Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The late, late show

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 West Brom

A late, and somewhat fortuitous, Papiss Cisse goal secured all three points on Sunday against a very good Baggies side.

Reshuffling the pack after Thursday's European exploits, the Silver Fox restored the majority of the team which took on the Mackems, with Perchinho replacing the suspended Mr T. Interestingly, though, he opted to set us out in a 4-3-3 with Big Lad occupying the right-hand prong of the front three. At the back Mike Williamson retained his place alongside Sideshow Bob, with Saylor on the bench.

Starting brightly we looked dangerous early on, with Ba putting a header wide from a cracking Big lad cross when, perhaps, he should have done better. At the other end, on-loan striker Romelu Lukaku had a couple of good chances to give the visitors the lead, only to be foiled twice by Tim Krul.

It was Krul though who instigated the initial breakthrough, when his long clearance was flicked on by Big Lad and Ba managed to get goalside of his marker before waiting for the ball to drop and hammering a fine volley past Ben Foster to give us the lead.

In the second half we appeared to sit back - whether it was the challenge of playing Thursday and Sunday, or whether it was something else is up for debate - but either way West Brom gradually took control of the match and when the ball was eventually worked to Zoltan Gera he was allowed time and space to curl a fine cross into the box and onto the head of the dangerous Lukaku to nod home.

The Silver Fox reacted by replacing Danny Simpson and Big Lad with Papiss Cisse and Obertan Kenobi but despite looking to rejuvenate our attack, the reality was that it was our defence which was under increasing pressure (interestingly the double substitution saw Spidermag shifted to left-back and Santon moved to right, rather than take Perchinho out of midfield).

When Demba Ba hobbled off, it was Little Big Lad, presumably rewarded for his good performance against Bruges, who was brought on as we decided to continue to push for a winner rather than stem the Baggies tide.

Thankfully, and mystifyingly, Baggies manager and one-time NUFC caretaker Steve Clarke replaced Lukaku with Shane Long who ran about enthusiatically, but didn't carry the same threat as the young Belgian.

Still, with the clock running out, it looked like another draw was on the cards until HBA went on a mazy dribble and, as he was chopped down, laid the ball to Little Big Lad, referee Chris Foy playing a good advantage. Little Big Lad's long-range shot looked to be covered by Foster only to take a deflection off Cisse's back (not arse as I originally tweeted on Sunday) and into the goal, giving us a somewhat fortuitous winner.

Still, having been undone by a goal off Demba's face last weekend it was nice to be the beneficiary of some good fortune. Similarly, a goal for Cisse (however little he knew about it) will hopefully boost his confidence and help him get back amongst the goals.

Quite why we faded so badly is up for debate, but to my mind we shouldn't be using a home European game in which so few players who started this game featured as any semblance of an excuse for a poor performance - a problem for the Silver Fox to ponder.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sammy's star turn

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 Club Bruges

After the frustration of conceding a late equaliser to the Great Unwashed last Sunday, it was back to European action for the Silver Fox and his team on Thursday night.

Sticking with his European philosophy of utilising the squad, we made nine changes to the team which started on Wearyside, with Steve Harper in goal, a back four of Davide Santon, Perchinho, Saylor (captain for the day) and Shane Ferguson. In midfield, Mr T was joined by Gael Bigirimana (aka Master T) and Vurnon Anita, with Little Big Lad, Obertan Kenobi and Papiss Cisse up front.

It was the visitors who started brightly, though. Looking to sit deep and counterattack at speed, they fashioned an early chance forcing Harper into a smart save low to his left,

At the other end Little Big Lad looked to be causing problems with his quick feet and close control and he produced a fine mazy run only to snatch his shot wide. Down the left Fergie was looking to get forward and put in a string of good crosses, one of which Cisse met with a strong header that produced a fine save from Bojan Jorgacevic.

With our trio of combative midfielders largely dominating possession, we saw lots of the ball, but unfortunately lacked someone to really pull the strings in midfield. With the sides still tied at the break, it was unsurprising that we re-emerged without Anita and with Big Lad taking his place as we switched to 4-4-2 and looked to presumably capitalise on the crossing prowess of Fergie.

As it was, though, the breakthrough came courtesy of Little Big Lad. He played a one-two with his brother before flicking the ball over his marker and bursting forward towards the Gallowgate goal, before releasing the ball in to the path of Obertan Kenobi down the right. He cut in and smashed a powerful shot into the far corner of the goal to give us the lead which our dominance merited. Credit too to the referee who played a good advantage following a foul of Little Big Lad just after he released the ball.

As an attacking force, we continued to threaten, but with Bruges now forced to press forward more in search of an equaliser, the game opened up. Mr T picked up a booking, to make it 30 in 60 appearances, and his young apprentice Master T followed suit later in the game,

At the back, aside from a couple of moments, Saylor came through 90 minutes unscathed and by the end of the game he had been joined by Sideshow Bob, who replaced Little Big Lad to help see out the game. Dreamboat had also entered the fray in place of Fergie and instantly showed what our central midfield had been missing with a fine pass round the corner with the outside of his boot.

Still, the team did enough to beat a well structured and dangerous Bruges side, even if the game itself is unlikely to live too long in the memory (aside from Little Big Lad's skill in the build-up to the goal). On the positive front, it was a welcome clean sheet and some more game time for Saylor in particular. Across the pitch, the players all looked to enjoy decent  games, although Mr T was, at times, slightly erratic in his passing and the fact that he again picked up a booking was frustrating.

