Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cab for Cabaye?

Interesting news from France, where Lille coach Rudi Garcia has revealed that Yohan Cabaye is set to join us. The midfielder has been instrumental in what has been a memorable season for the club, who claimed the league and cup double ahead of the more feted likes of Lyon and Marseille. The price tag is reported to be £4.3m - not bad for a full French international. Of course, the move for a defensively-minded midfielder would raise serious questions about Mr T's future at the club - might we be about to cash in on the Ivorian, on the strength of his superb first campaign in English football?

Whether Mr T stays on Tyneside or not, he's unlikely to find himself lining up alongside compatriot Gervinho. The striker, currently a team-mate of Cabaye, is a wanted man across Europe, but Garcia has declared that he won't be sold. Meanwhile, another forward with whom we've been linked, Blackburn's youthful livewire Junior Hoilett, also won't be leaving his current employers without a fight. (Incidentally, on the subject of strikers, it's hard to believe that Giuseppe Rossi, who had an undistinguished loan spell with us, might now be moving to the newly crowned European Cup holders for a staggering £40m...)

In other news, Sebastien Larsson is among a clutch of out-of-contract players released by relegated Birmingham, and I wouldn't be surprised if we make an approach for the unattached midfielder shortly. As well as new recruits, we've also moved to secure the long-term services of one of our brightest youth prospects, Shane Ferguson, who's been handed a five-year deal. (Credit to the BBC picture researcher for managing to find a phenomenally unflattering photo of the lad...)

Finally, commiserations to Lee Clark and Terry Mac's Huddersfield, whose third-placed finish counted for nowt as they were beaten in the League One play-off final by yo-yo entertainers Peterborough. Here's hoping Clarkie's side make it up to the Championship next season.

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Monday, May 30, 2011


At the risk of making a twit of himself, ASBO (@Joey7Barton) has now joined the ranks of Mags on Twitter.

To begin with it was all pretty innocuous as he indulged in some "banter" with the odious Piers Morgan, and posted some pictures of his racehorses, but then yesterday he appeared to lift the lid on the contract dispute.

In his own words: "I cant sign a contract if am not offered one?"

That was followed by "I will tell all when the time is right, basically they want a younger, better, cheaper player ......... cant blame Mike and Derek can you?"

"....... slight problem is they dont want to spend any money or pay any wages. Its genius really ha ha"

"I am an employee so have to be careful here. Everyone knows i'd love to stay, i get on with Pardew fine and are dressing room are 1st class.."

"if am not offered a new contract, my hand are tied. I will continue to do everything in my power to bring a trophy to St James next season"

So it would seem (and obviously this is only one side of the discussion) that our cost-cutting drive continues at the expense of one of our best players last season, and ASBO's days on Tyneside look numbered.

Of course, this could just be the latest agent-driven negotiating tactic in the ongoing contract discussion. It's difficult not to be a bit cynical when the timing of the player's account is so closely linked with the press statements regarding the contractual impasse.

Elsewhere on Twitter, our young guns are well represented with Sammy Ameobi (@Sammy_Ameobi), Kazenga LuaLua (@KazLuaLua), Shane Ferguson (@shane_fergie) and Ole Soderberg (@Oliinho) joining ASBO, Danny Simpson (@dannysimpson12), Dan Gosling (@dangosling15), Nile Ranger @NilePowerRanger) and Spidermag (@elgalgojonas) in telling the world where they are and what they had for tea.

Of course, if you want tweets that are less about Nandos and more about the football, you can also follow @blackwhiterao  #shamelessplug

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Friday, May 27, 2011

View from the Home End: looking forwards

A second season of top-flight football successfully secured - though not without a few thrills and spills along the way - and we now find ourselves at a crossroads: do we invest in new players who can help us to push on towards a top-ten finish next season, or do we keep the purse-strings tight and the bank manager happy but run a greater risk of relegation?

As Paul pointed out in his end-of-season review, for a variety of reasons twelfth place was essentially achieved with the addition of just one player to the squad which lifted last season's Championship trophy: Mr T. Might that fact make Jabba less inclined to get out the chequebook, despite Alan Pardew's pleas for players? I'd agree with the manager that the current squad has, by and large, done a sterling job, but in football (as in most things) if you stand still for too long, you'll soon find yourself going backwards. With all those around us likely to improve their squads, we surely can't gamble on lightning striking twice.

Certainly Pardew doesn't think so, underlining our need for quality, particularly in creative areas. While he'll be able to welcome Hatem Ben Arfa back in pre-season, this also explains our attempts to woo the Zog back to Tyneside. It'll be interesting to see what happens if (or, more likely, when) someone tries to prise Adel Taarabt away from newly promoted QPR, but one player who should definitely be on our radar in this respect is Niko Kranjcar. The midfielder has found himself in the shadow of fellow Croatian Luka Modric at Spurs, and out of favour with his manager - so the prospect of regular first-team football would, you hope, appeal. Kranjcar's team-mate David Bentley is probably also available for a knock-down fee, but he didn't exactly pull up any trees when handed a great opportunity to kickstart his career at Birmingham.

We could also perhaps take a serious look at another Spurs player, Jermain Defoe, who has been forced out of regular action by 'Appy 'Arry's determination to construct his team around Rafael van der Vaart. A proportion of the Rocky cash has to be invested in a new striker, but we don't necessarily need someone in the same mould - in Big Lad and Leon Best we already have target men, albeit markedly less effective ones. What we could actually use is a quick, nippy, goal-getting striker in the mould of Andy Cole, ex-Mackem Darren Bent and two of this season's surprise hits, Javier Hernandez and Peter Odemwingie, to contribute 15 a season. Defoe would fit the bill perfectly, though he wouldn't come as cheap as Jabba would like. Reading's Shane Long, with whom we've been linked, would be a cheaper alternative, but the Irishman is as yet untried at Premier League level and might prefer to stay with the Royals if they win promotion by beating Swansea in Monday's play-off final.

If that does come to pass, then we could do worse than look at one or two Swans players - Scott Sinclair and Ashley Williams in particular. Staying in South Wales, it won't have escaped the club's attention that Cardiff striker Jay Bothroyd (who could perhaps do a passable impression of Rocky) has been released, along with winger Chris Burke, in the wake of their play-off exit.

As ever, the vultures will be circling around the three relegated clubs, and we shouldn't be any exception (even if we do appear to be focusing our scouting efforts on France and the Netherlands in the hope of picking up quality imports on the cheap). On the one hand, it might look like cheap opportunism, kicking West Ham, Birmingham and Blackpool while they're down - but in actual fact, their predicament is such that all three will be grateful just to get some of their highest earners and most profitable assets sold, even if that's for less than they might have liked. The cream of the crop - namely Scott Parker and Charlie Adam - are out of our reach, while given our relative riches between the sticks, it would be wasteful to splash out on either Rob Green or Ben Foster, decent 'keepers though they are.

The Hammers have a few players who might expect to find Premier League homes for next season - Demba Ba, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Mark Noble, Frederic Piquionne, Carlton Cole. Personally, though, I'd hope we might train our attention on Birmingham centre-back Roger Johnson (ahead of Matthew Upson). Steven Taylor has probably played himself into a starting position for the opening fixture of the new season, partnering Sideshow Bob ahead of Mike Williamson, but another commanding and assured defender (albeit one who's not enjoyed the best of campaigns, deprived of regular companion Scott Dann) would be a useful addition. There's a chance we'll follow up our interest in free agent Sebastien Larsson, too. Just as long as we don't have to welcome Stephen Carr or Lee Bowyer - or Kieron Dyer, for that matter - back to St James' Park...

So much for strengthening the squad - it's worth pointing out that just keeping hold of what we've already got will be a potentially more significant challenge. Bids seem imminent for Jose Enrique, while the more admirers Mr T amasses the more savvy (if cynical) getting him to sign a six-and-a-half-year deal in February seems. And now ASBO has dropped the bombshell that contract negotiations have broken down, so we can expect him either to leave on a free or (more likely) in a cut-price deal this summer.

I don't accept the argument that, in view of Rocky's sale, we're now a selling club - that was a truly exceptional case in which we managed to drive the fee up to a level which no club could have sensibly refused. However, if any of this trio are allowed to leave without much of a fight, then I'll be joining Enrique and ASBO in questioning the club's ambition. I don't think we could begrudge Enrique or Mr T a move to a top-six side - both have been tremendous this season - but that doesn't mean I wouldn't be deeply disappointed to see it happen. By contrast, it would be no great loss if the likes of Ryan Taylor and James Perch followed Shefki Kuqi and Sol Campbell out of the door.

In addition to trying to bring in reinforcements without losing the current foundations and load-bearing pillars of the team, Pardew also faces a very difficult decision as regards which 'keeper should be Steve Harper's understudy and which should go out on loan. The later stages of the Chelsea game indicated that we have sufficient talented, young outfield players to be optimistic about the future, but they would all benefit from regular game-time for a lower league outfit. Pardew agrees, so it's really just a question of destination. The general destination of the club may depend on them in the long term, but in the short it's down to Jabba.



Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Two hit the road as ASBO eyes exit

Today bought confirmation that Shefki Kuqi and Sol Campbell have both taken their sizeable frames away from St James' Park, the former moving on with Pardew's ringing endorsement that some of the region's lower league teams should take a look at him.

Without wanting to criticise the player, who reports suggest has been an amiable presence around the club, the fact that Pardew is touting him to teams in the lower leagues clearly illustrates something we all knew back when he signed - simply that Kuqi isn't really good enough for the Premier League (certainly not at this stage of his career).

On the subject of departures, the more important piece of news emerging today is that ASBO has failed to reach agreement with the club on a new contract, and with one year left on his current deal it means that the player could hold on for a year and leave for free next summer, or alternatively that the club might feel compelled to sell him now to recoup some money.

Of course, the same issue arose with Steven Taylor last year, with the central defender eventually signing a new contract last December. So, with agent Willie McKay on board, this could all just be a game of brinkmanship with the club.

What it does do is increase the pressure on the club to bring in some quality sooner rather than later, to demonstrate to ASBO, Enrique et al that this is a club with ambition and which plans on challenging higher up the league next season.

On the one hand, ASBO has been a real asset for us this year, with a string of excellent performances on the pitch. However, in the balance goes the previous years of his contract when he was either in jail, injured, suspended or out of form. As you'll no doubt have realised if you've followed this blog for any length of time, we aren't his number one fans, so don't expect to see us crying into our pints when he eventually leaves.

If he is to go, I'd rather he didn't simply leave when his contract expired, and like any contract negotiation, part of me is disgusted by the avarice displayed by players who readily demonstrate that they don't care about clubs or fans, but only about their bank balances. (However, I do accept that as a player you only have a brief career and generally speaking most people want to maximise their income when they're working.)

What it almost certainly means is a summer in which we read of ASBO being linked with every club under the sun until he either signs a new contract or someone makes a decent offer for him and we cash in.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

View from the Home End: end-of-season reflections

As the curtain falls on another league campaign, it falls to me to look back at the season as a whole and provide my thoughts, before Ben picks up the baton later in the week and casts his eye ahead at what we need to do to move forward.

So, first things first: how will 2010-11 be remembered?

Generally, I think we'd all say we were pretty satisfied with how we fared, and truthfully if someone had offered us twelfth back last August, I think we'd all have jumped at that.

The problems which condemned us to relegation two years ago (egos, infighting, complacency) were all conspicuously absent and the team of players who appeared week in week out worked hard enough for each other to ensure that we ended up safe with a couple of weeks to spare (and to think it all started with a dodgy moustache).

Tellingly, whilst we recruited the much-needed full-back (James Perch), centre-back (Sol Campbell), two attackers (Dan Gosling and Hatem Ben Arfa) and defensive midfielder (Mr T) last summer, only Mr T enjoyed any meaningful pitch time, with the rest either out of their depth, overweight or injured.

Essentially, the team which kept us up was the same one that got us promoted last time out, with one stellar exception.  Whilst others may have drawn more headlines this season, the reality is that time and time again Mr T stood out as the rock around which our entire team was built and his acquisition for a paltry £3.5m last summer is rightly hailed as one of the transfers of the season.

Elsewhere, our Spanish-speaking trio have all enjoyed far better seasons in the top flight than the last time they were here, with Enrique and Sideshow Bob forming part of a solid looking defence and Spidermag producing a greater end product which allowed our strikers to score plenty of goals.

Up front, Rocky was head and shoulders above the rest until that fateful January day and his early season goals went a long way to ensuring we remained reasonably clear of the relegation dogfight for much of the season. The gamble taken in selling him looks to have paid off, and with £35m in the bank, plus prize money from finishing twelfth, a bucket load of Sky cash and the income derived from season ticket and shirt sales, it's to be hoped that Alan Pardew is well supported in the transfer market this summer.

The sacking of Chris Hughton was disappointing, as he'd done nothing wrong, and Jabba's undermining of him and refusal to countenance a longer-term contract or appoint an assistant manager was the worst example of the owner meddling in team affairs. The decision to appoint Pardew on a five-and-a-half year deal was also slightly baffling, but so far so good for the new man (albeit I'm not convinced that we have performed notably better under his stewardship than that of his predecessor).

On the field, only Wayne Routledge and Perch looked to be Championship performers desperately out of their depth at this level, although our youngsters look as if they would all benefit from more game time, possibly on loan next year (something Pardew has indicated he's more than happy to countenance).

Perhaps tellingly, when I predicted how I thought the final league table would look, with a couple of minor tweaks, I accurately picked the top nine. This doesn't suggest you should take my suggestions for lottery numbers for this Saturday seriously, but simply that as a division the cream of the Premier League does rise to the top. Equally, the fact that the accuracy of my predictions tails off as you get down the division - and a look at the actual points totals accrued by teams over last season backs this up - is that there are a lot of teams with very little to choose between them (as one point between tenth and fourteenth demonstrates). Through a combination of skill and application, and despite the twin setbacks of sacking the manager and selling our top striker, we managed to establish a foothold in the league and mix it with all the other mediocre top-flight teams.

Overall then, a good season which at times threatened to be even better and included a number of stand-out results (the 5-1 humiliation of Ol' Cauliflower Face, Arsenal home and away, Villa at home). However, the sale of Rocky inevitably demonstrated a limit to our ambitions this time out.

Looking ahead, if we are to progress and push on to challenge for a top-half finish and possibly enjoy a decent cup run or two, we need to show more ambition to keep our stars and attract some new ones, something we'll be expanding on later this week.



Monday, May 23, 2011

Tchoyi's 'trick poops end-of-season party

Newcastle Utd 3 - 3 West Bromwich Albion

A second-half fightback by the Baggies saw honours finish even at St James' Park on Sunday and, as a consequence of results elsewhere, ensured we finished 12th in our first season back in the top flight.

With Spidermag sidelined, Pardew brought Danny Guthrie back into the starting eleven but otherwise resisting the temptation to throw a host of youngsters into the fray from the off.

As it was, the match had a distinctly end-of-season feel to it, with both sides guilty of some sloppy defending at times. Firstly, it was Newcastle who capitalised, with Steven Taylor scoring his third goal in as many games with a smart turn and shot from close range.

Peter Lovenkrands too benefited from some poor play by the visitors, with 'keeper Scott Carson allowing the Dane's shot to go through his arms and over the line before he scrambled it back to safety.

Two up at half-time, and when Jose Enrique's fine cross was turned into his own net by Jonas Olsson at the start of the second half the game should have been over. However, at that point several members of the team appeared to mentally board their holiday flights, and we allowed the Baggies to come back into things.

First Somen Tchoyi beat the offside trap and, finding himself in acres of space, fired past Tim Krul. Then Tchoyi again fired home after stepping past Sideshow Bob. Finally, Tchoyi completed his hat-trick in the final minute, heading home from Olsson's left-wing cross to ensure the Baggies and 5under1and both finished one point above us in the table.

A disappointing end to the match, and the season, perhaps, but hopefully a timely reminder to all concerned that we're a side in need of investment over the summer if we're to kick on next year.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Turks to take Toon target?

So it now looks very much as though Johan Elmander's spell at Bolton will be coming to an end this summer, with even manager Owen Coyle effectively openly admitting defeat in the battle to tie him down to a new contract. But we'd be well advised to avoid getting our hopes up of signing the Swede, who's been on our radar for some time now, because Turkish giants Galatasaray have claimed on their website to have an "understanding in principle" with him. Still, it's not a done deal yet so we'll presumably continue to monitor developments.

Meanwhile, Kevin Nolan has paid much-deserved tribute to physios Derek "Thunder Thighs" Wright and David Henderson for "managing to get me out on the pitch as many times as they did". The pair must be the most overworked people at the club...

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Health club

The Guardian's David Conn's done his doctorly duties, taking our pulse and asking us to stick out our tongue and say "Ah", and pronounced us to be in rude good health - at least in terms of money, and in relation to our top-flight rivals. How novel to be able to say that.

Of course, it could have been so different if our gamble on retaining some of our high wage-earners in the Championship hadn't paid off with an immediate return to the Premier League - but it did, and in most other financial respects Jabba's shown himself to be prudent and risk-averse. Conn points to his interest-free loans to the club as key in helping to stabilise our finances, while the situation can only have improved since the period from which the figures come - we once again have a Premier League club's income and with a lower wage bill than 2008/9, and we've banked £35m from the sale of Rocky.

Again, then, we're confronted with that dichotomy: Jabba's commendable if not universally acknowledged efforts in getting the club on the financial straight and narrow on the one hand, and his deplorable decision-making in pretty much every other respect on the other. The question now is whether he'll be prepared to loosen the purse-strings slightly over the summer, or whether he'll remain overly parsimonious and run the risk of relegation which would be damaging to both the short- and long-term health of the club.



Thursday, May 19, 2011

Zog on the Tyne - again?

Those Zog-back-to-Toon rumours just won't go away, will they? Having had a very last-minute bid rebuffed in January, it seems we're still eager to reunite the moody Frenchman with a black and white shirt.

Given the manner of his departure, he would be unlikely to be welcomed back with much enthusiasm. However, he's clearly blossomed into a better player at the DW Stadium - Wigan would already have been long condemned to a Championship future were it not for his critical contributions, the latest being a brace in the victory that relegated West Ham - and I'm sure Jabba would relish the opportunity to get one over on his old foe Dave Whelan. Even if the Latics don't go down, though, it'll be an almighty bun-fight that we're unlikely to win.

As for the Hammers, the bookies' favourite to replace Avram Grant and try to get them back into the Premier League is a familiar face. Good luck Chris.

Also on the subject of old boys, congratulations to Lee Clark's Huddersfield, who last night secured themselves a place in the League One play-off final by beating Bournemouth on penalties. That's now a stunning 27 games unbeaten for the Terriers, who will face free-scoring, leaky-defenced Peterborough in the Old Trafford showdown.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Ranger danger to his own reputation

The Lone Ranger has apparently sought to live up to his namesake by being photographed with a replica gun.

That bastion of news, the Sun, reports that Ranger was photographed posing with a gun which one of his London mates had been carrying.

Now, I'm not about to leap on the moral high ground here, but given Ranger's previous brush with the law, it's probably not the wisest thing he's ever done, or for that matter, a sterling example to be setting to kids.

However, the bigger learning curve for the player might be that he needs to pick his friends better. It's not like he's been snapped by the paparazzi here. Instead, one of the people he was with took a photo which ended up in the national press. Something Ranger might wish to consider before posing for photos in the future, no matter who is taking them (or perhaps something we should insist on going into his next contract, like Man City did with the no-necked text pest).

Update: According to the BBC, a club statement has confirmed it was only a replica and the photo was taken not by a male friend but his girlfriend. Ranger can expect a stern dressing-down. As we found ourselves sick of saying to Rocky, grow up you idiot - or you really will be a Lone Ranger, booted out of another club.



Quote of the day

"We got relegated on the Sunday, then had the meeting on the Monday or Tuesday and were told they were coming back to do it all on the Thursday. But they never did. So in the end there was no point going into the office any more."

Alan Shearer, speaking to the Guardian about the end of his dealings with Jabba and Llambiarse in his time as Newcastle manager.

In the interview, the Lion of Gosforth goes on amongst other things to wax lyrical about Lionel Messi and talk about the "right way" to drop Little Saint Mick.



Taylor-made tie

Chelsea 2 - 2 Newcastle Utd

Goals by Steven Taylor and Spidermag from a Ryan Taylor free-kick ensured we finished the season unbeaten in three attempts by Chelsea.

Deprived of our first-choice central midfield pairing for yesterday's match at Stamford Bridge, I feared that we might be on the end of a real hiding from a team still chasing the league title. Thankfully, Shrek's penalty against Blackburn on Saturday ensured Taggart's men had secured the title 24 hours earlier, leaving Chelsea trophyless and demotivated for our Sunday lunchtime game.

With Mr T rested to prevent him picking up any further bookings this season, thereby seeking him suspended for the start of next, and Nolan recuperating from ankle surgery, Alan Pardew was forced to shuffle his pack. Shane Ferguson came in on the left wing, and with Ryan Taylor and ASBO in the centre, Peter Lovenkrands down the right and Spidermag pushed forward to support Big Lad our side definitely had a makeshift look about them.

That we were behind after a couple of minutes didn't bode well either. A Frank Lampard corner was flicked on by Fernando Torres for Branislav Ivanovic to get ahead of Sideshow Bob and head past Tim Krul. 1-0 down, I feared that rather than being listless, Chelea might end their home campaign rampantly.

That they didn't owed much to the hard work shown in midfield. After initially looking second best all over the park, Newcastle started to find some rhythm and when Peter Lovenkrands was taken down by John Terry's late tackle Ryan Taylor thought he might reprise his goalscoring feat from our Carling Cup tie back in September. His free-kick evaded the wall, but ricocheted off Spidermag's back into the bottom corner, with Petr Cech wrong-footed.

From there we matched the home side, for whom Torres continued to look toothless, and whose midfield trio couldn't get the better of ASBO and Taylor. Our captain for the day appeared to be relishing his battle with one of the men ahead of him in the England pecking order, with some tasty challenges flying around, particularly in the second half, with Lampard earning a caution for a particularly late challenge on our man.

With little difference between the two sides, the strength of Chelsea's bench compared to our own was impressive, Ancelotti choosing to throw on Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and Michael Essien in a bid to win the game. Drogba in particular looked the most likely to break the deadlock with a number of penetrating crosses.

By contrast, Alan Pardew threw on Kazenga LuaLua, Nile Ranger and Sammy Ameobi (prompting chants of "two Ameobis, there's only two Ameobis" and in doing so becoming the first brothers to appear in the same first team for us since the Robledos back in the 1950s) for Ferguson, Lovenkrands and Spidermag.

Sure enough, it was Chelsea who nudged ahead, when Jose Enrique fouled Nicolas Anelka on the left hand side. From the resultant free-kick, Tim Krul came charging out of his box only to miss the cross and leave Alex with an easy header into an unguarded net from the back post. This was very much the worst of the Dutch keeper, with several earlier saves and smart clearances (including a fine header) demonstrating his willingness to act as an auxiliary sweeper when called upon. Sadly though, his judgment isn't always perfect, and in this case his error let Chelsea take an undeserved lead.

However, as in the Carling Cup match, Newcastle kept going to the end, and in the final minute LuaLua forced a corner which Ryan Taylor swung in and Ranger headed back across goal before the unmarked Steven Taylor (Malouda having gone AWOL) headed firmly past Cech to notch his second goal in as many games and secure a deserved equaliser.

A Chelsea fan's view: Chelsea Football Club Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Web presents

A few weeks ago I wrote about the plight of our women's side, and wondered whether NUST had offered to help them improve their website. Well, the Trust's Tony Stephenson has replied to my query: "NUST has previously been in communication with NUWFC regarding offers of assistance etc. We hope that in the future we may be able to build a relationship with NUWFC that will be mutually beneficial." It doesn't sound like there's been much co-operation thus far, but if there's a will then hopefully there's a way.

Anything that helps to raise the profile of NUWFC and the club's connections to grassroots football at a local level can surely only be a good thing. You have to ask, though, whether the club shouldn't be doing more, rather than leaving it to the likes of fan-run enterprises like NUST to make amends.



A tough Brazil nut to crack?

Talksport have linked us with a move for Porto striker Hulk, impressive as one of the Portuguese club's three-man strikeforce as they beat much-fancied Villareal over two legs in the semi-final of the Europa League. If we could nab the Brazilian striker ahead of Spurs, Liverpool and assorted European suitors, and in spite of his express desire to "play where people fight for titles", then it truly would be incredible. Perhaps we should try to sell him on the move by pointing out that we're a comic-book-hero-friendly club, already boasting Spidermag on the wing?

One South American definitely relocating to the North East (for the third time) is Nobby Solano, who's swapped Hull for Hartlepool. Oh the glamour.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Speculation and creation

(Originally scheduled to go up yesterday, before Blogger had its funny turn...)

The season effectively over now safety's been assured, thoughts are naturally turning to how we can build and improve upon this consolidatory platform. Alan Pardew has identified creative spark as something we're currently lacking, and I'd be inclined to agree - ASBO has been a consistent provider from dead ball situations, but on the other flank Spidermag hasn't always offered enough in open play. "We need to bring players in Newcastle fans love that can get you out of your seat", said Pardew - inadvertent backing for Football Supporters' Federation's safe standing campaign?

However, it's worth pointing out that Pardew will effectively have two new creative additions at the start of next season anyway, when Hatem Ben Arfa and Dan Gosling return to full fitness - and there's also a fair chance most of his summer will actually be preoccupied with trying to find replacements for Jose Enrique and Mr T.

Meanwhile, last night reserve team regulars Phil Airey, Michael Richardson and James Tavernier all did their best to impress and earn themselves an end-of-season cameo as we cruised to victory over Blyth Spartans to lift the Northumberland Senior Cup in the familiar surroundings of St James' Park. Airey bagged a brace, while Richardson and Tavernier, recently on loan at Gateshead, both also found the back of the Spartans' net. Perhaps being pitched in for Sunday's game against Chelsea, who may still have a mathematical chance of pipping Man Utd to the title, wouldn't make for a very pleasant debut - though defender Tavernier could probably still keep Fernando Torres in his pocket, much as everyone else has of late...

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gunner blow a fuse

Judging by this Arsenal fan's reaction to our historic 4-4 comeback in February, his girlfriend was probably better off just filming it rather than attempting to offer a consolatory "Now, now, dear - it's just a game"...

(Thanks to Neil for the link.)



Monday, May 09, 2011

A Month Of Saturdays: April 2011

March signalled a slide into trouble, so it was time to brush up on key survival tactics. How's about the following as a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to avoiding relegation?

1. Most obviously, start scoring regularly.

2. Stop conceding goals, particularly daft ones of your own making.

3. Win your home games.

4. Make up for what you lack in quality with a healthy dose of team spirit and stubborn determination.

We began April by taking points 1 and 3 to heart, giving basement dwellers Wolves a perfectly timed and thoroughly satisfying St James' Park spanking to file alongside those of Villa, the Mackems and West Ham. Kevin Nolan, Big Lad, Peter Lovenkrands and Spidermag all got on the scoresheet, the spectre of relegation looked to have been exorcised and a giddy Alan Pardew was even moved post-match to declare Big Lad "as good a striker as I've ever worked with". That reflects pretty badly on those he's previously had in his charge - though it's worth reflecting that at least Big Lad's wayward shooting has never landed the club in legal trouble...

Our next home game was very different but no less pleasing, the display and result suggesting points 2 and 4 had also been taken onboard. After an excellent first half during which, at times, we put Man Utd under significant pressure, we showed commendable resolve in repeatedly repelling the title-chasers' advances in the second period, Sideshow Bob and Mr T particularly impressive in the rearguard action as we battled our way to an honourable draw.

Judging by Taggart's purple-and-puce face afterwards, and his whingeing about penalties that weren't, perhaps that home and contents insurance was required after all. And he wasn't the only visitor to leave muttering and moaning - Little Saint Mick got in a huff about the chorus of boos which greeted his arrival as a second half substitute, prompting Paul to reassess his time on Tyneside and conclude that we never warmed to him because he never truly committed to us.

In between those two heartening home performances came a thoroughly lacklustre defeat to struggling Aston Villa, which brought back painful memories of that ironically sunny day in May 2009. After four losses on the bounce, Villa Park is fast becoming one of our least favourite away trips.

As always seems to be the way after he shoots his mouth off - this time about former Villa favourite Gareth Barry being Fabio Capello's "teacher's pet" - ASBO had an absolute stinker. If he wants to get into the England squad, then he's got a very funny way of showing it. Maybe he was just keen to experience a rough reception ahead of not being welcomed with open arms by the US in the summer...

That we fared better at Bloomfield Road than in Birmingham was more down to luck (and our opponents' profligacy) than anything else. Having taken the lead, we survived a host of spurious penalty claims but ended up clinging on, grateful for a point against a Tangerines side that had been in freefall.

Blackpool's goal came courtesy of a DJ Campbell header which Jose Enrique couldn't prevent from crossing the line. Was the Spaniard's mind on other things, perhaps - such as a summer switch to Liverpool? Pardew was quick to quash the speculation, and it's difficult to tell if Phil Thompson's lying - his hooter's already massive...

On the subject of bodily appendages, Hatem Ben Arfa - joined on the sidelines by Steve Harper and Leon Best, both out for the remainder of the season - revealed he came perilously close to having to have a leg amputated. In a month during which the club's attitude towards both fans and the women's team was called into question, the Frenchman was full of praise for the support the club (and fans) have given him throughout his recuperation.

Ben Arfa wasn't alone in counting his blessings in April. As bizarre as it might seem, there was a general sense of relief to have Jabba at the helm when we learned that we'd been targeted by fantasists/crooks Munto Finance. Jabba, meanwhile, had Coventry's owners Sisu to thank for ignoring ex-Toon full-back and then Sky Blues chairman Ray Ranson's advice and passing up the opportunity to sign Rocky for £34.2m less than Liverpool eventually paid.

With ASBO and Enrique both demanding ambition and its corollary, outlay on new players, as conditions of their signing new contracts, and with a draw against Blackpool seen as a good point, reinvestment of some of the Rocky cash during the summer is essential. Let's just hope Jabba appreciates that.



Wayne waves goodbye to the Championship - again

On Saturday, despite losing at home to Leeds, Wayne Routledge's QPR celebrated the FA's dubious decision to avoid imposing a points deduction for transfer irregularities, which confirmed them as second tier champions. Jose Enrique can expect to come up against the nippy winger wearing hoops next season - although the hue of Enrique's own shirt remains uncertain.

Meanwhile, Ben Tozer scored what proved to be a spectacular winner in the final game of his loan spell at Northampton on Saturday, as the Cobblers won away to Morecambe. There was also weekend delight for another loanee, Fraser Forster, who kept a clean sheet as Celtic won 2-0 at Kilmarnock - but his hopes of emulating Routledge and picking up a title-winner's medal for his loan club remain slim, as maximum points for rivals Rangers in their last two games would secure the crown regardless of what Forster and Celtic can muster.

And finally, congratulations to Whitley Bay on their historic third consecutive FA Vase win yesterday. Bet the Bacardi Breezers were in full flow afterwards...

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Job done

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Birmingham

At the end of a week during which our new home shirt was revealed, an unspectacular St James' Park victory over Birmingham brought confirmation that it's sleeve will carry the official Premier League badge into the 2011/12 season.

Despite the manner of last weekend's defeat to Liverpool, Alan Pardew made only one change to the side, and that was enforced. Mike Williamson broke his arm during the week - supposedly during training, though given his Anfield horror-show I wouldn't be surprised to learn he decided to spare himself further humiliation and sought out an angry swan. It turned out his replacement Steven Taylor was to be at the very centre of the action.

The first half hour was largely a non-event which only threatened to flicker into life when Taylor's elbow connected with Cameron Jerome's mug but went unpunished (so presumably also unseen) by Chris Foy. It wasn't as cut and dried as Match Of The Day's sofa referees claimed, not least because our man seemed to have eyes only for the ball and not the man - but it's not the first incident of this kind and he needs to learn to stop his elbows from flailing. Alex McLeish grumbled afterwards: "If we don't stop that sort of thing players will end up with noses like mine."

Foy did however spot and punish Liam Ridgewell for not one but two goalline handballs. Ben Foster had set the tone for the afternoon, making excellent saves from ASBO and Sideshow Bob, but amidst an almighty scramble the Birmingham defender twice knocked the ball away with his arm. So, an early bath for him and a penalty for us, which Big Lad tucked neatly into the very bottom corner despite Foster guessing right.

The visiting 'keeper did magnificently to deny both Peter Lovenkrands and Kevin Nolan when his defence gave them the freedom of the six yard area, but couldn't do anything when Taylor met ASBO's corner with a firm header. Sebastian Larsson, stationed on the line, could only slice the ball into his own net - good to know that if he does join us this summer he already knows where the Gallowgate goal is... Taylor galloped the length of the pitch in celebration, no doubt a release of pent-up energy and frustration at having been kept sidelined for so long.

So, a comfortable 2-0 half-time lead - or it would have been had Sideshow Bob not switched off, misjudging Foster's punted clearance down the middle. He made amends by tackling Jerome as the striker took the ball past Tim Krul, but then deflected Lee Bowyer's follow-up shot over the Dutchman's dive and into the net. Thankfully injury had spared us the sight of Obafemi Martins doing backflips, but Bowyer - who once scored what turned out to be the winner for us in a 2-1 home win over the Blues - had an irritatingly good game on his return to the club for whom he so often underachieved.

For a side still looking nervously over their shoulders, and especially one reduced to ten men, it's not surprising that Birmingham didn't show a great deal of conviction on the attack - but more urgency might have been expected. As it was, their only real second half opportunity to equalise came when Krul flapped at a cross and Larsson, reacting instinctively, ballooned the ball way over the bar.

At the other end, meanwhile, Foster continued to excel, saving from substitute Nile Ranger. Big Lad was flattened by a defender as he tried to reach the rebound and ASBO was foiled by Foster, but both were offside. When Foster was finally beaten again by a clever lofted shot from Big Lad, Roger Johnson had retreated to head off the line, so 2-1 it remained.

Mr T waited until stoppage time to pick up his 14th yellow card. He's already helped set one Premier League record in his first season on Tyneside, but this saw him matching Lily Savage's markedly less impressive achievement and will probably rule him out of Pardew's plans for the final two games.

The result, which sealed our second and last double of the season, will be greeted with relief rather than jubilation, and certainly it wasn't a vintage performance. But our target was always safety first, and we can sleepwalk into next weekend's shellacking at Chelsea knowing that ultimately our mission has been accomplished with two matches to spare.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Friday, May 06, 2011

Sense and solidarity

Remember the extraordinary magnanimity of Plymouth and their fans as we celebrated claiming the Championship title with a result that relegated them to League One, a division of which they've now also dropped out? Well, how's about helping out their fans' trust with a couple of quid as a mark of appreciation and solidarity? It's the least we could do, really.



Thursday, May 05, 2011

Jose's team talk

Talk about a back-handed compliment. Here's what Jose Enrique had to say to BBC's Late Kick-Off:

"It's hard for players like me, Jonas [Gutierrez], Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan - we've played with big names before. But a lot has changed. Before, we had players like Mark Viduka, and now we have players like Williamson and Perch - players who have played in the Championship and they fight to play in the Premier League. We're doing well, we had Michael Owen and players like that and we were relegated, but with this team we will stay in the division."

Way to go, belittling your team-mates by implying they're not "big names" and suggesting they're Championship-quality try-hards rather than Premier League class. Can't imagine that'll have gone down too well in the dressing room.

In fairness to our Spanish left-back, mind, he's only really echoing the sentiments of a lot of supporters. Mike Williamson has been largely sound this season but looked totally out of his depth on Sunday, while James Perch has yet to convince us (and Alan Pardew too) that he's anything more than a solid chugger at Championship level.

Ultimately, though, we want a successful Newcastle team and, for this season at least, that's one that does no more or less than survive in the top flight. If that can be achieved without the flashy stars, marquee signings and Billy Big Bollocks of yore - and let's face it, far too many of those haven't worked out - then we'll have no complaints.

Inevitably Enrique was also questioned about his future, contract talks still being on ice - and equally inevitably his response has been the primary focus of reports on the interview: "If I have to continue here, I'm happy. If I have to go to another club, I'm happy in England. If I have to go to another league, I'm happy. I just want to play football - it's my life and it's best for me." An inscrutable reply, though it's certainly no firm statement of allegiance.

If he does decide to depart, the papers have been suggesting possible replacements, the Sun and the Daily Heil agreeing on Franck Tabanou of Toulouse. Tabanou is nominally a left winger but has been pressed into service as a full-back this season - he's impressed in his makeshift role, but is the mere thought bringing back nightmare visions of Damien Duff for anyone else?

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Quote of the day

"I want to be a good role model and, one day, a good father to my children. Being a man is not just about standing up for yourself and saying, 'I'm a fucking man.' Being a man is how you deal with things; how you give your kids the tools that I've now got without them making the mistakes I made."

The words of ASBO, as dictated to an Esquire journalist, and reported in the press today.  You can read the full press report here, including some interesting comments on his younger self.  Reading the article, you get the feeling that ASBO has turned the corner, and realised firstly how to deal with being a premiership footballer, and more importantly how to deal with being a grown adult.

Given the form he has shown for much of the season, hopefully he'll continue his learning curve in a black and white shirt. 

Next lesson: Not slagging off England players (however much they deserve it) if you ever hope to play with them for the national team.



Kev kicks out

Thought King Kev might be prepared to forgive and forget over his treatment at Jabba's hands, since being vindicated in court? Well, think again. Here's a selection of his choicest comments to ESPN viewers on Sunday...

"You know I don’t like the owner there — I took him to court — but if they’ve played well of course I’ll give them the credit. But I’m not scared to say the best day they’ll have is when he goes because I know that’s true."

"[The cash received from the sale of Rocky] is not going to be reinvested, is it? I think that’s obvious. As a Newcastle fan, if Carroll is the only one you are going to lose you have to be pretty thankful. There may well be other players going as we speak. I think they’ll sell two more players and then he’ll sell the club. And that’ll be the best day Newcastle fans have, when he sells the club."

"I’d love to be able to give Newcastle fans some encouragement but I can’t see it getting any better in the short term."

And to think, before his run-in with Jabba, Keegan used to get criticised as a naively optimistic idealist. He'll be forming a tag team with Wigan's Dave Whelan next.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Anfield crap

Liverpool 3 - 0 Newcastle Utd

A depressingly familiar goalless return from Anfield (our last goal on the red side of Stanley Park coming in December 2004) saw Newcastle remain on 41 points, just above the relegation dog-fight.

With the game still in its infancy, and after some good early play by Newcastle, Mike Williamson's poor defensive header fell to Maxi Rodriguez, who volleyed the ball goalwards. The ball looked to be heading straight for Tim Krul, only for Danny Simpson to react and, in doing so, divert the ball away from the keeper and into the net.

After that, we huffed and puffed without ever really looking like we could draw level before half-time. Our best chance fell to Kevin Nolan, whose shot on the turn from the corner of the area sailed harmlessly wide of the goal.

After the break, and after ASBO had missed our best opportunity when he shot wide of the Liverpool goal, a further defensive mistake by Williamson gave Liverpool a cushion which was never troubled. This time, our centre-half tried to shepherd a long ball out of play, only to get it horribly wrong and allow Luis Suarez to nip past him and keep the ball in play, leaving Williamson to haul the Uruguayan to the ground on the edge of the area, with one-time Toon target Dirk Kuyt slotting home the resultant penalty.

Suarez added a third a few moments later and the only notable occurrence after that was the introduction of Rocky, to a decidedly hostile reaction from the away following. However, he didn't need to respond, with the home team comfortably seeing out the remainder of the match.

With Williamson in particular enduring a particularly miserable afternoon, and a distinct lack of a cutting edge up front, this was a pretty lousy end-of-season performance with the victory going to the side who played like they weren't mentally halfway to the beach.

A Liverpool fan's view: Liverpool Football Club Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Quote of the day

"You're joking, aren't you? I wouldn't leave him with my kids. He'd probably have the house burned down, or the car!"

Kevin Nolan laughs off suggestions that Rocky's departure for Anfield has deprived him of a potential babysitter.

Our skipper also spoke about the fact that his parents - both fervent Liverpool fans - have been helping his former houseguest settle in on Merseyside. So we'll have the three of them to thank if the pony-tailed colossus plays and scores against us...

Meanwhile, no fewer than thirteen MPs have endorsed a motion for current Liverpool caretaker manager Kenny Dalglish to be knighted for his "outstanding contribution" to British football. Needless to say, the MP who tabled the motion is from Merseyside rather than Tyneside. And Dalglish'll be even less popular in these parts if, as the Daily Heil recently suggested, he succeeds in luring ASBO to the North West...

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