Monday, November 30, 2009

Jacks hammered

Newcastle Utd 3 - 0 Swansea

As a child, you're taught that swans are dangerous beasts - stray too close and you may end up with a broken arm. Similarly, ahead of Saturday's match we'd been slightly fearful of the Swans, who were arriving at St James' in top form and with the second meanest defence in the division. But, after this ringing of their necks courtesy of a hat-trick of headers, we could find ourselves in trouble with the Queen for mistreatment of property of the crown...

Chris Hughton - who has modestly claimed to have played only a "small part" of our fine Championship campaign so far - made only one change from the side that beat Preston. Bigger Lad was ruled out through illness, which I expected would mean either Nile Ranger coming in as a direct replacement, or Ryan Taylor slotting in on the right, with Danny Guthrie in his preferred central role and Kevin Nolan in the support striker position. But no, Hughton sprang a surprise, leaving the midfield quartet unchanged and Ranger parked on the bench, instead calling Peter Lovenkrands up for a rare start in an advanced central role - a decision which the Dane went on to vindicate.

Given Swansea's prior rearguard fortitude it was pleasing that it took us just eight minutes to score, and surprising that it came with the assistance of some hapless defending, Homer profiting to nod past Dorus De Vries from close range. The second followed less than a quarter of an hour later. Spiderman produced his one telling contribution of another frustrating afternoon, a dashing run and cross (inch-perfect, for once) which allowed Lovenkrands to head home.

With the visitors looking rather shellshocked, we extended our lead further before the half hour mark. This time Lovenkrands turned provider with a neat turn of pace and clever cross of his own, which his strike partner duly converted. In my report on the Preston game, I queried how much longer Homer could continue to live off his reputation - perhaps I should query that more often...

The game effectively won, we slid from fourth gear down into second and allowed the Swans back into the game. Paulo Sousa's side don't need much of an invitation to play good football and Steve Harper was forced into one tremendous save to deny Cedric Van der Gun and then another from Andrea Orlandi just as half-time approached.

A back problem meant our first-choice custodian didn't reappear after the break, Tim Krul on in his place and called into action within ten minutes of the restart to prevent Nathan Dyer from scoring. The second period, though, was largely uneventful, Swansea continuing to play neat but ineffective football while we gave them encouragement by faffing around trying tricks and Cruyff turns in defence. Danny Simpson did have to clear one attempt off the line, though, Jose Enrique having done likewise in the first half.

Fabrice Pancrate made his debut, given a quarter of an hour of action after replacing Guthrie, while fellow substitute Ranger - on for the clearly disgruntled Homer, desperate for his hat-trick - contrived to head over the bar from six yards following more superb approach play from Lovenkrands. Alan Smith also fluffed a great opportunity to get his first Newcastle goal at the death - this and the efforts he had at Deepdale suggests a new-found desire to get forwards, so the day may yet come.

In his post-match interview Sousa opted for the Fergie Jr defence of his team's defeat - "it's very difficult for anyone to catch them. West Brom have a great squad... but I think Newcastle have more claims on the Championship" - but in his case the sack is unlikely to follow. The Baggies, for their part, trounced Sheffield Wednesday 4-0 at Hillsborough to maintain the pressure on us (and improve their goal difference), and Forest also recorded a hefty win, 4-1 at home to Doncaster. But we enjoyed good fortune in Scunthorpe sneaking an injury-time point against third-placed Leicester and then Ipswich unexpectedly beating Cardiff, so the gap between us and third now stands at a very satisfying eight points, with another home game to come on Saturday against a Watford side fresh from a 3-0 humbling at Palace.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Another Pilgrimage

Not satisfied with sending us to Plymouth in the league this season, the fixture gods have also decreed that we must to travel the length of the country and face the Pilgrims on their home turf in the FA Cup too. And with the third round match due to be played on the weekend of 2nd/3rd January, it's not as though fans will be flush with cash for the trip.

Fingers crossed all that isn't compounded by the game being abandoned with us enjoying a healthy lead...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Quote of the day

"Surely these were things a secretary could do? It was a Jeeves role."

Judge Richard Seymour QC on the services provided to Obafemi Martins by NVA Management Ltd, who are suing our former striker for unpaid fees. It seems that not only was he incapable of managing his own affairs, he found it difficult to survive on £75,000 a week. And to think - they say footballers have lost touch with reality...

