Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wey aye

Meeting and greeting online is all fine and well, but sometimes you've just got to get real. Oxford was the location for a "Soxrates" bloggers' get-together on Saturday, organised by Lanterne Rouge and Lloyd of The Two Unfortunates. Naturally, pubs were involved, as was a real live game (Oxford City's 2-0 win over Weymouth on a classically sticky pitch - suitably so, given that the division's sponsors are Evostik...) and some televised football in the early evening too (but let's not dwell on that...).

It was a pleasure to meet a bunch of fellow online scribblers with a similar hunger for all things football-related (not to mention off-colour pints and dubious burgers), including those behind The Real FA Cup, Adventures In Tinpot and Put A Jumper On. AIT founder and Weymouth fan Kenny's superb write-up of the live football segment of the day can be found here, complete with references to Jimmy Saville and Aswad.

Here's to a rematch before too long.



Monday, January 30, 2012

Nothing to declare

Senegal's horrific African Cup of Nations campaign came to a suitably awful conclusion last night, a third successive 2-1 defeat - this time to Libya - condemning them to finishing bottom of the group without a single point. Toon team-mates Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse didn't get the opportunity to start together, with the latter replacing the former and - as the pair have done all tournament - promptly wasting a good chance.

It'll be good to have you back, lads - but with our defence suddenly looking a bit suspect and Dreamboat likely to be rested by the FA for the next few games, we can only rue the fact that Mr T and the Ivory Coast are doing a much better job than Senegal of performing to their true potential.

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Turf war

Today brought news and rumours that other clubs are trying to muscle in on not one but two of our transfer targets.

First Bolton became the first club to go public with a bid for Crystal Palace winger/striker Wilfried Zaha. Trotters boss Owen Coyle isn't getting his hopes up, though, acknowledging that the two clubs are "way apart in terms of valuation". A much likelier outcome than Zaha moving to the Reebok is a furious final-day bidding war - one which we probably wouldn't win either, given the financial clout of some of his other suitors.

It'd probably be much the same story if the Sun are right and Arsene Wenger is eyeing up Watford's Adrian Mariappa to help shore up Arsenal's shaky defence. We've apparently now had no fewer than three bids rejected by the Hornets and had Steve Stone on a watching brief for their Friday night FA Cup tie against Spurs, but the paper alleges there was representation from the Gunners in the stands too.

On the other front, there have been no rumblings of imminent departures. Prior to Saturday's game, Tim Krul - one of the likeliest targets - declared "I'm playing for the club I've always wanted to play for". Of course, with Jabba around that doesn't necessarily count for that much - while we couldn't sell the Dutchman completely against his will, there's no doubt that his future will be largely determined by whether or not a sufficiently sizeable bid materialises before close of play tomorrow. Here's hoping not.

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Quel surprise

Just when we want to put Saturday's dismal Cup exit behind us, along come the repercussions: an FA charge of violent conduct for Dreamboat. Guilty and he'll get a three-match ban - four if he appeals unsuccessfully. While it's true that in recent weeks he seems to have been unfairly targeted by opponents who've worked out he's a creative lynchpin, it's also true that his fuse doesn't seem to be that much longer than ASBO's. Something he needs to address, and sharpish.

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Smith off

Farewell then to Alan Smith, who has joined probably the most hated club in the country, MK Dons, on loan for the remainder of the season (including the play-offs should they qualify for them). With his contract set to expire in the summer, and absolutely no chance that we would consider offering him a new deal, the move provides Smith with a chance to put himself back in the shop window.

Having enjoyed his most successful season at the club when we were surging to promotion from the Championship two years ago, I suspect that Smith's star will shine brightly in a central midfield role in League One, and he should do enough to ensure he's playing Championship football next year (whether for MK Dons or someone else).

Undoubtedly talented as a youthful striker at Leeds, his star waned following a serious leg-break during his time at Old Trafford. From there on, he dropped into midfield as a Roy Keane-lite enforcer, sadly unable to tackle or pass with sufficient ability to dominate Premiership midfields. The fact that Fat Sam signed him as a replacement for the Little Waster was staggering for a number of reasons, not least the obvious disparity in their footballing roles (albeit both filled the injured/overpaid role with aplomb during their years on Tyneside). However, as one of the gang of players responsible for rallying the troops after the pre-season collapse against Luton, and a stalwart of the dressing-room unit which galvanised the club and led us back into the Premiership, Smith, in my eyes at least, did a lot to redeem himself.

Ultimately though, he isn't good enough to play central midfield in the top flight - however, for MK Dons he should do very well and I suspect he'll go a long way to ensure Karl Robinson's side are still in the promotion hunt in May.

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Po-yet again

Brighton 1 - 0 Newcastle Utd

While not on a par with last season's humiliating defeat to Stevenage, and without doubt something of a miscarriage of justice, our umpteenth FA Cup exit at the hands of Gus Poyet was nevertheless a huge disappointment. We toiled away, controlled possession and dominated in terms of chances - but the performance was ultimately somewhat flat, as we failed to beat an eminently beatable side.

There could be no question over how seriously the Silver Fox was taking the competition, the side he sent out being the strongest available to him. James Perch deputised for injured skipper Sideshow Bob (to surprisingly good effect, it transpired), but otherwise it was the team that collapsed at Craven Cottage, albeit with a slightly different formation.

We started much the better of the two sides, Leon O'Best expertly controlling a long pass and flashing his shot just wide of the post before ballooning a presentable chance over the bar and into the stands with his head. Danny Simpson went closer after neat interplay with HBA, bursting into the box and blasting a shot that Brighton 'keeper Peter Brezovan repelled, but otherwise opportunities were few and far between.

Our hosts, meanwhile, were largely non-existent as an attacking threat, their most offensive moment of the first half being Matt Sparrow's very un-sparrow-like lunge on Dreamboat, which could have earned him more than just the yellow that probably prompted his withdrawal at the break.

We began the second period with a similar statement of intent to the first, both O'Best and Big Lad calling Brezovan into action. Dreamboat too tried his luck on a couple of occasions, but with the breakthrough continuing to elude us he suffered a moment of madness, tangling with Adam El-Abd on the turf and extending a boot which connected with the defender's ugly mug. Referee Lee Probert missed the incident, but I suspect that trial by retrospective video analysis will find the Frenchman guilty.

The Seagulls then belatedly brought Tim Krul into the game, Craig Mackail-Smith denied a second cup goal against us following his strike for Peterborough in the League Cup in 2009. And seven minutes later they had the lead. Energetic midfielder and (naturally) boyhood Toon fan Will Buckley skipped away from Simpson's lame challenge (in his defence, as the Silver Fox pointed out, our full-back would have risked picking up a second yellow had he got his timings slightly wrong), drove into the box and, not sufficiently pressured by Dreamboat, hit a wayward shot that Mike Williamson inadvertently deflected over Krul's dive. A case of deja vu - the same happened for Stevenage's opener last January.

The Silver Fox's response was to make a triple substitution, with Shane Ferguson, Dan Gosling and Raylor introduced for Davide Santon, Danny Guthrie and HBA respectively - a curious move, given that we were desperate for a goal, time was rapidly running out and we had a striker, Peter Lovenkrands, left kicking his heels on the bench. In fairness to the manager, Ferguson and Raylor gave us greater penetration on the flanks but they couldn't set up the chance we needed to breach a defence in which alleged target Lewis Dunk did reasonably well.

We were, however, denied a blatant late penalty when Ashley Barnes pulled off a diving save to push Dreamboat's 20-yard effort away - an appalling miss by Probert, even if Brighton will argue our midfielder shouldn't have still been on the pitch.

So it was Poyet and sidekick Mauricio Taricco - who enjoyed a second-half touchline spat with John Carver - who were celebrating on the final whistle, as we came to terms with the fact that we still haven't won an away tie in this competition since 2006. Nevertheless, trying to look on the bright side, Brighton were subsequently drawn away at Man Utd's conquerors Liverpool - perhaps avoiding another abject defeat at Anfield is a blessing in disguise...

