Friday, September 30, 2011

Quote of the day

"He is absolutely a footballer I would be happy to manage, he is a top, top player. He is a maverick and every club carries one or two of them who will have their moments. It is about managing those moments."

Angling for a reunion with Carlos Tevez, Alan?

Following his refusal to come off the bench against Bayern Munich on Tuesday (something Pardew claimed is more common than you'd think), the Argentinean outcast looks to have finally burned his bridges with Roberto Mancini and Man City. I wouldn't be unfurling the "Welcome to Newcastle" banner just yet, though - Jabba would have to have a seriously funny turn to even contemplate coughing up the kind of cash that City will no doubt demand.

Meanwhile, Davide Santon completed 90 minutes for the reserves as they beat Swansea in a 5-3 thriller - I can't see Pardew changing the starting XI that beat Blackburn for the trip to Wolves, though - and Belgian genius Philippe Albert, whose name everyone knows, is the subject of a profile piece on blog The Belgian Waffle.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shooting practice

OK, own up - whose bright idea was it to let the Lone Ranger loose with a gun? A team-building exercise, apparently - though as it was staff v players I'd imagine there were a few people intent on doing the errant striker an injury. Presumably this sort of thing wouldn't have been arranged had ASBO still been on our books.

Thankfully I haven't come across any reports of unauthorised mask removal - it would be just our luck if one of our key players did a PJ...



Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fighting spirit

So it's not just us, then. On the same night that Lee Bowyer was busy condemning Fat Sam and his old club West Ham to defeat with an 89th-minute goal, Kettering strikers Moses Ashikodi and Jean-Paul Marna paid tribute to the Londoner's infamous St James' Park scrap with the Little Waster by coming to blows on the pitch before both receiving straight red cards. Their manager, ex-Mag Mark Stimson, would have been pulling his hair out - if he had any left.

In other old boy news, Nobby Solano is currently in sparkling form for Mick Wadsworth's Monkey-Hangers. He followed up a dazzling run and goal in the 3-0 defeat of Bury with a peach of a curling free-kick last weekend, which rolled back the years and provided the platform for a hard-fought victory at Bournemouth. A third spell at St James' is presumably out of the question...



Spidermag extended

Heartening to hear that Spidermag has signed a contract for a further four years at the club, taking him through to 2015.

According to the report he had "no hesitation" in signing a new contract.

Of course, given that Rocky signed a new contract shortly before being ushered out the door, I can't say I'm surprised that Spidermag has no hesitation in signing. Great player though he is, and presumably he's just had a pay rise, he knows as well as we all do that if a good offer comes in for him, chances are Jabba will bite their hand off and he'll be on his way.

However, in the meantime it does suggest that we'll be hanging on to a cracking player (and spending a bit more of the Rocky money in the process).

If we could now sort out a new contract for Little Big Lad (whose current deal expires next summer) that would be handy...

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Behind the scenes

What we can glean from this fan's report on a morning spent at a training session:

* Alan Pardew is a bit of a "silver fox" with a hint of the Swiss Toni about him. "Keeping Jabba happy is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman...".

* Yohan Cabaye feels sufficiently comfortable on Tyneside to swan around wearing a neckerchief, and is part of our French clique's Breakfast Club.

* Tim Krul is a banana-eating giant. "He stands next to me and puts a giant hand on me and I feel like an actual midget... I imagine this is the feeling Dennis Wise gets when he stands next to anyone that is older than the age of 8".

* Little Big Lad really does have "scarily skinny" legs.

* The quality of the training pitch is such that there's no excuse for poor passing on a Saturday: "the grass is unreal. I mean seriously, it makes my carpet in my lounge look bobbly".

(Thanks to Bob for the link.)

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Quote of the day

"Newcastle manager Alan Pardew could be the next Premier League boss to lose his job after accepting responsibility for the Magpies’ respectable start to the season."

Before you join the ranks of humourless Mags mouthing off in the comments, it's called satire. Perhaps that's what happens when you're never sure whether you should be laughing or crying...

But if you stubbornly refuse to find anything funny about that article, at least Ol' Cauliflower Face's Mackems are good for a chuckle.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Demba raises the Ba

Newcastle Utd 3 - 1 Blackburn Rovers

Perhaps this is a bit rash, but maybe - just maybe - we don't need the big-money big-name striker we were craving after all. Amidst all of the hoopla surrounding our deadline day failings, the fact that we'd already signed a new striker earlier in the summer was largely ignored. And on Saturday a post-Ramadan, fully-fit and sharp Demba Ba belatedly announced his arrival at St James' Park in style, his hat-trick enough to bring to an end our embarrassing sequence of home defeats to Blackburn and leave them looking for a new lucky hotel. Meanwhile, at Anfield, his £35m predecessor Rocky was once again firing blanks...

Encouraging performances in midweek from Hatem Ben Arfa, Peter Lovenkrands and Sylvain Marveaux gave Alan Pardew selection dilemmas of the pleasant sort, but in the end he opted to stick with the same XI that had deserved victory at Villa Park - the decision to prefer Ba to Ben Arfa or Lovenkrands in particular proving justified.

Steve Kean seemed to have identified Yohan Cabaye as our dangerman, understandably so given his performance at Villa, but Ba was one of several players in black and white to benefit from this narrow focus. Right from the off, the Senegal international looked much less like the lethargic below-par Big Lad of early season and much more the powerful all-action striker who seemed to take up West Ham's cause on his own last year. He shot over from the edge of the area early on but had found the net twice before the first half-hour was out. First, he controlled a cross from striker partner Leon O'Best, swivelled and lashed a shot past Rovers 'keeper Paul Robinson and then, three minutes later, nodded home unmarked when Steven Taylor's header back across the six-yard box caused panic.

Plain sailing - or so we thought for all of seven minutes, when tricky winger Junior Hoilett fired high into Tim Krul's goal from just inside the area. On this showing, and on the strength of his early-season displays, we're right to have identified the Canadian as a potential target. The setback didn't faze us, though, and Obertan Kenobe came close to restoring the two-goal advantage as the interval approached.

The early part of the second half proved crucial, with Rovers' Martin Olsson's lucky effort bouncing off the top of the crossbar as Krul floundered before Ba completed his treble at the other end, his header drifting in despite the attentions of defenders and 'keeper. Remarkably, it was the fourth hat-trick at home by a Newcastle player since we returned to the Premier League in August 2010.

Olsson's afternoon then got worse, the Swede dismissed for a second bookable offence after fouling O'Best, and we set about piling on the misery for the visitors. That we were unable to do so - despite decent efforts from O'Best, Ben Arfa (on for Ba, to rapturous applause for both), Cabaye and Obertan - was a little unfortunate, but nevertheless it was great to see our hitherto solid but unspectacular side showing so much attacking verve and purpose.

Saturday lunchtime's League Cup draw had seen us paired with the Lancastrians, and on the evidence of what followed we should certainly fancy our chances, even though the game's at Ewood Park. In terms of the Premier League, though, we're sitting pretty in fourth, two points clear of Rocky and Jose Enrique's Liverpool. Bigger challenges and "bombs" are yet to come, no doubt, but for the time being at least we should just enjoy it.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Given Arfa chance*

After coming through Tuesday's game at Forest unscathed, here's hoping Hatem Ben Arfa continues his rehabilitation from horrific injury this afternoon. While our uncharacteristic defensive fortitude has been very welcome indeed, we've looked far less impressive in advanced areas, crying out for someone with the guile and skill to unsettle opposition back fours.

Neither Obertan Kenobe and Spidermag have exactly excelled in that respect thus far this season, but their places seem to be safe from threat by Ben Arfa, at least (Sylvain Marveaux's strong showing at the City Ground will hopefully result in Spidermag upping his game), with Alan Pardew declaring: "My view is that he can't play out wide. He has not got the relish for it and his best football comes through the middle". Mr T and Yohan Cabaye, superb at Villa last week, are fixtures in the side - so that can only mean Ben Arfa tucked in behind a lone out-and-out striker, presumably Leon O'Best.

In other news you may have missed (we did...), Ryan Donaldson has joined Tranmere on loan. Might a few decent performances bring him to the attention of Bayern Munich?

* One of these days we'll exhaust all of the potential puns - but, for the time being, he remains a goldmine. Feel free to pick us up if we repeat any, though...

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Quote of the day

"I know it’s probably not too good for reporters, as you haven’t got any bombs going off. But I’m sure there will be at some point."

ASBO may have gone, but Jabba still around and our proud and dishonourable tradition of self-implosion never far from a revival, I'm sadly sure Alan Pardew's right...



Thursday, September 22, 2011

Colo the conqueror

Nottingham Forest 3 - 4 Newcastle Utd (aet)
(2-2 at 90 minutes)

A last-gasp header from Sideshow Bob ensured our place in the next round of the League Cup after Forest had repeatedly thwarted our attempt to take a decisive lead in the tie.

With Alan Pardew electing to change nine of the starting eleven from the side who picked up a point on Saturday, it was very much a patchwork team which took to the field against a Forest side keen to make amends for their woeful defeat to near-neighbours Derby County. For Newcastle it was a chance to welcome Hatem Ben Arfa back into the first team, while also giving debuts to Mehdi Abeid and Rob Elliott.

Ahead at half-time thanks to a fine Peter Lovenkrands header from a Sylvain Marveaux cross, Newcastle allowed Forest too much space and Robbie Findley was able to crack a raking twenty-five-yarder past the helpless Elliott.

Back came Newcastle with Marveaux once again involved as his fine control and burst of speed saw him hauled down in the box, with ref Lee Mason pointing to the spot. Up stepped Lovenkrands to score his second of the match.

However, Forest were far from down and Matt Derbyshire scored to once again level the scores and take the match to extra time.

By that stage, Hatem Ben Arfa's legs had gone, although our returning number 10 enjoyed a solid game and will certainly be pushing for some more pitch time against a newly resurgent Blackburn at the weekend.

The start of extra time saw us once again take the lead, with Danny Simpson's cross looping over keeper Lee Camp and inside the far post to make it 3-2. However, Shteve McLaren's boys weren't finished yet and when Ishmael Miller ran clear of Simpson, he was able to pick out Marcus Tudgay to bundle home Forest's third equaliser.

Thankfully though, as penalties loomed, substitute Obertan Kenobe was on hand to knock over a cross which Sideshow Bob headed home to keep alive our cup ambitions for a little longer.

Other reports: BBC (including highlights - UK only I think)

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A draining experience

Fluidity: usually a good thing in football - except when it's related to knees. We (and by that I mean everyone apart from Ryan Taylor) are now clinging to the hope that draining off some of said excess fluid will spare Davide Santon a session under the surgeon's knife.

It's interesting to note that Alan Pardew has once again been undermined by the club, who sought to correct his initial assessment that "it's an injury [Santon's] had previously" by declaring the opposite in a statement. Who knows who's telling the truth? I'll just say, though, that the club would lose face if it transpired we'd signed a player without undertaking a careful assessment of his injuries. Santon wouldn't be the first player to have joined the club this summer with question marks over his injury record - Demba Ba and Sylvain Marveaux have also been the subject of some speculation.

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Quote of the day

"Everything I read from him, I really don't like him. I'm going to go on record saying that. I know from his challenges on me that he doesn't like me - I'm not going to mince my words. He has gone out to make a name for himself in my opinion. He keeps doing these interviews saying he is this throw-back to this old-fashioned footballer. I've made challenges and I embrace the fact that there is a physical element to our game, but I think there is a fine line between being physical and actually going out to hurt people, to make a name for it. No-one knew Kelvin Henry before he started kicking lumps out of me in that game (last season)."

You can accuse ASBO of many things, but not bearing grudges is not one of them. The feud that developed between himself and Wolves midfielder Karl Henry last August really blew up during and since QPR's 3-0 win at Molineux (in which our old boy opened the scoring). So much for Henry's pre-match claims...

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Stunning Shay keeps Cab at bay

Aston Villa 1 - 1 Newcastle Utd

A goal from Leon Best ensured our unbeaten start to the season continued on Saturday, but only fine work by Shay Given in the home side's goal prevented us from leaving with all three points.

With Newcastle starting well, the home side took the lead against the run of play early in the first half, when Gabriel Agbonlahor's shot was blocked by Sideshow Bob, only for the ball to fall well for the home striker to slot the ball under the advancing Tim Krul, with our captain now helpless on the floor.

That goal, and a glaring miss by Darren Bent (shooting wide with the goal at his mercy), suggested that Villa might continue their recent good record against us on this ground, but the reality was that their attacking forays were few and far between as Newcastle dominated the middle of the park - with Mr T and Yohan Cabaye seizing control of the midfield and running the game beautifully.

Several times Cabaye threatened the Villa goal, only to see the ball crash off the woodwork or find Given in magnificent form, producing stunning save after stunning save to keep his side in it. Our erstwhile Irish custodian was unable to prevent our equaliser though, with Mr T's fine cross headed goalwards by Leon Best. Given parried the initial header, but could do nothing when Best slammed home the rebound from point blank range.

Frustratingly though, we couldn't find a way past Given for a second time, despite Cabaye's best efforts, with the Frenchman chipping over our last chance of the match as the clock ran down, once again under pressure from our former 'keeper.

Satisfyingly for Alan Pardew, though, was the sight of our first-choice central midfield pairing seizing control of the match and not letting it go, with Mr T's strength and Cabaye's guile dovetailing superbly. At the back, the entire back four enjoyed a good game (Ryan Taylor included) and up front Best again notched a goal to enhance his claim to be our first-choice striker.

If Demba Ba could only start scoring, we might be in danger of getting excited.

As it is, a point was all we could manage, but after Sunday's results we remained in fourth place on nine points. Only 31 to go until we reach safety, but if the midfield continue to play like that, we could start to dream of a higher finish.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Friday, September 16, 2011

It's knee laughing matter

Guess what? With just 70 minutes of reserve team football under his belt for us, Davide Santon is already busy acquainting himself with the treatment room. The injury, sustained in training, is a particular worry because it's one he's had twice before. It would be just our luck to have eagerly bought up damaged goods - but here's to a swift recovery for the lad. One consequence of the development, of course, is that Ryan Taylor can continue to cling to the left-back spot, despite giving a new definition of hapless against Shaun Wright-Phillips on Monday night.

We're not the only ones having trouble with summer signings, though - Swansea have been denied international clearance for both Darnel Situ and Rafik Halliche. The former came close to signing for us, even scoring twice while on trial, but we couldn't agree terms - it remains to be seen whether we'll be back in for the Frenchman in January, should he still be available.

Meanwhile, long-term transfer target Modibo Maiga has been banished to the reserves by angry Sochaux chairman Alexandre Lacombe until he's "ready to be serious and reliable". With the relationship between club hierarchy and player clearly having broken down, it's remarkable that we weren't able to conclude a deal for a player desperate to join us before the transfer window closed.

And speaking of relationships between chairmen and players souring, the deal that took ASBO to QPR has been back in the spotlight this week amid allegations of a dubious and substantial sum being paid to Willy McKay. It baffles me how someone can claim to be a player's agent and yet then act for the buying club rather than the player when a transfer is negotiated. We might not have heard the last of this.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Staking a claim

While the shot-shy first team toiled to a fortuitous 0-0 draw on Monday night, the Reserves thumped their Norwich counterparts 6-0 yesterday. It was quite literally men against boys, our line-up featuring several experienced fringe first-teamers including Steve Harper, Danny Guthrie and Dan Gosling while the visitors fielded no fewer than four first-year scholars.

Most prominent among those hoping to elbow their way into Alan Pardew's plans was Gosling. Not even named on the bench at Loftus Road, the midfielder bagged a brace and was only denied his hat-trick by the woodwork. Gabriel Obertan and Spidermag, ineffectual against QPR, should feel their places are under threat. The other goals came from Greg McDermott, Michael Richardson (back from his unsuccessful loan spell at League 1 strugglers Leyton Orient), Ryan Donaldson and substitute Yves Moyo.

Meanwhile, Davide Santon enjoyed a comfortable debut at left-back as the Reserves emulated the first team in achieving a shut-out. Surely he'll replace Ryan Taylor sooner rather than later?

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Linesmen to the rescue

QPR 0 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Who says the international break is disruptive? We returned to Premier League action with a performance very much the same as the last - namely, poor and probably deserving of nothing but nevertheless ultimately rewarding. For that, we had linesmen to thank - not the two officials scampering up and down, but Danny Simpson and Steven Taylor, both of whom cleared Rangers' efforts off our line in a fraught first half.

Alan Pardew made just the one change to the starting line-up, replacing Peter Lovenkrands - utterly ineffectual against Fulham - with the fit-again Big Lad. That meant a two-pronged strikeforce with Leon Best - cue Gary Neville informing Sky viewers that it was good to see two "local lads ... who've come through the ranks together" starting up front...

This decision represented a change of approach since our last away trip to the Stadium of Shite and, in truth, it didn't work - in the first half especially, QPR's 4-3-3 formation caused us innumerable problems. It didn't help that Gabriel Obertan and Spidermag were as unhelpful defensively as they were limp attacking down the flanks, or that Mr T again looked off the pace and Yohan Cabaye turned in his worst display in black and white - but, in fairness to our central pairing, Pardew had left them outnumbered. Perhaps a combative player in the mould of our opponents' captain would have been useful in the circumstances...

Little wonder that the first half was orchestrated by mercurial Moroccan Adel Taarabt, revelling in the freedom afforded to him, and by Shaun Wright-Phillips, relishing a first top-flight start in a year against Ryan Taylor, a left-back with no left foot (Davide Santon, watching from the bench, won't exactly be worried about his prospects of getting into the side). Had Jay Bothroyd - once upon a time rumoured to be interesting us - brought his shooting boots it might have been a different story, but the lanky striker in danger of becoming a one-cap wonder squandered two opportunities from perfect Wright-Phillips crosses, first ballooning a volley over from six yards when unmarked and then failing to get a touch as the ball fizzed low across the area.

Tim Krul's superb form thus far this season has justified his selection ahead of Steve Harper, but last night he was reliant on others to help preserve a third clean sheet in four. Simpson, at last putting in a good shift, repelled Bothroyd's header from the line, and shortly afterwards Steven Taylor repeated the feat, chasing back to head Wright-Phillips' chip away to safety brilliantly.

At the other end, our only real chance of note was created from nothing by Best, whose clever skill twice outwitted defenders and whose subsequent shot had portly pie-munching Hoops 'keeper Paddy Kenny at full stretch to tip it just around the post.

The second period also belonged to the hosts, though we did at least get to grips with Taarabt, Mr T upping his game somewhat. Wright-Phillips continued to threaten, though, most notably with a jinking run and long-range shot that flew narrowly wide of the near angle. The contrast between QPR's new winger and our wide men Obertan and Spidermag was alarming.

Thankfully what opportunities there were fell to Shaun Derry, not the most prolific goalscorer in the home team, and on two occasions he headed inviting headers wide. Obertan mustered one downward header for us before being replaced by Little Big Lad, who did at least inject a bit of enthusiasm into proceedings. I'd like to see him start against Blackburn, but suspect that Obertan's price tag will mean the Frenchman will get to keep his place. Of our other substitutes, Sylvain Marveaux made his Premier League debut and Demba Ba, on for Big Lad, looked moderately lively as we (and Krul in particular) ran down the clock for another useful result.

So, four games, three clean sheets, still unbeaten and currently occupying the final Champions League spot. All should be rosy, you'd imagine. It's not. Our unusual defensive resilience is to be once again applauded, but make no mistake - there'll come a time when we'll rue our chronic attacking deficiencies.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Ranger's rap sheet lengthens

Well done to the Lone Ranger for steadfastly refusing to keep a low profile following his arrest for alleged assault, seemingly determined to make ASBO's bad boy reputation his own. "What a joke" indeed. Pack your bags, sunshine.



Quote of the day

"We don’t feel we’ve made empty promises. Sometimes in these situations it’s impossible to win. If we say nothing we are criticised. If we state our intentions and they are not realised, we are criticised."

The club's board respond to the charge that their public statements can't be trusted, one of several questions posed to them by the Ronny Gill. No, it IS possible to win - the scenario you've failed to outline there is the one in which you state your intentions and they're realised. Not surprised that one had passed you by...

This is just one of the many infuriating claims littering their answers - the response about why Rocky was sold and why the cash wasn't used to replace him in the transfer window is a masterclass in waffle, patronisingly explaining the complexities and difficulties of buying a player but carefully ignoring the fact that other clubs managed to make plenty of acquisitions...

As we reported on Friday, Alan Pardew himself issued a thinly veiled criticism of his bosses' failures in the transfer market, and followed that up with a revealing comment in the Sunday Sun: "I think Derek [Llambiarse] is the type to call a spade a spade and so am I. We've exchanged those words and we have to put it right and make sure we work together to move forward". Pardew appears determined to demonstrate to the fans that he understands and indeed has voiced our frustrations, and isn't Jabba and Llambiarse's puppet - a risky strategy, since it's likely to provoke Jabba's ire without any guarantee of being swallowed by the supporters.

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Del not the boy

This summer was marked by a French revolution in the dressing room at St James' Park, but it seems our contingent of recruits from Ligue 1 could have been even larger. PSG's Mevlut Erdinc and Sochaux's Modibo Maiga we missed out on, of course, but Auxerre midfielder Delvin Ndinga has claimed that he too was a target for us, amongst other Premier League sides. The Congo international's club were prepared to sell, but Ndinga decided to defer a decision for another year, wanting to "prove my worth in the French league" first.



Riddle me this

So Ol' Cauliflower Face claims to be baffled as to why star striker Asamoah Gyan reneged on a promise to stay at the Stadium of Shite, fleeing the Dark Place for a loan move to UAE side Al-Ain. "Draw your own conclusions", he insisted. OK, Steve, we have...

Nice to see Niklas Bendtner getting his career with 5under1and off to a flyer too, by missing a sitter of a header as his new club went down 2-1 at home to Chelsea.



Friday, September 09, 2011

Pard's point

"I can only say that, from my point of view, we put the targets in front of the board and then it comes down to financial decisions, and that financial decision didn't take place."

Criticism, as much as he probably dared, by Alan Pardew of the negotiating tactics which saw us fail to sign a striker (other than Demba Ba, obviously) during the transfer window.

Given what has happened to previous critics of Jabba and Llambiarse (Nolan, ASBO, Enrique, et al.), it will be interesting to see whether Pards' gripes lead to a P45 in short order, or whether a degree of sympathy will be afforded to him by the board who were reportedly equally upset at their own failings.

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Quote of the day

"When Keegan walked out Ashley turned to Joe Kinnear who arrived in a blaze of swear words and left in a body bag - as is his time-honoured style."

A gem from a QPR site's fine preview of Monday evening's match, including insightful comment from the Toon fan interviewed, James Harrison. And no, I'm not just saying nice things because they were kind enough to give us a link...



Thursday, September 08, 2011

A Month Of Saturdays: August 2011

They say you can't keep a good man down. Maybe not, but neither can you keep ASBO out of the headlines. July may have been the monthly equivalent of an annus horribilis for us, as we lurched in time-honoured tradition from calamity to farce, but at least all seemed pleasingly quiet on the ASBO front. Even when Jose Enrique took to Twitter to rail against Jabba's transfer policy, ASBO wisely elected not to join in.

Of course, it turned out that he couldn't keep stumm for long, and, as the calendar flipped over into August, he exploded with a torrent of anger aimed directly at Jabba. The club's response was swift, decisive and blunt: ASBO was not only hit with the same fine as Enrique and banished to train with the youngsters but also placed on the transfer list and made available for free. The decision was succinctly described as "suicide" by his dumbfounded agent Willie McKay - though of course that could equally have applied to ASBO's actions in terms of his Newcastle career. McKay claimed he was still prepared to negotiate with Jabba and Llambiarse, but was clearly licking his chops at the prospect of a bumper pay-day.

There followed a period of detente during which ASBO got his head down in training and surfaced on Twitter only as though determined to prove himself far from your average footballer, quoting George Orwell and appealing for Isambard Kingdom Brunel's phone number. As he worked his way back towards redemption, the club took further action, instigating a blanket ban on tweeting about internal matters. If that was to be the only lasting consequence of the affair, then I think we would have welcomed it. All too often in the recent past our dirty laundry has been hung out on public view, flapping about in the breeze for all to see. Silence would be golden.

On the eve of the new season, by which time ASBO had snuck back into the fold, Enrique was finally flogged off to Liverpool. The Spaniard's excited talk of his new employers' "ambition" and willingness to flash the cash was a barbed jibe at Jabba, underlining that ASBO hadn't been a lone dissenting voice in the dressing room.

No prizes for guessing who would then manoeuvre himself centre stage in a dull yet fractious goalless curtain-raiser against Arsenal (a result that looked worse as the month wore on and the Gunners continued a slow-motion implosion). Already narked at having been deliberately trod upon by Alex Song, ASBO took aggressive umbrage at Gervinho's penalty-area theatrics, received a gentle slap in the face by the Ivorian and went down like he'd been floored by a heavyweight. The Arsenal player was red-carded and ASBO only booked, while in the post-match fallout Song was handed a retrospective ban and both clubs were fined £30,000 for failing to control their players.

ASBO inevitably went on the offensive on Twitter, lashing out at Gervinho, Jack Wilshere and former sparring partner Wor Al amongst others and prompting Alan Pardew to once again warn of the dangers of unguarded comment. Of course, the irony was our manager's conspicuous failure to practise what he was preaching - not only did he infuriate Charlton by making public our pursuit of 'keeper Rob Elliot but he was subsequently charged by the FA for urging Howard Webb to be "astute" in his officiating of the derby in light of ASBO's presence in our midfield.

Predictably enough, ASBO was once again at the heart of the action on Wearside, picking up a booking for a scuffle following a typically crude Lee Cattermole assault on Spidermag. He would have made a more significant contribution, though, if it hadn't have been for the arm of Sebastian Larsson, a man who once looked likely to replace him on the right-hand side of our midfield. As it was, his close-range header was knocked off the line and Webb showed he hadn't been swayed by Pardew's pre-match comments by pointing to the corner flag rather than the penalty spot and allowing Larsson to remain on the pitch. Thankfully, that injustice was rendered irrelevant when recently maligned makeshift left-back Ryan Taylor became the latest Toon player to put the ball in the Mackems' net with a delicious curling free-kick. Our opponents finished up with ten men for the second weekend in a row, Phil Bardsley dismissed for a lunge on Sideshow Bob as ugly as he is (and that's pretty ugly).

That turned out to be ASBO's last appearance in black and white. Rested for the League Cup tie at Scunthorpe - a game we narrowly won thanks only to splendid strikes from Ryan Taylor and Little Big Lad - he was then shipped off to nouveau riche Premier League new boys QPR before our next league fixture against Fulham. After four years on Tyneside, a player labelled by Fabio Capello as "dangerous" may now have been someone else's problem, but very much in spite of myself I couldn't help but feel a sense of loss. Life will be duller without him, that's for sure - though the Lone Ranger was quick to pick up the gauntlet...

ASBO and Enrique were the highest profile departures of a month which also saw James Tavernier and Phil Airey fly the nest, albeit temporarily. Fraser Forster was loaned out too, back to Celtic, though his subsequent comments about Pardew gave the distinct impression that he might not be back. Paul gave a detailed appraisal of our summer transfer dealings, so I won't dwell on those other than to note that in August we added Gabriel Obertan, Rob Elliot and Davide Santon to the squad.

Relatively successful you might think - in Santon we finally had our left-back, albeit one who gave rise to unsettling feelings of deja vu. But our pathetic lack of activity on deadline day - no Bryan Ruiz, no Modibo Maiga, no Papiss Cisse, not even Federico Macheda - was both infuriating and alarming, not least because a limp victory over Fulham had only underlined our considerable deficiencies in forward areas. When you're reliant on both a brace from Leon Best and a string of brilliant saves from your 'keeper when faced with a lame bunch who travel worse than the real Mr T, then you'd best be worried.

So, we might have ended the month with seven league points from nine and still in with a shout of League Cup glory, but Paul's generally sunny forecast and prediction of an 11th-placed finish were nevertheless already looking overly optimistic. Still, August also saw us reflecting on how we found strength in considerably tougher circumstances following relegation, and, if one Toon supporter can dredge up sufficient physical and mental resolve to run the 3100 miles across the US (hopefully helping to create a fanbase along the way), then perhaps blind faith can get us through too. And, if all else fails, we could always laugh at ASBO's new colleague the Little Waster picking up an injury within seven minutes of his debut. Perhaps he could keep himself occupied by teaming up with Little Saint Mick to work on a nice jigsaw?

And, in amongst it all, Black & White & Read All Over turned seven. The very first week of the blog's existence was marked by both off-pitch upheaval and unfathomable decisions and inactivity in the transfer market. How times change, eh?



Wednesday, September 07, 2011

No international breaks or strains

It looks as though we've got through another round of international fixtures without any scrapes, thankfully. Spidermag made a brief appearance for Argentina against Nigeria in Bangladesh, while Yohan Cabaye put in a 75-minute-long shift as France ground out a disappointing 0-0 draw in Romania. Cabaye had been drafted in following Friday's sub-par 2-1 win over Albania, with the illustrious likes of Samir Nasri and Florent Malouda dropping out at his expense. Tim Krul's exclusion from the Dutch squad that took on Finland was good news too.

Meanwhile, Davide Santon - in line to make his Toon debut at Loftus Road on Monday - captained the Italian U21 side to a comfortable 3-0 victory in Hungary. Tamas Kadar, on the opposing side, was booked for a foul on his new team-mate - taking his frustration out on the latest person to stand between him and a place in our first team, perhaps?




The season's only a few weeks old and already Dan Gosling's got his hands on some metaphorical silverware - triumphing in a pre-match X Factor contest with his England U21 team-mates...

"The first one I sang was 'She Will Be Loved' by Maroon 5 and that got me through to the final three. Then I did a bit of R 'n' B and sang Mario's 'Let Me Love You', which was good enough to win it. I haven't received the prize yet. Hopefully, I will get it on the next trip." Jesus, if those choices were good enough to carry off the victory, I dread to think how bad the rest must have been...

Suggestions for songs that fellow members of the Newcastle squad might attempt at karaoke welcome in the comments box. I'll kick things off. Mr T: 'Yellow' - Coldplay...



Plenty of support - and cups too

For the lady who feels obliged to demonstrate her footballing allegiance even in the boudoir: official Newcastle Utd lingerie. Cue jibes about lots of frills but little of substance...

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Debutant Dan eyeing up first-team spot

With an impressive full debut for England U21s under his belt, might Dan Gosling have played himself into contention for a starting berth against QPR on Monday? He won't be able to dislodge the central midfield pairing of Mr T and Yohan Cabaye, and Spidermag remains a fixture on the left, but he might displace Obertan Kenobi on the right, or alternatively come in for Peter Lovenkrands if Alan Pardew opts to repeat his approach against the Mackems of leaving one up front.

Meanwhile, in the senior England squad there's been a familiar warning for a familiar face. It seems the multi-million-pound move to Liverpool hasn't persuaded Rocky to mend his ways and curb the partying and pint-guzzling that regularly got him into trouble on Tyneside. Wor Al has had a pop at Fabio Capello for making the warning public, but Rocky's managers at both international and club level certainly have a right to demand he cleans up his act - otherwise it could be a sorry case of wasted talent.

Elsewhere, FC Sion's unceremonious ejection from the Europa League for fielding ineligible players has earned Celtic an undeserved reprieve and with it the chance for Fraser Forster to pit himself against some of the top sides in Europe. Celtic's group contain both Udinese, who ran Arsenal very close in their Champions League qualifying play-off and who boast Italian international sharp-shooter Antonio Di Natale up front, and Atletico Madrid, who have just replaced Sergio Aguero with Falcao. Suffice to say that our loanee 'keeper can expect to be kept busy...

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Monday, September 05, 2011

Swans flocking together: a lesson for us?

The latest post on the NUST blog comes courtesy of Phil Sumbler, chairman of Swansea City Supporters Trust, who urges us all to keep the faith and believe that the dream of the fans having a significant stake in our club can become a reality. NUST's counterparts in south Wales control a whopping 20% share in the Swans, so it seems there may be genuine cause for optimism.

The similarities are there - a passionate fanbase repeatedly appalled at the actions of a delusional and dictatorial hierarchy. However, as Sumbler points out, the Swans fans' involvement came about as part of a last-ditch bail-out of a club in administration and in serious danger of going out of existence. This begs the question: would it take a equally grave existential threat for Newcastle fans to be motivated to mobilise in similar numbers and with a similarly fierce devotion to the cause? Let's hope we don't have to find out the hard way, and that NUST can find a less painful route into securing a stake in the club.



Lucky Jim?

Desperate times call for desperate measures. But are we really desperate enough to want to sign James Beattie? The player once upon a time tipped as Wor Al's replacement, back when he was good, had a fruitless loan spell at Blackpool last season and has just been released by Rangers. Mercifully, the Star claimed his former club Sheffield Utd is a likelier destination.

Coincidentally, the last big lunk of a free agent forward to be signed to plug the gap left by Rocky made a flying start to his Oldham career, Shefki Kuqi taking just six minutes to find the net against Lee Clark's Huddersfield.

Meanwhile, Sunday's People mentioned almost in passing that we "made an inquiry for Rangers’ Croatian striker Nikica Jelavic and will try to sign him again in January". Interesting if true - might it have been us who tabled the £9m bid that Rangers alleged they received on deadline day? If so, then Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell can eat his mocking words - and Llambiarse's insistence that our transfer policy doesn't involve making "knee-jerk decisions" looks increasingly ludicrous.

The reference to Jelavic came in this article, suggesting that Chris Hughton is intent on offering the Lone Ranger an escape route from Tyneside. Should he renew his interest when the loan window reopens, I doubt we'd hesitate in shipping out a player who, while undoubtedly promising, has a seriously suspect attitude both on and off the pitch.

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Saturday, September 03, 2011

What a (knee-)jerk

Fair play to Llambiarse. In light of what happened - or, more accurately, didn't happen - on Wednesday, he could have maintained his silence and left Alan Pardew hung out to dry before the media. But no, he's decided to speak out - and very honourably made himself look a complete idiot instead of his manager.

.com have already highlighted the gaping holes in his reasoning, but let's just dwell on two of the more ridiculous claims:

1. "Work to bring a striker into the club began early in the summer." So, remind us again, Del Boy - when exactly was it that Rocky was sold? Unless I'm very much mistaken, January is not "early in the summer".

2. "Negotiations were complex and protracted and unfortunately it was disappointing that ultimately we could not secure our priority target. We have a very clear transfer policy. We will not make knee-jerk decisions at the last minute which are not in the best interests of the club." So presumably the last-minute bid to poach Costa Rican forward Bryan Ruiz from beneath Fulham's nose was no knee-jerk decision but us making our move for "our priority target". If so, then the negotiations can't have been too "complex and protracted", given that they can only have taken place in the space of a few hours...

That said, Pardew hasn't had the most comfortable couple of days either, learning that he's the subject of this week's FA charge. His comments in the build-up to last month's derby, in which he called for referee Howard Webb to be "astute" and unbiased with regard to ASBO, have been deemed improper conduct. As with Charlton's complaint over the unsettling of Rob Elliot, the charge is ironic in the light of Pardew's counsel to others about the dangers of speaking out of turn.

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Friday, September 02, 2011

A fragile "phenomenon"

This article by Guardian writer Paolo Bandini on our new signing Davide Santon is interesting for a number of reasons:

* It paints a portrait of a mentally fragile player who was initially lauded by opponent Cristiano Ronaldo and manager Jose Mourinho upon breaking into the Inter side, but who has suffered from a lack of self-belief since his form has dipped. Clearly we've got ourselves a very promising young footballer, but here's hoping he makes a good start to his Newcastle career - if not, he might find life in the "goldfish bowl" too much to cope with.

* Bandini notes that Mourinho's approach - build Santon up as a "phenomenon" when he played well and then knock him down when he turned in a poor performance - didn't work. He comes across as a player who needs to feel valued and wanted. Alan Pardew is reputed to be a good man-manager (though ASBO was possibly more than even he could chew), and it sounds as though he'll need to wrap his new signing up in protective cotton wool. High maintenance, then, but, with any luck, helping Santon to settle and feel comfortable at the club will reap handsome rewards in the not-too-distant future.

* There's a cautionary tale in there for us. While Santon was only converted to a left-back under Mourinho, he quickly established that as his best role. However, his versatility apparently caused problems; asked to fill in wherever necessary, "the lack of certainty undermined him." So, while he might be able to fill in at right-back (or elsewhere) for us if absolutely essential, we should be wary of asking him to do so. In truth, it's a left-back we so desperately needed, and so I can't really see us deploying him in any other capacity.



Thursday, September 01, 2011

Black window

Oh joy. Another transfer window closes, and we're once again left with an unsatisfactory taste in our mouths.

In January, it was the loss of our number 9, albeit for a staggeringly large amount of cash. Seven months later and it's our continuing failure to reinvest that money to strengthen the squad which leaves a mix of anger, frustration and exasperation in its wake.

Still, it could have been worse (just ask any Evertonians you see today). If rumours are to be believed, we nearly sold Danny Simpson yesterday without a replacement (and no, Ryan Taylor is not a replacement, however good his free kicks might be), but we successfully held on to Sideshow Bob, Mr T and Tim Krul.

However, I'll save the wailing and gnashing of teeth for later, and first look at the players who we have managed to bring in and ship on.

Departures first, then.

Since the end of the season, we've bid farewell to Fat Sol, Shefki Kuqi, Kevin Nolan, ASBO, Wayne Routledge, Jose Enrique, Fraser Forster and Kazenga LuaLua (the latter two on loan, but on deals expected to become permanent in due course). We've also sent out the likes of Michael Richardson, Phil Airey and James Tavernier on loan to gain first-team experience.

In doing so, we've added approximately £12 million to the kitty which already boasted the £35 million received from Liverpool for Rocky back in January.

Of those departing, the only real losses are Nolan, ASBO and Enrique, all of whom played key roles for us last season.

We were reportedly unsuccessful in trying to get rid of Alan Smith, Nile Ranger and Leon Best, and our ongoing retention of Peter Lovenkrands is starting to look a bit mystifying now that his legs are going.

Of those four, attempts to offload Best appeared harsh, but Ranger's ongoing commitment to undermining his own career means his days are surely numbered and Smith and Lovenkrands no longer appear to be good enough.

On the incoming front, Yohan Cabaye has impressed so far, and certainly looks to be a more than adequate replacement for Nolan, albeit in a deeper lying midfield role (which might be one of the reasons behind our improved defensive record thus far). Gabriel Obertan too has shown some flashes of promise, and to my mind represents a decent upgrade on Routledge.

At the back Davide Santon has obviously yet to kick a ball in anger for the club, so the jury is still out on that, albeit he looks on paper to be a solid replacement for Enrique (even though he may take a little time to settle).

Hopefully now that Ramadan has finished, we'll see an improvement in Demba Ba's performances - however we're going to have to wait until May to assess whether he alone represents an adequate replacement for Rocky.

Rob Elliot for Forster looks an odd move, but the proof of that deal will be in the pudding. As Ben mentioned last night, I have a suspicion that we may not be able to retain Krul post 2014, so a longer-term deal for the player may make sense (given Steve Harper will be closing in on 40 by that stage).

Whether Marveaux is a replacement for ASBO looks questionable, with the Frenchman looking a bit lightweight in his one outing so far. He doesn't strike me as a player capable of grabbing a game by the scruff of its neck the way ASBO did during his one decent season for us.

The only other recruit of note is Mehdi Abeid, who was signed with a view to developing in the reserves, but already appears to be knocking on the first-team door. Whether that's simply because he's the only one available is open to debate.

What this does mean is that there should be further opportunities for Little Big Lad, Haris Vuckic and Shane Ferguson (which is no bad thing).

However, to my mind, the squad still looks paper-thin, with little back-up across the team (and particularly at the back) and also worryingly short of goals. Maybe this will be the season when Best finally gets a good run of games and proves to everyone that he is a Premier League striker. However, that's a big gamble to take on a player we appeared to consider surplus to requirements a couple of months ago.

With Alan Pardew repeatedly banging on about our need to add a new striker, and our reported attempts to sign anyone who'd scored more than about five goals in Ligue 1 last year, not to mention our bizarre attempt to gazump Fulham for Bryan Ruiz last night, we've still not signed the proven goalscorer which we lost in January and which we are still crying out for. We didn't even manage Federico Macheda on loan, let alone Modibo Maiga or one of the other strikers we were supposedly actively pursuing for much of the summer.

(We were even gazumped by Swansea in our bid to sign defender Darnel Situ from Lens, despite the player scoring twice in a practice match for us earlier in the week.)

Even if you assume Hatem Ben Arfa is going to be fit and in the side at some point this year, and that Dan Gosling might settle down and establish himself as a first-team player for us, we still look low on numbers. However, undoubtedly the most frustrating thing is that we've known since January that we needed a goalscorer, and we've not managed to find one, despite having cash in the bank.

That represents a shocking approach to club management, with Jabba and Llambiarse demonstrating a staggering lack of ambition for the club, and undermining Pardew's attempts to produce a successful (and therefore more marketable) team. I'm not advocating a return to the spend-and-be-damned approach of the Fat Fred years, but some sensible investment in quality players to boost the squad shouldn't be beyond our wit and capability.

Frankly, our approach to recruiting a new striker has been a joke, and it's one which has now worn very thin.