Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Terry's All Golds not to our taste

Newcastle Utd 2 - 2 Wolves

On an afternoon when some fans staged a pre-match mock-funeral for St James' Park, the team contrived to give an indication that our Champions League hopes may not be long for this world either. The first home game since Jabba's act of "corporate vandalism" was confirmed with the ripping down of the famous stadium name saw our lowly visitors, under the stewardship of Terry Connor for the first time, profit from a thoroughly disspiriting display to plunder what had seemed like an unlikely point.

That deflected Will Buckley goal down at Brighton had given us the luxury of a full fortnight to recover from being blown away at White Hart Lane, and certainly hopes were raised by the return of both Mr T and Dreamboat to central midfield. Danny Guthrie was one of those unlucky to miss out as a result, while the Silver Fox sprung a surprise by naming a fit-again Raylor on the right flank.

It all started promisingly enough too. Just six minutes had elapsed when Dreamboat picked Christophe Berra's pocket and crossed for Demba Ba, whose stylish backheel was pushed out by Wayne Hennessey. Wolves frantically tried to clear the danger but, when Mr T's shot was deflected, Papiss Cisse was on hand to mark his first home start with another goal, diverting the ball over the head of the defender on the line who had played him onside.

The lead established, we toyed with Wolves before deciding to be more proactive about doubling our advantage. Hennessey had not long tipped over a ferocious Danny Simpson drive when a defensive header fell to Spidermag in an inviting amount of space 25 yards out, the winger taking a touch before lashing it into the net. For someone who isn't as regular a goalscorer as he should be, that's now three in three successive fixtures against our West Midlands opponents - and all of them beauties.

Might a mauling be on the cards? Doyle came perilously close to reducing the arrears with a header that Tim Krul was grateful to see bounce just past his far post, but otherwise Wolves looked incapable of mustering much in reply. At half-time we could reflect on having not played well but certainly well enough.

With nothing to lose, Connor roused his beleaguered troops and the second half was a different prospect entirely. Wolves played like a team with belief and determination, while we were complacent, careless and - at times - simply atrocious.

Admittedly it was a stroke of cruel fortune that handed the relegation-threatened visitors a foothold in the game, Matt Jarvis' shot deflecting off Simpson and arcing painfully over Krul's dive. We had unforgivably ceded control, though, and worse was to follow. Guilty of the cardinal sin of making changes when defending a free-kick, the Silver Fox had to watch as Mike Williamson made a hash of a clearance (not for the first time) and Doyle bundled in an equaliser from point-blank range.

The tiring Mr T had been replaced by Guthrie, but it was to HBA - on for Cisse, ineffective other than for that instinctive early finish - that we were now looking for salvation. There was to be no repeat of the Frenchman's solo heroics against Blackburn, though, as he prompted a near-full-house crowd to groans of frustration time and again by squandering possession cheaply and shooting weakly when working an opportunity.

With Ba out of sorts (though also coming in for some rough treatment from the Wolves defence) and Dreamboat still feeling his way into the game, arguably our most incisive attacker was Davide Santon. On at least a couple of occasions, though, our left-back fatally delayed or elected to pass when a shot looked a better option.

Neither was third substitute Big Lad able to make any impression, and when the final whistle came it was greeted by a chorus of boos - faintly ridiculous in the wider context of our league position, but not entirely surprising at the conclusion of as poor a performance as we've put in all season.

If the shellacking by Spurs was hard to take, then at least we had the consolation of knowing we'd come up against a very good side in electrifying form. The only real crumb of comfort to take from Saturday afternoon - especially given the eye-catching wins for Chelsea and Arsenal - was the fact that the Mackems' preparations for this weekend's derby went even worse, as they suffered a 4-0 stuffing at Wolves' Black Country rivals West Brom...

A Wolves fan's perspective: Wolves Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Not again, Nile

When the Lone Ranger's name is back in the news, then you can pretty much guarantee it's not going to be positive. And once again you'd be right. Already due to be up in court on 21st March on a charge of being drunk and disorderly, he's now among three players to be charged by the FA for posting a homophobic tweet. Personally, I'm just surprised to discover he's been tweeting about something other than Nando's...

Ranger has been charged along with QPR's Man Utd loanee Federico Macheda and Walsall's Manny Smith, with former target Ravel Morrison and one-time England player Michael Ball having both recently been fined. Evidence of a clampdown by the FA, then - encouraging to see them following up the announcement of their Opening Doors and Joining In anti-homophobia and exclusion campaign with genuine action.

Oxford City recently sacked striker Lee Steele for the same offence. Here's hoping Jabba sees sense, takes the opportunity gifted to him and does likewise.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Corporate vandalism"

That's the view of twelve MPs on Jabba's rebranding of St James' Park. The dozen have all signed a motion to express their disgruntlement, as the political opposition to the move intensifies. First it was the City Council, and now it's the House of Commons. Where next? The European Court of Justice? Hopefully the growing pressure might just tell - it certainly can't do any harm.



You're Nicked

Well done, Nicklas Bendtner. Not content with being charged for allegedly damaging cars in Newcastle with the assistance of club captain Lee Cattermole, the Mackems' on-loan "striker" has now picked up a fine and driving ban for speeding. The reason given - that he was late for a flight - is rather dull. Nicklas, are you quite sure you weren't being pursued by imaginary Newcastle fans?

Meanwhile, when it was announced this week that Niall Quinn has left the Mackems, Martin O'Neill responded: "To me, he is 'Mr Sunderland' – and always will be". Now I don't know what he's done to upset you, Martin, but that's just not very nice...



Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The writing's on the wall (again)

So the grafitti's back. No sooner had the initial white daubing of "St James' Park" been removed, its perpetrator Michael Atkinson arrested for his trouble, than someone branded the stadium with its rightful name once more, this time in black paint.