Still, food for thought for the Silver Fox, with Obertan Kenobi, Little Big Lad and Master T all advancing their claims to a start in the league.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Crunch time

So the Lone Ranger isn't the only player to get a ticking-off from the Silver Fox of late. He's also had stern words with Mr T about his disciplinary record following Sunday's red card down at the Dark Place: "It's not a laughing matter because he's one of our big players and I can't have him not playing. It could be costly and he needs to understand that." Of course it has already been costly - we already had the lead and, with a full complement of players, we should have comfortably seen off a desperately poor Mackem outfit.

Mr T's ability to break up attacks is second to none, and that does involve a certain amount of aggression in the tackle - something the Silver Fox also acknowledged, complaining about "the sanitisation of the game". But he does risk becoming a liability, and it's incredible to think that, having been booked in half of his games for the club (29 times in 59 appearances), he hasn't ever gone on to collect a second in the same match.

Looking to the positives, his three-match ban only applies domestically, so we can give him a run-out tonight and in the return fixture over in Bruges if we want. In terms of the Premier League, though, it'll give us experience of how to cope without him - good preparation for January...



A blast from the past

If I was you, I'd make sure you're seated comfortably, as the revelation that follows may leave you feeling dazed and dumbstruck: the Xisco Kid scored a hat-trick in black and white on Monday. Admittedly, the treble came in a reserve game against Stoke, but still - quite remarkable.

As has been suggested in the comments left beneath the Ronny Gill article, the Spaniard quite probably has one eye on the fact that his long-term deal only has a year left to run - but it's also true that he's not caused problems or kicked up a fuss (unlike another of our strikers on an excessively lengthy contract...) and might perhaps deserve a chance. Tonight's Europa League game against Club Brugge would have been an ideal opportunity for him to have made an appearance from the bench, but he's not been registered in the squad. Were one or two of Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse or Big Lad to pick up injuries, though, it'd be interesting to see if he'd be able to force his way into the picture ahead of Adam Campbell.



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Not better late than never

Turning up late for a meeting to discuss his behaviour (including his perennial tardiness)? Announcing "I’d pay good money to stay in bed this morning" on Twitter? Being abandoned by his agent? The end is surely nearly nigh for the Lone Ranger's Toon career. Curse our foolishness for gifting him that five-and-a-half year deal.

Still, at least he'll have his dancing skills to fall back on...



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pressure point

Mackems 1 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Should we be disappointed? Should we be relieved? Two days on and I'm still not entirely sure. On the one hand, Dreamboat handed us a third-minute lead which we held until four minutes from time, and even then we had to help the woeful home side out by scoring their goal for them. But on the other, a first red card in black and white for Mr T left us with backs firmly against the wall for the last 65 minutes, so perhaps a point could be considered a reasonable return in the circumstances.

The Silver Fox faced two selection dilemmas prior to kick-off: whether to include both newly fit-again central defenders Sideshow Bob and Saylor, and whether to hand Big Lad a start in the fixture he seems to relish more than any other. The latter decision was never really in doubt, our derby-day talisman replacing Papiss Cisse, but fellow local lad Saylor was left on the bench - perhaps the Silver Fox, mindful of that provocative pre-match interview, was concerned he might be either a liability or a target. Sideshow Bob, however, did start the game, and in possession of the captain's armband.

It didn't take long for us to set about reasserting a familiar superiority over the Mackems. A fortuitous slip allied with good work from Danny Simpson and HBA down the right saw Demba Ba played in on the edge of the six-yard area. Resisting the temptation to go down when tugged, he fired in a shot that Simon Mignolet could only parry straight into the path of Dreamboat. The faintest of deflections off a defender's toe took his shot past the man on the line and into the bottom corner.

With the Mackems immediately on the back foot, we looked the more confident and fluent side, though it was through a dead ball situation that we came closest to doubling our lead, Mignolet's palms stung in tipping over Dreamboat's free kick. HBA seemed in the mood, a few mesmerising dribbles halted just as he was working a shooting position.

The game's pivotal moment came in the 25th minute, though. Mr T was jostled and jockeyed by Jack Colback - one of two Toon supporters in our opponents' ranks - and, with the free kick already awarded to us, unfortunately took out his frustrations on Steven Fletcher's shin. It was always likely that someone would see red, and with the odious Lee Cattermole suspended the prime candidate for an early bath was Mr T - even though it came as some surprise to realise it's his first dismissal in Toon colours.

We soldiered on for a further ten minutes before the Silver Fox decided a change was necessary, Perchinho thrown on ahead of Vurnon Anita to plug the hole in defensive midfield. The desperately unlucky man to make way was a glum-faced Big Lad, who stomped off down the tunnel in dismay - not how he wanted to mark his 250th first-team appearance. In truth, it proved a prudent move by the manager, working well for the good of the team, but Mr T certainly owes Big Lad a profuse apology.

As half-time approached, the Mackems continued to pose us few problems, and indeed we could have extended our lead if Ba had been able to keep his acrobatic volley from whistling narrowly over the bar from close range.

The pattern for the second period was set almost immediately: our hosts bossing possession and us defending manfully to restrict them to snatches of half-chances at best. Colback was a probing presence in midfield, but it's telling that on-loan left-back Danny Rose was their most effective attacker. Fletcher and alleged strike partner Stephane Sessegnon were anonymous, James McClean attracted attention only through overly aggressive challenges and the usually dangerous winger Adam Johnson, having floated a shot wide in the first half, was double-marked out of the game and eventually hauled off.

