Thursday, April 28, 2011

Over and out

So that's that, then. It looks as though an ankle injury sustained on Saturday will mean that the sum total of Stephen Ireland's contribution to our season will have been two fleeting excursions off the bench. He came close to scoring in both, but they were substitute appearances all the same. A shame it's worked out this way - I really thought (well, hoped, at least) that we might be able to give him a suitable platform to resurrect a career which is already ailing at the age of just 24.

The injury leaves Ireland in a sorry situation - unlikely to net the move he (and we) might have wished for, and unwanted by the parent club to which he'll be forced to return for treatment (and the reception he gets will be frosty given he's made very clear that the feeling's mutual).

Still, if it's any consolation, come the end of the season we'll probably have seen more of him in a black and white shirt than Dan Gosling...



Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chalkboard debrief

A write-up I missed off from Saturday's match report: Tangerine Dreaming's tactical analysis, which does a great job of illustrating how and why our hosts had the best of the match.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Quote of the day

"I've had hundreds of letters through different avenues. That I was very thankful for - in whichever fashion you lose your job, it's always a very difficult time afterwards so I was very much appreciative of that and the support I did get. When you leave a job where you feel you've done a good job and you feel you can be proud of what you've done, you look forward to going back there at some stage.

It is such a magnificent city and club, I look forward to the day that I can go back. There are lots of different emotions that you have but the overriding one is that you have to make the most of the experiences you have had, wish them well and then you have to move on.

Speaking on ESPN, Chris Hughton expresses his gratitude for supporters' sympathies in the wake of his sacking. What to make of his comment about looking forward to "the day that I can go back"? Is it simply that the emotions are still too raw, or is he actually not welcome back with Jabba in charge? Perhaps I'm reading too much into it...

Whatever the reality, it's a surprise that Hughton hasn't found himself back in employment yet. No doubt it's only a matter of time, though, with a number of chairmen of sides in the Premier League and Championship likely to pull the trigger once the curtain comes down. Best of luck, Chris.



You only sing when you're winning

Anyone cupping an ear in the direction of Deepdale tonight will hear just one thing: silence. Don't be a spoilsport, though, Phil - how's about picking up the mic for old times' sake? if so, might I suggest having a stab at Status Quo's 'Down Down'?



Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pete 'n' Dud on target as Tangerines' efforts bear little fruit

Blackpool 1 - 1 Newcastle Utd

A goal apiece from Pete 'n' Dud aka Messrs Lovenkrands and Campbell meant we left Bloomfield Road with a point more than we mustered last season, but in the knowledge that we were rather fortunate to do so. After Tuesday's committed display against Man Utd, this was a completely different kind of draw, courtesy of a lacklustre end-of-season performance which suggested our players already have one eye on the sunbeds.

Alan Pardew's team selection threw up few surprises, the only change being the suspension-free Kevin Nolan in for the injury-struck Danny Guthrie, meaning that Stephen Ireland continues to wait for his first start in black and white.

Both sides had early opportunities through Jose Enrique, Big Lad and Gary Taylor-Fletcher before we took the lead thanks to an uncharacteristic mistake from Blackpool's inspirational skipper Charlie Adam, who - for what it's worth - would have got my vote for PFA Player of the Year. ASBO nipped in to intercept Adam's loose short pass and feed Lovenkrands. The Dane (or Dutchman, as the BBC's report currently states) still had plenty to do but dispatched a skidding 25-yard shot into the bottom corner.

By this point, we'd already survived one penalty shout, Mike Williamson clumsily felling Campbell, and another soon followed, though on this occasion referee Martin Atkinson was right to wave away the Tangerines' appeals and leave Ian Holloway fuming on the touchline. As though hoping to emulate Adam, Enrique had played an even more suicidal pass across his own goal, but Tim Krul rescued the situation by getting a firm hand to the ball, even though Campbell tumbled over his arm. There was another spot-kick scare to come before the half was out, Danny Simpson managing the impressive feat of handling with both left and right in the area, but he was falling and neither contact was intentional so Atkinson showed commendable leniency.

Blackpool it was who were doing most of the pressing, with winger Matt Phillips - signed from Wycombe but looking an impressive prospect - causing us particular problems. Thankfully, though, his shooting didn't match his approach play. Still, we paid the price for slack defending from Adam's corner, allowing Campbell to head past Krul and over the line before a dozy Enrique could clear. The Spaniard did at least make amends later in the half, blocking Alex Baptiste's goalbound shot, while Campbell could have doubled his and his side's tally shortly before the break but headed wide.

Big Lad struck a shot over early in the second period, but otherwise the home side continued to dominate - partly a consequence of Tuesday's hero Mr T looking as though he was still drowsy from his drugged milk. Adam and Neil Eardley both tried their luck with free-kicks before Taylor-Fletcher headed inches over the bar from Stephen Crainey's cross. Lady Luck kissed her Toon badge once more when Adam's low shot beat Krul's dive but bounced off the post.

Our goalscorer was replaced by Ireland just after the hour mark as Pardew attempted to hold on to what we already had, but it was more like clinging on towards the end. I'll spare the Tangerines the usual patronising pat on the head - we were poor and could on another day have been on the wrong end of an embarrassing defeat against a side who've recently been shipping goals for fun. Definitely a point gained, then, particularly given that our opponents' need was more infinitely greater than ours (and it showed).

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Stand up for your rights

Miss the terraces? Want to be able to watch games in a safe standing area, just as fans of League One and League Two clubs can? Then we'd suggest you add your name to the Football Supporters' Federation's petition and help put the pressure on the government and those who control the beautiful game in the UK.



Knacked knee nobbles Harps

Tim Krul will continue to deputise for Steve Harper against Blackpool, with Alan Pardew announcing that Harps' knee injury may even mean going under the knife. Not that that's really cause for concern. Man Utd may not have been at their best on Tuesday night while Mr T and our defence were stout and resolute, meaning the Dutchman was less troubled than he might have otherwise anticipated, but he did have to pull off a magnificent save from the Little Pea just two minutes in.

With Fraser Forster continuing to excel north of the border and Ole Soderberg keen for action too, Pardew's been speaking recently about having to juggle his 'keepers again next season. It's a nice headache to have - if only we were blessed with such potential riches in other areas of the pitch.

Meanwhile, it's nice to see that not everyone has been moaning about their treatment at the hands of Tuesday night's St James' Park crowd - Stephen Ireland has described himself as being "taken aback" by the reception he got when appearing of the bench for his Toon debut. We've been critical of the on-loan midfielder around these parts, but he looked surprisingly lively and you have to give him credit just for making it onto the pitch, given his partner Jessica Lawlor's recent car crash. Here's hoping for a swift recovery for her and a few dynamic performances from him.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Owen reflection

Fresh from his Tuesday night barracking, @themichaelowen expressed his hurt through Twitter - the sportsman's mouthpiece of choice.

Now, I can't begin to be surprised that Owen was roundly booed, or for that matter that I don't share the view that he (like 99.999999% of footballers) is a mercenary.

As Fat Fred commented recently, the signing of Owen was his biggest mistake in his time as Newcastle chairman. (Which is some admission from a man who boasted to a NOTW reporter that he was ripping us off and that all Geordie women were dogs and who oversaw the signing of Albert Luque.)

The question is, why was the Owen deal such a disaster?

For me, there are a couple of obvious reasons. The first is that, put simply, Owen didn't want to join Newcastle. When Madrid started listening to offers it was clear that Owen wanted to get back in to the Premier League so he could keep his place in the England side bound for the 2006 World Cup. Similarly it was clear that Liverpool were interested. Given his established base in Cheshire, and his previous links with the club, it was perhaps inevitable that Owen favoured a return to Anfield. However, once we massively outbid Liverpool, Madrid were only going to accept one offer - ours.

This meant Owen was left with the choice of staying at Madrid and risking missing out on the 2006 World Cup, or signing for Newcastle. With more than one eye on his England career, the player signed for us on a gloriously sunny August day.

So as of 1st September 2005, we had a new striker on our books, albeit one who was clearly concerned with playing for his country and who would, all things being equal, rather have gone to Liverpool (and was intending to commute by helicopter).

Despite all those things, we didn't mind. Working on the basis that he'd play his heart out for the club and the shirt, I don't think anyone really cared where he lived or how he travelled.

Then came the games, and with Owen in the side, we did OK, until he was injured against Spurs.

That injury ruled him out for several months and when he did come back it was right at the end of the season, out of form and desperate to convince Sven to take him to Germany. Which the Swede duly did, only for Owen to crumple in a heap against Sweden.

At that point we lost the player for a year and when he returned, the pace which he previously enjoyed was, if not gone, then certainly on the wane.

From then, until the end of his contract (and that fateful afternoon at Villa Park) Owen enjoyed some highs in a black and white shirt. Notable performances against West Brom and West Ham both spring to mind, whilst his revinvention as man playing behind the strikers under Keegan perhaps showed Owen where he might play best as his career reaches its twilight years.

However, even when handed the captaincy, Owen continued to take his chopper to and from training, and while never one for clubbing, his social life remained in the North West.

When he left, no tears were shed over his departure, and the only sound was that of jaws dropping when it was announced that he was off to Old Trafford rather than the KC Stadium.

Reflecting back on his time, his goals-to-games ratio is actually pretty good. But his ratio of games he was available for to games he missed through injury is appalling. Quite simply while there are no guarantees with anyone's health or fitness, if you pay £16+ million up front and a fortune in wages, you would expect your employee to prioritise being fit to play for you, and in truth, to commit to the club. Owen did neither.

If he'd been injured playing for Newcastle, I think we would all have a different view of things, but as it was he was injured playing for England when he should have been at home recuperating.

A mercenary might play for the highest bidder, but generally speaking they do at least perform for their money. With Owen there remains a deeply held belief that he used us to try and keep his England place and when all sense would have seen him miss the 2006 World Cup, he convinced Sven to take him and as a result we never saw the best of him.

I can take a player being crocked playing for us. But being crocked playing for England, when you sense he wouldn't have made the same effort to turn out for Newcastle, grates.

If he'd given some sense of embracing the club and the region, of his heart being in it, then I'm sure we'd have warmed to Owen. But the truth is, he never made us feel loved, and for that (and the consequences of that approach) the responsibility is all Michael's.

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Smoke and mirrors

His face smeared with egg, duped former Notts County executive chairman and owner Peter Trembling responded to Monday night's edition of Panorama to claim that we may have dodged a bullet.

The programme investigated the 2009 takeover of the other Magpies by the shady Qadbak and their subsidiary Munto Finance, implicating convicted fraudster Russell King in the running of the club and underlining how all the too-good-to-be-true promises of oodles of cash that rendered deluded County supporters giddy and irrational proved to be just that.

But, according to Trembling, their sights were initially set higher than a League Two club: "They had tried to buy Newcastle United. I told them they were better off going for a smaller club and building it up. At one stage, they were looking at all sorts of clubs. Liverpool was on the radar. Then they said they had the money to buy Notts County."

Sven-Goran Eriksson, Kaspar Schmeichel and a certain Sol Campbell were all improbably lured to Meadow Lane, but it all collapsed leaving the club £7m in the red and in serious danger of extinction. Presumably Munto Finance's sales pitch to the Supporters Trust, from whom they bought the club, was: "Why not let us consolidate all your existing debt into one much bigger debt and then fuck off, unpaid bills flapping in the breeze?" That the owners were somehow able to pass the Football League's "fit and proper persons" test speaks volumes about its stringency and rigour - as Ian King has pointed out on the ever-superb Twohundredpercent.

Anyway, the point is that perhaps we shouldn't scoff at the gullibility of Trembling and the County faithful, and instead reflect on what might have been for us. Gripe all you want about Jabba, but in this instance it's a case of better the devil you know.

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Rout on his way out?

According to Colin Wanker, at least. Our winger has been enjoying a real purple patch since stepping back down to the Championship with title-chasing QPR in January, and it's hard to see Alan Pardew standing in his way should he opt to go back from whence he came.

However, allowing Routledge to leave would indicate to ASBO that he's likely to continue to be posted out on the right rather than played through the middle as he prefers - might that be a factor he takes into consideration when contemplating any new deal the club offers?

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reds held for precious point

Newcastle Utd 0 - 0 Manchester Utd

A stalemate at St James' last night saw a spirited team performance earn a point to take us over the 40 point marker and almost certainly guarantee our Premier League survival this season.

With Taggart's Man Utd side coming back from their FA Cup semi-final defeat at the weekend and welcoming back Shrek and Ryan Giggs (who, if internet whispers are to be believed, might have other things on his mind at present), I must confess to feeling decidedly pessimistic about our chances before the match.

However, after an early opportunity was expertly smothered by Tim Krul, Newcastle took control of the match, playing at a high tempo which the visitors struggled to cope with. ASBO and Spidermag looked threatening down the flanks but we weren't quite able to fashion any clear-cut chances for the newly unmasked Big Lad and Peter Lovenkrands. The best early chance fell to Big Lad who managed to connect with an ASBO cross at full stretch, but could only guide it in to the hands of Edwin Van der Sar. With Cheik Tiote (who from hereon shall be known as Mr T on account of his haircut and take-no-prisoners attitude) and Guthrie bossing Anderson and Michael Carrick in the middle of the park, we applied a significant amount of pressure to the visitors.

Unfortunately, we couldn't convert it into a goal, with our best chance coming from an ASBO cross which found Lovenkrands unmarked around the penalty spot, only for the Dane to plant his header wide. At the other end, Shrek managed to elude his marker and create an opening, only to lift his shot over both the advancing Krul and the Gallowgate crossbar.

Goalless at half time, the tide of the game shifted in the second period as the visitors' possession increased and they began to press us back. However, their attacks continued to founder on a well organised defence in which Sideshow Bob stood out, and with Mr T preventing Shrek from finding any space the visitors huffed and puffed without looking likely to blow our house down.

At the other end, we had a good shout for a penalty turned down as Lovenkrands was clipped by Anderson in the box, and Stephen Ireland (on for the last 20 minutes in place of Lovenkrands) almost scored with practically his first touch, his volley from Big Lad's knock down fizzing just wide of the post.

The visitors' clearest opportunity was a Ryan Giggs shot which went just wide of the upright and then, in the final seconds, the biggest talking point (at least if you happen to be from the red half of Kent) when Javier Hernandez went down in the box in close proximity to Danny Simpson's leg. At first I thought the ref had given a penalty, only to see him book the Man Utd striker for his perceived dive. Whilst Taggart may have been fuming, it was at least a fair result given the penalty denied to Lovenkrands earlier in the half. Similarly, whilst Taggart may gripe that Hernandez shouldn't have been booked, the ref ignored a far more blatant dive by Nani in the first half.

The only other noteworthy act from the visitors was the introduction of Little Saint Mick with ten minutes to go, to a chorus of "One greedy bastard" from the entire stadium (including the bloke sat in front of Taggart as highlighted by the Sky cameras). Thankfully the aforementioned greedy bastard wasn't given a chance to respond to the criticism in any meaningful way and nick a goal for his current paymasters.

All in all, a good point against the team most likely to win the league this season, which takes us to 40 for the season and gives us a platform to not only kick on until the end, but also plan for next season's top flight campaign.

Manchester Utd fans' views: Manchester United Football Blog, The Republik of Mancunia, The Stretty Rant, Truly Reds

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stalk of the Tyne

Good to see that a resident of Newcastle has been doing her very best to unsettle Man Utd's captain ahead of tonight's St James' Park meeting, isn't it? We've lost six of the last seven fixtures against Taggart's mob, so it's not surprising we'll go to any lengths to gain an advantage. As for Rio Ferdinand, it's unusual to hear of a Twitter fiend complaining about being followed.

Of course, our opponents were also unsettled by Saturday's FA Cup semi-final defeat to rivals City - so much so that one of their number attempted a spot of post-match DIY in the Wembley dressing room. All they've said is that the perpetrator wasn't Taggart himself or any of the players. Mike Phelan, perhaps? Either way, just in case we manage to pull off an unlikely victory, we'd best make sure our home and contents insurance is valid and up to date...



Friday, April 15, 2011

Sisters are having to do it for themselves

(Messrs Keys and Gray, you might like to look away now...)

Just as one season reaches its climax, another arguably more significant one has just kicked off. The inaugural Women's Super League campaign got underway on Wednesday, with high hopes that it will help propel what is already the most popular team sport for women in the UK further into the spotlight. The aims are manifold: to increase participation at grassroots level; to elevate the game's status; to make staying in England more attractive to our top internationals, and to attract top internationals from elsewhere; to help make the national side more competitive with the powerhouses of women's football worldwide (namely the US and Germany).

With the FA pumping in £3m over two years and a television deal with ESPN, the WSL resembles a miniature version of the male Premier League, and critics could, I imagine, argue that the new emphasis on an elite and relatively exclusive top division will only serve to exacerbate the disparity between the haves and the have-nots of the ladies' game. But, mindful of the financial problems rife in men's football, the FA have seized the opportunity to put measures in place to curb the possibility of damaging excesses. For instance, only four players at any one club can earn above £20,000 a year, as a way of encouraging clubs to live within their means rather than perilously beyond them, propped up unsustainably by fickle foreign oligarchs. Let's hope it proves a success.

What, I hear you ask, is the relevance of all this to us Newcastle fans? Sadly, very little. While Lincoln, whose men's side are currently toiling away in the lower echelons of League Two, are able to boast a ladies' side in the eight-team WSL, our women are rock bottom of the FA Women's Premier League (Northern), two divisions below. NUWFC have recorded just two wins from 15 league games (at Derby and Leeds) and have been thrashed by four or more goals by Coventry, Villa and Rochdale, as well as leaders Man City twice. Top scorer Bethanie Gardener, an England international at junior level, has bagged seven goals, but no other player has contributed more than two. Clearly for our ladies, participation in the WSL is a distant pipedream.

In the context of the men's game, the FA's pledge of £3m looks paltry but actually represents a signficant commitment - so it really wouldn't take much investment on the part of the club to help the ladies' team with which we're affiliated to develop. Improvements could be made in nearly every respect, not least recruitment and training of players, and the promotion of games for spectators.

Take the website, for instance, which reveals that several of the players are sponsored by their parents, and is itself riddled with errors and spam links. (NUST has announced its intention to help local grassroots clubs improve their web presence - NUWFC should certainly be added to the list.) By contrast, Arsenal Ladies have links from the club's main homepage - something emblematic of the fact that the Gunners have long had the right approach, treating their ladies' team seriously and supportively rather than as a token gesture.

And if we needed any incentive to get behind our ladies' side, how's about the fact that that rabble from down the road have just claimed the Women's National Premier League title? Let's take 'em down...



Thursday, April 14, 2011

Link-up play

If you're a fan of serious, thoughtful, well-researched football blogging of any hue (and if you are, what brought you here?), then you really should have a read of Lanterne Rouge's latest post over at The Two Unfortunates on the subject of the "economic geography of football", prompted by a trip to the North East for last weekend's Northern League Day.

Rather less likely to meet with approval from you, dear reader, is another of his recent posts in defence of the Mackem Tango Man. "Is Phil Brown really that odious?", he asks. Well, yes - yes, he is.

Next, a long-overdue link to fellow Toon blog Leazes Terrace, worth a look for its excellent post-match tactical analysis in particular. Nice to hear its creators were complimentary about this 'ere site on said Northern League Day, incidentally...

And finally, courtesy of Leon, we're liking Football Venn Diagrams - a simple concept, well executed. There must be scope for a Newcastle-related one, surely...

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Playing percentages

In the light of Ol' Big Nose's media babblings about Jose Enrique, it was no surprise to see Alan Pardew issuing a swift rebuttal telling the Ronny Gill today: "There’s definitely no deal between the clubs – 100%."

So Alan, is this the same 100% certainty that all of the Rocky cash will go back into the club? And, given this is a footballing matter we're talking about, if you really are certain then surely it should be 110%?

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Quote of the day

"We have had a pint since and everything was fine. Joey let me down, let the club down and let himself down, there's no getting away from that and I would tell him the same again. But that's the end of it."

Wor Al reveals his willingness to let sleeping dogs lie by giving that one a good boot. So there ASBO - be under no illusions about who was in the wrong.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bigmouthnose strikes again

With a hooter of such unfeasible proportions, it must admittedly be difficult for Phil Thompson to keep his nose out of other people's business. Still, that hardly excuses the overexcitable Scouse Sky pundit for openly claiming that the mooted Jose-Enrique-to-Liverpool summer transfer is a done deal. Of course, that's not to say it won't happen - on the contrary, given both their desperate need of a left back and Jabba's apparent policy of flogging our best players for a pretty penny and replacing them on the cheap, Thompson's claim is actually quite likely to prove true.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Second City slump

Aston Villa 1 - 0 Newcastle

Gone are the days that Villa Park was a happy hunting ground. James Collins' first-half header condemned us to our fourth consecutive defeat there, and while this latest one was obviously nowhere near as painful as the last, it was nevertheless both dispirited and dispiriting.

Deprived of Cheik Tiote and skipper Kevin Nolan through ill discipline and Big Lad through injury, Alan Pardew was forced to send out a patched-up side. Steven Taylor came into the side, with Fabricio Coloccini pushed forwards into a defensive midfield role alongside Danny Guthrie, while Nile Ranger was preferred to Shefki Kuqi as Peter Lovenkrands' partner.

To say Ranger failed to grab the opportunity afforded to him by his first league start would be an understatement, a powderpuff early shot when played in skilfully by Spidermag arguably his only contribution of note. As Big Lad's replacement, he certainly did a sterling job of replicating that incredible knack of tying his own legs in knots...

ASBO also had an afternoon to forget, planting a headed opportunity over the bar from Jose Enrique's cross, committing the foul that allowed Ashley Young to whip a cross onto Collins' head for the decisive goal and having to endure the mocking taunts of home fans reacting to his recent bout of boastfulness and the sleight against former Villain Gareth Barry. Sympathy for our captain for the day was in short supply generally, with referee Stuart Attwell picking up where he left off in the game at Wolves and happily sanctioning a succession of naughty challenges by the hosts on ASBO, particularly in the second half. We did also profit from incompetent officiating, though, with ex-Mackem Darren Bent denied a second goal shortly before the break by a decidedly dubious offside flag.

In Bent, Young and Stewart Downing, Villa possess a dangerous clutch of England forwards, but we should have taken encouragement from their lowly league position and the palpable nervousness in the stands. As it was, passes went astray, creatively we looked bereft and our opponents made most of the second-half running. Steve Harper did well to repel efforts from Young and Gabby Agbonlahor, while Taylor can consider himself a little fortunate to have got away with an unnecessarily aggressive penalty-box shoulder charge.

For a side who have scored more goals than anyone outside the top four, it was hugely disappointing that we didn't seriously threaten the Villa goal until the last ten minutes. First Guthrie's clever curling ball was headed powerfully goalwards by Lovenkrands but too close to Brad Friedel, whose foot then kept out a low shot from the same player. Substitute Ryan Taylor had our final effort deep into stoppage time, but his free kick troubled the top rather than the back of the net.

So, let's hope this 1-0 defeat at Villa Park doesn't turn out to be as cataclysmic as the last one. It certainly shouldn't, with results elsewhere going for us, but with table-topping Man Utd our next opponents then we can't relax just yet.

Villa fans' views: Aston Villa News, Aston Villa Central, The Villa Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Mackems still counting cost of Cisse's misses

In a shocking revelation, Niall Quinn has revealed that Djibril Cisse's shooting during matches when playing for 5under1and was as bad in training.

Apparently, the French forward contrived to knock-out a fan who had gone down to watch the team train and the fan in question is now suing the club.

You really couldn't make it up.



Thursday, April 07, 2011

ASBO's foible

Say what you like about ASBO, but he's certainly prepared to say what he thinks. Not for him the usual platitudes - if he doesn't rate you, he'll say so.

Which is great, if you are a journalist looking for copy.

But probably not so great if you're a talented, in-form midfielder looking to force your way into the national squad.

So today, we have the news that ASBO has given an interview to French magazine So Foot. In it, he suggests that he's arguably the best English midfielder in the country at present (acknowledging that Jack Wilshere is also doing well). To be fair to him, with the possible exception of Scott Parker, it's difficult to take issue with that assertion.

ASBO goes on to heavily criticise Gareth Barry's recent performances and his appearing to behave like Capello's "teacher's pet" before specifically criticising his tracking of Mesut Ozil for Germany's fourth goal in the World Cup as being akin to a race between tortoise and hare.

Of course, the fact that ASBO is so ready and willing to slate his fellow professionals is probably one of the principal reasons why Fabio Capello has continually refused to call him up for England. What ASBO considers to be the behaviour of a "teacher's pet", Capello might construe to be professionalism and respect.

Perhaps more interestingly for us is the revelation that he wants to the club to demonstrate their ambition before he signs a contract extension - which, in light of the sale of Rocky, is not an unreasonable requirement for a player who probably still owes the club a fair bit (after the years of patience we've shown since his arrival) but whose current performances have been a significant factor in our results this season.

I think we'd all like to see the club show ambition through the reinvestment of the Rocky cash, contract extensions of our best players and new quality signings, and in that, ASBO is no different to the rest of us.



ASBO worry vis a vis visa

Oh the humiliation. Our US pre-season tour now booked and featuring fixtures against Sporting Kansas City, Orlando City and Columbus Crew, it looks as though ASBO will have to be interrogated at the US Embassy in London to be able to secure a visa, thanks to his time doing porridge for assault and affray. Even then he's likely to only be granted a restricted visa, so will find himself unfree in the Land of the Free.

Of course, that's dependent upon the in-form Scouse workie ticket deciding to stay with the club. One of his most ardent admirers, allegedly, are Villa, but they would be out of the equation if they were to slide down to the Championship. A highly unlikely scenario, admittedly, but one which became just a shade more plausible with the revelation that Glenn Roeder - the man who set Watford, West Ham and Norwich on the path to relegation and did poorly in his second season in the St James' Park hotseat - has been recruited by Gerard Houllier to assist with scouting reports...

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Best's bust

The media continue to link us with prospective replacements for Rocky (ie anyone tall who's ever scored a goal or two) - the latest candidates being Malaga's Jose Salomon Rondon and, much more fancifully, Spurs' Champions League scourge Emmanuel Adebayor - but the news for one of those currently being asked to fill his size nines wasn't good. Leon Best will be up on bricks for the rest of the season as a result of surgery on his ankle injury.

Not so long ago most of us would have scoffed at the very thought of Best being able to cut it in the Premier League, but that hat-trick against West Ham turned a few heads and he's since netted another three times to average more than a goal every other start - not too shabby at all. So his loss - which leaves Nile Ranger and Shefki Kuqi as the less-than-convincing back-up for preferred pairing Big Lad and Peter Lovenkrands - could potentially be damaging.



Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Ben Arfa hasn't got a leg to stand on - he's got two, thankfully

Over the years we've grown accustomed to lurid tales of players getting legless, but it seems that could have literally been the misfortune to befall Hatem Ben Arfa in the wake of that bone-snapping tackle from Nigel de Jong: "I needed a second operation because I had an infection. It was a big infection which could have been very dangerous. I was told that I could have had my leg cut off if they didn't operate on me very quickly".

In the interview with Canal Plus, the Frenchman also reiterated his gratitude to his new employers for their support during what has been a dark and bleak period of recovery and recuperation: "Newcastle showed me so much respect and a lot of live that I want to give back to them. I will give everything I can for this club because they trusted me and, for a human being, that is really touching."

Meanwhile, the Daily Heil have reported comments from agent Willie McKay suggesting that ASBO is open to the possibility of negotiating a new deal. However, the stumbling block at present is the length of the mooted contract, with the 28-year-old wanting three years as opposed to the two on the table, and McKay, wily as ever, dropped an unsubtle hint to Jabba that his client may soon have alternative offers: "He wants to get back into the England squad and believes he can do that with Newcastle but his form has attracted a lot of interest." His splendid display against Wolves on Saturday may just have harmed our cause in one respect, then...

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You Ransom devil

Recently departed Coventry chairman Ray Ranson seems keen to make mischief and stick the boot in on his former paymasters, most notably accusing the Sky Blues' owners of failing to snap up Rocky when he was available for a paltry £800,000. Ransom and fellow ex-Toon defender Andy Thorn, chief scout but also currently the club's co-caretaker manager following Aidy Boothroyd's sacking, apparently identified our erstwhile striker as "a raw talent who would develop". How right they were - and how foolish the board probably feel now.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Month Of Saturdays: March 2011

What a curious season we're having. A clutch of St James' Park thrashings dished out to Villa, West Ham and (most deliciously of all) the Mackems; disciplined and thoroughly professional victories at the Emirates, Goodison Park, Upton Park, the DW Stadium and St Andrews; creditable and slightly unfortunate home draws with Spurs, Chelsea and (of course) Arsenal; and just three genuinely start-to-finish shamefully appalling displays. And yet by the end of March we found ourselves a paltry four points clear of 18th, the spectre of relegation hanging around expectantly as if awaiting a rendezvous with Yvette Fielding and Derek Acorah.

A dismal pair of defeats - the self-destruction at Bolton and the dejected post-Rocky loss to Fulham - was joined in March by a miserable tonking at the Britannia Stadium, remarkable chiefly for the fact that Stoke comprehensively out-footballed us. Alan Pardew had experimented with a 3-5-2 formation in the month's only other match, at home to Everton, abandoning it only when the Arteta-inspired Toffees already had us in a fatal choke hold. But perversely he persisted with it at the Britannia. Let that be a lesson, Alan.

Interestingly, Pardew was more than happy to point to others learning from their mistakes - his paymaster and chairman, for instance. Had Jabba not impulse-bought in 2007 and instead carefully carried out the due diligence process, he wouldn't have found himself propping us up now - and the weight of the burden he's shouldering must surely serve as a constant and painful reminder of the errors he made that led to our demotion to the Championship. While there's grudging acceptance that some financial wrongs are slowly being righted, supporters remain steadfastly opposed to his ownership, and given our precarious league position, the publication of our accounts was timely, underlining the hugely damaging cost of relegation.

Naturally, the club took pains to play down any sense of alarm, stressing that the financial results didn't take into account either the immediate promotion back to the Premier League or the record-breaking sale of Rocky - a deal which, according to the Guardian's David Conn, smelt a little fishy. Secret agent or no secret agent, managing to get £35m for someone who as recently as summer 2009 we rated at just £1m and who is still in need of lecturing about his boozing habits from his international manager suggests it was a good bit of business. (Though, if you believe Brian McNally - and history's taught us to be wary - overindulgence in the demon drink can sometimes be a very good thing indeed...)

It wasn't just mistakes that Pardew sought to remind Jabba of - it was pledges too. He'd been promised Rocky would be retained, and now, that promise broken, he seemed determined to ensure he gets his mitts on that hefty transfer fee. At least one of his predecessors remains highly sceptical he'll even see a penny...

But, hypothetically speaking, if Pardew were to be handed some pocket money, who might he be looking to spend it on? Cheik Tiote's Ivory Coast teammate Gervinho? Icelandic striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson? England new boy Matt Jarvis? Perhaps even Stephen Ireland, who rashly burned his bridges with parent club Villa before his long-overdue Toon debut was deferred again, this time apparently due to managerial overeagerness to press him back into action. In view of Mario Balotelli's recent complaint, it's tempting to venture that our on-loan midfielder is allergic to first-team football. I'd suggest he might be agoraphobic, uncomfortable and nervous beyond the secure confines of the treatment room, but unfortunately for him the camera never lies...

Eagerly scouring the globe for players is all fine and well, but sometimes you can miss the bairns in baskets deposited on your very doorstep - criminal, really, especially now that the supposed cliche of the North East being a hotbed of footballing talent has been statistically proven. Rocky was a local lad, of course, and now there's another youthful star rocketing through the ranks, Michael Richardson, albeit one whose potential to emulate club captain Kevin Nolan had initially passed our Academy scouts by. Pardew is quite rightly an evangelist for the loan system as a means of developing such players, with Fraser Forster, James Tavernier and Ryan Donaldson all significant beneficiaries of the policy.

In truth, though, as is sadly so often the case with Newcastle, it was the short term with which we were preoccupied as March drew to a close. Try as we might to look towards longer-term aspirations, Premier League survival inevitably has to be the focus.



Monday, April 04, 2011

Peter and the Wolves

Newcastle Utd 4 - 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers

A first home win in five games, a first Saturday 3pm Premier League win since August 2008, and three precious points added to the total saw Newcastle increase the gap between the relegation zone to seven points following a 4-1 victory over Wolves.

After the chance to recoup and re-gather presented by the international break, following our stuffing by Stoke, this was a massive result in the state of our season - one that, certainly pre-match, represented a huge must-win game.

The marked difference from this time two years ago was there for all to see, with a spirited team performance in which several players enjoyed excellent games enough to see off Wolves and leave Mick McCarthy's team ensconced in the relegation scrap.

Starting brightly, it was Kevin Nolan who nudged the ball home to give us the advantage, as he raced on to Big Lad's knock-down. Big Lad himself added a second just before half-time, when poor defensive work by Wolves saw the ball threaded out left to Peter Lovenkrands, and the Dane's hanging ball to the back post allowed our masked striker to leap and power a header in to give us a two goal cushion.

By that stage, Nolan had found his way into the referee's book for the tenth time this season, with a trip on Adam Hammill - Danny Simpson's presence as a covering player the difference between a yellow card and a red for our captain.

Five minutes after the break, it was the Dane who made it three. Soon after hitting the post, he swept an ASBO cross home from close range after excellent build-up play from Sideshow Bob, saw our number seven put free down the right.

At 3-0 the game ought to have been safe, but Sylvain Ebanks-Blake pulled one back shortly afterwards after his run into the box wasn't properly tracked.

That left Wolves pressing for a second which would have seen them come right back into the match, with pre-match nerves starting to show both in the stands and on the pitch. Thankfully though, the second never came, with Steven Fletcher's header bouncing off the post and wide and James Perch's clearing off the line the closest the visitors came.

Then, in the final seconds of the match, the ball fell to Steven Taylor in our box, and the defender surged up field. Finding Spidermag in support, his pass found the Argentinean, who eschewed the chance to waste some time by the corner flag and instead cut infield before curling the ball perfectly round Wayne Hennessey and inside the far post to give us a 4-1 victory.

The win, coupled with our significantly better goal difference, moves us a long way from the relegation zone, and with the teams around us dropping points (most notably 5under1and - battered by Man City on Sunday) we can try and press on for a top half finish.

Individually, ASBO, Big Lad and Shane Ferguson (making his first Premier League start) all enjoyed fine games, with our striker's performance drawing praise from Pardew, who hailed him as "as good a striker as I've ever worked with". Praise indeed from a man who's worked with Carlos Tevez, Teddy Sheringham and, um, Homer Simpson.

A Wolves' fan's perspective: Wolves Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Friday, April 01, 2011

Are you being (well) served?

One of the key findings of the recent NUST survey was that respondents almost unanimously disagreed that "the club actively listens to its fans". So when the Football Supporters' Federation announced that they'd scrutinised and rated the club charters of all those in the top two divisions, I suspected that it might strengthen the case of those who feel that Jabba and his cronies have precious little regard for the ordinary paying punter. However, the results are more complex than that - while by no means rated the Premier League's best, the club was also judged to be some way off being the worst, placing 12th overall.

Between one and five points were awarded across a range of different criteria relating to the charter, which governs the club's commitment to its fans: accessibility, currency, quality, complaints procedure, league details, Independent Football Ombudsman details and bans process. For accessibility our charter merited a maximum five points, while the complaints procedure was also found to be broadly clear and effective, meriting the award of four points. Recently, the club has at least shown a willingness to engage in dialogue with fans affected by the displacement of the Level Seven "singing section". The overall quality of the charter was rated as a solid if unspectacular three.

The club fell down in the remaining four categories, scoring just one in each - though, in its defence, if the charter isn't current then it's not too surprising it doesn't include the correct details for contacting the league or the IFO. It's also fair to say that these areas were where most other clubs' charters were found wanting - and at least we've got one, unlike Everton, who apparently don't and were thus awarded a big fat nil point...

Of course, it's debatable how much this research actually proves. The acid test is not so much how good the charter is on paper but how well it works and how rigorously it's adhered to in practice. Surveying personal experiences of those who've had recourse to refer to the charter might conceivably produce a very different verdict.

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