Wednesday, August 31, 2011

No man's landed

No new arrivals on deadline day - how depressingly predictable. Good thing Paul promised not to hold his breath - otherwise Black & White & Read All Over would by now be a one-man operation. He'll be back in the morning to give full reaction to our transfer window activities and inactivity, but in the meantime here's to four months with Leon Best leading the line and Jabba doing a Father Ted: "The money was resting in my account"...


Trust ASBO to take to Twitter and stick the boot in: "Nice to see MA and DL come through with their promise to reinvest AC money, 59m net profit from transfers in last 5 seasons.....ambition???"

Meanwhile, Nile Ranger was rather more succinct: "What a joke". In some ways, the most sensible tweet he's ever come out with - though at the same time it's unlikely to help reconcile our wayward striker with the powers that be...



Shooting blanks

Nothing further to add on the comings and goings front yet.

Which is a bit underwhelming really, given that we've had seven months to find a replacement for Rocky, and we've now got just over nine hours left in the transfer window.

Hopefully we'll pull a rabbit out of the hat later this afternoon, but I'm not holding my breath.



Santon is coming to Toon

Confirmation, last night, that our quest for a left-back has now been completed, with the arrival of Davide Santon for around £5m from Inter Milan. With 'keeper Rob Elliot also arriving yesterday for an undisclosed fee from Charlton (who presumably will drop their tapping-up claim), we've filled two of the gaps which recent departures have left in our squad.

With less than 14 hours to go until the transfer window closes, .com report that we're still looking to add a couple of players to the squad. Logically one must be the striker we've been lacking since the closure of the last transfer window.

Whether the other is a midfielder to replace the departed ASBO or further defensive cover following Mike Williamson's recent injury remains to be seen.

Here's hoping we're able to report on further arrivals and no departures as the day unfolds.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mach of the day

Could the answer to our striking problems really be Man Utd reserve striker Federico Macheda, the man whose one goal in 14 loan appearances was a contributing factor to Sampdoria's relegation from Serie A? Having signed Gabriel Obertan, it's probably a good thing that Bebe's already out on loan - otherwise Taggart might be sweet-talking Alan Pardew to take all of his sub-par forwards off his hands...

Taggart is apparently keen for Macheda to get Premier League experience - just not at Old Trafford, despite the injury sustained by Danny Welbeck. We've been here before, of course, taking Giuseppe Rossi on loan and subsequently incurring Taggart's wrath for deeming him only good enough for the substitutes' bench. Sizing up Macheda while a club like Stoke are reportedly lining up an audacious loan bid for the most exciting young striker in the division speaks volumes.

Meanwhile, David Santon has spent the morning having his medical on Tyneside, and we've taken Czech 'keeper Petr Bolek on trial from FK Senica at the same time as trying to land Charlton's Rob Elliot. Quite where this leaves the Addicks' official complaint about our conduct is unclear - there's no mention of it in the brief post on the club's official site. Would it be cynical to suggest that the promise of a bit of cash has silenced their grumbling?



The mark of champions

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Fulham

If, as they reckon, playing badly and winning is the sign of a good side, then on Sunday we were a very good side indeed. Forget about goal-crazy Man Utd and Man City - we were the ones turning in a performance and result which bore the mark of champions...

Joking aside, it was a worryingly laboured victory over a lame Fulham - not to mention one which owed as much to Tim Krul's acrobatics as to brace-bagging Leon Best's sharp instincts at the other end. Nevertheless, the destination of the three points was the key thing, I suppose - at some point this season we're bound to play significantly better and lose.

With ASBO flogged and Big Lad and Dan Gosling both missing, Alan Pardew opted for a strikeforce of Best and Peter Lovenkrands, while Gabriel Obertan slotting into the position on the right-hand side of midfield vacated by ASBO.

The first half was a complete non-event until the 43rd minute, our display characterised by a lack of imagination and movement. The normally reliable crowd offered little encouragement either, grumbling about each misplaced pass and only really mustering enthusiasm for barracking Damien Duff with chants of "There's only one greedy bastard". Fulham, for their part, had a shot that deflected off Steven Taylor's head and flew into the Gallowgate while generally looking neat and tidy (Moussa Dembele in particular catching the eye in the role of playmaker and orchestrator), though carrying little threat.

With half-time fast approaching, Mark Schwarzer made a good low save to clutch Spidermag's well-directed downward header from Mr T's cross, and suddenly and belated the game sparked into life. Best had a shot blocked, Yohan Cabaye's fierce curling shot following a partially cleared corner was tipped over at full stretch by Schwarzer and from the subsequent corner Ryan Taylor volleyed inches wide of the far post from the edge of the area.

Thankfully, our momentum wasn't halted by the interval, Best taking just three minutes of the second half to open the scoring. Slack marking from a throw-in allowed Cabaye to turn and smash a shot goalwards, and when the ball bounced just in front of Schwarzer, the former Smog 'keeper could only palm it onto the bar, Best prodding into the empty net from all of a yard out. In a laughable incident so typical of us, he then clashed heads with Lovenkrands during the celebration, the Dane requiring treatment before being withdrawn for Demba Ba shortly after the hour.

By that point, though, Krul had already begun excelling himself, diverting a Steve Sidwell header over via the top of the bar. The cross had come from Duff, who, perhaps inspired by the boos, looked to be the visiting player most determined to get his side back on terms. A run which left Ryan Taylor floundering culminated with a shot into Krul's side netting.

Soon after, though, Fulham found themselves two down. Following one of his few incisive incursions on the break, Obertan found Ba on the right edge of the penalty area. When the orange-booted sub's low cross fizzed across the goal, Best's exquisite touch bamboozled his marker and he finished low past Schwarzer. A real moment of quality from a player who's usually best described as a tryer.

That, it seemed, was our cue to rest rather too comfortably on our laurels, the players apparently content to leave Krul to secure the victory. He saved brilliantly from both Chris Baird and Danny Murphy, but, just when you thought Mohamed Al Fayed might be busy concocting one of his conspiracy theories, the Dutchman was finally beaten two minutes from the end of normal time when Clint Dempsey was afforded space to head in Murphy's free-kick.

By that point we were already shaking our heads in bemusement at the fact that a hand injury to Best's replacement Haris Vuckic after just seven minutes on the pitch had meant we were playing out the game with a front pairing of Ba and a magnificently maned Alan Smith. Ba, to his credit, did at least skim the bar with a left-footed shot from a tight angle in stoppage time, but he continues to look a shadow of the player we thought we were getting.

Seven points from our first three fixtures isn't to be sniffed at, but at the same time certainly shouldn't be allowed to obscure our shortcomings, which remain legion. Overall, the squad looks weaker than at the end of last season, and we can't afford to go backwards while all those around us have taken steps forwards. Get the chequebook out, Jabba...

A Fulham fan's perspective: Craven Cottage Newsround

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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It's Sant-on

Might a breakthrough in the search for a new left-back at last be nigh? According to his agent Claudio Vigorelli, Davide Santon is very close to joining us from Inter. We continue to be linked with both PSV's Erik Pieters and Lyon's Aly Cissokho, but it would seem the Italian is now the likeliest candidate to fill Jose Enrique's boots.

In the parallel quest to sharpen up our attack, a new name was tossed into the ring on Friday: Freiburg's Papiss Cisse. Demba Ba's compatriot is also apparently wanted by Sunday's opponents Fulham and the Mackems. Also mentioned as a possible target is Chelsea attacking midfielder Yossi Benayoun, though any deal for Mevlut Erdinc is now definitely dead, with his nouveau riche club PSG stating his services will be retained.



Sunday, August 28, 2011

Auf Wiedersehen ASBO

One of the things I was asked to predict as part of a pre-season predictions competition at work was who Colin Wanker would fall out with first. At the time I thought the Little Waster was a very reasonable bet - now, though, there's a far more likely candidate in the Loftus Road dressing room...

ASBO's departure for QPR could hardly be described as amicable. In comments which will hardly have endeared him to the Hoops faithful, he declared bluntly that he would rather have stayed on Tyneside before taking an immodest swipe at the "decision makers" at his former club: "It is disappointing times and it's sad when Newcastle's best players are leaving to go elsewhere". (There was also a Fat Fred-esque reference to the "Geordie nation" in there.) Derek Llambiarse, for his part, retorted publicly with a backhanded compliment: "we wish to thank Joey for his on-field contributions to the team". Meanwhile, Alan Pardew once again found himself the stooge in the middle, left to reflect miserably on the number of times he's enthused about ASBO's positive attributes and insisted he'd be staying on Tyneside.

Let's look first at the positives surrounding the sale.

* ASBO may have been impressive in our first season back in the Premier League, but that followed three years of poor form punctuated with injuries, suspension and incarceration at Her Majesty's Pleasure. Who's to say he'd have been able to reprise last season's performances or stayed clear of the treatment room, the stands and the jail cell?

* He's often a liability on the pitch. Occasionally he's more sinned against than sinning, admittedly - last August's match at Wolves being a case in point - but generally you feared for him being a ticking time-bomb. Anyone who disagrees need only be reminded of the defeat to Liverpool in May 2009, which saw ASBO pick up a stupid red card and subsequent suspension, dealing our chances of Premier League survival a significant blow. No wonder Wor Al was furious.

* He's a troublemaker off the pitch. While he might have claimed to speak for the fans and the players, and to have had the club's best interests at heart, there's no doubt that he's an incorrigible egotist. Similarly, while you might criticise Jabba's intolerance and suppression of dissent (he appears determined to impose what psychologists call groupthink), ASBO must have known that by sounding off against Jabba on Twitter he would be causing damage to the club and was effectively engineering and accelerating a move away from St James' Park. Honesty, or at least honesty in the public realm, isn't always the best policy. And all this is quite apart from his propensity for violence.

* With Yohan Cabaye having quickly settled into the side and makeshift left-back Ryan Taylor rattling in the free-kicks (albeit only until a permanent replacement for Jose Enrique is sourced), ASBO's dead-ball prowess is unlikely to be missed too much.

* The vacancy on the right flank will give Pardew the opportunity to put out a more attacking side. Gabriel Obertan might be the prime candidate for the position at the moment, thought there's also the option of switching Spidermag to that side to create a space for Sylvain Marveaux. Either alternative would give us additional pace and width.

I trust you're sensing that there's a BUT following all this. And there is - much as it pains me to say it, having been far from ASBO's biggest fan and indeed someone who, prior to last season, would have happily have seen him booted out of the club without a second thought.

* Cabaye and Mr T are certainly useful assets but we're bound to suffer from the reduced level of tenacity, drive and bite in midfield, especially away from home.

* Despite his regular run-ins with the hierarchy, ASBO did have a way of galvanising and spurring on the players - even if it did at times mean he looked like Begbie.

* While Rocky and Enrique (two former team-mates ASBO was alluding to in his reference to our "best players") were destined for greater things and we were compensated with fees we couldn't reasonably reject, ASBO has, like Kevin Nolan, been bombed out for non-footballing reasons and his departure weakens the squad. Worse still, unlike Nolan, we didn't get any money for him (not that we should really need it, with the money we've already banked from player sales...) And worst of all, we've spent all summer fruitlessly seeking a striker and left-back and now, with just four days left before the transfer window shuts, we've got a midfielder to find too. Hands up who's confident we'll manage to bring in sufficient bodies, let alone those of the calibre we need? No, Alan, I wasn't asking you...

So, after today's game our next league fixture will be away at QPR on a Monday night for the pleasure of Sky's viewing public. Wonder if they'll be able to think up a suitably spicy angle for that one...

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ASBO is dead, long live ASBO

ASBO may have left, but if these allegations are true, then the Lone Ranger is keen to claim the departed player's nickname. News of the arrest will no doubt have gone down very badly indeed with a manager who has already expressed his frustrations with the wayward striker. If he was in Last Chance Saloon before, he can't be surprised if he now finds himself standing outside in the street, the doors swinging closed behind him.



Quote of the day

"We intend to work closely with Sochaux in order to ensure that all facts regarding Newcastle's actions are thoroughly investigated."

Double trouble as Charlton chairman Michael Slater vows to team up with Sochaux who, like the Addicks, feel aggrieved at our conduct in allegedly approaching one of their players (Modibo Maiga) without permission.

The fact that two different clubs are making identical complaints brings to mind the old adage that there's no smoke without fire. If we're found guilty, the punishment could be anything from a fine to (I imagine) some kind of transfer restriction that would hit us in January - not good news at all.

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It's a funny old game

I wonder what odds you would have got on the following being the case, three matches into the new season: Scunthorpe succeeding where Arsenal and 5under1and failed in breaching our defence; our first goal from open play being scored by Little Big Lad; our top scorer being Ryan Taylor...

Friday, August 26, 2011

Magnificent seven

Seven years (and 1833 posts) ago, this blog came blinking into the daylight, with younger, less jaded versions of ourselves welcoming readers to "a brand new blog dedicated to the discussion of the splendidly self-destructive and calamitous circus that is Newcastle United".

At that time, Fat Fred was in charge and SBR was plain Bobby Robson and was to remain manager for a matter of days, while we harboured dreams of signing a young jug-eared granny botherer for £23 million, having just bid farewell to one of the finest centre-halves to ever wear the black and white stripes.

In the intervening period, we've seen changes to the board (the gruesome twosome being replaced by a Tatooine-based crime lord and his cronies), a frankly ridiculous nine managers, countless players come and go, one gut-wrenchingly painful relegation and a similarly triumphant promotion and a general shift from hedonistic excess to austere pragmatism.

Still, as we said in the beginning "life's never dull at St James' Park" and we've certainly been proven right on that score, and while all around us the house has fallen and been rebuilt numerous times, we're still here and still going strong: older, wiser, generally slightly more cynical, but still clinging to the dream that one day we might see us lift a major trophy.

Ha'way the lads!

Sammy stunner sinks Scunny

Scunthorpe Utd 1 - 2 Newcastle Utd (aet)
(1-1 at 90 minutes)

Two moments of quality were enough to ensure Newcastle got past a spirited Scunthorpe Utd side last night to book their place in the next round of the League Cup, but only after extra time.

Starting sluggishly, Newcastle were instantly on the back foot as the home team sought to take the game to us, and after 15 minutes duly had their reward when Chris Dagnall scored when we failed to correctly re-organise our defence after a corner was cleared. Frustratingly, when the ball came back in, it was Demba Ba playing everyone onside and the unmarked Dagnall slotted home past Tim Krul. To be frank, if you are ever in a situation where your striker is the last man, you know something has gone wrong somewhere, and our sloppiness was deservedly punished by a smart finish.

With Krul called upon to make a number of good saves, Newcastle looked to be hanging on a bit as half-time approached. At that point, Mike Williamson was forced off after a crunching tackle and Steven Taylor replaced him, meaning that we had our first-choice back four on the pitch.

Half-time clearly brought a rocket from Alan Pardew, because it was Newcastle who were out of their blocks the faster after the interval. With several good chances coming our way, Leon Best was unlucky to have a goal chalked off for a marginal off-side. However, it wasn't until ten minutes from full-time that we finally got back on level terms, with Ryan Taylor firing home a free-kick from just outside the Scunthorpe box to make it two goals in two games for him.

There was even time for a penalty shout when the goalscorer was bundled over in the box, the referee presumably concluding that our left-back had gone to ground a little too easily (albeit the push seemed clear to me).

Honours even at full-time then, and with Haris Vuckic and Little Big Lad on for the ineffective Ba and similarly underwhelming Dan Gosling, Newcastle started to assert themselves more and more, with the two youngsters increasingly to the fore. It was Little Big Lad who finally settled the tie with an excellent run and shot with his weaker right foot with eight minutes of the match remaining. Having previously fluffed an easier chance by trying to take it on his left, it was a surprise to see him hit one with his right, but it flew into the net.

Thankfully, from there Newcastle were able to see out the match without too many worries.

On the positive side, the performances of Krul, Sideshow Bob, Vuckic and Little Big Lad all stood out for praise. However, Ba looked off the pace, and neither Best nor Lovenkrands did anything to press their claims for a start against Fulham on Sunday. Similarly Sylvain Marveaux showed some early spark, but at times was crowded out too easily for my liking, and if anything Little Big Lad might be the one closer to the first team.

Surprisingly, Pardew opted against given Alan Smith or Steve Harper a run, and while both continue to add depth to the squad, the ongoing likelihood of much involvement beyond reserve team level looks slim.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Santo: gold?

Excuse us while we leave to one side the news that Colin Wanker appears to be starting a collection of ex-Toon bad boys at Loftus Road (full comment if, or more likely when, the deal goes through), and instead let's focus on possible arrivals.

The latest name in the frame to fill the full-back hole is Davide Santon, according to the Mirror. We'd apparently face competition from Liverpool, Arsenal and (of course) Man City, though, so it's difficult to see what would particularly recommend us other than the prospect of more regular football. Plus, highly-rated young Italian international full-back whom Inter are mysteriously happy to flog - haven't we been here before? Given that another full-back target, PSV's Erik Pieters, is said to be keen on a move, why not just press ahead on that front? Time's ticking, Jabba - pull your finger out.

Meanwhile, there doesn't seem to have been any further word on Modibo Maiga - though suffice to say his club Sochaux certainly aren't inclined to look on our interest favourably...

In tonight's match against Scunthorpe we should hopefully get the opportunity to assess the first-team credentials of a couple of players who have already been added to the squad this summer, Sylvain Marveaux and Mehdi Abeid. Should they live up to their billing, then the pressure on Jabba and Alan Pardew to make more high-profile acquisitions before the transfer window closes might drop - but only slightly.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quote of the day

"That’s his opinion. I think the SPL’s a much tougher league than people give it credit for – but everyone’s entitled to their opinion and I’m just proud to come and play for such a massive club as Celtic. The chance to play in Europe is something that very few clubs and very few players get to experience. Everyone want to get through on Thursday for their own reasons. Obviously Alan Pardew is the manager at Newcastle and he can have his opinion – as anyone can – but I think it’s important that we focus on ourselves and don’t worry about anybody else."

Celtic loanee Fraser Forster takes issue with Alan Pardew's dismissive characterisation of the Scottish Premier League.

It wasn't the only opportunity the big 'keeper seized to have a subtle dig at Pardew: "In football you never know – things change in a split second – so I was serving my time back at Newcastle over the summer and put the work in. It dragged on a bit but I’m just happy to be back. There’s nothing better in football than having someone who really wants you and someone who’ll put the confidence in you." Anyone else sensing a strained relationship? If Forster's desperate to leave on a permanent basis, then that would explain our otherwise mystifying interest in Charlton's Rob Elliot - but why didn't we just accept the Bhoys' money when it was offered rather than insisting on another loan deal?

Forster's second League debut north of the border ended in embarrassing home defeat to St Johnstone at the weekend. Another loanee fared better, though, James Tavernier having a key role in the winning goal as Carlisle overcame Bournemouth, after which manager Greg Abbott singled our man out for praise.

Meanwhile, Michael Richardson's loan spell isn't exactly going to plan. Although he played the first 68 minutes for Leyton Orient on Saturday, the Os ended up losing 5-0 to London rivals Brentford, and are now the only team in League One yet to pick up a point. Phil Airey didn't feature for Hibs either in Saturday's home defeat by St Mirren or last night's League Cup pummelling of Berwick, while Kazenga LuaLua was a second-half substitute as Brighton threw away a two-goal lead and with it their 100% record on Saturday. Last night's sub appearance will have been much sweeter, the Seagulls sending Ol' Cauliflower Face and a strong 5under1and side crashing out of the League Cup at the first hurdle. I suspect he may have celebrated Craig Mackail-Smith's winner more than most...

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Naughty naughty

We're used to our players landing themselves in a spot of bother, but today has seen the club have its wrist slapped for two separate alleged misdemeanours.

First, we - like Arsenal - were fined £30,000 for failing to control our players. It's hard to know what exactly the club could have done given it was in the heat of the battle, and, as an anonymous commenter to this post pointed out, ASBO was rightly punished with a booking for his part in the Gervinho fracas while every other player was trying to keep the peace - so on what grounds is the charge justified? That seems to be the view of the hierarchy too, if the club's terse statement on the matter is anything to go by: "Newcastle United has requested written reasons for the decision from the chairman of the regulatory commission and will consider its position once these have been received".

Second, we've been reported to FIFA by French side Sochaux, who are furious at our attempts to tap up Mali striker Modibo Maiga without their consent - and no wonder, with the player's head having been so turned that he's gone on strike. Stories of the big bully boys - Man Utd, Chelsea, Man City etc - misbehaving in this way are ten-a-penny, but this incident, if proven, will mean we can no longer saddle up our high horse. When quizzed about it, Alan Pardew's immediate response was to distance himself from any wrongdoing, or knowledge of wrongdoing: "I can't tell you anything about that. My brief is to highlight players I think would take the club forward, and the club's job is to get it over the line. I am not involved in that". Don't forget, though, Alan - in this respect you're not exactly whiter than white yourself...

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hammering on ASBO's door?

According to today's Mirror, Kevin Nolan is doing all he can to encourage Fat Sam to replace one ex-Newcastle midfielder with a current one.

According to the paper, if Scott Parker leaves the Hammers, then Nolan would like to see them move for ASBO (a player who Fat Sam originally signed for Newcastle).

Whilst he may be in the last year of his contract, and available on a free, I still can't see ASBO dropping down to West Ham now, when he could play out the final year of his contract at St James' Park and then move on next summer. If, by that stage, West Ham have been promoted, then I suspect they'll be a much more enticing prospect for our current number 8 than they are at the moment, scrapping to get out of the Championship.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Atonement - sweet, sweet atonement

Mackems 0 - 1 Newcastle Utd

"Ryan Taylor will continue to deputise [at left-back] against 5under1and", I wrote yesterday morning, "Heaven help us." It's games like that which might convince this particular half of Black & White & Read All Over to renounce atheism. Ryan, your general uselessness of past, present and (probably) future is hereby forgiven.

Taylor it was who chose the 62nd minute to perpetuate the fine recent tradition of curling free-kick Toon winners in Tyne-Wear derbies - think Liam O'Brien, think Scott Sellars, think Emre. That solitary strike was enough to win a bad-tempered contest in which one Mackem saw red and should have been beaten to an early bath by two of his team-mates.

Alan Pardew only made one change from the side that frustrated Arsenal, Gabriel Obertan replacing Demba Ba as we switched to a 4-5-1. Steve Harper was named on a bench that also included three strikers (Ba, Peter Lovenkrands and Leon Best) and two attacking midfielders (Dan Gosling and Sylvain Marveaux).

5under1and began on the front foot, with Stephane Sessegnon an immediate thorn in our side, forcing an early flying save from Tim Krul and soon following it up with another shot that went wide. But in the 15th minute we were desperately unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Big Lad flicked on a Yohan Cabaye corner and ASBO's header was blocked on the line by the extended arm of one-time Toon target Sebastian Larsson. Not deliberate, you could argue, but the ball would incontrovertibly have ended up in the net without Larsson's intervention. Referee Howard Webb was unsighted but waved away appeals after consulting with his assistant, Larsson remaining on the pitch.

No doubt it was that sense of injustice which led to Cabaye being rightly booked for a crunching challenge on Phil Bardsley by the corner flag, though the Frenchman soon made a more positive impact, coming close to embarrassing the Mackems' 'keeper Simon Mignolet with a fierce swerving drive which demanded and received an acrobatic tip over. Krul couldn't afford to relax either, though, again tested by Sessegnon before the half was out, while lone Mackem striker Asamoah Gyan's lofted curling shot skimmed off the top of the Dutchman's crossbar.

The second period started scrappily with a succession of fouls and free-kicks, before the one that really counted. Spidermag, who had just tested Mignolet with a low shot, was felled on the left edge of the area and up stepped our makeshift left-back Taylor to plant the ball into the far corner, namesake Steven on hand to bundle it in - unnecessarily, as it turned out. A very timely reminder of why exactly we insisted that he be included as a makeweight in the deal that took Charles N'Somnia to Wigan - namely, that he had done the same thing to us on three separate occasions previously...

Professional workie ticket Lee Cattermole, who had floored ASBO in the first half, then cranked up the intensity a little higher with an ugly scything challenge on Spidermag. Webb opted for a yellow card and a stern talking to rather than the red that would arguably have been deserved, also booking ASBO and Bardsley for their roles in the scuffle that followed the foul.

When things had cooled down, Big Lad had a couple of attempts to improve his already impressive derby goalscoring record, while Gyan and substitute Craig Gardner wasted opportunities at the other end, but 1-0 and 11 v 11 it remained until Bardsley's nasty lunge on the impeccable Sideshow Bob. Webb at last produced a red card, though even then it was preceded by a yellow to indicate it was for a second bookable offence - this despite the fact that you can probably tell the manufacturer of Bardsley's boots from the stud imprints on Sideshow Bob's swollen ankle.

There was still time for Cattermole and Gyan to try their luck at goal, to no avail, though Obertan's replacement Gosling could actually have made the margin of victory more comfortable.

In dispassionate terms, we can be delighted that our defence is still yet to be breached this season, and could enjoy the fact that the win sent us top of the table, if only for half an hour. In the context of recent derby history, the result was sweet revenge for last season's cruel injury-time denial of maximum points and meant that once again we didn't get to hear whatever Ol' Cauliflower Face's taunting tune is, just the usual woe-is-me whining. As grating as it is, let's hope for much more come 3rd March.

A Mackem fan's verdict: Roker Report

Other reports: BBC, Guardian (TBW in magnanimous mode)

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Loose lips sink ships bids for League One goalkeepers

Oh the irony.

Here's Alan Pardew on ASBO's post-Gunners social media outpourings: "I think Joey regrets his tweets about the Arsenal incident. I think it's hurt him a little bit. Me and him have had a lot of conversations about Twitter and his profile and everything else and I think he now understands that the best answer he can give is with his performances on the pitch. He's been a lot quieter on Twitter this week and I think both he and us are better for that ... In today's society I can't tell Joey to shut up, just like I wouldn't tell anyone else to shut up in their private life. He is his own person. All I can give him is my advice and guidance and I have definitely given him that."

All fair enough, you might think - ASBO's silence would be a blessing. But when you consider that the man giving the benefit of his "advice and guidance" has just been reported to the Premier League authorities by Charlton for breaking a promise and making public comments about their 'keeper Rob Elliot, it all seems ridiculous rather than merely patronising. (Our insultingly low bid of £100,000 was dismissed out of hand, in case you were wondering.)

The immediate question, surely, has to be why on earth are we trying to sign Elliot in the first place? We've just sent a perfectly good 'keeper out to Celtic on loan, Fraser Forster instantly making his second Bhoys debut in a home shut-out against Sion. I simply don't understand why we would do that and then seek to bring in a replacement. It also suggests there's an alarming lack of faith in the understudies to Tim Krul and Steve Harper who remain at St James', namely Ole Soderberg and Jak Alnwick.

In the build-up to the derby Pardew was - inevitably - also asked about progress in securing a replacement for Jose Enrique. As well as throwing up the usual smokescreen about the quality of the existing summer signings, he said: "The left-back situation is a week down the line and the plan we had went straight into action." Hmm. Yes, it's "a week down the line" from when the Spaniard was sold, but his departure has been on the cards for months. How irritating that, once again, the left-back "plan" could only swing into action once the existing incumbent had been flogged off. As it is, Ryan Taylor will continue to deputise against 5under1and. Heaven help us.

Pardew's pre-match comments, meanwhile, had shades of Mourinho or Taggart or Wenger about them, putting pressure on the man in the middle, World Cup final ref Howard Webb, to be "astute": "The referee needs to make sure he referees the game from a completely neutral point of view because Joey has been in the press a fair bit this week". ASBO's a powder keg at the best of times - let's hope he can cling on to his self-control and help inspire us to another victory over the old enemy.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Picking up the pieces

It says something that Little Saint Mick claims "the biggest challenge of his life" isn't football-related but completing an 1000-piece jigsaw. Don't strain a muscle now, Michael...

This reminds me of Lee Clark's old nickname, Jigsaw, because he used to go to pieces in the box. By comparison, Little Saint Mick might have been handier in the box for us, but he certainly went to pieces too often.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Forst out

As if following Kazenga LuaLua's lead - to all intents and purposes a Brighton player who just happens to be owned by us - Fraser Forster has gone back to what he knows for a second loan spell at Celtic.

Earlier in the summer Pardew claimed he had a tough decision to make over who to retain at St James' and who to farm out. However, it seems that Tim Krul - now a full Dutch international and selected for Saturday's curtain-raiser - remains Steve Harper's understudy and probable long-term replacement. The manager's decision might have been influenced by Forster fluffing his big chance to impress in pre-season.

The logic behind Forster's move might be questionable and curious given Pardew's previous comments about the poor quality of Scottish football making loans a waste of time, but it does at least mean the talented youngster remains on our books and will continue to amass first-team experience in front of big crowds.

Of our other loanees, neither LuaLua nor Michael Richardson appeared in their temporary sides' midweek fixtures, though James Tavernier (supported by ex-Newcastle reserve 'keeper Adam Collin) helped Carlisle to another clean sheet away from home.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Striker's strike action

The latest name on our wanted strikers list - now longer than ASBO and Rocky's charge sheets combined - is, apparently, Sochaux's Modibo Maiga. The Mali international claims to have met "everyone at Newcastle" and insists that "Premier League is a dream". He's now threatening to go on strike N'Somnia-style if "selfish" Sochaux chairman Alexandre Lacombe refuses to allow him to leave.

In the light of our recent transfer policy, Maiga appears to fit the bill - he's young (23) and French-speaking (if not actually of French descent). What's more, he and ASBO have recent experiences in common: "I had a meeting with [Lacombe] and I could not accept his position, it is just like a big slap in the face"...

(Incidentally, ASBO's assailant Alex Song has had the decency to take the guilty verdict and three-match suspension on the chin.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Argy bargy = chargy

One game, one FA charge. Not for ASBO, but for the club as a whole, for failing to control the players. Which begs the question: when has the club ever been fully in control of its footballing employees? We've stated an intention to fight it.

Arsenal have been charged with the same offence while, as expected, Alex Song's stamp on ASBO also attracted the authorities' attention. At least Gervinho will have some company in the stands, eh? Another kick in the swingers for Arsene Wenger on a day when it was confirmed he's lost his prized possession to Barcelona.

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Crock a Hoop

The only bit of news less surprising than ASBO being the epicentre of a storm was the fact that the Little Waster's debut for QPR lasted all of seven minutes before he succumbed to injury. Don't say we didn't warn you, Hoops fans - we did.

Meanwhile, Jose Enrique made his debut for Liverpool a day after leaving us, but was unable to help inspire his new side to victory over 5under1and. Sebastian Larsson, a player on our radar until Ol' Cauliflower Face swooped, scored a superb volleyed equaliser for the Mackems, while Rocky had a goal disallowed for a sly shove on Anton Ferdinand. Elsewhere, there were debut clean sheets for Villa's Shay Given at Fulham and Stoke's Jonathan Woodgate at home to Chelsea, and all-important first wins for Chris Hughton's Birmingham and Fat Sam's West Ham, the latter victory courtesy of an early Kevin Nolan goal.

Of our four loanees, only James Tavernier started, helping Carlisle to repel Bury's attack and provide the platform for an away victory. Michael Richardson and Phil Airey made substitute appearances for Leyton Orient and Hibs respectively, though Kazenga LuaLua missed out altogether due to a hamstring problem as Brighton continued their impressive start to life back in the second tier.

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ASBO acts up in curtain-raiser

Newcastle 0 - 0 Arsenal

It may not have been quite as jaw-droppingly dramatic a draw as when we last took on the Gunners at St James' Park, but there was still a moment of pure drama for Saturday's spectators and television cameras to witness - and at the centre of it all, inevitably, was ASBO, a man who wasn't even expected to feature.

Nearly 75 minutes had elapsed when Arsenal debutant (and one-time Toon target) Gervinho, who had caused us problems with his running from wide areas, flung himself to the ground in our penalty area under supposed challenge from Mr T (who had already picked up his customary booking). As the ball was cleared, an incensed ASBO - once again desperate to be the main protagonist, or the pantomime villain as far as the Gunners were concerned - hoisted the Ivorian up by the scruff of his shirt. Steven Taylor and others did their best to separate the pair, but Gervinho still managed to plant a palm in ASBO's face - upon which the man with the extraordinary Hitler hairdo momentarily forgot what he'd been remonstrating with his assailant about and collapsed to the turf clutching his mug. The Arsenal striker was dismissed, but ASBO received only a yellow card - much to the fury of Arsene "Persecution Complex" Wenger.

In the manner of February's match report, let's unpick the incident and assess whether Arsenal really have grounds for complaint.

Gervinho's dive
Referee's decision: no penalty. Yes, let's call it a dive, bluntly, because it was - contact was minimal at best. Had subsequent events not unfolded, he would have merited a booking anyway. Verdict: correct.

Gervinho's slap
Referee's decision: red card. You can blather on about it being soft, or about ASBO's dramatics conspiring to make Peter Walton's mind up, but the fact remains that if you raise your hands to someone's face then you run the risk of being sent off. Verdict: correct.

ASBO's tussle with Gervinho
Referee's decision: yellow card. Mindlessly and needlessly aggressive from ASBO - why get involved and force the man in the middle to take action, especially when your reputation precedes you? But, unlike Gervinho, he didn't strike his opponent in the face. Verdict: correct.

ASBO's reaction to the slap
Pathetic, and worthy of a yellow card. Cameras caught ASBO telling his team-mates "He punched me" - c'mon Joey, your chequered past suggests that you know exactly what a punch is. In fairness, he has at least since come out and confessed his embarrassment - not so much pride before a fall as no pride after one. (Incidentally, clearly in combative mood, he also took to Twitter to reignite his feud with Wor Al, commenting of the Match of the Day pundit: "Bad shirt, shoes and views from shearer again. Sort it out slaphead"...)

Gunners fans whining that Gervinho's dismissal was cheap would do well to acknowledge that their side should already have been reduced to ten men by that point, Walton missing Alex Song slyly planting a studded boot on the back of ASBO's calf following a challenge. Hopefully a retrospectively imposed suspension lies in store for the Cameroon international.

Aside from all the amateur dramatics, there was some football played - some, but not a lot.

Arsenal, as expected, bossed possession and had the better chances, but, shorn of three of their best players in Jack Wilshere, Samir Nasri and Barca-bound Cesc Fabregas, never really troubled us too much. Steven Taylor made amends for a first-half error by deflecting Robin van Persie's shot wide and Danny Simpson had to hook off the line, while in the second period the Dutchman landed a free-kick on the roof of the net and substitute Theo Walcott's low shot was clutched by Tim Krul, interestingly preferred in goal to Steve Harper.

After the catastrophic defensive display in the first half of February's fixture, our objective simply appeared to be to achieve a shut-out, but this was to the inevitable detriment of our attacking play, which barely merited the name. Spidermag planted a volley well wide and debutant Yohan Cabaye fluffed a presentable opportunity but it was telling that we came closest to beating Wojciech Szczesny with a Simpson cross.

Cabaye's chance was created by fellow debutant Gabriel Obertan, who had come off the bench at half-time to replace Demba Ba - possibly for an injury, though he and Big Lad hardly looked much of a threat together. Meanwhile, Alan Pardew had selected Ryan Taylor to fill Jose Enrique's boots at left-back - his hopeless performance underlining (as if it was necessary) our urgent need for a specialist in the role.

A point on the board after a tough opening fixture, even against a depleted Gunners, isn't to be sniffed at, though we'll need to show far more offensive ambition if we're actually to win games this season. Another thing's pretty much for certain: if ASBO leaves us before August is out, his destination is unlikely to be the Emirates...

Arsenal fans' verdicts: A Cultured Left Foot, Arseblog, Arsenalinsider, Gunnerblog, The Gunning Hawk

Other match reports: BBC, Observer

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Prediction time

Having assessed the prospects of all of the teams around us (here and here), and our own current strengths and weaknesses (here), it now falls to me to hazard a guess at how the table might look come May 2012. So here goes:

1 Chelsea
2 Man Utd
3 Man City
4 Liverpool
5 Arsenal
6 Spurs
7 Everton
8 The Great Unwashed
9 Stoke
10 Fulham
11 Newcastle Utd
12 Bolton
13 West Brom
14 Aston Villa
15 Swansea
16 Norwich
17 Wolves
18 Wigan
19 QPR
20 Blackburn

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View from the Home End

Now that Ben has assessed our competition (here and here), it's my turn to cast an eye over our own club as the season draws ever close.

Firstly, let's assess the squad. At the end of last season, our Premier League future secure, we rather flopped over the finish line thanks to our home draw with the Baggies. From the squad that took us to mid-table, we've shipped out the talismanic Kevin Nolan and waved goodbye to Jose Enrique. Given the recent Twitter saga, we might also be bidding farewell to ASBO, although rumours would suggest that he's not that keen on a move to Stoke (even if they can offer European football). We've also flogged to Wayne Routledge to Swansea and Kazenga LuaLua has gone on loan to Brighton for a third (and probably final) time. Spanish waster Xisco has also finally gone, albeit I'd long since written him off as a bad lot.

In their stead, for once we moved early in the transfer window and secured the services of Yohan Cabaye, Sylvain Marveaux, Mehdi Abeid and Demba Ba, all of whom have shown promising flashes in pre-season. We've now added Gabriel Obertan into the mix.

What we have singularly failed to do is replace Rocky, who departed in January, or bring in a replacement for Enrique - both of which really need to happen before the transfer window closes at the end of the month. We could also do to find some cover at left-back.

If we can't add a further striker, we'll be left with Ba, Big Lad, Lovenkrands, Best and the seemingly unwanted Ranger, which doesn't seem the most inspiring bunch, truth be told. Similarly, we now need to move quickly if we're not to be left struggling along without a recognised left-back until January.

What we do now have is an abundance of midfield quality, with Cabaye and Mr T the likely fulcrum around which our team will turn next season, with cover in the form of ASBO (if he stays), Gosling, Smith (assuming we can't get rid of him) and Guthrie. Out wide we can call upon Spidermag, Marveaux, Obertan and Ferguson (when he recovers from his injury), plus ASBO and Hatem Ben Arfa.

From what Pardew has been saying, it looks like we might be leaning towards playing Ben Arfa in a classic number 10 role, behind a lone striker (most likely Ba or Big Lad), with the possibility of Haris Vuckic, Obertan or even Little Big Lad deputising in his stead.

At the back, Steven Taylor and Sideshow Bob look a solid central pairing, with Danny Simpson and a new left-back (hopefully) out wide we look a decent side. The difficulty comes when you scratch the surface, with the injured Ferguson, James Perch or Ryan Taylor the only senior cover down the flanks, and Mike Williamson available in the centre. While Williamson had a decent first season, he struggled at times and he'll need to show more this time out if he isn't to slowly drift down the pecking order.

On the youth front, James Tavernier came back from his loan spell at Gateshead with his reputation improved, but has now gone out on loan again, but Tamas Kadar looks to be falling out of favour, and may well be looking for a loan move to get some pitch time.

Between the posts, Pardew still needs to pick between Steve Harper, Fraser Forster and Tim Krul, with one of them likely to be disappointed. Whether either of the two youngsters will be satisfied acting as understudy for the other (or for Harper once he overcomes the niggling injuries which have beset his preseason) remains to be seen.

What that all means is that, on paper, we look a stronger side than the one we assessed 12 months ago, albeit shorn of Rocky's goal threat. Of greater significance, though, is the impact which our pretty terrible pre-season (visa issues, injuries, Twitter, the monsoon, player sales) have had on our morale. If the team spirit has gone, then this could be a long hard slog of a season. Games at home to Arsenal and away to 5under1and hardly represent an ideal means of easing ourselves into our league campaign, and if we're still on zero points after those two, there could well be some discontent in the stands.

However, what I love about the start of the season is the fact that everyone starts even and no matter what has gone on over the summer, kick-off represents the start of a potentially great season (they're all potentially great until the grim reality kicks in). So let's focus on the positives. Pardew looks a decent man-manager, and if he can add a striker and a left-back before the end of the month, it could be a very good year. With a whole host of mediocre teams making up the bulk of the Premier League, there a plenty of winnable games out there.

Ha'way the lads!

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Adios amigo

So, after contract negotiation avoidance, Twitter outbursts and weeks if not months of speculation, Jose Enrique has finally swapped St James' Park for Anfield. The writing was on the wall yesterday, with the publication of a posed photo from the medical - a besuited doctor taking the Spaniard's blood pressure while he grinned from ear to ear, wearing a Liverpool T-shirt.

As so often seems to be the case with players who've left Tyneside, his initial comments appeared as much a barbed commentary on his former employers as a glowing endorsement of his new club: "I am excited by the new signings - it shows Liverpool's ambition. They spent a lot of money in January on Andy and Luis Suarez, and this summer they've spent a lot of money on other players. You can see they have big ambitions and that's why I came here - because I want to win things and I think I can do that here". Jabba will no doubt again be nettled by his words, but this time has no recourse to a fine.

The protracted, rather unsavoury and messy nature of Enrique's departure shouldn't detract from the fact that, after a couple of seasons finding his feet in English football, he was tremendous in our promotion season and again as we reacclimatised to life in the top flight. My reaction is more of frustration and disappointment than outright anger - the increasingly inevitability of the move put paid to that. For his part, Alan Pardew expressed a kind of resigned and wearied acceptance, reading from the Jabba-prepared script about the importance of financial stability while bemoaning the loss of another of his star men.

Liverpool can congratulate themselves on picking up a skillful and accomplished defender who was among the Premier League's very best in his position last season, and for a very respectable fee - roughly the same as we paid Villareal when he was still a raw and unproven 21-year-old.

As with Rocky, though, the Scousers have contrived to cause us maximum damage by leaving the deal so late. We still have more than two weeks to find a replacement (Erik Pieters, hopefully) before the transfer window shuts, but with no natural substitute at the club and Shane Ferguson injured, we face the prospect of trying to beat Arsenal in tomorrow's curtain-opener with Danny Simpson, James Perch or even Steven Taylor at left-back...

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Kids fly the nest

Jose Enrique's defection to Liverpool has overshadowed the departures of two other Toon players, though both are rather lower-profile and both remain in our employ, having been farmed out on loan. James Tavernier was a regular during our first-team pre-season fixtures so may feel a little aggrieved at being sent along the A69 to Carlisle. Striker Phil Airey, meanwhile, has been borrowed by Hibs, whose manager Colin Calderwood knows about the youngster from his time as part of the management team at St James' Park. An interesting move given that Alan Pardew had said in respect of Fraser Forster's time at Celtic that he didn't feel the standard of Scottish football was high enough for loan spells north of the border to be worthwhile...

In other news, ASBO continues to be linked with a move away, most recently to Stoke, whose current central midfield I noted is weak, or to Zenit St Petersburg, who might be able to offer him the wage packet he's demanding. He might yet be gone by the time we play our League Cup second round tie against Scunthorpe - not a fixture we'll be looking forward to with too much relish, given that we came horribly unstuck on our last visit to Glanford Park.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Know Your Enemies 2011/2: Part 2

The second part of my assessment of our opponents (first part here).


Premier League let's be 'avin' ya! Football just never seems to lose its capacity to astound and astonish, does it? On the first day of the 2009/10 season, Norwich were beaten 7-1 at home by Colchester in League One. Two years later and they're kicking off in the top flight - with the man who masterminded that opening day thrashing the architect of the extraordinary renaissance at Carrow Road. If there's any justice, Paul Lambert will be unsackable - but that doesn't allow for the madness and cruelty of life in this division (see West Brom, below).

The Canaries' bold summer recruitment policy - which has seen them scour the divisions from which they've just escaped - was the subject of comment on this blog last month. Steve Morison, Anthony Pilkington and Elliott Bennett are all intriguing signings, but can they cut it at the highest level? Morison faces a battle just to get into the team, with Grant Holt, Simeon Jackson, Chris Martin and fellow arrival James Vaughan all vying for the striking roles. Elsewhere, Spurs loanee Kyle Naughton will have vice-captain Russell Martin, the "Norfolk Cafu", worrying that he won't repeat last season's feat of playing every single minute. No time for dissent in the ranks, though, if Norwich are to avoid relegation and an epitaph of "Too much too soon".

Recommended blog: Little Norwich


Another shot at the big time for Colin Wanker, whose odds of returning to the top flight looked slim to none following Sheffield Utd's contentious relegation in 2007. No doubt the Marmite of managers will be disappointed not to have the chance to exact revenge on the dastardly Hammers, but, unusually for someone who's just steered his club to a convincing Championship title, he'll be grateful just to have a job at all. Rumour has it that Rangers' billionaire backers came close to replacing the meat-and-spuds Yorkshireman with a marquee manager over the summer - which would certainly explain their extreme reticence to trust him with any funds.

That new faces have finally started to arrive suggests Wanker's position is secure for the time being, at least, and he in turn has placed his faith in a new-look strikeforce. Journeyman Jay Bothroyd has plenty to prove, having made little impression during previous Premier League stints and being desperate to lift the one-cap-wonder millstone off his neck, though DJ Campbell was an unexpected success for Blackpool last season. However, Rangers' hopes rest largely upon the whereabouts of mercurial playmaker Adel Taarabt on 1st September - if his agent gets his way, it won't be west London. Meanwhile, there's little danger of us being put to the sword by QPR's former Toon contingent - Peter Ramage has been sent on loan to Crystal Palace, while the Little Waster has probably already draped a towel of reservation over the physio's couch.

Recommended blog: QPR Report


"Ruggedly uncompromising" would, I think, be a fair description of Stoke's established first-choice central defence: Ryan Shawcross, perhaps the only Premier League central defender not to be linked with Arsenal this summer (for obvious reasons), and Robert Huth, a square-jawed automaton with a knack for getting away with nasty off-the-ball fouls. So what is Tony Pulis up to with the free transfer signings of two of England's most cultured centre-backs, Jonathan Woodgate and Matthew Upson? Not that Shawcross and Huth should be too worried - the treatment room staff, however, will be petitioning for a pay rise.

Pulis has no truck with fancy formations, preferring a rigid 4-4-2 in which Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant supply the width and the crosses, and little-and-large combo Kenwyne Jones and Jonathan Walters contribute the goals. Any acquisitions are expected to fit into the Potters' existing system - which explains why Tuncay left and why Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios are rumoured targets. The latter would certainly help to beef up the losing FA Cup finalists' meagre central midfield, which boasts little more than Rory Delap's prodigious chuck, lethal weapon though it so often is.

Recommended blog: The Rock 'N' Roll Oatcake


What a contrast. Both ourselves and our dearest enemies have recently been the grateful beneficiaries of Liverpool's munificent preoccupation with young English talent, but while the £35m from the sale of Rocky remains largely in Jabba's wallet, the £20m the Mackems were lucky enough to extort for Jordan Henderson has been invested annoyingly wisely in all manner of directions. Two midfielders and former Toon targets have joined from Birmingham, Craig Gardner and Seb Larsson, while £9m teenager Connor Wickham has the task of taking some of the goalscoring heat off Asamoah Gyan. Like Alan Pardew with Gabriel Obertan, Ol' Cauliflower Face has been hoovering up around the fringes of the Man Utd squad, landing Wes Brown and John O'Shea for reasonable fees.

However, the loss of an intelligent probing midfielder in Steed Malbranque will hopefully prove costly, and red card magnet Lee Cattermole will with any justice finish the season wearing an ankle tag to go with his captain's armband. Keiren Westwood joins Simon Mignolet and Craig Gordon in a three-way battle to be the 'keeper who gets to pick the ball out of the Mackems' net five times at St James' on 3rd March. Finishing below the Great Unwashed last season, though not unexpected, still smarts given the manner in which we conceded our superior position, so we're out to restore the natural order.

Recommended blog: Roker Report


Swansea have been the cause of some debate here at Black & White & Read All Over - specifically, are they this season's Blackpool? Paul says yes, pointing to their attractive brand of football, their status as play-off winners and their manager being a Premier League rookie. However, for my money the comparison is too facile and actually well wide of the mark. The Swans may have a commitment to being fluent and easy on the eye, but their footballing philosophy places equal if not more emphasis on firm foundations - a far cry from the Tangerines' Keegan-esque gung-hoism. What's more, Brendan Rodgers is an astute tactician - however you choose to describe Ian Holloway, an astute tactician he most certainly is not.

The combination of a watertight defence and pacy, fluid attack makes Swansea, of the three promoted sides, the best equipped for survival. Spurs loanee Stephen Caulker, a revelation during his stint at Bristol City last season, has joined Ashley Williams, Alan Tate and Garry Monk to help protect new Dutch 'keeper Michel Vorm, his compatriot Dorus de Vries having left for Wolves. The 4-3-3 formation, predicated on lightning-fast and skillful wingers like Scott Sinclair, is ideally suited to Wayne Routledge so he really ought to come good at the seventh attempt. Swansea's problem, though, has been finding the right spearhead - Danny Graham and Leroy Lita the latest to try their luck. Ekeing out entertaining 1-0 wins in the Championship may have become routine, but the Premier League is a lot tougher.

Recommended blog: none (feel free to suggest one)


Building your whole team around one individual - even one as good as Rafael van der Vaart, whom 'Appy 'Arry couldn't possibly turn down at a mere £8m last August - is a high-risk strategy. What if he gets injured? And what if the formation in which he's most effective doesn't suit other star players? Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale have enjoyed marauding down Spurs' flanks, but Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe - the latter arguably England's most instinctive finisher - have both suffered as a result of Redknapp's van-der-Vaart-friendly one-up-top policy.

Given the manager's notoriety as a seasoned wheeler-dealer, the lack of comings and goings at White Hart Lane is extraordinary. Few, I imagine, would have suspected that Spurs' only major signing of the summer so far would be a 40-year-old deferring retirement in favour of vying with Heurelho Gomes and Carlo Cudicini for the goalkeeper's jersey. In addition to transfer frustrations, Redknapp will have been wearied trying to keep pint-sized genius Luka Modric out of Chelsea's clutches (and at what cost to the wantaway Croatian's mindset?) and pondering how to solve his own versions of our mid-90s conundrums: how to fashion brilliant individual defenders into a cohesive, impermeable unit, and how to win games when your side is off-colour. Still, at least he's been granted a few more days to figure it out. Spurs remain a side capable of beating anyone - but things aren't looking quite as rosy now as they did twelve months ago, and the pursuit of a route back into the Champions League looks more hopeful than realistic.

Recommended blog: Dear Mr Levy

West Brom

A word of warning for Paul Lambert: there's little room for sentiment in a division in which patience is a virtue preached by managers but rarely practiced by chairmen. Roberto Di Matteo's managerial stock was high when West Brom boing-boinged back into the Premier League at the first attempt, and higher still when they beat Arsenal at the Emirates and he scooped the Manager of the Month award. So inevitably, with the Baggies in a spot of bother by early February, Jeremy Peace pulled the trigger without compunction and installed Woy Hodgson in Di Matteo's place. Sadly for opponents of the ruthless hire-'em-and-fire-'em strategy, the switch worked and the new manager steered them into mid-table, helping to banish his personal Anfield nightmare.

This term Hodgson will be pinning his hopes on several things: Youssuf Mulumbu and club captain Chris Brunt continuing their excellent form; £8m man Shane Long forging an instant partnership with one of last season's surprise stars, Peter Odemwingie; Ben Foster settling in quickly following his move from Birmingham out into the Black Country to replace fellow England squad 'keeper Scott Carson. We, meanwhile, would be well advised to keep a rather closer eye on winger Somen Tchoyi...

Recommended blog: none (feel free to suggest one)


When your two summer signings are your player of the year from the previous campaign (Ali Al-Habsi, whose loan from Bolton has been made permanent at a cost of £4m) and someone released by Wolves (David Jones), then you know you're in big, big trouble. Creativity and goalscoring power in particular look conspicuous by their absence. Charles N'Somnia supplied both, but he's got his move to Villa, while Tom Cleverley is back to pressing his nose against the glass at Man Utd.

Hugo Rodallega can't be expected to do everything on his own - but Roberto Martinez should try telling that to Franco di Santo, the Argentinian still having the nerve to call himself a striker despite recording one poxy goal in 25 appearances (though it was against the Mackems, at least). Victor Moses will be one player grateful for N'Somnia's departure, but neither he nor his manager will be able to work miracles. If you're setting a quiz any time over the next ten months, I'd recommend taking the opportunity to ask the question "Which club has never been relegated from the top flight of English football?" If the Latics do go down, then don't expect us to shed any tears for bitter old duffer Dave Whelan.

Recommended blog: Jesus Was A Wiganer


Like Wigan, Wolves have shelled out a sizeable fee to acquire a loan star permanently (Jamie O'Hara), but it's another deal which, certainly come May, could be hailed as the transfer coup of the season. Roger Johnson could surely have signed for a significantly bigger club - with Arsenal in the market for a commanding centre-half, for a start - but Wolves acted decisively to get their man early, promptly installing him as skipper. The only slight concern is that at Birmingham he was at his best as part of a double act with Scott Dann - can he go it alone, so to speak?

As might be expected of a gruff Yorkshireman who wouldn't dream of calling a spade a rectangular-bladed digging device, Mick McCarthy favours a robust 4-4-2 with a pair of dangerous wingers, Stephen Hunt and Matt Jarvis, feeding Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcher up front. Nenad Milijas remains arguably their most skillful player, but there's rarely room for him alongside cynical ASBO-maimer Karl Henry. With Wolves now established as a Premier League club, complacency might come creeping into the dressing room - though if it does, expect McCarthy to give it a firm clip around the ear.

Recommended blog: Wolves Blog

* * * * *

So that's the competition surveyed. Tomorrow Paul assesses our own prospects - minus Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique but plus a whole load of French-speakers - and ventures to predict a final league table.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

You put your left leg in

Confirmation from the club that Big Lad has signed a two-year extension to the contract that was due to expire next summer. He's now contracted to the club until after his 32nd birthday, having made his debut against Chelsea back in 2000.

Since that game, when he memorably squared up to the Poison Dwarf, it's fair to say that Big Lad has, at times, flattered to deceive. On his day, he is a world-beater. Strong, with what can be an exquisite touch, he can give any centre-half a torrid afternoon, and his goal record against the Great Unwashed is particularly impressive. However, those days don't come often enough, and when watching from the stands, the impression that he's ambling through games is one which the player has never been able to shake off.

Still, he's been with the club longer than most and, despite several near brushes with the exit door, has remained a loyal servant, albeit one who continues to be immensely frustrating to watch, the knowledge that he can batter teams single-handedly undermined by the fact he fails to do so nearly often enough.

Presumably this is yet another illustration of the Rocky money being invested in the club, albeit not by bringing in the new striker we need.



One out, one in

Something I forgot to mention in this morning's post about the Obertan signing - was anyone else intrigued by Alan Pardew's comment? "I contacted Sir Alex Ferguson about him early at the start of the summer to see if there was an opportunity to bring him to Newcastle but it wasn't until Wayne Routledge joined Swansea that we were able to bring him in".

This might explain why Pardew happened to be on the blower to Taggart to benefit from his advice on dealing with Twitter, but more significantly it begs another more significant question: why exactly did Routledge have to be sold before Obertan could be signed? Pardew has said repeatedly that he's desperate for reinforcements - but has Jabba imposed limitations on the size of the squad available to the manager? Surely it can't be that we needed the transfer fee and/or the freeing up of wages to complete the deal - that would just once again invite speculation as to where the £39m (in fees alone) from the sales of Rocky and Kevin Nolan has disappeared to...

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Bienvenue encore une fois

After the drought of July, yet another French-born arrival in the form of Gabriel Obertan. Commenters on my earlier post on our new signing were critical of my negative verdict, and so I should point out again that it was based on my own personal experience of watching the Frenchman's admittedly fleeting performances for Man Utd.

Alan Pardew may have a point in highlighting Obertan's pace and versatility in being able to play on either flank or up front, and while the reaction from Red Devils' fans to the sale seems mixed, the fact that a player might not be deemed good enough for the champions certainly doesn't rule him out of being good enough for us. I'd be delighted if I'm left eating my initial words followed up with a big slice of humble pie.

And yet there's a new concern: the length of the contract we've given Obertan. Presumably the thinking behind tying him to a five-year deal is to defer any contract negotiations (and potential salary increases) as long as possible. But it's a double-edged sword, depending as it does upon him being a hit - if he's a flop, then we'll be saddled with a player who might be content to sit on the sidelines picking up his weekly wages rather than seeking out a new club who would pay him less. Added reason to hope it works out well for us, then...

As for who's next, the conclusion of our search for a new striker may be no nearer, but we can be sure the lucky man won't be Shane Long, the Reading striker having signed for West Brom today.

Meanwhile, ASBO's back training with first team squad - this might suggest that his little chat with Pardew (and, presumably, Jabba and Llambiarse) has taken place, but I'm not sure.

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Jog on - and on, and on, and on

With the news currently a torrent of idiocy, inhumanity and mindless selfishness, how pleasing to be able to report on someone who's put himself through personal hell for the benefit of (and in memory of) others.

Congratulations to Toon fan Mark Allison, who's just run 3100 miles right across the US, from sea to shining sea, in 100 days. A phenomenal achievement, and one that's well worth a donation, with all monies raised going to St Benedict's Hospice and the Children's Foundation - for more details see here.

Mark claims to have been an "18st obese Geordie who loved bacon sandwiches, football and pies" - let's hope his passion for Newcastle and the beautiful game remains undiminished, at least, even if his faith in his own sanity doesn't...



Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Fat Sam and Hughton united in defeat

Let's start this belated round-up of the weekend's action by focusing on two of Alan Pardew's predecessors. Neither Fat Sam nor Chris Hughton got off to a good start at the helm of their relegated clubs, West Ham and Birmingham respectively. The Hammers were sunk by an injury-time strike by Cardiff's Kenny Miller, and the performance - and in particular Kevin Nolan's anonymity - will have left Fat Sam scratching his head. Hughton's side, meanwhile, surrendered a one goal lead at Pride Park and eventually going down 2-1.

Of our two loanees, Michael Richardson made his first appearance Leyton Orient from the bench but couldn't prevent his side from slipping to defeat at Walsall, while Kazenga LuaLua - making his third debut for Brighton - was hauled off at half-time, though not before being at the centre of an alleged diving incident that ended with Seagulls manager Gus Poyet being sent to the stands for his complaints. Brighton went on to overcome Doncaster with two late goals and mark the first game at their new stadium with a win.

Having opted for a change of scenery in the summer, Agent Chopra got his Ipswich career off to a flyer with two goals in a comprehensive humiliation of Bristol City on their own turf. The boot was on the other foot for the Tractor Boys tonight, though, with a Chopra-less reserve XI crashing out of the League Cup at home to Northampton - the giantkillers' first goal coming from one Ben Tozer.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

Know Your Enemies 2011/2: Part 1

With the new season kicking off on Saturday, it's time to kick off our usual multi-part preview. Later in the week Paul will be reflecting on a summer of turmoil at St James' Park (what's new?) and offering his thoughts on our prospects for the forthcoming campaign, before predicting how the final Premier League table will shape up. First, though, are my verdicts on our opponents.


For this year, you could - pretty much - just see last year. Marouane Chamakh having faded after a bright opening to the season, Arsene Wenger has invested in another striker, Lille's Ivory Coast international Gervinho, to line up alongside a crop of supremely talented young players (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain just the latest) whose football can, at times, be divine.

However, the problems remain the same too. At the time of writing at least, star players Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri are still Gunners despite the persistent advances of attractive suitors, but at what cost to their state of mind? Arsenal's perpetual soft-centredness from goalkeeper through central defence and into midfield, as exemplified by the League Cup final and that history-making collapse on Tyneside, hasn't been addressed (though if it were to be before the month's out, they could be a different prospect). Gael Clichy's defection to Man City is symbolic of the shift in the balance of power at the summit of the league, and the fitness of Thomas Vermaelen, Jack Wilshere and Robin van Persie is key to them standing any chance of winning silverware for the first time since 2005.

Recommended blog: Arseblog

Aston Villa

A lesson in how to gain revenge on your neighbours, gloating at your relegation: pack off your gaffer to fill their managerial vacancy and repeat the trick with them. How long before Villa's famously grumpy support starts rounding on ex-Blues boss Alex McLeish? My money's on about ten minutes into their opening fixture. Managers all plead to be allowed time, but McLeish's pleas will be more desperate than most.

Last season Villa were a poor side propelled into mid-table by a three-pronged England attack. Darren Bent - a player I can concede is a goalscoring menace now that he's no longer a Mackem - is the sole member of the trio left at Villa Park, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing having departed for Man Utd and Liverpool respectively. The blow of their loss will be cushioned somewhat by the acquisition of Charles N'Somnia, and effectively swapping 40-year-old Brad Friedel for N'Somnia's sprightlier former Toon team-mate Shay Given was an astute move (we know ourselves the Irishman's value in preserving unlikely points). But a mid-table finish beckons, followed - or, more likely, preceded - by the boot for McLeish.

Recommended blog: Aston Villa Blog


And so to another prime candidate to win the sack race. Steve Kean, a man whose long-term employment prospects look about as good as Mr T's chances of avoiding a booking this season, has claimed Blackburn will be in the Champions League in four years. If that's what owners Venky's have targeted, then they're going a funny way about it: sticking an inexperienced stooge in the hotseat, flogging off their brightest young talent (Phil Jones) and spending precious little of their cash. Perhaps Kean meant the Championship? If so, then it's likely to be sooner than 2015.

A negative image of Arsenal, Blackburn are strong in goal and central defence, with Paul Robinson, Chris Samba and Ryan Nelsen, but pitifully weak everywhere else. The only real exception is David "Junior" Hoilett, the pacy 21-year-old Canadian forward having allegedly caught our eye. Their other supposed superstar of the future, Croatian Nikola Kalinic, is desperate to leave and on the verge of joining Dnipro, while opposition fans' favourite El-Hadji Diouf has been censured for reporting late for pre-season training and told to sling his hook by Kean. At least Rovers have a ready-made replacement workie ticket in Scottish striker David Goodwillie, who at the age of 22 has already been fined twice for assault and has only just escaped a court appearance for sexual assault due to insufficient evidence.

Recommended blog: Vital Blackburn Rovers


Another Lancashire side seemingly going backwards. Owen Coyle has worked wonders in translating the Trotters' prosaic hoof 'n' hope into lyrical poetry with the help of Stuart Holden, Mark Davies and Martin Petrov, amongst others, so the recruitment of Nigel Reo-Coker - the equivalent of the proverbial blue-arsed fly, buzzing with energy but devoid of any discernible footballing talent - is something of a mystery. At least his arrival has been counterbalanced by fellow new boys Darren Pratley and Chris Eagles, both creative types, though more used to unlocking Championship defences.

Coyle's biggest worry, you'd imagine, would be where the goals are going to come from. Daniel Sturridge, a revelation on loan last season, has returned to the sidelines at Stamford Bridge, and Johan Elmander, who finally hit form in the final year of his contract, has slunk off to Galatasaray, leaving Kevin Davies and Ivan Klasnic, neither of whom are prolific goalscorers. Pre-season has been particularly unkind to the Trotters, with Lee Chung-Yong and Tyrone Mears both suffering broken legs, but the retention of Gary Cahill could be crucial.

Recommended blog: Manny Road


The question on everyone's lips: surely Fernando Torres can't be as bad again? Chelsea must have hoped that a change of employer would perk up a striker who hasn't played well since before the World Cup - but no, following his £50m move from Liverpool he continued to trudge around Premier League pitches, a forlorn figure for whom the weight of expectation seemed too heavy. At least he'll have some sympathy from his new manager, Andre Villas-Boas, already burdened by unfair (if understandable) comparisons to Jose Mourinho as well as Roman Abramovich's high expectations.

At 33, Villas-Boas is the same age as some of his senior players, which says as much about the squad he's inherited as it does about his own precocious ability. Among the Chelsea Pensioners are John Terry, who isn't the infallible machine he once was, and Didier Drogba, who looks an increasingly spent force. Fat Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda are key figures in a midfield in which Ramires gradually blossomed last season, while David Luiz, at half the price of Torres, was a classy addition in central defence. However, the long-term injury to Michael Essien will put pressure on John Obi Mikel. The challenge remains to emulate Man Utd and Arsenal in successfully integrating youth into the side - Daniel Sturridge, Patrick van Aanholt, Josh McEachran, Gael Kakuta and teenage recruits Oriol Romeu and Romelu Lukaku are no doubt all desperate for action.

Recommended blog: The Chelsea Blog


If the manager of one of Everton's early-season opponents defends a disjointed performance on the grounds of new players taking time to settle and gel, don't expect much sympathy from David Moyes. The Scot, set to kick off the new campaign with the same squad that finished in May, would no doubt kill for some new blood (and, with that eye-bulging stare, you wouldn't put it past him to do so). The Toffees look thinnest up front, with just Jermaine Beckford and Yakubu sufficiently qualified to pick up the pieces when (as is inevitable) Louis Saha is out injured.

But on the flip side, the sought-after likes of Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines and Jack Rodwell remain at Goodison Park, and their strength continues to lie in a clutch of hard-working forward-thinking midfielders - Tim Cahill, Mikel Arteta, Marouane Fellaini, Leon Osman - plus recently emergent talent Seamus Coleman giving them youthful vigour and pace on the right flank. Seventh place is - as ever - theirs for the taking, but securing it with certainty might just demand a little investment.

Recommended blog: none (feel free to suggest one)


The club living in the west London shadows of Abramovich's nouveau riche mob having once again defied the odds to finish comfortably in mid-table, there's no shame in calling yourself a Cottager - except, perhaps, when buffoonish owner Mohammed Al-Fayed unveils the next statue of an 80s pop icon with a spurious connection to Fulham. Cyndi Lauper, anyone?

Al-Fayed's side got into Europe on account of being nice - how very English - and the resultant early kick-off means they'll have little excuse for not hitting the ground running in the Premier League. A small squad has been bolstered with the addition of up-and-coming continental midfielders Marcel Gecov and Pajtim Kasami, while Bjorn Helge Riise now has brother John Arne for company, but the spine has stayed the same - Brede Hangeland the granite-hewn giant at the back, Danny Murphy pulling the midfield strings, Moussa Dembele working magic on the left and strikers Bobby Zamora, Clint Dempsey and Andy Johnson supplying the finishes. The only real question mark hangs over the new manager, Mark Hughes having curiously decided to bail out in June, but Martin Jol already has Premier League experience and was harshly treated at Spurs so returns to England with a point to prove.

Recommended blog: Craven Cottage Newsround


For every pre-season prediction that, with hindsight, you can be smug about getting pretty much spot on, there's at least one that's embarrassingly wide of the mark. So excuse me while I wipe the egg from my face, having confidently declared last August that Roy Hodgson and Joe Cole would both be a perfect match for Liverpool. But, at the risk of finding myself eggy-faced again this time next year, I'm once more going to forecast good things for the Reds.

First and foremost, January's extraordinary post-Hodgson spending spree assembled potentially the most lethal strikeforce in the division, Uruguay's skillful and mobile Luis Suarez being paired with our very own one-man wrecking ball Rocky. Provided the latter can keep himself out of both the treatment room and police cells, Fernando Torres will be a distant memory. Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam have been brought in to supply the ammunition - both are great signings, though I'm much less convinced about the £20m splurged on the Mackems' Jordan Henderson and also curious to know how the midfield additions will impact upon Lucas and Raul Meireles, two players instrumental in the Scousers' revival under Kenny Dalglish. Meanwhile, no left-back at all is probably preferable to Paul Konchesky, now busy finding his level in the Championship with Sven's Leicester, but Dalglish will know it's a position that desperately needs filling - quite probably with Jose Enrique.

Recommended blog: The Tomkins Times

Man City

Rather like your typical millionaire footballer's "crib", Eastlands is decked out showily with all manner of expensive trinkets, but the overall effect is neither classy nor very often even aesthetically pleasing. Roberto Mancini's attempts to fashion a collective unit out of a disparate bunch of brilliant if overpriced and overpaid players have thus far borne fruit in the form of the FA Cup and Champions League qualification but not in terms of a genuine title challenge. This summer, though, they've muscled their way into position as the most likely gatecrashers of Chelsea and cross-city rivals Utd's cosy championship-winning club.

To the likes of Yaya Toure (an increasingly dominant force as last season wore on) and David Silva (nimble and probing across the front line - if Mancini gives him licence), City have added Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero, French left-back Gael Clichy and Montenegro defender Stefano Savic - all excellent acquisitions. The defence being superbly marshalled by Vincent Kompany, a relatively unsung hero, Mancini's concerns are focused primarily on forward areas: how to persuade an unhappy Carlos Tevez to stay, how to compensate for his potential departure, how to get the best out of Edin Dzeko. The poor chap would have quite enough headaches over selection without also having Mario "The Power" Balotelli to handle...

Recommended blog: Bitter And Blue

Man Utd

Liverpool's title-winning record has been surpassed, thereby completing Taggart's stated mission to "knock them off their perch" - and yet the man who celebrates goals like an 80-year-old blue-rinsed biddy with a full house hasn't called it quits. Far from it: he's spent the summer strengthening his squad in preparation for another season of putting the Scousers - and their upstart "noisy neighbours" City - firmly in their place. The addition of Ashley Young to Nani and Antonio Valencia will have opposing full-backs waking up in a cold sweat, while their central defence looks more robust than ever with the arrival of Phil Jones. And then there's Wayne Rooney, the most complete striker in the Premier League.

There are a few crumbs of comfort for the Red Devils' rivals to cling to, though. Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar have both done what Taggart has refused to do and retired - the latter in particular could be a big loss if his £18.3m teenage replacement David de Gea doesn't get yesterday's miserable debut in the Charity Shield out of his system quickly. A few injuries and the sale of fringe defenders Wes Brown and John O'Shea could come back to haunt Taggart, while up front Javier Hernandez starts the campaign sidelined through injury and last season's Dimitar Berbatov top scorer is strangely out of favour (and no doubt sulking). But no doubt that, once again, they're the team to beat.

Recommended blog: Republik of Mancunia

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Part 2 to follow in the next couple of days.

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