Saturday, February 28, 2009

Delusions of grandeur

It was inevitable that the bit of Derek Llambiarse's most recent interview that would make the headlines would be his use of the word "naive" in relation to the current regime in their treatment of Kevin Keegan.

But let's overlook that hint of self-reflective criticism and forget for an instant that that naivety is absolutely inexcusable - if Mike Ashley didn't already know exactly what it meant to the fans to bring King Kev back, then he certainly should have done given our reaction to the news - and focus instead on an equally preposterous statement in the same interview: "We have got a great squad, I mean when you look at the squad if they are all fit and up to it we are right up there."

When was the last time the whole squad was all (a) fit and (b) "up to it"? Even those of us with long memories would struggle to think back that far. And what exactly does "right up there" mean? Because if it means "chasing the European places", then all the recent noises about knowing how much work there is to be done and how difficult it's going to be to turn things around have clearly just been hot air - he and his puppet-master are still living in cloud cuckoo land. The fact that they seem to think a summer investment of between £10m and £15m will be enough to take us forward is just further evidence - it'll take more than that just to keep us up. If we survive the drop this time around, that is...

Friday, February 27, 2009

It's not good to talk

According to Derek Llambiarse, JFK has become something of a phone pest during his supposed convalescence: "As far as we're concerned, Joe is recovering from heart surgery and we are trying to force him to take things easy, get well and come back when he is strong enough. It's an uphill struggle at times. He's been on the phone constantly since he was released from hospital to Chris Hughton and myself. We're having to hold him back if anything and tell him he's got to concentrate on his recovery, but that's the passion of the man. He loves the job and it consumes him."

Sounds like Hughton and the chairman are tempted just to take the phone off the hook. And no wonder - who would want JFK croaking characteristic obscenities down the line at them at all hours of the day? Actually, thinking about it, perhaps they could find him temporary work as a dirty-talking sex line operative to raise a few quid for the summer transfer kitty...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Stealth operation

Hmm, how to pass the time while you're recovering from an ankle injury? Well, if you're Little Saint Mick, you have an operation on another part of your body. You'd think he's fast becoming some kind of surgery junkie, eager for his next fix.

Still, if Chris Hughton's telling the truth when he says "It hasn't hindered or increased the time he's going to be out" and our leading scorer is back in the first-team frame sharper than before within the next two to three weeks, we won't be complaining.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A game of two halves

Newcastle Utd 0 - 0 Everton

Yes, you read that right: this afternoon's contest really was a game of two halves - of sorts.

On the few occasions we found ourselves in our opponents' half we were generally disjointed and unthreatening, wasting the few opportunities we did create.

But in our own we were excellent, largely keeping the high-flying Toffees at arm's length and refusing to buckle under the pressure that resulted from their territorial advantage - an advantage handed to them by Kevin Nolan's idiocy. Sebastien Bassong was superb and Steven Taylor robust (and, at times, our best attacking outlet when marauding down the right flank). Even Jose Enrique had a tidily efficient game.

Despite the returns of Spiderman from suspension and Obafemi Martins, Claudio Cacapa and (joy of joys) Alan Smith from injury, Chris Hughton and Colin Calderwood opted to stick with the side that took to the pitch at the Hawthorns a fortnight ago as reward for the victory. That took the average age of our bench - once again bearing the weight of Captain Pasty's considerable posterior too - soaring above the early twenties for the first time in what must be quite a while.

We could have found ourselves behind within a minute of kick-off, Dan Gosling wriggling his way cheaply towards the edge of the area before shooting wide of Steve Harper's right-hand post. Everton's creative lynchpin Mikel Arteta suffered a serious-looking injury in an innocuous challenge with Peter Lovenkrands shortly afterwards, the sympathetic ripple of applause from the home fans as he departed on a stretcher perhaps slightly tinged with increased optimism about our chances of a decent result, but it was the visitors who continued to dominate.

Leighton Baines - the only footballer who sounds as though he was named after an Oxfordshire village? - was the unlikely source of the most threatening moments. One corner was headed goalwards by Joseph Yobo, forcing Harper into flicking the ball away brilliantly when it seemed to already be past him, while from another Jack Rodwell had his low close-range shot deflected off the line by a combination of Harper's and Ryan Taylor's shins. In open play Baines was proving just as dangerous, but luckily for us his sweeping cross to the back post fell to a defender, Phil Jagielka, who fired wide.