Meanwhile, Sir John Hall has voiced his disapproval of Jabba's renaming of the ground, claiming: "I think Mike Ashley accepts that Sports Direct Arena will never be accepted by most of the fans". Well, if he doesn't acknowledge it, it looks as though he's sentenced to be reminded of our disgruntlement on a regular basis. Best get employing a dedicated grafitti removal team, Jabba...

Original amateur painter Atkinson has spoken to the Daily Heil about what inspired his act of defiance: "People on Facebook were saying someone should go and put a new sign on the stadium once it had been taken down and I thought why not. I had a few cans of lager in the house, I'd had eight cans of Fosters, so at that point I decided I was going to make a stand and speak for all Newcastle fans." Somehow the deed seems less noble knowing that, doesn't it?

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The boy's (and the Bhoys) doing good

It's grim up north? Not a bit of it. Fraser Forster kept another clean sheet on Sunday as Celtic cantered to a 5-0 victory at Hibs, their 18th straight league win. With Rangers having been deducted 10 points for entering administration, the Bhoys are a whopping 17 points clear at the top of the table. Who says the Scottish Premier League is uncompetitive?

Another Toon loanee enjoying a five-goal romp at the weekend was James Tavernier, who played at right back as the MK Dons embarrassed Oldham. (Alan Smith has an injury and didn't feature.)

Rather less happy, however, was Haris Vuckic's Saturday afternoon. Inexpicably dropped following his man-of-the-match-winning display against Peterborough, the Slovenian was given more than half an hour from the bench but couldn't prevent Cardiff from slumping to a 3-0 defeat at Ipswich, former Magpie and Bluebird Agent Chopra on the scoresheet.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Wor Al

May I introduce to you Black & White & Read All Over's new official mascot, Alan. Named in honour of Alan Shearer (obviously), she - yes, it's a she - sports a magnificent black-and-white-striped head. Her somewhat excessive facial plumage (which Paul argues would have made Sideshow Bob a more appropriate name) means she has difficulty seeing - no jokes about her having as much insight as her namesake, please. Fair to say that if she ever does show an interest in playing football competitively, her pre-match meal of choice won't be chicken and beans...



Quote of the day

"I’m told he’s got a £7 million get-out at Newcastle and he gets half the money over that. They keep denying it but I think you’ll see in the summer he will leave Newcastle or he’ll get a monstrous rise to stay there."

If it's not Droopy trying to tout Demba Ba around, it's slimy West Ham chairman David Sullivan. Kindly desist from talking about players who aren't your own, you twat.

In the first part of his interview with Hammers fan Ian Dale, Sullivan also claimed: "His agent got £2 million to take him to Newcastle". If true, that helps to explain why Jabba and Llambiarse have been at such pains to insist the deal was a free transfer in name only...


Ba's reaction on Twitter: "I truly think sullivan miss me. What a man ;-)"...

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Maybe Mayuka?

It seems we may have developed a taste for African strikers. No sooner had Emmanuel Mayuka helped Zambia to a shock African Cup of Nations final victory over Mr T's Ivory Coast on Sunday, than his agent was claiming we've taken a shine to him, along with Arsenal, Fulham and a clutch of other clubs. He did his bit in the final but didn't impress me as much as midfielder Isaac Chansa and defender Stoppila Sunzu, who kept Didier Drogba quiet and then held his nerve to score the decisive penalty in the shoot-out.

Meanwhile, we're apparently hovering over the corpse of Bolton's season, waiting to pounce for midfielder Mark Davies if they're relegated. He's been one of the few bright sparks for the Trotters this campaign, and would be a handy alternative to Dreamboat in terms of providing creativity in central midfield without sacrificing a willingness to get stuck in.

One player who could well be leaving us is Peter Lovenkrands, reportedly a loan target for Cardiff. Haris Vuckic is already down there, of course - anyone else you want to borrow, Malkay?

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The signs they are a changing

The end of an era yesterday as the signpost outside St James’Park was crowbarred off to leave the way clear for the rebranding of our stadium.

Whilst various Newcastle fans were left expressing their outrage yesterday, Michael Atkinson has been charged with criminal damage by the police for taking it upon himself to do something about it, having daubed St James on the ground in white paint.

Without wishing to condone criminal activity, I wouldn’t be too surprised if there wasn’t a whip round organised to cover any fine he may receive, or that he will be short of a drink of two for carrying out the graffiti in the first place (if indeed he is found guilty of the offence at all).

Of course the rebranding itself will be interrupted in the summer, when the Olympic Games come to town to play some football at St James’ Park (all non-Olympic sponsorship having to be removed for the duration of the Games).



Thursday, February 16, 2012

Smith smudges his copybook

What is it with Toon loanees conceding costly penalties? Haris Vuckic on Saturday, and then Alan Smith on Tuesday. The man who was our midfield general for all of about three months in the Championship handed League One leaders Charlton their second spot-kick of the evening, which proved decisive as MK Dons went down at the Valley. Dons manager Karl Robinson mystifyingly opted to play Smith as a striker - without success, needless to say...

Meanwhile, Vuckic enjoyed a much better evening, scoring Cardiff's third and final goal in a win over Peterborough which saw him named as man of the match. Two matches into his one-month loan spell and already he's talking enthusiastically about extending it for the rest of the season.

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Lee let go

Well, I didn't see this coming. And neither did Lee Clark, by the sounds of it: "I am very perplexed as to why I was dismissed as manager of Huddersfield". Given Huddersfield's form and position in the league, the sacking can only have been down to behind-the-scenes friction with the board. With Leeds currently managerless and Leicester's owners rumoured to have an itchy trigger finger, I wonder whether the Terriers' hierarchy's decision could be to a Championship club's benefit?


