Friday, November 30, 2012

Kicked in the potteries

Stoke City 2 - 1 Newcastle Utd

Of all the places that we could have gone on the back of a terrible run of results and the nadir of our performance against Southamption, the last option on the list would probably be the Britannia Stadium.

With further injuries mounting after our last match, the Silver Fox was able to welcome back Sideshow Bob for the the hamstrung Saylor and also bring back Perchinho into central midfield.

Hearteningly, what transpired in the first half was a committed performance in which we more than matched the home side in a display as far removed from the insipid game at the weekend as possible. Sideshow Bob's clash of heads with Peter Crouch saw the shit Andy Carroll depart the field and head straight for bed to make a small fortune from the tooth fairy. The closest either side came to a goal was Mike Williamson deflecting the ball onto our own post.

Unchanged at half time, we managed to nick a goal when Mr T won the ball in midfield and passed it to Demba Ba. Our in-form striker strode forward and launched a thirty-yard shot at goal, which Begovic couldn't hold and Papiss Cisse was on hand to slot the rebound home and give us a lead.

As the second half unfolded, while we came under pressure, we continued to look solid with both Cisse and Ba seeing shots well saved by Begovic as we sought to catch Stoke on the break. Unfortunately, we then contrived to take our eye well and truly off the ball and with ten minutes left of the game conceded two goals in quick succession, both of which could have been avoided with some better defending.

Firstly we allowed Jon Walters too much time on the ball and he flicked the ball out wide for substitute Cameron Jerome. Again we failed to close him down and his cross was met by Walters to nod a free header past Krul (a free header because nobody tracked the run). With our lead gone we suddenly looked shaky and minutes later ex-Mackem Kenwyne Jones beat Williamson to a header, knocking the ball down into the path of the onrushing Jerome to slot home a winner. All the more galling was the fact that when the long ball was fired forward Jerome had been ten yards behind Sideshow Bob, only to accelerate away from him as our returning captain was caught ball-watching.

From there, with limited options on the bench, the Silver Fox was left to scrape the bottom of the barrel and throw on the Lone Ranger for a five minute burst in place of Cisse.

Looking for positives, apart from a five-minute spell in which we forgot how to defend, we actually played pretty well. Perchinho returned to fitness (albeit managing to pick up the booking which rules him out of the Wigan game) and Sideshow Bob also came back into the side. Cisse scored a goal which can only help his confidence and Vurnon Anita again enjoyed a decent game.

However, we still lost and the Wigan game is definitely one from which we need to get something.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

More rain on our parade

It never rains but it pours - in both a literal and a metaphorical sense. While the elements continue to vent their fury on the country, fate is doing much the same to our squad. The latest casualty is Saylor, who picked a hamstring injury to match HBA's in Sunday's dismal defeat at St Mary's and who joins the queue for a bed in the treatment room. At least he'll be in good company for his two-month lay-off - Dreamboat's out of action until the start of February too...

Our consolation as regards Saylor's absence is that Sideshow Bob is now suspension-free and James Perch is also available again after injury. The question now is whether those hardy individuals who are actually fit can produce the goods on a literal wet Wednesday night in Stoke. We triumphed at the Britannia last season courtesy of a Demba Ba hat-trick, and so it's good to know that he's one of our very few in-form players. How we could do with a repeat - Villa's late win over Reading last night leaves us just three points clear of the relegation zone.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Continental drift

Whatever Schteve McLaren can do, ASBO can do better, it seems. Here's our former midfielder speaking to the French media after his Ligue 1 debut for Marseille. Only a matter of time before the esteemed philosopher breaks into "When ze zeagulls follow ze trawler..."

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Long way down

Southampton 2 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Fitting, I suppose, that it was on a jaunt to the bottom of the country that we sank to new depths. No one could reasonably claim that we were playing well this season even with a full complement of players (injury- and suspension-free), but the previous two performances had been very poor and there's no disguising that this one was significantly worse. The simply truth is that a newly promoted side who had endured a terrible start to life back in the Premier League could and should have beaten us, Champions League contenders last time out, by five or six goals without reply.

There was positive pre-kick-off news for the Silver Fox, facing his old side for the first time since his sacking. Papiss Cisse recovered from his knock against Maritimo, the precautionary substitution paying off, while Spidermag was fit again to captain the side as Sideshow Bob completed the final game of his ban. However, HBA's hamstring injury meant a start for Fergie on the left side of midfield, and, just to underline the paucity of our options at present, the Lone Ranger took his place on the bench.

A Demba Ba header aside, we started sluggishly against a home side buoyed by the win over QPR that condemned Mark Hughes to unemployment, and it wasn't long before Tim Krul was called into action. First he saved a Gaston Ramirez free-kick and then blocked from one-time Toon target Jason Puncheon. Ramirez and Krul were to be central protagonists in the unfolding drama.

Our Dutch 'keeper was a mere spectator when Rickie Lambert's free-kick pinged up off the angle of crossbar and post, but certainly was culpable when the Saints took the lead. Lackadaisical defensive pressure - a feature of our display all afternoon - gave Lambert the opportunity to hit a long ball over the top for Puncheon. Krul did well to reach the ball but should have planted it into the stand. Instead, the lame clearance was seized upon by Nathaniel Clyne, whose volley goalwards was awkwardly headed away by Mike Williamson, only to be collected by Ramirez. The Uruguayan fed Adam Lallana and his close-range poke ended up in the net despite a desperate slide on the line from Williamson.