Taking the Michael

Could the headline really be correct: "Mike Ashley joins Supporters Trust"? Yes, it could...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Business as usual

Preston 0 - 1 Newcastle Utd

For tonight's match, see the wins at Cardiff and Sheffield Utd before it: another middling performance, another nicked goal, another clean sheet, another very welcome three points against close promotion rivals.

In a game that did its best to dull the sparkle and razzmatazz with which it had been garnished by Sky, Kevin Nolan's smartly taken eighth of the season with 15 minutes remaining proved to be enough to secure the win and a return to the top of the Championship table.

An injury to Ryan Taylor sustained in the warm-up meant that Chris Hughton had to revert to the 4-4-2 formation of recent home games rather than the established 4-5-1 of away trips, Homer lucky to win a reprieve and retain his place in the side. New signing Fabrice Pancrate only made the bench, with Danny Guthrie starting out on the right (at least nominally).

Barely a minute had elapsed when Steven Taylor snuck in at the back post but was just unable to apply the finish to a deft cross from deep. It caught us fans as unawares as the Preston rearguard, and in the event proved to be arguably our best opportunity of the first half. Spiderman should have done better on a couple of occasions, while Alan Smith twice came close to breaking his duck on rare forays forwards.

Having failed to capitalise on early dominance, we began ceding possession and control too cheaply and as the half progressed traffic was heavier towards our goal, with Neil Mellor, Richard Chaplow, Paul Parry and Stoke loanee Michael Tonge all trying their luck and Mellor forcing a good save from Steve Harper at his near post.

Otherwise our efforts seemed focused on maiming the opposition - elbows were raised in the aerial challenge more than once, though (I think) never with malicious intent. Smith was booked for an unceremonious clattering of one opponent, while Bigger Lad caught ex Mackem defender Neill Collins with a clout around the head which was lucky to go unpunished and which prompted what is euphemistically referred to as a frank exchange of views between Collins and Colin Calderwood in the tunnel at the interval.

Unfortunately for the cameras, the pace, quality and tempo didn't increase significantly after the break. Bigger Lad - playing against a club he was loaned to two seasons ago - whipped a shot narrowly wide for us, while chubby Gerrard lookalike Mellor took advantage of uncertainty in our defence following the replacement of Danny Simpson by Tamas Kadar but somehow fired wide when scoring seemed simpler.

When Nile Ranger entered the fray around the hour mark, the fact that it was Bigger Lad and not Homer who gave way was mystifying - until Hughton clarified in his post-match comments that the former had spent all day battling against illness. Ranger gave us renewed purpose up front, hammering one shot not too far wide - though he also ruined a good chance when Spiderman had galloped the length of the field and passed inside just as it looked as though a reprise of his spectacular goal against Peterborough was a possibility. Surely Hughton has to acknowledge that Homer can't live off his reputation for any longer and plump for the hungrier, more powerful Ranger instead?

The biggest cheer of the second period had been for a black-and-white inflatable magically making its way from the away end into the Preston goalmouth (and the biggest boo for its removal) - until, that is, the game's one moment of class saw Nolan pivot and drill a crisp left-footer beyond Andy Lonergan. The cross, it should be added, was Guthrie's only decent contribution - that aside, he had spent all game drifting inside to damage our shape, dribbling into trouble and passing to white shirts.

The man in the opposition dugout, our former coach and Academy Manager Alan Irvine, threw on square-jawed hulk Jon Parkin to form a three-man strikeforce, but it was to no avail and we saw out the remaining ten minutes comfortably. Preston may be in something of a goal-shy slump, but they had only lost twice at Deepdale in the previous year so emerging victorious was still no mean feat.

So the Baggies were duly ousted from top spot before they could get their feet under the table, and we maintained a six-point gap between ourselves and Leicester in third. Saturday's match is shaping up to be a real test, though - after a slow start to the season, Paulo Sousa's Swansea have moved quietly up to fourth, and have lost just three games and conceded just 12 goals (theirs is the next meanest defence after ours). We'll need to play better to be sure of the points - even if it is reassuring that we're becoming adept at doing just enough and winning ugly in this division.

Other reports: BBC

Monday, November 23, 2009

Paris match

It's a hearty "Bienvenue a Tyneside, bonny lad" to Fabrice Pancrate, whom we've signed up on a season-long deal. While on trial, the former Paris St Germain player featured in a 3-2 win over Hartlepool for the Reserves, after which Chris Hughton commented: "His biggest asset is his experience – he’s played in a couple of positions, is good on the ball, works hard and I enjoyed watching him tonight".

