Monday, January 31, 2011

Rocky seeing reds as Jabba sees green

According to reports, we've accepted a £35 million bid for Rocky from Liverpool (who are frantically scrabbling round to replace Torres, who is on the verge of joining Chelski).

Whilst there's still a little way to go on Transfer Deadline Day, I can't help thinking (perhaps controversially) that this is actually quite a good deal for us.

Yes, Rocky's scored quite a few goals this season, and certainly helped us rack up 30 points already. However, he's currently injured and is only in his first season, so whilst Liverpool would argue they are paying a premium for potential, the reality is that the player could also go off the rails/downhill from here. For every player who has enjoyed a phenomenal career, there are plenty of others who have enjoyed one goalscoring season in the sun, before failing to repeat the feat at different clubs throughout their subsequent careers (James Beattie, Kevin Davies, etc.)

Whether Rocky would be one of those players, I don't know. But what I do know is that if you went out and spent the proceeds you could seriously improve the quality of our squad to make us a much more competitive Premier League team going forward.

The gamble (which we know Jabba's fond of) is whether the team, without Rocky, will be able to garner enough points to stay up this season. Any negative thoughts around that rather assume we're a one-man team - which is far from the case. Yes, our main goal threat may be on his way out, but even if we don't frantically sign someone else before 11pm, then it's a pretty poor state of affairs if ASBO, Nolan and co can't add ten more points.

Update: Apparently we've told Liverpool to stick their latest bid where the sun doesn't shine (Toxteth?) - although there are suggestions Rocky is currently on his way to Liverpool anyway (possibly in a car driven by Kevin Nolan).

Memories of the James Milner to Villa saga come flooding back.

Further update: Rocky has apparently now submitted a transfer request. This is clearly going to run and run - we'll update the position when it all becomes clear (probably tomorrow).

Furthest update: Auf Wiedersehen pet. More from Paul tomorrow - I'll keep my powder dry for the January edition of A Month Of Saturdays.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Northern Ireland

It's looking increasingly likely that we'll be turning to Villa misfit Stephen Ireland to bolster our midfield options, with a loan deal agreed and the medical taking place on Tyneside today. The former Man City man may be so much a king of bling as to put Kieron Dyer very firmly in the shade, and has been criticised by Gerard Houllier for a perceived discrepancy between performances in training and in matches, but he's clearly a talented midfielder and as recently as 2008/9 was named as City's player of the year. Perhaps a temporary move to St James' Park will be mutually beneficial.

Less encouraging reports suggest that, like a dog with a bone, Spurs are refusing to give up the possibility of striking a deal for Rocky. According to the Sun, they've upped their offer for our injured talisman to £25 million but the paper also claims that "the Londoners have rejected the offer" - news to me that we've been relocated to the Big Smoke (unless this is a reference to Jabba and Llambiarse, of course)... Given the match currently being played out at Craven Cottage, 'Appy 'Arry might be better advised to concentrate on defensive recruitments.

Meanwhile, we won't be welcoming Stephane Sessegnon to St James', the Benin midfielder having for reasons best known to himself chosen to move to the Dark Place, but did at least have the satisfaction of seeing Stevenage turfed out of the FA Cup yesterday, courtesy of a nicely cruel late goal from a Reading side featuring one Andy Griffin.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Brum deal for Oba

A year and a half after leaving Tyneside in the wake of our relegation, Obafemi Martins is back in the Premier League. As for many who've struggled to navigate in and around Birmingham, the Nigerian's route to St Andrews has been somewhat circuitous, taking in stints at Wolfsburg in Germany and Rubin Kazin in Russia, from whom he's now been loaned out to bolster the Blues' shot-shy attack. While headline writers everywhere bemoan the fact that Villa Park wasn't his destination (y'know - "Aston Martins"...), the local secretarial agencies will be rubbing their hands in glee. Owing to the postponement of our pre-Christmas trip to Birmingham, Martins will still have two opportunities to inflict misery upon his former employers. It'll make a pleasant change to be relieved and delighted if and when he shanks an optimistic 30-yarder into the stands.

From a striker past to a striker present - "striker" used less in a footballing sense and more to refer to steadfastly refusing to work. Alan Pardew's revealed that the Xisco Kid's availability has been touted around to Spanish clubs but unsurprisingly last season's return of three goals in 23 games on loan at Racing Santander doesn't seem to have turned any heads in La Liga. The BBC site is among those crediting Middlesbrough with an interest, of which Pardew has claimed ignorance. Spain or Smogside? Tough choice there, kid...

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Rest, regroup and recovery

A humiliating FA Cup exit to Stevenage and consequent weekend off rewarded with a sunshine break? Rough justice, or so it seemed. But Alan Pardew's latest comments suggest that not only has it been "wet and windy" but that it's been far from Portugueasy for every member of the travelling party: "Some players need rest and some need to work. When you look at Kevin Nolan out here, he is in need of a rest. On the other hand the likes of James Perch and Sol Campbell need to work and we’ve made sure they’ve done exactly that." Hark, is that the sound of socks being pulled up under duress I hear?

Of course, several of our players have been out of action and in recovery for some time - chief amongst them Rocky. Sadly our optimism of earlier in the week has been replaced with disappointment that his thigh injury hasn't healed itself as quickly as we'd hoped and that he may now not return until after Arsenal visit St James' on 5th February. Given the way he dominated the Gunners' defence at the Emirates, and also his athletic display at home to our next opponents Fulham, he'll continue to be sorely missed.

In Rocky's absence, and particularly against Spurs, we've squandered opportunities to seal victory and ended up paying a heavy price. Presumably those question marks over his fitness will mean we'll continue to resist any Birmingham interest in Big Lad - after all, he's our only other genuine target man and, with ASBO firing on all cylinders, a target man is key to our current playing style.

Compounding the disappointment at Rocky's extended stay in the treatment room is the news that the Lesser Spotted Dan Gosling too is struggling with injury, in his case a swollen knee which Pardew's estimated will keep him sidelined for three to four weeks. Not exactly ideal when we're already short of midfield cover. At least Hatem Ben Arfa's recovery is on track - even if he did have to undergo a secret second operation in November. By the time the Frenchman's back out on the pitch, his assailant Nigel de Jong will have returned to the Dutch national fold after his punishment exclusion. ("Fair tackle", the City site protests - in the sense it won the ball, yes, but not in its recklessness and the potential and indeed actual risk that it posed to the player he was challenging.)

While the most intriguing (and probably most fanciful) recent transfer rumour has us linked with a move for shamed former Chelsea striker Adrian Mutu, one target it looks as though won't be heading for Tyneside is Sebastian Larsson, the Swede looking likely to swap one Second City side for another with Curtis Davies going the other way. His delivery was once again impressive last night, instrumental as the Blues staged an unlikely League Cup comeback against West Ham, and with Wayne Routledge out on loan and Gosling injured again we could certainly use another midfielder with a bit of craft and guile. What, if anything, does Pardew have up his sleeve?

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Canny news - but not canny enough?

Irked by reports in yesterday's Sun that Rocky would be out of action for another two months, we sent out a spokesman to claim otherwise: "There's no factual basis to the report. He will be out for two to three weeks as boss Alan Pardew said before the Spurs game". Positive news if indeed true, but in our haste to set the record straight, I can't help but wonder whether we've missed a trick. Could we not have done a Fergie by cannily keeping up the pretence of a long-term injury and then springing him on unsuspecting opposition, his rehabilitation apparently well ahead of schedule? What's more, allowing the rumours to disseminate unchallenged may just have helped deter potential suitors for the final week that the transfer window's open, as any buying club probably wouldn't want to shell out millions for someone who might be crocked until April...

