the road, and with less than a quarter of an hour to go we were facing up to another defeat. But on the other, it was certainly disappointing we couldn't record a victory in what was our 300th home game in the Premier League, and the visit of West Ham would ordinarily be looked upon as presenting a good chance to get maximum points. The fact that we're in 11th is in danger of giving very false comfort - after all, we're just three points clear of the relegation zone, and five off the bottom of the table. We need to be winning our home games and three of our next four are away, starting with a trip to Ewood Park on Saturday, Fat Sam no doubt relishing the opportunity to continue where he left off and dump us further in the shite.

West Ham fans' perspectives: West Ham Online, Hammered

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Loose lips and wagging tongues

If the papers are to be believed, there have been a few loose lips around St James's Park lately.

First of all, there are the quotes attributed to the Zog that appeared in L'Equipe: "I'm at a turning point in my career. My agents are talking with Tottenham and Villa and, from what they've told me, Arsenal could also be in the frame. I have a preference for the Gunners but they are three great clubs. I've spoken to my bosses at the club. They know what my aims are and what I want to continue to progress. As soon as a big club knocks on the door with a good offer, I don't think they'll prevent me leaving."

JFK's response was suitably indignant, suggesting he'd like to meet the Zog to get things straight in no uncertain terms and his agent to give him the blue hairdryer treatment: "We are looking into it. If it is true, then the agent is being disrespectful. He's never had the decency to explain anything to any member of this football club. It's laughable, to be honest. It's absolute nonsense. Charles is under contract until 2012, and I told him on day one that he was a very important player."

It's a sad sign of the times when he can consider the likes of Spurs and Villa - naturally our rivals and equals - to be "big clubs" when we're not. It's more bemusing that he expects to "continue to progress" more from sitting on the bench at the Emirates than he would in our first team. At Villa he'd have to displace Ashley Young (unlikely) and even 'Arry Redknapp, in the market for a left-sided midfielder, seems to have caught the continental squad rotation bug. I think he's right, though, that we wouldn't keep an unhappy player - just a shame if it comes to that.

Then there was the case of Obafemi Martins, whose agent was reported to have been rather scathing about the quality of treatment his client was receiving on Tyneside: "The Newcastle medical staff are woeful - Oba has been having this problem on and off and they failed to spot it. It was only when he went to Italy that the correct diagnosis was made, and he will have the operation this week. Look at the entire team. Viduka is injured, Alan Smith is injured, Nicky Butt is injured, and so many players. Even when Shearer was playing, how many times did he end up on the treatment table?"

Oba has since distanced himself from the comments, insisting: "I wish to make it perfectly clear that I have never criticised the medical team at Newcastle United, who all do an excellent job for the club". Not a good week for the Nigerian, though - not only was it been confirmed that he will need to undergo surgery for his hernia injury after all, he was also hit with a £950 fine and 6 points on his licence for a speeding offence.

Better news for Shola Ameobi, who recovered from the embarrassment of mistaking his own untidiness for the work of a burglar by signing a contract extension until 2012. Quite a turnaround for Big Lad, given that not so long ago he looked to be on his way out of the club for certain. Like most fans I've got serious doubts about whether he's even Premier League quality, let alone about whether his three goals in the autumn have merited this extension, but at the moment I suppose beggars can't be choosers and we just have to hope he can have his rarer-than-hen's-teeth blinders rather more often.

Go West

Thanks to Vinny of West Ham Online for again inviting us to help preview this afternoon's home fixture with the Irons with a quick Q&A - the results can be found here.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A Month Of Saturdays: December 2008

Whoever it was who said lightning never strikes twice clearly wasn’t a follower of Newcastle Utd. I wonder, though, if philosopher George Santayana made his famous remark that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" with our club in mind. And if any month served to illustrate Georgie Boy’s point, December was it.

Let’s take a quick look at the evidence.

Exhibit A: the home match against Stoke on the 6th. Heading into injury time, we were 2-1 up against a side we’d all (perhaps mistakenly, certainly overconfidently) consider our inferiors and had begun to entertain thoughts of all three points. They were foolish thoughts, of course – right on cue, up popped Abdoulaye Faye, on our payroll as recently as August, to mug his former employers. It seemed our defenders couldn’t even remember a past as recent as three weeks earlier, when a last-minute equaliser from another ex Toon central defender Titus Bramble snatched a 2-2 draw for Wigan. For his part JFK forgot both the touchline ban he was serving when he joined the club and his subsequent dressing-down over his X-rated first press conference, and was sent to the stand for vociferously complaining about the award of the free-kick which led to Faye’s goal. Like a masochistic bunny, he seems rather fond of being in hot water.

