Monday, April 30, 2012

All good things...

Wigan Athletic 4 – 0 Newcastle Utd

And so, it came to pass, that on the 28th day of the 4th month Newcastle did get thoroughly pasted by Wigan.

Put simply, we didn’t turn up for the first 45 minutes and against a Wigan side in the form of their collective lives, playing slick passing football, that meant we were spectacularly put to the sword.

Almost everyone had an off-day, from Papiss Cisse seeing shots ricochet off post and bar in the second half, which last week might have inched just inside the goal, to our entire defence, who simply couldn’t cope with the Wigan onslaught – spearheaded by a brilliant performance by Victor Moses. Moses it was who scored the first two of Wigan’s goals, outmuscling Mike Williamson to win a header and then stroking home a loose ball after a Sideshow Bob block.

Put simply, Wigan wanted it more. They were quicker to every ball and we allowed them an excess of liberty as demonstrated when Shaun Maloney was allowed to run free to sweep home Wigan’s third and Franco di Santo given far too much time by Mr T before chipping home Wigan’s fourth just before half-time.

The Silver Fox tried to energise the team from the sidelines, switching to five at the back at one stage in the first half, to try and better match Wigan’s 3-4-3 formation, but to no avail.

The second half saw us at least match the hosts, with Cisse twice unlucky and HBA creating one glorious opportunity through quick feet only to shoot wide with his right foot. Wigan might have been reduced to ten men, only for referee Mike Dean to bottle out of giving a straight red to James McCarthy for a bad foul on Demba Ba and also refuse to give a second yellow card to Antolin Alcaraz for a deliberate handball with the player already booked, but to be frank we didn’t deserve anything from this game and Wigan themselves might have scored more but for a fine save by Krul and a goal-line clearance from Sideshow Bob.

With Chelski and Spurs winning, and Arsenal only managing a draw away to Stoke, the race for the Champions League has tightened up. Hopefully, this defeat will prove to be a kick up the backside to galvanise us to raise our game for the final three fixtures and battle all the way to the line.

There were a lot of Toon fans who were grumbling about the manner of the defeat on Saturday, and while it was disappointing that we had an off-day, let’s just remember that we’re guaranteed a top six finish and place in Europe next season, and we could still qualify for the Champions League. 

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Losing out to the Blues?

Excuse us if we're rather less enthusiastic than the rest of the country seems to be about Chelsea's admittedly remarkable progress into the Champions League final. If the Blues can somehow pull off another win over either Bayern Munich or Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid, then they'll be guaranteed a place in next year's competition at the expense of whichever side finishes fourth in the Premier League - and currently that's us. While it seems faintly ridiculous to be potentially frustrated at missing out on Champions League qualification, the fact remains that now it's within our grasp, settling for the Europa League would be a disappointment.

And on the subject of highly improbable scenarios, how's about Alan Smith scoring a goal? Well, that's exactly what he did on Saturday - the only goal of the game, too, as MK Dons beat promotion rivals Sheffield Utd. Smith's first-half header ensured a result which could be crucial as far as automatic promotion to the Championship is concerned. The Blades' slip-up allowed cross-city enemies Wednesday close the gap to just a single point, as they beat Carlisle with the Lone Ranger playing the full 90 minutes and picking up a booking along the way.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Sideshow Bob recognised

Congratulations to Sideshow Bob, whose excellent performances for us this season have earned him the recognition of his peers, and a place in the PFA Premier League Team of the Season.

Sadly, Sideshow Bob is the only one of our players to make the XI with Joe Hart handed the goalkeeper's jersey ahead of Tim Krul, and Messrs Dreamboat and Mr T losing out in midfield to Scott Parker, Yaya Toure, Gareth Bale and David Silva. 

The presence of three Spurs players (Young Player of the Year Kyle Walker also getting the nod ahead of statistician’s choice Danny Simpson) rather illustrates the fact that the voting is done just after Christmas, before the wheels came off Droopy’s wagon.

Equally unlucky is Demba Ba, whose early-season form must have seen him push Robin van Persie (who presumably mustn’t want to score for Arsenal at present) and Shrek for the striker’s slots.

Still, can’t really argue with too many of the choices and a massive congratulations to Sideshow Bob, who, only two years ago, was named in the Championship team of the year.

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Ab fab, Cab

Newcastle Utd 3 - 0 Stoke City

It just gets better and better, doesn't it?

Overshadowed by his fellow Francophone team-mates HBA and Papiss Cisse in recent weeks, Dreamboat turned in a superb individual display on Saturday, contributing two goals and an assist described by the Silver Fox as "exquisite". The other headline news as Tony Pulis' perennial party poopers were blown away was the fact that Cisse was on target for the sixth successive game, a record in this season's Premier League. To say he's hit the ground running would be an understatement...

The enforced two-week lay-off as a result of Chelsea's continued involvement in the FA Cup could potentially have worked against us, disrupting our momentum, but in actual fact it had no discernible impact at all except for allowing us to nurse Mr T back to health and, if anything, we were better than against Bolton on Easter Monday.

On that occasion, it had taken a flash of genius from HBA to break the deadlock, and once again his involvement was critical. Having teased and beaten Marc Wilson with ease, he stood up a cross to the back post and, when Cisse's header came back of the bar, Dreamboat was lurking to nod home.

The Silver Fox's decision to move Spidermag inside and push the former Lille man further forward was paying instant dividends - underlined just four minutes later, when his astonishingly precise through-ball picked out the ever eager Cisse, whose left-footed finish beat Asmir Begovic and crept inside the post. 2-0, then, and less than twenty minutes played - how the visitors must have been rueing Jon Walters' hopelessly skied volley when the game was still goalless.

With Cisse seemingly unable to stop scoring, the pressure has been taken off his compatriot Demba Ba, who has only found the net once since returning from the African Cup of Nations. In fairness, though, Ba has been asked to perform in a different role since Cisse's arrival for the good of the team and went close on a couple of occasions, as did Davide Santon, up from left-back with a right-footed shot that Begovic had to go full-length to stop.

Into the second period and the sumptuous football continued, with Dreamboat central to everything. Cisse thought he'd added a third, rounding Begovic and tapping in after the Stoke 'keeper had spilled Ba's fizzing drive, only to be denied (wrongly, perhaps) by the linesman's flag. We didn't have to wait long to extend our lead, though, Dreamboat bringing to an end a short bout of pinball with a delicious bouncing curler into the far corner from the edge of the box.

That was one of his last acts before making way, his replacement Perchinho immediately called upon to block a Peter Crouch shot. That ensured that complacency wasn't allowed to set in, and in truth we could easily have boosted our steadily improving goal difference even further. Seemingly determined to bag another goal against the club who rejected him, Ba kept trying his luck without success and Sideshow Bob nodded an HBA corner just wide of the post. The closest we came to a fourth, though, were a couple of long-range thunderbolts from the boot of Mr T, both of which asked stern questions of Begovic.

Cisse followed Dreamboat off, Big Lad putting in his customary cameo, while Danny Simpson was also withdrawn as the clock wound down. The luxury of being able to use substitutions to rest players is practically unheard of on Tyneside, so it was just another bonus on a day when pretty much everything went for us.

With Chelsea drawing 0-0 in a dour affair at the Emirates and Spurs put to the sword by old boy Adel Taarabt, our sixth consecutive victory (and fourth consecutive clean sheet) was enough to see us seize fourth spot, three points ahead of fifth-placed Spurs and just three behind third-placed Arsenal, and with a game in hand too. Everton's failure to win at Old Trafford means that we're now guaranteed of European football of some description next season, while Wigan's wobble at Fulham suggests they may be losing the exceptional form that saw them beat Man Utd and Arsenal in consecutive matches just in time for Saturday's trip to the DW Stadium.

However, that 4-4 draw at Old Trafford combined with the Man City victory that relegated Wolves means that the title can't be settled by the Manchester derby on the 30th, and therefore that our one remaining home game, against City, will be a tougher proposition than it might have been. Away fixtures at Chelsea and Everton don't make for pleasant reading either - but the fact is that performances like this mean our opponents all have increasingly good reason to fear us too.

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Quote of the day

"Cooking for each other happens quite a lot. The girls are friends, they go out for lunch, everyone goes around each other's house. Everyone lives in close proximity and everyone just gets on. I cooked for Shola Ameobi the other day - bit of risotto. For the kids last night, we had chilli, salad and rice. I’m not quite Come Dine With Me just yet, but I had a jacket potato around James Perch’s house, so that’s a zero! Shola doesn’t cook and leaves it all to his missus. He very much stays out of the kitchen, but she is very good."

Er, I'm not sure these revelations from Mike Williamson really merit the Mirror's claim that "Come Dine With Me style evenings among Alan Pardew’s squad have helped the club cook up a storm this season". But what does this say about the players in question? Perchinho is a no-nonsense, no-frills man, whereas Big Lad's happy to piggyback on someone else's efforts...

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It seems Mr T ain't getting on no plane, fool - unless that plane is chartered by us and is bound for European climes. Our Ivorian midfield enforcer has claimed: "my future is at Newcastle". But what he doesn't specify is how exactly long that "future" might be - does it extend as far as the summer, for instance, when eternally cash-rich Chelsea are likely to firm up their interest with a serious bid...



An effing good evening's entertainment

Cover your kids' ears - looks like JFK's soon to be back in Toon. No need to break into a cold sweat, though - he's only here in the role of token pantomime baddie. I assume there's going to be a charity swear box?

On the subject of foul-mouthed insults, Emre's been landed with a two-match ban for comments made to former Spurs man Didier Zokora. The pair are both now opponents in Emre's native Turkey. The free-kick hero of that 3-2 win over the Mackems in 2005 would have faced a longer ban if it had been proven that the insult was racial in nature. As some fans may recall, it's not the first time that such allegations have been made. Where there's smoke?

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Countdown conundrum

"The Champions League is something that really we shouldn't be competing for, but we are, and we are going to go for that as best we can."

The words of the Silver Fox, talking ahead of our game against Stoke tomorrow. With Arsenal playing Chelski and Spurs facing the prospect of a tricky match against a QPR side who are scrapping for survival, this weekend's fixtures carry a further potential twist in the Champions League race (one which Chelski could still determine if they were to win the competition and thereby claim the fourth English spot.

As the Silver Fox himself went on to say: "What I do know is this European qualification is about as complicated as it gets. We need Carol Vorderman to work it out."



Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pap pops in

It's not only the club that has been doing its best to make Papiss Cisse feel welcome, it seems - some of our youngest fans have done their bit too. Four-year-old Sam Livingstone from Bedlington decided to send a "Welcome to Newcastle" card to our January arrival - a gesture that so touched the Senegalese marksman that he paid the family a personal visit to say thanks (and, it appears, sign everything in sight). So, a phenomenal goal machine on the pitch and a thoroughly nice chap off it. The guy is certainly going the right way about becoming a legend.

A scroll down to the comments section reveals one supporter pointedly remarking: "total class, we would never of seen michael owen doing something like that". To which another has promptly responded: "Owen would have injured himself opening the card"...



Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Quote of the day

"Our policy makes sound financial sense in a harsh economic ­climate and with Uefa financial fair play rules looming. Mike was determined that the club’s future would not be put at risk by ­spending money we could not afford. We have all seen what has happened at Portsmouth and Rangers.

Now I think a lot of Newcastle fans are starting to see the bigger picture and appreciate what we are doing makes sense. We set out to find value in the transfer market and I believe we have succeeded.

So it seems we don't just boast a Mr T. A cigar-chomping Silver Fox does his best Hannibal Smith impression, loving it when a plan comes together.

While such smugness potentially sets him and us up for a fall, you can't really blame him, given that Chelsea's FA Cup victory over Spurs on Sunday virtually guaranteed the return of European football to Tyneside. That prospect might hopefully be enough to convince the likes of Jan Vertonghen that their future might lie on the pitch at St James' Park rather than on the bench at any of our top six rivals...

