Monday, May 31, 2010

Is Steven Gunner go?

If I had a pound for every time the Steven-Taylor-to-Arsenal story cropped up, I'd be a moderately wealthy man. The latest paper to run with it is the Mirror, which claims a £5m bid is imminent from a desperate Arsene Wenger whose central defence may vanish over the summer. What is new, though (or at least to me), are the suggestions that Chelsea, Villa and Everton might also be keen to test our resolve.

I'd be disappointed to see Taylor go (particularly in view of the hierarchy's recent comments about unearthing, developing and holding onto local talent) but given that he's yet to agree a new contract, a move certainly isn't beyond the realms of possibility. Of course it's questionable at very least whether we'd be able to find a suitable replacement for that sort of money - but that might yet be another issue Chris Hughton finds he has to contend with.

In other news, January transfer target Jermaine Beckford has wasted no time since his Leeds contract was torn up, deciding to leap into bed with David Moyes at Everton. Good luck to him if he thinks he's likely to get first-team football at Goodison Park. Beckford might have been able to do a job for us or another lesser top flight side - though most of the Leeds fans we had on here earlier in the year were keen to suggest that he's far from the player he's been cracked up to be.

A rather more surprising move might see Craig Bellamy swap Man City for his hometown club Cardiff - though it's difficult to see how the Welsh side's precarious finances would allow for that unless the new owners are prepared to pump in some serious cash. I wonder whether our former striker just has one eye on the capital's nightlife, of which he's so fond...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Insert your own "people posing as professional footballers for the Mackems" joke here...

I suppose if this was going to happen anywhere, it was most likely to be in the official Facebook capital of the UK. The warning, basically, is that if you get a message from David Bardsley asking if you want to see his puppies, it's best not to reply.

What with first suffering from paranoid delusions about being pursued and now having their identity stolen, the Mackems' players appear to have found themselves in some kind of Hollywood espionage thriller...

Mail ban

It would appear that the Sunday Heil's single-handed buggeration of England's World Cup bid has not gone unnoticed in Jabba's Palace at St James' Park, with the release of a statement from the club confirming that a pre-existing ban to all reporters for the Daily and Sunday Heil will continue to be banned from our games, training ground and press conferences.

Whilst this announcement seems to me to be about a week out of date, I can't say I'll be shedding any tears if the club's exhortations to other Premier League teams sees the paper banned from the entire Premier League.

Mid bids imminent?

An interesting revelation on Tuesday: we're sniffing around Youssouf Mulumbu of also-promoted West Brom. The Congolese central midfielder is young, enjoyed a good season anchoring a very attack-minded five-man midfield and would probably fit the bill as a replacement for Nicky Butt - but the questions remain as to whether we could afford him and why the Baggies would be prepared to let their lynchpin leave.

More speculatively, the Mirror has reported that Chris Hughton is keen to lure Kieran Richardson up the road from the Dark Place with the promise of regular first-team football. The former Man Utd and one-time England prospect was deployed in a variety of positions (including left back) by Ol' Cauliflower Face in the campaign just gone, but has often caught my eye as a forward-thinking midfielder and so personally it's a bit of a mystery why he hasn't featured more often in the Mackems' first XI. Again, if we could get him at the right price it would strike me as a decent bit of business.

Meanwhile, Hughton has confirmed that, as anticipated, we'll be at least partially reliant on loans to strengthen the squad before the new season kicks off - but also that these deals aren't as easy to strike as it might seem: "One of the problems now we have stepped up is that if we loan from Premier League sides we also have to guarantee that loan player games. If they cannot play in a good percentage of the games we might have trouble persuading them to come here".

And that's not to mention the strings that rival Premier League managers might choose to attach - the Sky article alludes to Taggart's disgruntlement at the lack of pitch time afforded to Giuseppe Rossi when we borrowed him from Man Utd in 2006. Now at Villareal and a full Italian international, Rossi would be a more likely starter for us these days...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Quote of the day

"There's never been any suggestion that racist abuse of players was once widespread in this region - along with many other parts of the country. Our own recollections, other fan reminiscences and memoirs from the likes of Bobby Barnes and Viv Anderson cover the subject well."

It's usually a chilly day in hell when we find ourselves disagreeing with .com - but, in writing the above in indignant response to wide-of-the-mark comments originally made about the fans' treatment of Andy Cole in this Guardian article, it's clear Biffa and Niall haven't been reading The Football Supporter lately...

Rather than flatly denying racism was an issue and - worse still - childishly throwing stones back in Chelsea's direction, why not be mature, accept it was a problem and acknowledge that it's been almost wholly eradicated but also endorse the continued efforts of the club and the wider football community to keep it that way?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The future's orange

Belated commiserations to Agent Chopra, whose Cardiff side suffered the fate of play-off final losers at Wembley on Saturday. Our old boy couldn't have done much more for the cause himself, following up his exploits in the second leg of the semi-final with the opening goal and striking the woodwork once in each half - but wretched defending did for the Bluebirds as Blackpool established a 3-2 half-time lead that they then managed to protect until the final whistle.

So it's the Tangerines who'll be joining us in the big boys' league next season. I suspect that they, like us, may prove to be Premier League punch bags, but after this season's experience we for one won't be relishing the trip to Bloomfield Road.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Getting our cheapskates on

According to today's News Of The Screws, the first two new arrivals at St James' Park may be Man Utd midfielder Tom Cleverley, on a season-long loan, and former Hull full-back Bernard Mendy, on a free transfer. Safe to say that neither prospect fills me with excitement or confidence. Cleverley was a shining light in a dismal campaign for Watford but will find the Premier League a whole different proposition, while Mendy hardly did much to halt the Tigers' slide back into the Championship.

The rag is also reporting that our interest in Man City's wantaway defender Nedum Onouha is likely to be trumped by the Mackems. Meanwhile, James Milner's potential move away from Villa - perhaps to Liverpool - will hold less interest for us now that it's been confirmed by his agent that we short-sightedly agreed to remove a sell-on clause in order to get the full asking price.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Omission, injury and insult

So there's to be no South African bench-warming for Fabricio Coloccini after all. After getting our man's hopes up, Diego Maradona has now cruelly dashed them by omitting him from Argentina's final 23-man World Cup squad. Still, Fab's not the only person to have been caused pain by the loosest cannon in the world of international football management - not only did six other players suffer the same fate, but when leaving the press conference where the cuts were announced Maradona knocked down a journalist with his car and then branded the injured man "an asshole"...

In other news, old boy James Milner has been the subject of a whopping £20m bid from Man City, which his club Villa has rejected. It's been rather galling seeing Milner blossom into the player he showed the potential to be on Tyneside - not least because his departure early in the 2008/9 season precipitated King Kev's abdication and our horrible Premier League demise.

Elsewhere, another former Toon winger, Nobby Solano, has agreed a new short-term deal with play-off flops Leicester. Not much more than that to report, really - though it does give me the opportunity to go off-topic and post a link to this Foxes fan's genius response to Yann Kermogant and the penalty miss that cost them their place in Saturday's Wembley showdown...

And finally, Ron Reed at Australian newspaper the Herald Sun clearly enjoyed noting that "Viduka has always been a Pies supporter". But it's Captain Pasty himself who talks about skippering his country as being "the icing on the cake"...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Quote of the day

"Chris Hughton is a pioneering figure whose achievements we hope will be recognised for years to come. As the first black manager to achieve such heights, we feel this is worthy of recognition."

Congratulations to our gaffer, honoured with an award from the Kick It Out campaign and lauded by the organisation's chair and founder Lord Herman Ouseley. For his part, Hughton lamented the lack of fellow black managers, rightly noting the staggering "imbalance between those playing and those going into coaching", but declared he would be delighted to "be a positive influence on anyone coming through".

Hughton also commented on his personal experience of racism: "For me, as someone who played in the 70s and 80s, seeing the racism around on the terraces then, things have improved dramatically". Interesting he should say that in the light of an article on Viv Anderson, famously the first black footballer to represent England, in the latest issue of the Football Supporters' Federation magazine The Football Supporter, in which Anderson pointedly talks about suffering "unbelievable" abuse and "mass taunts" in an atmosphere that was "beyond hostile" in his first away game for Forest. The venue? St James'. A grim reminder of a shameful past that thankfully has been left long behind - and of the fact that dewy-eyed reminiscences of football's halcyon days are to be mistrusted.

Free kicks

You may or (more likely) may not recall us reporting in October on the long-term injury sustained by former Toon loanee and current AC Milan defender Oguchi Onyewu while on international duty for the USA. Back then, I alluded to the parallels between the American's plight and that of another player formerly of this parish.

Well, it's now transpired that "Gooch" has signed a one-year extension to his Milan contract - a year for which he'll play for free as a mark of gratitude to the club for continuing to pay him a salary during his rehabilitation. For their part, Milan have stated: "This is an exemplary gesture that deserves our sincere congratulations". Would that Little Saint Mick had had the generosity of spirit to do the same...

In other old boy news, commiserations to Lee Clark and Terry Mac, whose high-scoring Huddersfield were dumped out of the League One play-offs by Millwall. The whole concept of Clarkie as a manager (let alone a successful one) continues to baffle me...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Whither the local heroes?

Setting out our recruitment policy, the recent club statement claimed that we're going to focus our search close to home: "The days when players such as Alan Shearer, Steve Bruce, Peter Beardsley and Michael Carrick had to leave Newcastle to begin their illustrious football careers elsewhere are over". Interesting, then, to find the Guardian's resident Smoggie Harry Pearson decrying the dearth of international-quality talent that the region's produced in recent years.

I take his point - Steven Taylor and Bigger Lad are decent players, but hardly on a par with the likes of Gazza, Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley and Wor Al. Whatever the reasons for the apparent decline (and it might just be coincidence), looking near rather than far could perhaps prove myopic metaphorically as well as literally.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Col moves closer to claiming Cup place

It was our boys wot won it! A potential pair of places on Argentina's team bus to South Africa, that is. Diego Maradona's partiality to Spidermag has been well documented, but he's also sprung something of a surprise by picking his Toon team-mate Fabricio Coloccini ahead of Barcelona's Gabriel Milito and other established stars of the world stage like Inter Milan duo Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso.

I'm not questioning whether Coloccini's had a good season - he certainly has - but Maradona's willingness to overlook the quality of the opposition he's faced is intriguing. Perhaps he's been swayed by our tousle-haired defender's newly discovered goalscoring form?

Of course, this was only the provisional 30-man squad, so Coloccini could yet find himself one of the seven left out from the final group. But from our perspective it would be interesting to get the opportunity to see him in action against the world's best, if only to get an indication of whether he really has improved during his season in the Championship or whether we can expect him to be exposed again next year.

Chops to waltz down Wembley Way

Another dramatic evening of Championship play-off action saw Cardiff lose on the night to Leicester but still win through to the Wembley final on penalties. Agent Chopra scored Cardiff's first and won the penalty for the second (fouled by Ol' Cauliflower Face's son Alex), but the Foxes scored three times themselves to take the game to extra time and spot-kicks.

Chopra scored in the shoot-out, as did Nobby Solano for Leicester, and it was Mackem loanee Martyn Waghorn who had the crucial penalty saved. Wonder if Nobby is in Gwdihw drowning his sorrows as I write?

The Bluebirds' opponents at Wembley will be Blackpool, after a stunning 4-3 victory at the City Ground which brought to a devastating end Forest's 19 game unbeaten home run and which must have hurt their fans all the more because three of the Seasiders' goals were scored by DJ Campbell, on loan from Leicester. Still, can't say I'm sorry to see the Tricky Trees dumped out, after those graceless and unself-consciously moronic "1-0 to the famous club" chants back in October...

Return of the Jack?

Well, return of the Jack link, at least. Back in January we apparently expressed an interest in Arsenal's Jack Wilshere, and now it's being reported that we're keen on going head-to-head with Bolton for him.

The teenage midfielder impressed during his spell at the Trotters, and I'd say he's certainly worth pursuing - though, to be honest, equally desirable would be his fellow Reebok Stadium loanee Vladimir Weiss, whose club Man City would probably be prepared to farm him out again. Either way, we've got pace and trickery on the flanks in the form of Spidermag and Wayne Routledge, but a bit more cleverness and invention through the middle wouldn't go amiss.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Just what the doctor ordered

In my latest dabble in moonlighting over at The Two Unfortunates, I've been reflecting on how a season in the Championship has worked wonders for our on- and off-pitch wellbeing.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Stimmo slinks off

Not a good weekend for former Toon defender Mark Stimson, whose Gillingham side completed a miserable season in League One without a solitary away win by slumping 3-0 to already-relegated Wycombe and, courtesy of results elsewhere, followed their hosts through the trapdoor. Today Stimmo paid the price for failure, parting company with the Kent club.

In other old boy news, Agent Chopra's Cardiff gained the upper hand in their play-off tie against a Leicester side which included Nobby Solano. The 1-0 win came courtesy of a free-kick from Peter Whittingham, their Geordie striker having earlier hit the post. The chances of the Bluebirds joining us in the Premier League? Fairly good, I'd say.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bargain hunt

With our successful Championship winning season already confined to the history books, the challenge now for Chris Hughton is how to move the squad forward and prepare for the forthcoming Premier League season (which lest we forget starts in 96 days).

Off the pitch, as January showed, and the latest club statement backs up, it looks like Jabba is finally learning his lesson, and keeping his head down and running the club on a sounder (i.e. less reckless) basis than his predecessor, whilst also returning to life as the reclusive business man who bought the club three years ago. If the figures permit, then a bit of sensible investment to freshen the squad and a sprinkling of some more quality (without a return to the days of star signings and terrible team spirit) should be enough to keep us afloat in the Premier League - something which clubs like Wolves, Stoke and Birmingham have demonstrated is eminently possible in recent seasons.

I actually find it reassuring to see that we now have a five-year plan to bring the deficit down and run the club at break-even. To be honest, I can't help feeling that's how every football club should be run, and the reality is that this has needed to happen for a long time.

Of course, the question of available funds is an interesting one. The statement says that "there is no plan for new capital outlay on players". That's not the same as saying we won't be making any signings, but does suggest (and it is only a suggestion, because the sentence merely highlights there is "no plan") that any signings will presumably need to be funded from income (either player sales, or possibly revenue from Sky, shirt sales, season tickets, etc.) or be free transfers.

All of which translates to the club saying Jabba isn't going to splash his personal cash a la Roman Abramovich or put us in hock with a massive loan from the bank to buy a injury-prone striker from Real Madrid. Quelle surprise. To be fair, I don't think any of us anticipated, or wanted, a summer of marquee signings anyway.

However, it may be that Chris Hughton has, or can generate, a small pot of cash to play with - or has to make do with free transfers and loans. Either way, I'm assuming there is, or will at some point be, some new faces arriving and I now turn to look at which areas need strengthening (and for that matter, which players might be moved on to generate some more cash).


The challenge here is that caused by an embarrassment of riches - with Steve Harper, Tim Krul and Fraser Forster all representing assets worth preserving. Harper, as the elder statesman, undoubtedly proved his worth both on and off the pitch last season, and with relatively few games under his belt, could well be expected to display an impressive degree of longevity between the posts. He will surely start the new season as the man in possession of the gloves.

Behind him stand the imposing figures of Krul and Forster - both young, both talented and highly rated and both hoping for their chance to shine. The question is how to keep everyone happy? Whilst Forster enjoyed a league-winning season of his own on loan at Norwich, it remains to be seen whether he is given an opportunity to go back there, or alternatively whether further suitors come calling for him, or for Krul (who has previously enjoyed loan spells north of the border).

What is undoubtedly clear is that, even if one of the two youngsters is allowed out on loan, we shouldn't contemplate selling either of them.


The first and undoubtedly biggest question facing Hughton is what to do with Steven Taylor. With the player only having one year left on his contract, it's a case of sign him up for a longer stay or sell him now rather than risk him leaving on the cheap in January or for nothing next year. If Taylor is willing to stay, then that presumably answers the question of whether he can stand to play alongside Bigger Lad - all good. If he won't sign a contract, or if he insists on one of them leaving, then it will presumably be farewell to our number 27. Then we'll need to find some cover (albeit we should get a decent amount of cash for the player, even in these austere times).

Regardless of whether or not Taylor stays, of our remaining defenders it seems to me that the only ones we should definitely keep are Enrique, Coloccini and Williamson. Enrique has proven to be a class above anything in the Championship, and with the added experience, will I'm sure be comfortable in the top flight. Coloccini too looked a step above those around him last season, and should hopefully have learned a great deal about the physicality of English football. Of course, if a good offer came in for our Argentine centre-half, then I'm sure it would be considered, but chances are he'll stay. Williamson looked a shrewd purchase in January, and he's settled nicely into the team, and deserves the chance he never got at Pompey of experiencing the Premier League.

Danny Simpson is another who I am sure will be with us as the season starts. Now much as I like the player, and his commitment and versatility have both proved their worth since he arrived on loan from Old Trafford, there nonetheless remain some question marks over his ability to hack it at the top. However, he's the man in possession, and if nothing else provides good cover, so should stay.

However, beyond the five mentioned above, resources remain stretched at the back. Fitz Hall has now gone back to QPR, and apart from Tamas Kadar and Ryan Taylor, we're struggling for numbers. Kadar, to me, looks like a player who would benefit hugely from a season on loan in the Championship, and, whilst Ryan Taylor remains game, he is very much one for the bench rather than a certain starter (in defence or midfield).

The reality is that the squad still lacks sufficient full-back cover, and a decent right-back looks to me to be a priority, but with our retaining Simpson (and probably Ryan Taylor) as cover for both full-back positions. If Steven Taylor goes then a centre-half becomes an essential, and even if he stays, a further centre-half remains fairly high up the wish list (particularly if Kadar is allowed out on loan).

If the financial position doesn't allow the purchase of a further centre-half, then we'll presumably look to keep Kadar, and/or pick up cover on loan when necessary (much as we did last season with Fitz Hall and Patrick Van Aanholt).


With Spidermag and Routledge down the flanks, our first team looks like one which will cause problems for most Premier League defences, particularly as both are now capable of hitting a decent cross. Beyond them, we've got players like Guthrie, ASBO, Ryan Taylor and potentially Peter Lovenkrands who can do a job, or Kazenga LuaLua (who to me would benefit from a further loan period away this season). Fabrice Pancrate has now gone, but his limited involvement shows that he's not really been required, so unless anyone further departs, I don't expect to see us signing wingers this summer.

In the centre, Nicky Butt's retirement creates an opening in the squad (and presumably frees up some slack in the wage bill), and whilst we still have Guthrie, Smith, Nolan and ASBO available, there's a strong argument for adding at least one extra body to give competition for places. Ideally, we'd add a combative ball winner to the mix to sure up our midfield and cover the defence. Smith might have been adept at doing that job in the Championship, but we've no cover if he gets injured (and I'm not convinced he's all that great in the position, anyway).

On the front foot, Nolan and ASBO have both previously demonstrated their ability to play in the Premiership, whilst Guthrie's form and improvement suggests that he could soon mature into the player Keegan thought he could become two years ago when he signed him. Added to all that is the young talent of Haris Vuckic, who is tipped for big things and should get more game time next season (and is one of the few youngsters I don't think we should send out on loan next season).


If history has taught us anything it is that prolific scorers in the Championship are not always capable of making the step up. Think Robert Earnshaw, Sylvain Ebanks-Blake and Michael Chopra.

At Championship level Bigger Lad and Peter Lovenkrands have shown a terrific ability to get goals and establish themselves as our first choice pairing - but will they be able to transfer that form to the next level and score the goals which will keep us up?

Having seen his star rise brightly, Bigger Lad deserves his chance to try and fill the boots of our former Number 9s (even if he doesn't inherit that particular shirt number this summer). With his aerial prowess, and some good crosses/dead ball delivery, he should prove a handful whoever he's up against, and for that reason is definitely one to keep (particularly if he can learn to kick with his right foot).

Under Glenn Roeder, Big Lad showed that he could be a goalscorer in the Premier League, and JFK saw him as the spiritual successor to John Fashanu (Awooga!), so, as understudy to Bigger Lad, he will probably also stay - although a good offer from a Championship side needing a striker to get them promoted (e.g. Swansea) should not be rebuffed out of hand.

Lovenkrands' pace, versatility and eye for goal should also see the Dane remain, but beyond those three the picture is far from clear.

Whilst last season was a great one for Bigger Lad's development, Nile Ranger saw his chances become increasingly limited as the season wore on, and like the players mentioned above would, for me, benefit greatly from first-team football at a lower level on loan.

Which leaves Leon Best. Signed from Coventry in January, Best's failure to score is probably playing on his mind more than it is on most, and there has to be a serious question mark as to whether he can cut it in the Premier League. I hope he proves me wrong, but I've yet to see anything in him to suggest that we shouldn't look to move him on this summer. Like Shola, I'm sure once he finds his feet he'll score goals in the Championship, as he proved at Coventry before we signed him, but I seriously doubt he's going to give Premier League defenders too many headaches.

In any event, if we're to stay up we're going to need to score goals and if we can find one then a "proven Premier League striker" should be snapped up - ideally one with pace who can dovetail with Bigger Lad.

In a nutshell I'd like to see us sign: a full-back, a centre-back, a defensive midfielder and a striker.

As to who we sign, looking at the teams coming down, Jamie O'Hara has stood out for Pompey in a losing cause (albeit himself a loanee from Spurs), and on the subject of Spurs loanees, Robbie Keane may well be available after his stint at Celtic. Whether Chris Hughton can use his Spurs connections to do a deal on the pair remains to be seen (not least because of the likely costs of the pair, and the fact that Spurs' increased fixture list as a result of their European participation might see them happy to retain an inflated squad), but both would add some quality to our squad.

Realistically, if we are to entertain thoughts of signing one or both of them on a permanent basis I'd expect Steven Taylor to be sold to raise the cash (in the same way that Gullit had to sell Steve Watson).

There's also been some mention in the press of Hull's Jimmy Bullard - who might be a decent addition but can hardly be said to have age on his side, and his fitness record at Hull has seemed somewhat patchy.

Alternatively, Pompey's Tal Ben Haim or Papa Bouba Diop might be solid acquisitions (and with the administrator still in place, might be available for comparatively small sums).

However, with a World Cup approaching, perhaps we can look to Ol' Cauliflower Face's example and look to some of the smaller nations for their shining lights. Whichever way they go though, the suspicion is that on a relatively tight wage structure, and presumably with limit scouting resources, it's going to be a busy summer for Hughton and team. Even if we keep the changes to a relative minimum, the reality is that we need to increase the competition for places in certain areas, and add greater quality wherever possible, without returning to the dark days of marquee signings and no concept of team-building. Thankfully, Fat Fred has gone, and for all his failings Jabba doesn't look like repeating that particular error of judgement.

On that subject, I welcome the club commitment that the board will not be providing copy for the media. How long have we yearned for those days? We'll have to wait and see if Llambiarse can restrain himself, but from my perspective a departure from the days when the director's comments made us a laughing stock can only be a good thing.

Chris Hughton may not be the most flamboyant man in the world, but for now at least he looks to have his head screwed on. His challenge is whether he can show the club as being sufficiently alluring to attract the players he wants to bolster the squad, without buggering the team spirit which has proved so beneficial in our swift return to the top flight.

As Wigan and Stoke demonstrated yesterday, the gulf to the top of the Premiership is a wide one. However, our top priority for next season is 17th or better. We don't have to beat Chelsea home and away to do that, but we do need to ensure that we can take points off the clubs in the bottom half of the league. A win is still only worth three points, whoever it comes against. You can read the club statement as an exercise in pissing on our chips before any of us get at all excited about next season. Or you can read it as a pragmatic approach to show that at long last we're moving towards a position of financial recovery.

It's a little bit like the state of the nation. It isn't going to be pretty, but for the state of the finances belt-tightening is still a necessary evil. It's a pretty bitter pill to have to swallow, but if it rights the ship financially, and if (and it's a really big IF) we can stay up next year, then we might just be back on track.

For now though, we can only wish Chris Hughton well, as he scrambles through the bargain bins looking to bolster the squad this summer.

Statement of intent: do nothing, say nothing

Traditionally on this site when the curtain comes down on the season, we take stock and look ahead to what the summer might bring. This year Paul's done the honours and the post's all ready to go - or at least we thought it was. My guess is that it might need revising in light of today's extraordinary public statement from the club - not least because Paul's piece begins with the assumption that there will be money to spend and yet the statement seems to declare fairly unequivocally that there won't...

I'll leave him the task of picking through the detail and trying to make sense of everything (and, indeed, of the dissemination of such a statement in itself). Happy days are here again etc etc.

Quote of the day

"Fan ­pressure there is ­hostile ­towards the players. They don’t really ­support the team as they should, they’re very critical and the players can’t handle that."

That bitter oaf Fat Sam badmouths us once again. If he thinks "fan pressure" towards those in black and white is "hostile", then he might learn a thing or two when his Blackburn side rock up at St James' next season.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A Month Of Saturdays: April 2010

The deserved win over Forest with which March drew to close was celebrated with such gusto because it brought automatic promotion within touching distance. However, mindful of our natural proclivity for cataclysmic implosion (memories of those last few unspeakably awful weeks of the 1995-6 season may be 14 years old, but they remain painfully fresh), we also realised that there was still work to be done.

Thankfully, so did the players - and though our next display was far from vintage, we did enough to claim the three points. Bottom club Peterborough, on the verge of exiting the division themselves, capitalised on defensive lapses to score twice, but our superior firepower salvaged victory as we exploited the frailties in Posh's own back line. Leon Best may not have made it onto the scoresheet but nevertheless turned in his finest performance to date as the travelling fans willed Bristol City to condemn Forest to the defeat that would send us up.

A Robins winner never came, but we didn't have to wait long for another club to do us the vital favour - 48 hours, to be precise, when Cardiff smothered and stifled the Tricky Trees to a goalless draw at the City Ground. I like to think that Agent Chopra allowed himself a big grin at the final whistle.

That evening we marked our instant return to the top flight in fitting style - with another win, recovering from a deficit to defeat a stubborn Sheffield Utd side, the winner fittingly coming courtesy of Championship Player Of The Year Kevin Nolan. All of Tyneside duly rejoiced, including the knight of the realm responsible for poking the sleeping giant into life in the early 90s and more thankful than most to have had the opportunity to see the club back in the Premier League. Meanwhile, several hundred miles away across Europe the temporarily exiled co-author of a Newcastle blog celebrated in time-honoured tradition by guzzling walnut brandy and having to be dissuaded from clambering into a medieval fountain.

Back in Blighty, I sought to pinpoint the reasons behind our promotion: clinical finishing, defensive fortitude, managerial nous, a focus on on-field matters rather than off-field misdemeanours (although Bigger Lad did reappear in court in April, it was noteable that no fewer than four ex-Magpies - Nolberto Solano, Shay Given, Stephen Carr and Charles N'Zogbia - found themselves in varying amounts of hot water over the course of the month).

But more significant than these factors, I argued, was the mental attitude and application of players for whom the concepts had seemed alien last season. And, as though to prove it, they immediately put the promotion triumph to one side and refocused on the next task at hand, claiming the league title, by demolishing a dumbfounded Ian Holloway's Blackpool 4-1 despite the fact that the Tangerines had been in good form and were eagerly in the hunt for a play-off spot.

Another blow to play-off hopes was subsequently dealt at the Madejski. The champagne football was put back on ice as we managed to look self-assured despite never really having firm control, our professionalism and ruthlessness ensuring that we overcame a spirited Reading side. The game had been twice postponed - how the Royals must have wished they could defer it indefinitely.

That win left us needing just a point at Plymouth to clinch the championship - and once again a combination of steely determination and flashes of quality (most noteably ASBO's pass for Wayne Routledge's finish) garnered the hoped-for result. The callously efficient display sealed the Pilgrims' relegation, and unlike London Road the patchy Home Park pitch wasn't spared the fate of being trampled by thousands of jubilant Geordies. Our hosts were extraordinarily accommodating in the circumstances, as subsequently acknowledged by Messrs Hughton, Nolan and Harper, and amidst the chaos and delirium of our dressing room ASBO cut a calm tea-drinking Zen-like figure (or so he'd have us believe).

And so to the formal coronation in front of a full house at St James'. Ipswich were the visitors, with nothing to play for but no doubt fuelled by manager Roy Keane's spite, transferred from his old adversary Wor Al to the club as a whole. However, nothing he or his side could do - including an offside equaliser deep into stoppage time - could poop the post-match party to commemorate the cherry on the top of a season that's been an unexpectedly spectacular success in almost every respect.

Fab farewell

It was confirmed today that, as was widely expected, Fabrice Pancrate won't be granted the opportunity to reap the rewards of our return to the top flight because we've decided not to take up the option of extending his deal by another season.

Too often peripheral to the action, loose in possession and wasteful when presented with good shooting chances, the Frenchman did a decent job of filling in for Geremi before Wayne Routledge arrived to add some real pace and dynamism to the right side of midfield. But he did at least score a goal, and a superb one at that, in what had been a tight game at home to Watford in December, and he certainly seems to have enjoyed his time on Tyneside: "I am really disappointed not to be a Newcastle player next year. This was the best club that I played for and not to be part of it next year is tough to take. The fans were the best I’ve played in front of and it was a great feeling to play in front of them".

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The boys ton good

Queen's Park Rangers 0 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Our thankfully brief sojourn in the Championship came to an end on Sunday, with a reasonably comfortable win over a spirited QPR side at Loftus Road.

As The Football League Show aptly demonstrated, this was not one of the most important fixtures of the day, nor was it one of the most entertaining games - with highlights distinctly limited.

Once it was decided that it could go ahead (despite the distinctly boggy conditions) the game proceeded at a steady rather than unspectacular pace, and it wasn't until the second half that things really got going.

Firstly, Peter Ramage (formerly of these parts) was given a straight red card for upending Big Lad as he went through on goal. For Ramage this was his first game against us (although to his credit he's been spotted in a supporting capacity a few times since he left us) and his second red of the season.

Having gone down to ten men, QPR continued to show the spirit which they've developed under Colin Wanker and had a goal chalked off for off-side.

However, once Peter Lovenkrands sprang the Hoops' offside trap at the other end, before coolly lobbing their keeper to notch only his second away goal of the season, the game looked safe, and Chris Hughton took the opportunity to introduce highly prized youngster Haris Vuckic into our side.

With the young Slovenian rumoured to be the centre of attention from a number of bigger fish, this was perhaps Hughton's way of enticing Vukic to stick around next season, with the prospect of further first-team games ahead. Sticking with the squad theme, it was interesting to note that both Bigger Lad and Lovenkrands started on the bench (the former possibly disrupted by his court appearance earlier in the week), allowing Big Lad and Leon Best some more game time upfront.

Elsewhere, Messrs Enrique, Harper and Spidermag all look to have started their summer holidays already (the latter presumably trying to squeeze in some down time back in Argentina before his anticipated trip to the World Cup next month).

Gratifyingly, it was our third victory over a team managed by Colin this season, and the victory took us over the 100 point mark. Whilst not quite pipping Reading's record, it nonetheless represented a fantastic achievement from a group of committed players who have done great things to repair some of the damage inflicted by the dismal 2008-9 season.

Where next is a discussion for another day but for now we can all just sit back and enjoy the sensation of a campaign well done.

Other reports: BBC

Monday, May 03, 2010

Bigg Market ban for Bigger Lad

Bigger Lad made his appearance in front of magistrates on Thursday and was granted bail, one of the conditions of which being that he steers clear of the Bigg Market. The court case proper kicks off on 2nd June - the outcome of which could potentially disrupt Chris Hughton's plans for the forthcoming campaign.

Chris Hughton has admitted: "If he asked for the number nine shirt for next season it’s something that I would have to seriously think about. I am aware of what that number means here. There is responsibility that goes with that number. One thing that I am sure is that he is big and brave enough to want it." Presumably that "responsibility" extends to off-field extra-curricular conduct...

Hughton also spoke highly of Fraser Forster, confirmed plans to discuss a new contract with Steven Taylor ("there is absolutely no reason why he and Andy Carroll cannot play in the same team together") and revealed that the revolving door at St James' isn't likely to be spinning much this summer ("I don’t envisage too many coming in and I don’t expect too many wanting to go").

(Paul's report on yesterday's curtain-closer at Loftus Road to follow tomorrow.)


What have the three main political parties got to say about the possibility of fan ownership of football clubs? Four members of the NUST quizzed local candidates Wendy Taylor (Lib Dems), Chi Onwurah (Labour) and Dominic Llewellyn (Conservatives) to find out - and heard plenty of positive warbling but no genuine commitments. To be fair, I'm not sure what commitments Llewellyn could make, given that he hardly looks to be out of short trousers...