As that suggests, Pancrate - at 29 - isn't exactly a spring chicken, and the manager was also defensive when it came to the nature of the deal: "It’s not a question of us having to go down this avenue because of a lack of funds. When chances come your way with a player who has played at a good level for a number of years you will have a look at him". But the fact remains that we have to cut our cloth accordingly, and if it was felt that Pancrate would be a useful addition to the squad, then that's fair enough.

The right side midfield role - Pancrate's preferred position - is currently very much up for grabs. Spiderman could play there but seems to have secured himself the left-hand side since Damien Duff's departure, while Ryan Taylor has impressed there only sporadically, and Geremi and Pancrate's fellow freebie Peter Lovenkrands have also filled the position on occasion this season. Certainly Danny Guthrie did himself no favours whatsoever in staking a permanent claim to it this evening...

Quote of the day

"I have reached a stage in my career where I would love to play international football, and realistically it’s not going to happen with England."

As the employee of a club that outsiders rarely associate with realism, Big Lad seems to have a pretty firm grasp of it in expressing his desire to represent Nigeria.

The Ronny Gill's take on the story was, of course, to stir up trouble by suggesting Ameobi and Chris Hughton are to have "showdown talks" as a result of the comments. Our take on it? Well, Hughton's disappointment would be understandable but the club can hardly stand in Big Lad's way - and, in any case, it's not as though we haven't had to cope without him for a long stretch already this season.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Andy can't cap a cap with a goal

Last night was not a good one for Bigger Lad, in action once again for England U21s. Following Saturday's assist against Portugal, he will have been hoping to go one better - but managed only a hat-trick of misses (header wide, post struck, crossbar shaken) as his side drew a disappointing blank against their Lithuanian opponents when a win could have taken them above Greece to the top of the group.

Let's hope for better from him when we take on Preston on Monday. At least it's some consolation that he's getting into positions where opportunities are presenting themselves - and that, unlike Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs, he didn't get crocked.

What's in a name?

Over on The Two Unfortunates (to my knowledge, still the only blog devoted to coverage of the Championship), in what was initially intended to be a more general piece (hence the fact it didn't appear here first), are some musings on Jabba's decision to change the name of our stadium. That I managed to resist the temptation to use industrial language is, I think, very much to my credit...

Incidentally, via The Two Unfortunates comes a new link to our sidebar, Mirko Bolesan 1995, a site named after an Italian who mustered one solitary appearance for Cardiff and which carries the subtitle "Football's oddities". Want to know who our bogey side are (no surprises for guessing...)? The site - a statto's heaven - has the figures to prove it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quote of the day

"Unfortunately we live in a world where football is big business, and the gap between the Championship and the Premier League is getting bigger all the time. So you have to do things to close that gap."

Barry Moat tells Sky Sports that sullying the name of our ground with corporate sponsorship and thereby urinating on over a hundred years of tradition is a sensible and necessary strategy. So there's one thing you and Jabba agree on, at least, eh Barry? A good thing your bid didn't come to fruition or succeed - the expression "jumping from the frying pan into the fire" springs to mind.

Aiding and abetting

Noteworthy contributions from two members of the current Newcastle squad in the weekend's internationals: Bigger Lad - operating as a lone striker as he has for us for much of the season - provided the knock-down for Danny Rose to score the only goal of England U21's home win over their Portuguese counterparts, while Cameroon qualified for next summer's World Cup thanks in part to Geremi, whose corner was nodded home by Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto'o for a 2-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Obafemi Martins - who's been in good goalscoring form on the occasions he's actually been selected to play for new club Wolfsburg - scored twice to seal Nigeria's dramatic passage into the World Cup draw. No such joy for Messrs Given and Duff, whose Republic of Ireland side went down 1-0 at home to the French in the first leg of their play-off. It may not be all over for the Irish just yet, but it certainly doesn't look too promising.

And did anyone else watch James Milner putting in a good performance in England's friendly against Brazil with a mixture of pleasure and regret?

Friday, November 13, 2009

A rite of passage

In a post which first appeared on his marvellous personal site Crinklybee, occasional guest contributor Jonathan muses on the demise of terracing, recalling the day when he quite literally nearly died for the cause.

* * * * *

It may or may not have something to do with Newcastle United's megalomaniac owner taking it upon himself to tear up 130 years of history and rename our ground after his own chain of fucking sportswear stores, but I've been thinking about the days of the terraces a lot over the last week or so.

