Thursday, April 30, 2009

The blame game

So JJB Sports has only narrowly avoided going into administration - no prizes for guessing who the firm's founder, Wigan chairman Dave Whelan, has been quick to point the finger of blame at...

"What went wrong? Well, there's all kinds of things that you can suspect or you look at. Was Mike Ashley involved with [former JJB chief executive] Chris Ronnie in trying to wreck the company? I don't know that."

But you're still happy to insinuate it, though, aren't you Dave? Oh yes.

"When Chris Ronnie made an offer for my shares Mike Ashley had already been to see me twice to try and buy my shares and then competition rules were against him. Then Chris Ronnie turned up and offered me £180m or so and I did the deal on condition that Mike Ashley wasn't involved. They signed documentation to say he wasn't involved. He [Ronnie] took over and promptly wrecked the company".

News just in: Ashley is also responsible for the credit crunch, shooting JR and the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Whelan bizarrely went on to claim that the vendetta isn't personal: "I don't dislike Mike Ashley. I think he's a very, very shrewd businessman. I get on very well with him actually. I've no real arguments with him. He's a very shrewd, ruthless businessman and good luck to him". "Ruthless"? Sounds like a very backhanded compliment to me.

And meanwhile our owner continues to keep a dignified public silence. I hereby refer the right dishonourable twat to his earlier comments about class and rest my case.

Say a little prayer

Wondering how former Toon striker and BBC pundit Gavin Peacock is getting on with his masters degree in divinity and new life over in Canada? Well, the Times caught up with him recently.

Shame Gav seems to have been uninterested in our plight, ignoring a question about Shearer taking charge - at the moment we could do with more than just a bit of divine inspiration...

(Thanks to Wyn Grant of Charlton blog Addick's Championship Diary for the link. Guess his site might be renamed over the summer...)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's grimmer up North

Newcastle Utd 0 - 0 Portsmouth

Not even a return to King Kev's gung-ho three-forward formation that got us out of trouble last season was able to inspire a desperately needed win over Portsmouth, as we stuttered and slumped to yet another home draw, our seventh of the season, devoid of anything remotely approaching conviction.

Wor Al once again rang changes in personnel as well as formation - some by choice, others enforced. While Obafemi Martins and Captain Pasty were reunited with Little Saint Mick, Shearer drafted in Alan Smith, Fabricio Coloccini and the fit-again Jose Enrique, with Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Ryan Taylor, Spiderman and injury victim Steven Taylor making way.

Early crowd-inspired momentum was soon lost, as Portsmouth efficiently sapped our offensive energies. With a weight of expectation on his shoulders as the only player in black and white able to trouble the Pompey defence with pace, Oba cut a frustrated figure almost from the off, and it was disheartening that it was the visitors who had the first real sniff of goal, Coloccini smuggling the ball behind for a corner under pressure from Peter Crouch.

Alan Smith briefly suggested he might be intent on choosing a very opportune moment to open his Newcastle account - one shot was blocked at point-blank range by Herman Hreidarsson's arm, though a penalty would have been harsh, and another volley whistled over the bar - but then seemingly realised he might actually be in danger of making himself useful so hastily retreated to his usual anonymity.

For the second game in succession, a returning defender failed to make it to the second half - this time it was Enrique left punching his hamstrung left leg and the St James' Park turf in frustration. Being moved to left back, his place in midfield being taken by Danny Guthrie, didn't stop Damien Duff from recording our first effort on target, David James clutching his right-footed effort from the edge of the area.

We came closer still when Guthrie's low curler was almost diverted past James by Captain Pasty - perhaps he would have reacted quicker to the loose ball if there'd been a sausage roll taped to the post? All the same, he had less reason to hang his head than Oba, who squandered the best chance of the first half by blasting well over from little more than six yards. Mavis Riley's decision to award us a corner can only have been out of pity.

The front three spent the whole of the first half on completely separate wavelengths, but within a few minutes of the restart they at last combined to good effect. Little Saint Mick backheeled the ball into Captain Pasty's path but his shot was straight at James, before the Australian returned the favour, winning an improbable tackle to send Owen clear on goal only for him to produce a similarly tame finish. Even when the Pompey 'keeper's handling was suspect, Captain Pasty couldn't capitalise, and neither could his replacement Carroll when offered the opportunity to reprise his heroic header against Stoke.