The Silver Fox took action at half-time, replacing Fergie with Little Big Lad, but the latter had negligible impact, though we did show fleeting signs of improvement. Vurnon Anita squandered an excellent opportunity to equalise, racing on to Cisse's through-ball but seeing his shot kept out by the rat-tailed Paulo Gazzaniga.

That brief fightback resisted, Southampton then extended their lead and once again a combination of defensive sloppiness and Krul was to blame. Puncheon was allowed to collect Lallana's backheel and drive it across the six-yard box, where Krul's parry presented it to Ramirez to wallop home.

Realistically the game was over from that point, and we could have had no complaints if our hosts had added to their tally - Krul made further saves, Puncheon struck the foot of the post (Krul lucky the ball rebounded to safety rather than off his back and in), Jose Fonte crashed a header against the bar with Danny Simpson leaping salmon-like in vain, and, having buried a shot, substitute Jay Rodriguez was harshly judged offside.

For his part, Ba kept on plugging away but we again looked pathetically short of creativity and our best effort came from Davide Santon, his thumping header from Simpson's cross brilliantly clawed away by Gazzaniga.

Our embarrassment was only increased by the fact that this was the Saints' first clean sheet of the season, and they did us the favour of starting with Maya Yoshida who up until now had apparently been coveting the title of the division's most hapless defender. It's a measure of our predicament that Nigel Adkins' side - until recently considered to be in real relegation trouble - have now won as many games as us (three), and we sit just four points above the dreaded horizontal line. We hadn't lost three on the spin since the meltdown that followed King Kev's departure in September 2008 - and we all remember how that ended. Meanwhile, West Brom have nearly double our points tally and sit pretty in third...

Of course, when you're in a rut, turning in gutless, spineless performances on a regular basis, the very last place you want to visit is Stoke. So it's off to the Britannia Stadium we go, then...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Quote of the day

"Nile Ranger has been handed a chance to resurrect his Newcastle United career after being included in Alan Pardew's squad for Sunday's trip to Southampton. And the striker - who started his career with the Saints before moving to Tyneside - has revealed how a new, improved attitude and work ethic has put him back into senior contention following his return from injury this month."

Over on the official club site, the Lone Ranger convinces himself that the reason he's back in sort-of-favour is all down to his personal efforts at rehabilitation and nothing whatsoever to do with our acute injury crisis.

Perhaps his inclusion in the squad is just the Silver Fox playing mind games, though. Lest we forget, our errant striker was on Southampton's books for a year between 2007 and 2008, during which time he served an eleven-week sentence in a young offender's institute for his involvement in an armed street robbery - so the Saints are hardly likely to welcome the sight of him...

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Friday, November 23, 2012

A hollow triumph

Newcastle Utd 1 - 1 Maritimo

Yay! Qualification for the knock-out stages of the Europa League guaranteed, with one game to spare! But excuse me if I'm not exactly swinging from the rafters with joy. This was hardly much to celebrate - a third successive home game against supposedly inferior opposition which we failed to win, and two more key first teamers added to the increasingly ridiculous injury list. I've refused to swallow the theory that says our Thursday evening commitments have blighted our league form thus far this season, but there's no doubt that last night was one we could have done without.

With Sideshow Bob's ban only extending to domestic fixtures, the Silver Fox had the luxury of naming a first-choice back five. Vurnon Anita and Master T were paired in the centre (Mr T missing out through suspension) and Papiss Cisse returned up front, with HBA, Little Big Lad and Sylvain Marveaux given licence to float around and create the chances.

Our visitors began brightest but were restricted to efforts from distance and when we decided to wake up and look lively it wasn't long before the lead was ours. Davide Santon - once again arguably our best attacker all night - forced Maritimo 'keeper Romain Salin into a save before HBA took charge. One graceful dart took him past several opponents only to be foiled by a heavy touch in the box. Not to be disheartened, however, he then promptly played an incisive ball into Marveaux whose superb touch took him away from the defender and, bearing down upon goal, he coolly fired it between Salin's legs. The glum-faced Frenchman seemed to celebrate his first goal in black and white more with relief than delight.

We came close to doubling our advantage when Master T's shot was blocked and Cisse drove home the rebound left-footed under the 'keeper's body only for a very marginal offside decision to rule it out. That proved to be something of a turning point, with HBA having tweaked his hamstring in setting up the shooting opportunity for Master T.

That was five minutes before the break, and worse was to follow five minutes after the restart, with Cisse - who had looked much more like his lively old self - also withdrawn through injury. The performance of his replacement Romain Amalfitano proved typical of our second half - lots of energy but no quality or control. As the game wore on, we ceded ground and therefore the initiative to a side who are hardly pulling up any trees in their homeland, overdribbling with the ball to waste valuable possession and then chasing shadows in trying to tackle back. At a time when we really need our squad players to show their worth, neither Little Big Lad nor Marveaux did themselves justice.

While it's true that we could have extended our lead had Little Big Lad not prodded a great chance wide or Ba connected with a Santon cross from the left, we can't argue that Maritimo's equaliser was unforeseeable. Unlike the Silver Fox, when the Portuguese side's manager Pedro Martins made a substitution it was tactical - and the decision to throw on Fidelis on the hour certainly paid dividends. Tim Krul, largely a spectator in the first half, had had his palms stung on at least two occasions and also watched a Sami header flash wide before the Brazilian striker burst past Saylor into the area and drilled the ball through Krul's legs.

It was the visitors' first goal away from home in the competition this season - and it could easily have been worse, had the same linesman whose flag chalked off Cisse's first-half effort not signalled to do the same to Fidelis' finish. The Brazilian had yet another chance to snatch it at the death, but hit a tame far-post volley that bounced harmlessly wide with Krul a bystander and the fans' hearts in mouths.

Bordeaux's victory in Bruges meant the point was enough to ensure progress, but that wasn't sufficient to appease those in the paltry sub-22,000 crowd who greeted the final whistle with muted boos. This could - and indeed should - have been a morale-boosting victory ahead of Sunday's trip to the south coast. Instead we once again underlined our brittleness and lack of form, and suffered further casualties to boot.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Best Ba none?

Hot on the heels of HBA's shortlisting for FIFA's Puskas Award (have you voted for him yet, and if not, why not?!) comes the news that another Toon player is up for a major accolade. Congratulations to Demba Ba for being shortlisted for the BBC's African Footballer of the Year award.

After a free-scoring start to his Newcastle career, Ba had to play a wider, more withdrawn, self-sacrificial role upon the arrival of compatriot Papiss Cisse - but, while Cisse has struggled thus far this campaign, he has once again been banging them in with pleasing regularity. Where we'd be without him and his goals doesn't really bear thinking about.

So, if you haven't given him your vote already, what are you waiting for? We all know how much he loves crosses in boxes...



Quote of the day

"During your career you meet a lot of people and you play for a lot of clubs but not many can stay in your heart. Newcastle will always be in my heart."

Pavel is (still) a Geordie.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Silverware for HBA's sublime goal?

Something to offset HBA's disappointment at our worrying recent slump in form: his phenomenal FA Cup goal against Blackburn in January has been shortlisted for FIFA's Puskas Award for the best goal of 2012. The Frenchman is the only English-based player to receive a nomination, and in truth he could have featured in the shortlist twice, his strike at home to Bolton in the spring equally superb. Meanwhile, poor old Papiss Cisse - struggling in front of goal and barred from playing against Swansea by the spiteful Senegalese FA - receives no international recognition for THAT goal against Chelsea...

So, what are HBA's chances of winning? Well, there are some fabulous goals in there, and he's up against the likes of Lionel Messi and Radamel Falcao, but I'd say he's certainly in with a good shout - plus Neymar's effort should be automatically disallowed on the grounds that he models his haircut on Limahl of Kajagoogoo. Head here before 29th November if you want to show our boy some love.

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Testicles, trysts, rookies and recommendations

Given the disspiriting defeat at home to West Ham, perhaps getting bitten or stung into action was just what we needed - so last week's I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here theme day (in honour of Ant and Dec, of course) was arguably well-timed. Sadly it didn't have the desired effect, as we lost at St James' Park again on Saturday with a performance about as pleasurable as chowing down on some kangaroo bollocks...

Meanwhile, in other news, Danny Simpson appears to be in danger of being distracted by off-field personal drama, dating X-Factor judge Tulisa while his girlfriend is pregnant with their second child. Just a thought, Danny, but given your contract situation I'd be very much concentrating on your football...

Away from St James', everyone's favourite trumpet-playing Peruvian love rat Nobby Solano has been working miracles back in his homeland, taking Universitario from relegation to the brink of qualification for the Copa Libertadores. Maybe Hartlepool, where he ended his playing career, might regret not considering his managerial application at greater length.

And finally, Blackburn's former Toon defender Bradley Orr has admitted that his loan move to Ipswich was inspired by Sir Bobby Robson - proof that the great man continues to have an influence from beyond the grave. Not that he got off to the best of starts, not escaping public criticism from manager Mick McCarthy following the Tractor Boys' 6-0 thrashing at Leicester...

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A void to avoid

More news of the sort we definitely didn't want in view of our current predicament: it looks as though Dreamboat may not kick a ball for the first team again until the new year. That leaves us desperately short of creative options in central midfield, what with Spidermag himself struggling with injury, Haris Vuckic already on the list of long-term absentees and Sylvain Marveaux yet to really convince in the role. One thing's for certain - trying to rely on Mr T to provide that spark, as we frequently did on Saturday, would be ludicrous.



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sunk by Swans

Newcastle Utd 1 - 2 Swansea City

Wasted chances, sloppy play and a shortage of resources all contributed to a thoroughly dispiriting display at home to Swansea on Saturday at St James' Park.

Up front, deprived of Papiss Cisse thanks to a falling-out with the Senegalese FA, and unable to utilise Big Lad for the full 90 minutes after his late-starting international career, the Silver Fox handed a start to Little Big Lad as part of a front three with HBA and Demba Ba. In midfield, with Spidermag and Dreamboat absent, it was Vurnon Anita and Fergie who were alongside Mr T, while the defence was again deprived of the suspended Sideshow Bob and the team was this time captained by Saylor.

While we showed some initial signs of promise, the attacking threat fell largely to HBA and Ba, with the former hitting the side netting with a shot and the latter glancing a header wide from a fine HBA cross.

Frustratingly, while HBA in particular looked to carry a creative threat, without the ball we looked pedestrian and too often allowed Swansea to look menacing on the counter-attack.

Goalless at halftime, the Silver Fox introduced Big Lad for Fergie in a bid to give us a greater attacking threat and for a time that looked like it might, only for defensive lapses to undermine us. Firstly Krul hit a terrible clearance kick out to Pablo Hernandez whose cross found the onrushing and exasperatingly unmarked Michu to knock home a goal for the visitors.

While we continued to press for a way back into the match, it was another sucker punch which ultimately did for us, with Krul only able to parry Danny Graham's shot and Jonathan de Guzman free to slot home the rebound with Anita ball-watching when he should have been tracking the run.

Finally, with seconds remaining, HBA again got to the byline and fired the ball across for onrushing substitute Sylvain Marveaux to smash the ball against the bar from six yards - with Ba  on hand to nod home the rebound. However, by that stage it was a case of too little too late, and another three points lost.

What is evident is that, if not a club in crisis, we're certainly struggling to manage the additional fixtures which last season's successes have brought us, and feeling the force of both injuries and suspensions. It's at this point that the Silver Fox needs to find something, anything, to get some positivity back in our play and justify his eight-year contract.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Big Lad, big headache for the Silver Fox

Congratulations to Big Lad, who on Wednesday evening belatedly made his full international bow at the age of 31 - and for the country of his birth, Nigeria, rather than England. He never had the opportunity to team up with former Toon colleague Obafemi Martins, instead finding himself as Martins' replacement, but did manage to set up the Super Eagles' third and final goal in the victory over Venezuela. Having felt "honoured" by the experience, he's now hoping he's done enough to force his way into Stephen Keshi's Africa Cup of Nations squad. The Silver Fox could be forgiven for hoping otherwise.

Elsewhere, the domestically suspended Sideshow Bob helped Argentina keep a clean sheet against the mighty Saudi Arabia and, from a club perspective, it was a relief that Mr T, Davide Santon and Tim Krul spent all evening on the benches for their respective countries. However, the fact that Dreamboat didn't feature in France's win over Santon's Italy was less worthy of celebration - his absence due to an injury that might rule him out of tomorrow's visit of Swansea. With Spidermag having limped out of last weekend's disappointing home defeat to Fat Sam's West Ham, we suddenly look very light in central and attacking midfield areas.

A further source of frustration is that Papiss Cisse might also miss out due to administrative error. He withdrew from the Senegal squad for their friendly with Niger (as did Demba Ba) with a slight back injury, but it seems that the communication never reached the national team's coach and now they're threatening to bar us from playing him. It could only happen to us...

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Local hero?

Of all the people making the football headlines of late, Peter Herbert has been arguably the most prominent - and the most surprising. One of the interesting things to emerge from BBC correspondent Dan Roan's profile of the chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers is that Herbert comes from Ashington. Before anyone gets too excited and hails him as a proud, outspoken, straight-talking Geordie, though, it's worth noting that "the teenage Herbert was the victim of merciless verbal and physical racial abuse, an ordeal that helps to explain his subsequent determination to speak out against discrimination at every opportunity". Not such happy memories of a childhood in the North East, then.

Roan's article strikes the right note, I think. Herbert has been pilloried as a deluded maverick crusader blundering around in a world he doesn't understand and as an energetic self-publicist eager to manufacture outrage or make inflammatory claims. There is probably some truth in that - and yet it's nevertheless also true that he has set about asking some tough but necessary questions of the football establishment with regard to its attitude towards race and racism. Provocative he may be, but maybe that's exactly what's needed when Kick It Out find themselves woefully underfunded and overstretched, and when few people seem to have batted an eyelid at John Terry being handed only a four-game ban for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand.



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Nolan strikes Hammers' blow

Newcastle Utd 0 - 1 West Ham

I'd love to say that, having taken a couple of days to calm down and reflect, this result becomes any more palatable, but it doesn't.

In a pretty terrible performance, we allowed old boy Kevin Nolan to pop up unmarked at the back post to score the decisive goal in a game which allowed Fat Sam to wear a nauseating smug grin in his post-match interviews, and doubtless any post-match meeting with Jabba.

I used to think that Mark Lawrenson had the face which I most wanted to punch until my knuckles were a bloodied pulp (a la Karate Kid III), but no, Fat Sam is now firmly at the top of that particular list.

That we allowed the fat twat to be so smug is another shining example of the post-Europa League hangover which we've nursed throughout our European campaign to date. Once again, and despite wholesale changes to the team, we looked lethargic and took the majority of the first half to rouse ourselves from our stupor.

Sadly, by that time, we'd conceded a goal, with Nolan (played upfront with ex-roomie Rocky) able to redirect Joey O'Brien's misdirected shot past a helpless Tim Krul. (Fair play to Nolan for having the decency not to celebrate his goal.)

At the other end, while HBA looked lively, we currently look over-reliant on Demba Ba and if he doesn't score we struggle. With only really HBA, Dreamboat (to an extent) and Ba firing it's always going to be a problem if we're chasing a game.

Frustratingly, we struggled to really threaten Jussi Jaaskelainen's goal, and with the exception of a Ba header in the second half, which replays suggested may have fully crossed the line before being clawed away, we didn't really look like creating many chances inside the box, our second best chance being HBA's attempt to score direct from a corner which saw Jaaskelainen push the ball unconvincingly over the bar.

With old boys a-plenty on both sides of the pitch, it was Nolan who made the difference. Thankfully it wasn't a double blow, with Rocky seeing a good effort well saved by Krul in the second half, but despite some late pressure which saw Krul nearly get on the end of an HBA cross at the death we couldn't get the equaliser.

In addition to the defeat, we also lost Spidermag to injury and he was later reported to be undergoing an X-ray, so full news of the damage is still awaited.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Newcastle reunited?

Oh for those halcyon days of assault charges, torched cars, riotous parties and someone doing regular chicken impressions for reasons best known to himself. The Silver Fox seems to have gone all dewy-eyed at the prospect of bringing Rocky and his mentor/guardian Kevin Nolan back to St James' Park from tomorrow's opponents West Ham. We presumably also had scouts watching this chap ASBO score direct from a corner for Marseille in the Europa League on Thursday. And while we're at it, I wonder what Little Saint Mick, the Little Waster and Alan Smith are up to these days?

All joking aside, it's a bit embarrassing. It's undeniable that Rocky and Nolan did well for us, but we've moved on since then and re-signing either of them would be a significant step backwards - Rocky because his physical presence up front would take our current forward-thinking style back to the dark ages (or the golden ages as they're known to Fat Sam), and Nolan because he'll very soon be past it.

While the Silver Fox enthused about Rocky's abilities, he did also suggest that bringing him back would be a way of repaying a "great debt": "The position we are in, if I'm honest, is because we used the money from Andy's sale well". Needless to say, being grateful to him for raising enough revenue to improve the playing squad is not a reason to re-sign him. Of course, the acknowledgement that the squad has improved in his absence doesn't mean we don't need further reinforcements and acquisitions - but neither our Scouse former skipper nor the man whose diary contains as many court appearances as the Lone Ranger's are the answer.

They will now both score against us, of course.

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Friday, November 09, 2012

Sloppy and slack but comeback knack is back

Club Bruges 2 - 2 Newcastle Utd

The Silver Fox may have declared himself "delighted" overall, and perhaps I should be more grateful for the fact that we fought back from two goals down to earn yet another draw - but, against a managerless side on a five-game losing streak, this felt like a missed opportunity to record a decisive victory.

Mr T and Sideshow Bob both featured in the starting line-up, their domestic bans not extending to European competition, while Tim Krul, Mike Williamson and Big Lad also formed a first-team backbone. Vurnon Anita and James Tavernier filled the full-back positions, with Master T accompanying his mentor in central midfield and Sylvain Marveaux, Obertan Kenobi and Little Big Lad supporting the man Nigeria might want to take to the Africa Cup of Nations. Though the Xisco Kid got to make the trip, he didn't make the matchday squad.

Kenobi's previous two displays in this competition had suggested it was very much his stage on which to perform and, starting out on the left as he did against Bordeaux, he created our first chance, cutting inside his full-back with encouraging ease but pulling his drive wide of the near post. Our second opportunity fell to the Frenchman too, Big Lad's clever flick sending him in on goal but his low shot couldn't evade the solid left palm of Bruges 'keeper Bojan Jorgacevic.

Having dominated the early exchanges and given the impression that a hatful of goals may have been on offer against demoralised opponents, it was a rude surprise when they took the lead. As on Sunday, a relatively routine ball over the top found Sideshow Bob isolated with his man, Ivan Trickovski showing neat control to bamboozle our skipper before finishing clinically past Krul.

And no sooner had we conceded our first goal in the tournament than we'd conceded our second. Tavernier had started well enough, but a poor headed clearance to the edge of the area allied with some unhurried closing-down allowed Dane Jesper Jorgensen to bobble a weak if well-directed shot into the bottom left-hand corner of Krul's net.

Cue much grumbling and headshaking at our apparent complacency and uncharacteristic sloppiness - which was only magnified when Marveaux managed a spectacular miskick when teed up perfectly on the edge of the six-yard area.

In fairness to Marveaux, however, he didn't dwell on the error and instead used it as a prompt to improve dramatically, exhibiting a neat range of tricks and passing and also delivering some dangerous left-footed balls into the box. While he was floating around behind Big Lad, our two other attacking midfielders Little Big Lad and Kenobi switched wings, presumably at the Silver Fox's instruction - an odd move, as Kenobi in particular was rendered far less effective as a result.

Big Lad saw a header tipped behind by Jorgacevic, but we remained permanently at risk of being caught out at the back, with Carlos Bacca a lively nuisance and Sideshow Bob as shaky as he was at Anfield - mystifying after that imperious display down at the Dark Place. Mr T, meanwhile, picked up the yellow card to add a European ban to his domestic one.

Just as we were resigning ourselves to a 2-0 half-time deficit, though, Anita punished slack defending, shaping himself perfectly and lashing a glorious looping volley past Jorgacevic from the right corner of the penalty area.

A goal out of nothing - and it was to get even better before the break. Anita was involved again, his pass finding Kenobi back on the left wing. When the ball was offloaded to Little Big Lad he charged forwards and fed his brother, who held off a defender and toe-poked a shot that might have been heading wide were it not for a deflection off Jorgacevic's leg.

All square at the interval, then - improbably so, and, after the end-to-end incident of the first half, it was equally improbable that the second period would be goalless. But that's the way it panned out.

For much of the first 45 minutes we has been eager to hear the half-time whistle, but, following those two quickfire goals, we soon wished it hadn't come at all, struggling to rediscover our momentum after the break. Big Lad continued to cause Bruges' back line aerial problems and had a shot well saved, but it was Bacca who wasted the best headed chance, knocking it well over the bar having exploited a disjointedness in the centre of our defence following Williamson's departure through injury. With Sideshow Bob suspended and Perchinho already on the treatment table, the Silver Fox will be sincerely hoping it's nothing too serious.

Little Big Lad was gradually having more influence, apparently given increasing licence to drift around, but Marveaux (apart from a curling shot just over) and Kenobi had faded. Nevertheless, the Silver Fox's decision to leave them on and instead remove Master T was the right one, the young apprentice's distribution having been largely appalling even if his work rate couldn't be faulted. His replacement Dreamboat almost had an instant impact, hitting the top corner of the goal frame with a free-kick. Deliberate or overhit cross? Probably the latter, in truth.

That was to be the last time we really threatened the Bruges goal, though - our slackening-off and the Silver Fox's refusal to call upon Cisse baffling given that, with Bordeaux beating Maritimo in France, another goal would have secured the points needed to qualify from the group with two games to spare. We may have clearly been the superior side in terms of quality, yet we still looked vulnerable on the break, Krul making a decent save from dangerous substitute Mohammed Tchite as we sleepwalked towards the full-time whistle.

A flurry of very late corners put the pressure back on Bruges, but we couldn't force the winner that we should have pushed for sooner and didn't really deserve.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Off the hook

Good news for the Lone Ranger, who's been found not guilty of criminal damage. The charge was dropped when a magistrates' court accepted the explanation that he kicked his girlfriend's door in as he thought she might have been kidnapped. Nevertheless, he was bound over to keep the peace or he'll be liable to a fine of a week's wages. Let's just see how long that lasts...



Where the Super Eagles dare

Congratulations (I guess) to Big Lad, who's won himself a call-up to the Nigeria squad for next week's friendly against Venezuela in Miami, where he might find himself paired with former Toon teammate Obafemi Martins.

It would be uncharitable not to be pleased for the player at the prospect of getting a full international cap at the age of 31. However, the timing isn't ideal, what with Papiss Cisse yet to hit his goalscoring stride and Demba Ba apparently carrying a knock that will keep him out of tonight's match in Belgium. Furthermore, the danger now is that we lose Big Lad to the Africa Cup of Nations in January (though admittedly his absence would be mitigated by the fact that both Ba and Cisse are both staying put on Tyneside).

Big Lad is likely to be the centre of attention tonight, when (as the Silver Fox has confirmed) he lines up alongside Little Big Lad in the starting line-up for the first time - also the first time two brothers have turned out for us since the Robledos in the 50s.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Quote of the day

"J'ai bataillé pour partir à Newcastle, le président (du LOSC Michel Seydou) n'a pas voulu. Je n'ai pas voulu aller au clash... Oui, j'étais déçu. J'espère qu'il y aura d'autres opportunités... L'épisode est passé, maintenant je suis à 200 % pour le LOSC... Je n'ai pas envie de partir pour partir, je voulais aller à Newcastle, l'année  prochaine ce n'est pas sûr que je parte."

Long-time target Mathieu Debuchy admits to being disappointed that his summer transfer to Tyneside didn't happen, but - though ruling out a January move - is still optimistic that there might be further opportunities. You and Dreamboat both, mate.



What's in a name?

Anyone else slightly bemused (and more besides) at the fact that the official online club shop is selling a T-shirt proudly bearing the slogan "Always St James'"?



A Month Of Saturdays: October 2012

"Money, money, money / Must be funny / In a rich man's world", sang those esteemed economic philosophers ABBA back in 1976. Well, in October it wasn't so much Jabba's money as his decisions about money and its source that proved "funny" (that's funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha, in case you're wondering).

First came the announcement that we'd cut short the quick-fix shirt sponsorship deal with Virgin Money, with Llambiarse frothing excitedly about having "a new sponsorship partner" already lined up and that it would be "an excellent commercial deal for both parties". And then came the revelation of the identity of said sponsorship partner: Wonga, a payday loan company who stand accused of at very least making money from the vulnerable and at the worst actively and unscrupulously exploit them for financial gain. Any funds we receive will be automatically tainted, their provenance quite clear. Another instance of ingloriously tarnishing our own reputation to add to the already lengthy list.

Some fans airily dismissed any ethical considerations, as is often disappointingly the case in these situations, and it's true that we could perhaps have hardly expected any better knowing that the club will do pretty much anything for a bit of cash - including attempting to flog an embarrassingly awful range of fancy dress outfits. But Paul and I clung to principles and each voiced our distaste for the deal separately, while the developments spurred NUST into a flurry of activity. It was cynical of them to capitalise on disaffection, some might say, but that doesn't detract from the fact that fan representation remains a noble aim, one worth pursuing, and I was robust in my defence of the Trust and its work.

One thing about which the Trust and its members can't really complain is the cost of visiting the ground once again officially known as St James' Park. The results of the BBC's annual Price of Football survey made for fascinating reading, revealing that we provide the cheapest day out of any club in the top tier, and one cheaper than many teams at lower levels. The club should be commended for offering significantly reduced prices for home games in the Europa League - there were two in October, both of which gave good value for money.

The first foreign visitors were in-form Bordeaux. The French outfit may have been unbeaten in their previous 17 matches, but from the kick-off they were no match for even a sub-strength Newcastle side, who emerged as 3-0 victors. Papiss Cisse notched his second goal of the campaign, but equally pleasing was the display of Obertan Kenobi, his best in black and white, which included a lovely assist for the two-yard tap-in with which Big Lad gave us the lead.

A fortnight later, and the Frenchman was again a key figure, this time scoring the only goal as we defeated a neat and tidy Bruges side who were, at the time, topping their domestic table. Little Big Lad caught the eye in particular, superbly setting up Kenobi for his strike early in the second period and menacing the Belgian defence on countless other occasions. The only real negative was that Haris Vuckic - the player whose goal carried us through into the group stage - didn't get an opportunity to strut his stuff too, the Slovenian attacking midfielder desperately unlucky to have been ruled out for the rest of the season with a cruciate ligament injury.

Three clean sheets out of three in Europe, then - but unfortunately things didn't go quite so smoothly in domestic competition. When Taggart's troupe rolled into town three days after Bordeaux had been summarily dispatched, sadly there was to be no repeat of last season's battering - indeed, the reverse was true. I subsequently speculated (with tongue lodged firmly in cheek) that the result may have been a case of the curse of the Ronny Gill striking again, but the truth was rather more prosaic - our makeshift backline gifted Red Devil defenders Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra goals from corners in the first half, and the knock-out blow was struck by Tom Cleverley's freakish curler in the second.

The international break afforded us time to regroup and refocus - though, with our return to action being the derby, it also meant a protracted build-up. Acting like a boy poking at a wasps' nest with a big stick, Saylor did his best to inflame passions, declaring he'd rather take up philately than pull on a red and white shirt and claiming that no Mackems were good enough for a place in the Newcastle team. It also emerged that Sunderland couldn't even trust the vociferousness of their own supporters, having opted to move the visiting fans away from pitchside and into an upper tier in what was an ultimately futile attempt to ensure they didn't drown out the drab encouragements offered by the slackjaws in the home end.

When the game finally arrived, it took us all of three minutes to take the lead, Dreamboat driving home to cement his place in our affections. The assignment got much tougher when Mr T's ill discipline resulted in his first red card for the club, but we battled on in defence of our advantage almost right until the end, with captain Sideshow Bob turning in a display that in years to come should be the stuff of legend. We couldn't quite hold out, however, and after a five-goal haul in September, Demba Ba won't have been pleased to break his October duck with an own goal, unwitting though it was. Good of him to take pity on the Mackems, though - they weren't going to score by their own means. With precious few minutes left on the clock, there wasn't time to regain the lead - and, in any case, our derby talisman was nowhere to be seen, a disgruntled Big Lad last seen sulking off down the tunnel having been withdrawn after Mr T's sending-off to allow Perchinho to reestablish a protective shield in front of the back four.

Our Ivory Coast enforcer didn't just have Big Lad looking daggers at him afterwards - there was no escaping a stern talking-to from his manager either. Still, the consequent three-match ban did mean we'd be able to get accustomed to life without his steely presence ahead of his involvement in the African Cup of Nations in the new year - an involvement secured amidst riotous scenes in Senegal and subsequently confirmed.

That play-off defeat for the Senegalese, however, ensured that we wouldn't be simultaneously deprived of the services of Messrs Ba and Cisse. An undisputedly good thing, as they then proved by both scoring in the somewhat fortuitous St James' Park victory over a slick West Brom. Following his derby day disappointment, Ba found the net at the right end, Big Lad's flicked header allowing him to blast past Ben Foster. Substitute Cisse's injury-time winner, coming after Romelu Lukaku had equalised at the third time of asking, very definitely fell into the "They All Count" category, deflecting Little Big Lad's shot off his back and beyond a wrongfooted Foster. Chelsea away it was not.

With the January transfer window moving gradually into view, October offered welcome evidence that some of our key players feel comfortable and settled on Tyneside: a French mini-documentary on Dreamboat showed the French clique looking relaxed and cheerful, while one of its number HBA talked of his relationship with the club in terms of "marriage".

But another employee of the club - I hesitate to call him a player - continued to lead a troubled and troubling existence. Only the Lone Ranger could manage to have quite such an eventful month without actually kicking a ball. The self-confessed "assh*le" was found guilty of assaulting a pair of police officers (even though it was accepted there were mitigating circumstances) and yet misguidedly seemed to believe he'd been exonerated. A deeply frustrated Silver Fox then publicly criticised him for his attitude and persistent tardiness - only for it to be reported a few days later that he'd even contrived to be late for a meeting discussing said attitude and persistent tardiness. He's like Mario Balotelli without a shred of the talent.

Strange things can happen - the Xisco Kid managing to muster a hat-trick in black and white (albeit for the Reserves), a prominent national journalist honouring his word to swim across the Tyne if Jabba gave serious and sustained backing to the Silver Fox - but none would be stranger than the Lone Ranger somehow finding redemption and finding a way back into the first-team frame. Of all the financial misjudgements Jabba's made during his time on Tyneside (the Wonga deal being the latest), handing our errant forward a long-term deal has to be one of the most foolish.



Monday, November 05, 2012

Dreamboat dazzles but victory denied

Liverpool 1 - 1 Newcastle Utd

A 1-1 draw away from home with Dreamboat giving us the lead, only for us to hand an equaliser and a man advantage to a poor side - sound familiar? This time Sideshow Bob - the undisputed hero against the Mackems - was the guilty man, though the otherwise impressive Spidermag should also hang his head in shame at the wayward distribution which ultimately allowed the Scousers to score. This is the worst Liverpool side in living memory and their usual talisman, Phil Collins fan Steven Gerrard, was woeful on what was his 600th appearance for the club, so it's disappointing we weren't able to bring our miserable 18-year winless run at Anfield to an end.

The Silver Fox opted to make three changes to the starting line-up, with Danny Simpson, Mike Williamson and Big Lad the trio who can consider themselves a little unlucky to miss out. In came Saylor, Vurnon Anita (at right-back) and last weekend's unwitting last-minute goalscorer Papiss Cisse.

Liverpool kicked off as though determined to perpetuate our search for maximum points from this particular fixture, Raheem Sterling in particular raiding down the left and floating inside to dangerous effect. From the other flank, Suso tried his luck a couple of times, while there was a laughable penalty appeal after six minutes, Sideshow Bob neither handling the ball nor clipping Luis Suarez's foot before deflecting the ball to safety.

Having weathered the initial storm, we then started to get a grip of possession, stroking the ball around neatly without fashioning much in the way of opportunities. Simpson made an early entrance when Perchinho had to come off with a thigh injury, and Anita, pushed into midfield, set about having one of his most effective games to date. Just as it looked as though the game would be goalless at the break, we scored with our very first effort on target. Andre Wisdom was penalised for a foul throw in our half, and we were able to work the ball to HBA on the right, who left both Sterling and old boy Jose Enrique standing. His cross found an unmarked Dreamboat at the back post, who controlled the ball before smashing a spectacular shot past Brad Jones from a tight angle.

Liverpool looked dazed and lame efforts in response from Suarez and Nuri Sahin failed to trouble Tim Krul. The disappointment of being behind at the interval was then compounded for some home fans by a faulty sprinkler that gave them a half-time soaking.

Our injury problems worsened shortly after the restart, Demba Ba leaving the action - hopefully not for a long spell in the treatment room. That his replacement was Little Big Lad rather than his older brother suggested a marginally more conservative approach to try to hold on to our lead and attack on the break.

Suarez forced Krul to tip a skimming shot behind for a corner, but we didn't look to be in too much danger until Spidermag's error, gifting possession to Enrique. His hopeful punt forwards was expertly controlled by the Uruguayan striker, who cheekily rounded Krul to tap in. It might have been irritating to watch our defence caught out by such a direct tactic, and Suarez is a thoroughly detestable individual (once again overacting, moaning and waving imaginary yellow cards in the direction of the referee), but I can just about grudgingly admire the quality of the finish.

Our goalscorer went off with a knock to be replaced by Shane Ferguson, a move which left us looking somewhat shapeless and unbalanced, the Northern Irishman seemingly keen to occupy the same territory as Little Big Lad. But it was a Scouse substitute, Jonjo Shelvey, who took centre stage shortly after Saylor's superb block from Sterling's shot. The bald-bonced ex-Charlton midfielder fluffed a glorious chance from Suarez's cut-back and then squandered two great headed opportunities.

We were carving out chances of our own, Cisse going close and HBA beating two men and driving his shot into Jones' midriff after Little Big Lad's speedy gallop out of defence. But it became backs-to-the-wall stuff when Sideshow Bob inexplicably lunged in on Suarez with six minutes to go. Contact was minimal, but, as an initially incensed Silver Fox later admitted, the replay looked nasty and suggested plenty of intent - completely out of character for a player who is usually the personification of calm authority and whose moment of madness has now most likely deprived us of our captain and best central defender for the next three league games.

Thankfully, though, the closest Liverpool came to snatching the win they misguidedly seemed to think they deserved was in stoppage time, when a shot deflected off Cisse and was misjudged by Shelvey with his back to goal but nevertheless bounced up over Krul and onto the top of the bar.

A point at Anfield would have probably have been palatable pre-match, but in hindsight - given we were leading against a side lacking in guile and cutting edge with just over twenty minutes to go - it was definitely more a case of two points dropped. Nevertheless, our next few fixtures all look winnable so if we can finally find some form it won't matter quite so much.

A Liverpool fan's perspective: The Liverpool Offside

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Thursday, November 01, 2012

What's the French for "deja vu"?

Could Dreamboat be at it again, whispering seductively about the delights of Tyneside into the ears of his international teammate? Yes, apparently he can, according to a source close to Moussa Sissoko, who has claimed Dreamboat gave his colleague in the French midfield a "glowing report" of life at St James' Park.

We've been here before, of course, with the Mathieu Debuchy saga. Dreamboat's former Lille teammate expressed a desire to leave over the summer, presumably to follow his friend to the Premier League, but was obstructed by his club's president and the move never transpired. Hardly Dreamboat's fault, that, but he did seem to go into a bit of a sulk afterwards.

Naturally, the decision on whether or not to pursue a deal rests firmly with the powers that be (all Dreamboat can be expected to do is the hard sell), and the club has denied having made any contact with Toulouse man Sissoko. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be the first time that a flat denial from the club has proven somewhat duplicitous, given the circumstances under which Romain Amalfitano was recruited.

Then there's the question of whether we actually need Sissoko. Central midfield doesn't appear to be our weakest point at present - although our only genuinely box-to-box player is Dreamboat, we're flush with defensive players in the form of Mr T, Master T, Anita and Perchinho. Perhaps, though, thoughts are turning towards trying to sell Mr T in January (certainly the Silver Fox has been somewhat exasperated with him of late) and a full French international on a cut-price deal isn't to be sniffed at, regardless of the position he plays in.

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A leap of faith

If you've got a spare half-hour, you might like to take a peek at my latest bit of moonlighting for The Two Unfortunates, a post on the subject of players leaping up divisions. While it's not strictly Toon-related, there is some consideration given to Master T.

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