The Mackems' inability to create anything of note can be largely attributed to the performances of Mike Williamson and in particular Sideshow Bob, the latter aptly described later by the Silver Fox as "absolutely phenomenal". Perchinho played a vital role too, scything into a series of perfectly executed tackles and at one point launching an attack that almost ended with him reaching Ba's low ball across the six-yard area. Our lone striker was putting in a tremendous shift up front, coming close to adding a second on the break though Mackem captain John Obese - his face a mess after a first-half tangle with Big Lad - did just enough to ensure the Senegalese man fluffed his lines when bearing down on Mignolet.

Sideshow Bob went down with cramp, Perchinho assisting by waggling the Argentinean's foot about (central midfield, centre-back, full-back, physio - is there anything the man can't do?!), but he had to be replaced by Saylor, who entered the field of play to the expected warm reception. That the Mackems equalised seven minutes later was less a reflection on the replacement not being up to speed and more an indictment of a shocking free kick from Dreamboat. Handed the opportunity to swing a ball over and put the home defence under pressure for a change, the Frenchman's dismal effort was booted clear, Williamson caught on his heels and condemned to commit a cynical bodycheck for which he was rightly booked. From the resulting Sebastian Larsson free kick, Obese glanced the ball on and it bounced off Ba's face and past Tim Krul. Our unfortunate striker has now achieved the remarkable feat of being both our top scorer and the Mackems' second top scorer...

The Great Unwashed belatedly woke up and scented victory, but despite a frenzied finish with opportunities at both ends, 1-1 was the final score.

A proud Silver Fox was prepared to concede that Mr T's red card was justified but hailed a "magnificent effort" from the remaining players, while there was praise too from his opposite number Martin O'Neill, who admitted we had "played excellently with the 10 men".

Bring on the home fixture, when hopefully we'll be able to count on a full complement of players for the whole 90 minutes...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Quote of the day

"I would rather go and collect stamps than stick on that shirt!"

Saylor, when asked if he'd ever contemplate turning out for Sunderland. That wasn't the only provocative comment he made, claiming that no Mackem players are good enough to make it into our side. That may possibly be true, but pride before a fall and all that... At least he had the sense to add: "It is all very well having that but we have to go out and deliver that."

Meanwhile, some Neanderthal of a red and white persuasion has tried unsettling Big Lad with racist abuse on Facebook. Here's hoping the Mackem Slayer delivers a suitable riposte on the pitch tomorrow.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

It's good to talk - and listen

Last spring, the Football Supporters' Federation published the results of research into the quality of fan charters of clubs in the top two divisions. We amassed 16 points and were ranked 12th within the Premier League. A year and a half on, and we were awarded 11 points (just below average) and dropped to 13th, having apparently not addressed the failings identified last time round (primarily, not being up-to-date). The findings temper the satisfaction of knowing that the club offers fans comparative matchday value for money, at least according to the BBC's Price of Football survey.

That revelation that a day out at St James' Park is the cheapest in the Premier League - and indeed cheaper than some days out at League 2 clubs - can hardly have helped the cause of NUST (though the inadequacies of the fan charter might). The organisation has been quite quiet until fairly recently, since when there seems to have been a burst of activity and communication. The cause? The Wonga deal, inevitably. There will be some fans who look scornfully on NUST for eagerly seizing on bad news like waiting vultures and for trying to make hay while the sun doesn't shine - but the truth is that when everything's apparently rosy it doesn't take people long to forget (if not actively forgive) misdeeds of the past. Plus the point they're attempting to make is a very valuable one.

NUST's initial founding objective was to oust Jabba and seize control of the club for the fans, but the Yes We Can campaign has now been downgraded, effectively. This lowering of sights is probably out of the widespread (if grudging) recognition of the fact that, whatever their faults, Jabba and co have done a good job of steadying the ship financially. Nevertheless, as Colin Whittle noted in a recent post on their blog, "the ‘German model’ has proved that fan ownership can be a massive success; here in England we’d appreciate a seat at the table to start off with". However, even the idea of fan representation at board level seems like a bit of a lofty ambition when the club won't even acknowledge NUST's existence.

When I discussed the issue with this 'ere site's co-author Paul, he suggested that the club's attitude might be because NUST's membership is relatively small and so they can't possibly claim to be truly representative. I'm not sure that there are other equally organised rival fan factions with competing voices to whom the club, were its resolve to weaken, would also be obliged to listen, but I do accept Paul's general point. However, it's a Catch-22 situation for NUST - if the club showed a willingness to engage with them, then you'd imagine membership numbers would grow simply because fans would know their views might be represented and heard. So long as NUST's pleas continue to fall on deaf ears, and the organisation continues to have negligible demonstrable success in achieving its main aim, supporters are less likely to sign up.

Nevertheless, while it might be laborious and demoralising, NUST should in my view persist stoically and relentlessly with their demands, even though the club seems to show no signs of acceding. Surely it's not too much to ask for "a little more conversation", as the title of Whittle's post does, and perhaps over time the hierarchy can be worn down. If opening up lines of communication and engagement with the supporters - the club's lifeblood, after all - can help to prevent the PR disasters of the stadium rebranding and Wonga deal, then it's an objective worth pursuing. Anyone doubting the value of membership should remember too that, aside from fighting for a fan voice, NUST are also involved in numerous community projects - so there are other spheres in which their achievements are more immediately evident.

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Go compare

The results of this year's Price of Football survey, carried out by the BBC, are in - and there's some good PR for us. On the assumption that a matchday involves the purchase of a walk-up ticket, a programme, a pie and a cup of tea, Newcastle offer the cheapest day out of any club in the Premier League, the combined cost coming to just £23. It won't come as much surprise to learn that the matchday experience is most expensive at Chelsea, £49.60, but it is notable that it's nearly twice as much (£45) for newly promoted Reading at the Madejski as it is at St James' Park.

What's more, we offer a cheaper day out than all but four Championship clubs (discounting Cardiff and Derby, who have so-called "dynamic" ticket pricing), all but three League 1 clubs and all but nine League 2 clubs. Quite remarkable. (Of course, it's worth suggesting that the matchday experience of many supporters would be more accurately reflected if the liquid refreshment was lager rather than tea...)

We don't fare quite so well when it comes to comparing prices of the cheapest season tickets, but at £322 ours is still the third lowest in the Premier League. Wigan's is £255 (and yet still no one goes), while champions Man City can boldly boast the next cheapest at £275. By contrast, the cheapest season ticket available at the Emirates is a staggering £985 - £76 more than our most expensive. Little wonder that Arsenal are one of the few clubs in the Premier League who continually make a profit.

Again, this makes us cheaper than 14 Championship clubs (including the Smogs), five League 1 clubs and three League 2 clubs (one of whom, Rotherham, are like the Gunners no doubt keen to recoup the cost of their spanking new stadium).

The headline findings are detailed here, with the full figures here and an explanation of the background to the survey here.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Quote of the day

"It was a really good idea to move the fans, it means the Sunderland fans fill the stands all around the stadium. You can certainly hear the difference with the atmosphere. A lot of the time when you had the big back row with away fans you could hear them and it maybe gave their team a lift. Now they're at the top tier you don't hear them as much and I'm sure the Sunderland fans will make sure they aren't heard."

Mackem midfielder Jack Colback on how the Great Unwashed have received underhand assistance in their attempts to drown out the visiting fans. They'll certainly need all the help they can get this Sunday.

Meanwhile, it's good to see that Davide Santon seems to appreciate the importance of the derby and Big Lad's talismanic influence over it.

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Hard luck for Haris

Amidst all of the posts about Wonga and the Lone Ranger, it's been rather remiss of us not to comment on the unfortunate long-term injury sustained by Haris Vuckic. The Slovenian picked up the cruciate ligament injury in a reserve game last week and is now facing up to spending the rest of the season on the sidelines. So much for the hopes of Paul and myself (and countless other fans) that this might be the year he made the first-team breakthrough. We'll miss him, too - as the Reading match amply demonstrated, we desperately need a creative forward-thinking midfielder to fill the gap when Dreamboat's absent.

Meanwhile, Dan Gosling is also out injured for the next few weeks - but that should hardly come as news to anyone...

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Quote of the day

This guy is late so often, it is unbelievable. He’s still at this football club and we’re still trying to do something with him. But he will still not get back in the team unless he has a period of six weeks where he isn’t late. I don’t think it is going to happen".

An exasperated Silver Fox reveals the reason behind the Lone Ranger's protracted absence from the first-team picture: his appalling timekeeping. That fits with the opinion of the anonymous commenter on yesterday's post about the court verdict, who surmised that there must be some reason for his apparent blacklisting.

The Silver Fox also delivered a riposte to our commenter's suggestion that the club should send him out on loan again: “The bottom line is we haven’t got four or five clubs queuing up. In fact we haven’t got one club queuing up for him. That should be alarm bells in his head to get his act in order. But maybe he doesn’t want to be a footballer.”

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Out of Africa

A reminder that it's not just England whose qualifiers for major tournaments are shrouded in controversy and farce: confirmation that Senegal have been disqualified from next year's African Cup of Nations, the spot taken by the Ivory Coast instead. That means that, as expected, we'll be without Mr T rather than Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse in January. While it's a worry to be deprived of our defensive midfield lynchpin, we did have to cope with his absence at the start of this season, and Vurnon Anita and Bigi have a bit of time to step up to the plate.

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An apology, of sorts

In the wake of yesterday's court verdict, I think it's only right to offer an apology to the Lone Ranger. We had thought the worst of him, but CCTV and testimonies proved that his actions were provoked by racist taunts from drunken thugs, who then attacked him (meaning his own aggression towards them was retaliatory and in self defence). While that still doesn't excuse his subsequent behaviour towards the police, then it does perhaps at least make his agitated, aggressive state more understandable.

However, his post-court Twitter claim "By da way I haven't been convicted of anything..!!!" is nonsense, as has been patiently pointed out to him by Telegraph journalist Luke Edwards, formerly of the Journal. Despite the mitigating circumstances, he was still handed a 12-month conditional discharge for assaulting the two police officers, and ordered to pay them £750 compensation each. Edwards went on to say "really is about time u realised error of your ways" - admitting at least some responsibility for his actions would be a start - before asking: "When did u last attract media attention for actually playing football?" Good question - and one that our errant striker is unlikely to be able to answer, given that his memory's so short he can't seem to remember court verdicts on the same day they're delivered...

Disregarding the provocation in this particular incidence, the fact remains that the Lone Ranger continues to embroil himself in potentially compromising situations - he's incapable of keeping his head down and staying out of trouble. His behaviour may have been comprehensible (if not excusable or justified) in this case, but more often than not he has no one else to blame.



Monday, October 15, 2012

Quote of the day

"My parents said I can become anything.. So I became an assh*le"

The Lone Ranger: the Twitter gift that just keeps on giving. Could it be that he's finally discovered the concept of self-awareness?

Meanwhile, Big Lad and Little Big Lad warmed up for Sunday's derby with a spot of family karaoke. 'Eye Of The Tiger', you'd imagine.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

It'll be all riot on the night

Confusion appears to reign supreme following the abandonment of yesterday's second-leg qualifier for the African Cup of Nations between Senegal and the Ivory Coast. The game was stopped after 70 minutes, with visitors the Ivory Coast winning 2-0 (and 6-2 on aggregate), following rioting among home fans sparked by a controversial penalty decision.

It's not yet been confirmed whether the result will stand, but the likelihood is that we'll be without Mr T rather than the two Dembas come January. Of more immediate significance, however, is the wellbeing of the players. The Ivory Coast side had to be escorted off the pitch by riot police, but thankfully there aren't as yet any reports of injuries. Let's hope they're shaken rather than stirred.

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Near misses

The more you read about Ravel Morrison, the more you have to conclude we dodged a bullet by missing out on him. When Man Utd baulked at his contract demands, the midfielder chose West Ham over us, promptly upset Fat Sam, was farmed out on loan to Birmingham and has now had a stern talking-to about his attitude from an exasperated Lee Clark.

Meanwhile, readers with long memories may vaguely recall us once being linked with Anderlecht's Jonathan Legear. The Belgian midfielder, now with Russian outfit Terek Grozny, recently managed the impressive feat of mistaking an accelerator for a brake pedal and crashed his Porsche into a petrol station. A shame he didn't sign for us, in some ways - that would have been another different motoring offence to add to the already incredibly long list (which, since it was last compiled, should have mention of bans for Kevin Nolan and Demba Ba)...



Quote of the day

"Hatem Ben Arfa is a match for any of Man U's finest"

Could the curse of the Ronny Gill have struck again? The paper may only have been paraphrasing the Silver Fox's comments about HBA prior to last Sunday's match, but there are distinct parallels with April 2003, when sister rag the Journal previewed a home encounter with the Red Devils with the claim that Kieron Dyer should have displaced Paul Scholes in the England team. The article duly found its way onto the walls of the visitors' dressing room and Scholes promptly scored a hat-trick in a virtuoso performance as his side romped to a 6-2 victory...

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cash, no questions

So I go away on holiday for a week and return to find my club's been sold to the devil. Well, not quite, but Wonga certainly aren't the sort of company I'm keen to see us keep. Paul's given his views here, but I thought I'd add my two cents.

I guess we were prepared for the move by the unceremonious dumping of Virgin Money. At the time I noted Llambiarse's comments that the new agreement with the then unnamed sponsor "represents an excellent commercial deal for both parties" and commented that this was a case of "cold, hard cash" talking. And indeed it was.

You don't need to point to the fact that the deal might upset our contingent of Muslim first-teamers - namely Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba, HBA and Mr T - by contravening Sharia law to be critical of it. (Incidentally, there must be plenty of other Muslim players who currently sport the names of gambling companies and alcohol firms on their shirts. Indeed, don't Virgin Money charge interest?) The simple fact is that we are, in effect, taking money from hard-up families who find themselves in tough predicaments with little or no room for manoeuvre, just to line our own pockets.

There can be grand talk about funding youth development and the restoration of the St James' Park name, but it doesn't get rid of the very bad taste left in the mouth by the basic facts. David Conn's Guardian article, mentioned by Paul, is telling in that of late the Witchfinder General of football finance has had nothing but praise for Jabba's running of the club - and now, quite understandably, he's very much of a different opinion.

Some of those who have backlashed against the backlash have pointed out that Wonga already sponsor two football clubs, Blackpool and Hearts, who weren't singled out for criticism for striking their own deals. Admittedly that's a bit unfair, but it has to be conceded that we're considerably more high profile than either of them and Wonga's name on our shirts will give the company far more prominence, so the greater glare of media scrutiny is inevitable. The deal is a tacit endorsement on our part of a firm - and indeed the so-called "legal loan sharking" industry - already under fire from consumers' groups for unethical practice and unscrupulous behaviour.

In the wake of a recent blog post on the ethics of sponsorship in football, I defended our previous association with Northern Rock, one which continued even when the ailing company had been nationalised, on the grounds that their board were convinced the deal offered Northern Rock - a valued local business and employer - the best opportunity of rebuilding its brand and reputation. This time I'm not sure there's any defence - Jabba really should be more careful about who he leaps into bed with. Like most Toon fans (and Conn), I've had a lot more time for him of late, but this smacks of one of his sporadic but spectacular mistakes (see also: sacking Keegan, rebranding the stadium). Having the Sports Direct logo plastered on our shirts would have been preferable.

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Quote of the day

"I am bitterly disappointed not to play. I am trying to fit into the direct style of play the manager wants. I pass too much at the moment, which is my biggest asset. I understand what the manager wants but stopping habits like going and getting the ball from the back four is difficult."

One you may have missed (we did): Danny Guthrie's Twitter outburst after being somewhat surprisingly omitted from Reading's starting XI against us. We would have been happy to keep the midfielder, but he decided to pursue more regular first-team football elsewhere - perhaps it's dawning on him that the grass isn't greener.

In fairness to Brian McDermott, he's not alone in his assessment of Guthrie. Responding to my recent piece for The Two Unfortunates reflecting on Reading (amongst others), Royals supporter and TTU proprietor Lanterne Rouge opined: "Guthrie might be a poor man’s Gerrard in his over reliance on the Hollywood pass".

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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Wonga vision

Confirmation then of our new sponsor, with the reported deal with Wonga due to take effect from the end of the season.

Wonga, of course, operate as a pay-day loan compamy whose short-term loans charge an annual average interest of 4,214% APR. While they would say that they don't lend money for that length of time, there are a number of campaigners who take a slightly different view and their reputation hardly constitutes a brand with which we should be excited about becoming associated.

One saving grace, or sop in a bid to appease the natives (depending on your point of view), is the decision by Wonga to restore St James' Park to its rightful name, meaning we'll at least be spared the ignominy of running out in the Wonga Arena.

Inevitably Llambiarse is quoted as being pleased with the deal, which should yield us £24 million over four years and as he put it: "Wonga's desire to help us invest in our young playing talent, the local community and new fan initiatives really impressed us and stood them apart from other candidates".

What the deal means for Wonga is obviously an increase in the profile they currently enjoy as sponsors of both Hearts and Blackpool. For the club, it doubtless comes down to the bottom line with both Jabba and Llambiarse never afraid of taking the cash even if it represents an unpopular decision.

David Conn, in the Guardian, has already had an opportunity to express his thoughts on the matter - which can be found here.

What is clear is the pleasure in having our stadium back is tempered by the tainting of our club by its association with a company which looks to exploit those in need.

What's harder to grasp is whether the sponsorship will have a negative impact on shirt sales, with the prospect of becoming a walking advert for Wonga one which I personally find pretty unappealing.

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Heading for disaster

Newcastle Utd 0 - 3 Manchester Utd

Billed as a battle between strikers, Sunday's match against Taggart's mob turned out to be decided by two contrasting defensive performances.

With Saylor joining Sideshow Bob on the sidelines, the Silver Fox opted to pair Perchinho and Mike Williamson in the centre and bring in Shane Ferguson at left back, switching Davide Santon to right back.

Further forward Papiss Cisse got the nod ahead of Big Lad to partner Demba Ba, with support from midfield courtesy of Mr T, Dreamboat, HBA and captain for the day Spidermag.

Clearly fired up by their defeat to Tottenham last week, it was the visitors who were out of the traps quickly, with our defence instantly under pressure and Steve Harper instantly into action saving a weak Danny Welbeck shot.

Minutes later, though, the visitors were ahead from a corner when Jonny Evans lost Williamson and rose highest to power home a header.

Not content with one goal, Taggart's lot kept pressing and almost had a second when Harper took a heavy touch from a back pass and allowed Welbeck to nip in and take the ball off him. Thankfully the ex-Mackem fired wide rather than square the ball for Robin van Persie.

Sadly the respite was short-lived as Patrice Evra became the second defender to profit from slack marking from a corner - seemingly unmarked as he rose to nod home a second.

At that stage, we had a reshuffle, with 4-4-2 abandoned in favour of 4-3-3 with HBA switching to left of the front three. From there we started to get into the game and actually finished the half the better side (albeit without ever really creating a golden chance to get one back).

With no changes to personnel at half-time, we picked up where we left off and Ba cracked a header off the bar within minutes of the restart, with the ball rebounding to Cisse. His header looked to have crossed the line, only for De Gea to claw the ball away and the linesman remain unmoved. Replays suggested the whole of the ball may have crossed the line, but in fairness it was close and difficult for the linesman to see.

The Silver Fox threw on Big Lad and Anita in place of Cisse and Fergie, but it was the visitors who scored the decisive third goal when Tom Cleverley picked up the ball wide on the left and, depending on who you believe, slightly overhit a cross for van Persie at the back post, or scored one of the goals of the season as he lofted the ball over Harper's outstretched hand and into the very top corner.

With the game gone, we continued to chase without ever looking as though we could truly get back into the match, although van Persie still took the opportunity to endear himself to everyone on Tyneside with a sly glance and flailing arm aimed at Dreamboat's face, with Howard Webb choosing to ignore the incident.

On the plus side, we go into the international break with a chance to try and get Messrs Saylor, Sideshow Bob and Krul back to fitness. Otherwise we were undone by two pretty poor goals direct from corners, so it's clear what we'll be working on in training over the next couple of weeks.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Winter in Gateshead

Congratulations to Telegraph journalist Henry Winter, who completed a quick swim across the Tyne on Saturday in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

Having previously expressed doubts that Jabba would back the Silver Fox over the long haul, Winter was left with no choice but to honour his bet and swim the Tyne after the announcement of the Silver Fox’s new eight-year contract.

Winter crossed the river in under five minutes and was warmly greeted by an NUFC towel courtesy of the club.

Anyone wishing to donate money in support of the swim can still do so here.



Monday, October 08, 2012

Quote of the day

“I’m arriving at my peak, I’m starting to realise my full potential. I don’t think I’m quite there yet, but I’m pleased with how things are going. I’m a better player now than when I signed for Newcastle."

The words of HBA, who recently gave an interview to the Telegraph in which he reflects upon the time he spent recuperating from his double leg break.

It's a fascinating interview, in which our current number 10 talks in glowing terms about the Silver Fox's man management and his maturation as a player and concludes:

“It is the ideal marriage for me. I love the passion of the game here, it is incredible. I thrive on that. It gives me a lot of pleasure to play football in this country.”

All I can say is, long may the marriage last!



Friday, October 05, 2012

Fancy that?

Not content with launching a onesie, the club has now decided to launch their own range of adult fancy dress.

At least that's Ben's Christmas present sorted then...



Trois! Bien!

Newcastle Utd 3 – 0 Bordeaux

At long last our season looked to click into gear last night as we found something of our old rhythm and brushed a side a hotly tipped if underwhelming Bordeaux side in our second Europa League group game.

Once again the Silver Fox rotated the side, with Harper, Santon, HBA, Spidermag and Ba all rested. However, with the exception of Rob Elliot and Shane Ferguson, the other players who came into the side were all established first teamers, with Danny Simpson returning from his recent injury and Dreamboat and Mr T finally paired again in midfield. Pleasingly, we also opted to return to 4-3-3, with Obertan Kenobi, joining Big Lad and Papiss Cisse up front, and Vurnon Anita filling the third place in midfield.

Tellingly, it was our French players who looked to have a point to prove and started the match brightly, with Dreamboat firing an early shot just wide. With Bordeaux wasting a chance at the other end, it was Newcastle who took an early lead when Dreamboat’s magnificent long diagonal pass was beautifully taken down by Kenobi (operating on the left-hand side for a change). He burst past two defenders before crossing low with his left foot and leaving Big Lad with a simple tap-in to open his account for the season.

With Mr T picking up an early booking he looked to have the shackles on slightly, but nonetheless the sight of him in tandem with Dreamboat, ably supported by Anita, meant that our midfield continued to play with greater fluency than at any stage thus far this season.

With that platform in place, it was inevitable that further goals would come and so it was when Simpson took a throw down the right to Big Lad. He controlled in neatly before threading a pass back to Simpson on the touchline. His strong cross looked like it would be intercepted by the keeper, only for Henrique to stick out a foot, presumably aware that Cisse was lurking behind him, and knock the ball into the unguarded net to give us a deserved two-goal lead at half-time.

Worryingly (with Krul still not yet fit) we lost Elliot at the break, with Steve Harper taking over the gloves in the second half.

Shortly after the interval we finished the tie off when Fergie surged forward from left back before delivering an angled cross from deep which Cisse (perhaps a fraction offside) managed to get onto, and shoot home first time with his left foot.

With the tie safe, the stewards presumably also decided to take the rest of the night off, allowing one man and his penis the freedom of the pitch for quite a while before he was subdued.

With Man Utd coming on Sunday, the Silver Fox opted to rest Dreamboat and Mr T, throwing on Gosling and Bigi to further their European adventures. For Bordeaux, their best chance fell to one-time Mackem David Bellion, who despite managing to get through on goal was unable to beat Harper, who produced a fine save.

With Bruge beating Maritimo, the win meant we now sit top of the group after two games, and also look to have regained our mojo in midfield. Hopefully the fact that we clicked while playing 4-3-3 won’t have been lost on the Silver Fox. Further positives to note were the performances of Fergie and Obertan Kenobi, the fact that Danny Simpson got a full 90 minutes under his belt, and that Cisse added a second goal to his tally for the season.

The only downside was the injury to Elliot, which means that Jak Alnwick is in line to be on the bench on Sunday, although as the Silver Fox reportedly commented “hopefully we’ll get him a win bonus”.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Thursday, October 04, 2012

A Month Of Saturdays: September 2012

(Image courtesy of sreeat89)

There are few hard-and-fast certainties in this world, but one of them is that anyone who's already seen The Shawshank Redemption on many occasions before and indeed even owns it will nevertheless find themselves compelled to watch it again if it's on the telly. And so it was that, at some point in September, I happened to catch the beginning on Film4 and remained glued to the screen until the end. Fitting, really, given that I spent much of the month watching and reporting on prison breaks which, though metaphorical rather than literal, came close to being as extraordinary as Andy Dufresne's.

The first took place when September was just two days old. Aston Villa were the visitors to St James' Park - easy pickings given their woeful start to the campaign, or so we thought. Ciaran Clark gave them the lead as we struggled, caught offguard by their intensity and work rate. Just as it started to look as though a demoralising defeat was on the agenda, though, up popped HBA with a characteristically sensational goal to grab a point.

A fortnight later, after the international break, it was Demba Ba who set about proving himself to be our equivalent of Dufresne's rockhammer. Trailing - and deservedly so - to a Leighton Baines goal, we turned to the Senegalese striker, who took just three minutes to fire Dreamboat's delightful pass beyond Tim Howard's outstretched hand. That strike - our 1000th in the Premier League - kickstarted the team and we started to perform markedly better. Nevertheless, we didn't so much then ride our luck as win both the Grand National and the Derby on it, the Toffees dumbfounded to witness two legitimate goals disallowed. Victor Anichebe did eventually put them back in front - but Ba wasn't to be defeated, simply shrugging his shoulders and bundling home Big Lad's knock-down barely two minutes later. That our saviour had started on the bench prompted his agent into intimating disgruntlement with incomprehensible managerial decisions - unsurprisingly the Silver Fox was not amused.

After the goalless Europa League draw away to Maritimo - when it was all change except for the defence, and a largely uneventful game, though we did strike the woodwork three times - it was back to Premier League business and being bailed out by Ba. We might have taken all three points from the home game with Norwich, Ba finishing clinically from HBA's superb through-ball, but it was far from a convincing performance. The team were as generous in affording struggling Norwich possession and opportunities as the crowd were in acknowledging our significant debt to Canaries manager Chris Hughton. If that made the Silver Fox uncomfortable, then the decision to allow Papiss Cisse to take a penalty won by Mike Williamson left him furious - or at least it did once our out-of-form striker had blazed the ball high over the bar.

Cisse finally did break his duck for the season at Old Trafford in the League Cup the following Wednesday, but by that point we were already 2-0 down. He later hammered the bar with a spectacular overhead kick, but in truth an equaliser wouldn't have been merited, Man Utd having struck the woodwork and squandered several other chances themselves. We were left rueing a missed opportunity - all the more so given the Silver Fox's claim that he's determined to win silverware at Newcastle, which didn't really square with his decision to field a weakened side against a wet-behind-the-ears Man Utd defence.

Cisse's header came courtesy of an inviting Shane Ferguson cross barely three minutes after the pair had been introduced, and it was quite a month for the Northern Irishman; he also made his competitive international debut against Luxembourg and, deployed as an impact sub, played a pivotal role in the point-saving goal of our final fixture of September down at the Madejski. Once again, though, our "Get Out Of Jail Free" card was Ba, who may have been banned from driving for speeding but who has sped to six goals for the season. His first equaliser against Reading was a peach of a volley from Mr T's pass to silence the home supporters less than a minute after Jimmy Kebe had given our hosts the lead. His second - assisted by Ferguson - was extremely fortuitous, a handslap into the net which none of the officials spotted, much to Brian McDermott's chagrin, and which somehow salvaged a point as reward for a sluggish and desperately uninspired display.

In the context of being comprehensively outplayed by a newly promoted team sitting rock-bottom in the league, it's hard not to revisit our assessment of the club's transfer activity over the summer. Paul was right, of course, to argue that we wisely avoided the perils of panic-buying (not something we've always done successfully in the past), but I'd venture to suggest that some targets - Mathieu Debuchy, Douglas - had been identified and stalked for months and so wouldn't have been characterised as panic buys.

Liverpool had us guffawing in amusement with John Henry's denouncement of "risky spending" - did we thank you for that £35m, by the way? - but it could be argued that our owner took a hugely significant risk himself in offering the Silver Fox and his staff new deals running through until 2020. Perhaps an indication that the manager had taken the opportunity afforded to him by a two-match touchline ban to whisper sweet nothings into Jabba's ear up in the stands?

Which brings me to giving credit to the Lone Ranger, who - no doubt inspired by the misdemeanours of Ba and the Silver Fox - endeavoured to trump both. No sooner had he declared (with an incredible lack of self-awareness) that "respect is earned" than he'd got himself arrested again, this time on a charge of criminal damage. Best get watching The Shawshank Redemption, son - you might learn something useful. (Ranger getting his collar felt by the long arm of the law wasn't the only routine event of the month - Tim Krul's elbow knack meant we also had the return of that perennial favourite, the injury to a key player sustained while away on international duty.)

Of course, September's back (and front) pages were dominated by a story of football-related misdemeanours on an altogether different scale. The publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report came as a bombshell, its remarkable findings revealing a rottenness at the core of the establishment as well as offering a reminder that to be a pre-1990s football supporter was a dangerous business, practically an invitation to be victimised and treated as scum. A valuable sense of perspective for those of us inclined to moan about our lot in 2012, perhaps, when arguably the worst we have to put up with is our club trying to flog us black-and-white onesies...



Wednesday, October 03, 2012

What's the French for "clique"?

Confirmation of the Francophone clique within the Newcastle squad: fast forward to about 16:30 and you'll find footage of Dreamboat, HBA, Demba Ba, Sylvain Marveaux, Mehdi Abeid and Romain Amalfitano enjoying a meal and lively game of cards. Speaking French is something the Silver Fox has apparently tried to discourage on the training ground, but the sight of Ba, HBA and Dreamboat on friendly terms and enjoying each other's company can only be good for the cohesion of the team. That said, fellow Francophone player Papiss Cisse is nowhere to be seen...

The footage is part of a twenty-minute Canal+ piece on Dreamboat, which also features the Silver Fox and Mathieu Debuchy - probably primarily of interest to those who can speak French, but it does show Dreamboat working with his personal trainer in his back garden, in his gym and on the beach (presumably on top of the team training sessions held in the mornings).

A model professional, and one we could definitely do with being fit for the visits of Bordeaux and Man Utd - perhaps he might be able to reprise his goalscoring feats against the latter...

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Under scrutiny

Here's some interesting (if a little outdated) reading: a scouting report on us, prepared in November 2005 by Andre Villas-Boas when the current Spurs manager was working under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. It's a rare insight into the extent to which teams do their homework. Little wonder that Celestine Babayaro is identified as a weak link in defence, though you have to question the fact that Albert Luque is flagged up as a potential threat...

Still, all that research and analysis paid off for Villas-Boas and his employers - Chelsea won the match 3-0. I'd suggest his preparation wasn't quite so thorough when his Spurs side visited St James' in the first game of this season, but that 2-1 defeat came courtesy of a Ba wonder-goal and an HBA penalty rather than any tactical naivety.

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Ups and downs

Not Toon-related, but Saturday's trip to the Madejski to witness Reading at first hand occasioned this post assessing the starts made to the 2012-13 season by the Royals and the five other teams either promoted from or relegated to the Championship. It was a bit upsetting having to be complimentary about Fat Sam, but there was at least the consolation of getting to mention Kevin Nolan being the Mackems' bogeyman.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Money talks

Newcastle's sponsorship deal with Virgin Money, inked in the wake of the latter's takeover of Northern Rock, has proven to be somewhat short-lived, with the announcement that it'll be ending a year earlier than scheduled. It's the club who have pulled the plug, though it's been stressed that they haven't done the dirty on the sponsors, instead exercising a pre-agreed contractual right. The reason for the move need hardly be spelled out, though Llambiarse did anyway: "a new sponsorship partner ... which represents an excellent commercial deal for both parties". Cold, hard cash, in other words.

Meanwhile, Jabba has been able to celebrate a victory of sorts over his old foe Dave Whelan. JJB Sports, the business founded by the Wigan owner though sold off in 2007, has gone into administration, with 20 of its stores to be rebranded as Sports Direct outlets and the rest closed down. While Whelan has expressed amazement at the company's rapid decline, Jabba will no doubt be trying to suppress a smirk.

The new shirt sponsor couldn't be Sports Direct, could it?

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