Thursday, March 31, 2011

The full cost of relegation

The full cost of relegation has finally come to light after the publication of the club's accounts (well technically those for Newcastle United Ltd) for the season 2009-10.

Turnover fell by 39% from season 2008-09, down to £52.4 million. This fall was a result of the significant drop off in TV and media revenue, corporate hospitality, season ticket sales and commercial, catering and sponsorship revenue.

Interestingly though, there was a spike in gate receipts - as we recorded the fourth highest average annual attendance in England, despite being in the second tier.

While the wage bill was cut by 24% (largely through sales of high earners such as Obafemi Martins and Damien Duff), wages as a percentage of turnover rose 8% to a staggering 90.6%.

Hopefully this season, with significantly increased TV revenue, that percentage is rapidly on its way back down to a more manageable level.

What the figures also reveal is our indebtedness to Jabba, who continued to bankroll the club through interest-free loans.

The club, naturally, have sought to highlight this in a "Look at us, aren't we being the good guys here, you should be eternally grateful" kind of way while neglecting to add "Of course, we're in this position because we bought the club without carrying out due diligence and we got relegated because of the succession of terrible decisions we made in the boardroom"...

While it's true we do owe them some gratitude (because if Fat Fred had remained, I'm pretty certain we'd be in a Portsmouth-esque financial mess), they nonetheless need to remember that a lot of what has happened since Jabba bought the club has been of his own making.



Bright sparky

It's not often a 19-year-old reserve gets a whole article on the main BBC Football page lavished on them, especially one who hasn't yet kicked a ball for the first team, but that's been the reality for Michael Richardson.

Mike Henson has reported on the incredible progress the dynamic former Walker Central midfielder and trainee electrician has made at Newcastle since impressing on trial last August. Through a winning combination of ability and application Richardson has fast-tracked himself through the ranks and all the way onto the subs' bench for the fixtures against Fulham and Everton.

With the suggestion that chief scout Graham Carr's remit is to identify cheap, young talent abroad, it's heartening to know that we're also keeping an eye on prospective signings closer to home. Richardson may have initially passed under the club's radar, but the common consensus is that a stint in non-league football has actually done him some good.

If he continues to develop at the same rapid rate, then a place in the first team may be within his reach before long - no doubt Jabba would be particularly delighted. But I suspect that, given his recent enthusing about the loan system, Alan Pardew will farm him out somewhere on loan first - Lee Clark's Huddersfield, perhaps?



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Promises, promises

"Mike Ashley has made that commitment that the money will go back into the club. I'm sure 100% that he will and it's my challenge to spend the money wisely." Could I venture, Alan, that you're not really "sure 100%" at all and actually took the opportunity of Monday's platform on Radio Newcastle to remind Jabba publicly of his promises?

After all, he's already reneged on his commitment to you to do everything within his power to keep Rocky at the club, so it wouldn't be a surprise if the transfer kitty you're handed in the summer is just a fraction of that £35m. Best to keep gently alluding to his previous mistakes too, eh, to dissuade him from making another one. (Not that the fans' dissent seems to trouble him much...)

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Deja vu

Foiled by an injury-time goal from Asamoah Gyan - now why does that sound familiar? England's goal in the 1-1 draw with Ghana had come from a lanky pony-tailed bruiser, a meaty left-footed thump from Smoggie Stewart Downing's touch that flew into the net - proof that Liverpool haven't shelled out £35m on a nodding donkey.

Update: It seems that despite scoring his first international goal Fabio Capello wasn't entirely happy with Rocky's display last night (though presumably the Italian's expecting improvement largely in his match fitness than in his general effort). And this after warning our former number nine to cut back on the sauce (advice you'd hope he also had from staff on Tyneside). Clearly he'll need to stay on his toes to impress his national manager.



Monday, March 28, 2011

Our survey said...

I doubt very much that Jabba would have expected to take much pleasure from the recently published results of a survey conducted by his biggest critics, the Newcastle United Supporters' Trust, but there appears to be a grudging acknowledgement that the current hierarchy are righting some of the wrongs of the Fat Fred era.