If you are much less than twenty-five years old, your knowledge of football terraces will be limited to vintage goal clips on YouTube. Watching them now the swaying masses of humanity - reeling about at each end of the pitch, and uncontrollably crashing forward in waves towards the eight-foot-high fencing whenever a goal was threatened - really do look quite frightening. Did my mother really quite blithely pack me off on Saturday afternoons to be put to the mercy of the inhabitants of what constituted, to all intents and purposes, giant, crumbling, sloping, criminally overcrowded cages? (Actually, as I found out a few years later, my mother was putting a brave face on things. Years before Hillsborough made the dangers horribly apparent to everyone, she used to worry about what could happen in there, and on a February Saturday afternoon in 1987, when I was one of those penned in against the perimiter fence at Tottenham's White Hart Lane, with the combined weight of 20000 away supporters amassed behind us in an enclosed space designed to hold half that number, her worst fears came just a Newcastle goalmouth chance away from being realised).

Thankfully for us Newcastle never scored that afternoon, and I kept on spending my Saturday afternoons on the terraces, even as the clubs' gradual response to the post-Hillsborough safety legislation rendered their days numbered. One of the last clubs to replace its standing areas was Manchester City, where, on what may have been my last two hours on a truly iconic terrace, my iconic John Lennon-style glasses were sent flying into the crowd during the euphoria attending a David Rocastle goal versus Arsenal. In response to my panicked wails - "Me glasses! I've lost me fucking glasses in there!" - the massive crowd parted good humouredly, for just a moment, exposing a two-foot square of concrete. I had just enough time to dive in there and retrieve my mangled eyewear before the assembled humanity knitted helplessly back together under the pressure of its own weight. I stumbled away and took in the rest of the game from the comparative safety of the back corner of the giant stand.

That was all a long time ago. Nowadays the big stadiums are identikit all-plastic-seater affairs, and the nearest we can get to the terrace experience is by going down to our local sports bar on a Sunday afternoon, leaning on the bar, and craning our necks to get a glimpse of the action on a giant plasma screen screwed high into the wall. Occasionally this is a life-affirming experience - such as on Saturday teatime, when I popped out to take in the second half of Wolverhampton Wanderers versus Arsenal, and fell into conversation with an urbane native of the Black Country. We covered subjects such as the ongoing travails of Newcastle United, and the classic mid-80s Wolves forward pairing of Steve Bull and Andy Mutch, before parting at full-time with hearty, half-drunken handshakes.

Other times - more times than I care to admit, really - the plasma screen experience can be just depressing. Such as on Sunday afternoon, when I stopped off in the same bar to take in the second half of Chelsea versus Manchester United. Maybe it was the addition of local partisanship to the occasion, but the atmosphere was, quite simply, vile. At one point the Chelsea centre-forward was accidentally caught in the ribs by a flying kick, and fell to earth, crumpled, immobile and, quite possibly seriously injured. Amid great hilarity, the bloke behind me yelled out:

"Get up, you lazy fucking bluenose arselicker!"

That wasn't the depressing bit though. The depressing bit was the same words, repeated just a moment later.

"Get up, you lazy fucking bluenose arselicker!"

The venom was just as apparent - but this time the shout had come from somewhere at knee level and a couple of octaves higher in pitch. I looked down to see a child, dressed in United replica kit. Maybe about six years old. Presumably the bloke's son. Brought along for the afternoon, maybe, to take in the big match atmosphere for the first time. Get a taste of the banter. A rite of passage, if you will.

All of which - I hope - goes some way towards explaining why, for all the attendant drawbacks (casual racism, loss of vintage eyewear, inhalation of pipe fumes, unspeakable pies, death) associated with the terraces, I still, you know, miss them a bit. And I'll be damned if I'll let that bastard Ashley play about with the heritage of a club I damn nearly died watching, one Saturday afternoon in the eighties when he was presumably earning his first fortune as a till assistant in the Aylesbury branch of Foot Locker. Damned if I will.

Jabba out, fans in

Let us announce (belatedly) our support for the NUST's Yes We Can campaign, officially launched on Tuesday, by giving them a platform and posting their rallying cry:

"Today the Newcastle United Supporters Trust formally launches an ambitious bid to take back our football club. We need supporters like yourself to back a supporter takeover - for more information visit

There are a number of ways to invest in the club and after discussions with serious Newcastle-based investors we believe that the time is right for the fans to lead the charge and reclaim their football club. The investment is backed by a local consortium of companies advising the Trust, and we've made sure that any investment is safe and guaranteed to be returned to you if the bid fails.