Following on from Terriers fan David's comment to this post, here are the thoughts of seasoned Huddersfield observer John Dobson. So, Town supporters, maybe we're ill-informed and there was more to it than met the eye, and therefore we're wrong to be bemused by the board's decision - but all I'll add is be careful what you wish for...

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Quote of the day

"All about Dembas syrup, I tried it this morning n its well nice! Trying 2 get him 2 share the love n order me some ha."

Danny Simpson, tweeting on Sunday. Judging by your first-half display on Saturday, Danny, you could have done with having some a day earlier. Though the same could also be said of your teammates...

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Coming home empty-handed

What a shame for Mr T. Selected for the final of the African Cup of Nations (and, somewhat oddly, sporting the number nine shirt), he played his part as Ivory Coast struggled to exert their superiority over underdogs Zambia. Needless to say, he picked up a second-half booking (soft) and could even have walked for an unsubtle foul not long afterwards.

The game still goalless at the end of extra time, Mr T stepped up to take the first of his country's penalties and made no mistake. Sadly, the same couldn't be said of compatriots and fellow Premier League players Kolo Toure and Gervinho, as Zambia and their male model of a coach Herve Renard won an improbable victory.

I pity the fool who next crosses Mr T. Karl Henry will be back from suspension when Wolves visit in a fortnight...

To complete a miserable weekend for Newcastle and Newcastle-affiliated players, Haris Vuckic endured a decidedly inauspicious debut for Cardiff yesterday. No sooner had I hailed the Bluebirds' loan signing as a smart piece of business than he'd conceded a penalty that put Leicester en route for the win, before being hauled off at half-time by Malky Mackay.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012


Spurs 5 - 0 Newcastle Utd

If this was Droopy's audition for the England job, then he's a shoo-in. By contrast, if this was the Silver Fox's audition to be his replacement in the Spurs dug-out, then we can probably rest assured that our manager won't be leaving for London any time soon - not least because he conceded his tactics were partly to blame for the thumping we suffered.

It was a perfect storm: effervescent, high-flying opposition playing on home turf; an old boy hungry to impress on his first start for his new club; a bullish manager, relieved at the conclusion of his court case; boisterous support from the stands; the absence of Dreamboat and particularly Mr T from our engine room; unforgivable sloppiness from our players, both with and without the ball; an offensive 4-4-2 formation which a rueful Silver Fox, with hindsight, declared a mistake.

By the sixth minute we were two down, first Benoit Assou-Ekotto and his enormous afro somehow sneaking in unmarked for a far-post tap-in, and then Louis Saha opening his account for Spurs. By the twentieth minute it had got even worse, Saha - who appeared to have rediscovered his sharpness just in time for our visit - finishing off a flowing move. Both full-backs looked completely overawed and overrun, while James Perch's limitations were cruelly exposed by Luka Modric.

In amongst it all we could possibly have had a penalty, when Emmanuel Adebayor - who had set up all three Spurs goals - handled in the area. Referee Andre Marriner suffered temporary blindness again when a curling Demba Ba free-kick was tipped behind by Brad Friedel but a corner not forthcoming. And, as if to prove everything was conspiring against us, Tim Krul made a decent save from Adebayor only for Niko Kranjcar to fire home the rebound.

We'd been 4-0 down at half-time to a team from North London before, of course, but this time the emphasis was very much on damage limitation. Obertan Kenobi was punished for a pathetic performance by being withdrawn for Shane Ferguson with Spidermag switching to the right wing.

In fairness to the players, the second period was much more palatable, helping us to claw back some pride and dignity. We even came close to scoring, when Ba's header was saved by Friedel and substitute Dan Gosling ballooned the follow-up into the stand. But by that point we'd fallen even further behind, Mike Williamson powerless to prevent Adebayor from adding his name to the scoresheet, and the sight of both Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon coming on was hardly comforting.

So Papisse Cisse's first full appearance was as awful as his debut was memorable, and the fans - whose splendid vocal support bore no relation to the team's display on the pitch - were left to rue the fact that the game survived the weather.

A temporary aberration? That's what we said about the defeat at Fulham. Still, losses for Chelsea and Liverpool meant we only slipped back one place (albeit with our goal difference completely wiped out), Arsenal climbing above us courtesy of a last-minute Thierry Henry winner at the Dark Place.

With next weekend off, thanks to Gus Poyet's Brighton, we've got a fortnight to pick ourselves up and rally for the visit of Wolves. The result in today's Black Country derby suggests that Mick McCarthy's men will be ideal opposition - though, of course, they too will be keen to right wrongs and banish the memory of a humiliating and painful defeat.

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Haris hits the Taff trail

With the loan window reopening for Football League clubs last week, Cardiff were quick to bolster their squad with the addition of Haris Vuckic, who's signed up for a month-long loan.

It's been a bit of an odd season for the Slovenian. The Silver Fox handed him an early Christmas present against West Brom in December, somewhat unexpectedly giving him the nod over Mehdi Abeid in the absence of Dreamboat, Danny Guthrie and Dan Gosling. We lost, but he was the pick of our players, only to find himself dropped for the Boxing Day trip to the Reebok. Back in the starting line-up at Anfield, he was anonymous and hasn't been seen in the first team since.

This loan will give Vuckic an opportunity to get some games under his belt, hopefully in his preferred position in central midfield. The display against the Baggies suggested he'll have plenty to offer the Welsh side, who are once again pushing for promotion to the Premier League but suffered a setback last weekend, throwing away a lead in a home defeat to Blackpool.

Meanwhile, fellow midfielder Sylvain Marveaux has conceded that his season may already be over, curtailed by the groin strain he picked up against Everton in November - his first and, to date, only Premier League start for the club. We knew we were signing a player with a track record of injuries, but sadly it seems as though the gamble may not be paying off with Marveaux, even if it's doing so spectacularly with Demba Ba. You win some, you lose some - but, as Marveaux mentioned in the interview, he's still got four years left on his contract. We may rue making such a long-term commitment.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Crimewatch update

A busy day for the 5under1and legal team today as old boy Titus Bramble appeared in court to plead not guilty to four charges of sexual assault. His trial is to be heard at Teeside Crown Court in May.

Also in trouble are striker Nicklas Bendtner (whose record down the road suggests that "striker" might be a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act) and club captain Lee Cattermole, who have been charged following a spate of criminal damage on Stowell Street in December. Interesting to note both gave their addresses as Ponteland - neither presumably keen on the thought of living on Wearside.

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A Month Of Saturdays: January 2012

(Image courtesy of Dave-F)

Given that Magpies have a reputation for coveting and attempting to steal the shiny things in other birds' nests rather than jealously guarding what they already have, we did a pretty poor job of living up to our nickname in the first month of 2012. "As last January demonstrated, this transfer window is not so much about who we can bring in ... but more about who we can hang onto". So wrote Paul early in the month - and so it proved.

When the window swung shut, we could breathe a sigh of relief at the fact that the spine of our team - Tim Krul, Sideshow Bob, Dreamboat, Mr T and Demba Ba, who have been critical in our surprisingly successful season so far - were still our players. Whether that was because we actively rebuffed the overtures of other clubs, Jabba steadfastly refusing to be tempted by the lure of making a hefty profit, or because those approaches never actually materialised, is unclear. The fact remains that - despite the media feverishly massaging quotes into come-and-get-me pleas and the flabby-faced managers of other clubs trying to act as salesmen on our behalf - the key quintet are still in our employ. Even Fraser Forster, whom Celtic had identified as a prime target, remained a Newcastle player in name at least. Our only departees were long-out-of-favour midfielder Alan Smith, who joined MK Dons on loan, and James Tavernier, recalled from a temporary spell at Sheffield Wednesday only to be promptly sent off to follow Smith down to Milton Keynes.

Even more improbable than the possibility that we might cling onto all of our stars, though, was the prospect of us being the month's biggest spenders, at least in terms of a single deal. More cash coming out of Jabba's wallet than going in? Surely not. But if Wayne Routledge could finally score his first top-flight goal with his seventh Premier League club, then anything was possible. It transpired that claims we'd abandoned our pursuit of a new striker following the breakdown of Modibo Maiga's move were all just a smokescreen when, seemingly out of the blue, it was announced that we'd snapped up Freiburg's Papiss Demba Cisse. If our recent recruitment record would suggest that scouts' eyes have been firmly trained on France, then this move implied an even narrower focus: "He's a free-scoring forward, he's Senegalese, he's got 'Demba' in his name - let's sign him up"... If he proves to be even half the player his compatriot is, we'll be delighted.

Cisse may have been the only arrival, but inevitably we were linked - in some cases repeatedly - with a whole host of other potential targets: Rocky, Vicenzo Iaquinta, Lewis Dunk, Jordan Rhodes, Junior Hoilett, Aly Cissokho, Eljero Elia, Jay Rodriguez, Wilfried Zaha, Adrian Mariappa and Ravel Morrison. We did actually bid for the latter pair - Mariappa choosing to stay at Watford and Morrison eventually joining Fat Sam's West Ham - while Bognor Regis striker Jason Prior even went so far as to pull on a black and white shirt and score for the Reserves while on trial, but wasn't offered a contract.

In light of our desire to keep hold of our best players, we could perhaps have hoped for a low-key start to the month. Fat chance. The new year was four days old when we momentarily forgot our usual inferiority complex and clumsy deference to Man Utd, turned a blind eye to the lessons of history and administered one of our occasional thrashings. Mr T was phenomenal, while Dreamboat and Ba - fuelled post-"Ramadam" by strawberry syrup, we learned - both scored stupendous goals, but it was above all a superb team performance, and the first time we'd beaten them since we were mounting that fondly remembered and improbable title challenge of 2001-2.

With Ba and Mr T then jetting off to the African Cup of Nations with our blessing and best wishes, we desperately needed someone to step up to the plate for the visit of another side from the north-west. Just twenty minutes of the FA Cup tie with Blackburn remained when HBA, shunted out to the right wing, scored what will in all likelihood be the most stunning goal most of the crowd will ever witness live. (It wasn't the winner, mind - that came from the boot of Spidermag deep into stoppage time.) The Frenchman had been giving hints of being unsettled, unfavourably (if somewhat inaccurately) contrasting our style of play with that of Swansea. I wonder whether the Silver Fox was able to put that public affront to his tactics down to the lack of paternal love HBA felt growing up?

Equally determined to step into the breach left by Ba, it seemed, was Leon O'Best, whose neat trick and clinical finish a week later was enough to ensure Mark Hughes went home empty-handed from his first fixture as QPR manager. Curiously, though, that was our only effort on target of the entire game, and it was only the loss of Dreamboat to injury and the consequent introduction of HBA that really sparked us into life, the Londoners having evidently set out impress their new boss.

No such luck the following weekend at Fulham. Granted we could have made more of our complete first-half superiority than a solitary Danny Guthrie goal, but we couldn't have foreseen a collapse that even the England cricket team would be ashamed of - albeit one prompted by an appalling refereeing decision. HBA had an impact for the third week in a row, but his strike was little consolation as we slumped to a 5-2 drubbing.

The news of Senegal's surprise failure to qualify for the group stages of the African Cup of Nations, meaning that Ba would be back home sooner than expected, and with new boy Cisse in tow, was a huge boost, but things were to get worse before the duo arrived back on British soil. The Curse of Poyet struck for the umpteenth time, this time at Brighton, as we were beaten by a horrid deflection despite dominating proceedings. Unfortunately, a premature exit from the FA Cup was just one of the game's repercussions - another was the three-match ban handed to Dreamboat for a hot-headed reaction to a foul. Perhaps he and ASBO aren't so dissimilar after all - though at least our current midfielder didn't spend January picking Twitter scraps with first Norwich midfielder Bradley Johnson, then a computerised version of himself and finally the manager who'd signed him and whom he subsequently helped to oust...

Off the field, one change was welcomed (Northern Rock's new owners Virgin Money taking over shirt sponsorship - even if it did make the strip I got for Christmas instantly out of date) while dissent about another continued to fester, with the City Council formally registering their refusal to accept Jabba's rebranding of St James' Park. Meanwhile, inspired by an impromptu December trip to watch FC United of Manchester, I pondered the prospect of an FC United of Newcastle. If we had a club to call our own, we could name the ground whatever we like. But, of course, there are those who will say we already have our own club to support and be proud of, irrespective of whatever Jabba does - and, on nights like 4th January, when we're busy humiliating the Premier League champions, it does genuinely feel that way.



Thursday, February 09, 2012

Eye off the ball

It’s been a busy week for Droopy, what with the court case over his dog’s Monaco slush fund finally reaching a conclusion, and then Fabio Capello flouncing away from the England job, over the FA’s decision to strip John Terry of his role of role model in chief, opening up a vacancy which everyone in the media has been lobbying for Droopy to fill since England’s last terrible World Cup (non-)performance.

Clearly this would be Droopy’s ideal job, giving him free rein to talk about players at clubs he doesn’t manage without fear of repercussion.

By contrast, the Silver Fox has already ruled himself out of the running for the England job. Given the dearth of successful English managers, simply guiding us to fifth in the table had seen him installed as third favourite with some bookies, so his stated intention to stay put is to be welcomed.

With Newcastle due at White Hart Lane on Saturday night, it’s to be hoped that all the off-field shenanigans which have kept Droopy occupied of late might just cause him to take his eye off the ball on Saturday, and also leave his players distracted by the thought that the man currently picking the team might not be doing so for much longer, and certainly not next season when they are hoping to be playing Champions League football.

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Tweeting twits

While the two fuckwits who used Twitter to racially abuse Little Big Lad have been given final warnings, a trio of players familiar to Toon supporters have found their use of the social networking site has landed them in varying degrees of hot water.

No surprises for guessing that one of them would be ASBO, who has already effectively ensured his Newcastle exit and precipitated the sacking of QPR manager Colin Wanker by the same means, and who seems to spend most of his time spouting off bitter rants about all and sundry and engaged in petty squabbles. His latest faux pas was to stand up for team-mate Anton Ferdinand and denounce John Terry, a move which, it was speculated, might constitute contempt of court ahead of the case being heard in July. Of course, the alleged incident between Ferdinand and Terry has now had far greater repercussions than ASBO getting reacquainted with the inside of a prison cell, but in any case Attorney General Dominic Grieve has effectively let him off with a slapped wrist. Lucky boy. Still glad to have the mouthy tyke as your captain, Hoops fans?

The second miscreant is Ravel Morrison, who's made an interesting start to his new career at Fat Sam's West Ham. As attempts to put a troubled past behind you go, branding a Twitter detractor a "crack head" and a "little faggot" isn't the best. Oxford City striker Lee Steele was recently sacked for a similarly homophobic tweet - somehow I doubt the Hammers will be showing their new midfielder the door. Someone for Kevin Nolan to adopt for his own unique brand of pastoral care, perhaps?

And finally, it seems the Zog took to Twitter after Sunday's game to express his dissatisfaction: "First time in my life, I’m not happy playing football". Alex McLeish's response was less than sympathetic, essentially amounting to "Shut up and work harder". In fairness to the Scot, though, his patience had probably already worn thin, having had the Zog's fellow ex-Toon team-mate Stephen Ireland telling him to fuck off at half-time...

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Dave the brave

Poor David Ginola, who's suffered nasty injuries in a skiing accident. The damage he's done to his neck and collarbone presumably means he won't be doing much tossing of that luxuriant mane and exclaiming "Because you're worth it" for the foreseeable future.

Slightly strange to read the comments of a "friend": "He's very fit and strong and, like most men, he'll be brave." You could associate many things with Ginola the player, but bravery would most certainly not be one of them...

All the best for a swift recovery, David - hopefully you'll be back jousting with Lee Dixon on the Match Of The Day 2 sofa before too long.



Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Quotes of the day

"The most important thing is being happy with your football and I am happy here."

Heartening words from our prolific number 19. To be fair, at present we’re the fifth best team in the country and gunning for a top four finish. While he might move for more money, I expect he’s on a heavily incentivised contract which, given his goalscoring form, must have seen him pick up a fairly sizeable (and thoroughly deserved) wage this season. With Papiss Cisse alongside him, it’s no surprise to hear the player say he’s happy where he is. Long may it continue.

Further down the article though, this comment caught my eye:

"Although eyebrows were raised that what seemed a wild lunge as the Villa left-back endeavoured to block Taylor's shot went unpunished, the FA will not review the incident retrospectively as it it says it was an 'on the ball' challenge."

"On the ball challenge"? Does that make it acceptable? A challenge is either dangerous and reckless or it isn't. Does it matter if the ball is there or not? Surely the question is whether the referee saw the challenge. If he didn't, then the FA should be prepared to take action regardless of whether a challenge is "on the ball" or not.

In terms of harm to the player, Warnock's challenge was far worse than that which led to Dreamboat suffering trial by TV, when he caught Adam El-Abd of Brighton with his boot the other week. One brings a three-match ban, the other leaves our player injured and escapes censure. It’s a joke.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Double Dembas vanquish Villa

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Aston Villa

Our Senegalese strikeforce combined for what was hopefully the first of many times to overcome a spirited Aston Villa side at St James’ Park on Sunday.

Opting to leave our new number nine Papiss Demba Cisse on the bench, the Silver Fox was quick to bring top scorer Demba Ba back into the starting line-up which had struggled against Blackburn last Wednesday.  Also earning a starting berth was James Perch, slotting into a central midfield role alongside Danny Guthrie, as we returned to a more conventional 4-4-2 formation, with Big Lad and HBA the players to give way.

Initially the game started in quite a cagey fashion, the Silver Fox was forced to turn to his bench early on as Leon O’Best was left on the floor following a tackle with Villa left-back Stephen Warnock.  While both Big Lad and Cisse warmed up, it was clear that there was only ever really one candidate to replace the Irishman, and St James’ stood to welcome our new striker on for his debut.

Pleasingly, the Senegalese striker looked at home from the off, always looking to link well with Ba and keen to latch on to any ball which came his way.  However, not to be upstaged, it was Ba who had the first sniff of a goal, controlling Raylor’s pass and swivelling to knock the ball home inside the area to give us an early lead.  Unfortunately for Raylor, in laying the ball off to Ba he was the recipient of a wild crunching challenge from Warnock which should have seen the Villain at least booked, if not given a straight red card.  Referee Mark Halsey was presumably too preoccupied with our goal to then go back and reprimand Warnock, while Raylor departed on a stretcher to be replaced by Obertan Kenobi.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to compound our lead with a further goal, and while Ba and Cisse looked to work together, the flicks weren’t quite falling for them.  At the other end, old boys Stephen Ireland and the Zog both had chances to level the scores only to see their efforts go high and wide.  However, with six minutes of injury time to play at the end of the first half, it was the visitors who took advantage with Robbie Keane feeding the ball out to the Zog on the left before continuing his run into the box.  The French winger then did enough to create space before firing a return ball across the edge of the six-yard box, leaving Krul helpless on the near post for the onrushing Keane to slot home and give Villa a deserved equaliser.

The second half saw Newcastle exert a far greater control on the match, with Ba and Cisse unlucky not to score immediately after the re-start when a goal mouth scramble saw Villa desperately clearing their lines.  With Guthrie, ably assisted by Perch, taking control of the midfield, our passing game clicked and we dominated possession and started to create chances for the front two.  Cisse was perhaps guilty of missing a gilt-edged chance, heading a great cross from Spidermag over when unmarked in the area.  If that miss had people worrying that we might have signed a dud, the fear was soon assuaged as the new number nine controlled a second Spidermag cross on his chest minutes later before smashing it in to the top corner of the Gallowgate goal with his left foot.  Unlike the last striker to score for us on debut (the Xisco Kid) this was a goal that will live long in the memory of everyone who saw it and is an incredibly promising start to Cisse’s Tyneside career.

Villa tried to get back into it, flinging on lumbering carthorse Emile Heskey, and they almost snatched a point for themselves at the end, only to be denied by a fine double save from Tim Krul.  However, given our dominance in the second half, a Villa draw would have been undeserved.

With Chelski drawing with Man Utd later in the day, the result leaves us one point shy of the Champions League places, and with the prospect of Ba and Cisse now having a chance to develop a partnership, it will be interesting to gauge how far we’ve come when we play Droopy’s Spurs team next weekend.

A Villa fan's perspective: The Villa Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Back of the net - again and again and again

A propos of nothing other than the fact that I've just come across it and our next opponents are Aston Villa, against whom Alan Shearer hit one of his most memorable strikes, here's a video of Wor Al's Toon goals - all record-breaking 206 of 'em. 25 minutes of bliss. He absolutely terrorised defences, didn't he?

Thanks to tt9m for the link - a new blog to us, but well worth a look for well-written musings on the club and some superb statistical and graphical analysis. While I wrote yesterday about how the club's current transfer policy is youth-focused, this site actually has the data and the graphs to back it up.

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Saturday, February 04, 2012

Look to the future

(Image courtesy of martha_chapa95)

Historically speaking, it's not like us to think or plan beyond the next game let alone the next season - but, if Lee Ryder's anonymous club insider is to be believed, then all that may be about to change.

It's no secret that Jabba has adopted an ageist philosophy both in terms of the players who are brought into the club and those who are allowed to leave. While that's seen the likes of Kevin Nolan shoved out of the door when he still had something to offer, it's also an understandable and admirable reaction to having had expensive has-beens clogging up the wage bill (Fat Sol, I'm looking at you). Anyone who has the misfortune to remember the days of Kenny Dalglish's Dad's Army will find value in the current strategy.

It's also clearly part of the overall vision that the club should become more self-sufficient. It's all fine and well importing talented young players like Davide Santon when first-team weaknesses demand it, but ideally we should be avoiding that expense by bringing players up through the ranks. (Not that player development is free, of course, or that we shouldn't still go scouting around for talent, albeit at a younger age, rather than just being content with what's on our doorstep.)

So the idea that Jabba might be preparing a thorough overhaul of the various layers beneath the first team, rooting out mediocrity and investing substantial cash, rings true.

Focusing on scouting and recruitment for the academy and reserves as well as for the first team would be a brave step, in that it's not something that would bring instant dividends, but modelling ourselves on a club like Arsenal seems eminently sensible. Not all of the Gunners' youth- and reserve-team products make it into the Premier League matchday squads, but many do, and the system just keeps on churning them out. Man Utd have also been lauded in the past for their incredible ability to replace from within, though the fact that Paul Scholes has been brought out of retirement and wheeled into action gives an indication that their well has currently run rather dry - no doubt a significant concern for Taggart.

We've not really had any kind of conveyor belt ourselves for years, but having one in place can only be good for the health of the club. Just look at Tim Krul: a player identified as a prospect at an early age, picked up cheaply and gently matured before breaking through and becoming a permanent fixture on the teamsheet (not to mention - importantly for Jabba and the accountants - a major asset with significant resale value). It would have cost millions to get in an equivalent player.

Of course, if we find ourselves in relegation trouble in the next couple of seasons, then the temptation will be to divert funds away from the long-term project into achieving short-term results and ensuring Premier League survival. Desperate times may result in desperate measures, but I'd like to think the vision - one which would help make the club a stronger and more sustainable enterprise in the long term - wouldn't be compromised.

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O'Best not good enough

That's the message sent out by Celtic manager Neil Lennon's recent comments, in which he confirmed that we were prepared to flog O'Best to the Bhoys on deadline day. A fee had been agreed and the deal was only scuppered by the striker's unwillingness to unsettle his young family.

On the one hand, O'Best's availability for transfer should come as little surprise, given our hefty January investment in Papiss Cisse, who will surely start ahead of him. But on the other, it does seem a bit harsh on a player who has given his all whenever called up on in the Premier League, and scored a tremendous winning goal against QPR just three weeks ago.

With Big Lad too often inconsistent, Peter Lovenkrands too often lightweight and Nile Ranger off the radar, O'Best would appear to be our third-choice forward after Ba and Cisse - both of whom were more than a bit off-colour during the African Cup of Nations. If he thinks he can still comfortably hold down a first-team place, then he's allowed his notorious self-confidence to get the better of him - but it's probably safe to say that he'll make another useful contribution to our unlikely pursuit of European football before the season's out.

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Benfield bonus

Nobby Solano's back at Newcastle - not Utd, though, but Benfield, in the capacity of first-team coach. The trumpet-playing Peruvian legend, who will remain registered as a Hartlepool player despite being deemed surplus to requirements by manager Neale Cooper, is working towards his coaching badges and has clearly decided to start small and local, giving something back to the area that supported him so fervently for much of his career. All the best to him - here's hoping that, after Lee Clark, he's the next unexpectedly talented manager to have played for the club.

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Race Racially abused relations

First Little Big Lad and now his brother. A hearty well done to those who think racial abuse is suddenly fashionable. How come we seem to be slipping back into the dark ages?



Thursday, February 02, 2012

Winter window's end

(Image courtesy of Bruno Brunelli)

With January giving way to February, and Sky Sports News exploding in its own over-inflated self-importance, the transfer window closed on Tuesday night.

Unlike this time twelve months ago, when the sense of betrayal and outrage was palpable, today sees me in much calmer and happier mood. While the hoped-for defender never materialised, with target Adrian Mariappa still at Watford despite some unsuccessful bids by us, and an acceptable bid by Wigan, whose contract offer the player rejected, significantly our squad looks stronger today than it did on 31st December.

The arrival of Papiss Demba Cisse for a fee in the region of £9m represents a potentially excellent acquisition given his superb goalscoring pedigree in the Bundesliga and hopefully his partnership with international team-mate Demba Ba will fire for us in a way it singularly failed to do for Senegal during their ill-fated African Cup of Nations excursion.

Perhaps even more pleasingly, the only departures were ones which we can welcome. Alan Smith has moved on to MK Dons, presumably never to cross our threshold again. He's joined there by James Tavernier, whose contract is also due to expire in the summer. The decision to part company with Tavernier seems a slightly odd one, given that the Silver Fox was talking him up only a few weeks ago, but presumably the powers that be have now decided that he won't be able to make the necessary step up.

There were rumours of a last-ditch attempt by Celtic to sign Leon O'Best being rebuffed, with the player reportedly happy to stay and fight for his place. While the fact that this was ever entertained shows that O'Best's time of Tyneside is perhaps coming towards its end, to lose our third-choice striker at present would be a foolish move, so I'm pleased to see him stay.

Whether we go back in for Mariappa in the summer remains to be seen, but hopefully we can keep Sideshow Bob and Mike Williamson fit for the rest of the season, else the sight of James Perch at centre-back will continue to be one haunting all our nightmares.

Significantly though, the likes of Sideshow Bob, Mr T, Dreamboat, Ba and Tim Krul all remain with us for the time being. What we now need to do is kick on to ensure as high a finish in the league as possible to show to those players that we have the ambition and ability to match their own and thereby encourage them to stay at the club into next season and beyond.

So, all in all, reasonably pleased. An additional centre-half would have made it a perfect window for us, but after last January's debacle just keeping hold of our star players represents a massive improvement.



Soldiers of fortune

Blackburn Rovers 0 - 2 Newcastle Utd

If you do make your own luck, then we were very industrious indeed in between Saturday's game and the trip to Blackburn, the two clubs' fourth and final meeting of the season. It was a night where pretty much everything went our way: numerous wasted chances by the home side to add to a missed penalty, plus a heavy deflection for the game's first goal and (perhaps most remarkably of all) Obertan Kenobi finding the back of the net for the decisive second.

Some credit is certainly due to our defence, superbly marshalled by returning captain Sideshow Bob, but it's fair to say that Blackburn missed their predatory poacher Yakubu far more than we missed our own suspendee, Dreamboat. The Frenchman's place was filled by Raylor and, after an encouraging opening period during which Big Lad had a couple of opportunities, it was our utility man who was instrumental in giving us a 12th-minute lead.

Steve Kean will presumably be cursing his decision to leave out wantaway defender Chris Samba, who'd declared himself keen to play, having witnessed Scott Dann guilty of fatally hesitating in response to a loose pass and then diverting Raylor's subsequent somewhat optimistic effort past Paul Robinson. Football bores are fond of saying that things even themselves out over the course of a season - well, as far as wickedly deflected shots go, they've evened themselves out over the course of five days.

That should have been our cue to seize control and overpower our relegation-haunted opponents, but instead we sat back - or, more accurately, were pinned back - by a determined and gutsy home team. Gael Givet, who got the last-gasp winner in the League Cup tie back at the tail end of October, was denied by a goal-line clearance from Danny Simpson, new loan striker Anthony Modeste was regularly troubling our back line (though he was also doing the same for the offside flag), and efforts were flying in from all angles. Meanwhile, only the crossbar saved Leon O'Best from joining Dann on the wrong side of the scoresheet.

Two minutes from the interval referee Phil Dowd decided Rovers needed a little assistance and presented them with the chance to equalise from the spot. While Junior Hoilett had earlier done very little to endear himself to his prospective employers by taking a tumble in the area, Raylor sufficiently riled to earn a yellow card, there was probably a case for a penalty when Simpson collided with Modeste. Tim Krul, though, was undaunted, keeping out both David Dunn's effort and Givet's follow-up. It's reassuring to know we'll have him performing heroics between the sticks for the second half of the season, at least.

A Blackburn goal just before the break would have put a very different (if more equitable) complexion on the match, but we made it into the dressing room in front. The Silver Fox's response was to withdraw HBA - not a sniff of a sensational goal-of-the-season contender this time - and replace him with James Perch. Tactically astute, or (as my inward groan implied) just an invitation for Blackburn to attack us more?

In truth, our opponents were less of a threat in the second period. Sure, Modeste, Dann, Steven Nzonzi and Mauro Formica all had reasonable opportunities that they failed to take, and Morten Gamst Pedersen's dead-ball ability was a continual concern, but we contained them better and restricted them to fewer openings. Not that we looked capable of making the game safe either, though - there were a few speculative efforts, but O'Best and Big Lad toiled ineffectually up front until the former was replaced by Peter Lovenkrands.

Our third and final substitute, Obertan Kenobi, had been on the pitch all of two minutes when he belatedly made the game safe. The man at fault for Givet's winner in October made amends by finishing off a swift counterattack to deliver the sort of bullet that usually has our names on it.

In October we had been 2-0 down in stoppage time and yet had still managed to force extra time, but thankfully there was no stirring comeback on this occasion. Kean is notorious for his glass-more-than-half-full post-match assessments of Blackburn defeats, but for once he had a point in suggesting that his side created enough opportunities to win three games, let alone one. Still, the victory - and fifth place, above both Liverpool and Arsenal - was ours to savour.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Movers and shakers

Reflections on the club's activities in the transfer window from Paul tomorrow, but, in the meantime, what else of note happened on deadline day?

We looked on as several targets moved elsewhere: ex-Villa defender Liam Ridgewell continued on his tour of the West Midlands, joining West Brom from Birmingham and Ravel Morrison, the subject of a rejected bid from us earlier in the month, somewhat surprisingly left Man Utd for Championship football with West Ham. Fat Sam went striker-crazy, also adding Bristol City's Nicky Maynard and Barnsley's Ricardo Vaz Te to his forward line - but following his side's 5-1 pummelling by previously hapless Ipswich he may be feeling he should have concentrated on the other end of the pitch...

Meanwhile, Wayne Bridge, a player with whom we've been strongly linked in the past, was recruited on loan by the Mackems and so could face us at St James' Park next month. They've been able to do the deal on the cheap too, paying a fraction of his wages in a similar deal to the one struck by MK Dons for Alan Smith.

When Bolton steamed in with an improved £7m bid for Wilfried Zaha, I suspected it would kick off a furious bidding war - but against the odds everything remained quiet and the winger remains a Crystal Palace player. Equally surprising was the silence surrounding Huddersfield's Jordan Rhodes and Blackburn's Junior Hoilett.

Several old boys were on the move too. Sebastien Bassong swapped Spurs for Wolves on loan (a deal I really feel we should have pursued ourselves), tonight's opponents Blackburn identified QPR's out-of-favour right-back Bradley Orr as the man to lead them to safety (yes, me neither) and, in perhaps the most surprising move of the day, Spurs took a gamble on chronic physio-botherer Louis Saha. Perhaps Droopy's mind's elsewhere at the moment...

On the subject of old boys, Rocky played and scored a year to the day that Jabba lined his pockets with £35m of Liverpool's cash. That makes it a cool £5m per goal. Meanwhile, Demba Ba has more than twice as many in just six months, and came on a free. Doesn't look quite such a bad deal now as it did then, does it?

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Quote of the day

"I am absolutely livid about it because firstly, when the incident happened, I didn’t see anything wrong with it.

After the game, someone said to me the TV coverage, especially the presenter, Ray Stubbs, was so ferocious about it, and I couldn’t understand that.

What the slow motion pictures highlight is absolutely not a fair reflection. I said this to Ray Stubbs last night – here I am as a football manager, your job is as a presenter. You present and ask questions.

When both professionals who are on that show both say 'It wasn’t a foul in my mind' I don’t see why the debate has to carry on. Why does he pursue it?

"Stubbsy" is clearly off the Silver Fox's Christmas card list. Interesting that Adam El-Abd has apparently come out in Dreamboat's defence, but I do find it hard to believe that it wasn't an intentional act of aggression.


Our pleas - and the support of the injured party, El-Abd - counted for nothing and Dreamboat's been handed a three-match ban, which he's labelled "a real injustice".

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