Sunday, December 30, 2012

Little Pea pisses on Boxing Day chips

Manchester Utd 4 - 3 Newcastle Utd

There's something about 4-3 scorelines which frankly makes me queasy. Maybe it's the twin heartaches at Anfield in the mid-90s, but I think this, more than any other scoreline, is the most galling. To score three goals away from home and to leave with nothing after suffering from a late winner for the home team really is like coming home from work having just received a pay rise and promotion to find your other half in bed with your less attractive sibling (unless you are a Mackem in which case your other half probably is your less attractive sibling).

Anyway, sure enough we duly spent Boxing Day slogging our way to Salford and put in a generally excellent attacking performance, only to be undone by a late winner from Javier Hernandez.

With Mr T suspended, it was to Master T that the Silver Fox turned to deputise, with the youngster joining Perchinho and Vurnon Anita in a three man midfield while Sylvain Marveaux replaced Spidermag in an attacking triumvirate with our two Senegalese strikers.

Pleasingly we also started brightly, with Demba Ba latching onto a loose ball and firing a speculative long-range shot which David De Gea could only parry into the path of the onrushing Perchinho to slot home.

Back came the home team, however, with Jonny Evans levelling the scores as he pounced on a loose ball after a Hernandez shot had been saved by Krul.

Minutes later it was Evans again on the scoresheet, this time turning a Danny Simpson cross into his own net as he attempted to man-handle Papiss Cisse out of the way. With the assistant referee flagging for offside (not the foul on Cisse which looked a clear penalty), it was left to Mike Dean to make a big decision and for once the visitors to Old Trafford were the beneficiaries of some refereeing discernment, as he awarded the goal and turned Taggart's face an interesting shade of beetroot. (Ben's comment on the subsequent fall-out is here.)

2-1 at half-time, it always looked as though we'd need a two-goal cushion to feel comfortable, with Taggart still haranguing the referee, fourth official and assistant referee (who must have felt particularly hard done to, having flagged for offside in the first place) as the sides emerged for the start of the second half.

Frustratingly, we couldn't force a third immediately and sure enough Manure came back again when Patrice Evra fired home from distance after a fairly poor Perchinho header.

Back we came again, though, as Obertan Kenobi forced his way down the left and cut the ball across for Cisse to fire home his first really good goal of the season, a first-time left-foot shot that absolutely flew past De Gea.

Frustratingly we once again failed to hold on to our lead, this time allowing Robin van Persie to score, thereby giving the home side sufficient belief to push for a winner, which, despite the best efforts of Krul (who made a string of fine saves), inevitably came from Hernandez, who was quickest to react to a loose ball in the last minute.

Of significance, Mike Williamson also managed to pick up his fifth booking, thereby ruling him out of the trip to Arsenal (but more about that game shortly).

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Quote of the day

"We will either move Demba on or we will secure him in the summer. Really and truly this window is the key, I think, because if Demba goes in this window, it will cause us a problem. I think he will stay, but there's a possibility he could go because of the clause that's still in force. In the summer - I won't let it run until the summer. I'll do something about it."

The Silver Fox clears up our current position on Demba Ba: either we'll sell him or keep him in January, or we'll sell him or keep him in the summer. Well, thanks for that.

Obviously the worst case scenario would see him leaving next month, even if there are mitigating circumstances (the arrival of Loic Remy, perhaps), but we may be powerless to stop the clause being activated and our disgruntled top scorer securing himself a move.

Arsene Wenger has issued a less than convincing statement that his club aren't keen to sign Ba. In truth, though, it would be more acceptable if he was to go to the Gunners than to 'Appy 'Arry's 'apless QPR, who continue to be credited with a strong interest and whose wealth might give his agents the bumper pay-day they clearly seem to crave.

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Man in glass house throws stone at man he claims is in glass house throwing stones

Some small satisfaction to take from Boxing Day's 4-3 defeat at Old Trafford (Paul's report to follow): the Silver Fox has royally riled Taggart by having the temerity to suggest that the Man Utd manager should be censured for his blasts directed at the officials in the wake of our second goal.

So incensed is the puce-faced knight of the realm that he (of all people) has had the nerve to claim that our gaffer is a hypocrite: "Alan Pardew is the worst for haranguing referees. His whole staff [do it] every game". Whereas, of course, he and his staff suffer in saintly silence whenever they perceive decisions to have gone against them. The Silver Fox found himself lambasted for his "unbelievable" cheek, and his employers belittled as "a wee club in the north east". How charmingly patronising. Just when I thought it wasn't possible to like him less, too.

Naturally, Taggart has no grounds to stand on. Television cameras plainly showed him "ranting and raving" at referee Mike Dean, his assistant and the fourth official, something he explicitly insisted he hadn't done. Meanwhile the same cameras captured the contentious incident during the match illustrating that, although Papiss Cisse was in an offside position, he wasn't obstructing David de Gea's view of Danny Simpson's shot, he didn't touch the ball, and any foul was actually committed on him by Jonny Evans rather than vice versa.

Referring back to the Silver Fox's misdemeanour on the opening day of the season, Taggart rewrote history by suggesting that he pushed the referee, and also made much of the fact that his initial response was to laugh it off - a response that we here felt was misjudged and for which he subsequently apologised. It's doubtful that Taggart will show any contrition whatsoever for giving Dean et al the infamous hairdryer treatment.

Arguably the key to what has particularly incensed Taggart can be detected in the following comment: "He forgets the help I gave him by the way". Presumably this is the advice the Silver Fox received about club policy on social media last summer - and presumably requests for any such advice in future will be met with a terse Glaswegian "Fuck off".

Of course - and as I'm sure those of a Man Utd persuasion will be quick to point out - the spat means very little. It doesn't change the outcome of the game, and another case of points dropped, despite a refreshing, courageous offensive display. Still, unsettling Taggart with psychological mind games is always worth a chuckle.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Season's greetings

A belated merry Christmas from both of us at Black & White & Read All Over.

All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth men to cheer up, and one of them to start showing the unerring eye for goal of last season. Well, that and HBA and Dreamboat to get back to fitness and form very, very quickly. And Mr T to decide that collecting man-of-the-match awards is preferable to collecting yellow cards. And the promise of some quality reinforcements in the January transfer window. Is that too much to ask for?

(A quick addendum to say that owing to our family and social commitments both in the UK and further afield, and the absence of decent internet access, for the next week or so posts are likely to be thin on the ground and match reports may well be delayed. Sure you can bear with us, though.)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Big Lad, big goal

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 QPR

So it seems Big Lad doesn't just save up his priceless goals for the Mackems after all. After an instantly forgettable 81 minutes on Saturday, the second-half substitute struck to secure a precious three points that were greeted with relief as much as elation in the stands. An equally relieved Silver Fox declared: "He's a big man and this was a big occasion and he likes big occasions."

The manager had selected the same starting XI defeated by Man City, meaning that Spidermag was once again part of the front three ahead of a very defensive-looking midfield of Mr T, Perchinho and Vurnon Anita. However, the key to our chances of success arguably lay in how the visitors responded to gaining their very first win of the Premier League season last weekend - would QPR be buoyed by getting that particular monkey off their backs or would they turn in the sort of listless, lacklustre display that had seen them go sixteen matches without a victory? The former scenario seemed more likely (and more typical of our luck this season), but thankfully it was the latter scenario that played itself out - and we took advantage, just.

The first half probably had both sets of fans ruing the fact that, despite the incessant downpour and sodden pitch, the game had been declared playable. What few genuine attempts there were to play football came from those in black and white, but even then we barely mustered an effort on goal of note. Perchinho and Mike Williamson both tried their luck, while Demba Ba ballooned a couple of free kicks hopelessly high into the stands. I wonder if he could forgive the direct tactics on this occasion on account of the conditions, at least?

The second half surely promised better - but we were almost caught cold early on, Adel Taarabt pulling a few tricks out of his sleeve to set up Djibril Cisse, but to our relief the ex-Mackem couldn't hit the target. Even more frustrated was his namesake in black and white, Papiss, who, after missing a headed chance on the hour mark, was withdrawn and made his displeasure at the decision abundantly obvious by refusing to shake the Silver Fox's hand and throwing a bit of a touchline tantrum. Whither the permasmiling, permascoring striker of last season?

His replacement was Big Lad, but it was the fit-again Obertan Kenobi, on for Spidermag, who made the most immediate impact, injecting a bit of pace and spark into our attack. When the vital goal arrived, it was created by a third substitute, Sylvain Marveaux, who had only been on the pitch for four minutes before slipping in Big Lad on the right. One neat turn to befuddle Taarabt later, our occasional talisman curled a delicious left-footer past Robert Green that was totally out of keeping with the rest of the match. The Silver Fox's substitutions had been greeted with incomprehension and booing, but here, indisputably, was vindication.

It could have been more comfortable thereafter had Marveaux scored with either a shot that Green saved or a free kick that skidded wide - though it could also have been much grimmer had Taarabt's own effort from a dead ball situation, deep into stoppage time, not been kept out by the otherwise underemployed Tim Krul.

Post-match, while 'Appy 'Arry enviously commented that we had useful options on the bench (yes, for the first time in ages) and bemoaned the fact that many of the players he's inherited are overpaid and underperforming (can't argue there), the Silver Fox took to the pitch to thank the fans, rather than dwelling on the reaction his substitutions received. "I feel sorry for our fans", he admitted. "We have put them through the rack, really, over this last period. They have watched some football that hasn't been our best." Not exactly a revelation, but nevertheless respect due for acknowledging it - and on this occasion it was the win and not the performance that was critical, especially given that we've played better of late to no reward.

There are negatives, of course: the fifth yellow card of the season that rules Mr T out of the Boxing Day trip to Old Trafford - one which is followed by another daunting away day at the Emirates; the fact that, of our three senior strikers, both Ba and Cisse are now mightily disgruntled and match-winner Big Lad may well be jetting off to the Africa Cup of Nations in January.

But, for the moment, let's just savour those three points, and the five-point cushion we now have insulating us from the drop zone. Happy Christmas? No. Happier Christmas? Yes.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Quote of the day

"Mike would openly say that, in the summer, we should have bought another player."

You have to wonder how happy Jabba will be at having his manager admit his mistakes for him. Still, hopefully it's true and therefore hopefully he'll be backing the Silver Fox in January to the tune of the three new faces he wants.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Singing in the Ukraine

Yesterday's draw for the first knockout stage of the Europa League paired us with Ukranian outfit Metalist Kharkiv. As the Silver Fox acknowledged, it's not likely to be an away fixture our fans will relish, given that they're based the best part of 300 miles east of Kiev and the February temperatures will be decidedly chilly.

As anyone who watched the Panorama programme in the run-up to Euro 2012 will know, it hardly promises to be an enjoyable trip for our black players either. The Metalist fans may not have issued an open letter asking the club not to sign black and gay players (unlike Zenit St Petersburg, who've been drawn against Liverpool), but they nevertheless have an unsavoury track record of racist abuse.

Speaking to the Sun, Olivier Bernard recalled his experience of playing Dinamo Kiev: "The abuse we received when we played in the Ukraine was awful. I wouldn’t have any great confidence that the situation has improved since. But the level of security we were met with was unbelievable — there were police everywhere. It made you feel like a president. I’d expect Newcastle to be given that level of protection again. It’s sad but it needs to be that way."

It's all about preparation, and the Silver Fox is adamant that we'll be ready for whatever the team can throw at us on the pitch, even if the barracking the players receive from the stands proves harder to cope with.

As you may have seen in the comments box, to counterbalance what with hindsight is a somewhat knee-jerk and prejudiced post, here are the thoughts of Toon fan Michael Hudson aka The Accidental Groundhopper and Lanterne Rouge of The Two Unfortunates on their experience of watching games in the Ukraine.

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Inman in form

Belated acknowledgement that, fresh from his first goal on loan at Crewe, Brad Inman was at it again on Saturday. Handed a starting role, he left it late, prodding in with two minutes to spare for the only goal of the game against struggling Bury. Judging by his subsequent comments, Alex manager Steve Davis has been impressed by what he's seen so far - and, given the Railwaymen's superlative track record of bringing through youngsters, there are far worse places the Aussie could be gaining first-team experience.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Demba disillusioned by directness

It seems that missing out on the African Footballer Of The Year award isn't the only reason Demba Ba's not a happy bunny. Eleven goals so far this season would suggest that our tactics are suiting him well - and yet he's grumbling: "I’m not happy when the team does not create anything. Fans come to see beautiful games with beautiful actions and not long balls from the goalkeeper to the striker."

All of which is unlikely to do anything to dampen the fires of speculation surrounding a possible move away from St James' Park in January, should any club activate the clause in Ba's contract. In that same interview - given to the French media, as these loose-lipped interviews usually are - he described potential suitors Arsenal as "a very attractive club", though he did also suggest that it's all just idle rumour: "They know Arsenal need strikers, they know a release clause is inserted in my contract, so they make speculations."

If our top scorer is to be sold, then the same rumour mill has it that we already have a ready-made replacement lined up in the form of Loic Remy. The French striker has fallen out of favour with Marseille, but not long ago was being pursued by Chelsea and Spurs, amongst others. Interestingly, the suggestion is that it wouldn't be a straight cash deal, with one of our Frenchmen moving to the south of France as well as a sizeable transfer fee. Watch this space, as they say.

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Party poopers

Well, there's one less thing to worry about - we won't be confronted with evidence of players' bad behaviour in the wake of the club Christmas party this year, because there isn't one. The Silver Fox explained the rationale behind the decision to cancel the annual shindig: "It’s out of respect to our fans, and what we’ve served them this year."

Commenters to the Ronny Gill story essentially fall into two camps, and I can sympathise with both. On the one hand, it's an honourable gesture, an indication that those at the club realise the gravity of our predicament and are prepared to show a degree of contrition at how poorly the team has performed, especially relative to last season's sparkling triumphs. And yet, on the other, it's perhaps a missed opportunity for some light relief and team bonding amidst the gloom. Given the club's successful theme days, you have to wonder whether it wouldn't have done more good than harm to go ahead with the party.

And not only is the club as a whole not celebrating, Demba Ba isn't either, with Zambia skipper Christopher Katongo having been named 2012 African Footballer Of The Year ahead of our prolific striker and our tormentor-in-chief on Sunday, Yaya Toure.



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

City slicker (than us)

Newcastle Utd 1 - 3 Manchester City

As is fast becoming the story of our season, this was once again a "nearly" performance. Behind to a City side playing some fantastic football, we nearly clawed our way back to level terms, had them worried about hanging on to their lead for a time in the second half, but ultimately were left rueing missed chances as the visitors left with all three points.

With HBA hamstrung the Silver Fox opted to bring Perchinho into a defensive midfield with Vurnon Anita and Mr T, pushing Spidermag further forward in support of Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba. However, it was the visitors who started the brighter, with Samir Nasri pulling the strings behind Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero and sure enough it was Aguero who opened the scoring, timing his run to perfection to get on the end of Nasri's pass.

Already behind, it could have been a lot worse with Nasri hitting the post and Krul by far the busier keeper.

With the Mancini's team playing some cracking football, there was a depressing inevitability when City added a second, albeit Javi Garcia's header from a David Silva corner should have been cleared by Davide Santon who somehow contrived to miss the ball on the line.

At half-time the Silver Fox's words clearly had a galvanising effect, with Ba and Cisse moving closer together in the second half and posing a greater threat. It was Ba who narrowed the arrears, getting on to Sideshow Bob's first-time ball back into the box after a slightly wayward Anita corner. As the ball came back in, both Ba and Cisse timed their runs to get in behind the defence, with Ba rising well to head the ball over the stranded Joe Hart.

With the game in the balance it was Cisse who squandered the opportunity to level the scores. Having worked himself an opening on the edge of the box he fired over to add another chance to the frustratingly long list of "chances he'd have taken last season".

With our midfield working well, and Anita in particular impressing, we continued to press for an equaliser only to be cruelly undone by Yaya Toure when he finally sealed the game with ten minutes remaining.

So once again we're left rueing missed Cisse chances and thinking of what might have been. For what it's worth, the fact that Cisse continues to fashion chances makes me believe that at some stage things are going to go right for him. Here's hoping that day is nearly with us.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian 

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Focus on Forest

As part of the Two Unfortunates' new Unexpected Rivalries series, I've written a piece on our fractious relationship with Nottingham Forest and their fans, complete with references to a 1974 FA Cup tie, the Miners' Strike, landscape architecture, prawn sandwiches and Spandau Ballet's Tony Hadley. When it comes to bearing a grudge, both sets of supporters are pretty steadfast.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Don't send me to t'dark place

Old habits die hard, it seems. Danny Guthrie may no longer be a Newcastle player, but he still has such an aversion to the thought of going to Sunderland that he'd rather dig his heels in and be fined than be dragged there kicking and screaming...

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hope Despair springs eternal

Fulham 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

That corner we turned by beating Wigan last Monday? Turns out to have led us directly into a brick wall. As is so often the case, we took one look at the opposition (no wins in seven, no goals in over five hours), remembered the season of goodwill is nearly upon us and handed them three points, being embarrassed by an old boy in the process.

Before kick-off, the signs were promising. Not only had Davide Santon, Demba Ba and Mr T all shaken off the knocks that forced their withdrawal against the Latics, but HBA was also back in action after four games out, taking his place in the fans' favoured 4-3-3 formation. At last, the creative spark we'd been lacking - surely?

It didn't take long for that pre-match optimism to evaporate - about a minute, to be exact, when Alex Kacaniklic was allowed to get into the area but skewed his shot wide under belated pressure. Danny Simpson found himself forwards and in space to deliver a few early crosses, but the formation meant he and fellow full-back Santon were given scant protection in repelling raids down the flanks.

When Fulham took the lead on 19 minutes, it was inevitable that Damien Duff - booed from the outset by the away contingent - would be involved. The Irishman got the better of Sideshow Bob and pulled the ball back for Steve Sidwell to hit a shot that deflected unkindly off Mike Williamson, looped over Tim Krul and bounced into the net off the underside of the crossbar.

Falling behind sparked no great response - on the contrary, we actually started to look more ragged, with Vurnon Anita and Mr T losing what little grip they'd had on the midfield as players were allowed to run freely at the heart of our defence. Only a fine Krul save denied Dimitar Berbatov when he'd been gifted the ball by Mr T, while the Dutchman was assisted by a defender in keeping out another effort from the languidly elegant Bulgarian.

Our best chance of the first half was an extraordinary Sideshow Bob header from nearly 18 yards that was destined for the top corner until an unfortunately positioned defender headed it up and away off the line. In the final five minutes we finally started to exert some pressure, but the Cottagers' leaky defence - shored up by the return of Brede Hangeland - held firm.

The Silver Fox's stern words at the break had an impact, with a much improved start to the second period, and within ten minutes of the restart we were level. HBA it was who conjured something from nothing, whipping in a shot that span off John Arne Riise's foot and dipped over the bamboozled Mark Schwarzer and in off the bar - a near carbon copy of the goal that had put us behind.

That was our cue to push on for a second we were more than capable of getting, but critically it was Fulham who beat us to the punch. A cheaply conceded free kick was swung in by Duff and, with Sideshow Bob again the wrong side and at fault, Hugo Rodallega had the simple task of nodding past Krul from less than six yards. Duff's celebration - eyeballing the away end triumphantly - will have ensured the booing intensifies when Fulham visit St James' later in the season.

We sought a second route back into the game but never really extended Schwarzer enough, too many shots too close to the Australian, easy to smother before the onrushing forwards could poach the loose ball. The Silver Fox withdrew the flagging HBA as well as central midfield pair Mr T and Anita, with Big Lad, Master T and Sylvain Marveaux coming on as replacements, but to no avail. The closest we came to an equaliser was Sideshow Bob's superb curling shot from just inside the area that cannoned back off the post. Cisse had earlier hit the other upright, but (surprise, surprise) was flagged offside.

In chasing the game, the gaps in our midfield opened up even wider and we were lucky not to get punished by Fulham's breaks, in some of which our defenders were actually outnumbered. Substitute Mladen Petric whizzed a shot off the angle, but Rodallega's goal was enough as the HBA-free visitors ran out of ideas and inspiration.

The Silver Fox might have ventured to suggest afterwards that we were worth a point - wishful thinking, perhaps, as there's no doubt we certainly didn't want to stumble into the next few fixtures off the back of yet another defeat.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Good bad news for Bradford

Curtis Good's loan spell at Bradford has got off to an unusual beginning. While the Australian defender is eagerly hoping to be involved in tomorrow night's League Cup clash with Arsenal, he's found himself the reason that the Yorkshiremen have been booted out of the more prestigious FA Cup. Good made his Bantams debut in the Second Round tie against Brentford, only for the FA to decree that he hadn't been registered in time to play. Not his fault, of course, but hardly the most auspicious of starts.

Happily, Saturday brought cheer for three of our other loanees, with Paul Dummett, Marcus Maddison and Good's compatriot Brad Inman all scoring for their temporary employers. Even then, though, it wasn't all good. Inman's goal (and an earlier assist) may have set Crewe up for a comfortable away win at Preston, but Maddison's strike was Blyth Spartans' consolation effort in a 5-1 drubbing at Marine, and Dummett's St Mirren couldn't find a winner against nine-man visitors St Johnstone and remain second bottom of the SPL.

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Pies and pie charts

That prodigious gut indicates that Jabba is fond of pies - though he seems to be as keen to put his fingers in them as to stuff them down his gullet. Last week financial regulations forced Rangers to reveal that he is the club's third largest shareholder, with 8.9%. So, fans of the fallen giants, you'd better get used to the idea of playing at the Sports Direct Arena because there's no doubting he's got substantial clout.

As we've said before, the potential for distraction and loss of focus is a bit concerning - particularly with a critical transfer window fast approaching.

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Saturday, December 08, 2012

A Month Of Saturdays: November 2012

When the calendar finally flipped over onto 1st December, the collective sigh of relief at St James must have been louder than a jumbo jet crash-landing on a Slayer concert. Put simply, November was beyond horrific, a prime candidate for being packed off to Room 101 if ever there was one.

Fitting, I suppose, that the club chose last month to host an I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! theme day. That exclamation must have crossed the Silver Fox's mind at points, while Jabba must also have found himself pondering the wisdom of committing to that same eight-year contract. In truth, though, the blame could hardly be laid at the manager's door. He could only look on - helpless, frustrated and the very definition of beleaguered - as we lost key players to injury (repeatedly), suspension, international duty, miscommunication and even (arguably, and in psychological terms) the distractions of personal life, while also losing match after match. Indeed, so desperate was our predicament that the Lone Ranger found himself back in the first-team squad just three weeks after I'd dismissed it as almost beyond the realms of possibility.

Initially, at least, the month gave little hint of the horrors that were to unfold. A resilient display and a creditable draw at that unhappiest of hunting grounds Anfield, courtesy of a splendid Dreamboat finish, were worthy of celebration, even if at the time we were disappointed to have witnessed another lead surrendered. If there was cause for alarm, it was that Sideshow Bob - sensational against the Mackems - was given a torrid time by Liverpool goalscorer Luis Suarez, eventually earning a straight red card for a brutal challenge on the odious little racist.

Never mind, though, we thought - the coming weeks presented a very winnable run of fixtures. Of course, we should have known better...

First up was a trip to Bruges, where in the first 40 minutes we gave a very passable impression of a side that had been overenthusiastically sampling the wares of the local Trappist monks. 2-0 down, we struck back smartly, a tasty first Toon goal for Vurnon Anita followed by a Big Lad strike, to record another 2-2 comeback draw away from home (see also: Everton, Reading). Mr T and Sideshow Bob were both eligible to play, their suspensions applying only domestically, but the former picked up the yellow he needed for his collection to ensure a European ban too, while the latter continued where he'd left off against Liverpool, looking a shadow of his usual self.

If only the same had been true of our old friend Kevin Nolan three days later. The build-up to the visit of Nolan's West Ham to St James' Park had been dominated by the Silver Fox's confession that he'd be delighted to have both our former skipper and the Hammers' Liverpool loanee Rocky back on Tyneside permanently. Like most fans, I laughed off any potential double deal as a backwards step - which made watching Nolan instinctively stab home the only goal of the game in trademark fashion all the more galling. The fact that Rocky was denied a goal on his return by Tim Krul gave precious little cheer given an injury to Spidermag and the infuriating vision of Fat Sam's smug face at the final whistle.

The international friendly break proved no respite - in fact, quite the opposite. First, Dreamboat reported an injury that will keep him sidelined until February. (Still, I suppose this at least gives him plenty of free time to tap up French colleagues ahead of the transfer window opening. Fellow midfielder Moussa Sissoko seemed amenable to the idea of a move to Newcastle, while Dreamboat's old mucker from Lille, Mathieu Debuchy, reiterated his disappointment that a deal couldn't be struck over the summer.) Second, Big Lad returned from making his international debut for Nigeria at the age of 31 too tired to start our next fixture. And how we could have done with him, because, third, a farcical communication mix-up with the Senegalese FA resulted in Papiss Cisse receiving a one-match ban.

All that was the perfect recipe for a second home defeat in a week, Swansea this time the beneficiaries. A lacklustre performance was punished with a Michu goal, and then a second from Jonathan de Guzman as we chased the game. Ba struck in injury time but, as consolations go, it paled in comparison to his subsequent nomination for the BBC's African Footballer of the Year.

Also reliant upon being shortlisted for a major award for a measure of solace was HBA. The Frenchman's stupendous FA Cup strike against Blackburn in January was named as a contender for FIFA's Puskas Award for the best goal of 2012 alongside efforts from the likes of Messi and Falcao, but he then inevitably limped out of our clash with Maritimo. Sylvain Marveaux followed Anita's lead and seized the opportunity presented by the Europa League to notch his first goal in black and white, but the 1-1 draw that secured qualification for the knock-out stages was less than convincing and came at the expense of HBA's fitness, as well as a niggling injury for Cisse.

Hence the extraordinary reprieve handed to the Lone Ranger, the Silver Fox's stipulation that he needed to be punctual for training for a solid six-week period presumably quietly swept under the carpet. While the club was enduring a terrible November, the Lone Ranger was actually enjoying it, first cleared of criminal damage charges and now back on the bus for the trip to his former side Southampton. Not that he played any part in what was without doubt our most disspiriting defeat to date. The previously struggling south coast outfit tore us to shreds, the 2-0 scoreline flattering in the extreme, while an extension to the treatment room looked ever more urgent with the news that Saylor was our latest casualty, out until February.

The only way was up, surely, and certainly we were much improved three days later at Stoke. There was to be no repeat of Ba's Pulis-baiting hat-trick from last season, though Cisse suddenly looked back to his predatory best with a goal early in the second half. But, coming under increasing pressure, we crumbled in a critical five-minute spell, conceding poor goals to Jon Walters and substitute Cameron Jerome and ending up empty-handed for the fourth league game in a row.

So, needless to say, smiles were in short supply in November - but at least we could rely on ASBO for entertainment and amusement. Good moaning!



Friday, December 07, 2012

Cheick not our mate

Bordeaux 2 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Well, we may have been in Bordeaux, but this performance certainly wasn't vintage - more like rancid £2.99 plonk from Asda, insufficiently aged to satisfy or to defend our unbeaten record in Europe this season.

The Silver Fox had already confessed he'd be fielding a weakened and youthful side out of fairness to the supporters - despite the fact that most of the 1200 Toon fans in attendance will have bought their tickets and made their travel arrangements long before his announcement. There were nine changes in all, with only Sylvain Marveaux and Mike Williamson retained from Monday night's win over Wigan. That meant starts for Rob Elliot between the sticks; James Tavernier, Perchinho and Fergie in defence; Master T and full debutant Mehdi Abeid accompanying Marveaux in the middle; and Big Lad supported by his younger brother and the Lone Ranger (who I'm tempted to rechristen Lazarus) in a three-pronged attack.

Of them all, only Elliot and perhaps Master T really advanced their claims to regular first-team football - the former given plenty of opportunity to do so right from the start. A stunning reaction stop from Henri Saivet was followed with another parry from a swerving shot hit by Fahid Ben Khalfallah, the Tunisian quickly emerging as our hosts' most potent weapon.

Elliot's next trick was to dive sharply to stop ex-Mackem David Bellion's angled shot, recovering swiftly enough to gather the ball when Cheick Diabate made a laughable hash of the rebound. We weren't laughing soon afterwards, though, when a curling Khalfallah cross found Diabate in sufficient space between Perchinho and Fergie to nod inside the far post.

Our own efforts were pathetic - we couldn't pass or get control of the ball, we looked dozy defensively, there was precious little threat either from wide areas or up front. The pitch was horrendously bobbly, but we can hardly use that as an excuse when Bordeaux - themselves resting their best players - were knocking the ball about neatly and efficiently.

By the time the whistle blew to bring an interminably awful half to an end, we'd mustered (by my reckoning) just one effort on goal, a mishit Marveaux shot which skewed well wide. The Silver Fox's response was to withdraw Little Big Lad - somewhat harsh, I felt, as he had at least shown some promise with his gallops down the line (Marveaux, Abeid and Ranger all looked like likelier candidates to be hauled off). His replacement was Vurnon Anita - again a bit of a surprise when it seemed like a good opportunity to give Romain Amalfitano some game time. However, the substitution signalled a switch to 4-4-2, with Abeid pushed out to the right, and for a while the change of formation provided us with a solid platform from which to get back into the match.

Our first (and best) chance of the night came when the Lone Ranger flicked on a long ball that Big Lad anticipated, only to see his left-footed shot deflected behind for a corner by 'keeper Kevin Olimpa. Abeid went close too shortly afterwards, curling a right-footed shot just wide of the far post with Olimpa beaten.

We couldn't find an equaliser, though, and Bordeaux served notice that they weren't content to just sit back and soak up pressure when Gregory Sertic's rasping long-ranger flicked the outside of Elliot's right post. We failed to heed the warning, and on 72 minutes they doubled their lead when a routine ball over the top caught Williamson out, Diabate outpacing him to fire home.

From that point on, the writing was on the wall - underlined by the Lone Ranger executing a fine turn before impetuously smashing his shot way over the bar - and the French side could have added to their tally had Elliot not remained vigilant.

Thankfully, though, other than the fact that we wound up finishing second in our group and are therefore not seeded in the knock-out stage (something we could come to rue), the result meant very little. So it was mystifying to see both Sideshow Bob and Papiss Cisse introduced with the scoreline at 2-0 - surely Amalfitano and Adam Campbell would have found a run-out more beneficial? In the grand scheme of things, though, it was just a game we needed to get out of the way - three points at Fulham on Monday and this appalling non-event will be quickly forgotten.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Thursday, December 06, 2012

Black and white and green all over

At last, we've been hailed as world beaters! Not at football, obviously - no, as TBW mentioned in passing during her report on Monday's game, we can claim to be the world's first carbon positive football club.

Facilities manager Eddie Rutherford has said: "It's all about savings, savings, savings. The less energy we use, the less carbon we emit and the less impact we have on the environment, both locally and globally." So we can just assume that Big Lad has just been showing serious environmental sensitivity over the years, then...

The article lists "behavioural changes within the operational staff" as one of the key initiatives to have contributed to the achievement. I wonder whether these behavioural changes extend as far as the Lone Ranger staying out of trouble?



Quote of the day

"If I did it again, I would do it very differently. I definitely would not have gone on loan and I would not have done the transfer in January. More so than anywhere else, it requires a certain time for adaption because it is played at an extremely fast pace. I did not get that time."

American defender Oguchi Onyewu on his short stint in the Premier League with us. Somewhat surprisingly, he went on to play for AC Milan and is now with Malaga, the financially troubled Spanish outfit who've sprung a shock by qualifying above the Rossoneri for the knockout stages of the Champions League.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Bigi break

Newcastle Utd 3 - 0 Wigan

After four straight league defeats a brace from Demba Ba and a third goal from Master T stopped the rot - though arguably less convincingly than the scoreline would suggest and not without further injury concerns, the season's two best performers Ba and Davide Santon both limping off.

Our midweek trip to Stoke might have had a depressing conclusion, but for the most part the display was far better than in recent weeks, so it was little surprise that the Silver Fox's starting line-up for the visit of the Latics saw just one change - an attacking one, with Sylvain Marveaux in for the suspended Perchinho.

Mr T had a long-range pot shot soon after kick-off, but it was Roberto Martinez's compact, neat side who impressed in the early stages. The game's crucial incident knocked them out of their stride on 12 minutes, though. A swift and incisive move involving all-action midfielder Vurnon Anita saw Ba thread a pass through to Papiss Cisse, who was bundled off the ball untidily by Maynor Figueroa. Having rightly ruled it a penalty, referee Mike Jones had little option but to send the Honduran defender for a very early bath, and Ba converted coolly with a minimal run-up.

Better was to follow when defender Santon showed his ability in the opposing half, cutting inside and unleashing a venomous drive that Ali Al-Habsi could only flap onto the foot of the predatory Ba. His tenth league goal of the season takes him joint top of the scoring charts.

Further good news arrived two minutes later, it seemed, with Martinez withdrawing in-form Jordi Gomez (scorer of an impressive hat-trick from midfield against Reading) for James McArthur. The latter, though, steadied the rocking ship, and we were frustrated in our attempts to push on for a rout that would have given a significant boost to our goal difference, restricted to a couple more long-rangers from Mr T.

Wigan were actually playing the smarter football, even with ten men, and while Jean Beausejour, whose crosses were so dangerous against the Royals, was kept quiet in his deeper role, on the other flank energetic Dutchman Ronnie Stam was proving a persistent nuisance. However, their challenge should have been made all the harder by the dismissal of captain and former Toon man Gary Caldwell, leniently excused a second yellow card for a lunge on Cisse.

He was astutely replaced at half-time, as was Mr T (tight hamstring, apparently). The latter's replacement Master T was to have a significant impact, but for much of the second half little seemed to have changed. Wigan remained dogged without the ball and tidy with it, Arouna Kone pulling Sideshow Bob and Mike Williamson around (despite creating no chances of note), while Stam continued to steam down the right with unnerving regularity.

Wild thrashes into the stands from Ba and Cisse aside, our best openings came on the two occasions that Marveaux was apparently possessed with the spirit of the absent HBA. On the first occasion a darting dribble ended with a shot prodded too close to Al-Habsi; on the second a longer, mazier run resulted in a pass to an onrushing Master T, whose blast was dealt with poorly by Al-Habsi only for Cisse to attempt a ludicrous backheel when a simple lay-off to the unmarked Ba would have been a far more sensible option.

The clinching goal, when it arrived, came from a most unlikely source. Master T touched the ball to his left before walloping a splendid left-foot shot into the top corner of Al-Habsi's net. A fine way for the teenager to register his first for the club.

Thereafter Wigan finally looked like a beaten side, and Fergie - on for the injured Santon - had the measure of Stam, the Dutchman at last pressed back towards his own goal. Cisse should really have added to the scoreline but was guilty of snatching at opportunities or characteristically straying offside.

When Little Big Lad entered the fray, it was a surprise to see Spidermag making way - at that stage, with the score at 3-0, I'd have thought it would make more sense to bring off Ba to protect our main goalscoring threat. Let's hope that decision isn't something the Silver Fox lives to regret - his exit five minutes from time evened up the numbers.

A must-win game that we did win, then, and by a healthy margin - but it came at a cost, and much sterner tests lie ahead.

A Wigan fan's perspective: Jesus Was A Wiganer

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Monday, December 03, 2012

Release rumours recirculating

The start of Advent - typically the countdown to Christmas, but in footballing parlance, the countdown to the transfer window.

Opening the first door on our advent calender, we get a nice clear indication that the transfer window is fast approaching as stories about Demba Ba's release clause once again do the rounds.

This time, with negotiations on a new contract apparently at an impasse, it's the Silver Fox who is reported (although not quoted) as mentioning that it will once again activate in January thereby allowing anyone with £7.5million and a willingness to gamble on the ticking time bomb to take our inf-orm Senegalese striker off our hands.

Anyone else getting a sense of deja vu?

Once Droopy starts talking about it through his car window we'll know the transfer window has well and truly arrived.

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Sunday, December 02, 2012

The future's Bright(on)

The Third Round draw for the FA Cup has handed us the pleasure of a slog all the way to the south coast to face Gus Poyet's Brighton.

Given that Brighton are currently eighth in the Championship and the run of success which Poyet enjoyed over us as a player and frankly at the present time, this game has banana skin written all over it. Hopefully though, by the time the game is played we might have found a bit of form by the first weekend in January.

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Saturday, December 01, 2012

SDA ya ken?

According to the Daily Heil, Jabba is in talks with Scottish tax dodgers Rangers about renaming Ibrox as the Sports Direct Arena.

Given Jabba's business model of piling cheap sportswear high and selling it off cheap, one can only speculate why he thinks he'll find a target market in Glasgow.

Joking aside, for Rangers fans worried/angered by this move, as Newcastle demonstrated the reality is that while some sections of the media will inevitably embrace the rebranding, for every football fan Ibrox will remain Ibrox, in the same way that St James' Park remained the same, regardless of the name which was officially stuck on the wall outside.

If it brings in some cash which helps Rangers climb back to the top flight of Scottish football, then from their perspective it might be worth the sacrifice.

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Wonga side of the law

Bad news for next season's shirt sponsor Wonga with the Government reportedly intent on capping the amount of interest that can be charged on short-term loans.

Presumably this won't have any bearing on the deal which they have agreed with the club for the next few years, but nonetheless it may impact on their ability to invest in the club once the current deal ends.

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