Thursday, October 28, 2010

Uncertain times

Last night's game was played against an unsettling backdrop, with rumours rife that Chris Hughton could be about to get the boot. The club responded with an official statement: "Chris is our manager and will remain our manager. It is our intention to renegotiate his contract at the end of the year".

Unequivocal though the opening sentence might seem to be, there will be those who read much into the deferral of contract negotiations, while it's also true that such declarations have an uncanny knack of turning out to mean nothing a few days later. The club were effectively damned if they didn't acknowledge the speculation, and will probably be damned now that they've tried to lay it to rest.

Amidst it all, Hughton acknowledged the rumours but maintained his usual dignified stance: "I can't affect anything that is said but I think it is unfair. As far as I am concerned I'm a very strong character and have to work around these situations ... I've been at this club for two and a half years and have thoroughly enjoyed it and I would like to stay here as long as possible".

Prior to last night's match, in my moonlighting capacity as a contributor to The Two Unfortunates, I was by complete coincidence writing about a manager bizarrely and unfairly shown the door after a reasonable start to the new campaign at a higher level by a club in desperate need of stability. Let's just hope Jabba and Llambiarse don't decide to emulate the other Magpies...

Comedy and controversy contribute to Carling Cup catastrophe

Newcastle Utd 0 - 4 Arsenal

A comprehensive defeat in the end to dump us out of this season's League Cup, but the result hinged on two key moments either side of half-time.

First came the comedy (black comedy for those of us of a black and white persuasion). Two minutes of first-half stoppage time had already elapsed when Tim Krul's punch from Theo Walcott's corner was returned into the six-yard area. Niklas Bendtner headed goalwards, Ryan Taylor nodded off the line - and watched in horror as his clearance bounced back off the prostrate Krul's bonce and in. If we'd ridden our luck at times to preserve our clean sheet up until that point, then it had clearly just reared up and bolted.

And then the controversy. When Laurent Koscielny headed forwards, both Bendtner and Walcott (just) were offside. But the linesman's flag remained by his side - as it did when Bendtner cynically and blatantly blocked Mike Williamson's attempt to get back and challenge Walcott, the England winger profiting from the disgraceful officiating to finish neatly over Krul. If we thought we were on the receiving end of bad decisions at Eastlands recently, then this was something else - a goal that should have been disallowed for any one of three reasons.

Our much-changed side - only Williamson and Krul remained from the team that started at Upton Park on Saturday - had come under pressure from the very start, Carlos Vela guilty of squandering a good chance in the first sixty seconds and strike partner Bendtner trying his luck three times before three minutes were out. Our Dutch custodian was busy throughout the first half and acquitted himself well, until that fateful stoppage-time farce.

While the Gunners monopolised possession, as anticipated, and wasted other opportunities (including Emmanuel Eboue firing into the side netting having left Taylor for dead), we nevertheless looked equally dangerous. In amongst our visitors' flurry of early chances, Haris Vuckic concluded a quick break by rippling the outside of Wojciech Szszesny's net before subsequently slipping into obscurity.

We came closer a few minutes later, after Danny Guthrie's lofted pass over the top had released Nile Ranger and the striker - all flailing arms and legs - had taken the ball past Szszesny but been foiled by Koscielny. The ball found its way back into a central area about 30 yards out and was promptly smashed goalwards by Alan Smith, his rising drive tipped acrobatically onto the bar and behind for, bizarrely, a goal kick.

Wayne Routledge, meanwhile, carried an occasional and moderate threat when he managed to get into crossing positions, up against the right-footed Eboue after Kieran Gibbs' enforced departure through injury. We should have had a free-kick in a promising position too for Johan Djourou's handball - though, to be fair, that should have been cancelled out by James Perch's air-kick and basketball dribble in the penalty area shortly afterwards. Perch could have done better with a header on goal too.

Hughton decided, prudently I think, that at 2-0 down with more than half an hour to go it was time to turn to a bench stuffed with first teamers. On came Rocky and Spidermag for Routledge and the anonymous Peter Lovenkrands and suddenly we grabbed the game by the throat and started to squeeze. The Argentinian winger probed from the left flank, Taylor forced Szszesny into a superb save from a free-kick and Rocky put himself about to excellent effect, rattling Koscielny and Djourou with his directness and blunderbuss approach.