Just as we were suspecting it might be shaping up like the last time a Scouse side came to St James' Park, we woke up and fashioned by far the best chance of the half. Shola Ameobi for once trapped the ball and played an intelligent pass to Kevin Nolan, who tucked it inside for Lovenkrands - but, with defenders bamboozled and only Tim Howard to beat, the not-so-great Dane calmly curled the ball wide.

Other opportunities-of-sorts came in the form of a free-kick on the edge of the area curled narrowly high and wide by Ryan Taylor - let's just hope that he doesn't need to be facing a black-and-white-shirted wall to get them on target - and Ameobi roughly bundling both ball and 'keeper into the net as if in homage to the tough nuts and flying elbows of the '50s.

If that was a comical foul, there was nothing remotely funny for either side about Nolan's challenge on Victor Anichebe in the 43rd minute. Whether deliberate or accidental, the tackle was late and horribly high, and it ensured the former Bolton player's first really noteworthy action in a Newcastle shirt was to be on the receiving end of a thoroughly deserved red card. Following Arteta down the tunnel to the treatment room, Anichebe was stopped by Nolan who wanted to apologise and make his peace - I only hope he paid his teammates the same courtesy.

With seven minutes of stoppage time to go before half-time, the points were effectively there for Everton's taking - but the Toffees showed their caring side by considerately giving the recuperating JFK few scares. Without Arteta and suspended talisman Tim Cahill, they didn't have the guile to undo our unusually disciplined defence. Afro-sporting on-loan striker Jo was tightly shackled by Bassong in the second half and restricted to one weak header - no doubt that, like similarly coiffured substitute Maroune Fellaini, he was easy to keep tabs on - while Yobo and one-time Toon loanee Louis Saha both blasted over.

At the break Hughton had made the sensible decision to introduce Spiderman to raise the energy levels on the pitch (it might have been more sensible to replace the totally ineffectual Lovenkrands than Damien Duff, though), and the withdrawal of Ameobi for Martins shortly before the hour mark suggested a similar line of thought. The two very nearly combined for the winner, Martins winning the ball on half-way and playing in the Argentinian who galloped forwards but, driven wide by Yobo and with no one in support, attempted an ambitious lofted shot that drifted over the bar.

Had we been able to direct our clearances and long balls roughly in Martins' direction, we might have been able to make the most of his pace, but as it was he was a virtual spectator and the ball kept coming back at our defence. Thankfully, though, they stood firm and Everton ran out of both time and ideas.

Of course, in our current predicament 0-0 isn't what we were hoping for prior to kick-off (indeed, some fans were hoping for - or, rather, demanding - an awful lot more). But, considering that Everton had won seven times on their travels already this season and also had a man advantage for the majority of the game, there was some satisfaction in grinding out a draw and keeping a clean sheet to boot. Anyone fancy placing a bet on Steve Harper and our back four beating Man Utd's new top flight record? No, thought not...

Other reports: BBC

Quote of the day

"It wouldn't be mentioned at all now would it, Sam Allardyce for the England job? But at the time I should have got it and I really don't know why I didn't. It had to be political for me, rather than my credentials.

Maybe my external look isn't to everybody's liking and one or two people seem to dislike Sam Allardyce for whatever reason. But as a person, in terms of knowing what he is doing, where to go and how to get there, and helping players do the same, I have the credentials. It was the right time and the right job for me but not from the FA's point of view. It is a political FA board and a real shame in terms of my life. That job doesn't come around too often.

Despite failing miserably in the job that comes closest in terms of pressure, expectation and big egos, Fat Sam still seems to think he should have been England manager. Incredible, isn't it?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2 + 2 = 4?

Take one claim:
ex Spurs manager and current Real Madrid caretaker boss Juande Ramos has said he'd been offered a return to the Premier League.

And take another fact: with temporary manager JFK absent from the bench - on doctors' orders rather than enforced by the FA, for a change - leaving Chris Hughton (who has no managerial experience) and new recruit Colin Calderwood (who left Forest bottom) in charge, we're currently more or less rudderless.

Add them together and what have you got? Yes, that's right: Ramos to Newcastle. Couldn't it just as well be Portsmouth?

Supposing there's an ounce of truth in this, I'd say we could certainly do worse. At Spurs Ramos may have tinkered too much, suggesting he had no clear idea of his best team, but he still deserves plenty of respect for the job he did at Sevilla. That said, he would need to be the VERY Special Juande to sort us out long-term...