The Yes We Can campaign will run for 6 weeks, and we have a financial target which we are not announcing yet, as we want to negotiate from a position of strength with Mike Ashley.

The fans can lead the way where others have failed - by standing together and investing together - we can make our club the shining beacon of honesty and integrity and bring the city together to save our club from the current regime, its mistakes and its calculated snubs.

When Derek Llambias said the fans could not buy the club - we said YES WE CAN - and now we aim to prove it with your support.

Newcastle United Supporters Trust on Behalf of the City of Newcastle, Geordies and Newcastle Supporters everywhere.

Will the campaign take off and ultimately succeed in giving us fans at least a stake in the club or even ousting Jabba? We'll have to wait and see, but it does at least seem promising.

As an aside, it's interesting to note in the BBC piece on the campaign launch that they carefully avoid referring to the stadium's new name, just as Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes did on The Football League Show at the weekend. If the rebranding was an attempt to get everyone mentioning the name of your business and thereby raise its profile, Jabba, then it doesn't really seem to be working...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Worth waiting for

Newcastle Utd 3 - 1 Peterborough

Mutiny may have been in the air before and after Saturday's match at St James' Park, but on the pitch all the fight was from our team who ripped the heart out of a visiting Peterborough side, and in doing so drove Fergie Junior to the departure lounge.

Having waited fifteen months for his first goal for the club Spiderman produced a stunning solo goal to open the scoring. Taking the ball with his back to goal in our half, he turned his man before racing down the left flank with the ball seemingly glued to his feet, before cutting inside as he got the box and lifting his shot into the Gallowgate net with his right foot. Disappointingly we didn't then see the web-shooting masked crusader celebration we've been waiting, with our Argentine winger preferring a low-key celebration, apparently in protest at recent speculation linking him with a move to Roma.

A second goal quickly followed, with Bigger Lad powering a header home from a corner to leave Posh with a mountain to climb. The visitors may have knocked our callow side out of the League Cup, but against the bigger boys they were simply outclassed, even after our flying winger hobbled off with a slight injury to be replaced by Ryan Taylor after only 22 minutes.

Danny Simpson became the second player to break his duck for the club with a left-footed lob early in the second half. From then on, it was simply a case of keeping Peterborough at bay, after they finally roused themselves from their torpor. Having been left pretty much alone for much of the match, Steve Harper was called into action, and having denied a couple of decent chances, he was eventually beaten after we failed to clear a ball which pinballed around our area and eventually fell to Dean Keates to score a consolation for the visitors.

However, there was never any real danger that we'd allow Fergie's team a way back into the match, and with many of the chasing pack dropping points we're now six points ahead of the teams in the play-off places. The one note of caution to add is the sight of the Smoggies now firmly in mid-table after a couple of defeats under new boss Gordon Strachan. To be blunt, we simply can't afford to take our foot off the pedal.

Other reports: BBC

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Month Of Saturdays: October 2009

Talk about getting off on the wrong foot.

October began with the tribunal presiding over the club v Keegan dispute delivering its damning indictment of the current hierarchy: Keegan HAD been constructively dismissed (as he'd claimed); the club had issued deliberately misleading statements in the press in what it bizarrely described as "an exercise in public relations"; the loan signing of mystery man Ignacio Gonzalez - which was against Keegan's express wishes and therefore in breach of his contract, and which prompted his departure - was a dubious and expensive "favour" for a couple of South American agents in the hope of getting their richest pickings in future. In its subsequent supplementary award of costs to Keegan, the tribunal declared that the club's "defence on the primary liability issue was, in our view, wholly without merit and it chose to make entirely unfounded allegations against Mr Keegan". As is so often the case with us, the dirty washing was there, hanging on the line for everyone to see.

While Fat Mike and Llambiarse kept stumm in the days following the verdict (no "exercise in public relations" in sight, strangely), they had a gobby apologist in the unlikely form of the Poison Dwarf. Like a dog that's taken a boot in the ribs but that remains stupidly loyal, Dennis Wise - sacked by Ashley at the same time as Alan Shearer's temporary appointment in April - seemed intent on towing the discredited party line, thereby flying in the face of the facts and the legal judgement. If the Gonzalez deal really was an act of behind-the-scenes back-scratching that would reap handsome rewards in the long term, for instance, then where was this flood of supposed superstars for whom we'd paid our blood money?