Other reports: , Guardian

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Friday, January 27, 2012

El El, cool Jay?

Yesterday's papers brought two new transfer links. First, the Daily Heil suggested we've rekindled our interest in Dutch winger Eljero Elia. The former Hamburg man chose another team in black and white, Juventus, over us in the summer but is kicking his heels on the sidelines in Turin. Quite apart from the fact that I wasn't aware we'd kindled interest in the first place, I'm not sure that wide areas are really where we need to strengthen - but I guess that if a player of Elia's undoubted quality is available (and on a risk-free loan basis), then we should take note.

Meanwhile, the Lancashire Telegraph claims that Burnley striker Jay Rodriguez has caught the Silver Fox's eye. As one of the hottest goalscorers in the Championship (and in a fair to middling team), that's not really surprising. According to the paper, the Clarets are keen to cling on to their man until the summer. Given that the Silver Fox denied a striker was a priority even before we signed Papiss Cisse out of the blue, it seems highly unlikely that he'd add a second forward to the squad before the month's out.



Quote of the day

"The first time I saw my brother do it when we were younger, I wanted to learn it as well. It was in Africa. Me and my friend were practising in gymnastics how to do a front-flip and back-flip. I wasn't the only one - four other people broke their backs as well. It was painful and scary at the time but I thought I might as well try."

Kazenga LuaLua on the trials and tribulations of trying to copy his brother Lomano's goal celebration. What's wrong with right arm extended with palm to the sky a la Wor Al, or even donning a manky old Spiderman mask you've had stuffed down your sock?

LuaLua was speaking ahead of Saturday's FA Cup visit to the Amex Stadium, our first, and said that while scoring against us would be "weird", it certainly won't stop him celebrating: "It's not like I was playing for them week in, week out". Just what we need: an old boy with a chip on his shoulder. With any luck he won't be fit enough to play...

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Welcome back

Excellent news from the African Cup of Nations, where Senegal have been knocked out at the group stage. They posted two disappointing 2-1 defeats, the most recent an almighty upset as co-hosts Equatorial Guinea - ranked 151st in the world prior to the tournament - pulled off a shock result. All of which, of course, means that we'll both be reunited with Demba Ba and get to see his international strike partner Papiss Demba Cisse pull on a black and white shirt much sooner than expected.

A quick injury-free return for the pair is just about the best outcome we could have hoped for. That said, the early exit of one of the competition's most fancied sides is partly the result of the duo's failure to score against weak defences, Ba in particular guilty of squandering a number of chances over the two games. Here's hoping he can find his shooting boots - and his stash of strawberry syrup - when he's back on Tyneside.

Our problems at Fulham, however, were largely in defence rather than attack, and for that reason it's to be lamented that Mr T's Ivory Coast, the tournament favourites, registered an opening win and look set to be in it for the long haul.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Name not in our name

"Council notes the decision of Newcastle United Football Club to change the name of St James’ Park to the Sports Direct Arena.

Council agrees with the overwhelming majority of supporters who believe this is the wrong decision.

Council confirms that it has no plans to change any existing wayfinding signs which bear the name of St James’ Park and calls on the club to reconsider their decision.

Council also agrees to write to the media to request that they continue to use the name of St James’ Park in all their reporting and refuse to make use of the name Sports Direct Arena.

So read a Newcastle City Council motion passed unanimously on 11th January. Honourable, stubborn defiance there - but sadly likely to fall on deaf ears. The chances of Jabba reconsidering seem slim, while the BBC have already brushed off the media plea: "It is not the BBC's place, as an impartial public broadcaster, to decide or debate on whether this is correct or not, rather to report on the matches which take place on the field."

Perhaps our best hope remains the possibility that a corporate sponsor might be found who would insist on reinstating it as St James' Park as part of the deal. Mr Branson, might you be persuaded to change your mind?

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ASBO: Wanker's poison dwarf

Oh Colin, don't say you weren't warned.

Colin Wanker, recently sacked by QPR, has complained that the club's owners were "slowly poisoned" against him by comments from players on Twitter. And, by implication, one player in particular: ASBO, the man he brought to the club and promptly installed as captain.

ASBO, of course, isn't one to take such comments lying down, and has responded with a volley of verbal jabs on - you guessed it - Twitter. He's bluntly labelled Wanker's attempt to pin the blame on others as "embarrassing".

Forgetting for a moment the fact that seeing the pair publicly at each other's throats is immensely entertaining, it should be pointed out that we were quite clear how disruptive an influence ASBO could be behind the scenes, seemingly incapable of keeping his lip buttoned, instead intent on challenging authority and attempting to carry others with him. In the wake of his departure, The Silver Fox too admitted as much: "In the past they've had a few names who weren't pulling 100 per cent. I look around my dressing room and I don't have anybody like that".

So, while Wanker sits and seethes, and ASBO uses that copy of his former manager's autobiography to wipe his arse, Mark Hughes must be pondering how exactly to deal with the biggest headache he's inherited. And then solve the mystery of the Little Waster's separation anxiety with respect to treatment tables...

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Dark horses

We've been surprising a lot of people this season (Saturday's result aside...), and the Guardian's Rob Smyth has been recalling the last time we did so, a decade ago in 2001-2 - the last Premier League season to see a genuine outsider mount a sustained title challenge. It was a time when our only Gallic imports were Laurent Robert and Olivier Bernard, when we roared on the No-Necked Text Pest, when the Little Waster had the world at his twinkle toes, when Black & White & Read All Over wasn't yet a glint in our eyes...

While we're on the subject of how times change, a friend directed me to this poll of December 2010, in which 94.6% of respondents disagreed that the Silver Fox was "the right manager" for the club. He may not have won absolutely everyone over, but I suspect that just over a year on his appointment would be much more popular.



Fulham fathom five

A second reporter's assignment for guest contributor Adam. His debut was the disappointing pre-Christmas home defeat to West Brom. How would the team fare under his scrutiny this time around?

Fulham 5 - 2 Newcastle Utd

No apologies for cribbing the title of this post from the Bard as this was a second-half tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, albeit one performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company as Newcastle somehow contrived to shoehorn several games’ worth of defensive errors into sixteen turbulent second-half minutes.

It had all looked so different at the interval. Newcastle had appeared the more composed side from the off and looked far more likely to score than the hosts, two Big Lad headers and a low drilled effort from HBA troubling Fulham 'keeper David Stockdale early on. (The confusion arising from the latter enabled John Arne Riise to submit a strong entry for the season’s Lowest Header award - Baddiel and Skinner fans take note). Indeed it was 24 minutes before Tim Krul was tested, gathering a weak effort from former Magpie Damien Duff which just about summed up Fulham’s first-half impotence.

Newcastle kept up the pressure for the rest of the half, with HBA his usual lively (if occasionally frustrating) self and Davide Santon causing problems down the left channel. Even our central defenders were getting in on the act, with something of a collectors' item as Sideshow Bob got on the end of a zipped Mike Williamson cross only for Stockdale to save at close quarters. Just before the break the Toon pressure deservedly bore fruit when Danny Guthrie unleashed a 25-yard belter which gave the Fulham 'keeper no chance. Back to the dressing rooms, job well done. Another 45 minutes like that and we’d be sitting pretty in fifth place.

Just before half-time, however, Fulham boss Martin Jol had replaced the injured Steve Sidwell with Andy Johnson. Little noticed at the time, this change - along with a tweak to the Cottagers’ formation - transformed the game as the previously isolated Bobby Zamora began to look more threatening as Johnson created space with cute runs. It was, however, Duff who inflicted the first wound when he tangled with Santon on the edge of the area and a penalty was awarded. Danny Murphy slotted it away and from that moment onwards Newcastle had a game on their hands.

