Monday, November 28, 2011

Rearguard resolve rebuffs Reds

Man Utd 1 - 1 Newcastle Utd

A terrific defensive effort, coupled with a little bit of help from the officials, meant that we came away from our second trip to Manchester with a well-earned point and another fine example of our collective will and refusal to give up.

With Sideshow Bob fit to play despite worrying reports of a back spasm on Friday, the only change from our trip to Man City saw Obertan Kenobi restored to the team in place of Little Big Lad. After riding an early surge from the home team, which saw Shrek and co charging forward at every opportunity, we gradually managed to get a toe-hold on the game and even created a couple of chances ourselves, with Demba Ba unable to find a finish after a clever ball from HBA and Kenobi enjoying perhaps his finest game to date up against his former employers.

Goalless at half-time we looked reasonably stable, with the Silver Fox even going on to remark that he thought we had looked the better side during the opening 45 minutes.

However, the home side managed to get a lucky break shortly after the match resumed when Saylor blocked Shrek's shot, only for it to rebound straight off Hernandez and into our goal, with Tim Krul helpless.

Thankfully the collective spirit that saw us keep going to the death against Man City was again evident as we forced our way back into the game. First a Sideshow Bob shot from a Dreamboat corner was smartly saved by De Gea and then, when Rio Ferdinand tackled HBA in the box, the linesman awarded us a penalty. The referee (who had initially given a corner, presumably because he thought Rio took the ball) overruled his own decision and, ignoring the gaggle of clucking Reds who surrounded him and his assistant, awarded the penalty, which Ba slotted home, having sent De Gea the wrong way, to score his ninth of the season.

At this point, I'll hold my hands up and say that we were fortunate to get the spot-kick. However, given the shocking decisions we've been subject to down the years (Solskjaer's unpunished assault on Aaron Hughes in 2002-03 and Shearer being denied a stone-wall penalty in 2003-04 both spring to mind), I'll take it.

After that, the home team started to crank up the pressure and when Spidermag was sent off with ten minutes to go for his second booking of the match, it looked like we might just come up short.

However, that was when we really saw the benefit of the team spirit and collective defending which has served us so well this season, with Saylor repeatedly throwing his body in the way of shots, Danny Simpson producing a stunning clearance off the goal line and Krul in magnificent form to deny Vidic from close range. The one time Man Utd got the ball over the line, in the fourth minute of Fergie Time, the "goal" was rightly ruled out for offside.

To have lost so late would have been a travesty. If we can continue to carry that level of performance into our next game, at home to a Chelski side who still look far from convincing, we could well be celebrating a fine return to St James' Park.

A Man Utd fan's perspective: We All Follow United

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

RIP Gary Speed

No on-field spats with team-mates or public arguments with managers. No headlines for the wrong reasons. No extracurricular drunkenness and idiocy bringing shame upon an all too frequently shamed club.

Just a quietly dignified, level-headed man demanding and deserving of respect. A consummate professional who refused to be swayed by a slightly sticky start to his Tyneside career and soon won the hearts of Toon fans for his consistency, application and commitment. Someone who supported his colleagues and helped to nurture and mentor new talent. And someone who was well-liked throughout the world of football.




Friday, November 25, 2011

Match preview

A quick post to link to a chat I had with a Manchester Utd fan ahead of this Saturday's match, which is available over on Red Devils blog We All Follow United.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tam to step up to the plate

Whatever happened to that likely lad - you know, the Hungarian defender who saw a bit of service in the Championship but has hardly been spotted since? Well, it turns out that Tamas Kadar is wondering the same thing himself, keen to stress that he's still hopeful of one day becoming a fixture in the first team.

Aside from perhaps the QPR game and that awful five minutes at the Etihad, Raylor's done a surprisingly good job filling in at left-back - but the fact remains that he's a square peg in a round hole and surely a naturally left-sided defender, especially one who in the past has been as talked up as Kadar, should be putting his place under pressure by now?

Come on Tam - less talk, more action.



Terrific Terriers

Congratulations to Lee Clark, whose Huddersfield side set a new Football League record of 43 games unbeaten on Saturday by beating our nicknamesakes Notts County. It's an astounding achievement, albeit one which still hasn't been quite enough to secure them top spot in League One (too many draws).

Clark has been well backed in the transfer market, admittedly, but he's clearly making good use of those resources and showing the potential to become a great manager. Not something that escaped the attentions of Leicester, who were reportedly keen for him to replace the ousted Sven-Goran Eriksson, but Clark stayed put and the Foxes opted to bring another Toon old boy, Nigel Pearson, back from Hull instead.

The Terriers' success this season has been largely founded on the goalscoring exploits of Jordan Rhodes. The young Scottish international has inevitably attracted the attentions of bigger fish, ourselves apparently included, against whom he scored in the League Cup during our brief Championship sojourn. Rhodes bagged back-to-back league hat-tricks last month, the first one away at Exeter - nice to see he's already well versed to banging them in at St James' Park...

In other old-boys-in-Yorkshire news, Habib Beye (our player of the year just three years ago - seems hard to believe now) has joined Dean Saunders and his motley crew of out-of-favour Premier League loanees and short-term signings (including the delightful El-Hadji Diouf) at Doncaster to help bail water out of their sinking Championship ship. On his way out of Leeds, meanwhile, is Andy O'Brien, who's angered manager Simon Grayson for refusing to play for the club. The big-conked defender may still be feted in the stands of St James' Park for doing you-know-what down at the Dark Place, but it seems the Elland Road faithful have been rather less kind or appreciative of his admittedly limited talents...