Don't leave me this way

According to the Telegraph (and others), the raft of "special offers and financial measures" to be announced imminently by the club effectively constitutes a desperate plea from Mike Ashley: don't leave me this way.

The big news is likely to be a freeze or even a cut in season ticket prices in a bid to halt the falling home attendances. At last, a sensible move from the hierarchy (though not all that surprising given the economic climate), one which suggests the fans are being listened to and taken into consideration to some extent. Having claimed "We drive the club forward together" when announcing he'd taken us off the market, Ashley clearly doesn't want everyone jumping out of the passenger seat leaving him alone at the wheel of an expensive, depreciating motor that may yet fail its MOT...

Fighting fit

If Habib Beye's latest comments are anything to go by, he seems to think he's in a montage from a 'Rocky' film: "I am back in recovery, doing exercises on the bike and boxing, skipping, using punch bags". Beye expects to be back in contention for a place in the starting line-up in April. Steven Taylor's been doing a decent enough job out of position at right back, but with the anticipated signing of Albin Ebondo never materialising we could certainly do with our best defender returning to the fray sooner rather than later.

76 not out

Many happy returns to Sir Bobby Robson, 76 today. He and his cancer charity are the subject of an article on the Mirror website written by Simon Bird - yes, THAT Simon Bird. It was Robson the old gent who condemned JFK's anti-Bird rant, so the journo probably felt the need to commemorate Sir Bobby's latest milestone rather more than most.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Forward thinking

Hurrah! At last - some welcome news on the injury front.

It looks as though Mark Viduka and Obafemi Martins will both feature to some extent in Sunday's home game with Everton, for which we have the added bonus of professional thorn-in-the-backside Tim Cahill being suspended. Viduka trundled off the bench against West Brom to useful effect, and while we might not be able to expect the explosive pace we've missed from Martins so soon after his hernia operation, it'll be good just to have him back.

The BBC story makes mention of not two but "three international strikers", though. I know what you're thinking: has Little Saint Mick made a miraculous recovery? No. Apparently Alan Smith is all set for his first taste of action this season. Good of them to label him as a striker for us - we really weren't sure and had resigned ourselves to considering him uncategorisable...

And to add to the prospect of seeing Smith doing what he does best - nothing of note other than collecting bookings - there's the annoyance that, having suddenly discovered his scoring touch with a brace for the Reserves against their counterparts from Wigan, the Xisco Kid is out for two weeks with a broken toe. At a time when there's a real need to keep fringe players active and in form, it seems ridiculous to maintain the Reserves as nothing more than a glorified U19 side - so it's sod's law that when the management agree and pitch some more senior players in for match fitness, injuries strike.

A kept man

"If a Martian landed and I had to explain what this club was all about, I’d say ‘jump on the rollercoaster and enjoy the ride'." Just one of a number of choice quotes in this Times interview with our new first-choice 'keeper Steve Harper.

Harper, who compares himself to "a low-mileage car - no previous owner, plenty of petrol left in the tank" (a little rustiness too?), claims he's been patient in waiting for his opportunity but never comfortable or satisfied with his role as Shay Given's understudy: "Ask any of the managers who have been here in my time — and there’s been about 100 — and they’ll all tell you that I’ve always knocked on the door and asked to play, but I haven’t done it publicly, I haven’t slagged anybody off or started fights in training". Hmm, I wonder who he could be talking about...

Given the length of time he's been with the club, it's unsurprising he's under no illusions about the deep-rootedness of our problems, acknowledging the existence of "a built-in self-destruct button" which is in need of "eradicating". The fact that "I wake up every morning and tell myself, ‘when this place is right, it’ll take off’" sounds to me like a faintly desperate attempt to convince himself that things will right themselves sooner rather than later. With Given now plying his trade for Arab Plaything FC (and still unable to prevent his new side from losing winnable games away from home), Harper is a key figure in our fight to survive and set things straight at least temporarily, and so it's vital he's at the top of his game and proves how fortunate we've been to have him in reserve all this time.

Among the other interesting titbits in the article is the revelation that Spurs bid £500,000 for him during the transfer window (presumably prior to signing Carlo Cudicini from Chelsea) and the fact that his cousin Barry "has ‘NUFC’ tattooed inside his bottom lip"...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What becomes of the broken hearted?

With news that JFK's troublesome blood pressure was symptomatic of a much more serious problem, it's been confirmed that our current interim manager is to undergo a quadruple bypass operation on Friday.