Unfortunately that "game" swiftly turned into a rout as Johnson, Zamora and Clint Dempsey thereafter seemed to stretch the Newcastle defence at will. The latter’s first goal was rather fortuitous as the ball rebounded off his knee into the net following a fine parry from Krul. However his second, five minutes later, was much more accomplished as he latched onto a Johnson through-ball to power a shot low into the left-hand corner. And before the away end had decided who to blame the scoreline was made even worse as Fulham broke again, Krul upending the advancing Johnson and Zamora slotting away the home side’s second penalty of the game. Thankfully referee Lee Mason declined to add salt to an already gaping wound as Krul escaped with a yellow card.

Newcastle were given belated hope five minutes from time when HBA cut in from the right, tied Riise in knots and slammed a low shot past Stockdale. However any travelling fans whose thoughts strayed to another 4-4 scoreline were disabused of the notion minutes later when Dempsey outpaced our tired-looking centre-back pairing to slot home and claim his hat-trick.

All in all, a strange game, and it would certainly be remiss to overlook how comfortable Newcastle appeared for much of the first half. Nevertheless, while not quite the horror show suggested by the scoreline, the manner of this defeat must give cause for concern. More specifically, the second-half bruising inflicted by Fulham’s attacking trio bore uncanny similarities to the efforts of West Brom’s Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie who made hay at St James’ Park last month. Our difficulties in containing Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge earlier in December also point to an inconvenient truth: that however solid our defence has intermittently appeared this season, it is vulnerable to genuine pace and movement, suggesting that reinforcement during the January window is a must.

Oh dear. Better luck next time, Adam...

A Fulham fan's perspective: Craven Cottage Newsround (which does a fine job of expressing the shellshock of the Fulham fans at the result, as well as that of those in the away end)

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Cult hero

(Image courtesy of Gene Selkov)

You've got to hand it to HBA. Not only does he seem well aware of the noble tradition of Newcastle players landing themselves neck-deep in hot water with the law, but he's found a remarkably novel way of doing so. Not for him one of the various driving offences committed by Toon players past and present, or waving around a replica gun like the Lone Ranger, or a good old-fashioned bout of lairy violence a la Rocky or ASBO.

Oh no.

Instead, HBA has been accused of libellous comments made in an interview with French football mag L'Equipe, in which he claimed to have been forced into joining a religious sect by rapper Abd al Malik, who is now suing our forward. The club's had plenty of cult heroes in the past, just not literally...

HBA also told L'Equipe - the organ of choice when French players want to sound off or be candid/indiscreet in their native tongue, it seems - that his issues with authority and attitude problem stemmed from the lack of paternal love he experienced as a child. And what of his current manager - is HBA feeling the Silver Fox's love? "No. But I respect him for that choice." Our number ten is a complex individual and no mistake - no doubt he's putting his gaffer's fabled man-management skills fully to the test.

It turns out that the Frenchman hasn't been the only Toon forward pondering matters paternal in relation to a dislike/distrust of authority figures. In HBA's case, it was the absence of his father's love; in Leon O'Best's case, it was the absence of a father at all. The Nottingham-born hero of Sunday's win over QPR told the BBC's Late Kick-Off that he's since grown up and benefitted enormously from the guidance and support of his mum. Apparently he did drift down the "wrong path" for a while, and many childhood friends with whom he's still in contact are now serving time - not that the two paths are mutually exclusive, of course, as the case of ASBO demonstrates...

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Keep on the move?

No surprise to learn that Celtic are eager to convert Fraser Forster's loan move into a permanent deal this month - and I'd expect Jabba and the Silver Fox to agree (on the condition that the fee's acceptable). While it would be a shame to see the promising young 'keeper leave, he's made himself at home in Glasgow and some of his quotes have suggested he already sees himself as a Celtic player, somewhat estranged from his parent club, with whom he doesn't see much of a future.

That would leave us needing a new stopper, with Steve Harper not getting any younger, Rob Elliot yet to convince and Ole Soderberg seemingly not rated by the Silver Fox. Filling that gap could wait until the summer, though - there are more pressing needs at present.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wor Aly?

Could Papiss Demba Cisse soon be followed to Tyneside by yet another import from France? Rumours of our interest in Lyon's Aly Cissokho are longstanding, but according to the player negotiations between the two clubs are now underway.

While Cissokho seems eager to leave his current club, he stopped short of identifying St James' Park as his preferred destination, instead keeping his options open. It's also worth noting that he's a left-back, not the central defender we'd earmarked as a priority. With the Silver Fox claiming that "we're blessed with full-backs", signing another one would be a little curious. That said, he is at least a natural left-footer, unlike all of our other options in his position except Shane Ferguson.



Twitter tosser

While bigotry on the pitch has been the subject of much comment of late, it seems it's equally alive and well online. Following on from the racist abuse directed at Little Big Lad on Twitter, it's now emerged that the club as a whole has been a target. Well done, whoever you are, on proving yourself both big and clever.

On a tangential note, my first contribution to the revamped and relaunched Two Unfortunates site is an interview with Stan Horne, the first black ever player to turn out for Manchester City, Aston Villa and Fulham.

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McGhee hoping to make his Mark in Brizzle

Congratulations to old boy Mark McGhee on his appointment as manager of Bristol Rovers. And good luck - given their current predicament, he'll need it...



Demba at the double

I think it's fair to say that, until yesterday, the transfer window had been something of a non-event. The only significant deal to have gone through was Gary Cahill's move from Bolton to Chelsea, one that's been mooted for months. So credit to us for springing a bit of a surprise.

True, we'd been linked with Freiburg's Papiss Demba Cisse before, but he appeared to be out of our price range and firmly in the sights of deeper-pocketed Premier League rivals including the Mackems. But no sooner had Paul reported on rumours the Senegalese striker was in Toon for a medical than it was announced that the deal was done, the wheels oiled by Freiburg's capture of a replacement. For a club whose transfer business is so often conducted out in the open, much to our detriment, the swiftness and decisiveness of this move - and the secrecy in which it was swaddled - is refreshing.

A fee of around £10m - more than I thought Jabba would be prepared to part with for a single player, I admit - has secured us the services of one of the most deadly marksmen in the Bundesliga. Not only that, but he's an international team-mate of Demba Ba, and flew off to rejoin the Senegal squad ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations once he'd signed. My first fear was that he was being brought in as a pre-emptive replacement for Ba (which, admittedly, would at least have indicated a welcome if unusual degree of forward planning on our part), but the Silver Fox has spoken excitedly about the pair teaming up in black and white.

Cisse's arrival, and the immediate assignment of the vacant number nine shirt to him, will of course be deflating for some - particularly Big Lad and Leon O'Best, who showed against QPR that they can prove adequate substitutes for our absent leading goalscorer. But in the bigger picture it can only be good for the club that we've significantly enhanced our firepower.

Here's hoping Demba #2 proves to be as astute a signing as Demba #1.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Piece of Papiss

According to reports, Freiburg striker Papiss Demba Cisse is on Tyneside for a medical ahead of a rumoured £10 million transfer. Allegedly also a target of 5under1and, Cisse was a player we were reportedly linked with in the summer as the transfer window started to close and our search for a striker grew ever more frantic.

Interestingly, in addition to having a pretty tidy scoring record in the Bundesliga, Cisse is also an international teammate of Demba Ba and is currently in Senegal's African Cup of Nations squad. How he is currently on Tyneside, rather than training in Gabon is beyond me, but presumably he's been released to sort out a move, rather than been allowed to join up later with the Senegal team than Demba Ba.

Anyway, if the deal is to go through, it looks a prudent signing by bolstering our attacking options (albeit not for the duration of the ACN). It should also push Big Lad, O'Best and HBA to try harder in the contest for places, whilst also nudging the Lone Ranger and Peter Lovenkrands towards the door.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Hoops O'Bested

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 QPR

A brilliant finish from Leon O'Best was enough to overcome a limited QPR side at St James' Park yesterday.