Just as our efforts were petering out, Portsmouth started to look more of a threat. While claims for a penalty were rightly waved away following Crouch's crumple in response to minimal contact with Coloccini, Nadir Belhadj stung Steve Harper's palms, Crouch fluffed a chance at least as presentable as Owen's and Richard Hughes caught everyone (including Harps) by surprise by nodding a header off the upright.

Spiderman - whom we've just discovered will cost us rather more than we thought - was introduced with the intention of spicing up our attack, but as it turned out, it was the withdrawal of our best performer, a battle-bruised Nicky Butt, that sadly proved more significant. Without him, we had to suffer the embarrassment of a final ten minutes in which we were unable to win the ball or get out of our own half when we should have been battering the visitors' goal.

So, how to react when your side fails to win what everyone - manager, players, pundits, fans - has labelled a must-win game? Clutch desperately at straws, of course. Here goes...

No one - us included - expects us to get anything from Liverpool, a side still chasing the title who comprehensively destroyed us 5-1 at home earlier in the season. But at least the likelihood of Middlesbrough or Hull picking up any points against Man Utd and Villa respectively is slim. And that means that, apart from worsened goal differences all round, it will probably be as you were this time next week, when we'll have two winnable home games to look forward to.

There you go - it doesn't seem quite so bad now, does it? Does it?

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, April 24, 2009

Long weekend ahead

With the whole weekend's football to endure before we entertain Pompey on Monday night, I'd just like to point you to smoggy writer Harry Pearson's article in today's Guardian, which certainly struck a chord with me.

As far as our squad is concerned, Shearer is reportedly toying with the idea of allowing ASBO off the leash to play some part in Monday's dogfight, with the player finally due back in training on Saturday.

With Martins delaying surgery on his groin injury until after the season finishes, presumably he'll be restricted to appearances off the bench, and with Captain Pasty emerging from his winter hibernation but appearing to still be carrying some added insulation, our options up front (at least in terms of starting players) probably remain a choice of Little Saint Mick and one from Shola and Andy Carroll.

At the back, the fitness of Jose Enrique appears to be the determining factor in whether we revert to a flat back four, or persist with the wing backs we've employed in recent weeks. With Steven Taylor injured again, and Coloccini's fitness uncertain (and form distinctly lacking) we could end up with Habib Beye in the centre and Ryan Taylor remaining at right back.

However, regardless of the permutations at the back, or upfront, the bottom line is that we need to create some opportunities to score, which seems to have been our biggest problem all season. Hopefully Shearer has spent all week teaching the likes of Duff, Taylor and Spiderman how to hit a decent cross. If not, then Monday night's game against a defensively solid Pompey could be a long old slog.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Quote of the day

"Coming up here has completely changed my life.

I grew up in north London, in Wood Green and I got into trouble. It all starts with just messing around with friends and jokes that go too far. I started running with a gang in the area. We were convicted of street robbery in Muswell Hill. There was a weapon but we didn't use it.

They were cracking down on street crime so I got sent down. I wasn't with a professional club at the time and I didn't really realise what I was risking.

There were seven of us charged and four of us were convicted. Jail was pretty rough but it taught me a lot. The most important thing I learned is that I never want to go back.

Nile Ranger on his, ahem, chequered past, as quoted on .com. His comments almost had me reminiscing fondly of Bobby's Borstal Boys (Bellamy, Bowyer, Dyer etc). Almost.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

L-undone again

Tottenham Hotspur 1 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Our fifth and final trip of the season to the capital gave yet more cause for concern: another tame defeat, and - more worrying still - on what has in recent years been one of our happiest hunting grounds. No spawny 3-2 win or bolt-from-the-blue four-goal blast this season - and no annual Nicky Butt goal either.

Wor Al decided to retain the three centre-back formation of last weekend, though did choose to make changes to the personnel, replacing David Edgar, Danny Guthrie and the utterly hopeless Big Lad with the fit-again Steven Taylor, Spiderman and Andy Carroll respectively.

We began nervously, looking hurried and harried, in complete contrast to our hosts whose easy and confident swagger was typified by Tom Huddlestone. Unable to create anything in open play, our best opportunity seemed to be set pieces - but, with Ryan Taylor managing only a couple of reasonable free-kicks and Damien Duff reaching new lows in corner-kick awfulness, it never looked like being a cheery afternoon.

And so it proved. If we were fortunate to get away with some unscrupulous shirt-tugging and clumsy bundling of Spurs forwards turfwards in the first half hour, there was nothing remotely lucky (from our perspective) about the critical goal. First Sebastian Bassong's excellent lunging interception to prevent Robbie Keane racing onto Luca Modric's through-ball fell perfectly for Darren Bent, and then, when Steve Harper did well to repel Bent's shot, it went straight back for the striker to knock it over the line. All the more galling that we could have been 1-0 up ourselves seconds beforehand, if Kevin Nolan had pulled the ball back to an exasperated Little Saint Mick rather than scuffing a tame shot for Heurelho Gomes to collect and bowl out.

The fit-again Steven Taylor became the unfit-again Steven Taylor, replaced at the break not by Edgar but (to widespread groans) Alan Smith. With Aaron Lennon and Modric continuing to buzz busily about in the second half, only a combination of dogged defending and a general contentedness and lack of urgency on Spurs' part ensured the deficit remained at one goal.

Concerns over the fitness levels of Obafemi Martins and Captain Pasty had kept them on the bench until the hour mark, but as soon as they were introduced (for Carroll and Nolan) we suddenly looked the likelier side to score, our opponents perhaps recalling fearfully the havoc the pair, together with Little Saint Mick, wreaked last March.

Chance after chance came Oba's way: a drive over the top from a Captain Pasty lay-off barely a minute after entering the action; a weak header; a low shot that went in off the post, but only after Mark Halsey had blown up for handball against the Nigerian.

Old boy Jonathan Woodgate came close to banging a second nail in the coffin with a header, but we survived and, with two minutes left, Oba had our best chance of the afternoon - but, having controlled Ryan Taylor's clever curved ball on his chest, he blasted his volley into the stands from eight yards. That one nail turned out to be enough.

Defeats on Saturday for Blackburn and Hull came at the cost of victories for Stoke and the Mackems, while Portsmouth also won and the Smogs mustered a goalless draw at home to Fulham that dropped us to 19th, four points from safety. But at least the Baggies lost again today, eh?

Of our remaining three home games, Shearer said "We'll be expected to win those and we have to" - but, given that our last home victory came in the reverse fixture against Spurs on 21st December, I'm not getting my hopes up.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, April 17, 2009

A weight of experience

Having said earlier in the week that surely Andy Carroll would start against Spurs on Sunday, the return to the squad of a certain Captain Pasty might just put paid to that.

Wor Al has commented "He's got a huge amount of talent and we believe if we can keep him fit, then he will play a big part in helping us" (insert your own "he's got a huge amount of..." joke here), and, with Oba likely to be expected to make up for last weekend's late phone call by playing through the pain barrier, the temptation to plump for the front three that got us out of trouble last season (including a noteable 4-1 win at White Hart Lane) will be strong.

Personally, I think Carroll's heroics on Saturday should have earned him a place in the XI, possibly in tandem with both Oba and the misfiring Little Saint Mick, and suspect that the Australian's arse will be warming the bench, Shearer being mindful of his match fitness, which - let's face it - is hardly great at the best of times...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ket out of town

Hoardings at the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium can sleep a little easier now that Temuri Ketsbaia has quit as manager of Anorthosis Famagusta. The Georgian madman secured himself a place in the record books as the first person to guide a Cypriot team into the group stages of the Champions league.

The BBC's report alerted me to the comments he made in an interview back in the autumn: "As a player I had a dream to move to big clubs and I did that - as a manager that dream is no different. If I get the chance to move to a bigger club in a bigger country then of course I would take it. It was a great opportunity for me to play for Newcastle and if the chance came up to manage them then I wouldn't say no."

Hmmm. With Wor Al adamant he's only in the hot seat until the end of this season, regardless of what happens, and JFK very unlikely to be back, could Ketsbaia be our next manager? Stranger things have happened, though that would certainly be very strange indeed...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Queens St James Park Ranger - for another three and a half years

A good day for 18-year-old Nile Ranger, who's been handed a three-and-a-half-year deal after catching the new gaffer's eye - and, let's face it, he knows a thing or two about being a striker.

According to Ranger, "This past year has been a dream for me and it couldn't have gone any better. I'm buzzing to sign a new contract and commit my future to the club because this is where I want to play my football." He must be just about the only one...