Meanwhile, ASBO revealed to the Ronny Gill that he's in negotiations with the club over a new deal. While I feel he should have been booted out long ago and am still extremely wary of him, I can't deny he's hit a tremendous vein of form this season and, for the first time in his Toon career, is actually paying back some of the indulgence, patience and cash we've lavished on him. Without Wayne Routledge, we're short of players who can slot in on the right, and his delivery from set-pieces - arguably the most lethal in the division this season - has been one of our most potent weapons.

While Kazenga LuaLua and Tamas Kadar are both back on Tyneside after picking up injuries (at Brighton and Huddersfield respectively), the number of loanees we have dotted around the country and north of the border has increased to seven. Forward Ryan Donaldson has signed up to become an honorary Monkey Hanger, joining Wayne Routledge (QPR), Fraser Forster (Celtic), Ben Tozer (Northampton), Matthew Grieve (Stockport) and James Tavernier and Joan Simun Edmundsson (both Gateshead).

While Forster's stint at Celtic Park has seen him play an instrumental role in the club topping the SPL table, Grieve is suffering from sharply contrasting fortunes - the managerless Hatters are in freefall and, after losing 3-0 at second-bottom Hereford (a game in which Grieve was not involved), they then went down 3-4 at home to League Two's bottom side Lincoln at the weekend. A second successive relegation and dropping out of the Football League looks a distinct possibility unless our young defender can help stop the rot.

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The best things in life aren't free?

How to provoke the football blogging fraternity: publish a post that simultaneously brown-noses a site with a paywall and denigrates those without, and - icing on the cake - give it the splendidly ill-judged title "Quality Writing Isn't Free".

In fairness to the author, Zach Slaton, he has at least offered an apology of sorts. But, as is often the way with these things, it's more a profession of innocence and an attempt at self-justification than a genuine acceptance of being wrong. "I did not intend to insult all bloggers who provide free content by insinuating they do not make quality posts, but clearly that is how a number of them took it"? You may not have intended to, Zach, but that's what you did - and it was hardly a matter of distortion or wilful misinterpretation on the part of fellow bloggers like me. We didn't bristle without reason.

Paywalls are all fine and well, and I've no doubt that The Tomkins Times, for which Slaton writes, is worth the monthly subscription if the quality of the book he edited and to which we contributed is anything to go by. It's also true to say that a lot of amateur blogs with freely available content are poorly written rehashes of news stories and idle gossip with little or no merit. Having the luxury of time to write is probably conducive to better quality (and more grammatically correct) posts, as anyone who's bashed out a post in five spare lunchtime minutes will know.

But this doesn't certainly justify a generally dismissive attitude to blogs which offer their content for free. There are countless amateurs out there who manage to juggle day jobs and the maintenance of consistently exceptional blogs (and before you nod and wink knowingly, we're not including ourselves in this). I'm with commenter Lanterne Rouge of The Two Unfortunates on this; the importance of blogs might be overstated at times, but it's still true that football blogging - free football blogging - is actually in rude good health.



Monday, January 24, 2011

Spurned opportunity

Newcastle Utd 1 - 1 Spurs

For the second successive game, Newcastle were caught with a sucker punch at the death to leave us rueing two points lost rather than a point gained.

This week, for 5under1and read Spurs, as Droopy's team of dwarves managed to pinch a point on the break thanks to Aaron Lennon's quick feet and smart finish. However, as Alan Shearer was keen to point out on Match Of The Day, the reality is that Danny Simpson shouldn't have allowed Lennon to cut inside onto his stronger right foot, and instead should have forced the player down the line.

The fact that we were even in a position to rue the points dropped is credit to the team, who struggled to get hold of the ball thanks to Spurs' slicker passing, but who looked the more threatening in front of goal, with Leon Best, Peter Lovenkrands and Nile Ranger all guilty at points of failing to score when gilt-edged opportunities came their way.

It was heartening to see Danny Guthrie enjoying a decent game in the middle of the park (at least until he hobbled off towards the end) and it was his pass which was pinged out to the left-hand side for Sideshow Bob to chest the ball down expertly before firing an exquisite shot inside Carlo Cudicini's far post.

(At that point, presumably somewhere in the Sky a hairy man and his Scottish sidekick were heard to grumble: "That goalscorer looks like a girl." "Girls shouldn't be playing football - they should be in the kitchen cooking ma tea...")

Having taken the lead, it was again frustrating that we couldn't add the second to finish off the match, and equally that we again just wilted at the last - which to my mind at least suggests that the players simply aren't quite fit enough compared to the teams they're coming up against.

On the plus side, Sideshow Bob was excellent, his goal the icing on the cake. Equally impressive was the return of Danny Guthrie, who demonstrated that he has the skills to do well in central midfield, if only he could perform week in week out.

Still, for the second week in a row we can count ourselves unlucky not to have beaten a top six team.

A Spurs' fans view: Dear Mr Levy

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

London calling

Many happy returns for Wayne Routledge, whose first appearance back in a QPR shirt not only resulted in a 2-1 win for the Hoops but found him cast as homecoming hero, supplying the decisive goal from Adel Taarabt's astute pass. How curious that he should be so regularly anonymous and ineffectual in the top flight and yet so electrifying and dangerous one level down. One thing I didn't consider in my previous two posts on the loan deal (here and here) is what might happen if he proves a roaring success at Loftus Road. Obviously Rangers will be keen to recruit the Sidcup flyer permanently - but might it be enough to convince Alan Pardew against flogging him and instead, like many managers before him, hold out hope that he might finally be capable of cracking the Premier League nut?

On the subject of Londoners bombed out of St James' in recent times, Chris Hughton was a guest on the Football Focus couch yesterday. He may have been gagged by Jabba, but even still it was remarkable how dignified he was - not even a hint of bitterness. It's hard to believe that given the number of recent managerial vacancies in the Championship in particular, no one was prepared to offer him a job. Especially when one of the positions has been filled by the Tango Mackem - who, having been out of the game for over a year, immediately reminded everyone what a buffoon he is by making completely unfounded allegations about another club in a press conference and forcing his new employers to issue a grovelling apology...

(Paul's report of yesterday's latest sucker-punch draw to follow tomorrow.)

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rout's route out

Confirmation yesterday that wide man Wayne Routledge has winged his way back to west London for the rest of the season. I've already given my thoughts on the decision to let him go here - clearly Alan Pardew doesn't rate him, but I wonder whether he wouldn't come in handy on occasions. Like today, for instance, when we're alarmingly short of midfielders - Alan Smith and Dan Gosling having joined the injury list.

Recent paper talk does at least suggest that Pardew acknowledges that's an area where we're a little short. In addition to Sebastian Larsson and Shaun Wright-Phillips, we've been linked with Villa's Stephen Ireland and the superbly named Tranquillo Barnetta of Bayer Leverkusen. Prior to leaving Eastlands for Villa Park while James Milner went the other way, Ireland was arguably one of Man City's best performers, even amidst their plethora of multi-million-pound superstars. If he was to rediscover the mojo he's misplaced, he could be a splendid signing. What little I've seen of Swiss international Barnetta suggests he would be a good acquisition too.

However, Pardew's underlined the need for clear-headed decision making and caution in the transfer market: "This window is notoriously difficult for making bad deals, and I think there's been a couple gone through already, which I won't mention, that don't look good value to me." Thinking of anyone in particular, Alan?

Speaking of Darren Bent, that whining sound you can hear emanating from the Dark Place is Ol' Cauliflower Face, still bitter at the striker's defection to Villa. Having been criticised for their conduct by 5under1and's manager, Villa responded with a statement accusing him of trying to "besmirch" the reputation of the player and his new club (clearly Villa's PR goon thinks he's in a Victorian novel). And, as When Saturday Comes' James Dielhenn has pointed out, when it comes to disloyal and mercenary behaviour Bruce hardly has a leg to stand on...

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Ever wanted to control Chris Kamara with the click of your mouse? Well, now your dream is reality, courtesy of cancer charity Marie Curie.

Whatever next? Clunky, robotic pundits and commentators chuntering through cliches and gibberish? Actually, if that's the future, ITV are ahead of the game...

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ins, outs, downs, (call) ups

In: John Carver, named as Alan Pardew's right-hand man for the rest of the season. It's a homecoming for the man who worked under King Kev, Kenny Dalglish and Ruud Gullit before becoming assistant to Sir Bobby Robson. Since leaving the club when Graeme Soumess took charge in September 2004, he's toured the country, pitching up at Leeds, Luton, Plymouth and most recently Sheffield United (as assistant to ex-Toon midfielder and now Wales boss Gary Speed), and even had a managerial spell of just over a year across the pond with MLS outfit Toronto. The arrangement is only temporary at present, but Pardew has hailed Carver's "excellent track record as a coach" and also suggested that the returning Geordie's prior knowledge of life at St James' Park will come in useful.

Out: Wayne Routledge, who looks to be on his way back to QPR, just a year after they sold him to us. It's a loan deal that will, apparently, become permanent if the Londoners maintain their current position and follow us up to the Premier League. The winger was arguably our most effective signing of last January's transfer window, adding a fresh dimension to the squad and contributing assists and goals just when we needed a boost to maintain our trajectory towards promotion. I, at least, had hopes that after disappointing top-flight spells with Spurs, Villa, Fulham and Crystal Palace, Routledge would at last shine in the Premier League - but it hasn't really happened, not least because ASBO and his superior set-piece delivery has kept him largely sidelined. The decision to let him go suggests that a replacement may be forthcoming (Sebastian Larsson perhaps?), but also narrows our options somewhat - without Routledge we have very few players who can terrorise defenders with sheer pace.

Down: Alan Smith, who hobbled away from the Stadium of Shite on Sunday with an ankle injury - his Achilles heel, so to speak. It's tempting to venture that the enforced absence of the slow, clumsy bludger might actually be beneficial to the side, with the more creative duo of Danny Guthrie and Dan Gosling waiting in the wings. But the fact that Spurs, one of the most dangerous offensive sides in the league, are our visitors on Saturday means that lining up with a defensive midfielder is definitely desirable - Cheik Tiote's idiotic ban looking all the more potentially damaging.

(Call) up: Big Lad, who at the age of 29 looks set to make his international bow for Nigeria, the country of his birth, against Guatemala next month. The former England U21 man enthused (in his best Geordie accent): "I didn't think twice about finally returning home". In turning out for the Super Eagles he'll be following in the footsteps of two recent players remembered with varying degrees of affection on Tyneside: Obafemi Martins and Celestine Babayaro.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Twitter chitter chatter

It seems I wasn't alone in feeling that a post about Twitter was timely - the BBC's Ben Dirs has written his own, musing on its significance in sport more generally, and has been good enough to recommend my piece in the comments section.

Welcome to anyone who's visiting for the first time via the link there, and thanks to those who've plugged us on Twitter. I think we're gradually getting to grips with it and might actually be just about competent by the time it's superseded by the next form of social media and condemned to obsolescence...

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Darren on the run

After Sunday's injustice, how sweet was the news that Sewpa Darren Bent has handed in a transfer request? It seems the striker is so desperate to leave the Mackems that he'd prefer to swap the possibility of European football (a very slim possibility on Sunday's evidence) for the prospect of a long, hard slog against relegation with Villa. Shame.

One member of the Great Unwashed with Bent's name emblazoned on his back will have had a particularly glum expression. The Mirror reported that the young rapscallion who bounded onto the Stadium of Shite turf and bundled over the disconsolate Steve Harper following Asamoah Gyan's beyond-spawny equaliser showed up at our training ground yesterday morning full of remorse and intent on apologising personally to Harper.

Of course, we can't really afford to savour developments at the Dark Place just yet - what with the transfer window still wide open for more than a week yet and the Metro claiming Spurs' unwanted attention in our own talismanic striker has crystallised into a firm bid. Alan Pardew continues to reiterate that Rocky's not for sale, but I doubt I'm the only one feeling a little uneasy and wondering whether Jabba might decide to cash in.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Double derby delight denied

5under1and 1 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Black cats are widely associated with luck, both good and bad, and such was the case at the Stadium of Shite. Having been outplayed by a superior Newcastle side, 5under1and managed to sneak a point with a 94th-minute equaliser that bounced in off the otherwise useless Asamoah Gyan. The spawny, spawny bastards.

The omens for us looked good prior to kick-off. Cheik Tiote's absence through suspension meant a start for Alan Smith, but on the positive side our derby talisman Big Lad was passed fit and replaced Peter Lovenkrands as Leon Best's partner. Steve Harper, Jose Enrique and Spidermag were restored to the side, with Tim Krul, Wayne Routledge and James Perch dropping to the bench as we sought to bounce back from the Stevenage debacle. The fact that the Mackems near-flawless home form had been wrecked by Blackpool and Notts County also gave us hope of echoing if not matching our Halloween trick/treat and putting Ol' Cauliflower Face's weird-shaped nose further out of joint.

Big Lad should have added to his six goals in derbies within three minutes of the first whistle. Racing onto ASBO's perceptive through-ball and clear of a clueless defence marshalled by captain-for-the-day Titus Shambles, the prospective Nigerian international could only slide his shot wide of the advancing Craig Gordon. He had another opportunity at the end of the first period but headed narrowly over.

Sideshow Bob actually came closest to breaking the deadlock, Kieran Richardson clearing his close-range shot off the line, while at the other end, once the Mackems had gradually weaselled their way into the match, Harper was called upon to save with his shin and then hands from Darren Bent and Steed Malbranque respectively. The half's only other real incident of note came when Richardson - apparently intent on making amends for the absence of professional red card magnet Lee Cattermole - clattered into Smith, the Yorkshireman having to be replaced by Danny Guthrie.

The old foe could have scored early in the second period when hesitant defending let in Bent, but he hooked his shot wide as Harper raced off his line - and soon afterwards we were ahead. From ASBO's corner, Big Lad leapt impressively to power a downward header goalwards which Kevin Nolan helped into the net with a cute backheel. Cue the familiar byline chicken strut and delirium in the away end. After his hat-trick in October, the Great Unwashed probably aren't too keen on the sight of our captain, are they?

The Mackems' pitiful response to falling behind - which amounted to little more than an Ahmed Elmohamady shot that Richardson couldn't direct on target - had us quaking in our boots about as much as their pre-match vows promising to exact revenge for the Halloween thrashing. We calmly went about our business, controlling the game and looking the more potent going forwards. Leon Best bamboozled Shambles but fired his shot wide of the near post, and was then unmarked and perfectly placed in the centre of the goal six yards out only for the marauding Enrique to lift an ambitious volley over the bar instead of knocking the ball square.

Lovenkrands came on for Best but our third and final substitution, in the 90th minute, was more significant, affording us our first glimpse of Dan Gosling following his recovery from long-term injury and sparkling performance in the midweek closed-doors friendly against Hibs.

But then, with just a minute of stoppage time left, came the fatal and fateful blow. Harper should perhaps have done better than to parry David Bardsley's drive straight into the danger zone, but can consider himself very unlucky that the ball ricocheted off Ghanaian striker Gyan and looped into the net. Several thousand red-and-white ne'er-do-wells had already slunk away back to the rocks from under which they'd crawled out, but some of those who remained were unable to contain themselves at the simply sewpa turn of events and leapt onto the pitch, one young tyke knocking over the crestfallen Harper. Lock him in a room with ASBO and Rocky, I say.

So, we would have taken a point before kick-off, didn't lose and denied the Mackems the revenge they craved and Ol' Cauliflower Face the chance to serenade us with his specially chosen song. But inevitably the result feels like a deflating defeat.

A Mackem fan's perspective: Roker Report

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Tweet nothings?

About a fortnight ago, I decided that a post reflecting on the explosion of Twitter and what it means for blogging and for football would be topical - and, as if to prove my point, there seems to have been at least one new Twitter-and-football-related story in the news every day since.

For footballers, Twitter performs a dual function: both a social networking site by which they communicate and banter with personal friends (just as it is for millions of "ordinary" people), but also as a means of connecting with and delivering concise messages to supporters. In a chapter on athletes' use of social media which appears in a forthcoming book, Sports Media, US-based authors Jimmy Sanderson and Jeffrey W. Kassing observe that both blogs and Twitter "afford athletes more control over the release of sports news while also increasing their self-presentation management". And managing their self-presentation is no doubt key for those who are very often in possession of sizeable egos. The number of followers they have must seem like a tangible measure (and validation) of their popularity.

For the fans who follow them, the appeal is even more obvious. Stalking is effectively legitimised, as they're actually invited to snoop on the players' personal exchanges with their consent. What always used to be private is now increasingly - and knowingly - performed in public. Moreover, Twitter makes fans feel as though they have an intimate connection with and access to the players - the middleman, the media (TV, newspapers and, yes, blogs too), having been dispensed with. Footballers can speak their minds directly, while fans can tweet their favourite player a question, it'll show up on his feed and they might even get a reply. This illustrates what Sanderson and Kassing refer to as the "transformative" and "integrative" effects of social media - they transform the role of the mainstream media, sidelining them and shrinking their significance, and simultaneously draw the fan, conventionally a passive consumer, into a closer, more active and participatory relationship with the object of their interest.

Of course, there's always a danger of doing a Guardian, getting carried away and overstating the importance of social media. After all, let's examine the revelations we've gleaned from following the various Twitter aficionados in the Newcastle team over the last month, revelations which in truth hardly merit the name. Rocky has repeatedly sought to assure concerned fans about his fitness and continued future at the club, while Spidermag's revealed (in both Spanish and English) that he seems to spend most of his time twiddling his thumbs waiting for matchdays to come around. Danny Simpson gave us an insight into outfits and goings-on at the players' Christmas party, though I'm not convinced we really wanted to know that Rocky wore a Spongebob Squarepants sweatshirt, did we? As for Nile Ranger, "Feelin like some hot wingsssss!" is about as erudite and informative as his tweets get, but that's still better than Wayne Routledge, who's a master of untelligible gibberish that I assume must be what passes for Yoof-Speak these days.

But significant news has been broken on a Newcastle player's Twitter page at least once, when Jose Enrique announced he'd be sitting out the trip to Spurs with an injury. The Spaniard has since suspended his account, the understanding being that he was asked to do so by the club as a result - though not before encouraging everyone to befriend him on Facebook instead...

Sanderson and Kassing note that social media have served to deprive sports organisations of "their ability to tightly regulate the public release of information" and this is evidently an increasing source of frustration and anxiety to clubs. Speaking after it emerged that Tuncay was touting himself around to prospective new employers on Facebook, Stoke manager Tony Pulis ruled out a ban on social media as unenforceable but complained resignedly: "It's very, very difficult at times, but boys will be boys". Our reaction to Enrique's tweet seems to suggest a more authoritarian and interventionist policy, prompted by the old adage that loose lips sink ships (not that we were exactly a watertight vessel prior to the advent of social media, though - far from it). And Enrique isn't alone - Man Utd midfielder Tom Cleverley, currently on loan at Wigan, recently announced he'd been advised to close his account by both his club and his agent.

Perhaps what clubs fear the most about Twitter is the possibility of unguarded outbursts committed to the internet in the heat of the moment - not least because they know that there's no chance of pleading misrepresentation by the media afterwards. Top footballers are given extensive media training on precisely the "self-presentation management" to which Sanderson and Kassing refer - but sitting at home in front of a computer must feel very different to having flashbulbs and microphones thrust into your face. In addition to social media being transformative and integrative, Sanderson and Kassing also refer to them as having potentially "adversarial" effects and, while we at Newcastle are (as far as I'm aware) yet to experience any such instances, this is the main reason why Twitter has been making the back page headlines.

Let's look at just the past few days. In the wake of Liverpool's FA Cup defeat to Man Utd, during which referee Howard Webb awarded a first-minute penalty to the Red Devils and Scouse captain Steven Gerrard was sent off, a disgruntled Ryan Babel linked to a mocked-up picture of Webb in a Man Utd shirt, for which the FA have charged him with improper conduct. His Anfield team-mate Glen Johnson, meanwhile, took furious exception to criticism from former Arsenal midfielder and Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson on Soccer Saturday, telling his Twitter followers: "Comments from alcoholic drug abusers are not really gonna upset me and who is Paul Merson to judge players, he was average at the best of times. The only reason he's on that show is coz he gambled all his money away. The clown!".

So much for conflict between players and officials and between players and the media - what about between players themselves? Look no further than the fallout of Blackburn's FA Cup victory over QPR, during which the Championship leaders' Jamie Mackie suffered a broken leg. Afterwards, no fewer than three QPR players - former Toon reserve Bradley Orr, Paddy Kenny and Mackie himself - took to Twitter to echo the sentiments of their manager Colin Wanker about Diouf's comments to the prostrate striker, labelling him a "shit" and a "repulsive human being" amongst other things.

And just to complete the set with conflict between players and supporters, we have the case of Marvin Morgan. Booed by his own team's fans during a defeat by struggling Hereford, the Aldershot striker came up with the charming Twitter riposte "I hope you all die!" The reward for his outburst was a maximum club fine of two weeks' wages and a place on the transfer list, and he's now been shipped out to Dagenham & Redbridge on loan until the end of the season. Ironic, really, that something that does in many ways bring the two parties - footballers and fans - closer together should have actually opened up an unbridgeable rift.

And that isn't the only irony. Sanderson and Kassing touch on the fact that mainstream media are now having to treat blogs and Twitter as serious sources of news, but don't acknowledge that they thrive on precisely the sort of tales of feuding and dysfunction that social media regularly throw up. On the one hand, then, social media appear to be eroding the importance and influence of their mainstream counterparts - but on the other, they're actually serving up on a plate exactly what the big boys want. The further irony is that the more the mainstream media report on Twitter indiscretions, the likelier clubs are to feel that decisive action is necessary and to put draconian social media policies or outright bans in place - so they could be indirectly responsible for depriving themselves of some of the stories they crave.

Of course, as Sanderson and Kassing's chapter demonstrates, illustrated as it is by examples drawn from baseball, basketball and American football, the problems social media pose to sporting organisations are far from particular to football. Cricket's powers-that-be are already well versed in dealing with players choosing to vent their personal frustrations and vendettas on Twitter rather than in private - Kevin Pietersen, Dmitri Mascarenhas and Azeem Rafiq have all landed themselves in hot water. What's clear, though, is that it's an issue the football authorities and football clubs need to acknowledge - and will, in all likelihood, confront. For our part, we'll keep on trawling through the results of Nile Ranger's two brain cells rubbing together in the hope of turning up something interesting, but how long before all our players' accounts start falling silent?

* * * * *

Phew. That was a very long-winded way of introducing the fact that Black & White & Read All Over is now on Twitter. You can follow us here.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sizing up the opposition

Consider it an olive branch extended across the no man's land between the trenches during a brief ceasefire. Simon of Mackem blog Roker Report was kind enough to invite us to contribute to the site's regular Fan Focus feature in advance of Sunday's derby, but communication breakdown and tardiness meant another Toon fan - XFM DJ Pete Donaldson - has stepped into the breach. You can read Pete's piece here.

In recognition of the novelty of coming across a literate Mackem let alone a decent Sunderland blog, we've added it to our blogroll.

OK, that's it - enough of the niceties. May the best team win on Sunday - unless, of course, that's not us.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cometh the hour, cometh the Dan

So we may be without Cheik Tiote for Sunday's trip to the Dark Place - but there could be one very welcome addition to the squad. Not only did the Lesser-Spotted Dan Gosling, sidelined even before signing on a free transfer in the summer, come through a behind-closed-doors friendly match against Hibernian without any adverse reaction today, he also genuinely impressed in a central midfield role alongside the out-of-favour Danny Guthrie, striking the crossbar with one shot. He could well take up a place on the bench, and might be just the spark we need in the wake of the dismal FA Cup exit.

On the subject of creative midfielders, our chances of securing the services of Sebastian Larsson look to have improved with the news that the Swede's club Birmingham have won the race to sign Spurs winger David Bentley on loan.

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Quote of the day

"I did ask for a left-winger. If it comes off, then fantastic. He's down the road in South Shields and in the area, and we would welcome him on board. If that's going to happen, it would be fantastic for the club. It just lifts the brand and what we are trying to achieve, and it might give a little more street cred, if that's the right word, to what we are trying to do."

Ol' Cauliflower Face's masterful reaction to the news that Arsenal supporter David Miliband has been invited to join the Mackems' board. Because the very first thing I think about when I hear the name "David Miliband" is "street cred". On the other hand, it's a perfect fit - what with Miliband most recently famous for suffering humiliating defeat on the public stage to a close rival...



Shit hits the fan

Time to wheel out that old headline - for it's being reported that young Master Bellamy has been up to his old antics. Following in the footsteps of our very own ASBO, Wor Al's text mate is alleged to have indulged in a spot of fisticuffs outside a fast food establishment (Caroline Street being better known in the Welsh capital as Chippy Alley) and has been released on bail.

In other aggro news, it transpires that on Saturday, far from being assaulted by an enraged Toon fan as was first pathetically assumed in some quarters, Stevenage left-back Scott Laird was actually dealt a post-match haymaker by a local out to avenge the fact that, er, the player once used to go out with his missus. Say what you like about the pitch-invading clown, but you can't deny he was more intent on a knock-out than our woeful side was...

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Enforcer's enforced absence

Calm heads - that's what Mackem 'keeper Craig Gordon's called for ahead of Sunday's derby at the Dark Place. But we'll be deprived of the services of someone whose head was definitely not calm during Saturday's humiliation at the hands of Stevenage, Cheik Tiote's red card and subsequent three-match ban having been unsurprisingly upheld by the FA despite our protestations. The Ivorian's proved himself a superb signing for us thus far this season - but perhaps this episode might teach him to be a little more cautious in the tackle.

From one player who won't be seeing action for some time to a few who did last night. Transfer target Sebastian Larsson was selected by Alex McLeish for the first leg of Birmingham's League Cup semi-final tie with West Ham, and impressed me with a succession of beautifully flighted set-pieces, one of which was converted by Liam Ridgewell for the Blues' equaliser. The Swede then suffered a double blow, first finding himself the victim of a petulant boot from the Hammers' Victor Obinna and then seeing his side slip to a 2-1 defeat to the ten men. Perhaps he would be a reasonable addition to our squad after all, someone who could occupy the right and allow ASBO to move inside. Having two set-piece specialists in the side would play to our current strengths - namely, Rocky...

Meanwhile, loaned-out defenders Tamas Kadar and Matthew Grieve enjoyed contrasting fortunes. The Hungarian got off to a winning start as Huddersfield fought back from 2-0 down to beat Plymouth, Town boss Lee Clark et al no doubt delighted to see opposing manager Monkey's Heed banished to the stands. Grieve, however, suffered more misery by the Mersey, scoring an own goal as Rotherham struck twice late on to plunder an unlikely point in a 3-3 War of the Roses battle with Lancastrians Stockport.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Swede talking

Today brought the first confirmation that Swedish international midfielder Sebastian Larsson could well be in line to follow Hatem Ben Arfa into the St James' Park dressing room on a permanent basis this January. Birmingham boss Alex McLeish admitted: "We gave his advisor permission to speak to Newcastle". Our interest in the former Arsenal man has been long-standing, prompted perhaps by his goal and outstanding performance in the demolition job the then-Championship Blues served up on Tyneside in January 2007.

With his contract up at the end of the season, Larsson's available on the cheap - but would he really represent a significant improvement on what we already have? I'm not convinced. If we're in the market for a wide midfielder, wouldn't we be better pursuing David Bentley, the man Birmingham seem to have earmarked to take Larsson's place?

In other news, we've lodged an appeal against Cheik Tiote's red card on Saturday - as I said in the match report, I don't hold out much hope of it being successful. Meanwhile, young defender Matthew Grieve, out on loan at Stockport, suffered a similarly traumatic Saturday as our first team, his debut coming as the Hatters were humiliated 5-1 on their own turf by Gillingham, a side who not so long ago couldn't win away but who now can't seem to break the habit.

Hopefully the same fate won't also befall Tamas Kadar, who's joined up with Lee Clark, Terry McDermott, Stevie Watson et al at Huddersfield, the club against whom he made his full Newcastle debut in 2009. The loan deal means that we're even shorter of cover for Jose Enrique, Saturday's display having underlined once again that James Perch is certainly no left back. Presumably Alan Pardew's taken the decision safe in the knowledge that the hole in our squad is about to be plugged. Only too aware of the way things usually pan out for us, though, I'd have been rather happier if we'd been more cautious and ensured we got in the player in first...

2011 may only be a few days old but has already claimed a long list of managerial casualties, and our former player Kevin Dillon is one of the latest to go (together with his ex-Mackem assistant Gary Owers). Dillon has left Aldershot by mutual consent, and .com have pointed out that he now joins Phil Parkinson, recently relieved of his duties at Charlton, among the ranks of out-of-work managers who've previously been number twos to Alan Pardew - who, coincidentally, just happens to be scouting around for a new assistant...

One man who won't be filling the vacancy is Steve Clarke, our former assistant and one-time caretaker manager having today taken up a position at Liverpool in support of someone else formerly of this parish, Kenny Dalglish.

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

A Month Of Saturdays: December 2010

December may be synonymous with a jovial fatty who has a taste for (mince) pies and booze handing out presents, but it must still have come as a shock to Chris Hughton to receive a gift-wrapped P45 from Jabba just as the festive season started to get into full swing. The timing was extraordinary - the catalyst for Hughton winning this season's Premier League sack race was a desperately poor defeat to West Brom, but his unceremonious ousting nevertheless came a week after a creditable draw with the champions, just under a month after a superb victory at sometime league leaders Arsenal and just over a month after that splendid demolition of 5under1and.

The sacking had the result of destabilising a club that had, finally, achieved a measure of stability - and that was largely courtesy of Hughton himself. Not only did Jabba's decision betray absurdly unrealistic expectations (who in their right mind wouldn't have expected us to be at least under vague threat of slipping back down to the Championship?), but it also showed a fundamental lack of gratitude for or even basic appreciation of the phenomenal job Hughton had done since taking charge amidst the wreckage of relegation. It speaks volumes that Jabba could hire the unpleasant, arrogant, walking PR disaster zone that was JFK and yet reward someone with uncommon reserves of decency and dignity with the sack. It may have been the result of a gagging order imposed by a cowardly Jabba, but even facing up to his dismissal Hughton was dignified when no one would have blamed him for lashing out.

What, everyone wondered, could possibly be going on in Jabba's head (if discussing his "thoughts" might not be giving him too much credit)? An excellent post by blogger Swiss Rambler underlined how much of his own money he's actually ploughed into the club, for which you might imagine he'd be lauded - and yet everything else he does seems perversely calculated to make himself as unpopular as possible among the supporters. The sacking was universally and indignantly condemned by everyone from former managers, coaching staff and players, journalists and the chairman of the League Managers' Association to, er, Robbie Savage. The Guardian's Barney Ronay slated the decision as "quite possibly the most stupid in recent footballing memory" (though may have reconsidered when, hilariously, the same fate befell Fat Sam a week later), while Jabba was the subject of readers' mockery for the Guardian Gallery. The players too publicly voiced their dissatisfaction, the threat of mutiny hanging heavy in the air when first Sol Campbell and then ASBO spoke out.

But Hughton's departure was irreversible and attention then started to turn to his successor. Who would be the "more experienced" big name to match the scale of Jabba's ambitions? Soon a leading candidate for the vacancy emerged: Alan Pardew, a man who neither fitted the bill nor came with glowing recommendations from fans of his former clubs Charlton and West Ham. To say we (including England cricketer and Toon fan Graeme Swann) were underwhelmed by the development would be an understatement, our frustration fuelled further by rumours of it being another old pal's act just like the ill-fated appointment of JFK. But, to our bemusement, Pardew's appointment was duly confirmed. Having replaced someone who'd been kept cruelly sweating over a contract extension before finally being given the boot, Pardew then had the gall to spend the press conference both congratulating himself on the length of the five-and-a-half-year deal he'd screwed out of Jabba and emphasising the importance of stability.

While the main focus of our anger was directed at puppet-master Jabba, our new manager acknowledged that he wouldn't be welcomed with open arms, either by those in the dressing room or those in the stands, and that he had serious bridges to build. Granted a reception that could be described as lukewarm at best for his first game in charge, at home to Liverpool, he witnessed Hughton's team turn in a superb performance in which a pair of Scousers - Kevin Nolan and ASBO - were instrumental, and very wisely made no attempt to take any credit.

Nevertheless, Pardew wasted little time in trying to make a difference thereafter, making new appointments to the coaching staff and managing to engineer a new mutually acceptable deal for Steven Taylor - a player who, just a couple of weeks earlier, I'd said looked a shoo-in to follow Hughton out of the door. When it was rumoured that Rocky topped several clubs' shopping lists, Pardew insisted unequivocally that the striker would be going nowhere - a message I suspect he'll be forced to repeat throughout January. Good to know that one of Dennis Wise's many noteable achievements on Tyneside won't be undone, eh?

Clubs were warned to keep their mitts off ASBO too, in a month when our loveable scamp confessed to not really being the "tear-jerky and emotional" type and proved it with some lewd gesticulation in the direction of Fernando Torres. Meanwhile Pardew also had a warning for Nile Ranger, urging the youngster to put his disciplinary problems behind him and knuckle down lest he fritter away his considerable potential. It wasn't long before Brian McNally was going all doe-eyed for the new arrival - though bizarrely the Mirror man seemed most impressed with Pardew's punctuality...

While the Big Freeze set in, resulting in the postponement of the trip to St Andrews, the mutiny gradually melted away. The players were kept busy delivering Christmas messages to fans and entertained themselves with a fancy-dress Christmas party that saw Cheik Tiote apparently taking his cue from Public Enemy's Flavor Flav and Rocky rocking a bright yellow Spongebob Squarepants sweater. Sadly they were still in the Christmas spirit on Boxing Day, gifting visitors Man City two goals inside the opening five minutes with unforgivable generosity. Rocky may have scored for the third consecutive home game as we rallied admirably, but the damage had already been done.

If that defeat (if not the manner) was understandable, then so was the 2-0 reverse at City's fellow title contenders Spurs two days later. Tiote was instrumental as we performed a highly effective containment job on the home side's vibrant attack for the best part of an hour, but ultimately their wingers both managed to wriggle free, first Aaron Lennon and then Gareth Bale scoring. The narrow back-to-back losses against significantly superior sides were telling, indicating both that we can take plenty of positives from the first half of the season and have a sound foundation on which to build, and also that reinforcements are definitely needed in January if we're to be sure of avoiding relegation. With the transfer window about to open, Paul assessed our requirements. Last season we took the opportunity to invest decisively and astutely - can we repeat the trick this time around?



Revenge: a dish best served thirteen years later

Stevenage 3 - 1 Newcastle Utd

To anyone who was sick of witnessing repeat after repeat of THAT Ronnie Radford goal: happy now?! Well done to our players for giving the ESPN cameras - when they were working - exactly what they wanted to see.

As had been anticipated, Alan Pardew decided to rest several first-teamers, with Cheik Tiote, Steve Harper, Steven Taylor, Jose Enrique and Spidermag sitting out the game and Tim Krul, Alan Smith, Mike Williamson, James Perch and Wayne Routledge all coming in. The changes meant that ASBO was forced to play on the left, ahead of Perch at left back, who looked about as comfortable as someone with a severe case of pubic lice.

Our makeshift left winger ASBO could have given us a fourth-minute lead with a far-post volley that Stevenage 'keeper Chris Day pushed behind, but that was about as good as it got. While we largely controlled possession in the first period, Krul was nevertheless the busier 'keeper. Stevenage captain Mark Roberts fluffed a goalwards header that was easily dealt with, but Krul was rather more severely tested by a fierce Michael Bostwick drive that he pushed wide of the post. The bearded Bostwick was regularly finding space on the edge of the box - surely no coincidence given that Smith was preferred to Tiote, though captain Kevin Nolan was also having a shocker.

Goalless at half-time, then, and Pardew decided to make significant changes, bringing Nile Ranger on for Leon Best, Wednesday's hat-trick hero having been largely ineffective, and switching to a 4-2-3-1 formation. But, just five minutes into the second period, lackadaisical defending from Danny Simpson allowed Stacy Long to fire in a shot which deflected off Williamson's head and past Krul, who had dived the other way. Unlucky yes - but not undeserved.

Worse was to follow five minutes later, when after a passage of sloppy play Bostwick finally did get the better of Krul, rattling a shot in off the post. That was our cue to start going for broke and leaving gaping holes at the back. Part of our problem had been the lack of protection offered to a shaky defence by our midfield, and the arrival of Tiote should have resolved that - but instead, within twelve minutes of replacing Smith, the Ivorian had earned his first red card in black and white. ASBO et al rightly protested that he won the ball, but the way he launched himself into the challenge, both feet very much airborne, meant that an early bath was inevitable - and he now misses the trip to the Dark Place this Sunday.

With what seemed like a half-hearted effort, we continued to try to score, and finally did so when ASBO rocketed in a long-range shot in injury time. The prospect of an improbable and unmerited equaliser flashed briefly before our eyes, until John Mousinho helped set up Peter Winn for a neat clipped finish over Krul on the counter-attack and ensure a final scoreline of 3-1.

Sometimes it's reassuring to be able to blame results on freakish circumstances or bad refereeing. But the simple truth is that the Hertfordshire side showed more determination, desire and - at times - quality to beat us, whereas our mob seemed to think that just turning up would be enough.

Premier League survival is clearly key, and at least the Mackems and Smogs both also slumped to humiliating Cup losses. But this was a deeply damaging defeat that will haunt us for years to come, regardless of our final league position - a punch to the face much like that received by Stevenage left back Scott Laird from one of his own supporters during the post-match pitch invasion. Humble pie tasted sweet on Wednesday evening, but now it's got a decidedly sour, bitter flavour.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Quote of the day

"I could not believe his behaviour. He was absolutely hammered. When I went back to work my mates were telling me how he was going to sit out three games because of an injury. I couldn’t believe it. I knew how it really happened."

If one Simon Cook - speaking to the Mirror - is to be believed, Rocky has a rather unique conception of rest and recovery.



Friday, January 07, 2011

Lads on tour

New year, new surroundings. That's the case for three of our youngsters, who've been sent out on loan to gain experience. Defender James Tavernier and Faroe Islands international forward Joan Simun Edmundsson don't find themselves far from home, having pitched up Blue Square Bet Premier outfit Gateshead. Completing the trio, defender Matthew Grieve has joined managerless League Two side Stockport as part of a quadruple signing. We should hopefully be able to get reports on Grieve's performances and progress from Hatters fan Scarf, a fellow regular contributor on The Two Unfortunates.

Meanwhile, in the build-up to tomorrow's FA Cup tie with Stevenage, the BBC have been speaking to Steve Howey and former Borough manager Paul Fairclough about our ill-tempered 1998 clash, while the Hertfordshire side's current boss Graham Westley has been chuntering on about righting the 1998 "injustice". Alan Pardew's given them a glimmer of hope too, by hinting heavily that he'll rest several first-teamers after a busy festive period ahead of the derby next Sunday: "It worries me because it's the end of a cycle of games that has been too much".

Talking of the Mackems, how mean-spirited of Ol' Cauliflower Face to stop Asamoah Gyan taking his planned winter break...

And finally, if you're in the Ipswich area and are on the lookout for a dog-walker with time on his hands, then you could be in luck.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Best in show

Newcastle Utd 5 - 0 West Ham

Before we get into the glory of last night's match, I thought I'd share two pre-match conversations I shared with a fellow mag on facebook:

B: "Leon Best up front? If ever there's proof of the need to spend money it's this"

P: "Do you think Pardew is trying to make a point to Jabba?"

B: "I don't know. But if he thinks best is going to do the business I'm very worried about his judgement"

P: "Making a point to Ranger about his timekeeping?"

B: "I just hope he's trying to put him in the shop window. But if he plays like he normally does, his value can only go one way"

P: "Lovenkrands and Best up front tonight. Can't see us scoring lots of goals somehow. Hope I'm proven very wrong."

B: "I'd take and own goal and one nil with that 'attack'"

Think it's fair to say that we both felt a little bit sheepish last night. Sheepish, but delighted, after Leon Best (3), Peter Lovenkrands and Kevin Nolan had put a dismal West Ham side to the sword in spectacular fashion.

With Ameobi injured, Alan Pardew opted to make one change to the side which beat Wigan, bringing in Leon Best, to make his first Premier League start for the club (the man who had been at the club for almost a year without scoring a competitive goal), leaving Nile Ranger on the bench.

It wasn't long before Best had an opportunity to make a good impression, but he was unable to direct his header on target after good work from ASBO. At the other end, Scott Parker saw a swerving long range shot well saved by Steve Harper.

However, it wasn't long before Best started to make my pre-match criticisms look decidedly stupid. Following the breakdown of a West Ham attack, ASBO launched a long ball forward from left back. Best beat his marker to the ball and flicked his header inside to Peter Lovenkrands, who raced on to the ball before knocking it back in to the Irishman's path, and he slotted the ball past Robert Green and into the far corner of the Leazes net.

Best's second came shortly afterwards, following a sharply taken free-kick by ASBO. His ball fed Lovenkrands, whose cross fell to Best to shoot home from close range to add his second of the evening.

Before half-time the game was essentially won when an ASBO ball into the box appeared to strike a Hammer's arm. Referee Mike Dean ignored the protests of Kevin Nolan, who made a bee-line for him in protest, before deciding better of it, and as the ball came back into the box courtesy of Spidermag it was only half cleared by James Tomkins straight to the feet of Nolan, who calmly stroked it round Green and prompt another funky chicken celebration.

Any fears that the second half might see something of a West Ham come-back were quickly dispelled when the ball fell to Best, flirting with offside but in any event completely unmarked, and he took one touch before crashing the ball into the goal to seal a stunning hat-trick (the odds of which were apparently 80-1 before the match).

Lovenkrands then added a fifth from close range, after more good work by ASBO to fully show up my pre-match concerns, and there was still time for Nile Ranger to create his own little bit of football history, when, with the goal at his mercy our young forward contrived to side-foot the ball horribly wide. Expect Ranger to feature on every footballing bloopers video for the next ten years. As the player himself later commented on Twitter: "How did I misss... I feel like s**t!!" How, indeed?

Still, better he saves his goals for a game in which they will be needed. Given how toothless and defensively inept West Ham were last night, their future in the league looks bleak (although given my prediction record, Hammers fans should probably take heart).

The one note of caution I would add is that, while Best's performance was fantastic, it was against an appalling defensive team. Only when he starts scoring against better organised teams will he demonstrate the potential which Chris Hughton identified last January when he signed him. What this result should not do is persuade anyone at the club that we don't still need to strengthen during the transfer window.

Caution aside though, and humble pie firmly in mouth, it was an excellent performance by the team, with Best's the stand out display (although to be fair ASBO gave him a run for his money) and he should rightly be given a further chance against Stevenage to maintain his run.

A Hammer's fan's view: Hammered
Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Arfa deal done

Newcastle confirmed today that Hatem Ben Arfa's loan move from Marseille has become a permanent signing, with the injured winger signing a four-and-a-half-year deal.

In the short term nothing changes, with the player still seeking to recover from the broken leg he picked up at Eastlands earlier in the season. What it does suggest is that his rehab is going very well for the club to risk signing a player suffering from such an injury. Similarly, it represents something of a statement of intent from the club, with a figure of around £5 million being mentioned on

Whether that means Jabba has again put his hand in his pocket is uncertain, and similarly whether that means there is any further cash available for recruitment without sales remains to be seen.

In other transfer news, the Evening Standard is suggesting that Rocky might be on his way to Spurs in exchange for Robbie Keane, David Bentley and a suitcase of money. Hopefully there's nothing in this - as much as Robbie Keane would probably slot in to our side quite well, I think he'd be better alongside Rocky than trying to fill his boots. Aside from anything else, flogging a young striker with huge talent and potential in exchange for an older player past his prime doesn't seem the wisest bit of business we could do. The fact that the usually reliable .com are carrying the story suggests it's more than idle paper talk and is something we'll need to watch as the month progresses.

As I mentioned a few days ago, keeping Rocky has got to be a priority for Pardew and the offer of Keane, Bentley or whoever does nothing to change my view.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Becks factor

Following his intimation that we were interested in the loan signing of one David Beckham in the Wigan post-match interview, it seems Alan Pardew has come up against a brick wall. Asked about the potential signing yesterday, he commented: "I think it is unlikely. We have targets elsewhere which give probably more chance of fruition than that one." That brick wall has in all likelihood been erected by 'Appy 'Arry, who appears to have muscled himself into pole position.

To be honest, I won't be too disappointed if we miss out. Don't get me wrong - I'm a huge fan of Beckham who feels his qualities have often been understated and undervalued. But even if he'd add something to the playing squad and be a positive and vastly experienced presence in the dressing room, I'm not sure marquee signings of past-their-prime players are really what we need (or what the parsimonious Jabba would permit). We'd presumably have to pay a substantial proportion of his wage, if not all of it, and with a tight budget we'd probably be better served investing the money in more than one player, and with an eye to the future rather than the past. The recruitment of Sol Campbell - not currently looking like it's paying dividends - should perhaps be a cautionary tale...

Of those "targets elsewhere" mentioned by Pardew, one or more may well be sold to us by 'Arry 'imself - Robbie Keane, as previously reported, but perhaps also David Bentley and/or Jamie O'Hara. Pardew admitted: "I can't say we haven't spoken to Spurs, because I was speaking to them last week, and we talked about players. I think they want some movement, and we want some movement. Whether we take a player from Spurs is a question I can't answer, but we're looking at the market, and we want to bring an offensive player in."

According to the Daily Heil, another attacking player on our radar is PSG's Benin international right winger Stephane Sessegnon. The reported interest in Beckham, Bentley and Sessegnon certainly doesn't bode well for Wayne Routledge and also perhaps suggests that Pardew would like to see ASBO operating more centrally rather than out on the flank, as part of a five-man midfield. That's his natural position, but we wouldn't reap the full benefit of his crossing ability.

I also think that, in general, we look better with a fairly traditional 4-4-2 set-up rather than 4-5-1, regardless of whether the latter is supposedly fluid so it can swiftly tranform into a 4-3-3 when we're on the attack. That said, we do need reinforcements and Pardew also needs quality personnel to be able to be flexible with his line-ups - sticking too rigidly to a preferred formation can be as costly as switching it for each game.

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Taylor made for Toon?

Why have two Taylors at the club when you can have three? If the Guardian is to be believed, Peter Taylor could be about to join Steven and Ryan on Tyneside, taking up the position of Alan Pardew's right-hand man. When asked about the rumour, the much-travelled Bradford City manager conceded: "There is something in it".

In other Toon-related managerial shenanigans, it's being reported that Chris Hughton is in line to take the reins at relegation-threatened Crystal Palace, George Burley having been given the boot on Saturday. We'd like nothing better than to see him score a new job and excel - and the Championship's a division in which he knows how to succeed.

Meanwhile, having been appointed as Gary Speed's assistant at Sheffield Utd in the summer and then as his caretaker replacement until Micky Adams' arrival last month, John Carver has now left the Blades. Mark Stimson's spell in charge at Barnet has proved equally short-lived, our former left-back sacked with the club in serious danger of slipping out of the Football League.

Finally, Tony Jimenez has bought himself a place on the board at Charlton as part of a takeover deal. Heaven help the Addicks if our shadowy erstwhile "vice-president (player recruitment)" invites the Poison Dwarf to come and line his pockets...


It seems as though the appointment of Peter Taylor won't be happening after all. According to Bradford's joint chairman Mark Lawn, we got as close as agreeing compensation, only for Taylor to retreat and reaffirm his commitment to the Bantams. Back to square one for Pardew, then.

Similarly, Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish has poured cold water on the speculation about Chris Hughton: "I have never met him in my life. He came to the Millwall game presumably because he was in town and he wanted to take in a game in London. That obviously set everybody talking. But I've not spoken to Chris, I've not had a job application from Chris, obviously he's a very good young manager so if he applies for the job we would consider it out of courtesy, but I've not spoken to him and I don't even know if he wants the job."

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Monday, January 03, 2011

Flying in the face of fate

Wigan Athletic 0 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Well, there's one New Year's resolution ticked off already. Not only did we manage to avoid defeat away to Wigan in a league match, we actually went so far as to win the game - and, it seemed, with fate stacked heavily against us.

Consider the circumstances: we'd lost on all four of our previous visits, one Ryan Taylor being a particular thorn in our side on several of those; Wigan were unbeaten in their previous six home games; we were deprived of our talismanic striker Rocky through injury; and Wigan boss Roberto Martinez not only named Gary Caldwell as captain, a player who spent three years on Tyneside without a sniff of first-team action, but also included someone with the first name Jordi... Surely another defeat awaited us?

Thankfully, though, there was good news too with the return of Jose Enrique, Kevin Nolan and Steve Harper (the latter from long-term injury), while Big Lad replaced Rocky and Peter Lovenkrands, a second striker, was preferred to Wayne Routledge. What's more, our hosts were without their own talisman, Charles N'Somnia having earned himself a timely red card against Arsenal - and, as it turned out, our reshaped side proved more than capable of nullifying what little creative threat they did muster.

We should have been in front as early as the third minute, Big Lad somehow contriving to cock up a header from Danny Simpson's sublime right-wing cross and shoulder the ball over the bar from point-blank range. While he was striving to step into Rocky's size nines, Tom Cleverley seemed to have been instructed to fill N'Somnia's boots. The Man Utd player, who excelled on loan at Watford last season and who had been asked to operate on the left, first drew a diving save from Harper and then volleyed over from six yards. The watching Taggart was probably as impressed as Alan Pardew was concerned.

Those concerns were allayed, though, when - for once - we were gifted a goal by the opposition rather than vice versa. ASBO pounced on Ivorian defender Steve Gohouri's loose control to fire in a shot that Ali Al Habsi could only parry, and when Peter Lovenkrands bundled the rebound off a post, Big Lad followed up to sweep home and make amends for that glaring early miss.

Lovenkrands has been largely off the pace this season, when involved, so it was pleasing to see him striking up a lively partnership with the goalscorer. But it was a central defender who came closest to extending our lead, ASBO's floated corner to the edge of the area met by Sideshow Bob with a spectacular header which bounced off the top of the crossbar, Al Habsi rooted to the spot.

Fate nearly intervened at the other end when Caldwell also struck the bar with a header, Hugo Rodallega unable to keep his follow-up down. That was about the extent of Wigan's threat, though, and a clearly dissatisfied Martinez made an offensive substitution at the break, replacing Hendry Thomas with the more forward-thinking James McArthur.

The switch made little difference, however, and we continued to control the game - and indeed could have doubled our advantage when Steven Taylor became the third central defender to rattle the crossbar, with Al Habsi completely beaten. Taylor endured a hairy moment when substitute Mauro Boselli's shot struck his arm in the penalty box, but referee Howard Webb ignored the Argentinian's appeals. Whether that decision had anything to do with our man's comically disingenuous reaction - clutching his side and contorting his face in agony in a manner that recalled the infamous sniper assassination fall of that calamitous Villa game in 2005 - was unclear...

Wigan pushed up in search of an undeserved equaliser, but without conviction or cutting edge, and the acres of space left were exploited by Spidermag and substitutes Routledge and Leon Best. The latter, making his first appearance of the season, should have scored when through on Al Habsi but lost his footing and fluffed his shot, and Spidermag too squandered a good opportunity. Enrique came closer than both, whistling a venomous right-footed drive inches over the bar.

The only real negative of a disciplined, effective and resolute display was that Taylor's wasn't the only bit of play-acting. Cheik Tiote - otherwise excellent at the hub of a fine team performance - pulled out some shameful amateur dramatics towards the end, reacting to a flick in the face like he'd been given a napalm facial. A quiet but firm word in the ear from Pardew to follow, I hope.

While Jabba will be rejoicing in having at last got one over on his old foe Dave Whelan, the win was doubly valuable as it was recorded against one of our relegation rivals. Another, West Ham, come to St James' on Wednesday, and on a decent run of form too. With the league as tight as it is, three points will once again be crucial.

A Wigan fan's perspective: Jesus Was A Wiganer

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy new year

Happy new year, and congratulations in particular to The Two Unfortunates, for whom 2011 has got off to a great start: being named among the Guardian's 100 Football Blogs To Follow In 2011. I'd like to think this 'ere site was only excluded from the list on the grounds that club-specific blogs weren't considered...



One blow, one boost

One blow and one boost ahead of tomorrow's trip to Wigan.

The blow: it's being reported that Rocky is likely to miss the game (and perhaps the forthcoming fixtures against West Ham and Stevenage too) with a thigh injury. Given that he's been largely unplayable, our only in-form forward and the player around whom our whole relatively direct style has been centred, that's very bad news indeed.

The boost: the Latics' best player Charles N'Somnia will miss out courtesy of his literal tete-a-tete with Arsenal's Jack Wilshere. So at least it won't be our old boy giving us sleepless nights...

In other news, we've been linked with a host of potential new recruits. Spurs striker Robbie Keane would be a useful foil for Rocky, while Leeds winger Max Gradel impressed me in a pre-season friendly at Elland Road but might be as lightweight as Wayne Routledge and therefore not a particularly shrewd investment. Perhaps the most surprising name to be mentioned is Jason Puncheon, the striker who couldn't get a game for League One side Southampton but is now performing well on loan for Championship outfit Millwall. Another Leon Best, I'd suspect...

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