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bye bye Beye Beye

Contrasting fortunes for a couple of ex-Mags yesterday. While Rocky was celebrating securing Liverpool an FA Cup final appearance with a late header against Merseyside rivals Everton, Habib Beye had a more miserable afternoon. Though he opened the scoring after just three minutes, Beye was later red-carded and had to look on as his Doncaster side then conceded twice in the 90th minute, the 4-3 defeat to Portsmouth sealing their relegation to League One. Also on the scoresheet for downcast Donny was one-time Toon youth prospect James Coppinger, whose effort had given the home side the 3-2 lead they'd taken into the closing stages.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Simp-ly the best?

This has been a season when even our lesser lights have managed to shine. Hell, even Perchinho has battled hard to become a valued squad player and make that moniker more apt than mocking. But, all the same, surely it's going too far to claim that Danny Simpson - solid and dependable, but not that much more - is the best right back in the Premier League?

We've commented on Ronny Gill hack Lee Ryder's fondness for bigging up our Manc defender before, but, as unlikely as it might seem, he actually has the stats to back up that bold claim.

The headline figure is the seven vital goal-line clearances Simpson's made this campaign - the most recent at home to Liverpool when his upper arm may or may not have been involved (depending on whether you can tune out the bleating of Kenny Dalglish and embittered Scousers adamant there's some kind of nationwide conspiracy against their club). But it's equally noteworthy that at the time of the article, prior to the Swansea match, he'd lost just nine tackles.

In fairness to Simpson, he's proved himself to be a tidy and modestly accomplished defender, though he doesn't carry the same sort of attacking threat as many (most?) Premier League full-backs, an attribute essential in the modern game when it's those areas that teams are most able to exploit. On the other flank Davide Santon, by contrast, isn't quite so good when faced with defensive duties, but offers much more in the opposition half - indeed he's looked our biggest threat at times, when games have been tight and strikers and creative midfielders have been shackled.

Ryder appears to be engaged in a protracted campaign to sway public opinion of a player many feel to be hard-working but ultimately of limited talent, and particularly aggrieved at the abuse Simpson's suffered as a result of his failure to agree a new deal. While Ryder's hard sell is somewhat irritating, he's right to criticise those whose personal comments caused our right-back to shut down his Twitter account last month (something I hadn't realised). Instead, perhaps, we should be celebrating Simpson as symbolic of our season: a player procured on the cheap who is performing to the absolute best of his ability.



Toon's very own Masterchef cooking up a treat

It seems everyone's playing their part in our extraordinary season - from the players and manager right down to the catering staff. Speaking to the Telegraph, Papiss Cisse has underlined the old adage that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach: "It was a Senegalese dish called Yassa, which I love. I can’t cook it, but the chef at the club, Liz, did a really great job. It was fantastic. It is another example of how the club has made me feel so welcome and I appreciated it very much."

So, Liz, take a bow - can we, on behalf of all Newcastle supporters, give you a hearty thanks? From chicken and beans to strawberry syrup and goat curry - a sign of the times at St James'.

Also very much making himself at home on Tyneside, according to Big Lad, is HBA. There's no hint of begrudging bitterness in our Geordie frontman's assessment of one of the trio currently keeping him out of the side: "He's such a talent. It's such a nice thing to have in your arsenal. For somebody to be able to do that, to run past players as if they weren't there and finish like that, is a joy to behold. It's great for us because we see that every day. When he does stuff like that it's a piece of magic that nobody else on that pitch could do." Indeed. Excuse me, I'm off to watch that goal against Bolton again...

But just before I disappear, and while we're on the subject of eating, I'll leave you with this: the delicious sight of TBW taking a deep breath and trying her best to stomach our achievements. Marvellous.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Month of Saturdays: March 2012

(Image courtesy of h ssan)

By Newcastle standards, March proved a relatively quiet month.

Obviously, there were lows in the form of a charge of misconduct and yet another brush with the law for one of our players, but the real positives to take from the month were new contracts for three of our key performers this season and seven points from a possible twelve, with wins against Norwich and West Brom contrasting with a sickening last-gasp defeat to Arsenal and a satisfying point against 5under1and thanks to Big Lad’s ongoing personal crusade to vanquish the forces of darkness at every chance he gets.

The Lone Ranger enjoyed a particularly eventful month, one minute talking positively about turning his life around, and the next breaching bail, appearing before a judge and getting into trouble for his use of Twitter.

On the player front, in addition to new contracts for Tim Krul, Sideshow Bob and Raylor, came the news that unsung hero Danny Guthrie will have to wait until the end of the season before finding out if he is also to be offered a new deal, and we kept an eye on the players in our squad currently plying their trade elsewhere - although, by the sound of some of the feedback, Alan Smith for one doesn’t appear to be excelling. By contrast, HBA now looks to be settling in nicely, with some pretty ambitious goals to aim for.

One possible new addition to the squad who was mentioned is Jan Vertonghen of Ajax, although seeing as the world and his wife appear to be monitoring the player, the likelihood is he won’t end up on Tyneside.

Financially, we published our accounts for last year and they were promptly given the Swiss Ramble treatment, with a largely positive report. Derek Llambiarse was also quoted talking about finances, while the revelation that he and Jabba still refer to our home as St James’ Park appeared to somewhat undermine any quest to attract someone willing to pay for the rights to have their name attached to our ground.

On the subject of finances, it was interesting to learn that we’re always seeking to make a quick buck and with club emporia now stocking some of Demba’s syrup and Newcastle shirts prominently on sale Stateside.

Whilst Llambiarse might have been happy to talk about things, the Silver Fox was told that the question of the England manager was taboo and we entered the lexicon of footballing phraseology, with Man City reportedly on the verge of "doing a Newcastle".

Ben took the chance to moonlight, giving his thoughts on partisanship and the relegation prospects of those teams down the bottom of the league a good airing over on The Two Unfortunates, and one of our old boys did his bit for the relegation scrap, and our own race to Europe by gift-wrapping three points for QPR against his new employers Liverpool.

All in all, a quiet one really.



Squeaky bum time for Fat Sam

Just as the heat is on in the race for European places, so is the battle for a place back in the Premier League, and an enthralling Championship game on Monday evening saw two former Toon managers pitting their wits against each other. Fat Sam's West Ham trailed 3-1 to Chris Hughton's Birmingham before fighting their way back to a 3-3 draw. Some consolation, but Reading's victory at Brighton last night means Fat Sam's expensively assembled outfit are six points adrift of an automatic promotion spot. Needless to say, we're wishing one of the two bosses well - and are amused at the disgruntlement of Hammers fans complaining about the team's current brand of (non-)football...

Meanwhile, down in League 1 the Lone Ranger has become the Loan Ranger, promotion-chasing Sheffield Wednesday the club mad enough to temporarily take him off our hands. Since arriving at Hillsborough in late March, he's made four appearances, all of which have ended in Wednesday victories, and actually scored in the 2-0 win at Lee-Clark-less Huddersfield. Let's hope he's determined to put himself in the shop window and not just cause havoc elsewhere - the sooner we're rid of him the better.

North of the border, the formalities of Celtic's SPL title win were completed with a 6-0 rout of Kilmarnock. Fraser Forster kept another clean sheet, and the papers are once again reporting that the Bhoys are intent on stepping up efforts to sign him permanently.

And finally on our round-up of goings-on beyond St James' Park, Rocky scored an injury-time winner as ten-man Liverpool beat Blackburn 3-2. Well done, Bigger Lad - you now have as many league goals for the Scousers in over a year as midfielder HBA has for us, despite the latter having a year out injured...

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

HBA: how bloody awesome?!

Newcastle Utd 2 - 0 Bolton

Who says lightning doesn't strike twice?

With twenty minutes of January's FA Cup tie against Blackburn remaining, we were in desperate need of a spark of inspiration. It came from HBA, who danced and wriggled his way past defender after defender before finishing with aplomb. It was one of the finest strikes St James' Park will have witnessed in its long history, and acclaimed by a delighted Silver Fox as "technically the greatest goal I've ever seen". Lightning had very definitely struck once.

And yet, with seventeen minutes of yesterday's match left and the danger of a disappointing result starting to loom large, HBA did it again. Fewer opponents were left trailing in his wake, perhaps - but he still turned his man beautifully, ran with pace from inside his own half, kept his footing after being clipped by a lunging tackle from Mark Davies, bisected Bolton's statuesque centre-backs and prodded perfectly past Adam Bogdan. It was another moment of individual brilliance the likes of which precious few other Premier League players could produce. He's found his fitness and form, and we've found his best position - this could be just the start of something very special indeed for us and a player with "magic in his feet".

One thing's for sure: HBA's splendid solo effort certainly wasn't a goal the game deserved. Prior to the Frenchman taking matters into his own hands, we'd struggled to create much of note. In the first half Dreamboat volleyed over when well placed on the edge of the area, but it's telling that one of our only other efforts was a 30-yarder from fit-again skipper Sideshow Bob that Bogdan clutched comfortably and that we actually came closest when Bolton's Hungarian 'keeper punched HBA's curling free-kick into the face of his own defender Sam Ricketts, the ball flying behind for a corner. As was highlighted by Alan Hansen on Match Of The Day (in arguably the first bit of insightful punditry he's managed for years), Papiss Cisse showed excellent movement but nevertheless had little opportunity to enhance his already formidable reputation further.

The Silver Fox made a relatively bold half-time switch, withdrawing Perchinho (less effective in the role of the injured Mr T than he has been in defence) for Shane Ferguson and moving Spidermag inside. Ferguson gave us added thrust down the left side, as well as extra energy, exemplified when he chased the ball the length of the field until it ended up back with Bogdan.

But it was the visitors who, sensing the possibility of a vital win against off-colour hosts in their bid for survival, suddenly created a flurry of opportunities. First Chris Eagles stepped inside a couple of tackles only to be denied by Tim Krul's foot from close range, then Martin Petrov's potentially lethal low cross just evaded Darren Pratley, and finally Mark Davies failed to make a good connection with a cross when Dreamboat found himself unexpectedly in central defence.

It was at that point that HBA thankfully came to the rescue, raising the temperature with a free kick that span narrowly wide before going one better and grabbing us the lead. Indeed, lightning could have struck for a third time soon afterwards had he not, after another mesmerising run (combined with a lucky break of the ball), elected to pass to the offside Cisse rather than take on the shot himself.

The victory was duly sealed, however, courtesy of Big Lad. Demba Ba's replacement outmuscled Tim Ream on the right wing, the American defender throwing himself to the floor in a futile attempt to win a free-kick. When Big Lad crossed, Cisse looked offside but, as against West Brom and Liverpool, the flag stayed down and the Senegalese hotshot celebrated his tenth goal in just nine appearances since joining the club from Freiburg.

There was no way back for Bolton, but just to make sure the Silver Fox removed HBA, rewarded inevitably with a standing ovation, and introduced Raylor for the closing few minutes.

Once again, then, it was hardly vintage stuff, but flashes of sheer class secured a fifth successive win (and with a third consecutive clean sheet too). Coupled with Spurs' unexpected home humbling by Norwich and Clint Dempsey's late equaliser for Fulham against Chelsea (not forgetting the Mackems' 4-0 trouncing at Everton, of course), it was about as satisfying a day's action as could have been hoped for. We've now drawn level on points with Spurs, two ahead of the Blues and two behind Arsenal (although the latter have a game in hand). You know, we might just need those passports after all...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Sunday, April 08, 2012

Cisse double sinks Swans

Swansea City 0 - 2 Newcastle Utd

Two goals by Papiss Cisse ensured our winning run continued and made it a very Good Friday for the Newcastle Utd against a slick Swansea team.

With Danny Guthrie injured, the Silver Fox opted to bring Davide Santon back into the side, pushing Spidermag up alongside Mr T and Dreamboat in midfield. Tactically, we sat back from the start, dropping off Swansea and allowing them to knock the ball around in their own half.

However, with our number nine boasting seven goals in seven games before the match, we were always likely to pose Swansea problems on the break. Just five minutes into the game Spidermag knocked a loose ball forward to Dreamboat, whose first-time pass saw the Swans' defence part like the Red Sea before Moses, allowing Cisse to charge between them and take a touch before knocking the ball confidently past Michel Vorm to give us the lead.

The rest of the half saw Swansea enjoying the lion's share of possession, with much of their play flowing through Gylfi Sigurdsson, but ultimately left frustrated by our dogged defence, which meant they were restricted to shots from distance which largely left Krul untroubled.

With Mr T withdrawn at half-time nursing a slight hamstring injury, Raylor was pressed into midfield service, and the second half picked up where the first had left off, with Swansea, and Sigurdsson in particular, dominating possession but unable to carve any great chances for their strikers.

With Shane Ferguson on for Demba Ba, our lead always looked quite thin until HBA broke forward and found Dreamboat, his ball again picked out Cisse who, falling over, managed to chip the ball brilliantly over the advancing Vorm and just under the crossbar, doubling our lead and knocking the stuffing out of the home side.

The only further point of note after Cisse's second was the arrival of Dan Gosling in place of Dreamboat, the latter, like Mr T, apparently nursing a slight muscle strain. Hopefully, both will have recovered in time for tomorrow's game against Bolton, as the midfield cupboard is starting to look a little bare.

That said, if Cisse can keep his scoring run going (which now stands at a phenomenal nine in eight games), we can continue to keep our eyes firmly on the teams ahead of us in the league.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Return of the JT

With players starting to drop like flies ahead of a busy run-in, the club have recalled James Tavernier from his loan spell at MK Dons and he’s gone straight into the squad ahead of tomorrow’s game against Swansea.

According to reports, Perchinho has now picked up a slight knock, meaning that Danny Simpson might be required to fill in at centre-back, leaving the right-back spot free for either Tav, or possibly Davide Santon (with Spidermag on the left, or, if he's pushed forward to replace the injured Danny Guthrie, Raylor filling in at full back).

Either way, it means we’ll once again be hoping for commanding performances from Mike Williamson and Tim Krul to keep things in order at the back.

With Tav’s contract due to expire at the end of the season, this represents an excellent opportunity for the player to either win himself a new deal, or put himself in the shop window for a new employer. Hopefully, he’ll seize the chance.



Monday, April 02, 2012

Red letter day

Newcastle Utd 2 - 0 Liverpool

When we played Liverpool in December, we appeared to be slightly overawed by the occasion and played Anfield and the badge rather than the game. Yesterday, we saw through the façade and comfortably outplayed a mid-table side under the control of an antiquated manager, shorn of confidence and packed full of over-rated, off-form players.

It was glorious.

With Sideshow Bob injured, Perchinho partnered Mike Williamson at centre-back, with stand-in captain Spidermag filling the left-back berth. In midfield, we welcomed back Mr T into a central trio with Dreamboat and Danny Guthrie, retaining Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse and HBA up front.

For the opposition, the prospect of at least one old boy returning to haunt us was increased by the news that the No-Necked Text Pest had recovered sufficiently to join Jose Enrique and Rocky in their starting line-up.

In truth, it was the visitors who started the better, with Rocky looking a threat and Bellamy probing down the right, causing problems for Spidermag. Having won a couple of early headers, Rocky had the game’s first real chance when he broke through on goal before knocking the ball past Tim Krul and tumbling to the floor rather than risk a shot with his weaker right foot. Thankfully, referee Lee Mason was on hand to penalise our erstwhile number nine, who was rightly booked for a shocking dive. A year and a half ago, I’d have expected Rocky to have hit the shot with his right but, shorn of confidence, his attempts to win a penalty (for someone else to take) spoke of desperation, and showed how far his stock has fallen.

(On that subject, a lot of people have been talking about how Liverpool paid over the odds for Rocky. While his price was massively inflated, the reality is that Liverpool’s fee for Torres was £15m plus whatever we wanted for Rocky, so the reality is that Chelsea overpaid for Torres which included the overpayment for Rocky – something many seem to forget).

With HBA and Enrique enjoying an even contest early on, our mercurial Frenchman was afforded space after 18 minutes when he dropped deeper to collect the ball. With nobody closing him down, he was able to cut onto his left foot and launch an inch-perfect cross to the back post for Papiss Cisse to squeeze a header back across Pepe Reina’s goal and in off the far post to notch his sixth goal for the club since he inherited Rocky’s old shirt.

While Liverpool continued to press, we stood relatively firm – although Williamson was perhaps slightly fortunate to get away with some fairly close marking of Rocky at a set piece, and Danny Simpson cleared the ball off the line from a corner with what looked like his upper arm rather than shoulder. Thankfully, both referee and linesman were unsighted, so no penalty was forthcoming on either occasion. On a side note, I’ve lost count of the number of goal-line clearances Danny Simpson has managed this season, but his approach to defending set pieces is a heartwarming addition to the team (and a far cry from the Little Waster’s attempts in the past).

Neither side made personnel changes at the break, but I expected Liverpool to seek to capitalise on Spidermag’s inexperience at left-back. However, in truth Liverpool barely troubled us after the interval. With HBA, Demba Ba and Cisse all looking lively for us, a second goal always seemed to be on the cards and it arrived after a fine run by HBA. His ball fed Ba, who crossed to the on-rushing HBA, who looked to get the slightest of touches out to Cisse (who had been in an offside position in the build-up) and our new number nine kept his cool to cut inside and side-foot the ball into the net and make it seven goals in seven games.

From there Kenny Dalglish pulled off both the No-Necked Text Pest and Rocky, the latter last seen storming down the tunnel in disgust. Liverpool huffed and puffed, but on the odd occasion when they managed to break forward they found both Williamson and Perchinho in fine form, the latter producing one excellent block when Suarez was well placed to shoot.

The final blow came towards the end, when Big Lad won a corner. The ball was swung in and eventually fell to Reina. The Reds 'keeper grasped it as Perchinho swept in, leaving his foot in after the ball had been gathered to concede a free kick. Seemingly incensed by the foul, Reina reacted badly and looked to aim a head-butt at Perchinho, which prompted our man to fling himself to the floor. While the headbutt made minimal contact, the referee was left with no option but to send off Reina (and book Perchinho for the original foul). Our visitors having used all three of their subs, Jose Enrique was pressed into service as an emergency goalkeeper.

Disappointingly, we weren’t able to test him, but equally we never looked remotely troubled as we kept the ball calmly and saw the match out to complete a comprehensive victory over an incredibly expensively assembled team of misfiring old boys.

As the ground reverberated to chants of "Jose Enrique, we’re in the top six", Enrique must have regretted his tweet "The club will never again fight to be among the top 6 again with this policy". Ironically for us the biggest negative is likely to be Reina’s red card, with the Spaniard now ruled out of Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final against Everton (which we could do with them winning).

The win saw us pull ten points clear of Everton who now occupy seventh spot, and put us back level with Chelsea in fifth. Plaudits all round, with only the sight of Guthrie clutching his calf a slight cause for concern. Massive credit must go to our back four and Krul for the clean sheet, with Williamson and Perchinho both deserving of hearty praise. While we may have been critical of both in the past, yesterday they were excellent and it speaks volumes for the coaching staff that the sight of Perchinho running out as part of the team no longer sends a shudder down my spine the way it once did.

A Liverpool fan's perspective: Liverpool Football Club Blog (whose author couldn't bear to write up his side's sixth Premier League defeat in seven and instead just listed his five favourite sea creatures...)

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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