A hefty 66% of respondents either strongly or "somewhat" agreed that "the Club has done well in controlling costs" and 49% that "the club is financially well run". What's more, 42% strongly or somewhat agreed that "the Club has bought well in the transfer market" - though you have to wonder how much those respondents were swayed by the signing and subsequent displays of one man from the Ivory Coast... (Conversely, the fact that only 22% felt we'd sold well suggests a certain lanky Geordie striker was at the forefront of many respondents' minds.)

However, predictably enough, Jabba will have been less heartened by the rest of the results. Despite the general endorsement of the hierarchy's financial prudence and purchasing policy, a whopping 91% of respondents still declared themselves to be unhappy with "the way the club is being run off the pitch by the current board of Newcastle United", and 82% expressed a lack of confidence in the current board's capability "of making the club a consistently top five Premier League team".

Most damning was the revelation that a staggering 96% disagreed that "the club actively listens to their fans" - the complete lack of communication and dialogue is clearly a huge bugbear for most of us. One of the ways NUST is proposing to improve this is by ensuring fans have a stake in the club and are represented at board level (moves enthusiastically supported by 78% and 85% of respondents respectively).

The results also underline the difficulties facing NUST. On the one hand, respondents were generally keen for there to be town hall-type meetings, local members' meetings and roadshows roughly every three months, for instance - and yet when asked how likely they'd be to attend, the numbers didn't really tally. Perhaps there's a reasonable explanation for this apparent apathy, though - Paul and I are among those who would like to see NUST regularly engage with members and non-members alike, but as exiles stationed at some remove from the North-East, we'd struggle to attend events ourselves.

It's also interesting, given the almost unanimimous dissatisfaction with the current board, that as many as 38% of respondents didn't feel that ousting the incumbents should be one of NUST's key objectives. Does this suggest a feeling of impotence with regard to the status quo, or alternatively a lack of faith in the impact and influence that NUST can have? Either way, it's a figure to give the Trust pause for reflection.

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Drunk in charge

Just in case you missed it, here's the Mirror's Brian McNally claiming to have had a hand in JFK's departure. We'd express gratitude for helping to get rid of the useless arrogant tosser, but it would inflate the hack's hot-air-balloon-sized ego even further.



Sunday, March 27, 2011

Simpson and Smith are wanted men

According to today's People, West Ham and Rangers are set to court two of our players in the summer. In more than three and a half years on Tyneside, Alan Smith has mustered a passable impression of a professional footballer for all of six months, and that at Championship level, so the Scots would be welcome to him and any transfer fee would be a bonus.

The Hammers' alleged pursuit of Danny Simpson is another matter, though. While he's never going to be the Premier League's best right-back, he's usually dependable and solid, with a decent cross. It's hard to see what might tempt him to leave St James' for Upton Park, but, depending on the size of any offer, I suppose there's a chance that Jabba might decide to cash in - particularly if he noted Gateshead manager Ian Bogie's comment that their recent loan signing James Tavernier "can grace the right-back slot for Newcastle United for years to come".

Meanwhile, the Mirror claims we're targeting AZ Alkmaar target man Kolbeinn Sigthorsson. If Brian McNally's to be believed, Graham Carr is intent on going Dutch again following the success of Cheik Tiote's purchase - a wise tactic, I think, when up-and-coming talent and value for money are key.

In other news, former Toon players Scott Parker, James Milner and Craig Bellamy were all involved as England comfortably beat Gary Speed's Wales 2-0 in their European Championships qualifier, though Rocky was declared not fully fit by Fabio Capello and had to be content with being an unused substitute. Matt Jarvis didn't make an appearance either, meaning our pre-match wish went unfulfilled - but there was injury misfortune for our next opponents Wolves elsewhere, Kevin Doyle picking up a potentially season-ending knee injury while on duty for the Republic of Ireland.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Quote of the day

"One issue I have at the football club is that young players should go out and learn their trade professionally at any club sometimes. That loan system works particularly well for that."

Alan Pardew extols the virtues of farming out the youngsters - a stance to be applauded, as there's no substitute for experience.

The player Pardew singled out for particular praise was James Tavernier, who "has done brilliantly at Gateshead – he’s a player that I keep hearing people say ‘I watched him, he was brilliant’. That’s great news. He might be the one that at the start of next year comes through for us out of that group." Or perhaps even sooner than that, given that he's now been recalled to St James' Park in the wake of Saturday's dismal defeat...

As we've said before, though, the loan system has the potential to be a double-edged sword. Fraser Forster may be continuing to gain big match experience at Celtic, unlucky to end up with a loser's medal from last weekend's Scottish League Cup final, but with each game you sense his willingness to return to Tyneside as understudy to both Steve Harper and Tim Krul will be waning, and I see us struggling to hold onto a very promising young 'keeper in the summer.

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Gerv and Jarv on the radar

Today's Mirror is reporting that alleged object of our affections Gervinho is flattered by our interest. The Lille striker, who's helped his side to the top of Ligue 1, is an international teammate of Cheik Tiote, so presumably our man's been putting in a good word for us.

There's no mention of any mooted fee, but I'd doubt he'd be available for any less than £10m. When he left Le Mans for Lille in 2009, he cost 8m euros and since then his stock has risen with a respectable 23 goals in 53 appearances. Given that his real name is Gervais Yao Kouassi, might this be a suitable goal celebration?

Meanwhile, the Metro claimed this week that we're keen on the latest recruit to the England camp, Matt Jarvis. If true, the fact that he's a winger would suggest that thankfully Alan Pardew doesn't intend to persist with the 3-5-2 experiment in the long term.

Jarvis' arrival would threaten the position of Spidermag - there's little doubt about who's supplied the most assists this season. We'll get to take a closer look at him when Wolves visit St James' Park next weekend - though given the form he's in, perhaps we'd do well to hope for him picking up a knock on international duty...

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Clubbers' comedown

So Stephen Ireland and Leon Best have issued an apology for their ill-timed neet oot on the club website. It bears all the hallmarks of having been forced out of them by an angry Alan Pardew, but let's hope Ireland now appreciates the circumstances in which he finds himself and remembers the need to make a good impression rather than just an impression generally...

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Bunch of aaarrrggghhh Sols

Stoke 4 - 0 Newcastle

Another defeat, and this time one to really set alarm bells ringing. Saturday saw us mauled by a Stoke side commonly characterised as a one-tactic team - but nullifying the threat posed by Rory Delap was about the only thing we got right all afternoon.

Very few of the players can claim to have done themselves justice, but the brunt of the blame has to lie with Alan Pardew. The 3-5-2 didn't work against Everton and ASBO was back to take up his place on the right side of our usual 4-4-2 - but our manager, in his wisdom, still insisted on selecting three central defenders, with wing-backs flanking a three-man central midfield. If Pardew thought the reason the experiment hadn't worked against Moyes' men was the personnel, then this will have been a rude awakening - Sol Campbell, drafted in for Steven Taylor, must have been embarrassed at being made to look the very epitome of a pedestrian, washed-up, waistband-elastic-botherer as Stoke's sub-stellar talents tore us apart.

There had been bad news even before our hosts took the lead. I should have known better than to detect the beginnings of "a new pragmatic caution with regard to rehabilitation". Jose Enrique, who hobbled off in the first half against the Toffees, was once again back in the dressing room before the break. Chalk that up as something else Pardew got very, very wrong - though in truth his replacement Shane Ferguson at least gave a good account of himself.

We were 1-0 down shortly afterwards, Jermaine Pennant's deflected cross from the right glanced past Steve Harper by Jonathan Walters. This roused us into a modicum of action, but a pair of half-chances went unconverted and the half-time whistle blew with no further additions to the scoreline. Before the second period was five minutes old, though, there had been two - and neither of them in our favour.

First Steve Harper made an uncharacteristic but horrific error, dithering when he should have put his foot through the ball. Ex-5under1and striker Kenwyne Jones robbed him and Matthew Etherington crossed for fellow winger Pennant to score from close range. An unsighted Harper didn't stand much of a chance three minutes later, Danny Higginbotham's free-kick rocketing into the roof of the net from distance.

Pardew belatedly abandoned the 3-5-2, Spidermag coming on for Campbell, while Peter Lovenkrands made way for the unpredictability of Nile Ranger. We improved as a result - though that wouldn't have been hard. ASBO would have emulated Higginbotham were it not for a flying save from Asmir Begovic, and the Potters' Bosnian custodian also denied Ferguson after a splendid solo run that put his more seasoned teammates' pitiful efforts to shame.

But there were two more blows to come, both struck by substitute Ricardo Fuller's boot. The first was an off-the-ball hoof on ASBO which went unpunished other than with a lecture. It had to be the Jamaican, then, who completed the scoring in injury time, running onto a long ball and lashing past Harper.

That's now one win in nine, and although we've actually been playing better than that suggests this was as poor as a display as we've put in all year - and at a crucial time of the season, when teams below us were busy picking up points. Just four points now separate us from Wolves in 18th - fail to win at home to them in a fortnight's time (which we'll have to do without Cheik Tiote, recipient of a two-match ban for his tenth yellow card of the season) and we really will be in serious trouble.

A Stoke fan's perspective: The Rock 'N' Roll Oatcake

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Club's clubbers caught on camera

So, does Stephen Ireland's neediness stretch to needing the freedom to have a night out on the tiles? An unusual injury cure for Ireland (and Leon Best), to be sure, though not a novel one - Rocky having pioneered it at the start of the year...

Not the actions of a man aware he needs to impress to win a contract - and he'd do well to remember that he's not likely to be welcome back at Villa Park if a deal doesn't materialise...

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Reaction times

Man City striker Mario Balotelli's not having a particularly good time of it at the moment, is he? Not only was he red-carded for a nasty kick in Thursday's Europa League game against Dynamo Kiev, which ultimately cost his club a place in the next round, but he's incapable of putting a bib on and, even worse, is apparently allergic to grass. Which does make you wonder: are Messrs Ireland and Gosling also allergic to the pitch?

That got me speculating about what other unusual allergies might be diagnosed among those in and around St James' Park. Wayne Routledge seems to be allergic to Premier League football, Alan Smith to usefulness, Sol Campbell to scales and Jabba to leaving things be when everything's looking rosy...

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Secret agent?

It's a truth universally acknowledged - or, at least, within the world of football - that when the Guardian's dirt-digger-in-chief David Conn starts looking in the direction of your club, intent on satiating his appetite for dodgy dealings and regulatory misdemeanours, trouble lies ahead. By turning over a few stones, Conn almost invariably uncovers some truths that the powers that be would prefer remained hidden.

The most recent focus of his attention has been the circumstances behind Rocky's deadline day transfer to Liverpool - and, not surprisingly, he smells a rat. The result is a long and complicated article, painstakingly worded (no doubt at the behest of the paper's lawyers). To summarise, though, Rocky stands accused of bypassing FA regulations prohibiting him from being represented by an agent (his old agent, Peter Harrison, having been unceremoniously given the boot) by instead getting Liverpool to engage someone on his behalf - a conspiracy in which the Scousers willingly colluded to speed the deal through.

It'll be interesting to see the outcome of any formal investigation into the affair, but the allegations have little real bearing on my stance towards the deal. £35m is an enormous sum of money, too much to turn down, and so it's hardly as though we should feel aggrieved if any wrongdoing is proven. Don't get me wrong, I was deeply disappointed to see Rocky leave - but, ultimately, we got what was more than a fair price in return for our most valuable asset and it would be difficult to argue we were swindled, duped or cheated. If that's true of anyone, it's Chelsea, for whom Fernando Torres continues to look worth about £50 rather than £50m...



Tuesday, March 15, 2011


We've not been very kind to Shefki Kuqi round these parts, and I continue to maintain that his was a post-Rocky panic signing that reeks of desperation - but if we do find ourselves in a relegation dogfight then, as a recent BBC interview underlined, we'll have at our disposal a player who's already had to remain resilient in the face of far more traumatic hardship.



Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ryan key to Monkey business

On-loan midfielder/forward Ryan Donaldson seems to be enjoying his temporary spell with Hartlepool, if yesterday's events are anything to go by. He made a vital contribution for the Monkey Hangers' first goal as showed no mercy in knocking League One's current crisis club Plymouth back to the foot of the table.

Donaldson is just one of several Toon youngsters reaping the rewards of Alan Pardew's belief in the value of loaning players out, but an older beneficiary is Wayne Routledge. Like Donaldson, he too was instrumental in helping his loan side to victory, playing in his captain Adel Taarabt who was subsequently fouled for the penalty with which Heidar Helguson opened the scoring against Crystal Palace. Routledge's QPR ran out 2-1 winners, extending their lead at the top of the Championship to ten points as their nearest rivals all once again stumbled - a potentially priceless advantage, with the threat of a points deduction hanging heavily over them.



Friday, March 11, 2011

Unfit for purpose

What odds Shefki Kuqi getting more game time for us this season than much more vaunted signings Stephen Ireland, Hatem Ben Arfa and Dan Gosling? Short and getting shorter by the day.

Alan Pardew suggested yesterday that we're keen on securing Ireland's services on a permanent basis - though, of course, he's got to make it off the treatment table and onto the pitch in Toon colours first. That long-awaited first appearance looks to have been deferred again with the news that he's now picked up a thigh strain - partly the result, Pardew conceded, of our eagerness to rush him back: "I think we're at fault a little bit". Just another instance of self-inflicted damage, given that exactly the same fate befell Gosling - ten minutes as a substitute at the Stadium of Shite and he's not been seen since.

But might we actually be learning from our mistakes? Pardew has also dampened optimism that Ben Arfa might make a return to action before the end of the current campaign, arguing that "the most important thing is Hatem is 100% when he plays". A case of the stable door being bolted long after at least a couple of horses have galloped off into the distance, but hopefully it might mark the advent of a new pragmatic caution with regard to rehabilitation.

In fairness to Pardew, though, you can understand his desperation to get players back. We're likely to be without all of the above trio for the trip to Stoke, plus ASBO, possibly Spidermag and the suspended Ryan Taylor. Presumably there's no recall clause in the loan deal that took Wayne Routledge to QPR, or else we would have exacerbated their woes and brought him back to Tyneside by now. A shame, as he's rediscovered his mojo back at his old Loftus Road stamping ground and could have been a useful asset in our hour of need.

(Incidentally, also of interest among Pardew's comments about Ireland was the claim that "he needs to know he is important and he could be here. If he doesn't feel important he doesn't play his best." Arrogance is one thing, but a lack of self-confidence and an ego in constant need of flattery is arguably a more worrying trait in a player.)

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Neighbourhood watch

According to recent research, the North East really is the footballing hotbed it's regularly claimed to be. County Durham contributes more players to the Premier League pool than any other county, more than nine per 100,000 of its population. Tyne & Wear and Northumberland also make the top ten, in fifth and eighth respectively.

If there's a message to be taken from this, it's that there's plenty of talent on our doorstep if only we look closely enough. The region might be good at nurturing good young footballers, but our club needs to do a better job of identifying, recruiting and retaining the best of them rather than allowing many to be poached from under our noses.

The recently-crowned winner of Sport Newcastle's Sports Personality of the Year award, Kevin Nolan, isn't a local lad, though he does hail from another hotbed, Merseyside, which placed third in the list. Speaking at the Civic Centre ceremony, our skipper commented: "I feel very humble, speechless, really. When you find out you are up for this award you think, ‘What have I done to deserve that?’" Well, Kev, let's just say it's more for that hat-trick against the Great Unwashed rather than what you got up to afterwards...

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A Month Of Saturdays: February 2011

February began with the fallout from Rocky's record-breaking deadline-day transfer to Liverpool - an undignified and childish public spat between the club, who seemed unwilling to concede that they had been desperate to take the cash, and the player, who it transpired had tried to renegotiate his contract just weeks after inking a new improved five-year deal. Each sought to conceal that they'd got what they wanted - Jabba the hefty transfer fee and Rocky a whacking great pay increase, albeit at the cost of leaving his hometown club.

But even though our former number nine and his foster father both attempted to draw a line under the affair, we initially found it difficult to move on. In our first fixture since Rocky's exit, we slumped to a defeat as abject as any we've suffered this season, looking bereft not only of ideas and quality but (arguably more worryingly) also of fight and guts. To compound matters, Rocky's most natural stand-in Big Lad had his cheekbone staved in by a Fulham elbow, and the fact that the Cottagers' winning goal was scored by Damien Duff only rubbed salt into the wound.

What happened next was truly remarkable. Not so much the first half of the home game with Arsenal, during which we picked up where we left off at Craven Cottage and served ourselves up like suicidal mint-sauce-slathered lambs to the slaughter, but the second period, when we demonstrated what can be achieved with pure belief and determination, even against the best footballing side in the division. King Kev turned 60 later in the month, and the match was a glorious throwback to his first spell in charge.

One Gunners red card, two penalties from ASBO, a close-range finish from Best and - to cap it all - a spectacular long-range volley from Cheik Tiote saw us become the first side in Premier League history to claw a way back heroically from a four-goal deficit to claim a share of the spoils. Forget Rocky, we had a new talisman in the form of the Ivorian, who had returned from suspension for the game and ran the length of the pitch to celebrate his first goal in black and white. Afterwards, as everyone tried and failed to catch their breaths, uncharitable Arsenal fans took after their club's manager in whingeing that the afternoon's key man was actually referee Phil Dowd, but - given he was also in charge for the League Cup victory at Stamford Bridge and the thumping of 5under1and - it's fair to say the tubby little attention-seeker's becoming something of a lucky mascot.

Wisely, Alan Pardew didn't sit around basking in the glory of having delivered an inspirational half-time team-talk, instead acknowledging that those four goals shouldn't detract from our paucity of striking options. The transfer window may have closed but that didn't stop us scouring the globe for free agents. Among those we wanted was World Cup and European Championship winner and former Gunners legend Thierry Henry - but the player we actually got was of a rather different calibre: portly second-tier journeyman Shefki Kuqi. Pardew declared later in the month that the demands made of him by Jabba meant "I have to bring players here of a good age who can add value"; quite how signing the Finn fitted in with this policy is anyone's guess. It was the equivalent of rummaging around in the fridge and coming up with a mouldy cabbage and a six-week-old pint of milk. I'd suggest we might have been better off with Stephane Guivarc'h and his mysterious apostrophe, though that really would be being unkind to Kuqi.

He made his debut as a late substitute against a former club, Blackburn. Ultimately the outcome was the same as the previous weekend - a respectable point, though we arguably deserved better - but the match itself was a marked contrast to the extraordinary contest with Arsenal. Peter Lovenkrands hit the bar and Sideshow Bob came close to bagging another volley to go with that collector's item at home to Spurs, but that was about the sum total of the excitement.

Better was to follow three days later with an impressively disciplined and decisive victory over soon-to-be-crowned League Cup winners Birmingham, whose starting line-up and bench were populated by a whole host of former friends and foes equally desperate to do us over. Thankfully, the evening's star man was Spidermag, who for once provided consistently excellent delivery from the left flank, Lovenkrands and Best the grateful beneficiaries at the start of each half.

So in a sense it was disappointing that we couldn't manage to repeat the feat at home to Bolton, especially having taken the lead. Off the pitch, responsibility seems an alien concept to former Trotter Nolan; on it, though, he continues to take the duties of captaincy seriously. But his goal was cancelled out by Daniel Sturridge, and when Ryan Taylor was red-carded we looked vulnerable and ultimately had to be content with a solitary point.

As ever, Tiote was at the heart of things, crossing for Nolan's header though also at fault for Bolton's equaliser. He's professed a love of life on Tyneside, but it remains to be seen whether the staggering new six-and-a-half-year deal we subsequently handed the midfielder signalled a determination to retain him or was rather more cynically calculated to ensure we can milk the "big boys" for as much as possible in the summer.

Jose Enrique's future was also the subject of speculation in February, not least because his own talks about a new contract are on ice until our Premier League status is confirmed. Like Tiote, the Spaniard has been one of our best players this campaign, and so reports (since denied) that he was critical of our performances and described interest from Liverpool, Man Utd and Villa as "flattering" were disconcerting.

Still, as a fan it's probably better to be disconcerted than to be berated by your own chairman for not attending games and potentially costing the club its stars...



Monday, March 07, 2011

Stuck in the middle with you

Newcastle 1 - 2 Everton

Another Saturday, another case of points dropped at home. Following last week's ultimately satisfactory draw with Bolton, a makeshift side registered a disappointing defeat to another of our mid-table rivals.

Deprived of the services of ASBO through injury and Ryan Taylor through suspension, Alan Pardew sprang a surprise by opting to switch formation as well as personnel. The tried-and-trusted 4-4-2 was set to one side in favour of a 3-5-2, with Steven Taylor coming in as a third central defender. In the absence of our two best crossers from the right wing, the theory - I guess - was to give our full-backs the best opportunity to get forwards in wide areas.

Everton weren't without their own selection difficulties, however. The loss of the ever-dangerous Tim Cahill was very welcome, while Marouane Fellaini's injury meant Sideshow Bob's claim to the day's most ludicrous barnet went unchallenged. Unfortunately, though, David Moyes was still able to call upon mercurial midfielder Mikel Arteta, and that was to prove instrumental to the visitors' cause - we had no real answer to the Spanish inquisition.

Arteta had already asked a question of Steve Harper in the form of a fierce shot when we took the lead with our first attack of the afternoon. Spidermag, Mike Williamson and Kevin Nolan were all involved in the build-up, and when Tim Howard attempted to palm our skipper's shot wide, the American 'keeper merely took the sting off it for the predatory Leon Best to nod home. That's six goals for the season now from a player few of us thought would be remotely up to the task at this level.

Not to be deterred, Everton dusted themselves down and before long grabbed an equaliser. Despite the earlier warning signs that he might exploit uncertainties and gaps in our new formation, Arteta was gifted time and space to pick out Leon Osman, who passed the ball firmly past Harper. And five minutes later it got worse, Leighton Baines' devilishly whipped free-kick bisecting Harper and his backpedalling defence for Phil Jagielka to send the ball crashing into the net.

Pardew's experiment looked to have blown up in his face, and when Jose Enrique limped off before the half-time interval - fingers crossed he's not a long-term casualty - the manager chose to revert to our more familiar line-up with a masked Big Lad joining Best up front and Peter Lovenkrands pushed wide.

Everton's strikeforce, meanwhile, consisted of one ex-Toon player, Louis Saha, and one ex-Toon target, Jermaine Beckford - also the player whose heavy challenge in the away fixture saw Harper sidelined for months. Time and again both came close to haunting us, our only salvation being a precious combination of wastefulness, bad luck and good goalkeeping.

Shane Ferguson, a replacement for Taylor on 65 minutes, did enough to suggest that we might possibly be able to cope without Enrique, but Everton continued to threaten on the break even as we began exerting greater pressure on them. Only partially mindful of his responsibilities as captain, Nolan had two efforts on goal blocked but was also booked for a tete-a-tete with substitute Victor Anichebe. The out-of-court settlement over Nolan's February 2009 challenge may have been concluded during the week, but clearly there remains some bad blood between the pair.

Best was unfortunate that a headed equaliser was disallowed, referee Howard Webb ruling generously in favour of the visitors who had claimed a foul on Jagielka. The Republic of Ireland international can also feel hard done by at having to make way for blunderbuss Shefki Kuqi on 85 minutes, when we might have been better served keeping him on with Big Lad and instead swapping the fatigued legs of Lovenkrands or Spidermag for the energy and guile of the fit-again Danny Guthrie. As it was, Everton held out without much trouble.

We remain in ninth despite the defeat - but that's deceptive, as Everton are now level on points with a game in hand and Fulham, after their late win over Blackburn, just a point behind. It would feel like stagnation if it wasn't for the fact that in real terms we've actually gone backwards, the relegation zone having inched closer and the buffer between ourselves and Birmingham in 18th now standing at only six points.

It's imperative we get something from our next two fixtures, away to Stoke and home to Wolves - but at least we have the consolation of knowing that those two games are spaced out over four weeks and that the congestion in the treatment room should start to ease soon as a result.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Friday, March 04, 2011

Quote of the day

"Mike couldn't get his head round what the football world is about in terms of some of the finances needed - it just doesn't make sense at times. The finances of the football club are so complicated and Mike and Derek are starting to understand and learn from experiences - having made errors."

Alan Pardew, speaking on talkSPORT, hints at what we all know - namely, that Jabba wishes his due diligence checks before buying the club had been rather more thorough. Not even being a successful businessman is a guarantee of being able to comprehend our financial affairs.

On the subject of crazy money, the Sun are reporting that, according to our 2009/10 business plan, in the summer after relegation we valued Rocky at £34m less than we eventually sold him for. Of course his stock rose sharply over the course of the season and a half which followed, but it still underlines that the size of the eventual transfer fee couldn't really be sniffed at.

The business plan also reveals that some players we'd earmarked to keep were nevertheless sold when the opportunity arose (Damien Duff, Sebastian Bassong, Habib Beye) while many we were desperate to flog remained on the books (Sideshow Bob, Spidermag, ASBO, Alan Smith, Jose Enrique). If Rocky's transfer fee reflects well on Jabba, then this doesn't - we might have been prepared to give him credit for keeping the right players to get us promoted, but the fact that the club's sell-and-retain wishlist bore little resemblance to what actually happened indicates that it was less a matter of careful strategy and more of good fortune.

Meanwhile, if you can smell burning, I wouldn't worry - it'll just be the result of Stephen Ireland torching his bridges with Villa in some style, claiming to be unwanted by manager Gerard Houllier and declaring Birmingham to be "a rubbish town". Suffice to say that when his loan period at St James' ends, he's unlikely to be welcomed back with open arms (though you should probably expect him to waffle on about his comments being taken out of context any minute now...). Ireland often talks the talk but in the last couple of seasons has rarely walked the walk - it's time for him to shake off that niggling injury and prove he's not lost the ability that made him Man City's best player.

And finally, Everton's Victor Anichebe has won his out-of-court case against us, having claimed compensation for a tackle by Kevin Nolan in February 2009 which left him sidelined and saw our current skipper red-carded. Just in time to spice things up nicely ahead of tomorrow's rerun, for which Anichebe and Nolan will both be in their respective squads...

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Quote of the day

"I saw an interview with Alan Pardew afterwards where he said he hoped to get some of the £35million and I thought, 'Alan, you ain't going to get any of that'."

King Kev gives Jabba another public poke in the eye on Radio 5, while also implying that his latest successor might be a little naive.

Analysing the sale of Rocky in the context of the deal which saw James Milner leave St James' Park, our two-time former boss stressed his insistence that a replacement should be secured before the outward transfer was concluded. When that insistence was ignored, Keegan himself walked - and the lack of any decent contingency plan in the wake of Rocky's departure indicates that lessons still haven't been learned.

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East End boys