And, if Shearer's to be believed, he may not just be one for the future: "I said to Andy and Nile that they both have big roles to play here at this football club for the remaining games of the season. I told them to go out and show me what they had in the reserves. Both of them have done that and that’s why they were in the squad for Stoke and on the bench. If they keep on producing results then you never know – they might get starts in games." I don't know about Ranger, but after events at the Britannia, I think Andy Carroll starting ahead of Big Lad has to be a dead cert...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Head boy

Stoke 1 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Rarely (if at all) this season can there have been a more beautiful sight than Andy Carroll's superb header arcing over flailing ex-Mackem Thomas Sorensen and into the back of the Stoke net. It was an equaliser we scarcely deserved in a game we didn't feel we could afford to draw, but it was a sweet moment in a season that's been almost entirely sour.

The teamsheet made for surprising reading, and not just because of the 11th hour withdrawal through injury of Obafemi Martins (much to Alan Shearer's displeasure). Replacing the Nigerian with Shola Ameobi, Wor Al took a considerable gamble in changing the formation to a back three of Sebastien Bassong, David Edgar and Habib Beye, with Ryan Taylor and Damien Duff operating as wing-backs. The fact that Fabricio Coloccini found himself on the bench for the first time this season despite both the tactical switch and the continued absence of Steven Taylor speaks volumes about his current form - or rather complete lack of it...

The change in formation also meant a narrow, supposedly combative midfield trio of Nicky Butt, Kevin Nolan and Danny Guthrie - not that you'd have appreciated that from the way the first half panned out. Given Stoke's physicality, we'd expected to be outfought, but we hadn't anticipated being outfootballed too.

Ryan Shawcross delivered an early warning, flashing a header wide, and when the goal came nearly everything about it was so predictable it was painful. OK, so it wasn't from a Rory Delap throw-in - but it was from a set-piece (one which Chris Foy should be embarrassed to have awarded, the ball clearly striking Ricardo Fuller's knee rather than Habib Beye), it did involve Ameobi transferring his uselessness to the other end of the pitch by completely losing his man, and it was scored by the head of old boy Abdoulaye Faye.

It could have been worse before the break, had Steve Harper not saved from Fuller, but still Shearer's half-time team-talk seemed to have had little effect, only a couple of goal-line clearances early in the second period keeping our hopes alive. Andy Wilkinson produced a tackle on Danny Guthrie that was as thuggish as he looks, getting away with just a yellow card, and Matthew Etherington also riled us as tensions started to flare.

When Shearer decided it was time to take action, he first withdrew Guthrie for Spiderman, whose energetic running may still have been without end product but which at least began to give us some forward impetus, and then - to cheers from the away end - belatedly hauled off Shola for Carroll, who took all of 11 minutes to show why he would have been the better option all along. Most of us thought his first headed effort was in, but it flew inches past the post. With his second, from Duff's cross (the one remotely telling contribution the Irishman made all afternoon), he made no mistake.

Though we then looked the likelier side to score a second, Stoke were dangerous on the break, and there were sighs of relief when sub Danny Pugh dragged his shot wide at the end of one late offensive.

To return home with a point from a ground where Arsenal and Aston Villa have been among the scalps was pleasing, but we really needed more. All the same, Carroll's header feels like it could prove to be a turning point of the significance of Little Saint Mick's goal at St Andrews last March. It's up to the players to ensure that it is, and not just something that postpones the agony.

Other reports: BBC (unbiased), Guardian (almost spiteful in its negativity)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Working nine to five - and the rest

It hardly counts as a revelation, but, as Wor Al told Radio Five, this management malarkey's not as easy or as cushty as it might seem from the comfort of the 'Match Of The Day' sofa...

"You get in at seven o'clock thinking you've got a few things to do and by 10 you've got a million things to do.

It's a very, very difficult job but it's one I'm really enjoying ... I've really enjoyed it. It's everything I thought it would be and probably a bit more.

There's so much organising to do, so much work to do. I'm not going to stand here and lie to you - it's challenging, it really is.

Just as well Shearer's never been one to shirk a fierce challenge, then, isn't it?

"Difficult? Yes. Long hours? Yes, without a doubt", he added. "But I wouldn't change anything, I'm really pleased."

You wouldn't change ANYTHING, then, Alan? Are you quite sure about that? It seems the job's keeping him so busy he hasn't had a moment to take a look at the league table...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

A Month Of Saturdays: March 2009

So much for continuing February’s unbeaten run on into March – by the time the new month was four days old, we’d already lost twice...

First we fell victim to Bolton. After an even first half in which Obafemi Martins and Johan Elmander appeared to be having their own little competition to see who could be the most wasteful in front of goal, the Nigerian raising the Swede’s hat-trick of misses by glancing a sitter of a header wide, we were caught cold at the start of the second period by substitute Ricardo Gardner. In a frenetic finale we came desperately close to grabbing a just-about-deserved equaliser – but not close enough. The Reebok is fast becoming one of our unhappiest hunting grounds (there are a few to choose from).

Three days later came the home defeat to Man Utd – a predictable outcome, yes, but not a predictable performance. It was rather galling that Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan were widely credited as the first side to really rattle Fergie’s normally watertight defence a week later in a game heralded as a forewarning of the back-to-back losses against Liverpool and Fulham – for the first half, at least, we gave the unflusterables a right royal flustering.

Within the first ten minutes, Edwin Van der Sar – recently elevated to near-godlike status – had proved himself to be all too human by parrying the ball straight to Peter Lovenkrands who put the memory of the shocking miss against Everton behind him to score from close range. Both Martins and Ryan Taylor could have doubled our advantage before Wayne Rooney equalised. (Hard to believe that five years ago we thought we stood a good chance of signing him, isn’t it?) Even then the visitors had to be helped to their 2-1 victory, and Dimitar Berbatov’s second-half goal was all that separated the two teams at the final whistle. (Well, that and a few league places, a healthy bank balance and a lot of quality, amongst other things...)

The subsequent weekend off was very much a mixed blessing – on the one hand, it allowed sufficient time for Little Saint Mick to return from injury and replace the unlucky Lovenkrands in the starting line-up at the KC Stadium, but on the other, it meant the momentum and renewed belief we could draw from the Man Utd game was largely lost by the time we kicked off against Hull.

The Tigers may have lost their early-season roar – it’s been more of a whiney mewl since the autumn – but that didn’t stop them taking the lead through Giovanni. That we fought back to draw level before the break was at least encouraging, but the second half was a major disappointment as we tried half-heartedly and failed to get a winner against one of our arch relegation rivals. That’s four meetings this season and not a single win – especially galling given that they’re managed by a Mackem and close friend of Sam Allardyce who looks like a varnished Action Man...

The visit of Arsenal a week later may have brought an improved performance, but it wasn’t one rewarded with any points. For a second successive home game we more than held our own in a stirring first half – and would have taken the lead if only Oba had had the benefit of the findings of research into the "perfect penalty" - only to be comprehensively outclassed in the second period. After his "my dad's bigger than your dad" spat with Ronaldo and crucial equaliser against Hull, Steven Taylor was once again in the heart of the action, bailing us out with two vital blocks while Fabricio Coloccini floundered and then delivering a friendly elbow to Arshavin's face that referee and linesman really must have been blind to have missed.

Arshavin picked himself up to set up Nicklas Bendtner for the first, which Oba immediately equalised to atone for his dribbler from the spot, but with Taylor nursing a knock on the sidelines and the commanding Sebastien Bassong (linked with a summer move to Wenger's side) already in the treatment room, Diaby had too much time and space to burst into the box and blast past Steve Harper. Nasri twisted the knife a few minutes later, and we never recovered against a Gunners side who couldn't have been much more clinical if they'd been wearing white coats and stethoscopes.

In a move that was perhaps not that surprising given his anonymity against Hull, Little Saint Mick had been dropped from the starting line-up for the Arsenal fixture. A couple of days earlier, he finally had the decency to admit what we suspected all along - that the crippling knee injury sustained at the 2006 World Cup wasn't simply a matter of bad fortune: "After being in plaster for so long my leg was de-conditioned and with hindsight, I should never have gone to Germany with England". He added: "People will probably laugh, but I know I’m not injury-prone". Well, we weren't laughing - and if you're not injury-prone, Michael, you're certainly rather foolish.

Talking of foolish... As if Mike Ashley didn't have enough problems, being lumbered with a massive debt-ridden club on a seemingly unstoppable slide out of the top flight, in stepped Fat Fred to kick him while he was down: "I wouldn't buy a second-hand car without checking it was road-worthy and whether there were any HP deals on it, so I don't see how it can be anyone's fault but his that he didn't look at the books before forking out £134m for a football club". Which, of course, makes Fat Fred a dodgy second-hand car dealer enriching himself by knowingly flogging ropey motors - well, that cap certainly fits.

Also getting in on the act (again) was jumped-up Wigan chairman and Ashley's bitterest business rival Dave Whelan. If someone can explain to me how a man who is to rename his team's stadium after himself can lecture anyone on how to behave with class, I'd be very grateful. Only marginally less ludicrous than his assertion that Fat Fred has "great dignity"...

As the month drew to a close, with the club in the relegation zone and just eight games remaining, rumours of mutiny sprang up: "The players have all been talking about how they need someone of real authority to sort it out. There is no leader since Joe Kinnear took ill. It is not that they don’t respect Hughton as a coach because they do, but he is no manager". In the immortal words of Bonnie Tyler, we were holding out for a hero - he'd gotta be strong, it'd gotta be soon and he'd gotta be larger than life.

Any ideas?

Monday, April 06, 2009

No dream start for Shearer

Newcastle Utd 0 - 2 Chelsea

Back in 1996, Alan Shearer made one of his first starts for Newcastle Utd at Wembley against Manure in the Charity Shield. That day proved to be a low point in an otherwise eventful and relatively successful season, and we got hammered 4-0.

Fast forward 13 years and Shearer's career as manager of Newcastle Utd began with the visit of Chelsea, a team still in the hunt for the title and a world away from the team Shearer has taken charge of, who are stuck in a relegation dogfight, and depressingly sit the wrong side of the red line on the league table.

Despite a massive rise in pre-match optimism, heralded by the return of our all-time top scorer, this was always going to be a tough ask of a team shorn of confidence and struggling to overcome the problems which have afflicted them all season.

With a degree of new found optimism, Newcastle did reasonably well to contain Chelsea in the first half, with only Anelka looking like breaking the deadlock for the visitors. At the other end, our current number 9 was caught out when an Enrique cross eluded Alex only to strike Martins' knee and rebound the wrong side of the post.

Still, goalless at half time, and looking reasonably solid, and a point looked a distinct possibility. Unfortunately, we then proceeded to highlight to our new boss precisely why we're currently 18th in the league.

Duff, on for the injured Lovenkrands, played the ball back to Coloccini. The Argentine chose not to clear the ball straight away, but transferred the ball to his right foot, and then crashed his clearance against the onrushing Anelka. The ball fell to the Frenchman whose header evaded Harper and Ryan Taylor who'd got back onto the goal line, but rebounded off the bar, and with Coloccini failing to recover sufficiently from his crap clearance to track the run of Lampard, the England midfielder was left to head the ball into the unguarded net unchallenged.

Chelsea's second came shortly afterwards, when Malouda was given too much time and space around the box and from Lampard's pass he duly slotted home, taking the game away beyond our reach.

We should have had a goal allowed towards the end of the match, when Michael Owen's shot was deflected over the line only to then be hooked clear by Ashley Cole. However, the linesman failed to flag (despite replays showing the ball to be well over the line) and the chance for a rip-roaring finish was lost.

To be truthful that would perhaps have flattered us - and even at 2-1 I suspect we wouldn't have been able to add a barely deserved equaliser.

Going forward, it should be clear to Shearer that what he needs to try and get us to do is eliminate the stupid individual errors which have been costing us points since August. If he can get both Taylor and Bassong fit for next Saturday's trip to Stoke then I would anticipate Coloccini's record of starting every game to go, as the Argentine who has continually flattered to deceive needs to be dropped.

Going forward, Owen and Martins should have enough to trouble Stoke's defence, but unless they get some decent service, it won't make any difference. The onus therefore shifts to our midfield, and it is there that Shearer really needs to inspire some creative confidence. If he can do that, we stand a chance. If he can't, then he'll be back in the MOTD studio, while we're reduced to Championship highlights on ITV.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Forward planning

Today's press conference saw Alan Shearer confirmed as Newcastle's manager for the remainder of the season.

Shearer was quick to stress that he's on sabbatical from the 'Match Of The Day' sofa, and is only focused on keeping Newcastle in the Premiership.

Joining Shearer will be Iain Dowie as his assistant manager and Paul Ferris, who returns to the club he served as both player and physio to effectively head up our medical department -apparently giving up the career as a barrister which he has pursued since leaving St James'.

One question: If Shearer really is only coming in for seven weeks, why would he appoint someone to run the medical side of the club?

Do one, Dennis

With Alan Shearer set to be formally unveiled as our new manager (well, caretaker caretaker manager...) tomorrow, there's another reason to be cheerful: the poisoned dwarf has been told to fuck off back down the A1. Hurrah!

Presumably Shearer swayed Mike Ashley into making the decision - or perhaps even demanded it as a condition of his agreeing to sign up. Just a shame that it didn't happen sooner - or, more specifically, that it didn't happen when things came to a head with King Kev about control over transfers. Wise's departure now could be interpreted as Ashley conceding he was wrong to back the impish, taxi-driver-loving tosser over KK - after all, the comment in the club statement about there being "no plans to appoint a replacement in this role" effectively marks the final dismantling of the off-field structure he put in place at the same time as Keegan's appointment. Too little too late, perhaps - but at least we're a stubby, gobby, waste-of-space ankle-biter lighter.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Al to play for

With confirmation that it's not an elaborate April Fool's joke, we can now digest the news that our fourth manager this season will be a sheet metal worker's son from Gosforth.

Whilst in the most part the news has been well received on Tyneside, a look at the league table is enough to wake anyone from a dream-like state, and with only eight games to go I think we probably need to win at least four of them to stay up. Shearer himself is under no illusions, stating that "It will be one hell of a battle. It will be one hell of a fight."

Shearer is astute enough to know that there is a risk in taking over the club, and that risk is that he might end up presiding over our relegation.

However, he's equally savvy enough to see the amazing opportunity that lies before him. When Fat Sam was sacked, Shearer openly expressed an interest in the job, and had his fingers burnt when Ashley and Mort ruled him out due to a lack of managerial experience, and instead opted to bring back Keegan.

Since then the manager's office might as well have had a revolving door installed, while Shearer has remained on the 'Match Of The Day' sofa, and, though reportedly working towards his Pro Licence, has not added any managerial experience to his CV.

However, the job on offer looks to be marginally less appetising than previously, and Ashley is presumably astute enough to realise that if he wants to get everyone pulling in the same direction he needs to get someone in who will galvanise the entire city. With Keegan already on the scrap heap, Shearer is the only option open to him.

If Shearer can keep us up - and the bounce normally associated with new managers, plus the general buzz which has already been stirred in Newcastle might just be enough to ensure that happens - then the he'll be able to sit down in May and have a proper conversation with Ashley about how to move the club forward.

With Shearer at the helm, the odds of Nicky Butt's recent comments coming true look a lot more likely, and we should hopefully look a lot more attractive to any player thinking of coming to the club.

Similarly, when Keegan went, Shearer was incredibly scathing about the way in which the club was being run, and the involvement of the poisoned dwarf in our transfer activity. However, that situation looks to be changing, with repeated reports in the press that the dwarf will be off in the summer.

If we do go down, Shearer can point to the fact that the damage had been done long before he took charge, and may be given the chance to guide us back up to the Premiership, or leave with his reputation still relatively intact. If we stay up, then not only will his reputation have been enhanced, but it seems impossible that Ashley could risk letting another fans' favourite depart given the wrath he faced after the complete mismanagement of Keegan's departure.

Shearer now holds most of the cards. If he plays his hand well, and keeps us up, then he'll be sitting pretty for a while yet, and the timing which saw him notch over 200 goals for Newcastle will once again be proven to be immaculate.

Al reet now?

A very elaborate and carefully planned joke? If so, consider us taken in - along with Auntie Beeb and the Guardian, amongst many others.

If we're honest, few of us didn't envisage Alan Shearer becoming manager of Newcastle Utd at some point. Now may not be an opportune time, to say the least - we're third bottom, with title-chasing Chelsea and Rory Delap's Stoke our next two opponents. But, as has been pointed out before, few managers walk into a new job with everything rosy - that's the whole reason the position's vacant in the first place.

So what does Al have to gain? In short, further respect, admiration and good will.

And what does he have to lose? Much (if not quite all) of the respect, admiration and good will he's already accumulated over a ten year playing career with the club.

Let's face it: it's a massive gamble, on his part as much as on the part of the man whose regime he diplomatically described as "strange" in the wake of mentor and friend Kevin Keegan's departure in September.

Needless to say it's a gamble I really, really hope pays off.

The revelation raises any number of questions - not least about where this leaves the current incumbent (quite literally), on the road to recovery after his heart surgery. No doubt he'll be turning the air a deep shade of blue regardless of doctors' orders...

More to follow.