Inevitably, that operation on its own would cast doubt on a 62-year-old returning to the reins full time as manager in the near future. When you add in the fact that JFK has a history of heart problems, it would seem that our rollercoaster season has put paid to another manager, and we'd just like to wish him a successful operation and a full and speedy recovery.

In JFK's absence, Chris Hughton steps back into the caretaker role he filled so abysmally in September (although to be fair, the departure of Keegan left major ripples which inevitably undermined the squad) with Colin Calderwood, our newly recruited coach, for company.

Calderwood himself has only recently been jettisoned from the City Ground, where, having got Forest playing some half decent passing football and promoted back to the Championship, he's paid the price for a poor early season which saw them looking likely to return from whence they came. However, under new manager Billy Davies (and Newcastle old boy David Kelly) Forest have started to haul themselves towards mid-table security. Why is this relevant, I hear you ask? Well, following the regime change, Forest keeper Paul Smith was quoted as saying that under Davies "training has improved and is a lot sharper and quicker". Which hardly bodes well for Calderwood's impact on our squad.

Thankfully, the Guardian article on the subject notes that even if Hughton and Calderwood are found to be out of their depth, the poisoned dwarf is unlikely to dust off his managerial coat, for which we can all be grateful. However, the prospect of Terry Venables appearing in the home dug out might well rear its perma-tanned, ruddy cheeked head again. Apparently El Tel is kicking himself for not taking the job when he was offered it last time. He must be the only one.

Still, if the Daily Express is to be believed (and you can draw your own conclusions on that subject), we really could do worse than Venables, with Captain Lager apparently being sobered up so he can take the job in the short term before Ol' Cauliflower Face gets the job full time in the summer. Even given our chronic history of ill-judged decision making, nobody at the club is THAT stupid, are they?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Month Of Saturdays: January 2009

Cold, damp and miserable weather. Dark when you get up, dark before you leave work to go home. Little to look forward to other than an inch-thick credit card bill, the sole reminder of the joys and delights of the festive period already fast fading from memory. The tightening vice of the "current economic climate".

As if this January wasn't already depressing enough without the curse of also being a fan of Newcastle Utd...

At the risk of shoving readers of a naturally morose disposition over the edge into a pit of despair, let's look back and reflect on the events and incidents - large and small, tragic and tragicomic - that cumulatively conspired to get 2009 off to what was pretty damn close to the worst start imaginable...

1. After weeks if not years of speculation, Shay Given left for pastures new, signing for Arab Plaything FC on deadline day (for the purposes of this piece, I should add, January ran up until 2nd February). Quite understandably, the Irishman had become heartily sick of being expected to perform miracles week in week out with all around him seemingly conspiring to make his job even more impossible, his saintly patience finally shattered by the Liverpool rout. Not surprisingly, the three most sophisticated tactics JFK could muster - 1. share a coffee with him, 2. lay the flattery on thick and 3. repeatedly and publicly declare things like "he wants to do what is best for this club" - all failed to persuade him to reconsider.

The departure was telegraphed by Steve Harper being offered and consequently accepting a new deal. Omitted from the squad with a spurious injury for the fixture away to his soon-to-be employers Arab Plaything FC, Given's 462nd and final appearance turned out to be at Blackburn, the club he left to join us 12 years ago. There was to be no fairytale, though - our back four generously let him pick the ball out of the net three times for old times' sake. While we certainly can't begrudge him the move, nor a certain amount of bitterness about the broken promises and false dawns he had to put up with, wearing our black and white glasses it's hard to feel anything other than dismay at his going.

2. Rather less sorely missed, I suspect, will be Charles N'Zogbia, who also packed his bags and shipped out in January. He spent most of the month spouting off to various news organs about how many clubs were jockeying for his services. Lyon, Arsenal, Villa and Spurs all got a mention, N'Zogbia claiming: "As soon as a big club knocks on the door with a good offer, I don't think they'll prevent me leaving". In the event, the straw that broke the camel's back - the camel's back being made of soggy balsawood, it seemed - was JFK's clumsy mispronunciation of his name, N'Zogbia immediately labelling it as "insulting" and refusing to play under JFK again.

The thin-skinned Frenchman should have counted himself lucky he wasn't being managed by Sir Bobby Robson, a man who tripped over his own tongue daily. You'd also have thought that, being aware of some of the things JFK has said to and about officials this season, he'd have known when he really was being insulted... There followed a pathetic playground spat between the two. In the end, the "big club ... with a good offer" turned out to be Ol' Cauliflower Face's Wigan - which would be funny, if it weren't for the fact that they're a much safer bet to stay up than we are - and off he toddled. A bad egg banished, then - but the feeling persists that he's a talented player who we only briefly saw the best of.