We weren't the only ones to interpret Arsene Wenger's introduction of Cesc Fabregas as a smug taunt of superiority. Himself a substitute on for Smith (the latter evidently shattered from his exertions trying to allow the Gunners' creative players as much space as they wanted), ASBO clattered into the Spaniard, and dished out similar treatment to Craig Eastmond - though the youngster could hardly complain having gone over the top of Perch's shin/ankle in the first half.

Having looked the most likely next scorers, we then gifted the decisive goal to our opponents. A dozy Guthrie allowed himself to be pickpocketed from a throw-in, his mugger Fabregas feeding Bendtner to crash a shot into the top corner. Even then Rocky had chances to give us a modicum of hope - a free header that flew over the crossbar, a shot well smothered by Szszesny - before Walcott seized upon a loose ball and took advantage of Tamas Kadar's inattention to race forwards and tuck a shot under Krul.

It might seem strange, given that we lost the tie 4-0, but I'd single out Williamson and makeshift central defensive partner Perch as two of our best players, both regularly making crucial interceptions. Rocky was superb when called upon, and should hopefully prove to be too much for the Mackems' defence to handle on Sunday. The Gunners' midfield superiority was what won it for them, though - that and those two differently daft goals.

Arsenal fans' verdicts: Another Arsenal Blog, Arsenalinsider, Gooner Talk, The Gunning Hawk

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another fine mess

Another Monday, another court appearance: business as usual for Rocky, then. Last week it was on an assault charge against his ex-girlfriend; this week it was also on an assault charge, this time the one committed in Blu Bambu in December.

Saturday's match-winner, clean-shaven and kempt, pleaded guilty but was spared community service or a short sentence, instead being fined £1000 and ordered to pay compensation of £2500 and court costs of around £1500. When news of his new five-year contract broke recently, there was no mention of weekly salary - but it's safe to assume that he probably has £5000 lying around in loose change...

It should be pointed out that Judge Esmond Faulkes' leniency owed much to the verdict that the assault was unintentional. In the words of Rocky's lawyer Stuart Driver: "Liquid was deliberately thrown but the glass accidentally travelled through the air due to the glass having been made wet". A line to bear in mind next time you stand accused of glassing someone.

Thankfully for our troubled and troublesome striker, one of his team-mates has promised to be on hand with comforting words and behavioural advice. Yes, you guessed it: ASBO. "My reputation hindered me for a long, long time and I will try and guide him to stop him from going down that path. I've been in his shoes. Andy knows where we are if he needs us. It's a massive dressing room. I will try and converse with him." Well, I suppose you have to concede ASBO knows "that path" like the back of his hand...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rocky uses his head - for once

West Ham Utd 1 - 2 Newcastle Utd

It might not be clear who's the Jack Lemmon and who's the Walter Matthau, but our very own Odd Couple came up trumps at Upton Park, firing us to a deserved victory and propelling us well up the Premier League table. Skipper Kevin Nolan and current house guest Rocky (note new nickname) both scored in a 2-1 win that kept our hosts the Hammers rock bottom.

Chris Hughton made three changes from the side that started last Saturday against Wigan. Danny Guthrie and Peter Lovenkrands both dropped down to the bench after their first league starts of the season, replaced by the fit-again Nolan and Big Lad. It came as no great surprise, however, to discover that James Perch had also been relieved of his starting place, Danny Simpson coming in for a player who was his hapless self against the Latics.

The first 15 minutes gave little indication of what was to come, as our hosts put us under significant pressure and took the lead thanks to some poor defending. Frederic Piquionne was freed by Mark Noble's pass over the top, and his bobbling square ball fell perfectly for Carlton Cole to bundle past Tim Krul.

Bizarrely, though, the goal seemed to discomfort and demoralise the Hammers, and our attacks gained in momentum and purpose to the point that the equaliser seemed an inevitability. Sure enough, on 23 minutes Rocky's knock-down was crisply dispatched into the corner by Nolan. I'd suggest it was evidence of a near-telepathic understanding developed by time spent in each other's close company over the last week, but that would be to credit Rocky with cranial activity...

The balance of play then swung back in favour of the home side, with Victor Obinna in particular causing Simpson (and reinforcements) problems and sending one low cross fizzing across the six-yard area, only a vital touch from Sideshow Bob distracting Cole. Krul, meanwhile, was called upon to make several commanding catches under pressure.

Nevertheless, we continued to look reasonably dangerous ourselves, with Big Lad and Rocky a constant threat, and in the second half we were delighted to discover we could have it all our own way as the Hammers, nervy and lacking in confidence, repeatedly surrendered possession and initiative.

Nolan tried to return the favour of the first goal by nodding down for Rocky to volley goalwards, but Robert Green was behind the shot. However, the winner came on 69 minutes courtesy of ASBO, whose whipped cross from the right deceived Manuel da Costa but was headed home firmly by Rocky. Da Costa has himself been in the headlines for alleged misdemeanours this week, but it's been even more eventful for Rocky, what with a court appearance and a torched car. "He's still developing and he's going to have his ups and downs", was Hughton's euphemistic post-match comment.

We could have been forgiven for expecting a stern examination by the Hammers for the final 20 minutes, but as it transpired they looked disspirited and incapable of preventing us from adding to our tally. Only deflections denied Big Lad the goal his efforts probably deserved and Jose Enrique the strike an audacious bit of skill and direct run merited, while Rocky could have grabbed his second late on.

It was as comfortable an away victory as we'll enjoy all season, and hopefully one which might finally herald some positive consistency after the false dawns of the wins over Villa and Everton. The three points blasted us up to the heady heights of ninth on goal difference, but given that we're still just three points clear of 17th it should only be cause for cautious celebration.

Bring on the Mackems...

A West Ham fan's verdict: Hammered

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Quote of the day

"We had a young exciting team, a fantastic team when you think about it. But there was a lot going on off the pitch as well. They called us the Brat Pack and I suppose we were at the time. There was myself, Craig Bellamy, Jermaine Jenas, Titus Bramble, Carl Cort – we were young lads who had a lot of money, single, living away from home.

We were enjoying life off the pitch and we got up to all sorts. But that is the problem you have in a city like Newcastle. We were doing well on the pitch and we were intent on enjoying ourselves off it, but we got into too many scrapes. We attracted the wrong sort of attention and there are things I did which I just can’t believe when I look back. I’m 31 now and we’re all the same, we can’t quite believe how we behaved when we were younger.

That is what happens when you turn young men into millionaires in a city where they receive so much adulation just for being footballers. There are so many dangers when that happens, so many pitfalls – I fell into a lot of them.

I look at Andy Carroll and you can see the same problems. He has a lot going on in his life at the moment and I understand what he is going through. I hope he gets himself sorted out because he could become an excellent player.

A message to Bigger Lad - "Do as I say not as I did" - courtesy of Kieron Dyer. I suppose it's gratifying to see he at least feels some regret at his conduct, even if it's far too late.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hot wheels

So it turns out that there are disadvantages to Bigger Lad's whereabouts being common knowledge.

We've had all manner of motoring-related mishaps befall Toon players past and present over recent years - from smashes (Bramble, Dyer, Griffin) and speeding (Duff, Lovenkrands) to windows tinted too dark (Given) and driving theory test deception (N'Zogbia) - but being the victim of vehicular arson is definitely a new one.

The investigation sounds like a case for Poirot: "Can you think of anyone who might want to do this? Have you got any enemies? Oui... Mmm... OK... Er, un moment monsieur, I'm going to need a fresh sheet of paper..."

In other news TalkSport are, predictably enough, reporting that the currently unemployed Steve Clarke is in line to replace Colin Calderwood as Chris Hughton's assistant. Perhaps someone should tell reporter Wally Downes that Clarke has already filled the very same role at St James' Park, not just at Stamford Bridge and Upton Park...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wor Wayne?

So, Wayne, you're intent on leaving Man Utd citing a lack of ambition and once upon a time considered a move to Tyneside - would an ambition to, er, avoid relegation back to the Championship be enough to tempt you this time?

I'm sure you'd find some lovely ladies to fraternise with down at the Pig & Whistle - or if you'd prefer to keep a low profile one of your new team-mates would be only too happy to take the tabloid heat for you.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mr misdemeanour

You know how it is - you've been entrusted with the prestigious number 9 shirt and handed a fresh five-year deal with your hometown club, and you respond to that honour and responsibility by forgetting you've already got one court appearance for alleged assault lined up for the month and so book yourself another. Honestly, the boy must have a brain the size of a peanut.

Reacting to the news of that new contract, I noted that "as raw as he is, there's plenty of potential there" - but added a caveat: "... if he can knuckle down and focus". Sadly, Bigger Lad being involved in a bust-up is fast becoming about as newsworthy as ursine defecation in wooded areas. "The future of this club", according to Llambiarse? Not at the current rate. The future of a convicts XI, perhaps.

Presumably it's been decreed that he should be placed in the care and supervision of Kevin Nolan as the latter is our captain. Just as well he wasn't packed off for a cooling-off/rehabilitation period with the other Scouser in our midfield.

Bigger Lad, the message is clear and remains the same: grow up.


It seems as though the odd couple are reporting on their time together on Twitter: "Andy is off to bed, his dressing gown doesn't reach his knees! Buzz Lightyear slippers as well, not cool big man"...

(Thanks to Tim for the link.)

From number two to number one

It's Auf Wiedersehen to Colin Calderwood, who has moved north of the border to be the main man at Hibs. The Scot joined as Chris Hughton's assistant in January 2009, and so during his brief stay has witnessed the Toon rollercoaster at full speed, lurching from relegation before rocketing back to the "big time".

Speaking in his first press conference at Easter Road, Calderwood had some fond words for his former employers: "Newcastle will always be a special club to me ... I have thoroughly enjoyed the time I've spent [there]. It has been fantastic to work alongside a brilliant manager in Chris Hughton and with some great players at the club. Being part of last season's promotion to the Premier League is something I'm very proud of."

Only Hughton, the players and other members of the coaching staff really know how much of an influence and input Calderwood had in our demise and subsequent resurrection - but he leaves with our best wishes.

Table toppers

A splendid Saturday for Kazenga LuaLua - aside from the fact that he started on the bench for Brighton at Charlton, I suppose. Introduced with 15 minutes to play, our on-loan midfielder drilled home a splendid free-kick and then, deep into injury time, tricked his way past the Addicks' left-back to cross for Matt Sparrow to score Brighton's fourth of an impressive away win that keeps them on top of the League One table. Understandably, Gus Poyet is keen to keep hold of him.

Fraser Forster continues to enjoy his time north of the border too. He may have been beaten by a deflected shot from Dundee Utd's David Goodwillie on Sunday, but his team-mates pulled together to score twice and ensure Celtic have a perfect record from their first eight SPL games, and only find themselves beneath Old Firm rivals Rangers on goal difference.

It was a much less happy weekend for our third loanee Ben Tozer, however. His Northampton side raced to a 3-0 half-time lead over Hereford courtesy of a Leon McKenzie hat-trick, only to implode and concede four to the strugglers in a shocking second-half display that culminated in Tozer being red-carded for violent conduct. After a bright opening few games, it all seems to have turned rather sour and certainly the Toon first team squad looks no nearer for him.

New faces

A couple of additions to the blogroll: Early Bath, a general site, and Jesus Was A Wiganer, a blog dedicated to our near-conquerors on Saturday.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sideshow late show

Newcastle Utd 2 - 2 Wigan

Regular Simpsons watchers will be accustomed to the site of Sideshow Bob being foiled at the last second by a slightly irritating short-arse. However, Saturday's match at St James' Park turned that scenario on its head, with the irritating short-arse's best efforts thwarted by a Sideshow Bob lookalike.

In this case, it was captain-for-the-day Fabricio Coloccini, whose last-second (never mind last-minute) powerful header after Bigger Lad had flicked on Spiderman's corner which ensured honours even after two first-half strikes from the returning Zzzzog had seen the visitors take a strong lead.

With Kevin Nolan missing due to a reported knock and Hatem Ben Arfa sidelined for the foreseeable future, Chris Hughton shuffled his pack, with Peter Lovenkrands and Danny Guthrie restored to the starting line-up and Bigger Lad preferred up front. However, it was the visitors who looked to be the more potent in the early exchanges, one good cross from Spidermag apart, and it was they who took the lead with Zzzzzog heading home at the back post, with both James Perch and Mike Williamson too far away from him to challenge.

Ninety seconds later it was two, after ASBO lost the ball in a poor central position and Wigan were allowed to break forward. Perch was unfortunately stranded up the pitch, having pressed forward when ASBO had the ball, and Zzzzog was once again allowed to fire home largely unchallenged, beating Tim Krul at his near post.

With two home defeats fresh in the memory, the forecast looked pretty bleak, and it was only the second-half introduction of Big Lad, on for Lovenkrands, that seemed to get us moving. It was his diving header from a fine Spidermag cross which got us back into the contest, and set up the final push which saw us throw the kitchen sink at the Gallowgate goal.

With time running out, Bigger Lad's side-foot wide in the 89th minute looked to be a costly miss, but thankfully Coloccini was there to snatch a point at the death.

On the plus side, the spirit shown to gain the point was encouraging, and should have a beneficial impact on the squad after two home defeats. However, James Perch once again looked out of his depth, and Danny Simpson's return to the first team can't come soon enough. Simpson may yet be found to struggle at this level, but he can't do worse than Perch at present. Perch too should benefit from some time on the sidelines, when hopefully he can take the time to adjust to the top level.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Forgotten men

Xisco - remember him? £5.7m? £50,000 a week? Unwanted by King Kev? Yep, thought that might have brought back the memories - and the cold sweat.

Well, Chris Hughton's been full of praise for a player whose Toon career has never got started: "He came back in the summer and his attitude has been very good. He worked hard and showed a very good approach in training. It is no reflection on his effort or application that we've decided to use other players so far". If it's not his effort or application that are at fault, then you have to assume it's just his quality...

Hughton had some encouragement for the Spaniard - "I have emphasised to all of them who aren't in the team that they have to keep pushing hard for selection. If they do that then the door isn't shut to anyone" - but also acknowledges that a loan deal like the one that took him to Racing Santander last season might well be the best option for both parties.

Meanwhile, we've also had the extremely dubious pleasure of hearing from the man who stepped into the breach following King Kev's walkout - albeit second-hand, via our former striker Mick Harford, who recently caught up with JFK after a charity cricket match. Apparently "one day he would love to go back to Newcastle – he absolutely loved his time there and holds the club, the fans and the city in the highest regard". Well, the feeling is most certainly not mutual.

Was it the self-confessed Mackem fan in Harford coming to the surface when he declared "He certainly made his mark there!"? If by that he means dismaying the fans and instantly getting the local press on his back with that infamous tirade without any discernible or consistent improvement in results, then yes, he did make his mark.

Delusional as ever, JFK is "absolutely certain" he'd have kept the club in the Premier League had he not fallen ill - but Harford is hardly much better, claiming that JFK brought "stability" and that "it really harmed the club to keep chopping and changing managers that season". Funnily enough, Mick, that's exactly how the buffoon got the job in the first place - and, for the record, the club didn't axe King Kev (or at least not in the conventional manner, even if the circumstances of his departure were adjudged to constitute constructive dismissal) or JFK (whose heart condition meant he was unfit to work)...


Anyone like to hazard a guess as to the identity of the only Toon player to see full international action last night?

Not Peter Lovenkrands or Haris Vuckic, who didn't feature for Denmark or Slovenia respectively.

Not Tim Krul either - though he did captain the Dutch U21 side as they came close to overcoming a first-leg deficit and qualifying for the European Championships finals against Ukraine.

Nope, it was Joan Simun Edmundsson, who played the full 90 minutes for the Faroe Islands as they held Northern Ireland to a 1-1 draw. The 19-year-old forward may be yet to make his competitive debut for his current club side, but he's already (if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor) got seven international caps under his belt.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Big deal for Bigger Lad

Amid rumours of interest from the spendalot duo of Chelsea and Man City, we've managed to tie down Bigger Lad with a new five-year contract. Praised as "the future of this club" by Derek Llambiarse, the player himself has described the deal as "brilliant".

While Bigger Lad's been generating a lot of positive press thus far this season, those of us who watch him regularly are well aware he's as yet far from the world-beater some are hailing him as - and would probably agree that Chris Hughton's decision to drop (or rest) him for the trip to Eastlands was justified given his previous two or three performances. But, as raw as he is, there's plenty of potential there, if he can knuckle down and focus, and it's gratifying to see that he's sensible enough to realise his development will be best continued on Tyneside rather than on the bench or in the reserves of the Premier League's big boys.

Meanwhile, Friday's Mirror reported that Bigger Lad's fellow Geordie (and training ground adversary) Steven Taylor could follow Fraser Forster's lead in moving to Celtic on loan in January. Out of contract next summer and transfer-listed due to his failure to agree new terms, Taylor is currently injured. The chances of him finding a way back into favour at St James' Park certainly seem limited - but no doubt we'd be much happier to cash in with a permanent deal when the transfer window reopens (assuming negotiations are indeed as dead-in-the-water as they appear, that is).

Monday, October 11, 2010

Taking the law into their own hands?

It is being reported in the press that Marseille are contemplating sueing Nigel de Jong following his leg-breaking tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa.

This raises a number of questions. What they are seeking compensation for? Are they responsible for the player's medical bills, and looking to recoup the cost from the Dutchman, or are they simply concerned with any potential loss in value for the player in the hope that he returns?

A Month Of Saturdays: September 2010

September - the month which sees summer turn to autumn always feels like a month in flux. Something which should resonate with Newcastle's fortunes over the ninth month.

On the positive side were the wins against Everton and Chelski's squad players, but on the other side were our two home performances against Stoke and Blackpool.

In the press it was a case of Alan Smith telling us something we already knew, Alan Shearer confirming something we'd long suspected, Graeme Swann delivering something of a surprise and Fat Sam demonstrating that he really is in a world of his own.

Off the pitch, Steve Harper's injury served as an opportunity for Tim Krul and also showed that while Shay Given might currently be warming the Eastlands bench, he's still in Harps' inner circle.

On the pitch, following success over the Great Unwashed, Sol Campbell moved closer to his league debut.

A mixed bag too for players and former players, with everyone's favourite trumpet-playing Peruvian love rat seeing a house repossessed and Gazza last spotted heading for Garforth Town. Of the current crop Peter Lovenkrands was found to be travelling a bit too fast for his own good, but loanees Fraser Forster and Kazenga LuaLua continued to impress.

Finally, Bigger Lad was the subject of some serious photoshopping by Guardian readers, the club's quest to brand the stadium continued and we took an opportunity to spruce up our blogroll and in Ben's case to see how one of the clubs in our recent past are adjusting to life in League One.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Murphy's law

Credit to Fulham captain Danny Murphy, who's seen both Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele savagely poleaxed already this season, for making the crucial point about the recent spate of excessively aggressive tackles:

"The pace in which some players go into tackles now is ridiculous. There's no brains involved in the players who are doing that. I don't believe players are going out to break another player's leg but there has to be some logic and intelligence involved. If you are going at someone at a certain pace and you don't get it right you are going to hurt them. Players should be culpable for that, in terms of punishment I don't know what - but they need to show a little bit more intelligence, especially the ones who are doing it repeatedly."

That applies as much to Nigel de Jong as it does to Murphy's opposite number at Wolves Karl Henry, Zamora's assailant as well as the perpetrator of ridiculous challenges on Wigan's Jordi Gomez and our very own ASBO. Murphy's argument is valid - players may genuinely argue that they haven't set out to injure others, but if they commit challenges that can and do result in serious injury then they should expect to be held culpable and censured accordingly.

Meanwhile, the Daily Heil have reported that Ben Arfa has refused de Jong's request to visit him in hospital. Instead, he's sent a present. A copy of War And Peace, perhaps? He'll have plenty of spare time to read it.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Quote of the day

"I would be a bit gutted to go back."

There's an element of playing up to fans of his adopted club, I think, but Fraser Forster's comments about the possibility of a return to Newcastle are nevertheless revealing.

It would probably be a bit unfair to suggest that in insisting "I want to play week in, week out and sitting on a bench is not something I want" the 22-year-old sounds as though he's getting too big for his boots - after all, he's currently commanding a first-team position for Celtic so is clearly both gifted and in form and reaping the benefits of the loan system. But what it does indicate is that when the loan period is over, Chris Hughton may struggle to convince him that his future lies at St James' Park - especially with Tim Krul likely to be equally unhappy at having to play second fiddle to Steve Harper.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Too much too Jong

The fallout from Sunday's match rumbles on, with the news that we've asked the FA to take the "appropriate action" against Nigel de Jong for his tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa, described in a club statement as "unnecessary" and using "excessive force".

Meanwhile, PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor has entered the debate, denouncing "reckless and unnecessary" challenges, and Dutch icon Johan Cruyff has backed Bert van Marwijk's decision to drop de Jong from the Netherlands squad.

Lest de Jong should feel himself the victim of a witch-hunt (and let's face it, he is - but when you're sat on a broom in a pointy hat with a black cat in your lap, what do you expect?), it's worth noting that someone has spoken out in his defence, insisting he's actually "a sweet guy". The person in question? That would be his fellow maimer in the Dutch midfield Mark Van Bommel. It's hardly a glowing character reference - more like Reggie Kray describing brother Ronnie as cute and cuddly.

And still there's no word of regret or remorse from either de Jong or Man City - shown up by Karl Henry's public apology for the tackle on Wigan's Jordi Gomez that earned him a straight red card. Maybe a career in South American politics awaits the pair of them?

The game continues to feature in the news for other reasons, too. Those looking to Sunday's performance for encouragement will have been pleased to note that we had our illustrious opponents rattled enough for tempers to fray between captain and manager in the dressing room at half-time...

Monday, October 04, 2010

Hatchet man axed

At least someone other than Chris Hughton has had the good sense to condemn Nigel de Jong's leg-breaking assault on Hatem Ben Arfa yesterday. The Dutchman was inexplicably absolved of blame by ESPN pundits Nicky Butt and Kevin Keegan, amongst others, but his international manager Bert van Marwijk has taken a very different view, dropping him from the squad for the forthcoming European Championships qualifiers.

Van Marwijk described the challenge as "a wild and unnecessary offence", claiming that de Jong "went in much too hard" and finding it "funny" that it wasn't even deemed worthy of a yellow card. Funny isn't quite the word we'd use for it, but all the same... Showdown talks are now on the agenda: "I have a problem with the way Nigel needlessly looks to push the limit.

Meanwhile, there was mixed international news for members of our squad. Haris Vuckic will be celebrating graduating from Slovenia's U21 squad to the seniors despite having only just turned 18, but by contrast Bigger Lad's omission from the England squad (with 33-year-old Bolton captain Kevin Davies selected ahead of him) will have compounded the disappointment of being dropped by Hughton for yesterday's match. Big Lad's muscular display at Eastlands did enough to earn him another start when the domestic campaign resumes at home to Wigan in a fortnight, but Hughton had some consolatory words for the player to whom he handed the number 9 shirt in the summer: "Andy is a massive part of this club and will continue to be for a long time".

Finally, spare a thought for Lee Clark, whose Huddersfield side are going through a rough patch, having lost three on the bounce without scoring, and who has today seen fellow former Toon employee Derek Fazackerley poached from his backroom staff by new Leicester manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. Perhaps we could cheer him up by bolstering his unusually goal-shy attack with Nile Ranger on loan?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

City slackers get lucky

Manchester City 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

So City dished out the defeat most of us were anticipating - but it wasn't so much a case of fortune favouring the brave (that would be us) as refereeing decisions favouring the rich. No fewer than three appalling verdicts from whistle-blower Martin Atkinson denied us what would have been a thorough deserved point - and perhaps even something better.

First he failed to recognise that Nigel de Jong's challenge on our brightest creative spark, Hatem Ben Arfa, after barely three minutes merited a straight red card. City fans can bleat all they want about the Dutchman winning the ball, but the manner of the tackle - a reckless double-legged lunge that scissored around Ben Arfa's standing leg - meant those protestations were irrelevant. The Frenchman, just a handful of games into his Newcastle career, was rushed off to hospital with a suspected broken leg while the thuggish and apparently remorseless de Jong was left to shrug his shoulders and carry on. For me, the difference between that and the challenge that saw ASBO's recent assailant Karl Henry dismissed for Wolves yesterday was negligible.

Then, as the home side sought to capitalise on the disruption to our gameplan, Atkinson saw fit to award a penalty for a perfectly timed tackle on Carlos Tevez by Mike Williamson that not only won the ball - cleanly and fairly, I should add - but took place outside the box. Tevez hammered the spot-kick straight down the middle but, with a bit more luck, a bigger deflection off Tim Krul's knee would have sent it over the bar rather than into the roof of the net.

And lastly, late in the second half as we chased the game at 2-1 down, the referee ignored as blatant a penalty as you'll ever see when Joleon Lescott clumsily swiped away Big Lad's legs in full view of the away end. Perhaps we shouldn't be too critical, though - after all, he was probably preoccupied with pondering exactly how he was going to explain the previous two decisions in his match report...

It all conspired to mean that we reaped a big fat nowt from a generally excellent performance - other, that is, than a more well-stocked treatment room, Fabricio Coloccini also limping off before the break. After a bright start, we were understandably subdued following the injury to Ben Arfa, but once behind roared back, levelling through a thumping volley from Spidermag (his first top flight goal) and going on to control the game, against all expectations. Our hosts were sluggish and second best, though remained dangerous on the counter-attack owing to our curious insistence on playing a very high line. On the one occasion they got a clear sight of goal, Krul did well to deny Gareth Barry.

With City hardly stepping up the pace much in the second period, substitute Sol Campbell - making his league debut for us, and in so doing becoming the only player other than Ryan Giggs to appear in every season since football (aka the Premier League) began - was able to marshall the defence effectively despite looking ponderous at times. Admittedly Krul was now the busier 'keeper, but we continued to carry attacking menace of our own, with Ben Arfa's replacement Wayne Routledge firing wide from a Spidermag cross and the Argentinian shooting too close to Joe Hart.

History will no doubt record the game as turning not on Atkinson's mistakes but on Roberto Mancini's decision to bring on Adam Johnson. If there's one thing that's guaranteed, it's that boyhood Newcastle fans will always score against us, and it took the former Smoggie winger all of three minutes to tease his way past ASBO and Jose Enrique and crack a shot inside Krul's far post. A goal the neutral could no doubt have admired - but not us.

The penalty-that-should-have-been followed soon after, and Williamson squandered a great late chance to equalise, thumping a header narrowly over the bar from a corner, but the bitter taste of defeat was destined to be ours.

City's match sponsors laughably named Johnson the home side's man of the match, despite his virtuoso goal coming during a cameo that lasted just 18 minutes of the 90, but he and his expensive and much-vaunted team-mates were outshone by several in our ranks. Williamson, for example, displayed a calm reading of the game and was incisive with his tackling and interceptions, while Big Lad fully justified his recall at the expense of Bigger Lad by holding play up well and giving Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany - the latter one of the season's best performers so far - a difficult afternoon.

Spidermag - brought back into the side for Routledge, though the latter didn't have to sit on the sidelines for too long - was electrifying down the left, torturing Germany defender Jerome Boateng and of course notching our goal. But perhaps best of all was Cheik Tiote, who impressed with his industry, drive and positional sense, continually working his way out of tight corners and making his £200,000-a-week compatriot Yaya Toure look like a complete chump.

If I had to pick a fault in the performance, though, it would be that we didn't seem to have quite the same belief in our own ability to capitalise on our hosts' deficiencies and snatch an improbable away win that we did at Stamford Bridge recently. Dominating possession and making supposed title contenders look ordinary on their own turf is all very pleasing, but we failed to convert it into a genuine advantage.

All the same, even as we sympathise with Ben Arfa and note we're just two points off the foot of the table, there's plenty to be optimistic about.

Man City fans' perspectives: Bitter And Blue, The Lonesome Death Of Roy Carroll, Manchester City Blog (given the latter's follow-up post, I think we should all pay a visit next time City are denied points by a refereeing decision...)

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Friday, October 01, 2010

London calling?

According to reports, Bigger Lad might soon be the recipient of a call from Fabio Capello, with our number 9 missing out on a call up to the latest U21 squad.

Either he's now the next cab off the rank, with doubts over Shrek and injuries to Jermaine Defoe and Bobby Zamora, or he's been dropped altogether.

Whilst I'm pleased for the player, there's always a part of me that would be quite happy if none of our players were ever called up for the national team - as our troubles with Little Saint Mick proved, England call-ups risk being more curse than blessing.

Still, I can't say his call-up (if it comes) doesn't represent deserved recognition after a phenomenal 18 months for the player, who has gone from being fifth choice for his club to the verge of the England team. Let's hope he thinks of this as the start of another journey, and I'm sure Chris Hughton is wise enough to try and keep Bigger Lad's feet firmly on the ground, rather than let him think this is the pinnacle of his career.