With Colin Wanker having been handed his P45 and ASBO suspended, new manager Mark Hughes obviously took little time in instilling his footballing philosophy into his new charges. Admittedly his take on footballing philosophy is much less "total football" and far more "total wipe-out" with his team repeatedly guilty of committing late challenges in a bid to unsettle our side.

In some ways it was probably a blessing that Mr T was absent for this match, as I suspect he'd have been less inclined to rise above the physical challenge presented by the visitors and probably seek to exact his own form of direct justice. As it was, we demonstrated admirable restraint and as a result didn't pick up a single booking, unlike the visitors for whom four players were carded and Shaun Derry was perhaps slightly fortunate to remain on the pitch after he lost control of the ball and slid through Dreamboat in a bid to get it back.

That tackle, coming midway through the first half, saw the Frenchman depart on a stretcher and the arrival of HBA as a replacement. (Thankfully, the Silver Fox suggested that the injury was nothing too serious in his post-match interview).

We started the game sluggishly, with Dreamboat as guilty as the next man of some wasteful play and a general torpor across both players and fans, and it was the visitors who enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges. Tim Krul twice had to make decent saves, and Shaun Wright-Phillips shaved the cross bar from distance.

However, Dreamboat's departure saw the Silver Fox rejig our formation, abandoning 4-4-2 in favour of a fluid 4-2-3-1 which saw HBA, Spidermag and O'Best spread behind Big Lad, with Raylor and the returning Danny Guthrie sitting slightly deeper in midfield. The resultant shift saw us enjoy more time on the ball, and while our final ball into the box was often lacking, either in terms of quality or intended recipients (with Big Lad often alone in the box), we began to dominate the game.

Eventually, that pressure began to tell, with Raylor seeing a long-range shot touched round the post, and a number of corners forcing the visitors to defend. The goal came after a chipped ball from Spidermag was headed down by Big Lad in to the path of the on-rushing Raylor (I think, although it could have been Guthrie) who stumbled, but still managed to touch the ball out to O'Best. He controlled the ball beautifully and shifted it on to his right, nutmegged Luke Young and then slotted the ball calmly past Paddy Kenny, having sent the 'keeper the wrong way. It was a fine goal and should hopefully do our Irish striker's confidence the world of good.

From there on, it was simply a case of protecting our lead, with QPR lacking the subtlety in midfield or the finishing prowess up front to really trouble our defence. A Jay Bothroyd shot which was easily saved by Krul being their best chance of forcing an undeserved equaliser.

With fifteen minutes to go the Silver Fox introduced James Perch for Raylor and Perch took up a position just in front of the back four, enabling him to effectively screen our defence. At the other end, one moment of skill from HBA almost brought a second as he accelerated away from his man and slid a great ball out to the left. O'Best's cross in looked destined for Big Lad, only to be nudged out of his reach at the last second. However, one goal was always likely to be enough to ensure we took the points and moved above Liverpool into sixth.

Unlike our previous home league match, this was hardly a classic, albeit one in which Santon (bedding himself in at left-back) O'Best (who worked tirelessly and took his goal very well) and Guthrie (deservedly receiving plaudits after an excellent all-round display) all stood out. HBA too looked very good when he came on, and his dynamism, allied to the Silver Fox's tactical change, marked a significant shift in the balance of the game, which ultimately gave us the victory.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Take the power back?

Since seizing control in the summer of 2007, Jabba has stabilised the club finances and overseen our return to the Premier League as a refreshed and rejuvenated side. But he's also treated two club legends in King Kev and Wor Al appallingly, rewarded Chris Hughton for getting us promoted with the sack, sold Rocky without having any back-up plan and kept all the cash, renamed the stadium and, perhaps most criminally of all, handed employment to both the Poison Dwarf and JFK. It begs the question: just what would it take to push us supporters over the edge?

For Wimbledon fans, it was when their club was relocated to the arsehole of the UK, Milton Keynes, by greasy pop supremo Pete Winkelman in 2004. For some Man Utd fans, it was the Glazer takeover, which saw the club plunged into huge debt through nifty financial gymnastics and prices hiked for your average punter.

FC United of Manchester, formed a year after AFC Wimbledon in 2005, are owned, funded and run by the fans, meaning that those who pay the prices get to set them too. The club marched up the football pyramid following their formation, and though they've now plateaued somewhat in the Northern Premier League Premier Division, their home games still attract around 2000 attendees. One blustery wet Saturday afternoon in early December, I was one of them.

Watching the lunchtime kick-off against Chelsea at the Swan & Cemetery in Bury, I was curious to notice the pub filling up with scarf-wearing supporters. It turned out that although the Shakers weren't playing at nearby Gigg Lane, FC United were, it being their main home ground. And that's how, the Blues having condemned us to a 3-0 defeat, that I ended up cheering on a red-shirted Manchester side against a side clad in black and white stripes (Garry Flitcroft's Chorley).

The game itself - a 0-0 draw - wasn't much of a spectacle (Flitcroft had an infinitely more searching examination when up before the Leveson Inquiry), but the enthusiastic support given to the players on the final whistle made it abundantly clear that this isn't just about what happens on the pitch.

Given that the club was founded on the premise of taking a principled stand against greedy out-of-touch ownership, it's not surprising that the fans see themselves as "children of the revolution", as one flag proclaims. Another declares, with pride: "A right bunch of dicks". You can probably buy it in the club shop, a Portakabin and awning-covered stall out in the car park.

The oppositional, political stance is equally prominent in their chants, superbly bastardised punk classics perfectly suited to being bawled from the terraces. For instance, to the tune of 'Anarchy In The UK': "I am an FC fan / I am a Mancunian / I know what I want and I know how to get it / I want to destroy Glazer and Sky / 'Cos I wanna be at FC". Another, to the tune of 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)', celebrates their longevity and sheer bloodymindedness in the face of being criticised, belittled and ignored by "loyal" Man Utd fans and even self-proclaimed socialist Fergie: "Merry Christmas / And a happy New Year / We're FC United / And we're still fucking here".

But their ambitions extend beyond just surviving. The parody of the Pogues' 'Dirty Old Town', ending with a lyric about building their own ground, isn't just wishful thinking. Planning permission has been granted for a site in Moston and fundraising efforts are ongoing to help make the dream a reality.

The truth is that all over the country fans are seizing back control of their clubs, as Kevin Rye of Supporters Direct recently noted on the NUST site, and FC United are only one of the more extreme cases. For Rye, there's no doubt that the model of fan ownership can work - and, by implication, that it could work anywhere, including at Newcastle.

The question, though, is whether we have sufficient stomach to take on Jabba, or to turn our backs on the club altogether and form an FC United of our own. With the club apparently solvent and sitting comfortably in seventh, it's difficult to see a similar splinter movement gaining traction while the (relatively) good times roll at St James' Park. But we should remember that it's been officially rechristened the Sports Direct Arena in flagrant disregard of fans' views, and that FC United have developed in parallel/opposition to a club which rarely goes a season without some kind of silverware. To paraphrase a Mancunian, we can have it all but how much do we want it?

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Bad boy bid blocked

News emerged yesterday that the Silver Fox has been trying to add a third ex-Man Utd player to our wage bill alongside Danny Simpson and Gabriel Obertan. (Oh, OK, do we have to include Alan Smith? Fourth, then...) The Red Devils have rebuffed our advances for Ravel Morrison but Taggart's comments suggest he'd be happy to see the back of the teenage midfielder/forward: "We have offered him terms, which he has refused. His demands are unrealistic. His agent has been working hard to get him another club."

Man Utd's refusal to accede to his demands may in part be due to the fact that he's earned himself a reputation as a real loose cannon, the 18-year-old having already wound up in trouble for assaulting his mother and chucking his girlfriend's phone through a window. Presumably the Silver Fox feels he can tame him and keep him under control, and is keen to profit if Man Utd do finally run out of patience.

It's a dangerous game, of course. That strategy and faith in the power of rehabilitation and second chances has hardly paid off with Nile Ranger yet, the striker's behaviour having been a constant headache for the staff. But the view among those in the know in Manchester is that the hot-head is also a tremendous talent - if he wasn't, he'd probably have been bundled out of the Old Trafford exit door sooner. Man Utd fans seem torn between wanting to keep him or wash their hands, with the whole issue of tribal loyalties cropping up - some argue that his off-field misdemeanours are unimportant and irrelevant, and that he should be cheered on just because he's wearing the club shirt.

If the Silver Fox persists, and if he's successful, then it looks as though we may have ourselves a new ASBO.

(Thanks to Simon for the Sport Witness link.)

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Ba's French fancy

What with the transfer window being open, it was never going to be long before we had our first case of verbal diarrhoea. "I have always supported PSG and it's a club that is enticing but it will be difficult to do that in January", Demba Ba has been quoted as saying. The player's denial - or at least the claim that the comments were taken out of context - followed swiftly afterwards.

Ba's hometown club wouldn't be alone in taking an interest in our striker, with pretty much all six clubs currently above us in the table reportedly keen. As yet, though, no offers have been forthcoming - and that despite Droopy's attempts to flog him for us. Ever the wheeler-dealer, eh, 'Arry? Keep your fleshy beak and the rest of your flabby face out of our business.

If, hypothetically speaking, Ba was to be sold, then speculation's been rife that his replacement could be the man he himself replaced - rumours rubbished by Rocky's agent as well as his manager Kenny Dalglish. While the prospect of re-signing the striker for £25m less than we sold him would clearly be appealing, it's a moot point, really: we play a different style of football now without a bullying presence up front, and Jabba would be very unlikely to sanction a transfer fee or wages that hefty. Still, stranger things have happened on Tyneside.

Might we soon find ourselves linked with another old boy, though? It seems Sebastien Bassong is getting frustrated at warming Droopy's bench, we're in the market for a central defender, and a left-footer would complement Sideshow Bob nicely. Incidentally, that particular hole definitely won't be plugged by former triallist Darnel Situ, who has now finally signed for Swansea.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Quote of the day

"I think we are a lucky brand as can be, told we did the sponsorship deal two hours before the match, got the name on the shirts and they beat Manchester United three-love."

"Three-love"? Someone should tell Richard Branson his company's sponsoring a football club, not a tennis player.

Branson, on a visit to Tyneside, claimed he was unlikely to take up the option for the stadium naming rights as well as the shirt sponsorship. He also tried some keepie-ups, to the evident bemusement of photo-call companion Davide Santon...

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Not everything's black and white

A great post about the expression of tribal loyalties in football (particularly online) over on The Two Unfortunates, though prompted by the sad demise of excellent Doncaster blog Viva Rovers. Insightful, thoughtful, clear-headed, well-written - Glen's site was the sort of thing we at Black & White & Read All Over and other bloggers aspire to. As Glen explains in the site's final post, it was abuse from fans of his own club that forced him into the decision to shut it down.

On occasion we've taken stick for the stances we've adopted (on ASBO in particular), though nothing of the same degree as Glen. In the light of Viva Rovers' fate, it's worth reiterating a few things:

* We do this for pleasure, in our spare time.

* We don't claim to speak for all Newcastle fans, or even some of them. (How can we when the two of us don't always agree?!)

* We believe in the distinction between being partisan and being one-eyed. If we think criticism of the club or players is merited, we'll give it. We're not afraid of being dissenting voices, however unpopular. Being supporters does not simply mean mindlessly and endlessly toeing the party line, or parroting the prevailing populist wisdom. We're more than happy for you to disagree with us - in fact, it's comments box debate that really livens the site - but if you do so, all we ask is that you engage with our reasoning and argue your case without resorting to blunt abuse.



Little Big Lad rueing reserve team run-out

Tough luck for Little Big Lad, ruled out for "a number of months" having sustained an injury in last night's behind-closed-doors reserve game against Wigan. Better he picked it up in competitive action than when on the club paintballing jolly (see 2:47), I suppose, but not great all the same, given that Obertan Kenobi's continued inconsistency might have seen him given more first-team pitch time.

Little Big Lad was part of a strong second-string side that took on their Latics counterparts, with Dan Gosling, Haris Vuckic and Tamas Kadar also taking part. Scorer of the final goal in the 3-1 win was Bognor Regis triallist Jason Prior, trying his hardest to win a move from the Ryman League South to the Premier League. Whether he did enough to impress the onlooking Silver Fox remains to be seen.

Soon to be back in the stiffs is James Tavernier, whose loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday has ended. The high-flying League One outfit were apparently keen on an extension, but it was blocked because, according to manager Gary Megson, "We’ve been playing James at outside right but they don’t want him to play in the position". A bit harsh, if true, but I guess he's our player after all.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Saylor speaks

Not sure it's exactly gripping viewing, given the inane questioning of the BBC's faceless football drone Dan Walker (though at least it's not Garth Crooks), but here's Saylor on this week's Football Focus Forum. Our crocked central defender talks about getting fit for the Olympics, THAT waistcoat and the fact that Demba Ba's initially sub-par Toon performances were due to something called "Ramadam"...



A Month Of Saturdays: December 2011

We entered the final month of 2011 bloodied but unbowed after our successive skirmishes with the big bully boys from both sides of Manchester, the point-saving performance at Old Trafford in particular giving us heart ahead of the visit of a third bunch of title hopefuls. But the subsequent defeat to Chelsea set the generally grim tone for December.

Not that the 3-0 scoreline was an accurate reflection of events, despite Tim Krul's early penalty save and numerous missed chances. The hapless David Luiz should have been dismissed inside the first ten minutes, we whacked the woodwork three times and our opponents' second and third goals only came at the death, as a desperate side shorn of both Sideshow Bob and Saylor through injury pushed too hard for an equaliser. In all likelihood we won't see the latter again this campaign - perhaps he should give the Little Waster a call for tips on how to pass the time.

Having faced the top three and emerged with credit if only a solitary point, we might have been forgiven for looking forward to the relative respite of four fixtures against lower calibre opposition. But, without a single fit natural central defender for the trip to Norwich, the Silver Fox was forced into pairing full-backs James Perch and Danny Simpson, and Paul Lambert's side expertly exploited our aerial vulnerability. Grant Holt and Steve Morison had a field day, plundering three headers between them, and two goals from Demba Ba proved insufficient - not least because Dan Gosling contrived to get himself sent off for a foolish second challenge.

Thankfully the defensive cupboard wasn't quite so bare for the Silver Fox the following weekend. Who knows how slighted the club medical staff felt at Mr T's you-just-couldn't-make-it-up decision to leave their care, fly back to his homeland and consult "his favourite witch doctor", but it worked and he was back in the side to face Swansea together with Sideshow Bob, while Mike Williamson was a welcome face on the bench. Defensively we were parsimonious in the extreme, though the Swans, then yet to win away, were never likely to pose much of a threat. But, try as we might, we just couldn't get the better of the visitors' own much-vaunted back line and had to content ourselves with a goalless draw.

No matter, we thought - another home game in a few days in which to right wrongs. Sadly, though, it wasn't to be. While we did at least score against West Brom, Ba again at the double - and spectacularly so - our defensive resolve crumbled, the Baggies' pacy partnership of Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie slicing us up from the first whistle as we fell to a damaging defeat. Particularly concerning was our naivety, though there was at least one crumb of comfort in the form of Haris Vuckic's fine display in midfield.

Recent history suggested that a Boxing Day game of any kind, let alone away at Bolton, would be about as welcome as a sprout fart wrapped in a Christmas jumper - but HBA had other ideas. Not that he was able to implement them until the second half, on as a substitute to volley in a Raylor cross with consummate coolness and class. Ba (who else?) swiftly doubled our lead, and a defence bolstered by the reassuring presence of Williamson easily held out to ensure there were many happy returns from the Reebok to Tyneside.

But the joy of winning our first match since beating Everton on 5th November didn't last for long, the year ending with a disappointing 3-1 loss to the Toffees' cross-city rivals. Even when a goal up (somewhat fortuitously), we never looked to have the confidence that we could possibly win. Anfield may be less a happy hunting ground and more a barrel in which we're routinely shot, but the lack of self-belief was upsetting in view of our general attitude and spirit this season. Not quite as upsetting, though, as the sight of the No-Necked Text Pest scoring twice or Steven Gerrard returning from injury just in time to haunt us again.

Before the match, the Silver Fox had suggested he'd relish the opportunity to have Rocky back, but after that wasteful, lacklustre performance he might have changed his mind. Rocky, of course, left Tyneside for Merseyside last January, and it had been anticipated that Modibo Maiga would be arriving to help fill the hole this time around - but a failed medical put paid to that and we were left to start our hunt for new recruits from scratch.

Public pronouncements from Obertan Kenobi and, more importantly, Krul - a hero so often this season - suggested they were unlikely to follow Rocky out of the door. The situation with Simpson looked less certain, though, with the news that contract negotiations had stalled.

Contract negotiations were something the Mackem Tango Man could only dream of, his own contract having been shredded by Preston, allowing him to join Ol' Cauliflower Face on the dole. Meanwhile, two of the latter's recent charges, Lee Cattermole and Nicklas Bendtner, distinguished themselves by being arrested for damaging cars in Newcastle - perhaps the only motoring-related offence of which none of our own players has yet been guilty (to my knowledge).

Still, as the year came to a close, there didn't seem to be too much to laugh about. We lost four matches in December - four times as many as in the preceding four months combined, and there was only the small matter of our perennial butchering at home by Man Utd to look forward to...



Monday, January 09, 2012

Droopy's Demba indiscretion

Droopy has been quoted in the press (and let's be honest, he'd give a quote to the bloody Yellow Pages if they asked for one) about Demba Ba. According to the man who is soon to be in court defending serious allegations regarding his personal finances, one of our players (not his, ours) has a release clause in his contract that means he could leave for less than £7 million.

Thoughts which arise from the whole release clause issue are:

1. How do people find out about release clauses in players' contracts? Presumably Ba's agent is spreading this around in the hope of negotiating a better contract for his player/commission for himself either at Newcastle or elsewhere - in much the same way as we benefited from finding out about Dreamboat's release clause, to pick him up for a bargain fee in the summer.

2. Depending on the figure involved, would any team be prepared to take a risk on the "ticking time bomb" knee? It's one thing to sign the player on a free, but quite another to spend £7-10 million on him (as Tony Pulis will tell anyone who listens).

3. Having insisted on the release fee, chances are Ba won't be around long enough to break the Lion of Gosforth's goalscoring record. Best enjoy him while we can. Hopefully Graham Carr is already on the case of finding a replacement/back up.

None of this means that Droopy should get away with talking about it. After all, he wasn't best pleased when Chelsea kept talking up Luka Modric all summer, was he?

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Sunday, January 08, 2012

Good goal? Not Arf

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Blackburn Rovers

For the most part yesterday afternoon's match was a classic case of after the lord mayor's show. But in the end a sensational goal by HBA and another from Spidermag - the latter in the fifth minute of stoppage time - were enough to ensure we avoided the ignominy of a second cup exit of the season at the hands of the Premier League's crisis club.

With Demba Ba and Mr T en route for Africa, the Silver Fox was always going to be forced into making changes, but he also took the opportunity to drop/rest Big Lad and Raylor. HBA was Leon O'Best's nominal partner up front, Obertan Kenobi returned on the right and there was another cup start for Mehdi Abeid in central midfield. While our manager could hardly have been accused of fielding a weakened side, the same wasn't true of his under-fire opposite number, Steve Kean opting to leave out both Chris Samba and surprise goal machine Yakubu.

As would have been expected with Wednesday's tremendous victory still fresh in the memory, we began at a blistering pace, threatening to blow Blackburn away within the first ten minutes. Mark Bunn had to save from Dreamboat, Spidermag and O'Best, while efforts from Dreamboat, Abeid and Mike Williamson all flew high or wide of the target.

When the early breakthrough didn't come, we lost a bit of impetus and allowed the visitors back into the game. Ruben Rochina fired a couple of warning shots at goal before his side took the lead through David Goodwillie. Tim Krul made a fine save to claw away Grant Hanley's header from a corner, but the diminutive Scot was on hand to bundle the loose ball in.

For the remaining ten minutes of the half we looked at a bit of a loss as to how to get back onto level terms, and the Silver Fox's half-time pep talk didn't do much to change that. What did, though, was his introduction of Big Lad for Obertan Kenobi ten minutes into the second period. Not that Big Lad himself was key, missing a decent opportunity shortly after coming on - more the fact that it meant HBA switching to the right wing. An unfamiliar role, but one which to which he adapted with great aplomb.

With twenty minutes left on the clock, the Frenchman embarked upon a slaloming run that mesmerised and bamboozled at least six defenders (I, the rest of the stadium and viewers of ITV's highlights show lost count) before smacking a shot past Bunn. "Technically the greatest goal I've ever seen" was the Silver Fox's assessment. Perhaps he'll be revising his opinion that HBA "can't play out wide", particularly in light of the player's apparent disgruntlement with recent bench-warming duties and Obertan Kenobi's frustrating inconsistency in that position.

A strike of such quality naturally roused spirits and raised the noise level from a poor crowd of just over 30,000, and we pressed eagerly for the winner that would mean we wouldn't have to visit Ewood Park twice in a fortnight. Our prime threat came from an unexpected source, Williamson, who clipped the bar with a header and saw another pushed away by Blackburn's busy Bunn.

And just when it looked as though a second Wednesday evening excursion to Lancashire was inevitable, Spidermag motored determinedly down the left, played a neat one-two with O'Best and dinked a shot over Bunn - a second moment of inspiration from a wide player. The Argentinian had hardly had time to remove his mask when the full-time whistle blew.

The win meant we were in the hat for the Fourth Round draw - and second out, handed an away tie at either Brighton or Wrexham, Kazenga LuaLua's Championship side having been held to a draw at home by the Welsh non-leaguers. It could have been worse, certainly (Man Utd's reward for beating Man City on their own patch being a trip to Liverpool, for instance), but progress is far from a foregone conclusion.

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Saturday, January 07, 2012


As expected, we'll be without both Demba Ba and Mr T for this afternoon's visit of Blackburn, the pair having jetted off to the Africa Cup of Nations. Both were absolutely immense in the thumping win over Man Utd, so it's inevitable that there are concerns about how we'll cope in their absence.

Ba, the newly crowned Premier League Player of the Month for December, racked up five goals in six games in the final month of 2011, though only finished on the winning side once. Meanwhile, on Wednesday night Mr T lived up to his pre-match billing by Sky studio guest Saylor as an "animal" who strikes fear into the hearts of opposition players, motoring ceaselessly around the pitch and tearing into tackles.

But does the fact that we've been deprived of their considerable talents and qualities for five or six weeks justify a gripe about the Africa Cup of Nations and its timing? No, it doesn't. Having been hugely irritated in the past by the likes of 'Appy 'Arry, Arsene Wenger and Fat Sam moaning about losing key players to the tournament, I'm refusing to be hypocritical about this. The simple fact is that if you sign top-class African players, then you've got no cause whatsoever for complaint.

Of course it'll be upsetting if either or both return home injured as a result of their involvement, but that's just the nature of football. It's not a Little Saint Mick situation, where Ba and Mr T are pushing to play (or being forced to play) despite not being fully recovered from long-term injury. They're fit and in form, so it's perfectly fair enough if their national managers want to select them.

So good luck to both players and their respective countries, Senegal and Ivory Coast, and we look forward to welcoming them back in early February - by which time we'll hopefully have continued to collect points and still be in the FA Cup, and the Strawberry might have started serving the secret of Ba's success...

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Junior and Jordan catching the eye

Our priority in the January sales might be a defender, but might I venture that the advertised availability of Blackburn's Junior Hoilett for a cut-price fee and a staggering five-goal FA Cup haul for Huddersfield's Jordan Rhodes will not have gone unnoticed at St James' Park?

I've already written about Rhodes, while Hoilett is an exciting young talent who's already starting to make good on his potential in the top flight, achieving the difficult feat of starring in a troubled, struggling side. With Spidermag and Obertan Kenobi hardworking but regularly flattering to deceive, and Sylvain Marveaux still out injured, we could certainly do worse that Hoilett when it comes to finding someone with pace and trickery who can attack from both flanks.



ASBO's fictional fracas

Good old ASBO. Not content with having spats with everyone from players, managers and club owners to Piers Morgan and the cast of The Only Way Is Essex, he's now had a falling-out with a computerised version of himself...

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Friday, January 06, 2012

View from the Home End

As January is now upon us, it's time to cast a quick eye over the squad and what we might look for during the remaining 25 days of the transfer window.

Over the summer, we spent a lot of time fretting that our number 9 shirt remained vacant, and that remains the case. However, despite clearly acknowledging that we're still a striker light of the perfect balance, the recent collapse of our move for Modibo Maiga due to a failed medical and the fact that we currently appear to lack a back-up plan mean that, in all probability, the shirt will remain empty until the summer at least.

Fortunately, over the first half of the season Demba Ba has risen to the challenge of providing the goals we've needed. However, with the Senalgalese striker now heading off to the Africa Cup of Nations it's to be hoped that firstly he returns unscathed in due course and secondly that in his absence Big Lad, O'Best and HBA can fill the void, in much the same way as O'Best, Big Lad and Peter Lovenkrands did once Rocky departed last season.

What the last few weeks have demonstrated is that once you scratch the surface of our first-choice defence, the back-up options are decidedly limited. While the return of Mike Williamson is a welcome boost, with Saylor out for the rest of the season we're only one injury away from seeing James Perch restored to the first team. Enthusiastic though he may be, I don't think anyone can argue that he is a Premier League class centre-half and with Tamas Kadar evidently out of favour (presumably terminally) our top priority must be a centre-half.

As Ben highlighted the other day, we appear conscious of that shortcoming and names in the frame include James Tomkins of West Ham (reportedly subject of a £4million bid - even if The Two Unfortunates recently rated him as not ready for the top flight) or Liam Ridgewell of Birmingham City (maybe with the Lone Ranger going the other way). Certainly either would represent a step up from Perch and wouldn't demand massive wages or command huge transfer fees - which seems to fit within our general recruitment strategy. Sadly one player who doesn't seem to be in the mix is Nedum Onuoha, with QPR and Wolves fighting over a player I think would provide solid cover for our defence.

On the flanks, Danny Simpson, Raylor and Davide Santon all look solid enough and if necessary Perch at least looks marginally less exposed when deployed at full-back (albeit I don't think he's good enough to play there, or in midfield either and should be encouraged to find new employment as soon as we have cover in place). So I doubt we'll be adding a full-back unless a vacancy suddenly arises because we sell Simpson.

Illustrating that we're still heavily involved in France, and also willing to move if we spot potentially available talent, the club have also had a recent bid rejected for Benjamin Corgnet. Whether we go back in for the player later in the summer will be interesting to see, but presumably with Mr T away and Danny Guthrie injured, Dan Gosling and Mehdi Abeid will be given a chance to partner Dreamboat in central midfield over the next few weeks.

As last January demonstrated, this transfer window is not so much about who we can bring in (although if we don't sign defensive cover I think we could be running a very strong risk of throwing away our excellent start to the season), but more about who we can hang on to. Whispers of clubs sniffing around our squad are understandable given our strong form and obvious willingness to sell anyone if the price is right (even if the Rocky deal looks better and better with each game he plays for Liverpool).

As such, if we can keep hold of Messrs Krul, Dreamboat, Mr T, Sideshow Bob and Ba, I think we'll have done well. Perhaps a more likely departee would be Simpson, who we apparently nearly sold to Aston Villa in August, and whose contract negotiations are at an impasse. With Santon perhaps cover at right-back we could survive his loss, but I'd be sorry to see Simpson go without a replacement coming in.

One player we could afford to lose is Alan Smith, with the player continuing to kick his heels and pick up a hefty wage. Fraser Forster is, in all probability, likely to join Celtic either now or in the summer, so it wouldn't be a surprise if that move was finalised, and reports suggest we're about to allow Steve Harper another loan spell in the Championship. Given Rob Elliot's pretty terrible display away to Forest in the League Cup, it's to be hoped that if we have to turn to him again, should Krul be injured or sent off, he'll make a better fist of his opportunity.

Really, it's a simple message to the club: buy a centre-half and, if you have to sell anyone, let it be Alan Smith.

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Upsetting the odds

I know we should really be looking forward to tomorrow's visit of Blackburn in the FA Cup, but let's just dwell one last time on that magnificent victory and underline quite what an achievement it was by examining the pre-match stats...

3: The number of wins we'd recorded against Man Utd in the Premier League in 35 meetings

10: The number of years since our last win over Fergie's mob

16: The number of years since they last lost their first game of the calendar year

0: The number of games the Red Devils had lost away from home in the league this season - the only side who could still make that claim in the top four divisions

5: The number of goals they scored without reply in their last away game, at Fulham

0: The number of goals 'keeper Anders Lindegaard had conceded during his five Premier League appearances

10: The number of times Shrek had netted past a Toon keeper in his Old Trafford career (including six in six appearances at St James')

Here at Black & White & Read All Over we've been accused in the past of being too critical, too negative - so, for the record, here's a hearty well done to the players, manager and coaching staff for a famous victory.

Right, now to make turkeys out of the chicken billionaires' men...



Quote of the day

"We don't share quite the same philosophy. For him, it's more crosses, a bit of a more direct style, whereas I'm more the kind of player who likes to play short passes. I like to pass and move, a little bit like Swansea when we played against them. I was very impressed with the way Swansea played football. That is the kind of football I like. That's the philosophy I learned at the French academy at Clairefontaine."

Not everyone's currently got a beaming smile on their face, it seems. It's not surprising that HBA, now he's fit again, is champing at the bit for regular first-team action (which I felt he deserved after the critical opening goal against Bolton), but more concerning is the suggestion that the Frenchman has a problem with our playing style - even if his caricature of the Silver Fox as a hoof-and-hope merchant is rather unfair.

The way both Big Lad and substitute O'Best played on Wednesday night presumably means they will be in pole position for the striking berths for tomorrow's tussle with Blackburn, but with Ba now off on international duty HBA is likelier to get an opportunity to come off the bench and stake a claim for a permanent place in the side. Head down, mouth shut.

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Stimmo Ketts out while he can

While we were enjoying a famous evening on Tyneside, spare a thought for old boy Mark Stimson, who's bailed out as Kettering manager. The financial circumstances in which he's been forced to work give a good indication of what might have prompted him to leave, but with the Poppies having failed to win since October and been thumped 5-0 in their last two fixtures, he may well have opted to jump before he was pushed. It's the sort of situation that makes the Silver Fox having to deal with Jabba's whims seem positively cushy.



Thursday, January 05, 2012

We all live in a Demba syrup dream*

Newcastle Utd 3 - 0 Man Utd

Three goals, three glorious goals, ensured we got 2012 off to the best possible start as we defeated Man Utd for the first time in a decade at St James' Park.

The Silver Fox made two changes to the team who lost to Liverpool, with Big Lad coming in for Haris Vuckic to partner Demba Ba and Raylor pushed forward into midfield to replace Obertan Kenobi, Davide Santon taking the vacant left-back spot.

The visitors too made changes from the side who capitulated at home to Blackburn, welcoming back Rio Ferdinand and Shrek and finally dropping David de Gea - bringing in Anders Lindegaard (who in five previous Premier League games had yet to concede a goal).

The game itself started at a frenetic pace, with Ba failing to connect with a Simpson cross and Shrek fluffing a good chance when played onside by Sideshow Bob. The best early chance fell to boyhood Newcastle fan Dimitar Berbatov, whose header deflected off Santon and on to the post.

While the pace of the game never slowed, we steadily began to impose our game plan of playing long balls to our big strikers and then pressing the play high up the pitch to starve the visitors' attackers of possession. The work rate of the team steadily paid off, with Mr T and Dreamboat chasing down everything in midfield and gaining the upper hand on Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick. On the flanks, Raylor and Spidermag both put in hardworking performances which denied Park Ji Sung and Nani much room to manoeuvre.

At the back, Tim Krul had to make one save from Nani, but otherwise the visitors struggled to create any chances. Going forward, however, Newcastle slowly began to cause the visitors problems and when Ba was played into the box he was brought crashing to earth by Rio Ferdinand. Staggeringly Howard Webb ignored our claims for a clear penalty (which Man Utd fans will claim is payback for the penalty Rio gave away at Old Trafford when cleanly tackling HBA), but thankfully we didn't let the disappointment get us down. A few minutes later Tim Krul launched a long ball from the back and Big Lad rose above Phil Jones to flick the ball on. Ba pulled away from Ferdinand to smash an over-the-shoulder volley (think David Platt against Belgium in 1990) past Lindegaard and inside the post to give us a deserved lead.

At half-time Taggart clearly lost patience with his players, sending them out early for the second half and presumably with instructions to get their act together. All of which was rendered meaningless in a matter of minutes as Ba was cynically taken out by Jones about 30 yards from the Gallowgate goal. Having already seen one free-kick sail over the bar in the first half, Raylor left this one to Dreamboat and the Frenchman duly took three steps and hammered the ball over the wall and into the top corner of the goal. Even though the keeper got a fingertip to it there was nothing he could do, and the ball bounced down, well over the line.

Inevitably, Fergie's mob pushed themselves forward and with Taggart throwing on Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez they looked to force their way back into the game. Thankfully, though, the defensive resilience which has been a significant feature of our season was again evident, with Danny Simpson marking his 25th birthday by blocking on the line the only shot to have beaten Tim Krul, our clean sheet remaining intact.

With injury time arriving a long free-kick from Krul saw Jones, under a bit of pressure from Leon O'Best (on for Big Lad), bundle the ball past his own 'keeper, the Man Utd man stooping to head only for the ball to ricochet off his knee and into the unguarded net.

All in all, a fantastic start to the new year. Sadly Mr T and Demba Ba, both outstanding last night, are now off to the African Cup of Nations and will be missing for a few weeks. Still, at least we now know the secret of Ba's success, the player revealing to Sky in a pre-match interview that he loves strawberry syrup. Hopefully he's left some for Big Lad and O'Best to have while he's away.

Aside from our two departees, Dreamboat was also brilliant and he and Mr T's tireless running and closing down played a massive part in the victory. At the back we again looked solid with Santon also enjoying a number of strong forward runs. However, credit for this performance goes to the whole team, and to the Silver Fox, who got his tactics absolutely spot on and made it a real night to remember.

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

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

*credit for the headline to @IWantCurlyHair2 whose hashtag this was on Twitter last night.

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Virgin ours for £20 million

Confirmation from the club ahead of last night's game that Northern Rock have been replaced as shirt sponsor by Virgin Money, with immediate effect.

Having taken over the bank, Richard Branson's financial firm has now taken on the sponsorship of the club's shirts, not just for the remainder of the year but for a further two seasons, in a deal which could apparantly be worth up to £20 million for the club.

No mention anywhere about a deal to rebrand St James' Park again, so presumably that's still up for grabs. Although given Virgin Money's chief executive's thoughts on the subject, presumably we won't be playing games at the Virgin Money Arena anytime soon.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

New year, new look

A quick nod to Football League blog The Two Unfortunates, which has kicked off 2012 by leaving Blogger, getting itself a facelift and making another appearance in the Guardian Football site's recommended reading list - something that's becoming a bit of a habit. The relaunch is being marked with a week of big-hitting posts, the first of which reflects on the Elite Player Performance Plan and challenges football fans' perceived wisdom.



Strike action or ministry for the defence?

Following the collapse of the deal for Modibo Maiga, the Silver Fox may have declared that we wouldn't be pursuing a striker in January, but that hasn't stopped the media speculation. In recent days we've been linked with fanciful loan moves for Rocky - clearly lining up against his understrength former employers on Friday with a point to prove wasn't enough to rehabilitate his flagging career at Liverpool - and Juventus striker Vicenzo Iaquinta (at 32, too old for Jabba's tastes, surely?), as well as a permanent swoop for a Ryman League go-getter who is apparently available for £12,000 and for whom we'd be challenging the mighty Eastleigh.

If Bognor Regis' Jason Prior fits Jabba's bill - young and cheap - it's hard to imagine that he'd be quite up to Premier League standard. Just along the South Coast at Brighton, England U21 defender Lewis Dunk might, and he's also got youth on his side and plays in a position the Silver Fox has conceded need to strengthen - but the price tag would no doubt be less palatable to Jabba, given the number and stature of our rival suitors for his services.

Personally speaking, if we're looking close to home rather than abroad, I think we might be better served by trying to nobble one of Swansea's centre-backs - Ashley Williams or Steven Caulker, on loan at the Liberty Stadium from Spurs. Might Stoke's Matthew Upson be aggrieved at his bit-part role since joining from West Ham? Might the Hammers' James Tonkins be prised from the greasy palms of Fat Sam, someone who's unlikely to want to do us any favours? Time will tell.



Clean sheets, double trouble and rarer-than-hen's-teeth goals

Congratulations to Fraser Forster, who on Monday marked his temporary side Celtic's tenth successive SPL victory with a clean sheet against bottom club Dunfermline. With Forster proving a powerful repellent between the sticks, the Hoops have reeled in rivals Rangers to lead the division by two points. Might we choose to cash in on him this transfer window? I suppose it all depends on whether Steve Harper goes out on loan again, with Hull being mooted as Harps' next seaside destination.

In the news for less savoury reasons are a pair of midfielders who not long ago wore the black and white stripes. First ASBO, who was red-carded for the fifth time in his career against Norwich. The noted philosopher and friend of Jabba and Llambiarse had given QPR the lead in the battle of the two promoted sides, but his dismissal - for allegedly head-butting Bradley Johnson - turned the game in the Canaries' favour and they ran out 2-1 winners. The decision was harsh (something even Wor Al - hardly ASBO's biggest champion - conceded on Match Of The Day), but Colin Wanker has done himself no favours with the FA (or opposition fans) by joining his captain in accusing the Norwich midfielder of "conning" the referee. For his part, Johnson has taken the opportunity to pass public comment on ASBO's oral hygiene.

And then there's Stephen Ireland, admittedly rarely sighted in Toon garb, who allowed girlfriend Jessica Lawlor to tweet a photo of himself supping booze and chuffing on a shisha pipe. Arguably most remarkable, though, were the topless midfielder's silver snakeskin strides. As Newcastle fans will recall, this isn't the first time that Ireland's been caught in compromising circumstances on camera. Needless to say, Alex McLeish was less than impressed, muttering something about him not doing himself justice on the pitch for Villa - words the player seems to have heeded, judging by the goal that helped the Midlanders to a shock 3-1 victory at Stamford Bridge.

Villa were brought crashing back down to earth on Monday by Swansea, thanks in part to Wayne Routledge. Our former winger's goal at Villa Park was - unbelievably - his first ever in the Premier League, at the seventh club and more than 100th time of asking...

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