It was only natural that Wise would express bemusement at Keegan stubbornly opposing the Gonzalez deal and turning down an alleged out-of-court settlement, after all, being an unscrupulous, unprincipled little shit. But hey, Dennis, at least your pathetic boo-hooing to the press about how the episode had damaged your career didn't go completely unheeded, with one journalist at least wishing you a swift (if unhappy) return to management...

When Fat Mike did belatedly break his silence, there seemed to be a measure of chastened contrition: "I never said I was an expert in football clubs. I tried my best. But I accept my best was woefully short". But this vague and grovelling attempt to win the fans' sympathy was shown up as nothing more than thinly disguised self-pity in light of his subsequent comments arrogantly belittling our support and loyalty: "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".

Wrapping up his post reporting on the tribunal's findings, Paul noted: "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". For a while, it looked as though our hopes would be realised. The papers brought fresh reports of Barry Moat and a South African consortium jockeying for position while the Newcastle United Supporters Trust launched their Yes We Can campaign aimed at acquiring a stake in the club. And then in steamrollered the US-based Star Foundation, whose British spokesman Geoff Sheard had a distinctly American bullishness about him in claiming: "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."

That, like all of the other buyout talk, turned out to be nothing but hot air. On the 28th came the bombshell. On the one hand, Chris Hughton was rewarded for his steady guiding hand and his two consecutive Manager of the Month awards with a permanent appointment (in the same month, it should be added, that Shearer also received a prestigious appointment - to the position of Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland). But on the other, Fat Mike had taken the club off the market and declared he was staying put. And, worse still, we were seriously considering renaming St James' Park for commercial gain.

The news was disturbing enough without realising we were in agreement with Fat Fred on the issue - and just one look at Ashley's predecessor is enough to underline that there isn't much he finds unpalatable. The full horror of the decision wasn't actually revealed until the calendar had flipped over into November, but Paul was still so moved by anger he indulged in a spot of undemocratic renaming himself, christening Fat Mike with the less flattering nickname Jabba.

Unsurprisingly, any other off-field matter over which Jabba didn't cast his blubbery shadow seemed like little more than a footnote. For instance, the loss of Richard Money to Luton (I still think we should have gone with "Money walks" as the title of the post...) was largely buried amidst the wrangling, but could prove to have significant consequences for the Academy, just as the defection of chief scout Lil Fuccillo to Swansea in September might have long-term ramifications. There was also ASBO's interview with Sky Sports, in which he somehow managed to utter even more infuriating drivel than the Poison Dwarf talking about the tribunal - whether talking about his "respect" for Shearer, the fact that he might have reacted differently to his training ground disagreement with Hughton had he been "a bit more hot-headed and not as mature as I am now", or his decision to 'fess up belatedly about his injury for the good of the team (what do you want, Joey - an effing biscuit?!).

And in amongst it all, lest we forget, there were some football games. Not that they provided much respite or succour, our early season wings suddenly clipped by a succession of dogged opponents. If our 1-1 draw at home to QPR on the final day of September looked much better in the context of the rich vein of form the Londoners subsequently hit, the goalless stalemate with Bristol City three days later wasn't very clever in any light. OK so the Robins were occupying a respectable league position, but that was solely down to their home form - they hadn't won away. They posed an attacking threat in the first period, but for the most part all of the frustrations were ours - Homer struck the post early on, Steven Taylor and Kevin Nolan both rattled the bar, we should have had a penalty and did most of the pressing but couldn't make the vital breakthrough.

The international break provided an opportunity to regroup and refocus - but what followed were back-to-back defeats on the road. Our visit to the City Ground unfortunately coincided with the hosts hitting form, and amidst a spicy atmosphere we looked off the pace and fell behind to a solitary Dexter Blackstock goal seconds before the break. Again there was a second half onslaught, and again we were denied a spot-kick. Throw in a Nolan prod disallowed for a debatable offside and a chronic hesitancy to shoot when presented with the chance to do so and it was another disappointing game from which we knew we should have taken something. There was a further psychological blow, too - our three-point lead at the top of the table had been eroded. So what we really didn't need in our next fixture was to gift Scunthorpe's Martyn Woolford two easy goals either side of a Nolan equaliser.

