Friday, October 30, 2009

Sol seeking

According to today's Guardian, Sol Campbell and Newcastle Utd are currently embroiled in a process of flirtatious glances which might ultimately lead to some form of marital bliss.

Sol mysteriously states that he has "his reasons" for being attracted to Newcastle, which would appear to stretch beyond simply the fact that we're top of the Championship and prepared to pay him a decent wedge to do what he does best.

I seem to recall that at the time when we last exchanged flirtatious texts with Sol, before he ran off for his ill-advised dalliance with Sven, that Campbell's current partner is based in the North East, and they'd just bought a large house somewhere in Northumberland. It therefore makes sense that Sol would rather play around much closer to home.

Of course, the union does depend on the small matter of his divorce from Notts County ever coming through, the jilted bride reportedly insisting on a five year gagging order to prevent Sol from selling his kiss and tell story to the press.

Where's the Money gone?

Luton Town, apparently.

According to the club, Academy Director Richard Money has left the club with immediate effect to take over the vacant manager's post at Luton Town.

With our academy having produced a number of recent first teamers, it is to be hoped that his loss is swiftly replaced by the club, who, for all their many other failings, have at least seemed to grasp the merits of investing in developing young talent.

Return of the Geordie

Following on from the latest grim developments on Tyneside, and our realisation that the current owner is not dissimilar in appearance to a certain Star Wars character, we thought it might be worth trying to lighten the mood by inviting suggestions for other stars in our recasting of Return of the Jedi.

Please note, this is not simply some cheap shoddy stunt to mention the prospect of Cheryl Cole dressed as Princess Leia in a gold bikini throttling Jabba with a chain. (Which incidentally, if ever released on DVD would surely generate sufficient income to buy the club).

The question is, how far can we realistically stretch the metaphor?

Is Chris Hughton prepared for a Han Solo role (currently groping in the dark, blinded by the light)?

Is Kevin Nolan's physical resemblance enough to land him the role of Luke Skywalker?

Will the spirit of Sir Bobby crop up at certain points to instruct our heroes to "use the force"?

What do you think?

Quote of the day

"There are some things that money can't buy."

Look how far you've pushed us, Jabba - so far that we find ourselves in pretty much complete agreement with the latest outpourings of your piggy-eyed oaf of a predecessor and nostalgically viewing his time in charge as halcyon days...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jabba's Palace?

Confirmation of the worst - the club has been taken off the market (again). Presumably Barry Moat couldn't find the £80 million cash that Jabba the Hutt wanted to sell the club and fuck off back to Tatooine, so instead we're condemned to live out a further few months (at least) of bare faced lies and insults as our club is dragged further into the mud by the cronyism of the current administration.

Displaying an unenviable gift for kicking people when they are down, this particularly delightful news story also contains the gem that as well as renegotiating our shirt sponsorship deal next season, lucky punters will also be able to bid for the right to name St James' Park. Not even Fat Fred was greedy enough to try that one on.

Seriously, is anyone going to call our stadium anything other than St James' Park, in the same way that most right thinking individuals still talk about the Gallowgate and Leazes ends of the ground?

The third snippet to emerge from the club is that Chris Hughton has now been given an 18 month contract as manager. Nice though Chris Hughton seems to be, working under what must be incredibly trying circumstances, I just don't think he has a sufficiently steely streak to make it as a top class manager.

Obviously I desperately hope to be proved wrong, but for my money he's all too reminiscent of Glenn Roeder, and even if he does take us straight back to the Premiership, I can't see him having the pulling power to attract players good enough to keep us there, or the motivational skills to get the team going when the going gets particularly tough.

For a slightly more measured response, read George Caulkin's comments here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Better late than never

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Doncaster Rovers

The line between success and failure is, as has often been observed, a very thin one indeed. So it was yesterday, when, reduced to ten men and with the clock ticking into injury time at the end of the 90 minutes, we looked on course for a fifth consecutive game without a win. But then up popped Kevin Nolan to sneak a goal which stopped the rot and sent us back to the summit of the table. Happy days.

Not that it had been much of a happy day up to that point. Homer was restored to the starting line-up in place of Geremi to form a two-pronged strikeforce with Bigger Lad, but repaid that faith with a similarly listless performance to the one delivered at the City Ground last week.

Meanwhile, Danny Simpson's ankle injury meant a start for Tamas Kadar - and Kadar it was who was largely at fault for Donny's goal, Billy Sharp escaping his attentions to set up Dean Shiels from close range. We gradually began asserting our authority on the game as the first half wore on, though (as Chris Hughton noted afterwards) there wasn't much in the way of creativity or invention, and neither Spiderman nor Bigger Lad were able to convert very presentable opportunities that came their way shortly before the interval.

Bigger Lad fluffed an even better chance early in the second period, but credit to him for plugging away. Hughton bolstered our offensive threat on the hour by replacing Homer (now seemingly a target for the boo boys) with Nile Ranger, and seven minutes later we were level, Bigger Lad ghosting in at the far post to sweep Danny Guthrie's pass home on the volley.

We now looked by far the likelier winners - until, that is, Ryan Taylor rashly handled when going for an aerial challenge in the area. But ex-Mackem Martin Woods stepped forwards and blasted his penalty wide of Steve Harper's right-hand post and we began thinking our luck might be in after all. Further evidence: old boy James Coppinger was withdrawn soon afterwards having failed to score against us.

The notion that for once fortune might be smiling on us was tested when Zurab Khizanishvili was red-carded for his reaction to Sharp's sly punch on Kadar, for which the Donny man was only booked. An appeal is in the pipeline - hardly surprising, given the circumstances and the fact that we're already without Simpson and Steven Taylor, and Fabricio Coloccini still isn't quite ready to be risked.

Even with ten men, though, we weren't to be denied the win our superiority (if not the overall quality of our display) merited, Nolan continuing this season's decent goalscoring form. That sealed our first win since the thrashing of Ipswich, and was the first time we'd scored more than once since that game at Portman Road - the obvious message being that we need to be more ruthless in front of goal.

The result edged us back into top spot, one point ahead of Cardiff who, like the increasingly potent QPR, recorded a four-goal victory on the road. West Brom and Blackpool both played out goalless draws away from home, while Preston and the Smoggies drew 2-2.

Sheffield Utd are our next opponents - many people's tip for promotion, the Blades are in a bit of a rut and defended like drunken toddlers against Cardiff, but our last two away performances have been sub-standard and I expect we'll need to improve to bring anything home from South Yorkshire.

Other reports: BBC

Friday, October 23, 2009

Quote of the day

"We direct that the Club should pay Mr Keegan’s costs on an indemnity basis given the manner in which it conducted this litigation: its defence on the primary liability issue was, in our view, wholly without merit and it chose to make entirely unfounded allegations against Mr Keegan."

The damning verdict detailed in the supplementary award of the club v Keegan tribunal (available in full here, which has ordered the former to pay all of the latter's costs, estimated by some to be as much as £1.5m. So, Mike, if you set out to blacken Keegan's name, it certainly backfired, didn't it?

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Scunthorpe Utd 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Our winless run continued on Tuesday night, as we left the smallest ground in the league with nothing to show for our efforts other than a one match suspension for our captain following his fifth booking of the season.

With soon-to-be-appointed-permanent-manager Chris Hughton shuffling his side after Saturday's disappointing loss to Forest, Geremi and Spiderman came into the starting XI in place of the lacklustre Lovenkrands and Homer. However, it was the home team who started the brighter, creating a number of good chances to open the scoring. At the other end, Bigger Lad was proving to be a handful for the home side, and saw a number of shots well saved by Joe Murphy in the Scunny goal.

Level at half time, things took a turn for the worst early in the second half when a long ball over the top saw Zurab Khizanishvili out muscled by Scunny number 10 Gary Hooper, and with Danny Simpson moving across to cover, Martyn Woolford was left completely unmarked and free to slot the ball past Steve Harper to give the home team the lead.

That lead only lasted 11 minutes when Danny Guthrie dribbled his way into the penalty area, before laying the ball square for Kevin Nolan to stroke home in to the bottom corner of the net and restore parity.

However, with both sides searching for a winner it was the home side who ultimately snatched all the points when further poor defending saw Woolford again unmarked and left with another simple finish to wrap up the points.

Whilst the Baggies proved incapable of beating Swansea and opening up a gap at the top of the table, wins for the teams below us (including one in vain for now departed smoggy manager Gareth Southgate) meant that there is now only 6 points between the top half of the league. If we hadn't realised that this season was going to be a hard fought battle, then that message must surely now have been driven home to the players, while we are all left ruing our recent run of poor performances which has kept us embroiled in the dog fight rather than several points clear at the top of the league.

What this again proves is that without our first choice central defensive partnership our resources simply aren't good enough to cope. Whether Fat Mike allows Hughton to do anything about that though is unfortunately doubtful.

Other reports: BBC

Monday, October 19, 2009

Permanent fixtures?

So it looks as though Chris Hughton's reward for two successive Manager Of The Month awards might be more than just a couple of bottles of bubbly and pats on the back from fans and journalists. At the end of August I said I wasn't sure he was the long-term solution, and to be honest I'm still not sure - but it's indisputable that he's done a very good job this season in incredibly trying circumstances and, like Glenn Roeder before him, has arguably earned the right to a permanent appointment.

Of course, what the discussions say about the future of the club is another thing. It was widely understood that, mindful of the fact that he found himself lumbered with Fat Sam when he arrived, Fat Mike was holding off making an appointment in the reasonable expectation that a new owner would want to install his own man. So then it seems logical to conclude that the takeover talks are going nowhere and maybe even that he's resigned to staying in charge.

Some of his comments to the Sunday Times suggest as much: "If I keep the club I will have the final say on players" (This, it should be pointed out, shortly before declaring "I never said I was an expert in football clubs. I tried my best. But I accept my best was woefully short" - so why on earth keep on insisting you know best, then?)

But on the other hand, he still seems keen to push through a quick sale. His message for Barry Moat was blunt and betrayed a real impatience - hardly likely to be conducive to positive negotiations: "Barry Moat has been driving me mad for two years. If he wants to buy the club, he’s got a one-off opportunity to come up with the cash — £80m upfront". What happens if Moat does find the money and then discovers Hughton installed in place of his preferred candidate, Alan Shearer?

It's also worth wondering what Fat Mike means about "two years". Is he seriously telling us that Moat has been interested in buying the club from almost the very moment that Ashley changed the locks and got his feet under the table? Or is he just exaggerating out of frustration? There was certainly some exaggeration in his thinly disguised broadside at the supporters: "I have to put £20m a year into the club — I spend more than every other fan put together puts into the club each year". Classy, Mike, classy. Good to know you've still got the common touch.

We've lost that winning feeling*

Nottm Forest 1 - 0 Newcastle Utd

True to form, this one - more's the pity. While we came into the fixture off the back of two disappointing home draws in which we'd hammered at the doors of the opposition defences but only scored once, Forest had been busy emulating our early season form, notching up three consecutive victories.

I think it's fair to say our hosts didn't exactly roll out the red carpet for us - instead it was evident there's very little love lost between the two sets of fans. The game was played out in a particularly spicy atmosphere, several of the chants from the 4000+ away supporters - situated beneath netting designed to catch the phlegm donations of generous home fans above - picking the scab of the Miners' Strike (pun intended).

As hoped, Chris Hughton opted for a two man strikeforce, pairing Homer with Bigger Lad, while Spiderman only made the bench after his long journey back from Uruguay. But Hughton's real headache was in defence, Danny Simpson and Zurab Khizanishvili forming an untested central pair with Steven Taylor joining Fabricio Coloccini on the treatment table.

We started the first half sluggishly, and Steve Harper had already pulled off an excellent early save to his right to repel one header when Dexter Blackstock took time out from his day job as a porn actor to nod another against the upright with Harper stranded.

Our biggest problems were in midfield, where Peter Lovenkrands was ineffective from the start and Danny Guthrie ill-disciplined in maintaining width. Despite the fierce tackling we've come to expect from Alan Smith this season, Guy Moussi and Paul McKenna were controlling the centre of the pitch, their side playing some neat and tidy football. Pacy ex-Liverpool winger Paul Anderson a particular threat, while Nathan Tyson flashed an acrobatic volley inches wide. Jose Enrique went on one superb slaloming run, but our only real opportunity of note came when Homer touched Ryan Taylor's free-kick onto the post, even though it looked easier to score.

And we would have gotten away with that lousy first half performance if it hadn't have been for that pesky Blackstock, stealing in behind an inattentive defence to roll the ball under Harper with just enough pace that Smith couldn't reach it only a few seconds before the referee's whistle brought the half to a close. "1-0 to the famous club", Forest's fans crowed, seemingly oblivious to the last ten years or the fact that big/famous clubs don't feel the need to play moronic music when they score (The Fratellis' 'Chelsea Dagger' in this case).

Hughton evidently knocked a few heads together at the interval because we emerged like a side possessed, suddenly (it seemed) aware of our superior quality and experience. All the same, his opposite number Billy Davies' post-match claim that "[they] showed us what we have to aspire to" was both rather generous to us and worrying for Forest fans - because we never made our dominance count.

Danny Guthrie should have finished off a neat move by hitting the target but instead blazed over, while Bigger Lad was only able to escape the attentions of Wes Morgan on a couple of occasions, neither coming to anything. Enrique continued to carry an offensive threat, but like far too many of his teammates suffered sudden paralysis in the box, hesitated fatally and saw a pair of efforts blocked.

The Spaniard was at the centre of the first of two questionable refereeing decisions, both of which went against us, when barged clumsily off the ball in the box - no penalty forthcoming. And later we thought we'd equalised when Kevin Nolan touched in at the far post, only for the linesman's flag to chalk it off - if he was indeed offside, it was by the slimmest of margins.

Spiderman came on to torment Chris Gunter, cutting inside and firing over the bar from distance twice. At least he had the guts to have a try, which is more than can be said of Homer, who should have given Kelvin Wilson a much tougher game on only the latter's second appearance of the season but who instead endured a miserable evening against his former club. Quite why it took so long for Hughton to decide Nile Ranger would be a better option I have no idea - though in the short time he was given Ranger didn't come much closer to scoring, heading way over from a corner when he should have done better.

A draw would have been a fair result, but it's now three games without a win, and knocked off the top spot on goals scored due to the Baggies' 3-1 victory over Reading earlier in the day. No reason to panic just yet, but the indifferent displays and relative goal drought are certainly cause for concern. With the trip to Glanford Park on Tuesday night, we haven't got to wait long for an opportunity to turn things around again - but Scunthorpe's convincing home win over promotion hopefuls Sheffield Utd suggests we'll need to improve to stand a chance of picking up points.

* For reasons best known to themselves, the two songs Forest run out to are 'Mull Of Kintyre' by Wings - an inspirational song, to be sure, but one that only usually inspires disbelief, disgust and spontaneous vomitation - and 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling'. About as inexplicable and bizarre as the half-time birthday message on the scoreboard for "Amber Mowgli Pants Caradine" - talk about an unfortunate name - and the sheepskin coat that was flung down into our midst towards the end of the second half.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where there's blame, there's a claim

Player picks up long-term injury while away on international duty. Club react angrily and demand compensation. Sound familiar? Of course the player in question had to be someone with a Newcastle connection...

Incidentally, when did Onyewu join AC Milan?! Given his performances for us three seasons ago, I certainly didn't see that one coming...

Quote of the day

(A very belated one, admittedly...)

"Alan [Shearer] is a guy I have got an awful lot of respect for as a player and as a man".

Oh ASBO, I can only hope you're not deluding yourself into thinking that that respect might possibly be mutual - but somehow I doubt it.

The right honourable gent also told Sky Sports of his injury: "I eventually sat down with the club and said this isn't fair on anyone: the lads who aren't playing because I'm playing, to the people who pay to come and watch and you, and most of all myself. You try and run off injuries sometimes, but when you get a bit older you think this isn't possible."

Two things, ASBO, both relating to your use of the word "eventually":

1. It's not as though you've played that many games this season, is it? So don't go suggesting we should be grateful to you for plugging away through the pain barrier.

2. On the other hand, it also implies it took you some time to decide to 'fess up - and so until then were perfectly happy to be unfair on everyone, allowing your ego to get in the way of doing what was best for the club and admitting you weren't up to it. Thanks for that.

Yankee doodle deal all dandy?

In a comment on last week's post, Bob asked what had happened to the "American consortium". Well, here's your answer, Bob - they (the Star Foundation, that is) have suddenly reappeared and claim a deal is imminent. Certainly nominal spokesman Geoff Sheard seems very confident: "We will push it forward this week and it will be resolved. It’s all done as far as we are concerned. It’s all down to the solicitors now."

Most bizarrely, Sheard commented: "We are not aware of any other significant interest from elsewhere". Either he's not been reading the papers, he's in denial, he's playing semantic games, he's eager to discredit Barry Moat publicly - or Moat's approach really isn't serious or concrete.

Also in Wednesday's papers, Nicky Butt has endorsed the permanent appointment of Chris Hughton. If this weren't such a high-brow site, the story would have appeared separately, under the headline "Butt plug"...

Milestones and Maradona's men

Congratulations to Shay Given, who kept a clean sheet against Montenegro on the occasion of his 100th cap for the Republic of Ireland (a milestone ex-Mackem Zinedine Kilbane also inexplicably marked).

Congratulations too to Spiderman, whose Argentina put a woeful qualifying campaign behind them to squeeze through to South Africa courtesy of a 1-0 win in Uruguay. Given that he's only just returned to full fitness, though, we really didn't want to read the following sentence: "Uruguay's Martin Caceres was sent off after a second yellow card for a clumsy foul on Newcastle's Jonas Gutierrez". Hopefully there won't have been any lasting damage, but history would advise us to be prepared for the worst...

Update: Thanks to Chris F for setting our minds at ease about potential injury to Spiderman - see the comments box.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Month Of Saturdays: September 2009

Was there ever a more richly deserved Manager Of The Month award than the one presented to Chris Hughton for August? Somehow I doubt it. Looking back to last month's review, I dwelt upon the extraordinary circumstances in which Hughton has been expected to work, but - to my shame - went on to hand the bulk of the credit for the transformation in our fortunes to the players, not even mentioning Hughton's role once. So it feels only right that that omission should be remedied now.

Thus far this season he's confounded expectations, getting on with the job uncomplainingly, coaxing committed and energetic displays out of players we'd come to suspect were incapable (or just unwilling) to give them and suggesting he's a capable man-manager as well as a hands-on training ground coach. That isn't to say he hasn't made the odd questionable decision from a tactical perspective, but I think we can forgive him that much. Strange to say it, but the fact that Alan Shearer is still effectively in limbo would have been almost forgotten had it not been for Rob Lee telling us his pal was "getting pissed off with it".

One person who wouldn't approve of Hughton's Manager Of The Month award (aside, perhaps, from Barry Moat, who might now feel that his proposed appointment of Wor Al wouldn't be quite the fan-pleaser it might have been) is Shakespeare's Polonius. 'Twas he who advised: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be; / For loan oft loses both itself and friend, / And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry." With last season's squad decimated by cherry-pickers from the Premier League and abroad, Hughton's not had much to lend out (except for the Xisco Kid to Racing Santander) - but for the same reason he's had no option but to borrow. I'm not entirely sure how bad it is to find the edge of your husbandry dulled, but I'd venture to suggest that for Hughton, in the circumstances, it was a price worth paying.

Joining August's loanee from Man Utd, Danny Simpson, at St James' in September were first Blackburn's Georgian defender Zurab Khizanishvili and then Homer Simpson-alike Marlon Harewood from Aston Villa. All three are very much fringe players at their respective Premier League clubs, but are more than just additional bodies. Simpson is no doubt desperate to impress Taggart at a time when the Man Utd right back spot looks to be up for grabs, while Harewood has goalscoring form at this level and Khizanishvili is an experienced and established international, and the trio have made promising starts to their temporary Newcastle careers. You do wonder whether the temptation to sign Khizanishvili permanently might be all the greater because of the extra cash that could be generated in the club shops by selling his name on the back of shirts...

Harewood's arrival was somewhat belated, an earlier move being one of several potential deals that collapsed on transfer deadline day to leave Hughton admitting frustration. Approaches for Fulham's Diomansy Kamara and free agent Sol Campbell both also failed (though the latter walking out on Notts County after one game, a 2-1 defeat to Morecambe, had us smirking Schadenfreude smiles).