3. As part of the deal that took N'Somnia to the JJB, The Wigan Player - who we can now safely refer to as Ryan Taylor - came the other way in what Brucey rightly perceived as a damage limitation exercise (surely he can't do us any more harm now he's wearing black and white?). Neither of our other captures exactly set pulses racing, either: Peter Lovenkrands, who was presumably a free agent for a very good reason, and Kevin Nolan, a one-time England hopeful who as Bolton captain had been suffering at the hands of the Trotters boo-boys for his sub-par performances. JFK was left red-faced when talk of agreed fees for loanees and confirmed moves for Albin Ebondo, Stephane Mbia and Stephen McManus came to nowt. He only dug himself a deeper hole when, trying to convince fans of the scale of his ambitions once the window had shut, he also mentioned failed efforts to sign Michael Johnson, Nedum Onuoha, Kieran Richardson and Sami Hyypia.

So, while erstwhile rivals Arab Plaything FC strengthened significantly and 'Arry Redknapp set out reassembling the Spurs squad of a year previously at great expense, we were largely left twiddling our thumbs, listening to JFK whine about how our spending power had been curtailed because the credit crunch had cost Mike Ashley billions of pounds. So much for "driv[ing] the club forward together" - we were up on bricks, with our prized asset stolen by Manc scallies for a meagre £7m.

4. Not only were we stuck with Ashley - who, lest we forget (not likely), chose to retain Dennis Wise rather than Kevin Keegan, no matter how honourable and considered his reasons - and vice versa; it also looked as though we'd be lumbered with JFK for the long haul, following the revelation that Ashley - no doubt well aware he was lucky to have found anyone at all willing to do the job - offered him a contract extension that he couldn't help himself describe as "very lucrative". Pen has yet to be put to paper, though, JFK like Little Saint Mick preferring to wait until the summer and see how things pan out. I don't see much point in keeping a hot-headed manager who seems to have a pathological dislike of being in the dugout(January saw him collect another FA charge and a fine to boot). Perhaps that's why he drafted in Colin Calderwood - a substitute shouter from the sidelines so he can take up permanent residence in the stands?

5.Last January our misery was banished by the return of a familiar face, but this time around the ghosts of Christmasses past came back to haunt us - it seemed our old boys wanted to do little else but kick us hard in the Niagaras when we were already down. The Little Runt scored not once but twice against us - the first coming for West Ham courtesy of a Scott Parker pass in the 2-2 draw at St James', and the second a debut strike for Arab Plaything FC which proved to be the winner. Even more galling still was the image of Fat Sam's odious visage beaming with joy at his new side's triumph over us a week later.

6. There wasn't even to be the succour or welcome distraction of a stirring run in the Cup. Given helped protract our Third Round tie with Hull, securing a goalless draw away, only for the Tigers to complete their second smash-and-grab raid on Tyneside of the season in the replay.

7. Our treatment room continued to be as full as our dressing room, the most serious casualties being ASBO and Little Saint Mick. Both were injured at the City of Manchester Stadium, leaving just five days to source replacements before the transfer window closed. And to think we could have got some money for Little Saint Mick - now we'll probably have to witness him struggle back to full fitness just in time for the end of the season, when he'll be off on a free. Still, it was good to know that in Owen's absence at least Shola Ameobi would be around - even if it was hard to believe that someone who couldn't tell if they'd been burgled might be an asset...

I suppose that after all this doom and gloom I should at least try and finish on a positive note. Well, here goes...

Somehow we never actually fell beneath the all-important line and into the relegation zone in January. And we also managed to sign up a player whose goalscoring feats bring new meaning to the word "prolific". Just a shame, then, that we'll have to wait ten years at least to find out whether Cameron Gascoigne can follow in his uncle's footsteps. Hopefully he won't be sidetracked by his uncle's other footsteps along the way.

Quotes of the day

"I'm very lucky to be at Aston Villa, it's a good club moving in the right direction.

Coming to Aston Villa has given me stability, it's a very stable club at the moment. The owner knows what he wants and the manager and the owner work very well together.

The structure all the way through is very good and with that stability you know where you stand, it helps you to just think about your football with no off-the-field distractions.

James Milner implicitly contrasts his current side with an unstable club moving in the wrong direction and beset by "off-the-field distractions" - hmm, who could he have in mind, I wonder?

And the new England call-up wasn't the only person to compare ourselves and Villa unfavourably today - chairman Derek Llambias was at it too: "In five years’ time I would hope we would be challenging for everything - we hope to be like an Aston Villa. But you need to have solid grounding under your feet. You need that – it should have been built years ago. We inherited so much - we’re knocking down walls and rebuilding."

The Telegraph's Rob Stewart interpreted this as meaning he and Mike Ashley have a "five-year plan", curiously oblivious to the fact that planning at Newcastle Utd rarely seems to extend further than what's for lunch in the training ground canteen. At least Llambias doesn't seem to be under any illusions about the magnitude of the job ahead, I suppose.

Not for the faint hearted

West Bromwich Albion 2 - 3 Newcastle Utd

The slow march to survival took a major step forward following a good victory away to relegation rivals West Brom on Saturday.

With JFK being escorted off the premises and away to hospital to have his blood pressure monitored, it was Chris Hughton and new coaching addition Colin Calderwood taking control of matters on the pitch. They handed a first starts to new boys Ryan Taylor and Peter Lovenkrands, both of whom went on to have a positive impact on the match.

The game itself was only a a minute or so old when Ameobi tried to slide the ball through for Damien Duff. On a different day, against better opposition, his pass would have been cut out, but Baggies defender Leon Barnett allowed the ball to run past him, and Duff coolly slotted the ball past Scott Carson to give us an early lead.

West Brom roused themselves, and after some pretty poor attempts to clear our lines by Enrique and Coloccini, the ball was eventually presented to Borja Valero by Nicky Butt's poor control. His cross-field ball saw Fortune rushing goalwards, and as he turned, marker Steven Taylor fell over, allowing the on-loan striker to knock the ball past Steve Harper and level the scores.

Pleasingly though, and undoubtedly buoyed by our having already notched an early goal, we bounced back, with Duff turning provider with a cross to the back post. The ball was intercepted before it could find its intended recipient, but fortunately the Baggies failed to clear their lines and it fell nicely for Lovenkrands to mark his first start with a first goal for the club.

With neither side demonstrating anything approaching calm authority and defensive solidity, it was inevitable that more goals would follow, and sure enough Ryan Taylor's 41st minute corner was headed home by the unmarked and unchallenged Steven Taylor at the back post to give us a two goal cushion. Worse marking you would fail to find in a primary school match.

The second half carried on in the same vein as the first, and when Fortune added a second for the home side, it ensured the last twenty minutes weren't for the faint hearted. However, with Mark Viduka trundling off the bench to give us some more solidity upfront, and display his ability to hold the ball up and alleviate some pressure, we ensure that we took all three points back to Tyneside.

Winning a game which was widely regarded as a "must win" is a deeply satisfying feeling, and hopefully it will give the squad a much-needed boost going into the international break. If we can pick up a couple more wins and draws in the next few matches, then the world will start feeling a much happier place. For now though, those three points, when coupled with other results going our way, ensured that we go into the break 13th in the table. If we're still there in May, I think we'd all be happy.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian,

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Parting shots

"The way they dealt with the whole thing was a bit disgusting. The way they dealt with my family and me, they could have made it a little easier to be honest.

The club finally spoke to me on 26th January. That was the first contact I had with the owner Mike Ashley. The people in charge of the club were very unhelpful.

I'd like to separate Newcastle fans from the people running the club. The fans were absolutely amazing to me and I'll always be grateful for the support they gave me.

But after being there nearly 12 years and considering the service I gave the club, the regime there could have looked after the whole thing better.

Over the last six months things have been fizzling out. It has not been enjoyable going into training and that Liverpool game at home was such a low point in my career.

Walking off the pitch I was so low I would have been quite happy if I had never seen a football again.

So low, Shay, that you don't remember you very much ran rather than walked off the pitch. But then we don't blame you for wanting to get the fuck out of there fast...

Given has described his move to Arab Plaything FC as "an opportunity to further my career and pick up more silverware". MORE silverware, Shay? I wasn't aware you had any. Certainly none from your time with us - though not for lack of effort on your part, it should be added...

"Disgusting" is indeed the word to describe the "regime"'s conduct in the affair - if they could have done more to persuade him to stay, why didn't they? According to Given, it was all about the money - which we then didn't spend. JFK claims that it wasn't for want of trying, though - Man City duo Michael Johnson and Nedum Onouha, Liverpool's Sami Hyypia and Mackem thorn-in-our-side Kieran Richardson all slipped through our fingers on deadline day.

While we can all forgive Shay for breaking his dignified silence and finally sounding off after season upon season of frustration and broken promises, we're rather less inclined to look favourably on the equally sharp comments of another recent departee, Charles N'Somnia.

The Frenchman has reiterated his claim that JFK disrespected him, saying pointedly that "Newcastle needs someone to control the club properly". For his part, JFK has been unable to let it lie, preferring to perpetuate the unseemly public spat by dismissing his criticisms as the "laughable" ramblings of someone who "lives in a fantasy world".

JFK's comment that "In the end there was only one thing I could do - send him to Wigan" makes for painful reading - clearly he's of the belief that sending someone to Wigan constitutes a step down if not an outright punishment, when the sad truth is that it actually represents a move to a club whose Premier League future is pretty much certain from another whose very definitely isn't.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Bum deal

Amidst all the turbulence and chaos it's actually something of a relief to learn that, like Steve Harper and Shola Ameobi before him, Nicky Butt has signed a contract extension. Over the last couple of seasons our Champions League winning former Man Utd midfield enforcer has generally proven himself to be a steadying presence - though a colourful haul of seven yellow cards and one red so far this term suggests he's not always the level-headed and calming influence we need...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Numbers game

Now that the last chance to alter the make-up of the squad this season has passed, it seems an opportune time to look at some figures.

In terms of our league position, we're currently in 15th with 24 points from 24 games and a goal difference of -10. With only 14 games remaining, we probably need at least 16 points to be safe, which means either five wins and one draw, or more likely three wins and six draws. Seeing as we've only managed five wins all season, that seems like quite a tall order at present.

Now let's look at the cash position.

At the start of January, JFK mentioned that he had £10 million to play with, plus anything he could raise in player sales. He tried unsuccessfully to flog Geremi to Besiktas, but did recoup somewhere in the region of £7m for Shay and conservatively £4m for the Zog. That all adds up to a fairly healthy £21m to spend.

In terms of players coming in, both Ryan Taylor and Peter Lovenkrands didn't attract any fees. If we subtract the £4m spent on Kevin Nolan, that means that JFK should now be sat on £17m of unspent transfer cash, which presumably he'll be spending in the summer.

Now, I'm all in favour of making sure we sign the right players, and don't panic buy for the sake of it, but how on earth have we got ourselves in a position where we are left with a tiny squad (net addition this transfer window is one player) and a pile of cash in the bank unspent - which is the problem Spurs landed themselves in when they sold Berbatov at the end of August.

Aside from still being rather understaffed in several key areas, this once again calls into question what our transfer policy is. JFK talked about signing two £5m players from France or possibly one for £10m, as well as some loan deals. What actually happened seems a far cry from that.

So was JFK talking rubbish, or did all those deals collapse? If it's the latter, why aren't we actively progressing several deals, so that we make sure we can get the bodies through the door? Oh, and what exactly was the poisoned dwarf doing during the transfer window?

We can only hope that (a) there really are three teams who are worse than us in the league this season; that (b) our transfer policy in the summer is better prepared than this one; and that (c) with further investment we can really have a recruitment drive to get more quality players in the St James' Park dressing room - not least because we will inevitably see some players depart at the end of the season.

What I can't understand is why, now that we're supposedly being run by a businessman, there seems little evidence of anything approaching forward planning or strategic decision making. Instead we simply continue to lurch from one crisis of our own making to the next, inevitably either making rash decisions that come back to haunt us, or failing to take decisions and so harming ourselves through a self-inflicted paralysis.


Monday, February 02, 2009

Deals done

Deadline day bought confirmation that the Zog has finally sulked his way to Wigan with Ryan Taylor driving a big suitcase of cash (alleged to be as much as £6 million) with him in the opposite direction.

Taylor looks to me to be a decent player who can cover both full-back positions and also (at least against us) weighs in with a few vital goals, and should at least have the desire to play for the team on the pitch, something which the Frenchman has lacked for a fair while now, not least when asked to play at left back. (Incidentally, the irony of Ol' Cauliflower Face saying N'Somnia "can also play at the back" wasn't lost on us - enjoy being played out of position, Charlie!)

Whilst losing a young talented player might be seen as a step backwards in some camps, a bag of cash and a negative influence out of the dressing room should hopefully help us to build for the future.

Whether that future is a Premier League one, will depend a great deal on how successful JFK is in integrating Lovenkrands, Nolan and Taylor into the team.

