Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Spotlight on Spidermag: Argentina v Mexico

With Spidermag available again after suspension, Diego Maradona chose to stick with Nicholas Otamendi at the back, leaving him kicking his heels on the bench for much of the game.

Our man finally saw some action in the 79th minute as Argentina sought to waste some time and protect their 3-1 lead over Mexico.  Spidermag came on to play in his favoured left wing role, replacing Angel Di Maria.

With Argentina largely seeking to sit on their lead, he didn't see much of the ball, and the likelihood of his being restored to the starting line-up looks slim ahead of Argentina's quarter-final match against a German side which would doubtless look to focus their attentions on our man, should he appear at right back.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Spotlight on Spidermag: Argentina v Greece

Having picked up a yellow card in each of the preceding two games, our man spent this game kicking his heels in the stand. With his team already through, Maradona took the opportunity to shuffle the pack and made seven changes to his starting line-up as the Argentinians overcome a resolute if unadventurous Greek side 2-0.

The question for Spidermag is whether he'll be straight back in to the side for their last 16 game against Mexico on Sunday, and if he is back, whether Maradona will continue to play him at right back.

(Sorry this took so long to post - been having some technical difficulties, which are hopefully now resolved.)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

In defence of our erstwhile defender

Given that it appeared on the Guardian's site, we might have expected this from Louise Taylor - but Harry Pearson? Despite his Smoggie leanings, he's usually quite sensible and fair-minded when it comes to commenting on us - but in this instance he's very much refused to let the reality get in the way of a good story largely pointless blog post.

While we'd freely admit Onyewu's displays for us when on loan three seasons ago were hardly spectacular - and certainly not suggestive of someone who'd move on to AC Milan - he wasn't the joke Pearson implies, and neither did he attract the same ire (from us) and guffaws (from everyone else) as Jean-Alain Boumsong and Titus Bramble.

It's also worth pointing out, as Paul did yesterday, that the American was definitely better than Fat Sam's choice of replacement, Claudio Cacapa...

Friday, June 18, 2010

'Nuff respect

Over at The Two Unfortunates, Lanterne Rouge is in the midst of running through a club-by-club review of the season. We may not have been named as the Team Of The Season by voters in their inaugural end-of-season awards - blame Olly's Blackpool for that - but at least we get our dues.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Spotlight on Spidermag: Argentina v South Korea

Our man in South Africa was on duty again today and, true to form, Maradona once again decided that he should again play at right back.

Unlike in his first match of the competition, and despite pre-match predictions from Gareth Southgate and others on ITV, the South Koreans didn't really manage to target our man's lack of positional sense in the round hole in which Maradona has crammed this particular square peg.

Despite clear superiority, Argentina only led 2-1 at the break, after a shocking piece of defending by Dimichelis. However, with Gonzalo Higuain and Lionel Messi in stunning form, Argentina eventually cruised to a 4-1 win.

Our man's only notable contribution was to pick up his second booking of the competition, for a combination of a foul and slightly petulant reaction when it was given. That yellow card rules him out of Argentina's final group game against Greece next Tuesday - though the win means he's likely to get at least one more run-out in the tournament, in the second round.

In the other game in Group B, old boy Obafemi Martins failed to make it off the bench as Nigeria were beaten 2-1 by Greece - largely because the not-so-Super Eagles were down to ten men and on the back foot for nearly an hour of the game.

In a fix

Today saw the announcement of next season's Premier League fixtures, and in what is hopefully the only echo of our ill-fated 08-09 campaign, we open away at Old Trafford.

With only Spidermag on World Cup duty, it may be that our squad of players is in marginally better shape than their team full of World Cup attendees is come 14th August.

Other fixtures of note see us entertaining the Great Unwashed on 30th October before our return to the Stadium of Plight on 15th January.

Our campaign finishes at home to West Brom which could prove to be an enormous six-pointer if the pre-season predictions of struggle for both sides come to pass.

The full fixture list is available here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Weiss is right?

We've already been credited with an interest in one young talent loaned to Bolton last season, and now, according to the Mirror, the other. Yesterday the paper has claimed that we're in pursuit of Man City midfielder Vladimir Weiss, which would make sense given our stated policy of getting in loanees and our need for some creativity behind the strikers - and also given his likely lack of opportunities in City's first team. I caught the first half of Slovakia's game against New Zealand yesterday, and he showed some liveliness and skill on the ball.

A rather more high-profile playmaker, Juan Roman Riquelme, is the subject of a story in the Sun, in which his agent Barry McIntosh suggests there are five Premier League clubs interested in the out-of-contract former Barcelona man but that West Ham are in pole position - and not really for footballing reasons: "For a foreign player of Riquelme's magnitude, the lure of London is always going to be a deciding factor." We've supposedly sounded Riquelme out in the past, and it would be nice to think we're one of those to have expressed an interest - but, being at the opposite end of the country from London and with his wage demands no doubt being in excess of the Jabba-imposed cap, I suspect we're unlikely to see the man beaten to a place in the Argentina squad by Spidermag any time soon.

In other news, the club has announced that the anniversary of Sir Bobby Robson's death will be marked with a St James' Park friendly against (fittingly) another of his former clubs, PSV Eindhoven. Other than Danny Simpson, one player who may well not feature is the aforementioned Spidermag, Chris Hughton announcing that our sole World Cup representative is to be given time off to recover from the exertions of the tournament - and from the trauma of being hung out to dry at right back...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Spotlight on Spidermag: Argentina v Nigeria

Trust Maradona. In Argentina's opening game in the World Cup yesterday, the mad bastard decided to deploy our dashing winger Spidermag out of position at right back, and with a narrow three-man midfield in front of him giving him no protection down the flank. Little wonder, then, that he found it tough going, while it became one area that their Nigerian opponents targeted.

With the news that Danny Simpson will miss the start of the new season recovering from his operation, could Spidermag be pressed into service in his place? Somehow I doubt it - Chris Hughton has some tactical nous and surely wouldn't be prepared to not only effectively neuter one of our most potent attacking threats but also expose him to potential embarrassment.

The introduction of Obafemi Martins from the bench in the second half coincided with increased sprightliness among the Nigerians, who sensed that Argentina's squandered opportunities and cruise control still gave them a chance of snatching a result. Our former striker did hit one long-range rocket of a shot that unnerved pony-tailed 'keeper Romero, but it wasn't to be.

Meanwhile, Oguchi Onyewu was part of the USA side that held England to a disappointing draw, the defender instrumental in keeping Wayne Rooney alarmingly quiet.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Nothing doing

Chris Hughton seems to have been doing nothing but uttering denials over the last couple of days.

On a trio of alleged transfer targets: "You always continue to take calls and our business has been on-going. There’s been talk about Sol Campbell and Andy O’Brien in the past and there are always names that keep coming up – but we have not looked into signing those players. And Jimmy Bullard is another player that has not been mentioned. "

On the possibility of Bigger Lad being poached by the Premier League champions: "I can say 100% that I have not heard anything from Chelsea. To me that is just speculation. We've got no intention of seeing Andy Carroll leave.".

On the prospect of Rangers striker Kris Boyd moving south: "Kris Boyd is a good player but I can categorically say that there have been no talks at this stage. You never want to say 100% no, but it's a non-starter at this moment."

Er, hang on a minute, Chris - you "never want to say 100% no", but isn't that EXACTLY what you've just done with the speculation over Bigger Lad's future? Hmm...

Al in a good cause

If there was ever a place where Alan Shearer didn't want to have a one-on-one chance foiled by goalkeeper Patrick Kielty, it was probably Old Trafford. Still, at least his header won the vote for best goal of the three Soccer Aid fixtures to date.

To donate to Soccer Aid and support UNICEF's work, click here.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

A Month Of Saturdays: May 2010

For those of us who plot out our weeks around football fixtures, the close season is a peculiarly disconcerting and nebulous period of indeterminate length when all routine and structure seems to fall away. Was it really only a month ago that we were wrapping up our Championship-winning season with a 1-0 victory at QPR? It feels like aeons. The Hoops' Peter Ramage did his old club a favour by getting himself red-carded at the start of the second half, and Peter Lovenkrands capped a season that has been one of professional success but personal tragedy with the only goal of the game. Short though the Championship's history may be, our total of 102 points put us second only to Reading's 106 in 2005-6.

The trophy had already been presented, but Chris Hughton - following the death of Keith Alexander and the unemployment of Paul Ince the only black manager in the top four divisions of the English game - received a personal award from the Kick It Out campaign for his achievements. (The issue of race and racism was to raise its head again towards the end of the month, when we took exception to some unusually glib, childish comments from the .com chaps.) Not all of our awards were to be celebrated, however - The Two Unfortunates Worst Kit 2009-10 Award, for instance...

Job done, it was time for me to reflect on how our brief sojourn in the Championship had been akin to a trip to a health farm and for Paul to look forward to how and where we might choose to strengthen over the summer.

The latter speculations were complicated by the release of a bizarre public statement by the club which didn't so much dampen expectations of serious investment in exciting talent as put it in a sack weighed down with bricks and lob it into the river. Sure we appreciate the importance of financial stability and prudence, and no one was expecting a return to the days of frittering £8m on a donkey who'd cost nothing six months previously - but all the same most of us recognise that while the existing squad has walked the Championship, it's arguably not strong enough to survive in the Premier League without some quality additions, the sort which cost decent money. By all means exercise restraint, Jabba - but talk about safeguarding the long-term future of the club will look cheap if in twelve months' time we find ourselves back in the second tier as a result.

Add to that the questionable wisdom of broadcasting our transfer policy (and its inflexibility) to all and sundry and the fact that what was supposed to set everything out clearly required a further statement of clarification a few days later and you had another masterful demonstration of the clunkily unwieldy St James' Park PR machine at work. At least it promised an end to Llambiarse's unsolicited spoutings, though. (And, on the subject of damaging public wafflings, the club hierarchy should be commended for extending their blanket ban on the Mail's reporters.)

One thing the statement emphasised was a concerted focus on capturing and retaining the best local talent (which may turn out to be a self-defeating strategy in itself, we suggested) - so, naturally enough, May saw the two most prominent Geordies at the club linked with moves away. The Steven-Taylor-to-Arsenal claims resurfaced yet again, while his sparring partner Bigger Lad was also rumoured to be interesting Premier League rivals. Hughton, however, suggested that both could continue together in the same squad despite their training-ground contretemps, and that our short-fused striker is a potential number nine (though he's also a potential jailbird).

One player who did leave, though, was Fabrice Pancrate, whose time on Tyneside will be memorable almost solely for THAT goal against Watford. Compare the Frenchman's farewell comments ("The fans were the best I’ve played in front of and it was a great feeling to play in front of them") with the latest guff from Fat Sam ("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") and see if you can spot the embittered wanker still pig-headedly unwilling to accept any blame for his own shortcomings.

And that was just about it for May. What was left for us to do other than to join in (often against our better judgement) with the grindings of the rumour mill (Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverley, Bernard Mendy, Nedum Onouha, Youssuf Mulumbu, Kieran Richardson...), follow the fortunes of various ex-Mags up and down the country and leagues (beaten Championship play-off finalist Agent Chopra; fellow sufferers of play-off agony Nobby Solano, Lee Clark and Terry McDermott; Man City target James Milner; generous-spirited former Yank loanee Oguchi Onyewu; and sacked Gillingham boss Mark Stimson) and amuse ourselves with a spot of Mackem-baiting?

Thankfully, routine will return in less than a week's time when the World Cup gets underway, and we'll have one player to cheer on in the form of Spidermag (a shame it won't be two), as well as being able to cast ourselves in the role of beady-eyed club scouts. Surely I can't be the only one who sits on the sofa in a sheepskin coat and with notepad in hand, muttering things like "No dear, I'm afraid I can't wash the car/cook dinner/go to your mother's (delete as appropriate) as I need to run the rule over the Slovakian back four"?

Time's up for Thommo

A second farewell to Alan Thompson, who, having left the club as a player in 1993, has now left his position as reserve-team coach. He was drafted in two summers ago by King Kev, but has departed "by mutual consent", with rumours suggesting he's likely to pitch up in a coaching capacity at another former club, Celtic.

His replacement may be former Mackem left-back Martin Scott - though there are also suggestions that John Carver could be on his way back to Tyneside from Plymouth.

In other news, Steven Taylor's bought into the great American tradition of summer camp, setting up a personal one across the pond in the hope of being fully fit for the start of the new campaign.

Meanwhile, Chris Hughton has been promoting patience as a virtue in our close-season transfer dealings: "It’s an ongoing process. We have time to make these decisions, they don’t have to be made in the first few weeks. We’re just on the back of a very good season where we’ve won promotion and it’s now time to sit back and evaluate." On the one hand, it's reassuring to know we're not going to be panicked into making rash purchases (something we've been guilty of in the past), but on the other this policy leaves us open to losing out to others when quality players become available. West Brom's recent capture of a 28-year-old one-time Spanish international defender on a free transfer made me wince, for a start...

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Naming rights

Just a quick bit of housekeeping: following the site's recent infestation of anonymous trolls, Paul and I have decided that from now on all anonymous comments will be deleted. This isn't an attempt to remove all dissenting voices from the comments boxes - dissent is fine, and indeed essential to making this site a decent forum for debate - and you don't have to have a Google password, just to include your name in your comment. If we have guts to stick by our words, then commenters should too.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Tall tales

Hmm, whether to believe today's reports that Birmingham and Stoke are hot on the trail of Bigger Lad, currently in court and pleading not guilty to his assault charge.

The story's been carried by the Daily Mail, a paper whose hacks (you might recall) are banned from coming anywhere near St James' Park or our training ground and so unlikely to have picked up anything from "a source close to the club".

Meanwhile, the Guardian's report - which also throws Bolton into the mix - was written by That Woman...

I don't know about Stoke and Bolton, but the Blues have just signed 6ft 8" Serbian striker Nikola Zigic, so quite why they'd want another beanpole target man is beyond me. Expect them to be credited with interest in Peter Crouch and Jan Koller next.

Update: The Mail are now claiming that we've responded to the speculation over Bigger Lad's future by opening contract talks. Where are they getting their information from?!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

This was a big river*

I've heard it said that some people view money as being like a river - continually streaming past, and you dip your pot in as and when necessary trusting that the river will provide. Others choose to damn the river, terrified that it might stop running, and create a big reservoir.

By the looks of it, Fat Fred seemed to be more of a river dipper, continually trusting that the river would keep flowing whilst appearing to have ignored the fact that what was once a gushing torrent had turned into a babbling brook.

By contract, Jabba's latest statement reveals him to be a dam-builder, seemingly unwilling to turn the tap until such time as the reservoir has grown so that it can sustain more than our current crop of expenses.

So whilst Fat Fred would merrily agree to all sorts of staged payments for players, the recent discussion about James Milner's rumoured transfer to Man City suggests that, to Jabba, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Anyway, as a result of the staged payment approach, we're due cash over the summer for Obafemi Martins, Charles N'Zogbia and David Rozenhal(!). However, because our finances are in such a mess, it turns out that all the money coming in from these sales will be heading straight back out of the door and into the pockets of Barclays Bank who kept us afloat last season.
*with apologies for the gratuitous use of a Jimmy Naill lyric...

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

"An insult to evening primoses across the world"

It shouldn't really come as any surprise, but our away shirt has been voted the Worst Kit in The Two Unfortunates Awards 2009/10, to which I've contributed. Keep your eyes on the site over the next few days for the announcement of the final few categories - hopefully we might feature in a more positive way...