Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pilgrims' progress

Champions League? You're having a laugh. Yesterday, rather than watching Chelsea stroll to an entirely predictable win over Marseille, I tagged along with others to the County Ground to take in a League One fixture, Swindon v Plymouth. Prawn sandwiches were in pleasingly short supply.

Faced with the choice of end, I opted to spend the evening as an honorary member of the Green Army. Now that John Carver has left Home Park to give assistance to rookie ex-Toon star Gary Speed at Sheffield Utd, the only thing our two clubs really have in common is geographical extremity - which for Plymouth means that this encounter very vaguely passes for a derby and that they could pack the away end with entertainingly boisterous support from Devon. Still, it felt like the right choice, a chance to repay the Pilgrims' generosity when we secured the title (and sealed their relegation) in April (a generosity warmly acknowledged by Chris Hughton, Kevin Nolan and Steve Harper). Plus there was a pleasing aroma of pasties in the air...

The game itself was a belter: comical defending, chances aplenty, two red cards and five goals, with Swindon coming from two down only for the Pilgrims' Bradley Wright-Phillips scoring a winner in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

And you know what? I got quite caught up in it all, applauding almost as enthusiastically as the natives when Wright-Phillips' header hit the back of the net. It was nearly - nearly - enough to make me forget I was celebrating the victory of a team managed by Monkey's Heed...

Young guns go for it

It's pleasing to see Kazenga Lua Lua continues to make a good impression down on the south coast, his late goal securing the Seagulls a 1-0 win which sent opponents Brentford to the foot of the table but kept them on top.

Fellow loanee Ben Tozer had a less successful evening, his adopted side Northampton losing at home to Chesterfield. Still, it's been quite a start to the defender's Cobblers career, having followed up the incredible League Cup defeat of Liverpool with a goal in a 2-0 win over much-fancied League One rivals Bradford.

With Fraser Forster also enjoying a prolonged spell between the sticks at Celtic, featuring in five wins out of five so far, the trio look to be reaping the rewards of the loan system and will, you'd imagine, return to St James' as better players.

Meanwhile, we've added to our ranks of youth with 18-year-old midfielder Yven Moyo, whisked away from Sochaux under the noses of Man Utd. Chris Hughton may have commented that the Frenchman is "very much one for the future" who will benefit from "working with our development group", indicating that we shouldn't expect to see him in the first team any time soon - but all the same the fact that we've handed him a four-year deal suggests a significant faith in his abilities. Our record with French players isn't great, so let's just hope that that faith isn't misplaced.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Let's pretend

Little wonder that Arsene Wenger and Tony Pulis don't get on: they're like chalk and cheese. Wenger complains about violent tackles, Pulis complains about diving. Wenger claims not to have seen things that did genuinely happen, Pulis claims to have seen things that didn't.

In the wake of Sunday's match, Stoke manager Pulis accused one of our players of feigning injury without actually identifying the supposed culprit. As I noted in my match report, the Potters won the game without resorting to underhand tactics - put simply, in the second half they played their game which we struggled to cope with while failing to get our own going. So what could have made Pulis so touchy and quick to point the finger?

Well, the clue's in his reference to "the bad publicity we have had this week with the challenge from Andy Wilkinson". Yes, Tony, what you're neglecting to mention is that that bad publicity was thoroughly deserved for a brutal and utterly unnecessary injury-time foul which put Fulham's Moussa Dembele on the treatment table. Just because you and your players are feeling victimised, don't think you can bandy about baseless accusations and victimise others.

On the subject of managers who really don't like each other, was anyone else amused to see King Kev taking the opportunity to rile his old adversary Taggart by describing Wayne Rooney's confidence as "shot"?

St Paul

Garforth Town currently sit in mid-table in the Evo-Stik First Division North, but largely because they've played more games than most other teams. Their paltry six points from the first nine fixtures means they're in need of someone to intervene and save them. Presumably Town fans are hoping Gazza brings his passion for and experience of the game to the manager's role rather than a can of lager, some chicken and his fishing rod...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Quote of the day

"We decided between myself, the club doctor and Shay Given that Andrew Wallace, the Australian doctor in London, was the best option."

Steve Harper reveals that there HAS been contact with Shay Given in the wake of the former's shoulder injury - but only to get his advice.

Harps also let slip that Tim Krul "had a few offers in the summer from other places" but was persuaded to stay, and that he found the victory over Chelsea hard to believe: "I had my operation at 8pm on Wednesday night and when they woke me up they told me Newcastle had won 4-3! I wasn’t sure if the anaesthetic was still in full effect"...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jim'll fix it - for Stoke

Newcastle Utd 1 - 2 Stoke

And to think we'd all been waiting for James Perch to make a slightly more meaningful contribution than picking up yet another booking. Be careful what you wish for, and all that.

In fairness to the former Forest defender, he had arguably his best game yet in black and white, making some important interceptions and even trying his luck from distance a couple of times. But that luck was very definitely out, with his headed own goal on 85 minutes condemning us to a defeat that less than 45 minutes earlier had looked a remote possibility at best.

With the exception of the enforced replacement of Steve Harper with Tim Krul, Chris Hughton reverted to the same side that beat Everton - meaning that Spidermag, Alan Smith and Peter Lovenkrands made up a strong bench together with Wednesday's scorers Big Lad, Ryan Taylor and Nile Ranger.

The first half was largely a non-event. Encouraged by a succession of awful clearances from Thomas Sorensen - one of four ex-Mackems in Stoke's starting line-up - we enjoyed the majority of possession without ever really exerting our dominance. Ben Arfa was busy but floated a couple of presentable free-kicks wastefully wide, while his drifting infield allowed Jose Enrique to push forwards, on one occasion delivering a superb low driven cross that bisected 'keeper and back four but also missed any of our forwards. Otherwise our closest glimpse of a chance came when Wayne Routledge failed to bring a whipped Ben Arfa cross under control.

Nevertheless, we still went in at the break a goal to the good courtesy of blockheaded former Smog Robert Huth, whose crude brand of bodychecking was acknowledged by referee Mike Jones when Bigger Lad was bundled turfwards. Captain Kevin Nolan calmly stroked the spot-kick past Sorensen.

ASBO, who might have expected to take the penalty, was then fortunate not to concede one at the other end when he cynically barged into Matthew Etherington, only the winger's decision to remain on his feet sparing us.

Notoriously poor travellers, Stoke's second-half solution to their predicament was clear: transplant the game from St James' to the Britannia. Sure enough, on came Rory Delap and thus began the bullying (perfectly legitimate, I should add, lest I should sound like Arsene Wenger).

Ryan Shawcross briefly worried Tim Krul worried with a header, but it was Kenwyne Jones - previously starved of service - who gradually emerged as our tormentor in chief. He was good enough to serve plenty of warning of his intent, heading first against the base of the post and then firmly off the face of the crossbar. But we paid little attention to it and paid the price when Jones' marker Bigger Lad was sucked to the ball, Huth setting him up for a simple nod into the net. If there was any consolation at his fourth goal in consecutive games (which, incredibly, was to prove Stoke's only effort on target all afternoon), it was that the Mackems look to have shot themselves in the foot by allowing him to leave.

Ben Arfa had already been replaced by Spidermag, his influence having waned, and the Argentinian set about terrorising Andy Wilkinson with relish. Hughton's other substitution, the once-again impressive Cheik Tiote off for Big Lad, was more mystifying - surely if we wanted to switch to 4-4-2 and stretch the game, the insurance policy Tiote provides would have been sensible, with ASBO, Nolan or Routledge likelier candidates for withdrawal?

The impetus largely with us, Bigger Lad's volley and Perch's fierce low drive were both held by Sorensen, the former at the second attempt, but there was a sucker punch to come. Battered by a merciless Delap-powered aerial onslaught, we conceded a corner, from which Perch, under pressure from Huth, lost his bearings and bulleted a header past Krul.

There was still time - thanks to substitute Ricardo Fuller sustaining a suspected dislocated shoulder - for Spidermag to carve out a wonderful opportunity that Nolan directed wide and for Huth to deflect a Perch shot behind for a corner, but 2-1 it remained.

So our topsy-turvy season continues, the splendid away wins of the last week at Everton and Chelsea sandwiched by desperately disappointing defeats to sides we should really be beating if we're serious about securing our Premier League status. Many more results like this and our fallibility on home turf will start to become a major concern.

A Stoke fan's perspective: The Rock 'N' Roll Oatcake

Other reports: BBC

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Quote of the day

"I’ve not been the same player since my injury ... I’ve changed my position and I’m still trying to learn that and it's good for me, it's interesting."

Alan Smith admits what I think we all knew: that he's not much of a defensive midfielder. He may have got a run-out against Chelsea - and done reasonably well - but Cheik Tiote's commanding performance at Everton last weekend is likely to mean opportunities to continue on the learning curve in the first team are few and far between.

It'll be a bit harsh if Wednesday's hero Big Lad and Spidermag find themselves back on the sidelines with Smith for the visit of Stoke tomorrow, but I suspect Hughton will revert to the same XI that took to the Goodison Park pitch (minus Steve Harper, of course...). A relatively quiet treatment room, a healthy-looking bench and genuine competition for places? Not things we're very used to.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Depressing news coming out of the club today with the revelation that Steve Harper's shoulder injury, picked up against Everton last weekend, is going to keep him out for 12 weeks.

Harps has already had surgery to repair the damage and is now on the long road back to the first team. Given the news that we can't recall Fraser Forster from his loan at Celtic, the goalkeeping cupboard (which looked so full in the summer) now looks decidedly bare. While there's no question that they'd have been frustrated alternating as second fiddle to Harper, the decision to allow Forster to go on loan without the option of recalling him looks decidedly foolish.

Our back-up option is now Ole Soderberg who, at 20 years of age, is older than Tim Krul was when he made his first start for the club four years ago.

All eyes are now on Krul, both in terms of fitness and performance for the next few months. If he comes through unscathed, then it really could be the making of the young Dutchman, and Steve Harper might once again find himself in a fight for the number 1 shirt.

Blues (and bookies) beaten

Cheslea 3 - 4 Newcastle Utd

A wonderful, thrilling performance at Stamford Bridge last night saw us upset the odds (9-1 apparently) and inflict Chelsea's first defeat of the season, and their first home defeat since last March.

Chris Hughton again used the League Cup as an opportunity to shuffle his pack, with ten changes to the starting line-up against a similarly rotated Chelsea team. However, this was a stronger team than was sent out against Accrington Stanley in the last round, with Sol Campbell making his Newcastle debut and Spidermag and Alan Smith doubtless keen to press their claims for a recall to the first team after dropping to the bench last Saturday.

Unsurprisingly it was the league leaders who started the brighter and who found themselves in front after six minutes when Tim Krul and Campbell collided going for a high ball, which dropped to Alan Smith. Smith's ball to Nile Ranger wasn't great and we lost the ball in a dangerous position, allowing Chelsea's poached starlet Gael Kakuta to find former loanee Patrick van Aanholt, and the Dutch left back slotted the ball past Krul to make it 1-0.

At this point, I thought we could be in for a long night, with Chelsea keeping the ball well and Newcastle struggling to get a foothold in the game. However, that all changed on 29 minutes when Shane Ferguson's run from left back finished with a great cross into the Chelsea box. Peter Lovenkrands just missed the header, but Ranger ghosted away from his marker van Aanholt to volley us level acrobatically.

With confidence now starting to flow, Newcastle began to press and Big Lad was hauled down by his marker Jeffrey Bruma on the edge of the Chelsea box minutes later. Ryan Taylor took control of the free kick, and hammered the ball round the wall and past Ross Turnbull in the Chelsea goal to give us a lead which we held until half-time.

At the break Carlo Ancelotti withdrew Kakuta, who appeared to be suffering the after-effects of an incredibly strong and badly timed tackle by Taylor which had seen the Frenchman catapulted through the air, and brought on Soloman Kalou. Off too went John Terry, to be replaced by Alex.

However, despite the introduction of some fresh legs, it was Newcastle who started the half the brighter and within three minutes we extended our lead when Big Lad latched onto a loose Paulo Ferreira pass before threading his shot round the diving Turnbull and off the inside of the post into the net to extend our lead.

With Chelsea 3-1 down things went from bad to worse for the Blues when first Solomon Kalou and then Yossi Benayoun pulled up lame and had to go off. With two substitutions made at half-time, Ancelotti was only able to replace Kalou and the home team were left trying to close the deficit with only ten men.

Two goals up and with a man advantage, Newcastle should perhaps have closed out the game; however, when van Aanholt skinned Taylor and crossed for Anelka to side-foot home and reduce our lead to one with 20 minutes left, the game still hung in the balance.

Things got worse with four minutes remaining when Alex crumpled in the area despite minimal contact from Cheik Tiote and Phil Dowd awarded a spot-kick, which Anelka converted with a one-pace run-up, tucking the ball just inside the post with Krul rooted to the spot.

However, with six minutes of injury time to play there was still time for one final twist as Big Lad's fine header from a Spidermag corner saw the net bulge at the Shed end to restore our lead and ensure the victory.

Reflecting on a great cup night, it's easy to get carried away with the excitement of it all. However, it's worth remembering that we'd all swap last night's win for victory against Stoke on Sunday. What was heartening to see was the performance of some of the players not currently in the first team, with Big Lad enjoying one of those nights when he's virtually unplayable and Shane Ferguson making some good runs from left back (and suggesting we might have some cover for Jose Enrique). Good too to see Campbell get 90 minutes under his belt and the morale boost that this victory brings should hopefully carry through into our next couple of performances.

A Chelsea fan's perspective: Chelsea Football Club Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Good night

A 3-4 win over Chelsea on their own turf? Our first since 1986? Chelsea's first home defeat in a cup competition for 30 games, and first goal conceded in ten-and-a-half hours of football? Er, yes please. Tremendous stuff from all in black and white - and it wouldn't have needed Big Lad's late headed winner if Phil Dowd hadn't taken pity on the ten men and awarded that ludicrous penalty. (Paul's full match report to appear shortly.)

And it was an equally memorable night for Ben Tozer, who only left for Northampton on loan on Tuesday. A day later and our defender played the full 120 minutes as his new side sensationally dumped Liverpool out of the League Cup at Anfield.

Meanwhile, down the road at the Stadium of Shite, they were still getting over the hangover of defeat to West Ham - the Hammers' first away win since August 2009...

Probably best to enjoy the elation and Schadenfreude while they both last, eh?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Campbell souped up for first start

Sol Campbell has declared he's raring to go - and therefore presumably also fit - ahead of tonight's League Cup clash at Stamford Bridge. If selected, the defender - just turned 36 - will be making his long-awaited debut in black and white.

He'll be only too aware he needs to impress, too, if he's to force his way into the first team. Even with Steven Taylor out injured, his path to a starting place is currently being blocked by Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson. While the Argentinian has been largely solid, Williamson is probably vying with Bigger Lad for the title of our best player thus far this campaign.

Campbell was wide of the mark in suggesting that "Chelsea will probably play a full side", with Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti having already announced that former Toon loanee Patrick van Aanholt will be among the youngsters starting for our hosts. Nevertheless, we still go into the game very much as underdogs - perhaps by that token we might be able to play freely, without any expectation or fear, but it hasn't very often worked out that way in the past.

Quote of the day

"I would be more suited to Inter Milan or Real Madrid. It wouldn't be a problem for me to manage those clubs because I would win the double or the league every time. Give me Manchester United or Chelsea and I would do the same, it wouldn't be a problem. It's not a problem to take me into the higher reaches of the Champions League or Premier League and would make my job a lot easier in winning it."

Yes, it's the latest drivel to exit Fat Sam's fat gob. He's since claimed - somewhat implausibly for a serial fantasist - that his comments were "tongue in cheek". The closest he'll ever get to any of them is by playing Championship Manager...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Italian job

Since when was "just eight goals" in five games a poor return? OK, so six of them came in the thrashing of Villa, but I wouldn't say we exactly look goal-shy at the moment - especially when we're playing only Bigger Lad up front and so have a bench stuffed with forwards.

Clearly Talksport can detect a deficiency that the rest of us can't, in the course of claiming we're keen on Fiorentina striker Alberto Gilardino. Personally I'm against us wasting our money - Italian international though he may be, he's been positively donkey-like every time I've seen him in what passes for "action".

Meanwhile, Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni seems to be trying to engineer Shay Given a move to Serie A. With Steve Harper out injured and Tim Krul possessing only minimal Premier League experience, it would make good sense for Chris Hughton to try to wangle an emergency loan move - but he's ruled it out: "I can categorically say that won't be happening".

Our predicament is made all the more perilous given that Fraser Forster, currently enjoying some success north of the border with Celtic, can't be recalled under the terms of his loan. Krul perhaps does deserve a run in the first team - but I'd feel more comfortable if we had some cover.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Up and Hatem!

Everton 0 - 1 Newcastle Utd

A Hatem Ben Arfa thunderbolt was enough to give Newcastle victory against the blue half of Merseyside on Saturday, as we bounced back from last week's defeat to Blackpool.

Chris Hughton elected to shuffle the pack for the first time this season, new boys Ben Arfa and Chiek Tiote handed their first starts for the club with Spidermag and Alan Smith dropping to the bench. The change in personnel didn't see a change in tactics, with our five-man midfield setting out to dominate an Everton team whose season looked to be finally underway after their late draw against Man Utd last week.

However, it was the visitors to Goodison who again started the brighter, with Wayne Routledge heading a Jose Enrique cross wide in the tenth minute and steady Newcastle pressure being applied to the home side for much of the first half. ASBO bought a decent save from Timmy Tourettes in the home goal, whilst at the other end Steve Harper was an anonymous bystander.

Unfortunately he then became an anonymous man in an ambulance following a late, clumsy challenge from one-time Toon target Jermaine Beckford who cleaned Harper out after the 'keeper had comfortably caught a hopeful punt forward. Landing heavily, Harper was clearly in trouble, and post-match reports of ligament damage in his shoulder could see him out for a while.

With Harper off, Tim Krul came off the bench for his first Premier League appearance and, with the exception of one Leon Osman effort, had little to do in the first half.

Whilst Timmy Tourettes had been much the busier keeper, his goal had remained intact almost until half-time. However, with the dressing room beckoning, Hatem Ben Arfa picked up the ball in the middle of the park and with Everton failing to close him down, our on-loan Frenchman moved the ball onto his favoured left foot and let fly a screamer of Laurent Robert proportions, which whistled into the far corner of the net, to give Newcastle a deserved lead.

David Moyes opted to try and shuffle his pack at half time with Yakubu replacing the ineffective Beckford and Seamus Coleman coming on in place of Tony Hibbert at right back. Inevitably the home side managed to rouse themselves to apply a bit more pressure, but Newcastle stood firm, with Mike Williamson in particular dealing with the physical presence of Marouane Fellaini and neutering Everton's threat. Fellaini was lucky to remain on the pitch when he swung out an arm and appeared to catch Williamson, with referee Andre Marriner opting to show him only a yellow card - despite a clear swinging arm.

At the other end, Newcastle continued to look the more likely to score and we should have had a penalty when ASBO found Nolan in the box only for his run to be curtailed by a tackle from behind by Coleman. Mystifyingly Marriner waved play on despite the sliding Toffee getting absolutely none of the ball and a lot of the man and leaving Nolan incensed by the injustice.

As they had done last week, Everton finally stirred themselves for a final onslaught as first Yakubu's stabbed shot hit the post, rebounding safely for Krul to catch and then in the last seconds Fellaini sidefooted Leighton Baines' cross wide under pressure from Coloccini.

With that miss, Everton's chance was gone and we secured the only Premier League away win on Saturday to climb back up the table.

On the plus side Ben Arfa's performance caught the headlines, but Tiote also looked impressive, driving the team forward and giving bite in midfield.

However, the loss of Harper is a big blow, and it will be interesting to see whether we can and do recall Fraser Forster from Celtic as a result. Similarly, James Perch managed to make it five bookings in five league games to pick up an automatic one-match ban. In my view, Danny Simpson's return can't come quickly enough at the moment with our summer acquisition from Forest continuing to look slightly out of his depth at this level, whilst Simpson's stock continues to rise as a result of his enforced absence.

Still, three more points to the total and a league table in which we're above the Great Unwashed. Happy days.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Quote of the day

"I have not spoken to them since. I rang someone up and he didn't know what was going on, and I never got a phone call after that."

The words of Alan Shearer, speaking on 5Live last night, when asked how the negotiations with Jabba and Llambiarse concluded back in the summer of 2009.  The whole broadcast can be heard here (although I'm not sure how long it is available, or whether you can hear it outside the UK).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Black and whites

The transfer window's closed and we're still stumped for back-up for Jose Enrique at left back. At least one man with a passion for the club has effectively offered his services, though - even if he may be otherwise engaged over the winter months...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Blackpool illuminate as Newcastle infuriate

Newcastle Utd 0 - 2 Blackpool

Two home games, two WTF? results. We had the good against Villa, and this was the bad. Given that we'd won our last fixture at St James' 6-0 and the visitors had lost their last game on the road by the same scoreline, this defeat was simultaneously mystifying and, to the seasoned follower of Newcastle, depressingly predictable.

Chris Hughton named the same side for the fourth consecutive match, and so must have been disappointed at our first-half sluggishness. Blackpool, by contrast, were clearly keen to avenge the 4-1 pasting that was the only blot on their near-perfect run-in last season, and enjoyed the best of the first period of a reunion Paul couldn't see happening back in April.

Mike Williamson almost continued his impressive early-season form, striking the post with a header, and Kevin Nolan also came close, but at the other end DJ Campbell - recruited permanently from Leicester following his heroics in propelling the Seasiders to promotion - was foiled first by Steve Harper and then by the offside flag.

Just as it looked as though we'd go in all square at the break, Alan Smith chose to commit one of his rash tackles inside the area, and Charlie Adam succeeded where John Carew had failed in scoring from the spot at the Gallowgate.

That was the catalyst for a much improved display in the second half - but try as we might, we just couldn't make the breakthrough that would in all likelihood have given us the impetus to go on and win. ASBO and man of the moment Bigger Lad were just two players unlucky to find the Seasiders' stopper Matt Gilks in inspired form, while Wayne Routledge had an effort hacked off the line as our opponents' back line held firm.

Hughton threw caution to the wind, sacrificing Smith and both wingers Routledge and Spidermag to throw on three forwards to accompany Bigger Lad - Big Lad, Peter Lovenkrands and new boy Hatem Ben Arfa - but to no avail. And while Sol Campbell remained benched alongside fellow newbie Cheik Tiote (a starter ahead of Smith next time out at Goodison?), his namesake exploited our desperation at one end to seal our fate with a crisp left-footed sickener at the other.

So, should we be jabbing at the panic button? No. Blackpool at home is probably the fixture most sides will have earmarked as their easiest ride of the season - but the opening day thrashing of Wigan indicated that that might be rather premature. And in any case, as Chris Hughton acknowledged afterwards, on another day it was a game we would have won comfortably: "I can't fault the commitment of my players, we just didn't have enough fortune or quality and came up against a very good keeper".

As much as the loss might have left us shaking our heads and smarting at the time, two days on it's possible to avoid dwelling on the negatives and instead reflect on it rather more positively - as a timely dose of reality and a healthy reminder that complacency and a failure to take opportunities are almost always costly at this level. Harps is quite right in saying that it's important how we react. An Everton side who don't need strikers to put three past Man Utd wouldn't be my first choice of opposition, though...

A Blackpool fan's perspective: Blackpool FC Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian (in which TBW climbs into bed with Ian Holloway)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Spring cleaning ... in September

It's been very quiet around these parts during the international break - but in our defence there's not been a lot to report on and, in any case, we've been far from idle, having taken the opportunity to undertake a complete refresh of our sidebar.

Any blogs that hadn't been updated for over two months have fallen victim to the cull - we've lamented it before, but the ephemeral nature of so many football blogs is a real shame. We've also added a large number of new sites to the list. For all new general football blogs and for all those for clubs from outside the Premier League, we're indebted to The Two Unfortunates, who have proven adept at sniffing out the best amateur football writing on t'internet.

So, here's a list of all the officially endorsed new faces to our blogroll:

General football
European Football Weekends
Fisted Away
The Groundhog
Llandudno Jet Set
Narrow The Angle
Pope And Swift
The Run Of Play
Scissors Kick
The 72
Soccer AM/MW
Strife Of Brian

A Cultured Left Foot
Another Arsenal Blog
Arsenal FC Blog
The Goon Blog
Gooner Talk
The Gunning Hawk

Aston Villa
Aston Villa Blog
Aston Villa Central
The Villa Blog

On The Ponty End
Seeing Red

Blackburn Rovers Blog
The Rovers Return

Blackpool FC Blog

Manny Road

Boy From Brazil

The Seagull Love Review

Bristol Rovers
A View From The Blackthorn End

No Nay Never

The Offside

The Chelsea Blog
Chelsea Football Club Blog

Sky Blues Blog

Crystal Palace
Five Year Plan Fanzine
Palace Blog

Fulham FC Blog

Cod Almighty

Amber Nectar

The Scratching Shed

The Fox Fanzine

Liverpool FC Blog
Liverpool Football Club Blog
The Tomkins Times
Well Red

Man City
The Lonesome Death Of Roy Carroll
Man City Blog
Man City Issues

Man Utd
Manchester United Blog
Manchester United Football Blog
Red Rants
Republik Of Mancunia
The Stretty Rant
Truly Reds

A Load Of Cobblers

Little Norwich

Nottingham Forest
Through The Seasons Before Us...

Notts County
WellyPie's Football Blog

Peterborough Blog

Greens On Screen

There's Always Next Year

Sheffield Utd
The Blades Online

The Rock 'N' Roll Oatcake

The Washbag

Dear Mr Levy
Tottenham Hotspur News
Triffic Tottenham

Rookery Thoughts

West Ham
The H List
West Ham Blog
West Ham United Blog

Wolves Blog

Good sites worth your time one and all - though in some cases a little more creativity and inspiration with blog names wouldn't go amiss...

Relocation, relocation, relocation

In recent seasons Nobby Solano's flitted from club to club (West Ham, Larissa, Universitario de Deportes, Leicester and now Hull). A good thing he's a fan of relocation, relocation, relocation then - as one of his Tyneside houses has been repossessed by his mortgage company. He's apparently also racked up another hefty debt with the Bank of Scotland, so don't be surprised if you see a busking trumpeter on the streets of Gosforth.

In other Toon-related legal matters, Peter Lovenkrands has been fined but spared a driving ban for doing 60mph in a 30mph zone on his way to training in May. The contrite and clearly sheepish Dane told the sentencing magistrates: "I want to say I’m really sorry for what I have done and for taking up your time today". Might a new nickname be in order? Speedy Gonzalez, perhaps?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Bigger lad in the frame

With injury ruling him out of the Under 21s, Bigger Lad remains a man very much in the frame, at least when it comes to the Guardian's readership. The latest installment of their Gallery feature sees Bigger Lad appearing as Adam, Carol Vorderman and the Angel of the North...

Thursday, September 02, 2010

A Month Of Saturdays: August 2010

August, it seemed, was a month when the improbable suddenly became not only probable but even likely. The No-Necked One, frozen out at Moneybags FC, turned up in his home town - and not just for a night out on the piss with a trumpet-playing Peruvian. Arsene Wenger actually publicly admitted to have witnessed something: the magnificence of our stadium and the passion of our fans. ASBO endeavoured to foster team spirit and harmony in a historically factional dressing room by growing a moustache (and finding himself rechristened Begbie as a result). If things carry on in the same vein, this time next month we'll be reporting that he's managed to broker peace in the Middle East (though I can guarantee that Phil Brown still won't be England manager).

All that said, once the pre-season formalities both on the pitch (a penalty shoot-out win over Deportivo La Coruna and a 2-1 defeat at Ibrox) and off it (assessments of our prospects for the season from Paul and the chaps at The Two Unfortunates, and my two-part verdict on our opponents) were out of the way, our Premier League campaign kicked off in entirely predictable fashion. There was to be no repeat of the well-deserved draw with which the ultimately fateful 2008/9 season began, as Man Utd cantered to a 3-0 win without so much as breaking stride or sweat. That was largely thanks to our respectfully granting the freedom of Old Trafford to a man scoffingly rubbished as a has-been by our local daily paper seven long years ago...

Suffice to say that there wasn't much to suggest what would come next. OK, so Bigger Lad gave Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans something of a headache, but it was more a dull insistent one rather the sort of skull-cracker you get from downing pints of cooking lager in his favourite Bigg Market haunts. And when the first visitors to St James' Park, Villa, were awarded a penalty in the tenth minute, it looked like turning into another game to have us ruefully reflecting "Be careful what you wish for" with regard to our instant return to the top flight.

But John Carew sent his spot-kick into the stratosphere and we proceeded to overrun and overwhelm our O'Neill-less opposition with impressive ease. Begbie started the rout with a scorcher, and new captain Kevin Nolan bagged a brace, but the undisputed claimant of the match ball was Bigger Lad, who completed his first senior hat-trick in injury time. The 6-0 victory had us pinching ourselves and trying desperately to recall the strategic cold shower Chris Hughton had been administering to our expectations, whle certain mischief-makers dared to venture that our collective delusions had begun to manifest themselves in reality.

Rather less spectacular and comfortable was the League Cup tie at Accrington Stanley three days later, which saw an entirely different XI represent the club. The kids were indeed alright, but it took goals from senior players - a screamer from Ryan Taylor followed by opportunistic strikes by Big Lad and Peter Lovenkrands - to knock out a spirited Stanley side and secure a daunting Third Round meeting with Chelsea.

The first team were back for the trip to Molineux, Hughton naming an unchanged 4-5-1 for the third league game in succession. Wolves, and skipper Karl Henry in particular, set out to maim the man once again known as ASBO (after his reacquaintance with a razor), much to Wor Al's subsequent mirth on Match Of The Day. They took the lead through Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and should have had a penalty when James Perch's slide tackle took down winger Matt Jarvis, but were denied the win - justly so, given their cynical strongarm tactics - by a Bigger Lad header that got us the draw most would have taken prior to kick-off.

That morning, with the transfer window just over three days from closing, it was confirmed that we had secured the on-loan services of Hatem Ben Arfa to bring to a conclusion one of the summer's most protracted deals. Upon learning of our interest and his club's attempts to rebuff it, the Marseille man had stomped off in a sulk before doing the very French thing of declaring himself on strike - and even then the wait went on. Ben Arfa is the latest in an increasingly long line of mercurial but temperamental Gallic left-footers to arrive on Tyneside - hopefully he can evoke pleasant rather than painful memories of Messrs Ginola, Robert and N'Zogbia.

With Dan Gosling, Sol Campbell and Perch already on board, Hughton also moved to strengthen in the defensive midfield area, opting to recruit Ivorian Cheik Tiote ahead of the Iron Man. Meanwhile, our only departees were on a temporary basis, Fraser Forster and Kazenga LuaLua farmed out to Celtic and Brighton respectively to gain experience. Steven Taylor had been expected to leave when unceremoniously dumped on the transfer list, the club taking a tough stance when contract talks stalled, but it seems no one fancied a cut-price deal and the local lad looks set to remain with us until January at least. So, two successive quietly successful transfer windows with the lack of reinforcements to cover for Jose Enrique the only gripe, while the Curse of Milner struck elsewhere. Happy days!

To conclude, though - and please excuse the navel-gazing - it's fair to say that August found Paul and myself re-evaluating exactly what it is we're doing and what this 'ere blog is for. First Paul was lambasted for his views on Fatgate, having the temerity to suggest that perhaps footballers who are trying and succeeding to secure £35,000-a-week contracts should look after themselves physically and comprehend criticism when they don't. And then I was taken to task for voicing my disapproval of ASBO, some readers baselessly treating him as some kind of sacred cow who can do wrong even though the evidence certainly up to that point suggested that in fact he'd done very little right.

When, we wondered, did expressing opinions (especially those backed up with a weight of evidence and sound reasoning) become "not the done thing" on a blog? What was most ludicrous was the implication that we were somehow traitorous, and couldn't possibly be "true" fans. Au contraire. We care passionately about what happens in and around our club - which is exactly why we're not afraid to be critical and express dissenting views when we feel it's necessary.

So if you want to deny our prerogative (which is equally the prerogative of every fan) and be force-fed the party line, then by all means trot on over to the official site. But if you're more interested in the thoughts and comments of a pair of independent fans whose rose-tinted glasses are worn judiciously if at all - even if those thoughts and comments may not tally with your own - then stick with us.

They all count...

Hostilities with the Great Unwashed resumed on Tuesday night, albeit between our respective reserve teams, and it was us who drew first blood, recording a 3-1 win at the Stadium of Shite. Just as at Accrington last Wednesday, fringe first-teamers Peter Lovenkrands and Ryan Taylor were on the scoresheet, after Nile Ranger - who wouldn't have scored if he'd played for 90 hours that night - had got the ball rolling with a goal of his own.

Debutant Sol Campbell was withdrawn at half-time, by which point we were 2-0 up but also one man down, Xisco having been on the receiving end of a daft red card. The Mackems' only consolation, though, was an 87th minute penalty.

Let's hope for more of the same when the first teams meet.

Sign language

Not a great surprise, but welcome news nevertheless: the Football Supporters' Federation is continuing to back Newcastle United Supporters' Trust's opposition to Jabba's proposed sell-off of the stadium name. With the club having recently lodged planning application for new signs, NUST have responded with useful guidance as to the best grounds on which to object to Newcastle City Council, who will also be presented with the petition signed by 30,000 dissenting fans.

Incidentally, the FSF are also backing Non-League Day this coming Saturday by offering a decent prize simply for registering your support. Why not take the opportunity presented by the international break to take a break from biting your nails watching the black-and-whites and cheer on a local non-league side for a change?