When, after four games without a win, we did at last get back on track, at home to Doncaster Rovers, the victory was hardly straightforward. Not only were we trailing at half-time, we also conceded a penalty and finished up with ten men, Zurab Khizanishvili dismissed for not unreasonably taking exception to a sly punch on his teammate Tamas Kadar. But at last our luck was in - Martin Woods carried the curse of being an ex-Mackem and squandered the penalty before Nolan popped up with an injury-time winner to send us back into pole position.

Something to smile about, then - but Jabba's bombshell was only a few days away.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The entertainers executioners

It seems Saturday's defeat at our hands was rather more damaging for Peterborough than simply sending them to the foot of the table - reports are surfacing that Darren Ferguson has been sacked.

It's bizarre, to say the least - Posh may be struggling to acclimatise to the Championship, but Fergie Jr had led them to successive promotions and only in the summer was acclaimed as "the best young manager in the country" by his chairman Darragh MacAnthony. As for the timing, it's not honking our own horn to say that we'll comprehensively outplay a lot of our rivals on our own patch this season, so for the Posh hierarchy to fully expect their team to take something from the match is rather unrealistic. I thought much the same earlier in the season when we beat Plymouth by the same 3-1 scoreline and there were rumours about Paul Sturrock getting the boot. Surely it's losses to the teams in and around them that are the most important?

Still, the fact that a promising young manager has lost his job has nothing to do with us. To be hard-nosed about it, let's hope we keep repeating the trick and more managers wind up on the dole queue shortly after we've put their sides to the sword.

Speak no evil

I'm sure I'm not alone in finding most things about The Football League Show pretty excruciating to have to endure - from presenter Manish Bhasin and that weird aircraft hanger of a studio to the jolly bonhomie with which Mark Clemmit assaults his interviewees and of course the attempt to give us fans our say (which actually gives idiots their say) by text. Perhaps its most redeeming feature is the fact that it's available after the event on iPlayer, something we should be thankful for - the rights could still be with ITV, after all...

But fair play to call girl Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes, who in last night's installment pointedly and deliberately refused to refer to St James' Park by its new name to avoid giving Jabba the oxygen of any more advertising.

Still, it's distressing how many people in the media are using that ludicrous new name. Is this because they're sadistically enjoying the discomfort of us fans, something which should gradually wear off, or (more ominously) because the name change really has been taken seriously?

(Paul's report on yesterday's match to follow shortly.)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Grin and bear it

Has your club just saddled its famous old ground with a ridiculous moniker that sounds more like an email address (even if it might prove to have been a trend-setting move among the big boys)?

Has the decision earned your club no extra revenue whatsoever? (And this when it's announced that the club's revenue has halved as a direct consequence of relegation?)

Has the idiot who dreamt up the idea - the latest in a long line of catastrophic decisions - just announced he's taken the club off the market and will be staying put for some time to come?

Does your club have to suffer the potential ignominy of being cherry-picked by the likes of Bolton?

Hey, but at least there's a game of football tomorrow (albeit sandwiched by protests). We kick off top of the league and at home to Darren Ferguson's already relegation threatened Posh. It could be worse, you know. Of course you do.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Shit name, no fans

Apparently, despite a petition and an Early Day Motion to the contrary, and a protest planned before Saturday's home match to Peterborough, St James' Park has been renamed with immediate effect.

We now officially play our home games at the @ St James' Park Stadium.

Seriously, does anyone expect people to refer to our home ground as anything other than St James' Park?

Jabba, get out of our club, and take your crappy sportswear website with you.

Make your voice heard

As highlighted in the comments box a few days ago, a protest is being organised against Jabba and his plans to further ruin the club by changing the name of St. James’ Park before this Saturday's home game against Peterborough.

Put simply, it is time to make our voices heard and to stand up against this man who is doing his best to destroy our club.

Before the match protests will take place under the Milburn stand. This is to be followed by 90 minutes of backing the team.

Once the match is over the intention is to resume the protest (regardless of the result) by staying behind in the ground and continuing to make our voices heard.

Spread the word, invite your friends and be sure to get involved.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

New name: not in my name

Order, order! The possibility of St James' Park being renamed is bang out of order! That's according to David Clelland, at least. The MP for Tyne Bridge, a long-standing and committed fan, feels so strongly about the spectre of rebranding that he's tabled a motion in the House of Commons to register opposition.

I wonder whose support he can count on. A shame old Tony Blair isn't still in power - he'd probably aye away, appalled at the thought of the stadium where he used to sit in the Gallowgate being renamed...*

The BBC's report of the story seems like an exercise in euphemistic understatement. The report's author refers to Jabba's reign as "a turbulent period" in our history before quoting Clelland as saying: "Mr Ashley has not been particularly good for the club". What next? Last season could have been more of a success? We didn't see the best of Xisco? ASBO's a cheeky little blighter?

Anyway, you can record your own disgruntlement by signing the petition on the Newcastle United Supporters Trust site. Llambiarse's pathetic attempts to mollify us today - "Our intention is to have whoever the sponsor is - say @ St James' Park. We are never going to lose St James' Park, it is always going to be @St James' Park" - have been rejected by the Trust, and rightly so. The battle will go on.

* It's an urban myth, if you didn't already know, but one I'm quite happy to perpetuate.

Quote of the day

"We went to Leyton Orient and it was a disaster. But I think what came out of it was that everything came to a head.

It was clear that five or six of the players wanted to leave which was fair enough. We had a meeting when we came back from the game - just us players. We said ‘whoever wants to leave they can leave and we'll help them to go. Whoever want to stay then commit yourself to stay’. That was a massive turning point. In a way, getting that bad result was the best thing that could have happened. It was screaming out what needed to happen.

The lads who wanted to leave, left and the rest of us stayed. It wasn't just me who called the meeting, it was decided amongst us because it was that obvious to see what needed to be done. it was just a case of ‘lets do it’, a team thing. It was one of the strangest things ever. We were managing ourselves. Fair play to them, a few lads stood up and said 'I want to go' for whatever reason, to play Premier League football and the like. You can't hold people back.

Chris knew that we were having that meeting and he stood back and let us sort things out.

Alan Smith, talking to the Times ahead of last night's game, lifts the lid on what precipitated the flood of sales in pre-season. Personally, I find it pleasantly surprising but mainly encouraging that the players actually felt the need to do something and cared enough to take responsibility. Calling the meeting suggests a degree of collective maturity from a bunch who were by and large lazy underperforming shirkers last season - and it also explains why, as has been shown more often than not this season, commitment to the cause has been more evident from those turning out in our colours.

Smith also commented: "The camaraderie is great. Last year there was a big divide between players, fans and football club. This season you can see a togetherness". I think he's got a point, but only up to a point. The divide between fans and players has narrowed somewhat - but there's even more of a yawning chasm opened up between the fans and the club thanks to our fat friend Jabba...

Blades blunted

Sheffield Utd 0 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Back at the start of the season, we thought Sheffield Utd would be challenging at the top of the league. Recent form would, however, suggest that we were wrong, and the disgruntlement of fans towards manager Kevin Blackwell was plain to see last night as we somewhat fortuitously left the Steel City with all three points.

The victory owed a fair amount to luck, with Kevin Nolan's robust tackle on Kyle Walker allowed to go unpunished by referee Keith Friend, only for Ryan Taylor's ensuing shot to take a big deflection off home defender Chris Morgan into the net, with 'keeper Ian Bennett stranded.

However, regardless of our good fortune in front of goal, the margin of victory owed more to the excellent performance of Steve Harper in our goal, who produced a number of fine saves, particularly during the five minutes which were added on at the end of the match, to ensure our miserly defensive record continued.

The relative novelty of being the most defensive sound team in the league is something which we should take a great deal of satisfaction in, and the sterling efforts of Harper in particular are deserving of much praise. In front of him, Jose Enrique in particular looks to be enjoying a fine season, and we can only hope that his marauding runs and defensive solidity continue throughout the campaign. With Coloccini returning to the side last night (and lucky to get away with twice leaving his studmarks on Blades forward Darius Henderson), and Steven Taylor on the road to recovery, Chris Hughton may once again be able to field his first choice back four.

In front of him, last night's game was one for the workers, with Smith and Butt together in the centre of the park and Kevin Nolan initially employed to support lone striker Bigger Lad, who struck the post with a superb header early in the second period. As the game wore on, Hughton opted to introduce Homer and Nile Ranger to form an attacking triumvirate. By that stage, however, Taylor's deflected shot had given us a lead, and it was as much about having some additional height in defensive situations as it was about hoping to add a second that saw their appearance from the bench.

If we can continue to grind out results even when not quite playing at our best, as we did last night, then we might be able to open up a bit more of a lead at the top of the table in recent weeks. However, to do that we need to continue to apply ourselves properly as, without that work ethic, the whole enterprise still threatens to come crashing down.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian