Thursday, March 29, 2012

The downward spiral

Oh what a pleasure it was to have been able to write a post surveying the prime candidates for relegation from the Premier League without having to contemplate our own prospects for survival...

Labels: ,


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Quote of the day

"It seems that the three 'soccer' teams big enough to get window space in the Orlando Mall sports shop are Barcelona, AC Milan, and some what bizarrely Newcastle!"

The Facebook status of my friend Rich, currently over in the US for work. Clearly our pre-season tour had a positive impact, even if we hardly suggested we were worth supporting by losing 1-0 to local non-MLS side Orlando City. Another Stateside jaunt this summer, perhaps, to help boost our revenue? Maybe - we wouldn't have to worry about ASBO's criminal past, though the Lone Ranger certainly wouldn't be welcome...



Berry tasty

Fancy fuelling yourself like Demba does? Well, now you can - both the club shop and Shearer's Bar have stocked up on Ba's favourite strawberry syrup.

An excuse to link to the interview again? Yes, I think so.

(Thanks to regular reader Bob for alerting us to the story.)



Monday, March 26, 2012

HBA terrorises WBA as Toon bag Baggies boost

West Bromwich Albion 1 - 3 Newcastle Utd

A supremely clinical first-half performance from our three-man attack was enough to secure a sixth Premier League away win of the season. It was a display as stylish and cut-throat as last Sunday's had been workmanlike and uninspiring, as an HBA special sandwiched between two goals from Papiss Cisse exacted revenge on the Baggies for their pre-Christmas victory at St James' Park.

The Silver Fox named the same starting XI as against Norwich but tinkered with the formation, asking Perchinho to fill the left-back role, moving Spidermag into midfield and giving HBA the freedom to float around as part of a fluid front three. It was an undeniably bold approach against a side that had hammered the Mackems and then defeated Chelsea in their previous two matches at the Hawthorns, but one which paid handsome dividends almost immediately.

Demba Ba had already had an awkward shot tipped over by Ben Foster when, in the sixth minute, we took the lead. Spidermag's precise through-pass found HBA, who whipped a low cross across the six-yard box. Ba stretched and missed, but the perhaps-just-about-onside Cisse was on hand to ram home.

Our position improved even further six minutes later, courtesy of a lightning-quick counter-attack. Receiving the ball on the edge of his own area, HBA exchanged passes first with Dreamboat - back to his best - and then with Cisse before cutting inside his marker in the opposing box and planting a firm curler beyond Foster.

The Baggies may have been stunned but they hadn't quite lost all of their boing-boing. James Morrison flashed a shot wide with Tim Krul well beaten and was then denied a goal back by the linesman's flag, his supplier Marc-Antoine Fortune having strayed offside by a matter of inches.

However, they fell further behind just after the half-hour mark. HBA's blistering pace and tormenting skill was once again critical, as he carried the ball deep into enemy territory before seizing upon Ba's clever backheel and pulling the ball back for Cisse to pounce. Our £10m Senegalese marksman now has five goals in just six appearances - not quite Messi-like, but impressive nevertheless.

But were we giddy on what the Silver Fox later termed "champagne football"? No. Memories of surrendering a three-goal lead to the Baggies on the final day of last season were still sufficiently fresh to mean that nothing would be taken for granted - not least when we learned that Sideshow Bob had been forced off at half-time through injury (his replacement was Davide Santon, with Perchinho moving into the centre). And, sure enough, the home side were given encouragement early in the second period by a succession of corners and ultimately a goal, when a hopeful punt upfield resulted in catastrophic miscommunication between Krul and Mike Williamson and left substitute Shane Long to volley into an empty net.

Frustratingly, that came after we should have taken a four-goal lead, Cisse denied his hat-trick by Foster when clean through, and we had to withstand a brief Baggies barrage, Krul saving from Peter Odemwingie and Jonas Olsson heading wide. Even still, we continued to look deadly on the break, another scintillating box-to-box dribble from HBA concluding with a fine one-handed stop from Foster, Olsson frantically prodding the loose ball away and behind.

And that, pretty much, was that. HBA was granted the standing ovation he deserved for his finest performance to date in black and white (well, orange...), replaced in increasingly characteristic fashion by Big Lad, while Cisse succumbed to cramp and gave way to Shane Ferguson. The Baggies pressed without carrying any real threat - their cause not helped by an injury to Morrison that left them with ten men, all substitutions having been made - and we held firm to see out the remainder of the game with relative ease.

Perhaps it seems faintly ridiculous to even say it, but the win mathematically guaranteed our safety - the first objective of any club. It's a measure of how well we've done that we can boast about having secured our Premier League safety with eight games remaining, but also that all the talk is actually of Europe. Chelsea's goalless draw with Spurs means we're now level on points with the fifth-placed Blues, while the latest hilariously humiliating defeat for Liverpool leaves them eight points worse off than us. Beat the Scousers in next Sunday's home match and we should have sixth spot sewn up - with the possibility of finishing even higher.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Labels: ,


Friday, March 23, 2012

A well-run self-financing club: no longer just a pipedream

So we got the Swiss Ramble treatment this week. What are the key points to be gleaned from his characteristically insightful and thorough analysis of our finances?

* Much as we might like to moan about Jabba for his occasional crass/gross errors of judgement, we need to acknowledge his importance in effectively rescuing the club from a serious debt crisis. Not only has he propped us up with his own cash, he's also worked hard to get the club onto a financial footing firmer than the vast majority of our Premier League rivals. We're now close to breaking even - just in time to meet UEFA's new Financial Fair Play regulations.

* Incredibly, we topped the Premier League profit table for 2011, ahead even of Man Utd. Of course, that was partly due to the £35m sale of Rocky to Liverpool, but that remains a huge improvement on the losses we had been posting.

* This profit has been achieved partly by virtue of being the club with the lowest net spend of anyone except Arsenal. Big-name players have been sold for big money, but their replacements have been sourced cheaply and - in many cases - have proven to be as good if not better. As we've said before, though, the continued success of this policy hinges on the work of Graham Carr and our scouting network - but if we can keep turning up rough diamonds on the cheap, then our financial position will only improve.

* We've also made great strides in reducing our wages to turnover ratio, down to a very healthy 61% from the dangerously unsustainable 91% we had in the Championship. That latter figure was partly due to the inevitable drop in revenue, but partly also because we retained several of our high earners - Jabba took a gamble on instant promotion and it paid off, but if it hadn't the consequences are unimaginable. Based on the 2011 accounts we're now 13th in the wages table, so our current Premier League position of sixth represents considerable overachievement.

* We're reaping the rewards of once again being popular, "facility fees" from our televised matches helping to boost revenue. Currently we're in the middle of a six-game streak of gogglebox games. (That said, though the fees were of course lower, we still featured on TV a disproportionate number of times during our season in the second tier - much to the irritation of some other clubs who felt, rightly, that the extra cash we earned was unfair.)

* The one real area for improvement is in growing revenue - we stand some distance behind the top six (or, as we should call them, the top five plus Liverpool...) and real progress is now dependent upon swelling the coffers further. Hence Jabba's determination to press ahead with the unpopular decision to offer the stadium naming rights for sale - though, as is pointed out, this is yet to make any money for anyone except Jabba (through increased exposure for the Sports Direct name) and neither is it likely to, with potential sponsors all too aware of the ill-feeling towards the move on Tyneside.

So the final prognosis is very positive indeed: "For so long the poster boy of inept mismanagement, Newcastle United are now a great example of how you don’t have to break the bank to be successful." Never thought you'd read that from an independent analyst, did you?

Labels: ,


Thursday, March 22, 2012

No denial from Nile

Another day, another court appearance. (Yes, we're talking about the Lone Ranger, of course.) Having admitted an offence of being drunk and disorderly back in October last year, he's been handed a six-month conditional discharge. Do you know what "conditional" means, Nile? It means there are conditions attached. Perhaps you might like to heed them this time...



"Doing a Newcastle"

Sadly, the phrase "doing a Newcastle" doesn't yet mean "balancing the books and acting in a financially prudent and responsible fashion". No, it apparently means "throwing away a healthy lead at the top of the Premier League to hand the title to Man Utd" - according to the link that led to this article, anyway.

Under the impression that Man City might be choking as we did back in 1996, the BBC's Jimmy Smallwood has been speaking to Robert Lee. Our former midfielder pinpoints the home defeat by our closest foes that season as crucial - all the more demoralising given how severely we'd battered their defence and Peter Schmeichel in particular - and identifies failing to lift the trophy as "the biggest regret of my career", claiming "We would have been in Geordie folklore for many, many years". I wouldn't worry, Rob - you've gone down in Geordie folklore all the same.

Meanwhile, another definition of "doing a Newcastle" might be "to fail to control your players". Yep, we've been found guilty of that offence for the second time this season. Our fine, at £40,000, is double that of the Mackems for that reason - though that doesn't make it any easier to swallow when the whole situation was initially inflamed by our visitors and Lee Cattermole's first-minute assault on Mr T in particular.

Labels: , , ,


Agent Enrique, we salute you

Here's to Jose Enrique, who seems not to have forsaken us. A dreadful cock-up in injury time at Loftus Road last night handed Jamie Mackie the goal that completed a remarkable comeback for hosts QPR over Liverpool, who were two up and cruising with just 13 minutes remaining. The result leaves "King" Kenny's Scousers with a mightily unimpressive four defeats in five league games and ensures the five-point gap is maintained.

There was equally good news from the Etihad too, with the side immediately above us also suffering from a stirring comeback by their opponents. Man City were trailing to Gary Cahill's deflected goal until a Sergio Aguero penalty and a moment of magic from renaissance man Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri sealed the win.

However, both our rivals have home games on Saturday - Chelsea against totally out-of-sorts Spurs and Liverpool against relegation-haunted Wigan - so our position could be less rosy by the time we kick off at the Hawthorns on Sunday afternoon.

Labels: , ,


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lone Ranger bail breach


Monday, March 19, 2012

Hairy Bikers 1 - 0 Delia Smith

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 Norwich City

A far-from-assured 1-0 home win over newly promoted opposition? We've been here before, when QPR visited back in mid-January, and now - as then - the three points are very welcome even if the performance is deserving of a critical post-mortem. For, while we created the best chances, we also ceded possession too cheaply to a confident, fluent side who generally looked more composed and purposeful on the ball and who gradually grew (or, more accurately, were allowed to grow) into the game.

Injury robbed the Silver Fox of the services of both Mr T and Obertan Kenobi, heralding a major reshuffle of the side that lost agonisingly late against Arsenal. Perchinho and Danny Guthrie came into midfield, Spidermag was surprisingly asked to drop into defence with Davide Santon consigned to the bench, and Papiss Cisse was restored to the starting XI as we reverted to a more attack-minded 4-4-2 formation.

It was the inclusion of Cisse that was to prove the most significant. He'd already sprung the offside trap once, wasting the opportunity by lobbing tamely at a comfortable height for Norwich 'keeper John Ruddy, when he handed us an 11th-minute advantage. Spidermag, pushed up into more familiar territory on the left wing, delivered a bouncing cross which the Senegalese striker, darting in front of his marker, steered sublimely into the top corner with the outside of his foot. We wanted a finisher and, on that evidence, it certainly looks as though we've got one. As Norwich's most famous son Alan Partridge might have exclaimed, "Shit! He's got a foot like a traction engine!"

The Canaries could have hit back immediately, Jonny Howson firing a screamer over Tim Krul's crossbar after HBA and Mike Williamson had once again been guilty of overplaying in dangerous areas, but it was Ruddy who remained the busier of the two 'keepers. First, when Demba Ba got a toe to Dreamboat's whipped cross, he fingertipped the ball agonisingly wide, and then, when Cisse was released by an exquisite through-ball from Spidermag, he advanced quickly and far enough to block away the shot.

Guthrie was left appealing for a penalty when the ball struck an arm (I've seen them given etc etc), and we were also cursing the officials' inaction for allowing the visitors their best chance of the half. Spidermag might have gone to ground too easily under pressure from Elliott Bennett, but Danny Simpson was incontrovertibly clobbered by his marker when the cross came in. Incredibly no offence was deemed to have taken place, and Andrew Surman was given license to shoot weakly across the face of goal and behind.

Our efforts on the Norwich goal were fewer and of lower quality in the second period, HBA firing high and wide with his swinger early on, and both Cisse and Ba failing to register with shots from distance. Arguably our best opportunity came when Dreamboat's shot was hastily beaten down by Ruddy, only for Ba to fluff his attempt to snap up the rebound. Two further penalty shouts also fell on deaf ears - one another handball appeal, the other relating to Zak Whitbread's attempts to rip the shirt from Ba's back at a corner.

But the Canaries, perhaps mindful of the way Wolves hauled themselves back from a deficit a few weeks ago, sensed vulnerability and brittle confidence and fashioned two clear-cut chances of their own. Anthony Pilkington, cleverly played in inside Simpson by David Fox, was denied by Krul's shin while the Dutchman had to be at his acrobatic best to tip over Whitbread's header, the central defender mystifyingly afforded the freedom of our six-yard area.

When Santon was brought on for HBA and Cisse's replacement Big Lad went to the right-hand side of midfield rather than up front, the emphasis became more defensive, with increasing onus on Perchinho in Mr T's central midfield destroyer role - a job he performed with aplomb. Norwich may have been neater and tidier than us on the ball, but were largely kept at arm's length as a result of the endeavours of Perchinho and company.

Paul Lambert's curious decision to summon Grant Holt from the bench with less than a quarter of an hour to play worked in our favour, the lardy bruiser not given enough time to inflict the sort of damage he did at Carrow Road in December. However, fellow striker Steve Morison could have grabbed a last-minute equaliser when (somewhat alarmingly) played in by Whitbread's defensive header, had he not got tangled up under duress from Sideshow Bob.

With both Chelsea and Liverpool in FA Cup action (and both now potentially distracted by semi-finals), it was gratifying that we took the opportunity to close the gap on the Blues while restoring the five-point cushion over the Scousers that had been eroded by their midweek victory in the Merseyside derby. The clean sheet - our first since winning at Ewood Park - was equally pleasing. But, as the Silver Fox was moved to comment afterwards, "we weren't firing on all cylinders" and shouldn't allow the result to detract from deficiencies that a more ruthless side would have exploited.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Labels: ,


Saturday, March 17, 2012

On hold

Unlike a number of others of late, it seems as though Danny Guthrie's going to be waiting until the summer before discussing a new contract. Perhaps the club's inaction is a measure of the fact that he's been less integral this season than Sideshow Bob, Tim Krul and Raylor, all recently tied down on new deals. But he's generally done well when called upon (particularly when the African Cup of Nations robbed us of Mr T) and would certainly be a loss to the squad if not to the first team, were he to leave.

With Mr T possibly sidelined for Sunday's game against Norwich through injury, and Dreamboat suffering something of a wobble in form, now could be his opportunity to prove himself worthy of a renewed commitment from the club. If so, then he'll need to be a bit sharper than he was in the Ronny Gill's interview, during which he claimed: "You’d rather score a last-minute goal than concede one. It just improves the morale". Thanks for that, Danny - best do your talking on the pitch, eh?



Quote of the day

"I just need to keep my head down and work hard – simple. I’m like a forgotten man.

It would be some story if I did come back and get in the team because I’ve been getting into a bit of bother now and again.

“People think ‘This guy just gets in trouble week-in, week-out’ but it would be good to get goals and show people a different side.

Has the penny finally dropped, Nile? I'll believe it if it actually happens...



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Late show blow

Arsenal 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Another trip to London, another sickening defeat, for Newcastle Utd on Monday night. Unlike the thrashings administered by the likes of Fulham and Spurs, this was a game in which we defended doggedly and could (and really should) have come away with a hard-won point for our troubles.

Unfortunately a combination of Howard Webb, poor control and a committed surge by Gunners defender Thomas Vermaelen meant that we conceded a winner in the fifth minute of added time. A fact made all the more galling when you consider that it all came from a Newcastle throw deep in the Arsenal half. Unfortunately, instead of taking the ball into the corner, a poor touch saw the home side regain possession, and with Danny Simpson flat out on the turf having unsuccessfully tried to win back the ball, there was a gaping hole on the right-hand side of our back four. Arsenal broke quickly and the ball eventually fell to Vermaelen, who had charged forward and duly popped up in the vacant right-back area to sweep home past Tim Krul.

What followed the goal illustrated that, while Robin Van Persie might be a fine footballer, he’s also an absolute classless twat as he sought to goad international colleague Tim Krul. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the Dutch squad are next together. For what it’s worth, my money’s on Krul.

Unlike our defeat to Spurs, when Pardew acknowledged we were too open, this time he opted for a slightly more cautious approach, replacing Papiss Cisse with Obertan Kenobi, bringing in HBA for the presumably injured Raylor and playing a five-man midfield (albeit one with three wingers). Despite some initial pressure from Arsenal, it was Newcastle who struck first when HBA cut in from the right wing before firing a powerful left foot shot inside Wojciech Szczesny’s near post and prompting a slightly odd shuffling celebration.

Unfortunately we appeared to switch off having scored and within 60 seconds Arsenal were level as Theo Walcott burst down the right and crossed for Van Persie. The Dutchman easily turned Mike Williamson (with a move reminiscent of the time Bergkamp turned Dabizas at SJP roughly ten years ago) before firing home.

Having allowed the home side straight back in, the match rather settled down, with Newcastle in particular working hard to close the Gunners down, though our hosts proceeded to enjoy the lion’s share of possession, with Newcastle at times struggling to retain the ball (with Dreamboat notably guilty of a number of loose passes). Davide Santon too looked to be struggling with Walcott repeatedly surging past our Italian full-back.

The Silver Fox had clearly seen enough at half-time, opting to replace Santon with Perchinho and it was significant that Walcott was appreciably quieter in the second half. For all their possession, Arsenal struggled to create too many clear-cut chances, with Van Persie and Tomas Rosicky guilty of wasting the opportunities they did create.

Big Lad came on for Obertan Kenobi presumably with a view to holding up the ball as we withstood wave after wave of Arsenal attacks, and this seemed to have the desired effect. Unfortunately Mr T was forced to hobble from proceedings shortly afterwards with Danny Guthrie on in his place.

With Newcastle reeling, the decision of Webb to allow five minutes of injury time was a sickening sight, the ref presumably swayed by the crowd’s repeated booing of Krul whenever he took his time (although they might want to remember that when the ball’s in play he can keep it at his feet for as long as he chooses) and in the final of those minutes, Vermaelen popped up to administer the crushing coup de grace.

Obviously this pretty much finishes off any chance we had of making the top four this season, but to be honest the fact that we were gutted to lose to a last-minute goal to a resurgent Arsenal side shows how far we’ve come this season. If we can right the ship against Norwich on Sunday this result won’t look too bad.

Arsenal fans' perspectives (all of whom could benefit from reading the comment about time-wasting above): A Cultured Left Foot, Another Arsenal Blog, Arseblog, Arsenal FC Blog, East Lower, Gunnerblog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

Labels: ,


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The £60,000-a-week cheerleader

Over on The Two Unfortunates I've been profiling our very own Alan Smith, currently on loan at MK Dons. Worth a read if only for the reader comments about his performance levels in recent matches.

Labels: ,


Monday, March 12, 2012

Llambiarse in mostly talking sense shocker

(Image courtesy of Community Friend)

So, we've had the weekend to reflect on Llambiarse's latest pronouncements. Where to start?

How's about the widely-reviled rebranding of the stadium? "Do you think me and Mike call it the Sports Direct Arena? We call it St James’ Park, because it IS St James’ Park." Well, at least the duo acknowledge that fact, I suppose, even if he did also drone on about the need to increase "commercial revenue" while avoiding hiking up ticket prices - if they'd done that, he suggested, then they truly would be guilty of "riding roughshod over people's love".

Nevertheless, the fact remains that it's aroused fierce opposition - from the city council, from local MPs, from fans who have demonstrated their displeasure by means of grafitti and tearing down the Sports Direct signage. As a supposedly cash-generating exercise, it's yet to generate any cash except as a way of promoting Jabba's business interests. A Council of Europe committee recently proposed that clubs should be barred from being heavily sponsored by companies with close ties to their owners - Man City were the example cited, but they'd probably be uncomfortable with our current arrangement too.

Llambiarse also claimed that they do genuinely engage with supporters: "We met a guy who drives from Bournemouth for every home match, so we invited him to be our guest and for them to ask anything they wanted. We’ve done it for other fans we’ve met in restaurants". That's all fine and well, but what about engaging with NUST and their aim of ensuring fan representation at board level or at least fan involvement in the running of the club? That would be far more meaningful.

Otherwise (apart from a cringeworthy comment about the "brilliant video presentation" they do for prospective new signings - "very sharp, it is great"), I think we have to concede Llambiarse actually spoke a lot of sense.

On our ambitions: "This season we targeted tenth or above. Next season it was going to be eighth. But our target will still be eight or above next year. We know where we can punch." That's absolutely right - we know we're punching above our weight this season, assisted by others (Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea in particular) punching below theirs, and it's important that we remain realistic and don't allow ourselves to be seduced into ignoring the context and demanding the impossible. Consolidation and then steady improvement are key.

Llambiarse urged that realism is equally important in relation to our chances of retaining our best players: "We’ll be losing one or two names this summer, but that’ll be regenerated back into the squad ... For instance, Tiote has been with us a year and a half. He is out there. People know he’s a good player. He’s proven in the Premier League, he’s not picking up as many yellow cards, he’s learning. How are we going to stop a big club from coming in for him? It’ll be very hard. One thing in our favour is that we now have a very good side and that might encourage the player to stay. But if someone knocks on the door and says they want this or that money, the reality may be that we have to trade".

This season's success has clearly been a double-edged sword - it has inflated the value of our players and perhaps made them more likely to commit long-term, but it's also brought them to the attention of bigger clubs across Europe. In view of the fact that we've just tied Sideshow Bob and Tim Krul down to lengthy new deals, and that Llambiarse spoke highly of both, I'd be a little surprised (though not shocked) to see them allowed to leave - but Mr T and Demba Ba are both players who I suspect we'll struggle to hold on to come the end of the season. (One caveat: Llambiarse's comment perhaps implies that actually we might be actively looking to sell a couple of players - which would be concerning, given that there's no real financial imperative or footballing reason for doing so.)

On the subject of our own transfer dealings, Llambiarse picked out the deal for Papiss Cisse as exemplifying our ideal: "January came and nobody knew Cisse was happening, which is how we like it - those are our most successful deals, without the interference, in terms of upping the price or someone coming in at the last minute". Business conducted in boardrooms rather than on the back pages of the papers - that's as it should be.

The club's hard-nosed negotiating strategy was also laid bare: "At the moment, players and agents know that our first offer is very close to the final offer. Once it’s off the table, it’s off the table and it only goes down. It’s never up, it’s always lower. There are more football players than there are clubs. The manager has his targets and we just move on". Obviously that inflexibility might mean we miss out on certain players, and the success of the approach is dependent upon Llambiarse and Jabba not over- or underestimating a player's value in the first place, but it seems to be working well enough so far and it's encouraging to know that we won't be held to ransom or (hopefully) find ourselves saddled with cash-draining baggage like Alan Smith.

Llambiarse was equally proud of the tough stance towards players or agents insisting on additional clauses: "We just do straight contracts. We do no overseas pensions, no image rights. We say, 'This is your money, now you go away and talk to your tax advisers if you must.'" The decision to scrap goal bonuses, he revealed, was partly prompted by the experience of watching Obafemi Martins in action: "Maybe that’s why he would always shoot from the halfway line! We used to see him on the ball and think, 'Oh look. He’s going to shoot again'".

Not content with changing the way we ourselves operate in negotiations, the pair seem to be intent on revolutionising the transfer system more widely: "We would like to see deferred transfer payments phased out, so that you just pay for a transfer over a year. Why pay for it over five years? Most do it. We prefer to pay it over a short period of time. This was put to the Premer League board in 2010 and was rejected by everybody. We are saying it should be discussed. You shouldn’t be spending money you haven’t got. It’s not the right way to behave". Fair point - and it's refreshing to see us trying to take a lead as regards financially responsible behaviour. The recently published accounts for 2010-11 show a reduction in our operating loss from £33.5m to just £3.9m, indicating that significant strides are being made towards making us a break-even club. While questions still remain to be answered about where exactly the £35m we received from Liverpool for Rocky went, the general picture is far rosier than it was a couple of years ago - and for that, at least, we should acknowledge Jabba and Llambiarse's efforts.

There was one final titbit from the latter: despite oft-repeated rumours, our owner isn't a Spurs supporter. Good to know - except that, in denying this, Llambiarse confirmed that Jabba's actually a Chelsea fan...

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Friday, March 09, 2012

Raylor to remain

Hot on the heels of the news that both Sideshow Bob and Tim Krul have signed new deals comes confirmation that a less celebrated member of the squad has followed suit. Raylor is now under contract until 2015 when not so long ago he didn't look to have much of a future at the club.

In the past the Scouser's versatility has counted against him, meaning he's struggled to hold down a regular place in the side. This term, though, it's been to his advantage, enabling him to switch to the right side of midfield as Davide Santon's found his feet in the English football and claimed the left-back spot. In the absence of ASBO, he and Dreamboat have been responsible for most of our dead-ball situations - and it has to be said he's been more effective than QPR's bequiffed chronic tweeter, securing himself a permanent place in our affections for that free-kick winner down at the Dark Place in August.



Droopy for England!

A fascinating revelation from Taggart today that he and other managers have been sent letters by the Premier League forbidding them from discussing the England vacancy. The missive has come too late for the Silver Fox, who hasn't been alone in endorsing Droopy's credentials for the job. I'm sure his sentiments are on the whole heartfelt, but it's nice to imagine that a small part of him might have slyly enjoyed the opportunity to unsettle 'Appy 'Arry as revenge for the Spurs boss trying to unsettle Demba Ba back in January...

Labels: , , ,


Thursday, March 08, 2012

A Month of Saturdays: February 2012

(Image courtesy of Fe 108Aum)

St Valentine’s Day: the Hallmark holiday which spreads its cherubic wings around February to proudly proclaim "love is in the air" (please demonstrate your love by spending money).

For Newcastle Utd, the subject of love was one which followed our every move last month, even if results showed that the path of true love never runs smooth, with solid wins against Blackburn and Villa (including a fantastic debut goal by Papiss Cisse) undone by something more akin to a Valentine's Day massacre at Spurs (who sadly didn’t take their eye off the ball) and a home draw against Wolves.

Shakespeare once said that "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet".  For us, Jabba thought he’d test that particular theory with the removal of the sign completing the rebranding of St James’ Park, something which wasn’t welcomed either officially, or unofficially.

Current loves catching the eye this month, perhaps unsurprisingly, included Dreamboat who drew special (if unwanted) attention from the TV cameras, and promptly found himself in receipt of a note from the FA.  Demba Ba also found himself the subject of unwanted attention, when a former lover decided to use the media to express his displeasure at their breakup, while Mr T was left heartbroken by his countrymen’s inability to hit the spot.

On the subject of love notes, a host of players both current and past took to their favourite means of communication to draw attention to themselves, and in the case of ASBO and the Lone Ranger, land themselves in trouble.  Danny Simpson, on the other hand, simply tweeted about Demba’s favoured love potion.  Unfortunately a few idiots also took it upon themselves to tweet things of an altogether more unpleasant nature.

Past loves were also in the news, with everyone’s favourite Peruvian trumpet-playing love rat starting a new fling, our former French fancy coming a cropper, and Lee Clark cruelly dumped when everything looked rosy on the surface.

With the closure of the transfer window coming at the end of January, we also took the opportunity to appraise the gifts received both by us and others, kept up to date with potential further loves and assessed how the present crop of loanees were getting on in their quest to attract new admirers, or just add a few notches to the metaphorical bedposts of their experience, and the club took a long hard look in the mirror and decided it needed to have a shake up of the way our kids are handled.

One current love whose nose might well have felt out of joint was Leon O’Best, who found out that we might be willing to pimp him out to Celtic (even if the player himself elected to stay).

Pausing briefly to consider those we love to hate, 5under1and “striker” Nicklas Bendtner had a busy month off the pitch, picking up a speeding ban and court appearances with impressive frequency.

Finally, we can finish with the twin delights of the Lion of Gosforth’s Newcastle goals, and a photo of Ben’s new love.



Quote of the day

"For sure, I would like to conquer England like Cantona did ... Let’s see in three or four years. Then, I see myself at the top, winning for example the World Cup in Brazil or the Ballon D’Or. Because I still have lots of dreams."

Hold your horses, Hatem. You've got to secure yourself a regular spot in the Newcastle team first - perhaps by learning when to pass and when to take on a fifth defender...

HBA also admitted that as a young man he "lacked love" and "inner calm". Why is it that player interviews with the French media always seem to be conducted with the interviewee reclining on a psychotherapist's couch?



Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Derby dust-up prompts suits into action

It's slapped wrists and smacked bottoms all round, with both ourselves and the Mackems having been landed with an FA charge for failing to control our players during Sunday's derby game. The flashpoint was James McClean's foul on Danny Simpson, which riled our man into a response and sparked a short-lived fracas.

It's an offence of which we've already been found guilty once this campaign, and while I fully expect the same result, the FA shouldn't ignore the fact that our dishonourable visitors were the firestarters - the Silver Fox was spot on in angrily denouncing Lee Cattermole's first-minute assault on Mr T as setting the tone. Unsurprisingly, Martin O'Neill has rejected that assessment, claiming it's "an extraordinary analysis of the game" and pointing to the foul and booking count. Yes, the stats are all fine and well, Martin - but that hardly takes into account the severity and violence of the challenges. Ours were petty, the Mackems' were frequently ugly.

Labels: ,


Jan the man?

Antennae will no doubt have been twitching all over Europe at Jan Vertonghen's confirmation that he'll be leaving Ajax at the end of his contract in 2013 - if not sooner. What's more, the Belgian centre-back seems to have his heart set on a move to England: "I hope to continue my career at a good Premier League club where I can stay for many seasons. I will miss Ajax and I do not plan to sell my house [in Amsterdam]. But I want to get to know England and the unique atmosphere of its stadia."

So do we stand a realistic chance of landing someone who could be the new Phillippe Albert? Not really, no. Every one of the big boys in and around us in the league would benefit from having the classy, composed defender in their squad, and the fee would most likely be prohibitive - even if Jabba has shown a willingness to loosen the purse-strings to capture Papiss Cisse - so I'm afraid I don't hold out much hope.

Meanwhile, Reserves defender (and sometimes captain) Paul Dummett joined Gateshead on loan at the start of the week. The Welsh U21 defender played the full 90 minutes on Tuesday as his new side ran out 2-0 winners over Hayes & Yeading, former Magpie Kris Gate getting the first goal. Dummett is in good company at Gateshead, who are managed by Ian Bogie and also include ex-Toon men Craig Baxter, Martin Brittain, Alan O'Brien, James Marwood and Chris Moore on their books.

Labels: , ,


Monday, March 05, 2012

Big Lad strikes again*

Newcastle Utd 1 - 1 Sunderland

Cometh the hour, cometh the Lad. Two minutes into stoppage time and with his team trailing 1-0, Big Lad once again put the boot into the Mackems, scoring an equaliser that felt like a winner. Sweet revenge for 5under1and's supremely spawny leveller down at the Dark Place last February, and certainly nothing less than a tremendous second-half display deserved.

Up until our substitute's timely intervention, it looked as though it would be a tale of two "pelanties" (to quote ESPN's Chris Waddle): one converted in the first half by Nicklas Bendtner, and one squandered in the second by Demba Ba. But instead we were able to enjoy pissing on the Great Unwashed's Level 7 party, and amuse ourselves at the ill discipline that resulted in not one but two red cards.

Mackem captain and professional thug Lee Cattermole should have been heading back to the dressing room after 25 seconds for an appalling two-footed scissor lunge on Mr T, but referee Mike Dean was guilty of disappointing leniency in showing only a yellow. That challenge had the desired effect, unsettling Dreamboat and Ba into making tackles that were punished with bookings, and the animosity between the sides threatened to explode when James McClean launched himself into Danny Simpson on our by-line. Simpson reacted and an almighty melee ensued, following which both players were cautioned.

In amongst all of the aggression and spite, what little football was being played was by the visitors, whose 24th-minute lead - naturally - came courtesy of a foul. The Silver Fox can gripe all he likes that shirt-holding goes on in pelanty boxes up and down the country all the time without punishment, but there's no denying Mike Williamson's manhandling of Mackem lunk Michael Turner was both blatant and extremely foolish. Up stepped masked man Nicklas Bendtner to place his spot-kick wide of Tim Krul's dive - not the first time the on-loan Dane has inflicted damage on Tyneside...

Our response to falling behind was hardly inspiring, and instead the Mackems looked the likelier scorers with Bendtner testing Krul and Craig Gardner's effort deflecting narrowly over the bar. It wasn't until the last few minutes of the half that we properly threatened the enemy's goal, Sideshow Bob's far-post header beaten out by Simon Mignolet and Ba pounding a near-post nod off the crossbar.

Half-time changes were imperative and the Silver Fox elected to remove Davide Santon. The Italian had been no worse than anyone else, but the move allowed dead-ball specialist Raylor to remain on the pitch, switched to the left-back role, while HBA could be introduced with the hope of giving greater penetration on the right wing.

The substitute had an immediate impact, bursting past two players to win a corner within seconds of the restart, and Ba went close twice with a header and a shot before the half was four minutes old. But when Gardner had his name noted by Dean for a late ankle-cruncher on Sideshow Bob, the old pattern was resumed and we had Krul to thank that we weren't two behind when he pulled off splendid saves to deny both Sebastian Larsson and McClean in quick succession.

Given the way the game had started, it was incredible that we got to nearly the hour mark until a red was brandished - and luckily for us it went to Stephane Sessegnon, arguably the Mackems' most effective player, operating in the gap between our midfield and defence. The Frenchman responded to a tackle by swinging an elbow towards Mr T's face and so deserved to walk, but the overreaction of our Ivory Coast international was unsavoury and merits a lecture from the Silver Fox. For his part, Mr T finally picked up his booking in the 66th minute - long overdue according to the Mackems - for fouling almost as persistently as he'd skewed shots unconvincingly from distance all game.

As we sought to ratchet up the pressure on the ten men, the anonymous Papiss Cisse gave way to Big Lad, who immediately won a corner. By this point we had begun stretching play to good effect, Spidermag skipping down the left and HBA terrorising Kieran Richardson on the right, and the latter danced inside a couple of challenges to blast a near-post shot that Mignolet palmed away.

Then, with ten minutes remaining, came our pelanty incident. Big Lad showed some rudimentary skill to outwit Mackem replacement Fraizer Campbell, who obliged by scything him down. The Silver Fox admitted "I didn't cover myself in glory" with his touchline fist-pumping in Martin O'Neill's direction, but we knew how he felt. It was Ba rather than Big Lad who took the spot-kick, and the Senegalese striker was dismayed to see Mignolet - some distance off his line - push the ball wide and away.

Heads could have gone down, but to our credit we mustered up the strength and courage to battle on and turn the screw even tighter. Big Lad, HBA and Dreamboat had all tried their luck before the equaliser finally arrived, Williamson making amends for his earlier error by flicking the ball on for the only Geordie in our squad to knock home his seventh derby goal at the far post. The result was relief and delight at having foiled 5under1and in equal measure.

Even though only three minutes of injury time remained, it could have got even better. Williamson worked himself a great opening but was prevented from pulling the trigger, while Big Lad threw his head and then his foot at the ball in an attempt to force it over the line. The final whistle soon followed, after which Cattermole lived up to his reputation as a brainless oaf by getting himself a straight red for mouthing off to Dean. Anyone who parked their car on Stowell Street has my sympathies...

In some respects, it was a disappointing result - we drew a winnable home fixture for the second successive week (last week's opponents Wolves were this weekend ruthlessly torn apart by Fulham) and thereby failed to capitalise on Saturday's defeats for Chelsea and Liverpool. As lacklustre as we were in the first half, we were ultimately probably worth more than just a solitary point. Still, as late as the 92nd minute it looked as though we'd finish up empty-handed - so perhaps we should just be thankful to Big Lad and savour the stat that we've now been beaten just once in the last fifteen derbies.

A Mackem fan's perspective: Roker Report

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

* With apologies to the Smiths.

Labels: ,


Saturday, March 03, 2012

"It's onwards and upwards, really"

The words of Tim Krul, following the announcement that our young Dutch stopper and his captain Sideshow Bob have both inked new long-term deals (five and four years respectively). While neither have been quite so infallible of late as they were in the first half of the season, they're cornerstones of our team and so this can only be good news.

Of course, as with the six-and-a-half-year contract signed by Mr T last season, it's not a guarantee that both players will be in our employ for the full length of their deals. But it does signal our intent and help to ensure we'll be properly recompensed if either was to leave, as well as serving as an indication that key squad members are pleased with the club's progress and uninterested in looking for moves elsewhere.

Labels: ,


Hit the road, Sam

Alan Smith and James Tavernier were both in League One action again for MK Dons this afternoon, collecting a point from the trip to Hartlepool (needless to say, Smith also collected a booking). The Monkey Hangers' 54th-minute substitute will have been familiar to the pair - fellow Mag Samuel Adjei, who yesterday joined Pools on a month-long loan. The draw against Karl Robinson's promotion chasers was a positive result for the home side - not least because they were battered 5-0 by relegation-threatened Wycombe.

Labels: , , ,


Thursday, March 01, 2012

Partisanship vs perspective

Here's a little something I wrote for The Two Unfortunates, inspired by the reaction to our comments on Huddersfield sacking Lee Clark. Warning: contains mild scenes of self-flagellation, and also defends the right of fans of other clubs to call us Toon supporters deluded and unrealistic - sincere apologies but, y'know, you just have to follow wherever the direction of your argument leads you...

Labels: ,


Court in the act

A few chickens coming home to roost for the Lone Ranger in the last couple of days* - first up before the beak on his assault charge and then found guilty of a homophobic tweet and fined £6000. Did he respond with contrition? No, of course not. It was his default Twitter response in such circumstances: "What a joke"...

(* Possibly the only time you'll come across references to our errant striker and chickens in a sentence where there's not also mention of Nando's.)