Exhibit B: the return fixture against the Latics on Boxing Day. OK, so for the first time in four visits to the JJB we didn’t lose 1-0. But lose again we did, 2-1 this time, and the first goal was lightning striking not twice but thrice. Just as he did a year to the day earlier, and before that in February 2007, Ryan Taylor curled in a right-footed free-kick to give his side the lead. Factor in his long-range half-volley at St James’s Park in November and he’s scored two-thirds of his six senior Wigan goals against us. Clearly he must bear us a massive grudge. The club shop should start selling voodoo doll likenesses of him so we can all have one to stick pins in when we next face them.

Exhibit C: the visit of Liverpool on the 28th. Admittedly it’s not that astonishing that we should have lost, particularly with the Scousers sitting pretty at the top of the league. But the manner of the defeat certainly was remarkable, being almost identical to the one suffered just over a year before. On both occasions we would probably have given the Reds a tougher game if we’d fielded a team of Subbuteo players. The 5-1 margin of defeat could have been much, much worse had Shay Given not turned in one of the most inspired shifts of his 11 year career on Tyneside – was it really only a month earlier that we’d been celebrating a clean sheet at Stamford Bridge? Steven Gerrard – at present probably the only other player in the Premier League to rival Ryan Taylor for the title of the biggest thorn in our backside – was so frustrated at not filling his boots to the tune of more than just a poxy brace that he took it out on a fellow reveller in Southport that night. Allegedly.

The Wigan and Liverpool defeats were all the more depressing because, having picked ourselves up after the Stoke nightmare, a decent pair of pre-Christmas wins had had us dreaming of a pleasant festive period.

First to fall victim to our resurgence were Portsmouth, whom we made pay for their inability to capitalise on their first-half domination of possession by scoring three times without reply in the second period. A third consecutive away clean sheet, that – though with the trip to Wigan next on the cards we should have known that would be the end of the line.

When Spurs came to Toon shortly before Christmas, there was a last-minute goal for the third successive home game – but mercifully this time the ball nestled in our opponents’ net, substitute Damien Duff further ingratiating himself with the side he turned down in favour of us. If history wasn’t repeating itself with the decisive late goal not going against us, then it was in the sense that Duff’s strike secured our fifth consecutive league win over the North Londoners and ensured lots of Geordie blokes arrived back home from “Christmas shopping” with smiles on their faces.

All Michael Owen wanted for Christmas was the offer of a new contract, and so he duly wrote a letter to Santa (well, made what amounted to a plea through the media to Mike Ashley). Santa, for his part, went down to his workshop and set the HR and legal elves to work putting together something to keep young Michael happy, and after a frenetic few days of sawing and hammering out came a contract. Young Michael didn’t seem too grateful, though – almost as if, now he’d got what he asked for, he’d realised he didn’t really want it in the first place – and after a week of deliberation he decided to not to make a decision until the end of the season, preferring to play with the cardboard box the contract had come in instead. All we know, then, is that he’s ours until the summer – unless, that is, Santa is sufficiently piqued by his non-commitment into rashly flogging him to the highest bidder during the transfer window. Let’s hope not.

Our other demanding malcontent is Shay Given, whose public stamping of feet and gnashing of teeth in the wake of the Liverpool game would seem like a childish temper tantrum were it not for the fact that we all know it was entirely justified. Why shouldn’t he expect better? Why shouldn’t he be angry that Santa (and the even fatter Santa that preceded him) ignored his own Christmas wishlist requests for significant and shrewd investment? Why shouldn’t he, in the circumstances, be enticed by the prospect of playing in a team for which he won’t have to be man of the match every week? JFK seems to be hoping flattery will work ("the best goalkeeper in the Premier League by a country mile") – or, failing that, simply telling him he’s happy at the club so many times he starts to believe it again. Interesting psychological tactics, those, from a man Ashley claimed is "better than Capello" – but not ones I’m particularly confident will work. And if they don’t, we should be sad but certainly not angry to see Given go.

One thing both Owen and Given complained about is the perpetual state of turmoil at the club – but at least now we know Ashley is in for the long haul. The outcry following King Kev’s departure meant he had to put the club up for sale, and he certainly seemed to have every intention of bowing to fan pressure and relinquishing the reins, albeit reluctantly. But the acceleration of the credit crunch scrubbed what little lustre there was off an already not particularly attractive investment opportunity, no buyers were forthcoming and he took the club off the market, so we’re stuck with each other. 2009, Ashley declared, will be a year "we drive the club forward together". At the moment we’ve got too many spare parts and too few optional extras, and it’s up to Ashley and JFK to do what’s necessary this month to get us through the MOT.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Tea and sympathy*

"He's very happy here, he's very comfortable at Newcastle United". Thus quoth JFK of Shay Given last week.

Unequivocal you might think, until the appearance of the following statement from Given's agent Michael Kennedy: "Shay is very despondent following the very poor performance of the team against Liverpool last weekend. It was the lowest point of his football career and a performance that he would not wish to be repeated. When he signed a new five-year contract in 2006 it was on the basis that the club would challenge for major honours, but on the present evidence all that he can see ahead, with the turmoil on and off the pitch, is a battle for survival. Having served the club loyally for over eleven years, Shay feels compelled to consider his position in the light of the interest being expressed in him by Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham."

JFK's response? "I had a long chat with Shay. We had a cup of coffee and had an hour together. He is fine, and he wants to do what is best for this club. He will do the best he possibly can [against Hull]." He also dismissed the rumours of the three clubs interested in tempting Given away from St James's Park as "hearsay".

Somehow I doubt that - it's unimaginable that his recent performances would have escaped the attentions of a club like Man City who need a new top-drawer 'keeper and have the unfathomably deep pockets to get one. We all understand Given's frustrations perfectly well - indeed, it would be refreshing to hear one of our players hurting as much as we are, were it not for the fact that it looks increasingly likely we'll be losing him this month. It's one thing JFK being adamant he wants Given to stay, but if the player himself does want to leave and a suitable offer comes in, we would be wrong to stand in his way.

* Well, "Coffee and sympathy" doesn't work so well...

Quote of the day

"We were told thieves had taken a number of things, the most important one being the chequebook. Given what soccer stars earn, that was obviously a matter of great concern. We got a call back saying nothing was missing after all. Perhaps he had had a party and the place just looked as if it had been burgled".

A police source on the latest incident in the litany of idiotic behaviour perpetrated by Newcastle Utd footballers - on this occasion, Shola Ameobi. Bamboozled by his own untidiness? Makes a change from being bamboozled by his own legs, I suppose...

No fairy tale

Commiserations to Blyth Spartans, who came desperately close to snatching a late equaliser and a consequent replay in last night's FA Cup Third Round tie against Blackburn at Croft Park. How sweet it would have been for Fat Sam to get a bloodied nose on his return to black and white territory and for Spartans to then have a chance to get one over on the Mackems too.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Toothless against Tigers

Hull City 0 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Shay Given once again succeeded in putting himself in the shop window, as his heroics against a second string Hull team kept our name in the FA Cup hat for at least a week and a half and ensured we left the KC Stadium with a draw on Saturday.

With injuries limiting JFK's options, he handed Andy Carroll a rare start up front and welcomed Sebastien Bassong back into our defence after his recent suspension. Going forward we created a couple of decent chances, only for Michael Owen to have a rare off day, with our number 10 suffering with an apparent inability to hit a bovine behind with a stringed instrument, either firing wide or hitting the woodwork.

At the other end, Given produced a couple of fine saves to ensure he received what must be a rare clean sheet bonus. The most controversial moment of the match came when Damien Duff's clearance appeared to drift behind the line before Given claimed the ball. However, it was inconclusive and we for once had the benefit of some officiating.

What this means is that we get to do it all again on Wednesday week, by which time the eternal optimist in me is hoping we'll have bolstered our squad with some new additions (although possibly not Barry Ferguson), and not shipped out any important first-team players, with the prospect of an eminently winnable Fourth Round home tie against either Crewe or Millwall the prize which awaits the winners.

Other reports: BBC, Observer

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Look back in anger, look forward in hope

Happy New Year from both of us at Black & White & Read All Over. May 2009 bring us rather more joy than 2008 did...