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Kaz checks out

To the surprise of very few, Kazenga LuaLua has followed in the footsteps of his older brother by turning a loan into a permanent deal and leaving St James' Park for the south coast. While Lomano Tresor, now at Blackpool, departed for Portsmouth, Kaz has signed up with Brighton, with whom he's had three separate loan spells, for an undisclosed fee.

He undoubtedly has some ability, as well as the pace necessary to trouble a few Premier League opponents, but ultimately he becomes just another graduate of our youth development programme who's failed to make the grade. Time will tell if we've made a mistake - probably when we draw the Seagulls in the FA Cup in January...

Steve Harper, by contrast, won't be staying on at the Amex, his own one-month loan deal having expired and no agreement reached on an extension. Nevertheless, he enthused about the experience, describing it as "very, very beneficial".

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Gun for hire

Beware, good folk of South Yorkshire! The Lone Ranger now walks among you (quite literally, since being handed a driving ban for recent motoring misdemeanours), having joined Barnsley on loan, so lock up your daughters and your gun cabinets.

While the Silver Fox was no doubt breathing a sigh of relief to have the miscreant off his hands for a while at least, Tykes manager Keith Hill declared: "Everybody deserves a second, third or fourth opportunity. As long as they're willing to accept the wrongs that they've done, as long as they're trying to right those wrongs, then I'll work with anyone." Wonder how long before he's regretting those words? Ranger's shown no sign of learning from his mistakes, seemingly content to compound them with others and squander what talent and potential he has.

Still, good news for the takings of the local branch of Nandos, eh?

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Pride before and after a fall

Man City 3 - 1 Newcastle Utd

As the media had unanimously predicted, and as we too had all probably feared, Saturday's trip to the Etihad Stadium saw our unbeaten league run come to an end. But, far from being a limp surrender, it was a courageous effort that in truth merited more than just what was the very definition of a consolation goal (if not quite a share of the points).

The Silver Fox could call upon a first-choice back five who, if they were relieved at Roberto Mancini's decision to rest David Silva, will hardly have been delighted by the presence on the City team-sheet of another creative talisman, Samir Nasri. Pardew chose to respond to the selection dilemmas posed by the injuries to Leon O'Best, Mr T, Obertan Kenobi and Sylvain Marveaux by playing HBA in the hole behind lone strike Demba Ba and handing Little Big Lad his first league start.

City's multimillionaire dream team inevitably bossed possession, but the first forty minutes encapsulated everything that's been good about our team ethic thus far this campaign - we were resolute, committed, determined, well-drilled, difficult to break down. Sergio Aguero fired into the stand behind Tim Krul's goal before the Dutchman spectacularly pawed Mario Balotelli's bullet header over. That was his only real taste of action, though, with Sideshow Bob marshalling our efforts superbly and masked man Saylor intervening with a couple of well-timed hoofs when City stopped playing nicely and attempted to go for the jugular.

However, to imply that we simply adopted a negative, sterile, park-the-bus-type strategy would be grossly unfair. As the Silver Fox bemoaned later, twice Ba could have given us the lead, heading wide from a corner and also forcing an excellent save from Joe Hart after a darting run and clever reverse pass from HBA.

If only the half-time whistle had blown five minutes early, then - as it was, we had to look on as all that good work was undone in a brief spell that Raylor will certainly be wanting to forget in a hurry. First he blatantly handled Yaya Toure's goal-bound volley - ball to hand, certainly, but you can't make like an aeroplane and expect to get away with it. "Super" Mario fooled Krul from the spot and then chose to rub salt into the wounds by staring him out, arms folded - an unsavoury bit of unsportsmanlike conduct from the man whom ASBO's nicknamed the Renegade and whose conduct makes the Lone Ranger's seem like that of a sane and restrained individual.

Then, with the opportunity to recover and regroup in the dressing room just a minute away, Raylor intercepted Nasri's attempted pass to Micah Richards but, rather than putting his laces though the ball, he miscontrolled it allowing Richards to nip in and wallop a left-foot shot past Krul. We shouldn't be too harsh on our left-back after his stunning goal won us the previous game against Everton, but it was schoolboyish stuff.

That left us with a second-half task that looked near-impossible, but to our credit we refused to recognise that fact, or to be overawed or overrun by opponents who can boast individuals who've cost more than our entire team and who have decimated Man Utd and Spurs on their own turf. Sideshow Bob volleyed over from a set-piece and Danny Guthrie's low effort caused Hart some trouble. HBA came closest, busily buzzing around and working space for a shot which came back off Hart's right-hand post with the England 'keeper a spectator.

We couldn't quite force that foothold in the game, though, and City extended their lead with another penalty, HBA guilty of a clumsy challenge on Richards with Saylor temporarily off the pitch for medical attention. Aguero was in no mood to look a gift horse in the mouth, ensuring City became the first side to put three past us in the league this season.

The calibre of City's substitutes - Silva, Gareth Barry and Adam Johnson - was terrifying, but it was one of our own who grabbed the game's final goal a minute from time. Dan Gosling, on for Little Big Lad, pounced to roll the ball into an empty net, his first strike for the club, after Hart had saved but failed to smother Ba's shot.

There's no shame in defeat to the runaway league leaders, especially when they were dependent upon two spot-kicks and an individual cock-up to achieve it, and it's a measure of how far we've come that our post-match disappointment was purely with the result rather than the performance. The defence was once again magnificent for long stretches, aided by a compact and hard-working midfield, while Little Big Lad gave Gael Clichy, his French international marker, plenty of headaches and demonstrated that he's worthy of his recent new contract and further first-team opportunities. HBA stole the show, though, coming out on top in his much-anticipated duel with Nigel de Jong and unlucky to end up on the losing side, that untidy challenge on Richards the only blot. The signs for a fruitful partnership with Ba are promising.

The challenge facing us this coming Saturday is much the same, even down to the environs. Man Utd look to be somewhat below par at the moment, though, still recovering from their mauling by their cross-city rivals and more suspect defensively than is usual. Our record at Old Trafford is appalling, but this is a Newcastle side with few similarities to its predecessors and, with the right application and a healthy dose of self-belief, a draw or even a victory isn't beyond the realms of possibility.

A City fan's perspective: Bitter And Blue

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Quote of the day

"I don’t think that would be right for Newcastle. St James’ Park is part of the heritage of Newcastle and it’s important to local people, so for me it should be called St James’ Park."

Jayne-Anne Ghadia, chief exec of Northern Rock's new owners Virgin Money, undermines Jabba and Llambiarse's justifications for the stadium name change.



Friday, November 18, 2011

Vive la revolution!

It's fitting, really, that our renaissance should have been inspired and driven by a clutch of players of French provenance (if not nationality). Following on from TBW's identification of our Gallic contingent as a key factor in our expectation-confounding season thus far comes an article from the BBC's Jimmy Smallwood focusing exclusively on our imports from across the Channel.

Admittedly Smallwood's piece is limited in scope, drawing only upon comments from "French football expert" Ben Lyttleton, BBC Radio Newcastle's Mick Lowes and Sir Bobby Robson's mercurial Ginola replacement Laurent Robert (notably, another ex-player talking enthusiastically about his time on Tyneside). It's also true that he somewhat overstates the case - HBA and Sylvain Marveaux have been largely restricted to bit-part roles, Obertan Kenobi has shown only flashes of quality rather than consistency and not one of our impressively parsimonious first-choice back five hails from France. Lowes is guilty too - promising though Mehdi Abeid looks, he's yet to feature for the first team in the Premier League.

However, it surely can't be disputed that Dreamboat plus French speakers Mr T and Demba Ba (the latter born in Paris though representing Senegal internationally) have been central to our brilliant start, contributing intelligent midfield craft, energetic defensive protection and goals respectively to the cause. They've been instrumental in making us tough, resilient and hard to beat - far from Groundskeeper Willie's "cheese-eating surrender monkeys".

It's early days yet, though, so Lowes is a bit premature in hailing the Gallic recruits as an unqualified success. We can't really judge until at least halfway through the season - and certainly not until we've at least got the next three difficult assignments out of the way.

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The international language of football

You may have noticed that Paul's been doing the lion's share of the posting and updating recently - that's because I'm currently on belated honeymoon in South East Asia.

Thoughts of football have never been far from mind, though - the popularity of the English game attested by the number of knock-off Arsenal and Chelsea shirts we've seen, the number of scooters racing past bearing Man Utd stickers and badges, and (in a sign of the times) the number of Cambodians and Vietnamese professing to be supporters of tomorrow's opponents.

While converts to the Toon cause have been rather less apparent, we nevertheless appear to retain a surprisingly significant profile in the region. Ticket-checkers at the Angkor temples and tuk-tuk drivers in Cambodia recognised my shirt - this, I should add, in a country where TV ownership is minimal, most people seemingly exposed to it only at roadside cafes where every seat is directed towards a solitary small screen.

We're now in Hanoi, and last night settled down on dinky plastic chairs at a very non-Western street-corner "bia hoi" joint. Communication with the locals was enthusiastic but difficult, their English being very rudimentary and our Vietnamese non-existent, and consisted primarily of gesticulation at maps and the occasional thumbs up. When the subject of football came up (as inevitably it did), I mentioned I was a Newcastle fan. "Ah", grinned one of our companions, nodding. "Alan Shearer!"

That was enough encouragement for me to start trying to initiate a conversation about how Dreamboat could have elected to play for Vietnam, but not surprisingly that proved a step too far...

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Making plans for Nigel

So, Nigel de Jong wants to meet up with HBA, the player he crippled last season, does he? Probably a wise move that the encounter's been scheduled to take place post-match, in case there's any further flare-up between the two during the game.

The Silver Fox said of the Frenchman that "he was absolutely clear to me that he has no problem about going back there, no problem about facing their particular player", which to me suggests that HBA is hungry for a bit of revenge in one form or another. Hopefully it'll be both constructive and within the rules of the game - while a desire to hurt his assailant would be understandable, we'll find it hard enough to get a result at the Etihad as it is, without being forced to play with ten men.

Of course, given the riches at Roberto Mancini's disposal and his general squad rotation policy, there's a chance that de Jong won't actually start the game for the league leaders, depriving HBA of the opportunity to get his own back.

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Sammy signs

One recent positive is the news that Little Big Lad has signed a new three-and-a-half-year contract which removes the fear that he'd leave for nothing more than a small compensation payment next summer.

Undoubtedly a player of real potential, it will be interesting to see how he develops, and with Obertan Kenobi and Sylvain Marveaux both struggling with injury he could be in the starting XI on Saturday.

The Silver Fox commented: "He is a player of huge potential and talent, and it is always great to see homegrown players come through the system at the club. We have already seen glimpses of what he can do, and we hope Sammy can go on and make a real impact at Newcastle United."

Don't we all, Alan, don't we all.

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Sticks and stones

One story I missed last week, was the announcement by Northern Rock that it was terminating its sponsorship of the club early. At the time that may have looked like a reaction to the name change, but in the cold light of day, it appears that it was linked to the sale to Virgin Money. Expect a flood of predictable jokes about Newcastle shirts with the word "Virgin" on them breaching advertising regulations...

Quite when their logo will disappear from shirts is anyone's guess, but if they do pull the plug before the end of the season, what price Jabba's crappy sports store logo makes an appearance "to demonstrate to potential sponsors how their brand might be displayed" (without charge, obviously).

Someone who hasn't taken to the change of stadium name is Graeme Cansdale, who has been so incensed that he's dug up the brick with his father's name on outside St James' Park, and replaced it with a blank brick instead, vowing not to return the brick while Jabba remains at the helm.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mag net attraction

A hearty welcome to the B&W&RAO sidebar for the new website of Newcastle fanzine The Mag, which will doubtless prove itself a worthwhile addition to every Newcastle fan's daily trawl of the internet.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Strops, splits and crocks

A quick round-up of old boy news that might be of interest.

David Ginola has once again taken a Gallic strop with long-time foe Gerard Houllier, initiating legal proceedings against his former national manager for comments made in a new book. Our former winger feels he's been made a scapegoat by Houllier for France's defeat to Bulgaria in 1993, which resulted in Les Bleus joining England on the sidelines for the 1994 World Cup. I wonder what effect the news will have on Houllier's blood pressure.

Down in the Blue Square Bet Premier, Dietmar Hamann has quit as manager of Stockport County after just four months in charge. The Hatters plummeted out of the Football League last season, and the ex-German international midfield general has had no joy whatsoever in reviving their fortunes at a lower level, winning just three of his nineteen games in charge. Hamann commented: "Various promises were made to me at the time of my appointment which did not take place. I feel therefore unable to continue in the post." He was referring to a mooted takeover that didn't happen, but otherwise it sounds eerily like King Kev's second resignation speech...

And finally, the BBC are reporting that Little Saint Mick is out for six weeks. As friend of the blog Tim commented, "I didn't know he was 'in'..."



View from across the pond

Ever wondered what it's like to have never been to St James' Park, but still care passionately about our club?

Well, thanks to this interview with the guys behind I Wish I Was A Geordie (who you can follow as @nufc_us on Twitter) you can gain a bit of an insight here (albeit one written before the issue of the name reared its ugly head).

(Thanks to @Mike_Ramalho for the link.)



Monday, November 14, 2011

Behold the Golden Jaguar

Not a reference to latest purchase by the King of Bling, but rather news of another old boy, who, despite being without a club has eyes on appearing at the next world cup.

Step forward Carl Cort, who just picked up his second cap for Guyana, playing alongside his brother in a 2-1 win over Trinidad at the weekend.

Of perhaps greater significance at the weekend was the Dreamboat's training ground appearances with France, with the player hopefully recovered from the muscle strain which saw him hobble off the pitch during our hard fought win against Everton.  Hopefully this means he'll be fully fit for our trip to table toppers Man City at the weekend.

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A mirror to our soul

Two articles in the Mirror this weekend, with reported quotes from Llambiarse giving the paper plenty of column inches.

Firstly, he can be found boasting about the Rocky sale, gleeful recounting how we got the full £35 million up front, and due to late payment of the fee also picked up a further £12k interest, as well as reporting on the player's current value as "fuck all". (To be fair, even though I suspect the player will ultimately come good for them, there are a number of Liverpool fans I know who'd probably echo Llambiarse's sentiment at present.)

Secondly, he turned his sights on a trio of former managers. The Lion of Gosforth apparently gave too much control to Iain Dowie and is very arrogant (something which is our fault). Which raises some interesting questions about the club's subsequent statement that employing Shearer as manager was the best decision they ever made.

Keegan apparently couldn't hack the pressure and was only appointed because we were trying to sell to someone who wanted him bringing in as manager. To be fair to Keegan, as the employment tribunal found, having the Poison Dwarf bringing in shite players you don't want might have made it a difficult situation to operate in even if you've got the the calmness of a bomb disposal expert.

Chris Hughton however, couldn't make a firm decision, so that's why he had to go. Hardly surprising given that he probably never knew what level of shitstorm the powers that be would inflict upon him on a day-to-day basis.

Presumably while the Silver Fox says the right things before the cameras, he's obviously got the ability to stand his ground when necessary - something which the club hierarchy clearly value. What that suggests is that ours is currently an incredibly macho working environment - and one can only wonder if Llambiarse goes to bed every night with a packet of tissues and a laminated picture of Gordon Gecko.

Ultimately though, the coup de grace was Llambiarse's comment that "You guys don’t ­understand how fucking ­horrible we can be".

Having already inflicted JFK on us, renamed St James' Park, repeatedly lied to us and treated former club legends like dirt, it's difficult to see what else they could do, without undermining the brand to the point where Jabba would never be able to get a return on his investment. Still, I'm sure from his comments that Llambiarse still has a few ideas up his sleeves...

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Name changer

OK, quick quiz question: who plays their football at the King Power Stadium? (Answer at the bottom of the page.)

Stadium naming is an emotive issue - rebranding something which is synonymous with a club is a difficult task, one which clubs typically tread very carefully around, for fear that they will upset a vast swathe of their fans. Can you imagine the furore if players walked past a sign as they headed for the pitch against Liverpool which instead of saying "This is Anfield" said "This is the [Your name here] Arena"? There's no history there. No soul. No inspiration for the home team or fear for the away team. It just doesn't work.

Until today, the only stadia for which naming rights have so far been granted are those which have recently been built such as the Emirates, the Etihad, the Reebok - all Premier League grounds, all relatively new replacements for antiquated parts of the club's history reflecting the commercial reality of the new chapter in the club's life.

Not for our club, however, where once the club played at St James' Park, officially at least our club will now play its home games at the Sports Direct Arena in a bid to showcase to potential sponsors the kind of profile they can get by sponsoring our ground. Presumably Sports Direct won't be paying for this, though, what with Jabba owning that particular brand (which as a result of this announcement gets a nice bit of free publicity in the run up to Christmas).

We all knew that the good run had to end a some point. It was simply too much to hope that Jabba and Llambiarse had learnt their lessons, that we could all pull together and as a consequence see great things happen. Initiatives to draw fans back to St James' Park (such as cheap season tickets for mates of existing season ticket holders) were working. As a club, while we as fans hadn't forgotten the sins of the past, we were at least moving forward together. Then this bombshell is dropped.

Evidently though, Jabba doesn't care. Llambiarse doesn't care. If they think they can screw a bit more money out of a sponsor (and Jabba can garner a bucketload of free advertising for his own shitty company in the meantime), then the fans, the history, it can all be ignored.

The question is, will it change?

For fans, it will always be St James' Park, in much the same way as the majority still refer to the Leazes and Gallowgate Ends despite the fact that both were renamed years ago. It will be interesting to see how the mainstream media react - will they stick with St James' Park (as they did when Jabba tried the whole @ St James' Park rebrand a couple of years ago), or will they be compelled to start referring to the Sports Direct Arena in match reports etc?Hopefully, the groundswell of public opinion will be such that this latest attempt to sell off the soul of our club will die away (and, having just paid for new signage on the East Stand, will a further sign be going up anytime soon I wonder?).

Am I surprised that Jabba has tried again to rebrand our ground? No. Do I think it's disgraceful? Of course. Will I use the new name? Will I fuck. Will anyone else? Who knows?

It's the last question that Jabba is pinning his hopes upon, in his bid to increase income streams. Llambiarse reckons it could be worth £8-10 million per year. If that helps the team grow, I suppose I should grudgingly welcome it, but as with the sale of Rocky I suspect we won't see any of the money being spent on headline sums to strengthen the team, rather it represents a means of improving our balance sheet and thereby making us more attractive when Jabba comes to sell. (I suppose we should at least be grateful we've not followed Wigan's lead and tried to call it the MA Arena.)

In the meantime, once the outrage has subsided, it will be interesting to see what if there are any takers and whether anything actually changes. I hope that the answer will be "no".

Quiz answer: Leicester City, whose relatively new stadium was previously named after local crisp maker Walkers, but which has changed its name in line with their new Thai owners' principal brand (spot a theme?). Locally, of course, it's still known as the Walkers, which rather proves the point that original names stick, whatever signage you put above the door.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Where did it all go right?

With the international break now upon us, it gives a quick opportunity to round up the suffusion of articles that emerged last week with journalists desperate to put their finger on the secret of our success.

First up is TBW in the Guardian who points to a recruitment policy with a strong Gallic focus, our current style of play which has seen us put greater emphasis on ball retention, the hard work put in on the training ground coupled with the strong influence of Sideshow Bob and the fact that, generally speaking, ours is a team comprising players in form.

In the Telegraph, Luke Edwards has picked out Pardew's attention to detail (which again manifests itself on the training ground) and the self-belief which is currently coursing through the team. He also puts great stock in the presence of HBA, who appears in his eyes to be single-handedly raising everyone's game just by sitting in the room. He also notes the spine of Geordie staff which the club (and particularly Pardew) has to call upon, with John Carver and Steve Stone both to the fore, while the influence of Graham Carr has been heralded by all and sundry for some time now. Last, and by no means least, is the harmony throughout the club, with the team, management and ownership all seemingly pulling together to make the good ship Newcastle Utd travel smoothly.

Sticking in the UK for a second, tonight sees the BBC wade in to the discussion, with The Turnaround Of The Toon being broadcast tonight at 8.30pm and featuring our very own Saylor (presumably without his plastic mask).

Moving further afield, The Wall Street Journal has also had a bash at putting its finger on the secrets of our success, and are very firmly of the belief that it stems from our French recruitment policy (even if their conclusions are slightly undermined by the assertion that Mr T is French).

Finally, sticking with the foreign press, this little beauty in the New York Times caught my eye:

"The crowd is cheering because the team’s position is higher than many expected, and higher than most have experienced in their lives. More than that, they are witnessing players from Argentina, from Africa, from European lands they scarcely knew existed, playing in their famed black and white stripes."

Essentially the author thinks we're all about 12 years old and from Durham and have barely heard of France or Holland; which just goes to show what a New Zealand-based reporter writing in the New York Times knows about life on Tyneside.

Compared to that article, TBW's conclusion that our success is based on good cheap players working hard and keeping the ball looks positively insightful.



Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Raylor rocket lights up Bonfire Night

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Everton

A battling performance on Saturday against Everton ensured our unbeaten run continued into the international break.

The only change from our win over Stoke saw Sylvain Marveaux come in for the injured Obertan Kenobi, with Danny Guthrie once again tasked with partnering Dreamboat in the middle of the park.

It was their interplay which helped us take an early lead after some slick passing between them and Saylor saw Guthrie given sufficient space to find Danny Simpson marauding down the right wing. His cross towards Leon O'Best looked likely to be cut out by Tim Howard in the Everton goal, only for Dutch defender Jonny Heitinga to stick a foot out and divert the ball into his own goal.

That lead was shortly to be doubled after a Raylor long throw was headed clear by Jack Rodwell, only for our left-back to take the ball on his chest before unleashing a spectacular half-volley over Howard and off the underside of the Gallowgate crossbar into the net. It was a stunning strike from a player who at long last looks to have found his best position.

With Mr T and Obertan Kenobi already absent, we then saw Dreamboat hobble off clutching his groin and former Everton youngster Dan Gosling came on to replace him. However, it was a different product of the Toffees' youth system who was to have the next significant role to play, as on the stroke of half-time Rodwell gained half a yard on Simpson from a Royston Drenthe corner and fired a bullet header past Tim Krul, Raylor perhaps partly culpable having moved away from the near post he looked to be covering.

With Everton back in the game, and Gosling struggling to fill Dreamboat's boots, Everton looked the more likely team to add a goal in the second half, and with first Marveaux hobbling off and then O'Best, our team became further disrupted as firstly Little Big Lad and then HBA joined the fray.

Whilst Little Big lad might have pinched one on the break, the reality was that it was Everton who continued to press for an equaliser, Gosling perhaps fortunate that a handball was missed by referee Andre Mariner. However, while Everton huffed and puffed, they couldn't blow our house down, with the hours spent on the training pitch honing the meanest defence in the league paying off, something helped by Louis Saha seemingly leaving his shooting boots on Merseyside.

Not a classic performance by any means, but another win to add to the collection, which briefly saw us elevated to second before 5unde1and rolled over and allowed Fergie's mob to tickle their tummies at Old Trafford later in the day. The international break will hopefully allow us to focus on getting Dreamboat and Mr T back near to fitness before our double-headed trip to Manchester later in the month. However, even if the unbeaten run comes to an end at the Etihad, we'll still have 25 points in November and there haven't been many times in recent years that we've been able to say that.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Saturday, November 05, 2011

Quote of the day

"I'm still adapting to the Premier League; it's the best league in the world and, at the moment, its pace is taking a lot of good things out of my game. I'll be better when I adapt fully."

The mouthwatering words of the Dreamboat as he charms his way through an interview with TBW (with translation provided by Olivier Bernard, no less).

Other revelations include his closeness firstly to the Xisco Kid and latterly to Spidermag and Sideshow Bob and the fact that he was sold on the club by Antoine Sibierski and Franck Dumas (that the latter speaks highly of us was, to me at least, somewhat surprising).

Anyway, you can read the whole interview here.



Friday, November 04, 2011

A Month Of Saturdays: October 2011

Who'd have thunk it, eh? Halloween, a quarter of the way through the Premier League season, and, rather than being stalked and harrowed by the spectre of relegation, we were talking (quietly and with cautious excitement) about the possibility of European football. Indeed, it's telling that the dreaded R word was only mentioned round these parts following rumours (misguided, it turned out) that foreign owners might lobby for it to be scrapped, just as it is that the one bit of player misbehaviour reported in the press - the Lone Ranger's latest brush with the local constabulary - never threatened to detract from our achievements in reaching the heady heights of third, or to derail what has the makings of a tremendous campaign.

When we visited Molineux on the first day of the month, autumn should have been in the air but instead the sun shone on us in more ways than one. Demba Ba was on target again after his hat-trick against Blackburn before Spidermag celebrated his new contract in style, slaloming his way through to score a splendid solo goal. From then on it was backs against the wall, the desperate and heroic efforts of Tim Krul and his defence only enough to preserve an away win with the assistance of wasteful Wolves finishing and Mark Halsey both generously ignoring Saylor's penalty-box foul on Jamie O'Hara and disallowing Kevin Doyle's injury-time equaliser. (Perhaps Halsey shares an optician with Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni?) If you make your own luck, then we'd been very industrious indeed.

In times past we've limped into international breaks gasping for respite, but on this occasion it was an unwelcome interruption. Not that we allowed the two-week hiatus to knock us out of our confident stride, returning to Premier League action with a thoroughly deserved draw at home to a very good Spurs side who couldn't stop winning either side of their visit to St James'. October saw Big Lad hit the big 3-0 (Paul somewhat uncharitably suggesting on Twitter than he'd actually been aiming for 25...), and it was his brilliant equaliser after coming off the bench that gave 'Appy 'Arry an even more hound-dog-like expression than normal. Afterwards he subtly breathed down Ba and O'Best's necks before - inevitably - succumbing to injury.

Big Lad looked like being a big loss the following weekend when, with 80 minutes on the clock and B&B off-form, we seemed set for a disspiriting home stalemate with Deluded Dave's Wigan. Thankfully, though, Yohan Cabaye was on hand to curl in a superb winner and give some fizz to a display that the Silver Fox branded more like "flat bitter" than "champagne football". A tough cookie (or whatever the French equivalent is) as well as a class act, Cabaye had shaken off an ankle injury picked up on international duty. Many more goals like that and the man nicknamed Dreamboat will have Geordie men as well as Geordie women going weak at the knees.

The Frenchman pulled an even more delicious strike out of his locker in the midweek League Cup tie at Blackburn. As definitions of clinical go, scoring in the 92nd and 95th minutes with your first two shots on target is pretty good, but Danny Guthrie and Dreamboat's late, late show only forced extra time, Rovers having been two goals to the good. We traded blows again during the additional half-hour but ultimately uncharacteristically sloppy defending gifted our hosts a place in the quarter-finals with all the big hitters.

The Britannia probably wouldn't have been our first choice of destination having just surrendered our unbeaten record, just as Saylor confessed Stoke weren't the ideal opponents for someone with a broken hooter. A suitably scary place for Halloween, then - or so we thought. In reality, we confronted the ugly face (and faces) of football and triumphed, belittling the red-and-white-striped bogeymen. Stoke's own bogeyman Ba, rejected by the Potters last season as damaged goods, gained his revenge, stealing the headlines and inspiring Paul to creative genius. Whether his second treble in black and white was down to darts practice was unclear, but remarkably it was our fifth since returning to the Premier League last August and our second on consecutive Halloweens (you may remember the previous one...). Perhaps what was most pleasing of all, though, was the sight of Tony Pulis incandescent with rage at the second-half insistence of our full-backs Danny Simpson and Raylor on rubbing the ball dry with Rory Delap's towels to waste time at every throw-in. In the past we've been too often naive and easily outsmarted, so this example of nous, and hoisting Stoke by their own petard, was hugely enjoyable.

Considerable credit, then, has to go to the Silver Fox. Everyone's apparently "pulling 100 per cent" now, and in the same direction, and that's as much a reflection of his man-management skills as it is of the departure of wantaway players like Jose Enrique and disruptive influences like ASBO. Speaking to the BBC, Steve Stone talked up Pardew the tactician - only at Newcastle, though, could special focused defensive training sessions be such a revolutionary concept.

The replacement of the old East Stand sign with a new version carrying Sports Direct branding was a reminder that, above the Silver Fox, Jabba continues to preside over everything, his stature among Toon fans no doubt somewhat rehabilitated by virtue of the team's performance and his own recent low profile. He might be prepared to wager £50,000 on a single roll of a dice, but he does also seem to be putting us on a firm financial footing - if only to make it more attractive for him to find an investor to take the club off his hands.

So, not much to feel unhappy or uncomfortable about in October - apart, perhaps, from the club's implicit endorsement of the Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan, which threatens to screw over Football League clubs; the continued failure to sign up to even the most woolly of commitments to fight homophobia on the terraces and in the dressing room; and the fact that Steve Harper has felt the need to leave in pursuit of first-team football while the Lone Ranger remains on Tyneside racking up the criminal charges.

To cap a month that's been memorable for all the right reasons, Paul became a father for the third time. Perhaps it was for the best that Jacob was born now rather than next May - if things carry on in the same vein for the rest of the season, the new arrival would have been in danger of being named after the whole first-team squad...



Thursday, November 03, 2011

Ollie's little treasure

Look who's back. Lomano Tresor Lua Lua announced his return to English football in some style last night, scoring twice and having a hand in another as his new club Blackpool spanked Leeds for five at Elland Road. "Gymnastic fantastic", to quote Sir Bobby Robson...

From strikers past to strikers (potentially) future, the Mirror claim that Blackburn will be asking for £18m for Junior Hoilett in the January transfer window. The Canadian may have been one of Rovers' only bright sparks so far this season, but that would be an exorbitant fee even if his contract wasn't up at the end of the season. It'll be interesting to see how things develop (and if Venkys get a whiff of realism), because he's a tasty prospect.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Zero tolerance

A disappointment to hear that Little Big Lad has been subjected to racist abuse on Twitter (it's not been made public whether it came from a supposed Toon "supporter" or a fan of another team), but credit to the club for taking swift and decisive action in reporting the incident to the police. Danny Simpson also recently complained of being abused via the social networking site, his abuser claiming the comments were sent maliciously from his phone by a friend.

Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the affair underlines that while Twitter bringing players and fans closer together by allowing literally unmediated interaction (i.e. without the media as a conduit) can be a positive development, it also opens up a new avenue for abuse. As bad as it is to be harangued from the stands, it's arguably more upsetting to receive such comments directly and away from the field of battle, as it were.

The club stopped short of issuing a blanket Twitter ban in the wake of indiscretions from ASBO and Jose Enrique, though they did warn players not to talk about club matters. Those two pairs of loose lips are long gone and so in no danger of sinking our ship, but maybe the fact that Twitter accounts open players up to abuse will give the club more cause for reflection on whether accounts should be allowed.

On a different note, Little Big Lad's brother has finally been given clearance to play for Nigeria. Not that it means much in the short term - his current injury will probably rule him out of the forthcoming matches against Botswana and Zambia. It also won't affect us come January and the African Cup of Nations - unlike Demba Ba's Senegal and Mr T's Ivory Coast, the Super Eagles failed to qualify, surprisingly pipped to top spot in their group by Guinea.


There have now been a couple of arrests over the offensive tweet. Teenage Toon fans, apparently. Well done on showing your support for the players, you morons.

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All bets are off

It's been quite a week for ex-Toon striker Michael Chopra, currently with Ipswich, who's come clean about the considerable extent of his gambling addiction. Chops admitted his penchant for a flutter had already landed him in debt before he left Tyneside for his first spell at Cardiff, where he was soon a well-known regular at the bookies down at Cardiff Bay, and it doesn't sound as though the issue's ever gone away. Here's hoping a spell at the Sporting Chance clinic will sort him out - it's the least we can wish for, for a Geordie lad who took just 15 seconds to score his only Newcastle league goal in a famous victory back in 2006.



Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Demba's perfect 'trick a treat

Stoke City 1 - 3 Newcastle Utd

A perfect hat-trick (header, left foot, right foot) was enough to overcome the forces of anti-football at the Britannia Stadium last night.

While Demba Ba should rightly take a lot of the plaudits from last night, credit for the win should go to the Silver Fox who came up with a perfect strategy to nullify the home side and the eleven players he then sent out who ran themselves into the ground in executing it perfectly.

With Mr T injured, the only change from the team who beat Wigan saw Danny Guthrie joining Dreamboat in central midfield. Saylor was able to continue his partnership with Sideshow Bob despite a broken nose thanks to a mask.

With the home side seeking to exploit their height and rely upon Rory Delap's long throw, this was no match for the defence to hide, and they didn't. Simpson, Saylor, Sideshow Bob, Raylor and Krul were all called upon to battle for high balls, with Raylor in particular picking up a number of knocks for his troubles, but all acquitted themselves superbly.

In midfield Spidermag and Obertan Kenobi ran tirelessly, with the Argentine required to spend much of the game defending the threat posed by Jermaine Pennant. With Dreamboat and Guthrie working hard to close down the space, and Ba and Leon O'Best also working hard, we closed Stoke down and made it really hard for them to create clear chances.

Having worked so hard, we were perhaps a little fortunate to go ahead, with O'Best coming from an offside position to flick a long ball wide for Kenobi. The Frenchman raced down the line before knocking a great ball across the box for the flying Ba to head home unchallenged.

Ironically, our second goal came from a move started by a long throw. Raylor's ball in was never properly cleared and when it fell to O'Best his mis-hit shot looked to be going wide before Ba stuck his left foot out to knock it into the net.

2-0 up at half-time, the plan was clearly working. While the second half wasn't as straightforward, we nonetheless continued to battle for every ball to ensure Stoke didn't get a clear chance.

Unfortunately, Ba was caught battling a little too hard, with his two-handed push on Peter Crouch spotted by the referee who gave Stoke a penalty that Jon Walters smashed past Krul to give the home team a lifeline.

Thankfully, having given one soft penalty against us, matters were evened up when Robert Huth put both his hands on O'Best's back a few minutes later and Ba duly stepped up to slot home our first penalty of the season and complete his hat-trick.

There was still time left in the game for Kenobi to fire a good chance wide and for James Perch, on for Dreamboat (a move likened by someone on Twitter to "replacing a Bugatti Veyron with a micro scooter"), to pick up a booking within fourteen seconds of coming onto the pitch.

All in all it was an outstanding team effort, almost as satisfying as the slaughter of 5under1and which took place exactly a year ago. There must be something about playing teams in red and white stripes on Halloween. This tim,e though, the result lifted us to third in the table, with a chance to go second for a few hours if we overcome Everton at lunchtime on Saturday.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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The Lone Ranger's rap sheet lengthens

Well looky here - if it isn't another new chapter in the inglorious and increasingly lengthy tale of the Lone Ranger's off-field misdemeanours. You have to doff your cap to his knack for sabotaging his Toon future - having worked hard enough to force his way back into the squad for last week's League Cup trip to Ewood Park, he's now shot himself in the foot again (if you'll pardon the expression, given his history with firearms).

We'll have to wait and see what punishment is meted out by the law, but surely he's now done more than enough to be bounced out of the club? While his colleagues collaborated to produce a committed, spirited and consummately professional display in beating Stoke (Paul's match report to follow), his attitude and disrespect for the club, the management, his fellow players and us fans is little short of a disgrace.



Quote of the day

"Every time it's mentioned it baffles me. I've seen what Trapttoni's been saying in the papers about work rate but he only needs to ring up Newcastle and ask for my stats, it's as simple as that.

The Prozone will tell you that I'm doing nearly 10km a day. I don't what it is. Obviously, if he's saying I need to work harder then I need to work harder. He's a man to learn off, he's got the experience and he knows what he wants.

It's the best time of my career so it's not a matter of disappointment. It just made me sit back and think - what's going on here?

Leon O'Best on once again being omitted from Giovanni Trapattoni's Republic of Ireland squad. Fair comment - he's not the only one who's baffled...

That said, O'Best's going through a bit of a lean spell at the moment - about time he gave Demba Ba some competition in the goalscoring stakes and prodded in another rebound from two yards.