But deadline day did at least see us welcome one new permanent signing to the club, the first of the summer - and a familiar one to boot. Peter Lovenkrands had his moments of usefulness before being released at the end of his short-term contract in the wake of our relegation, so it wasn't really a disappointment when we signed him up for another stretch - even if it did make the powers-that-be look either comically indecisive or so penny-pinchingly tight that they would do anything to save on a couple of months' wages...

As well as hellos, there were a few goodbyes in September too - to chief scout Lil Fuccillo, who left for Swansea; to the League Cup, thanks to a comprehensive defeat to Peterborough which suggested Alan Hansen's infamous "You can't win anything with kids" does hold some truth); but most significantly, of course, to Sir Bobby Robson, whose life was commemorated in a moving memorial service during which even Taggart spoke generously and whose greatest footballing achievements were celebrated before and during our match against Ipswich the following Saturday.

Much to the disgust of Tractor Boys boss Royston Keane, that game saw us run riot, romping to an easy 4-0 win courtesy largely of a Kevin Nolan hat-trick. There were two other wins posted over the course of the month: a 1-0 triumph away to an out-of-sorts Cardiff thanks to Fabricio Coloccini's first goal for the club, in which Agent Chopra took heed of Peter Beardsley's pre-match comments and remembered his allegiances; and a 3-1 victory at St James' that left Plymouth fans rueing the decision to make the long journey northwards.

But it wasn't all positive news on the pitch. The aforementioned loss to Peterborough called into question the quality of some of our youngsters, as well as their readyness for first team action. The key importance of the revitalised (or should that just be vitalised?) Alan Smith was underlined by his late red card against Cardiff and subsequent absence against Blackpool three days later, a game in which we led and could have won but ultimately lost. (The fact that Mackem ref Jonny Moss refused us not one but two penalties, one blatant, didn't exactly help - how apoplectic would Taggart have been in reaction to that, I wonder?) Neither was the home draw with QPR on the last day of the month much to write home about. Coming so soon after the demolition of Ipswich that, combined with favourable results elsewhere, had taken us back to the top of the table, it was disappointing that we could only muster a point, and that salvaged only thanks to a two yard toe-poke from substitute Homer.

And what, lastly, of Fat Mike? With us established as league leaders and generally performing well, could he possibly find the tide of public opinion turning back towards him? No, of course not. The fans still found time amidst the jubilation and enthusiastic support of the team to not-so-politely request him to do one as soon as possible, while another personal headache arrived in the form of a Serious Fraud Office investigation into Sports Direct International. What price Ashley's successor being one Mrs C Cole? You might not want "no good advice", Cheryl, but I'll give you some for free - I'd think long and hard about it if I were you...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Sale now on

With the dust settling on the Keegan tribunal, it seems it's now full steam ahead with the sale of the club. The issue has conspicuous by its absence from the back pages for most of the last couple of months, partly because there's been no progress and partly because (I suspect) events on the pitch have, for once, been a distraction from goings-on off it.

That said, though, sentiments towards Fat Mike didn't change overnight and our excellent early-season form never quelled the regular chant of "Fat Cockney bastard, get out of our club". The damning verdict the tribunal delivered of Ashley and the administration over which he presides only served as a reminder that we can't be rid of him soon enough.

So, who are now seen as serious prospective buyers?

There's Barry Moat, of course, who at long last submitted a formal bid for the club on Monday (incidentally, when they refer to a "written offer", I wonder if that means an email sent to the address that appeared on the official site?). If he were to be successful and (as is widely rumoured) install Wor Al as manager, then two-time Championship Manager Of The Month Chris Hughton would no doubt feel very aggrieved.

And there's the latest shady, unnamed and fiercely secretive consortium, this time from South Africa. Perhaps mindful of the Spitting Image song, Seymour Pearce favour Moat's bid.

And then there's us. Yes, us - the fans. Initially the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, with its Yes We Can campaign, is focused on acquiring a stake which, in the words of chairman Neil Mitchell, "will give the supporters an active representation within the football club". He's serious, too - over £20m had already been pledged ahead of the Trust's official launch at the Civic Centre tonight.

And it doesn't stop there: "Our long-term aim is to raise enough money to buy the club. It seems a long shot, but it's possible." With Newcastle, indeed it is.

Quote of the day

"I'd love to see Dennis Wise return to management and get just what he deserves."

The Mirror's Simon Bird - yes, THAT Simon Bird - sets out to deliver a perfect retort to the Poison Dwarf's recent post-tribunal pro-Ashley anti-Keegan guff.

Monday, October 05, 2009

By royal appointment

At the start of the summer, what odds would you have got on Alan Shearer being appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland but not manager of Newcastle Utd?

The Duchess of Northumberland, whom Wor Al will be assisting, commented: "I would find it difficult to think of anyone else in the region who is so symbolic of all that is great in the North East. Alan is respected and revered in the region and I am certain that he will be an excellent Deputy Lieutenant." Note the careful choice of words - not "respected and revered THROUGHOUT the region" - but then the realm of the Great Unwashed hardly matters, does it?

(On a tangential note, the chaps on Cheer Up Alan Shearer are currently counting down their Top 10 TV Football Moments - worth a peek, not least to be reminded of that spectacular own goal by Bury's Chris Brass which, to add injury to insult, also broke his nose...)

Quote of the day

"It has had a damaging effect on my career and has not been fantastic for me, but you have to make decisions and live and die by them."

The Poison Dwarf on his experience on Tyneside. Well, boo-fucking-hoo.

In the wake of the tribunal verdict over compensation for King Kev, it was inevitable there'd be weaselly words from the man Fat Mike essentially backed over the club legend. But quite why Wise still seems so fiercely loyal to Ashley, towing the party line about Keegan potentially dragging the club into administration, is mystifying - given he confirms that, as suspected, his departure when Wor Al arrived in April was hastened by Ashley's boot up his backside.

Wise claims that Ashley made a pre-court offer for more than Keegan ended up walking away with, implying that he was a fool not to accept - and thereby completely failing to understand that it wasn't about the money but about clearing his name and vindicating his departure on the grounds of breach of contract.

Of the Gonzalez loan deal, Wise said "The long-term idea was we would have a relationship where we would have first option on all the best young South American kids, and that was important to the club" - the implication being, of course, that Keegan was stubbornly standing in the way of progress. Pesky principles, eh? We wouldn't expect you to understand, though, Dennis.

It's not over until the fat lady sings Man Utd score


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Robbin' Robins

Newcastle Utd 0 - 0 Bristol City

So, a second disappointing home draw in the space of four days, and one in which we failed to preserve our record of having scored in every league game so far this season - though, in fairness to the players, it wasn't for want of trying.

Like QPR before them, our visitors Bristol City came into the game on the back of a good result, having comfortably defeated in-form Blackpool 2-0 at Ashton Gate on Tuesday night - but their away form was another matter, and they arrived at St James' without a win on the road to their name.

Chris Hughton - once again named as the division's Manager Of The Month (perhaps a tad harsh on the likes of Alan Irvine and Ian Holloway, but that's not for us to worry about) - responded to Wednesday's flat performance by making four changes, only one of which was enforced. Jose Enrique's late injury meant Danny Simpson switching flanks to left back and fit-again Ryan Taylor slotting in on the right.

There were also starts for Spiderman and Peter Lovenkrands, but most surprising was the demotion to the bench of both Nile Ranger and Bigger Lad. Fair enough Homer looked lively when he came on against Ipswich and went one better against QPR, grabbing the equaliser (albeit with a point-blank-range prod), so perhaps deserved a start - but the lanky duo terrorised the Tractor Boys' defence a week ago and so it was strange for Hughton to leave them both out in favour of a 4-5-1 formation for a game we could have done with winning.

Nevertheless, we started off very much on the front foot, and with seven minutes on the clock Homer was played in on goal by Lovenkrands but, with only 'keeper Dean Gerken to beat, the striker hit the post and Kevin Nolan was unable to dispatch the follow-up.

But that initial impetus gradually ebbed away as City familiarised themselves with their surroundings, and their defence - which included old boy Bradley Orr - managed to keep us at arm's length, to such an extent that our few shots were coming from Alan Smith. At the other end, Lee Johnson nearly capitalised on a mistake by Zurab Kizanishvili, while Nicky Maynard had a few efforts of his own but thankfully remembered that he only scores at home, so Steve Harper was relatively untroubled.

Hughton evidently demanded that the pace should be upped after the break, and the team responded with a number of chances in the second period. In one frantic attack the crossbar denied both Nolan and Steven Taylor, and the Robins were grateful to stand-in Gerken - a late, late replacement for Adriano Basso, injured during the warm-up - for a pair of superb saves from Nolan and Danny Guthrie.

As if the City goal leading a charmed life wasn't enough, the officials were also conspiring against us, referee Graham Salisbury dismissing strenuous appeals for a penalty when Homer was flattened by substitute Jamie McCombe.

We finished the game with a three-pronged strikeforce, Bigger Lad being introduced for the off-colour Spiderman on 65 minutes and Ranger brought on for Guthrie though given only five minutes to make an impact - but it was just one of those days and the breakthrough wouldn't come.

So, off the City fans toddled, no doubt seeing a point and a clean sheet gained at St James' as "gert lush", leaving us to bemoan wasted opportunities and bad luck.

As always, though, perspective is all. This result, coupled with the draw against QPR, suggests that the demolition of Ipswich owed more to their failings than our qualities, and that there's plenty of work for Hughton to do during the international break. But on another day we would have won and, in any case, West Brom and Preston restricting each other to a point at Deepdale means our lead at the top is still three points. Put it this way: we could have won both matches and yet been only two points ahead, had the Baggies beaten both Barnsley and Preston.

Looking on the bright side of life? Well, there are worse positions from which to do it than from the summit of the league...

Other reports: BBC

Friday, October 02, 2009

The final say

The arbitration tribunal sitting in judgement on the sorry saga which resulted in Newcastle Utd parting company with Kevin Keegan have now published their judgement.

Ultimately the judgement exposes the club as having made deliberately misleading (that is to say false) statements in the press. Keegan believed he was to have the final say on all transfers - something the club echoed in public. In private however, the club were happy to foist at least one player (Ignacio Gonzalez) on the manager whom he expressly did not want.

Apparently, and this is in many ways the most damaging element of the whole affair, the club board, including the poisoned dwarf and his fellow executive directors, agreed to sign Gonzalez as a "favour" for a couple of South American agents, in the belief that these agents would then look kindly on us in the future.

Despite Keegan repeatedly telling the board that he did not want Gonzalez, the club overruled Keegan and signed him anyway - which prompted Keegan to see their actions as amounting to him being constructively dismissed.

The whole judgement can be found here. The only person emerging with any dignity is, unsurprisingly, Keegan.

All that can be hoped is that the conclusion of this process means that the sale of the club can now proceed quickly and the fat Cockney bastard gets out of our club.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Sub saves blushes

Newcastle Utd 1 - 1 Queen's Park Rangers

On-loan striker Marlon Harewood appeared from the bench to save our blushes (Newcastle's and Ben's) and ensure that we didn't completely waste the opportunity presented by Tuesday night's results.

With the Championship's richest club (beset by their own ownership problems) as our visitors, we had an opportunity to open up some breathing space at the top of the table. Unfortunately, for the fourth time this season, we failed to match our weekend performances for an evening midweek match.

Instead it was the visitors (watched from their bench by old boy Peter Ramage) who started the better, and with Enrique unprotected by Nicky Butt on the left of our diamond midfield, the visitors attacked and from the Spaniard's poor pass, Ben Watson was able to thump home from thirty yards (albeit via an unfortunate deflection from Steven Taylor).

Having gone a goal down at least sparked us into action, and when Damion Stewart handballed, Danny Guthrie had an excellent opportunity to level things from the spot. Unfortunately his penalty was poor and easily saved.

Chris Hughton abandoned the diamond midfield at half-time, replacing Butt with the fit-again Spiderman in the hope of giving us more width. However, it was the introduction of Marlon Harewood for the tiring Nile Ranger which was the crucial substitution, as our latest loan signing was able to fire home Bigger Lad's knock-down from a Danny Simpson cross.

With the game finishing in a draw, it extended our lead at the top of the division to three points, and whilst for some that might be a case of two points lost (and a worrying return to last season's inability to capitalise when other results went our way), a point against a well drilled slick QPR team serves as a timely reminder that we need to continue to work hard to keep ourselves at the summit.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian