Friday, April 30, 2010

Quote of the day

"For anyone looking in at that time and seeing Alan Smith and I with cups of tea in hand, it would have seemed a bit perverse. The lads kept coming up to Smudger, who’s always been teetotal, and me asking us if we wanted to push the boat out and have double blackcurrants. But that’s just the way it is for me these days and I am happy with it. To be among the lads when they’re drinking isn’t a problem, although sometimes I wonder if I’m acting a bit of a nugget around them."

A newly teetotal ASBO, who acknowledges that he can't handle his ale and now lives "a monk-like existence", gives us a fly-on-the-wall's eye view of last Monday evening's title-winning party in Plymouth.

Elsewhere in the interview there's a self-aggrandising reference to himself in the third person: "I am quite happy with my life right now and the people involved in it and that will be great for Newcastle because a happy Joey Barton is a decent player".

And later another, this time during some egotistical wishful thinking that he might even be considered as some kind of role model: "A lot of kids won’t look at the Beckhams and the Owens as role models. Maybe they’ll look at Joey Barton and think, ‘He made lots of mistakes, he went to jail and he came back’. That’s what drives me on – to be a shining light to people who messed up". Or, alternatively, a shining light for those wanting proof that you can be a nasty little scrote and still live a life of privilege.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Carr trouble

Following hard on the heels of yesterday's bulletin comes news of yet another old boy in a spot of bother. This time it's Stephen Carr, now of Birmingham and in trouble for allegedly making an offensive gesture to Villa fans at the end of the Second City derby.

It surely couldn't have been any more offensive than the two fingers he's stuck up to Newcastle supporters: morphing from a decent player at Spurs into a useless and overpaid waste of space on Tyneside, before being released and retiring, only to pitch up at St Andrews, somehow help propel his new side to the Premier League and then perform admirably in his first season back in the top flight...

Another former Toon defender in conspicuous action recently was Jean-Alain Boumsong, who - believe it or not - featured in Tuesday's Champions League semi-final. Still, if his involvement in such a high-profile fixture was a surprise to anyone who had the misfortune to endure watching his spell in black and white, it certainly wasn't a surprise that the Lyon defence which he was at the heart of was repeatedly exposed by Bayern Munich...

Nou must be joking?

One from the YOU WHAT?! department: the Mirror's Simon Bird reckons that Barcelona are eyeing up Steven Taylor.

While there's a fair chance he might leave in the summer (not least because of the fall-out from his training ground disagreement with Bigger Lad), the Nou Camp would be a bizarrely unlikely destination. Is he really any better than anyone the Catalans already have? No, not even close. Perhaps, in light of tonight's Champions League game against Inter, it's his occasional penchant for amateur dramatics that's caught the eye?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Old boy news

His Leicester side may have secured their play-off place on Saturday, but today wasn't a good day for Nobby Solano, arrested in Gosforth in the early hours of the morning on suspicion of rape.

Also enduring a recent (albeit much less serious) brush with the law was our former custodian Shay Given, one of several Man City players fined for having tinted car windows that were too dark. To add injury to insult, he dislocated his shoulder at Arsenal and has been ruled out for City's crucial run-in.

In happier news, Villa's James Milner - scorer of a disputed winner in Sunday's Second City derby from the penalty spot - has been named as the PFA's Young Player of the Year. Hard to believe he's still only 24 - but not that he's surely a shoo-in for a place in Fabio Capello's World Cup squad. Not least for scoring goals like this against the Mackems...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Coronation's treat for Keano

Newcastle Utd 2 - 2 Ipswich Town

A record Championship crowd of 52,181 turned out at St James' Park on Saturday to see the title winners crowned - but sadly (if unsurprisingly) there was no repeat of the scoreline last time we were presented with the trophy for storming the second tier. Trust our old foe Roy Keane to deflate a few party balloons by urging an Ipswich side with nothing to play for on to deny us victory with a last-gasp goal.

The injured Steven Taylor and the benched Alan Smith aside, it was arguably our strongest XI that took to the pitch. That meant starting places for all four of our players since named in the PFA's Championship team of the season: Jose Enrique, Fabricio Coloccini, Kevin Nolan and Bigger Lad.

The visitors began brightly, forcing two corners inside the opening couple of minutes, but the danger passed and we duly took the lead with our first effort of note. Wayne Routledge proved himself as handy on the left flank as on his more customary right, skinning the full back and lofting in a perfect cross for Bigger Lad to thump a textbook header past Brian Murphy.

Little in the way of goalmouth incident followed, but Ipswich grabbed an equaliser shortly before the interval, teenager Connor Wickham capitalising on some slightly lax defending to rifle the ball into the bottom corner of Steve Harper's net.

The second half drifted by in much the same fashion as the first, with our far more capable side coasting along with the bulk of the possession while our opponents posed the greater attacking threat.

Hughton withdrew Nolan, Danny Guthrie and Peter Lovenkrands for ASBO, Nicky Butt and Big Lad, and the latter pair both had crucial roles in what looked like the winner. Butt burst into the penalty area only to be felled by a bizarre knee-slide of a challenge from ex-Mackem Grant Leadbitter - perhaps he was disoriented by the presence of thousands of real Newcastle fans rather than just a handful of imaginary ones... Despite the crowd's appeals for Butt to take the spot-kick, Big Lad did the honours, and with aplomb.

At that point there were only six minutes on the clock, so closing the game out successfully - as we have on so many other occasions this season - looked straightforward. But instead some more defensive slackness - Keane may have had a point when he suggested some of our players were already in "holiday mode" - and the generosity of the linesman allowed Jonathan Walters to bear down on goal and roll the ball past Harper.

In other circumstances that goal, coming four minutes into stoppage time, might have dredged up awful memories of those two 2-2 draws against Wigan and Stoke last season when we threw away vital points that ultimately cost us dearly. But in reality the game was merely a sideshow, a mildly unsatisfactory aperitif to the ensuing party which nevertheless ensured we went the whole season without losing a single game at home in the league.

The scenes which unfolded after the final whistle - the lifting and kissing of the trophy on a podium in the middle of the pitch amidst much whooping, leaping around and confetti, followed by an amble around the perimeter to warm, genuine and appreciative applause - were something we've waited a long time to see again. It's just a shame we had to drop down a division for that to happen.

To return to the comparison with the 1992/3 season, back then our title triumph was wholly unexpected, given that we'd only narrowly escaped relegation the previous campaign. This time around, despite our pessimistic pre-season predictions, there was a sense that promotion was very much what we had to try and achieve for the long-term health of the club, so as such, it's really only a case of mission accomplished - nothing more. The players and staff could be permitted a few flutes of champagne on Saturday, but the really hard work starts here.

Other reports: BBC

Friday, April 23, 2010

Red light for Charlie

Magpies past and present seem to have a curious propensity towards committing all manner of motoring offences - so credit to Charles N'Zogbia for being arrested for allegedly finding one that (to my knowledge) hasn't yet featured on the collective rap sheet: having someone else sit the theory test for you. A bit of a comedown from almost single-handedly wrecking Arsenal's slim title chances on Sunday, eh?

The Zog's boss at Wigan, Roberto Martinez, described it as "a naive mistake", but went on to emphasise that "what is important is Charles has reacted in a very mature way". As opposed to the extreme immaturity and stupendous idiocy of the transgression itself...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Quote of the day

"I'd want the 52,000 supporters who will be there on Saturday to get a medal, because I think they deserve one".

Well said Chris Hughton. Modest to the last, in post-match interviews last night Hughton repeatedly deflected personal praise onto the players.

Incidentally, talking of the fans, did anyone else see the chap doing his best to dispel the stereotype of the typical Newcastle fan by wearing a Greggs paper bag on his head?

Meanwhile, Hughton and Kevin Nolan have both paid tribute to the extraordinary magnanimity of Plymouth and their fans - quite rightly, too.


Steve Harper's echoed his manager's and team-mate's sentiments.

Haris harassment?

According to today's Mail, we could be bracing ourselves for an approach for midfielder Haris Vuckic. The 17-year-old Slovenian has only featured three times for the first team but clearly rates himself quite highly if those yellow boots are anything to go by - and it seems he's not alone. Still, looking at the first line of the Mail's story has left me puzzled as to the identity of his alleged pursuers - who are "Manchester Untied", exactly?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Just champion(s)!

Plymouth Argyle 0 - 2 Newcastle Utd

Given that we needed just a solitary point from our final three fixtures to be crowned Championship champions, it would have taken something extraordinary to have denied us - and an Icelandic volcano did its best. But when, after a 400 mile road trip, the whistle blew on 93 hard-fought minutes at Home Park, we managed an eruption of our own, the fans pouring onto the pitch in joyous celebration. The title was ours, and you won't find many who'll dispute that it was deserved.

The whole evening was faintly reminiscent of that famous night in Grimsby seventeen years ago - a seaside setting, yellow shirts, a 2-0 victory. Thankfully this time my youngest brother is old enough to know better than to deface the commemorative wraparound cover of the Journal with felt-tip pen...

With Argentinian duo Spidermag and Fabricio Coloccini ruled out, ASBO and One Size stepped into a side aiming for a seventh consecutive victory, but it was our hosts who began very much on the front foot. Jamie Mackie tested Steve Harper within a minute and from the resulting corner West Ham loanee Bondz N'Gala should have done much better than sky a header high into the Toon faithful.

We gradually eased our way into the game, and when Bigger Lad found the space to curl a left-footed shot high and wide the home side failed to heed the warning. Afforded ample space from an ASBO corner, he looped a well directed header into the back of the net - thanks largely Onismor Bhasera deserting his post.

If that first owed much to our hosts' failings, the second was a classic example of the hot-sharp-knife-through-molten-butter clinical finishing that has set us apart from our Championship peers all season. ASBO was allowed to U-turn too easily, admittedly, but his one-two with Danny Guthrie was neat and the subsequent through-ball to Wayne Routledge was arguably the best pass we've witnessed all season. Routledge duly rounded 'keeper David Stockdale and kept his footing to finish inside the near post.

The pressure off, we relaxed - probably too much, given that Harper was called upon to pull off a smart save from Mackie's volley, Bradley Wright-Phillips blasted inches over the angle from distance and Alan Judge cracked a shot off the stanchion. Meanwhile, the television cameras caught Kevin Nolan suffering an eruption of his own, spewing onto the pitch - perhaps, a fellow onlooker suggested, in an attempt to improve the quality of the playing surface. Either way, the anticipated chants of "We are throwing up, say we are throwing up" never materialised.

The second period continued in a similar vein, Judge going even closer by smacking the crossbar but us maintaining our general control of the ball. An injection of fresh blood in the form of Leon Best and Big Lad (for Nolan and Bigger Lad) on 70 minutes was timely, and the former Coventry man followed Judge's lead in rattling the bar from distance with a shot so fierce Stockdale got nowhere near it even though it whistled directly over his head. That said, the Pilgrims' loanee stopper was all that prevented from ASBO adding to his two assists with a goal.

To their credit, Plymouth kept pushing and would have caught us out if it hadn't have been for Jose Enrique doing what Bhasera should have done before and patrolling the line from a corner. But as last week the result was never really in doubt and the full-time celebrations were suitably effusive - too much so for the stewards who soon conceded defeat in their attempts to hold back the black-and-white hordes who swarmed onto the pitch and around the players. The only shame was that Coloccini, Spidermag, Steven Taylor and Peter Lovenkrands didn't get to play a part in the game that capped a remarkable season.

Spare a thought for our hosts, whose relegation to League One was confirmed by the result. Given the accusations of arrogance we've had to endure all season, a bit of humility probably wouldn't go amiss - and the truth is that Plymouth gave as good as they got in terms of goalscoring opportunities, undone only by their wastefulness and our ruthlessness. We were grateful too to the indulgence of the stadium announcer/DJ in playing 'We Are The Champions' and 'Local Hero', to Pilgrims boss Paul Mariner for his post-match compliments in trying circumstances ("Newcastle United deserve to be in the Premier League. Their fans are unbelievable and I'm thrilled they are back up") and to those home supporters who had the incredibly good grace to forget about their side's fate and applaud our achievements. Would the same have happened on Tyneside? I'm not sure.

But the fate of Mariner's side isn't our concern, other than as an indication of what we feared might have been for us, had the players not pulled together and pulled out all the stops. Tonight was the culmination of nine months of blood, sweat and cheers and we'll be going back to the Premier League in much better spirit than we exited it.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Forster's foster parents do a Toon

Congratulations to Norwich, who, like us, have bounced back from relegation to promotion at the first time of asking - but particularly to Toon loanee Fraser Forster. Our young 'keeper has been a revelation at a club where pre-season expectations were high and in what is a tough division, never more so than during yesterday's crucial 1-0 win at promotion rivals Charlton when he was peppered with shots but repelled them all.

What happens in the summer will be interesting. Steve Harper is likely to remain first choice for another season or two, but any injury would leave us with just Tim Krul with any experience. Forster might benefit from another loan spell, perhaps even with the Canaries, but I very much doubt we'd be prepared to let him go on a permanent basis.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Royals rumbled as crowning glory comes ever closer

Reading 1 - 2 Newcastle Utd

Promotion may have already been won, but we continued our push for the Championship's top prize with victory over Reading. As with Blackpool on Saturday, we came up against in-form opposition - having clambered out of the hole Brendan Rodgers left them languishing in, the Royals had lost just twice in 15 outings - so the fact that we strolled to another routine win with few alarms and without ever being at full throttle just goes to underline our superiority in this division. (Note to our detractors: that can't be decried as arrogance now - it's just a statement of fact.)

Perhaps in acknowledgement of the fact that the game came hot on the heels of the 4-1 savaging of the Seasiders, Chris Hughton opted to ring the changes. Peter Lovenkrands and Bigger Lad dropped to the bench, with Big Lad and Alan Smith taking their place. Tamas Kadar, meanwhile, missed out through injury, Hughton choosing to replace him with Ryan Taylor (indirectly, as it was Danny Simpson who switched to the left) rather than risk Jose Enrique from the start.

It was the home side who began with the greater intent, busily setting about us with some neat, effervescent passing and approach play that - a Shane Long effort aside - came to nothing as soon it reached the edge of our penalty box. Cue a characteristically ruthless sucker-punch from us. Kevin Nolan, who was playing in a more advanced role in the reshuffled line-up and had been charging about like a man possessed, turned neatly and fired in a shot that Royals 'keeper Adam Federici will probably be disappointed not to have kept out.

With control established, we started to liven up, though the second goal we were threatening didn't materialise until three minutes before the break. Nolan again it was, tucking in Wayne Routledge's cross to overtake Bigger Lad in the scoring charts. As mentioned last week, the glut of goals from midfield have been vital this season, just as their lack last term helped condemn us to relegation - if we're to survive in the top flight this time, it's essential Nolan and those around him can keep it up.

While Taylor and Simpson had at times looked a little jittery at the back, Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini had been assured and composed, nodding away anything flung into the box - so it was disappointing to learn that the latter had succumbed to a hamstring strain, replaced at the break by Enrique.

Not that it really seemed to matter, the 4000 travelling fans deprived of the sight of Nolan completing his hat-trick early in the second half by the width of a post and a subsequent hack off the goal-line.

Royals manager Brian McDermott - who, lest we forget, needed the win if he was to achieve the improbable feat of rocketing his side from the relegation zone into the play-offs - signalled his intent by throwing on a pair of strikers, Simon Church and Hal Robson-Kanu, for two midfielders. Even then, though, it looked as though any end product to their attacks would need to be supplied by us - and so it proved, Enrique's goal-line clearance whacking off Simpson's back and looping over Steve Harper. Just the sort of tragicomic goal we were conceding last season - fate preparing us for our return to the Premier League, perhaps...

Another striker came on, Grzegorz Rasiak, as Long was withdrawn, and we came under increasing pressure from a rejuvenated Royals. But the introduction of fresh blood from our bench in the shape of Bigger Lad and ASBO helped us hold out through an Old Trafford-esque seven minutes of stoppage time - albeit though this was merited, added on to account for a nasty-looking injury to Bryn Gunnarsson that left our hosts down to ten men.

In truth, we could actually have extended our advantage at the death, Spidermag missing the target after a quick break from a corner for which Federici had ventured forwards. Aside from that Champions League winner against Juventus and crashing his car into a Metro train, Andy Griffin's time on Tyneside is probably most memorable for his repeated shackling of David Ginola in games against Spurs - but faced by a similarly tricky customer in the shape of the dynamic Argentinian, and with his advancing years counting against him, our old boy came off second best, as most full-backs have.

It's that time of year when there's a sudden obsession with convoluted maths, probabilities and possibilities, but fortunately our situation is now very clear. Our nine-point advantage over the Baggies with three games to go and far superior goal difference effectively means we're champions - but it'll be a mathematical certainty if the Smogs are able to avoid defeat at the Hawthorns on Saturday, and even if they're not, all we need is one point from our remaining three fixtures. As Sir Bobby famously once advised: "If we start counting our chickens before they hatch, they won't lay any eggs in the basket". But I think that even he'd make an exception in this case.

Opposition fan's view: The Two Unfortunates

Other reports: BBC

Monday, April 12, 2010

That charmless man

New regular feature the Monday Profile on The Two Unfortunates this week focuses on one Joseph Anthony Barton, better known around these parts as ASBO. The verdict, perhaps surprisingly, is lenient.

As the case for the prosecution, I'd point to the infuriatingly recurrent cycle of misdemeanour, punishment, mock-repentance, guff about "owing it to the fans" (fans, incidentally, whom he's labelled "vicious") - and then repeat offence. And to the fact that, even in 2007, before his jail sentence for assault in Liverpool, the concept of him making a "fresh start" was rather familiar...

Blackpool rocked

Newcastle Utd 4 - 1 Blackpool

With one game to go, our unbeaten home record was sustained against Ian Holloway's play-off-chasing Tangerines on Saturday. On a day of sunshine, it was Newcastle who were sitting pretty having overcome a timid visiting team.

We were ahead after just 12 minutes when Spidermag cut in from the left and fired home via the legs of Ian Evatt. Despite a fair degree of good fortune with the deflection, it didn't stop Spidermag claiming the goal, and whipping out his mask for another airing.

When Bigger Lad nodded home Danny Guthrie's free-kick minutes later, the chance of the away team coming back into proceedings looked decidedly slim, and despite a doubtless colourful half-time team talk from Ollie Blackpool simply didn't get themselves going until they had leaked further goals, with both Kevin Nolan and Wayne Routledge adding to our total.

Had Peter Lovenkrands taken anyone of his numerous chances, or had others also had their shooting boots on, the game could have had an even rosier shine before we allowed substitute Brett Ormerod to steal in and knock home from a few yards out after Steve Harper could only parry a late shot.

As Ollie commented afterwards, if Blackpool continue to play like that, then they can kiss goodbye to their play-off hopes and any chance of a replay in the Premier League next season.

For us the immediate future is bright, but I suspect it isn't going to feature a reunion with a team in orange.

Other report: BBC

Friday, April 09, 2010

How promotion was won and where it's got us

With the dust settling on our promotion and the only matter of interest now, over the course of the remaining five fixtures, being whether we can claim the title we richly deserve, it's time to take an opportunity to reflect on how our instant return to the top flight was achieved.

Around this time last year I managed to stop wringing my hands and gnashing my teeth just long enough to put together a lengthy "Where did it all go wrong?" piece. If a week's a long time in politics, then a year is a bloody long time in football. What a pleasure to now be in a position to bookend a season in the Championship with a "Where did it all go right?" piece...

1. Back of the net

To quote from the Garth Crooks school of punditry, goals win games. Last season we really struggled in attack, but this term - albeit aided by more obliging and generous opposition defences - we've scored for fun, particularly in the crucial run-in, hitting the back of the net 79 times to date. Big Lad started off like a player who'd finally found form (and his level), but when he was ruled out through injury Bigger Lad and Peter Lovenkrands stepped into the breach to forge a formidable free-scoring partnership.

What was perhaps most pleasing, though, was that the goal-getting responsibility wasn't shouldered solely by our forwards while others shirked their duties. Kevin Nolan made amends for last season by notching numerous vital strikes, particularly in the autumn, while fellow midfielder Danny Guthrie mucked in and we even got to see Spidermag's mask in celebration.

2. The case for the defence

Of course - as we learned to our cost during King Kev's first managerial reign on Tyneside - goals thumped in at the right end don't necessarily result in success if they're being leaked at an almost equal rate at the wrong end. We had become depressingly familiar with the sight of Shay Given being used for target practice, and a defence about as watertight as ASBO's were he to be up on a charge of being a thoroughly decent and pleasant human being.

Again, we have to concede that this season's record of 20 clean sheets for Steve Harper and just 31 goals conceded is at least partly due to our being faced with more profligate strikeforces than in the Premier League, something that became apparent very early on - but equally the organisation, control and endeavour of our back four shouldn't be downplayed.

3. Class acts

Not only have the players shown consistently good form (rather than the sporadic peaks of quality followed by long troughs of awfulness that we're used to), but genuine class has shone through. Few of us would have shed any tears had Nolan been one of those to depart last summer, barely six months after arriving from Bolton, but he's proven himself in fine fashion, being named as the Championship's top performer.

Runner-up Graham Dorrans aside, you'd be hard pushed to think of another contender from beyond the confines of St James' Park - but within it Fabricio Coloccini, Jose Enrique, Spidermag, Alan Smith and Bigger Lad could I think all lay reasonable claim to the accolade themselves. When our big names have been called upon to perform, they've done so admirably.

4. Football focus

For the most part, there's been a very refreshing sense of cohesion about the squad, with everyone pulling together single-mindedly towards a common goal, namely promotion at the first attempt. Of course, unwelcome and potentially disruptive allegations of internecine fisticuffs have surfaced in recent weeks, but even these failed to distract our attention from completing the all-important task at hand. For once, we've been occupying more column inches at the back of newspapers than at the front.

5. The quiet man

Alan Smith may have traced the fact that the squad has shown such focus back to the player-convened crisis meeting which took place in the wake of the pre-season humiliation at Leyton Orient - but the credit has, I think, to rest just as much with the man at the helm.

Chris Hughton began the season as no one's first choice of manager, but set about conducting himself with astonishing dignity and quiet assurance in unsettling and barely tolerable working conditions. Taking the remnants of our Premier League squad, those who hadn't been cherry-picked by top-flight clubs at home and abroad, he proved to be an alchemist, somehow contriving to forge a side from some pretty base metals that hit the ground running and never really looked back. After our being led by no fewer than four different managers in the disastrous relegation season, Hughton's well-deserved permanent appointment in October brought much-needed stability to the club. For someone, at least, a draught from the poisoned chalice doesn't seem to have been fatal.

6. Right to buy (and sell)

Judicious transfer dealings: like a miserly defence and a low media profile, not something we're exactly renowned for. So it's with pleasure that, despite initial misgivings, I can conclude we were right to ship out the players we did last summer, recouping some cash and slashing the wage bill to more manageable levels. And it's with even greater pleasure that I can reiterate my assessment of our January acquisitions (both permanent and temporary) as astute and timely, evidence of a pragmatic recognition that reinforcements and refreshments were needed.

Hughton and his scouting staff should be commended for identifying and securing the likes of Danny Simpson, Mike Williamson, Leon Best and particularly Wayne Routledge, while (very) grudging credit is also due to Jabba for putting his fat fingers in his pocket to bankroll the purchases.

7. Application, application, application

Perhaps above everything else, though, the fact that our season has ended in smiles and success is down to the application and attitude of the players.

In August, contrary to what many opposition fans would have you believe, we supporters were by and large under no illusions, well aware that we were kicking off in the Championship on merit rather than anything else. Expectations were relatively low, predictions largely pessimistic, the prognosis gloomy. It was widely anticipated - by ourselves as well as others - that the egos of our Big Time Charlies and Fancy Dans might prove depressingly undeflated by relegation, and that arrogance might be our downfall.

So the ensuing and manifest commitment of the players has been something of a revelation. Rather than affecting a haughty superiority, they've treated the Championship with due maturity, seriousness and respect, determinedly meeting (and beating) opponents on their own terms. If scrapping and scraping three points was the order of the day, they rolled up their sleeves and got stuck into it. As Sheffield Utd manager Kevin Blackwell put it in his post-match comments on Monday night: "If you’ve not got balls then you won’t get out of this division. Newcastle have shown they’ve got balls. They deserve to be in the Premier League and it’s a terrific achievement".

Given how dominant and ruthlessly efficient we've been in most matches, complacency has been in surprisingly short supply, tripping us up on only a couple of occasions. Our stay in the Championship has turned out to be brief, but that's precisely because we didn't approach the season arrogantly assuming that that would be the case.


During the vital win over Forest, the TV commentator suggested - with typical exaggeration - that we were "finally awakening from the nightmare". I beg to differ. The nightmare was last season - this season has been a dream, for all the reasons above and more. For the first time in years, Saturdays (or whenever Sky have rescheduled our game for) have actually been something to look forward to.

And of course, now that we've looked back, looking forward is what we're duty-bound to begin doing. Dwell too long on this term's triumph and we'll soon find ourselves in peril - the planning for next season has to start now. Hughton may already have set about dampening expectations, but they really don't need to be around these parts. Those heady days of an Andy Cole-inspired Entertainers taking the top flight by storm are a distant memory. We already fully appreciate that achievement will translate simply as survival - anything else would be a bonus.

With the squad of players we have and the style of football we've played this campaign, we'd be lucky to scrape the requisite points to avoid an immediate return to the second tier. More judicious transfer activity is imperative (as well as a reasonable budget) if we're not to awake from the dream and be plunged headlong back into another nightmare.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Quote of the day

"The promotion is great news. I'm delighted for the team, delighted. I went on Monday and watched them get promotion. It took me back to Grimsby, when we won promotion there. It was a great moment.

Monday night took away some of the hardship I've felt since I was told about the cancer. It gave me a lift because I'm just a Newcastle fan at heart. It gave me a huge lift after having a tough time. I want to be around to see them back in the Premier League now.

Former Newcastle chairman Sir John Hall, who is suffering from terminal cancer and for whom promotion back to the division he first took us to has come as a timely tonic. Very best wishes to him for the fight ahead from both of us at Black & White & Read All Over.

Meanwhile, in amongst the inevitable expectation-dampening, Chris Hughton has revealed that a chuffed Wor Al phoned to congratulate him and the team, and a telling use of the first person plural pronoun indicated where born-and-bred Londoner Rob Lee's allegiances continue to lie: "Most of the players in the current team were in the side that got us relegated, so all credit to them because they've knuckled down".

A cut above

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Sheffield Utd

Already promoted, Newcastle did enough to overcome a spirited Sheffield United at St James' Park on Monday night, with Kevin Nolan's scissor-kick applying the coup de grace to the Blades.

With Cardiff already having ensured promotion before the match, it was a slightly flat Newcastle who kicked off, and it was the visitors who seized the early initiative when Richard Cresswell out jumped Fabricio Coloccini to head home a corner at the Gallowgate End, with Steve Harper crowded out by a host of players.

Having gone a goal down, the threat of losing our unbeaten record at home seemed to spur the team on, and they were back level on half-time after Andy Carroll had been manhandled in the box by Blades captain Chris Morgan - allowing Peter Lovenkrands to fire home the penalty and restore parity at the break.

The second half saw us create several decent chances, only for some wayward finishing and decent goalkeeping keep us at bay. However, that all changed when the ball fell to Nolan, who, with his back to goal, fired an acrobatic scissor-kick past Steve Simonsen to give us a 2-1 lead which we rarely looked like losing.

The party may have started before kick-off, but the win ensured it continued long into the night.

The twin challenge now is to win the league, and to finish the season unbeaten at home.

With a month of the season still to go, Chris Hughton now has a great opportunity to assess his playing squad and decide which players are to go, and where he needs to strengthen before the start of next season. For once, it's nice to be able to relax, knowing that the job which we set out to accomplish at the start of the season (and which I seriously doubted would happen) has been done.

Happy Easter indeed.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Celebration time

Since its construction in 1438, the Onofrio Fountain in Dubrovnik has withstood both the 1667 earthquake and the 1991-2 Homeland War. I thought it only fair not to make it withstand the leaping about of a drunk and exuberant Geordie...

To echo Paul, GET IN!!!

His report of last night's promotion-party-starting 2-1 win over Sheffield Utd to follow, and thanks to Lanterne Rouge for the write-up of Saturday's crucial 3-2 win at Peterborough.

Monday, April 05, 2010

We're up!

Thanks to Agent Chopra and his Cardiff chums, the promotion party starts before we even kick a ball tonight. Full reflections to follow at the end of the week, but for now GET IN!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Hold Tight London Road

Peterborough United 2 Newcastle United 3

Cambridgeshire has been no happy hunting ground for the Toon over the years. A 2-0 Carling Cup capitulation at the same ground in September is just one of two particularly ghastly memories: Wor Kev's presence having failed to avert a 1-0 defeat at Cambridge in 1984, despite the hosts having gone almost 30 matches without a win. Still, with promotion a near certainty before today, Magpies could afford to approach this East Coast Line derby with a decent degree of calm. Posh will be two divisions adrift in 6 months and beset by the turmoil of a chairman's seeming disinterest, their lower league scrappers would surely be ripe and easy pickings.

Hughton's XI of choice kept things familiar across the backline and in central midfield, but Fabrice Pancrate on the right and Joey Barton on the left provided a relatively novel twist. Up front, Leon Best was chosen to partner Shola Ameobi.

But it was a horror show of a first period. Peterborough, employing an enterprising formation involving three centre backs, wing backs and a packed midfield, dominated. A casual opening epitomized by some woeful deliveries from Barton from set pieces, was compounded as Coloccini and Harper left a gap as wide as the Tyne between them, let the ball bounce and enacted a textbook Keystone Cops routine. A blatant shove by Liam Dickinson on the tousel haired Argentine was missed by the officials and Dominic Green hooked the ball in with elan. Two further chances fell to Coloccini's countyman Sergio Torres, as Best and Nolan failed to convert at the other end. But a fully merited half time deficit was averted after a breezy move down the left involving Enrique and Best; Nolan forcing the ball in from a few yards. This after Harper had tipped over a header from Charlie Lee resulting from one of Exodus Geohaghon's stiff arm throws.

At half time, some above average tunes from Blur and Black Kids were blasted over the tannoy and the feelgood factor was beginning to mount, helped in spades by a rare opportunity for the Toon Army to stand at a football match. Hughton will rightly receive credit for a revitalization of focus, but mysterious substitutions from the dapper Jim Gannon, the author of some curiously self-obsessed programme notes, played into the Londoner's hands. Abandoning the effective 3-6-1 shape of the first half proved foolhardy as Magpies' superior physical power came to the fore. Pancrate made way for a fluorescent booted Wayne Routledge and it was to be an auspicious cameo from the ex-QPR man, his link up play with Best especially catching the eye. The shaky Gabriel Zakuani was carded for upending Big Shola and Barton, having clearly re-adjusted his rifle sights at the break, bent in a peach to send the zebra shirted hordes into raptures. Cue an old fashioned bundle involving outfield players and bench and chants of, "If Bristol score, we're on the pitch". Now rampant, Best missed a sitter while one on one before Ameobi raked in a low shot that appeared to be heavily deflected, bamboozling the otherwise impressive England benchwarmer Joe Lewis. The striker's celebration was almost apologetic but there was soon more brilliance on display as the lithe Best was twice denied by Lewis.

A 30 minute purple patch ended when another Geohaghon hurl caused unnecessary havoc and the preening Dickinson, named man of the match, touched the ball in, with Harper flailing. Butt came on for Ameobi and Gutierrez for Barton, the latter milking this latest reversal in fortunes with gusto. No further scoring resulted, neither here nor at Ashton Gate and the champagne bottles will require transportation back up the A1. Monday should be a party.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, April 02, 2010

Away the lads

With promotion back to the Premier League - the first tangible success that we'd have witnessed since this blog was founded six years ago - potentially less than 24 hours away, it's comically bad timing that both Paul and I are away and deprived of internet access over Easter.

Paul will be posting a report of Monday evening's clash with Sheffield Utd when he's back online on Thursday, but in the meantime, in a hasty revival of our hibernating View From The Away End feature, the write-up of tomorrow's game at Peterborough will come courtesy of a guest contributor, Lanterne Rouge, Reading fan and one of The Two Unfortunates. Thanks to him for stepping into the breach, and I'm sure you can look forward to a less goggle-eyed but more insightful analysis of events than you'd get from either of us two.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

A Month Of Saturdays: March 2010

The blows rained down in March, as our team of superheroes and scrappers continued to pick up the points to leave the opposition teetering on the ropes by the end of the month.

BANG! We started the month with a 2-1 away win at Watford (which Ben presciently titled "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)").

CRASH! We followed up that win with the 6-1 demolition of Barnsley.

THWACK! We traded blows with the Smogs before coming away with a creditable 2-2 draw.

BASH! We pounded Scunthorpe 3-0.

POW! We came away from Ashton Gate with a solid 2-2 draw after a fightback against a Bristol City team who'd only recently parted company with their manager.

KABLAM! We did enough to overcome a lively Doncaster Rovers 1-0.

CRUNCH! We defeated a spirited Nottingham Forest 2-0 to leave us tantalisingly close to a return to the Premier League.

As Tim Westwood might say, this was the month in which we landed "heavy hit, after heavy hit" on our title rivals.

Off the pitch, it was a similar story of blows traded, with the depressing news that Steven Taylor's return from injury has been delayed following an alleged disagreement with Bigger Lad which left the former with a broken jaw and the latter with bandaged hands. For once, though, it was refreshing to see Newcastle close ranks with no "club insider" quotes seeping forth - which left at least one journalist with an axe to grind.

Sky landed something of a body blow of their own, with their insistence that our match away to Plymouth be moved to a Monday night - an away trip that in a small way echoes the latest Toon-linked film (directed by Llambiarse's son Warren). Meanwhile, the director's father chose his moment to once again explain why we should be grateful for Jabba's cash - something I took particular issue with.

However, given David Gold's complaints about a former member of our parish, it was perhaps unsurprising to learn that Jabba has sought to implement a salary cap at St James'.

Kevin Nolan beat allcomers to be crowned Football League Player of the Year and Steven Taylor picked up the North East Sports Personality of the Year, whilst a former winner got a bit annoyed with some questions from the Guardian.

Spidermag enjoyed a prolific month in front of goal, scoring twice to boost his prospects of inclusion in Diego Maradonna's Argentina squad for the World Cup, and seeing the fans respond with an internet-led campaign to get as many people as possible sporting Spiderman masks at the Forest home match - and on the the subject of South American superheroes, Ben bumped into Nobby Solano in a Cardiff bar.

Looking further afield, a knockout blow for Phil Brown saw our former assistant manager Iain Dowie charged with masterminding Hull's battle against relegation, and Charlie Crowe, the last surviving member of our 1951 FA Cup winning team, was sadly counted out.