462 and out

After years of loyalty, love and devotion, divorce is never a pretty thing, and so it is that Shay Given, the finest goalkeeper I've ever seen play for Newcastle, has finally decided that enough is enough, and hopped in to bed with Mark Hughes' Arab Plaything FC.

Seemingly, this season's catastrophic mismanagement has finally forced Shay to cast his eyes around for alternative suitors, after spending ages singlehandedly trying to stem the flow of attacking play, whilst the likes of Bramble, Carr and Marcelino floundered in front of him.

To be honest, I can't blame him.

After eleven years, in which, barring a spell under Gullit, he has been our first-choice keeper, Shay goes, guaranteed a great reception when he inevitably re-appears at St James' Park (either as player, or guest of the club) and with our thanks.

Whilst Steve Harper is an excellent keeper, who will hopefully go on to prove just how fortunate we were to have two outstanding keepers at the club for a decade, it is still a shame to see Shay go (not least because at a reported £7 million, he represents something of a bargain).

But gone he has, and we now need to look forward. With Harper a fine keeper, and two incredibly promising deputies in Fraser Forster and Tim Krul, we can count ourselves reasonably well stocked in terms of keepers, and at least we've now had a cash injection from City's billions.

Shay might have grown sick of our ineptitude, but at least he hasn't left us on a Bosman with nothing but the memories...

Disaster averted

Newcastle Utd 1 - 1 sunderland

A stirring second half come-back by Newcastle ensured that the mackems didn't do the double over us, and we added one more point to the total at a snowy St James' Park yesterday.

With new boy Nolan coming straight into the midfield to partner the returning Butt, and a patched-up Ameobi joining Andy Carroll up front, it was a slightly changed line-up from the team who had been beaten by Man City in midweek. However, it was the visitors who looked the more potent force in the first half, with Cisse and Jones giving Bassong and Coloccini a fairly tough ride.

Whilst the mackem started the brighter, we looked like a side still in need of confidence, and with a new central midfield pairing to bed in, were on the back foot at the start. But, after some initial pressure, Newcastle slowly started to get their game flowing, with Gutierrez and Enrique linking up well down our left. However, as has so often been the case this season, for all our efforts, we created precious few chances for Ameobi and Carroll - the best chance being a looping header from Carroll which bounced off the bar and behind.

At the other end, Nolan was forced into his first meaningful action for the club, when he cleared a shot off the line after Kieran Richardson's free-kick had hit the post, but otherwise we seemed to be coping with the threat posed by sunderland's strikers. However, a hopeful punt forward, saw Coloccini unsuccessfully rushing out to play Cisse offside, the Argentine's charge forward serving only to leave the Frenchman unmarked, and he slotted the ball past Harper at the second attempt to give the visitors a one goal lead.

Half-time clearly saw some stirring words from JFK, because after the interval we were a much improved team. Shooting down the hill towards the Gallowgate end, we increased the tempo and accuracy of our passing, and with sunderland unable to clear the ball, we started creating chances.

Unfortunately, the majority seemed to fall to Ameobi, who was apparently playing through the pain, and who looked like a player who was just lacking a little sharpness in front of goal. Damien Duff launched himself into the air in the box following little or no contact with Anton Ferdinand, only to pick up a yellow card from Howard Webb for his troubles, and when Steven Taylor crumpled whilst charging into the box it seemed likely that a similar booking would follow. Instead, Howard Webb pointed to the spot. Ameobi it was who stepped up and hammered the ball into the roof of the net, to rack up his fiftieth goal for the club - a goal which had looked increasingly unlikely under the reigns of both Fat Sam and Keegan.

With time still remaining, both teams started to go for the win, and with Gutierrez continuing to cause the mackem defence problems, it looked like we might be able to nick a winner. However, the best chance of the game fell to the visitors as Agent Chopra (on for the injured Cisse) robbed Coloccini and raced towards goal. Rather than shooting, our former striker elected to try and square the ball for the onrushing Kenwyne Jones, and his overhit pass sailed past its intended recipient and away to safety. Mission accomplished!

Despite a stirring second half performance, there remains a feeling that this was two points dropped rather than a point gained. Looking for positives, the performances of Gutierrez, Bassong and Enrique all stood out, as did our spirit in the second half as we were chasing the game.

Before the match, JFK commented that today might see another couple of bodies arriving, one of whom, Ryan Taylor, was spotted walking round SJP in a Newcastle track suit before the match. We can only hope he'll be joined by at least one more person before today is out.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian