Thursday, January 31, 2013

Florian not joining the French Foreign Legion

Florian Thauvin must be very small to have slipped through the massive net we've been using to trawl Ligue 1 for new players this month. The highly-rated youngster was the subject of serious interest from ourselves and Arsenal, but has instead opted to remain in France, signing for Debuchy and Dreamboat's old club Lille. Oh well, you can't win 'em all.

We could yet sneak in another Frenchman before the transfer window shuts, though, with the Sun among several sources claiming an approach for Standard Liege's William Vainqueur. The 24-year-old is a midfielder, though, and I'd hope we'd be more concerned with adding to our striking options, if anything.

Meanwhile, Deadline Day is proving as frantic as ever for our old chum 'Appy 'Arry down at QPR, who has drafted in Christopher Samba from Anzhi Makhachkala for a club record transfer fee of £12.5m and wages of £100,000 a week. I wonder who it was who, in the wake of a December defeat at St James', declared: "You shouldn't be paying massive wages when you've got a stadium that holds 18,000 people"? Answers on a postcard.

As BBC Sport's David Ornstein has pointed out, the terms of the Samba deal are essentially identical to those the Hoops declined in the summer on the grounds of protecting their finances. With their wealthy financial backer, the club's only insurance policy, threatening to walk away because of people saying nasty things about him on Twitter, what could possibly go wrong?

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

La revolution starts here

Aston Villa 1 - 2 Newcastle Utd

At the 18th time of asking we finally registered our first away win of the campaign at Villa Park last night, thanks in no small part to our influx of new recruits.

Ahead of the game, the Silver Fox rang the changes, with new boys Moussa Sissoko and Goofy handed starts in a rejigged attack, which had Dreamboat and Perchinho anchoring the midfield with our two new boys joining Spidermag in a three behind Papiss Cisse. At the back, Sideshow Bob was partnered by the returning Saylor. Vurnon Anita dropped to the bench, presumably because it was felt Perchinho would provide a greater degree of protection, while Sylvain Marveaux was nowhere to be seen (presumably due to injury).

Unlike Newcastle, who enjoyed a ten day run up to the match since their last league game, Villa had been knocked out of both domestic cups by lower-league opponents and were a side badly in need of some good fortune.

With Paul Lambert's side also desperate for league points, it was pleasing to see that we began by far the brighter, on the front foot from the start, with Sissoko in particular starting like an express train.

It was our new number 7 who made the first telling contribution to the game, when he latched onto a loose ball, with referee Mike Dean playing advantage following a foul on Davide Santon, before slotting the ball through Villa's five-man defence for Cisse to run on to, and our number 9 promptly slid the ball through the keeper's legs.

As we celebrated, the home fans rose to their feet in applause, giving their regular tribute to Stiliyan Petrov as he battles cancer - a gesture echoed by the Toon fans and, for that matter, the Silver Fox.

Apart from a rasping shot by the Zog, which cannoned back off the woodwork, it was all Newcastle, and no surprise that we added a second after half an hour, when Spidermag's cross was headed away as far as Dreamboat and he cushioned the ball before cracking a stunning right-foot shot into the far corner of the net.

With Villa struggling it was a shame that half-time came as it prevented us from continuing to power on and allowed Villa a chance to regroup.

During the interval, Lambert withdrew two players (including ex-mackem Darren Bent) and shuffled his formation. Presumably he also stripped paint off the walls of the dressing room, because the Villa side which emerged after the interval flew off the mark and started forcing Newcastle back. Their reward for this renewed pressure came quickly, when Mathieu Debuchy conceded a soft penalty, with Gabby Agbonlahor moving away from goal before crumpling under the slightest of challenges. While it was debatable whether it should have been a penalty, Debuchy should really have known better than to give Agbonlahor the opportunity to fall over - hopefully a learning experience for our new right-back.

With Christian Benteke sending Krul the wrong way as he stroked home the penalty, the game suddenly teetered on a knife edge. Villa took heart and continued to press, while we pulled back, defending deeper and deeper and firing aimless punts upfield rather than seeking to keep control of the ball.

With nerves starting to fray, the Silver Fox withdrew Perchinho and brought on Big Lad, presumably in the hope that he'd hold the ball up and give Villa something to worry about. However, the change did nothing to stem the claret and blue tide.

Further changes saw Goofy replaced by Anita and the tiring Sissoko replaced by Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa for his debut (albeit in an unfamiliar defensive midfield position).

Still Villa poured forward, albeit their attacks continued to founder, with Tim Krul producing a number of fine saves. Spidermag too got in on the act, clearing one chance off the line, and new boy MYM also getting in one fine block.

With players throwing themselves in the way of everything, we managed to hold onto our slender advantage, even enduring five minutes of injury time thanks to the idiosyncrasies of Mike Dean who had a game to forget.

So, when the final whistle went, it was Newcastle left celebrating - as a team in a huge huddle. With team spirit apparent, both in terms of the performance and the celebration, the future looks slightly brighter.  Performances from Goofy, MYM and a storming display by Sissoko (at least in the first half) suggest that we've signed quality players and can cautiously start to look ahead with renewed optimism at what the remainder of the season may hold. We may still be in the shit and we still need to get points on the board as quickly as possible (which, with forthcoming fixtures against Chelsea and Spurs, won't be easy) but this game may prove to be a turning point in our season rather than another false dawn.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Peter and the wolf Churchill dog

It's emerged as a result of the friction and dispute between Peter Odemwingie and his club, West Brom, that we apparently showed serious interest in him at one stage. In one of a series of tweets that have since been deleted, the grumpy Nigerian forward commented: "Last season January window is when I should have handed in transfer request. Was one foot in Rubin Kazan - not for sale. Fulham. Not for sale. Newcastle. Not for sale. Wigan. Not for sale."

It would be hard to square that interest with our transfer policy - Odemwingie is now 31 - and in any case I think we're certainly better off without him. He's been chuntering on about a possible move to QPR - lest we forget, from a team in the top half to the Premier League's basement club - as "a new opportunity" and enthusing about the "chance to play under the stewardship of one of the most respected managers in the game" (remarkably, that seems to refer to 'Appy 'Arry), when in truth what's behind his lust for life at Loftus Road is exactly what lured Loic £emy there too: a bumper pay-day.

For his part, 'Appy 'Arry has commented: "It's a bit of a difficult situation for West Brom. It's not worked out in an ideal way. The whole situation has become a bit too public really, hasn't it?" Funny, that, coming from someone who's not averse to making these things public when it's in his interest. He continued: "We made an enquiry. The enquiry leaked out and obviously the player decided he wanted to come to London and that's how it has worked out". He just can't help himself continually trying to unsettle other clubs' players, can he? You wonder what Stoke and Anzhi Makhachkala make of his declarations about Peter Crouch and Christopher Samba respectively...

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Honours for Conor?

Having touched on the benefits of a loan spell yesterday, it was remiss of me not to mention Conor Newton. The 21-year-old has been sent to St Mirren to gain some experience - and it doesn't get much better than a possible cup final appearance. That's the result of Saints' unexpected 3-2 triumph over the mighty Celtic at the weekend, during which our midfielder contributed an assist. Not bad for his first full 90 minutes at senior level...

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Quote of the day

"But, like I say, for me football is my life, I love it. When I am on the pitch I give everything to win."

Quotes from Sideshow Bob have been released today, confirming his commitment to the cause and commenting on the recent off-field distractions in his personal life which had seen doubts emerge as to whether he would still be with us at the end of January.

With a recent letter doing the rounds in the press, in which Sideshow Bob was also reported to be expressing his sorrow at not signing for San Lorenzo, there's been a significant amount of chatter about the player's commitment to our relegation battle.

Thankfully, though, the latest quotes (which can be found in full here) go a long way to highlighting that while he may have some off-field problems, once our captain crosses the white line he's 100% committed to the job in hand.



Picture this

The Guardian's readership have been busy playing with Photoshop lately, and the subject of their artwork this week is the Silver Fox.

Needless to say there are plenty of references to our increasing French influx.

You can see the results here.

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What's the French for "clique"?

"Need to brush up on my French because this is just getting ridiculous lol". So tweeted Little Big Lad last week, as we busied ourselves stockpiling Ligue 1 players like cans of beans ahead of an imminent apocalypse. While his tongue was probably lodged firmly in cheek, you can nevertheless detect an underlying unease and uncertainty: these pesky Frenchmen, coming over here and stealing our jobs...

On the one hand, there's no doubt whatsoever that we were in desperate need of fresh faces, and Jabba and Llambiarse should be commended for taking decisive action to right the wrongs of the summer (and put the disappointment of being snubbed by Loic £emy behind them). Speaking ahead of the crucial clash with Villa, the Silver Fox stressed this, revealing that we had been hoping to bide our time until the summer but that moves for targets (and Moussa Sissoko in particular) had been "accelerated" in response to our predicament. The players who have been brought in should add considerably to the strength of the first-team squad.

However, while it's hoped the new faces will help kickstart a revival in our fortunes, the influx also poses potential problems, unsettling the existing squad. How we manage the newbies' integration will be crucial - there is a definite danger of cliqueiness (and the consequent exclusion of the non-French-speaking players). The Silver Fox's tactic is simple: "They have to learn English or they will face penalties and hopefully they will grasp it." (No surprise that's been reported in the Daily Heil...) That said, it won't simply be about assimilation - no doubt the recent tradition of cultural days will continue and the diversity of the squad will be celebrated.

In truth, Little Big Lad is justified in having some cause for concern at the raft of new arrivals. The Silver Fox has admitted that the policy of buying from France and overseas in general is "not where we want to go", but that short-term need has dictated our actions: "We want to make our own players, but the truth is the players from the academy we put in haven't produced. I'm hoping it's too early for them, and that Sammy and Shane Ferguson, James Tavernier and Adam Campbell come through. They need to, because we can't keep buying players." With the new Financial Fair Play regulations looming large, the fact that our youth set-up is failing to produce is a serious problem, and Little Big Lad should be under no illusions that he needs to start delivering on his promise and undoubted talent.

In defence of Little Big Lad and chums, though, they've found themselves pressed into service in more difficult circumstances than could have been foreseen this season, so perhaps it's not surprising they've come up short. Ideally they'd have had the opportunity to get experience under their belt on loan at a lower level. It's certainly working wonders for Bradden Inman at Crewe, while Curtis Good is in with a shout of making an appearance in the League Cup final - something his parent club hasn't done since 1976. Our continued Europa League involvement - for another two matches at least - and the ineligibility of at least one of our new French contingent may well translate into a continued reluctance to loan out the youngsters.

So all Little Big Lad can do is to accept that the French invasion is for the good of the club, cultivate his "new French tache" in its honour and knuckle down in the hope of proving his worth to the squad.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Encore un deux fois!

The door staff at St James' must be getting sick of saying "Bienvenue" - but at least the fact that the Strawberry has been renamed La Fraise will help with familiarisation. The last two days have seen us add a further two Frenchmen to our growing collection. First to arrive was Nancy left-back Massadio Haidara on Thursday, with Toulouse midfielder Moussa Sissoko putting pen to paper yesterday.

Both players fit our usual recruitment model - young and signed up on long-term contracts - though it's probably only full international Sissoko who can expect to step straight into the first team (especially with Mr T away at the African Cup of Nations). With Dreamboat back to fitness (hopefully his knock against Reading was only minor) and some genuine driving force through central midfield courtesy of Sissoko, we should hopefully have enough to see off a Villa side tired and demoralised by a second cup defeat of the week.

A grand total of five Gallic players signed in January may not necessarily have quenched our Francophilic lust, either. It's been claimed that we've bid for young Bastia midfielder Florian Thauvin, but, as with MYM, may need to trump interest from Arsenal to be successful.

I wonder whether the fact we won the race for MYM and appear to be in pole position for Thauvin has anything to do with Arsene Wenger's extraordinary public attack on our January transfer dealings? It's "unfair" that we've been able to strengthen our squad substantially, he whined, when certain teams (Man Utd, for instance) have already played and beaten the weak Newcastle Utd Mark I twice but when others (Arsenal, for instance) will now have to face Newcastle Utd Mark II. Aw, diddums. We really feel for you and your free-scoring multi-million-pound squad. Perhaps the reason Wenger is so often unable to see what's right beneath his nose is because he's got it firmly lodged in other people's business...

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Arrested development

The Lone Ranger really has excelled himself this time. Having suffered a serious Twitter backlash for bashing the boo-boys, you'd have thought he'd keep a low profile, at least for a while. Not so. No sooner has he stuck yet another two fingers up to the fans in the form of photos of his surname written in £20 notes (I'm amazed he can spell, personally), than he's arrested and bailed on suspicion of rape.

It might yet come to nothing (Ranger has been charged and cleared of offences before), but once again he's proved himself a one-man wrecking ball swinging in to demolish our fragile public reputation. The sack is too good for him.

Elsewhere yesterday, former Toon men Michael Chopra and James Coppinger were found guilty in their corruption case relating to horse-racing. Chopra has admitted to having a serious gambling problem (not for the first time) and, prior to the verdict being delivered, said he'd welcome a ban: "I see any such sanctions as being a useful mechanism in helping me to address these problems". If only the Lone Ranger had the couple of brain cells necessary to be able to do likewise.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Colo no go

The Silver Fox has today confirmed that Sideshow Bob is not leaving this month and will remain both as player and captain until the summer at the earliest.

Frankly, it's great news.

Having already shown, against Norwich, that he can continue to perform brilliantly on the pitch despite the private strife, the prospect of him being around while Saylor returns to full fitness and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa beds in is massively reassuring.

Now we can concentrate on getting the team prepared for Tuesday's massive game against Aston Villa.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Twitter chatter

One person who thought it'd be funny to mention our recent spate of signing Frenchman is Reading winger Jimmy Kebe, who this afternoon tweeted:

"On my way to Newcastle, having medical then sign a 4 years contract. Thank you all for your support you've been outstanding !!!! "

He then followed it up with:

"Oups i thought if you're french and play football u just pop in to Newcastle and sign a contract Not a chance of leaving #LoveReadingFc#"

Presumably setting a few Royals fans' hearts racing along the way...

On the same subject, one player who still hasn't really come to terms with twitter is the Lone Ranger who, reacting to the crowd's booing of the Silver Fox's substitutions took to his phone with the following missives:

"Certain fans need to not come and support this team... Coming out to BOOO us.. Stay at home.. Don't need ur BOO's.... SAY NO MORE !!!!"

"Last thing from me... To all the fans. U are not forced to buy season tickets.. Or pay our wages.. Please remember that..."

"If u are loyal fans.. Be with us.. When we are out there on the field.. Be the 12th man.. Don't come and BOO.. That aint going to help any1"

"Team is going through rough patch. Last thing we need is fans against us #SIMPLE REALLY"

"We are a TEAM u BOO 1 player... Ur booing all of us !!!"

Needless to say, he was subject to a fair degree of ire from those who followed him and who took exception to being lectured by a player who can barely be arsed to get to work on time.

By Wednesday it looked as though he'd had a change of heart:

"Fans am sorry 4 what I said!was just a bit upset you were booing the lads. But as it says in the bible "you should forgive thy neighbour"

"Hope we can all forget about this like I say am sorry and didn't want to offend no1!now time to focus on helping he team go up and up"

Sadly though, it appears he hasn't yet grasped that as we do pay his wages, he might want to avoid pissing everyone off, and the second tweet was quickly followed with:

"My friend took my phone and sent that message.... Sorry"

So, not sorry for the comments about the fans, only that his friend had actually apologised on his behalf.  Well done Nile - following up a pretty thoughtless set of tweets by retracting the apology which sought to make amends.


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Argie bargie

One problem which has yet to resolve itself this month is the future of Sideshow Bob.

With limited information available, it's hard to understand exactly what has gone on, but as I understand it the facts are as follows:

1. His wife has already gone back to Argentina.
2. His dad, who works for San Lorenzo, has been quoted that Sideshow Bob wants to move back to Argentina to play for them.
3.  He only signed a new contract last March, so (subject to the terms of the contract) will need the consent of the club if he is to leave.

Now, I'm not going to add to the wild rumours flying around Tyneside as to why his wife has gone back to Argentina and I'm sure that whatever has caused this can't be making life any easier for Sideshow Bob, which inevitably runs the risk of impacting on his performances on the pitch.

In Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa we've signed what looks like a replacement (although given we needed a centre-half before the start of January, you'd hope that if Sideshow Bob does leave that a further reinforcement might be found).

However, despite two days of talks between the player, the club and their respective lawyers, no solution to the problem has been found.

It's a difficult position. On the one hand, you'd hope for compassion for the player from his employer and clearly there's a need to sort out the situation if he is to remain, so that it doesn't impact on his performances on the pitch. The flip side is that if he desperately wants to go, would having him around the club actually be counter-productive given that we are in a relegation scrap at the moment?

What is clear is that the uncertainty surrounding the player's future (leading to rumours that he'd buggered off back to Argentina last night) isn't helping anyone.

At the very least, I'd expect that on Tuesday night someone else might be wearing the captain's armband. Whether that's usual understudy and close friend Spidermag or another candidate (Dreamboat, Saylor, Big Lad) will be interesting to see.



Yoan star

Having been gazumped by Droopy for Loic £emy, Newcastle finally completed the signing of a striker yesterday and, yep you guessed it, he's French. Step forward Yoan Gouffran, who arrived from our Europa League competitors Bordeaux for a relatively small fee.

Currently the French club's top scorer this season with 12 goals in 27 games for the Ligue 1 side this season, Goofy (as he shall henceforth be known) looks a shrewd investment.

Hopefully he'll provide an alternative to Papiss and Big Lad, while also having the experience and ability to play as one of the two wider players in a front three as required.

Obviously, he also adds to our growing crop of Frenchmen, which has seen questions raised in some quarters about the risk of a French clique dominating the dressing room. However, hopefully the Frenchmen who are already established on Tyneside will help integrate their colleagues fully and we'll avoid that scenario.

Time will tell how successful Goofy will be, but for now it's very much a case of bonne chance, bonny lad!

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Royal blues

Newcastle Utd 1 - 2 Reading

The signs were so good: a Reading side without a win away from home all season, the return of Dreamboat to our midfield, and a home debut for our new right-back.

For 45 minutes it was all going so right. A three-man midfield of Sylvain Marveaux, Vurnon Anita and Dreamboat was easily controlling the game and creating plenty of chances for Papiss Cisse, only for our Senagalese striker to come up against a Reading keeper in fine form.

Thankfully, though, class told and when Marveaux was fouled on a charge towards the goal, the scene was set for Dreamboat to bring a little je ne sais quoi to proceedings and curl an exquisite free kick over the wall giving us a thoroughly deserved lead.

At half-time, Brain McDermott clearly had words with his Reading side because they emerged a reinvigorated team and began to force their way back into the match. Quite what the Silver Fox said to his charges in anyone's guess, but it clearly didn't have the desired effect.

With 65 minutes gone the Silver Fox made his first substitution and withdrew Marveaux in place of Perchinho, presumably with a mind on protecting our slender one-goal lead rather than continuing to push for a second.

By contrast, Reading withdrew former Magpie Danny Guthrie and threw on striker Adam le Fondre - a move which paid off instantly as he evaded Mike Williamson and bundled in a cross to draw Reading back on level terms.

With the home side reeling, the Silver Fox was then forced into a second change with Dreamboat perhaps unsurprisingly starting to struggle, and subsequent reports suggesting he may have picked up a slight injury. He removed our midfield maestro and brought on Master T amidst a chorus of boos from a now disgruntled St James' Park unhappy at the combination of two defensive midfielders on for our creative core despite the side steadily being overcome by a now invigorated Reading side.

Sure enough it was Reading, and Le Fondre, who added a second - latching on to a mis-hit shot to fire the second in from a seemingly impossible angle.

At that stage, we threw on Obertan Kenobi, who fired over when well placed and there was still time for Papiss Cisse to miss his fourth golden chance of the afternoon as he blazed over having sprung the offside trap.

We are now the only side in the top flight without an away win this season, and well and truly in the shit. With ten days before we face fellow strugglers Aston Villa, we need to regroup, reinforce and resolve the ongoing questions which exist over Sideshow Bob's future. If we could also get Saylor back to full fitness (on the bench for this game, but apparently not actually fit to play) and also nurse Dreamboat back from whatever knock he collected, the future might look a little brighter.  If we don't, then frankly it could get a whole lot darker before the dawn.

Reading fans' perspectives: Hob Nob Anyone?The Tilehurst End

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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It's raining (French)men, hallelujah, it's raining (French)men

"If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the French team." That seems to be our motto at present.

There's no doubt whatsoever that we have a problem - an increasingly serious one, following the latest abysmal defeat (this time to Reading on Saturday - Paul's report to follow). Whether anyone else could help is open to debate, but we appear to have identified our Gallic friends across the Channel as the solution.

Before the transfer window opened, HBA, Sylvain Marveaux, Obertan Kenobi and Dreamboat were already on our books - the latter making an encouraging goalscoring return from injury against the Royals until being withdrawn with another knock - and since the start of January we've already picked up another Frenchman, right-back Mathieu Debuchy.

Now we're looking to strengthen our woeful and possibly soon-to-be-Sideshow-Bob-less defence with a couple of their compatriots. Despite rumours that Montpellier centre-back Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa had done a Remy, failing to turn up for the medical in preference for a move to London, it's now been confirmed we've got the deal over the line. The 23-year-old - who, like Dreamboat, captained his club to the Ligue 1 title in his last full season in France - has cost just short of £7m. A small price to pay if it means we no longer have to witness Mike Williamson's defending masterclass - though with French central defenders, there's always the nagging feeling that they might turn out to be another Jean-Alain Boumsong...

Also close to signing is Nancy's Massadio Haidara, a 20-year-old left-back who, while not a full French international, has represented his country at lower levels. Debuchy is now without doubt our first-choice right-back, so that would leave Davide Santon to battle it out with Haidara for the opposite flank. Given that the Italian has been one of the only players to emerge from the car crash that this season's become with anything remotely approaching credit, it would be harsh if Haidara was to stroll straight past him into the first team. That said, he has looked due a long overdue breather of late.

And finally, lest it be suspected that we'd decided to focus firmly on the defence, forgetting about our deficiencies at the other end of the pitch (and in particular the need to replace Demba Ba), we're also on the verge of bringing in Bordeaux forward Yoan Gouffran. The 26-year-old took to Twitter to announce that he'll be signing in the morning. He has 14 goals to his name thus far this season, many more than a certain money-grabbing QPR striker, and is also rumoured to have been available at a cut-price fee. That said, I'm not sure I'm happy about us recruiting a footballer who's allergic to grass. Here's hoping he's less of a maverick liability than his fellow sufferer Mario Balotelli...

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Royal rumble

Ahead of today's crunch relegation encounter with Reading, we caught up with Royals fan Lanterne Rouge of The Two Unfortunates for his thoughts.

How do you assess Reading’s season so far? What were your pre-season ambitions? 

It’s been a reality check to end all reality checks. I think that after performing well when the club was last promoted in 2006, people thought the club would hold their own but early on in the first game against Stoke the gap was apparent and an early hiding by Spurs really set me thinking. True, I think to finish seventeenth was always the aim and that is still achievable but the team has been giving 110% every match and yet that has still only been good enough to notch three wins. There has been an abject lack of quality in the side and the majority of opposing teams have fully capitalised.

Best and worst results of the season to date?

The 2-1 win over Everton came as a relief after the long winless start and it should be noted that Royals have done best against the sides that play less pleasing football – the Toffees and West Ham among them. As for the worst, the quality of the opposition was excellent but that 3-1 home defeat against Tottenham could well have seen the club concede three times that number of goals.

How has Brian McDermott adapted to life in the top flight? 

Overall, I think he’s done as well as he could have done even if there have been moments where the team has appeared naïve. Put simply, players of true Premier League quality don’t really want to come to the club for the wages on offer so he has had to make do with what he has. Tactically, he has struggled a little though – persisting with 4-4-2 for too long after it had become clear that it’s an outmoded system. In recent weeks, a reversion to 4-5-1 and a more defensive approach has seen improvement.

Of your summer signings, who’s shone? And who’s struggled? 

The main problem is that the summer signings have not been an improvement on the players already at the club. Nicky Shorey has perhaps performed best while Garath McCleary has done the business in cameos. Despite three goals of late Pavel Pogrebnyak has been disappointing although the service he has received has been very poor. As for ex-Magpie Danny Guthrie, some competent recent performances don’t hide a season plagued by attitude problems and a tendency to try and do too much on the pitch – his attempted Hollywood passes mark him out as a poor man’s Stevie Gerrard.

What do you make of the January recruits so far, and what do you still need? 

They have been very low key and Daniel Carriço suffered the ignominy of being hauled off at half-time on his debut after an Ali Dia-style performance. Hope Akpan might be expected to get some tackles in which is needed (even if Premier League referees don’t allow them) and Stephen Kelly should solidify a back four that has been abysmal. Latterly, Stoppila Sunzu, rumoured to be joining from TP Mazembe, looks a slightly more exciting signing.

How important was Madejski to the club? Do the new Russian owners fill you with optimism or dread? 

He was important because he saved the club back in the 90s when it looked like it would go out of business. No matter the poor displays this campaign, the team’s current position is miraculous. I’m cynical about the owners as one has to be considering the shadiness of their backgrounds – at least Zingarevich has spoken to the press but the whole history of big business in Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall has been a dark one and it isn’t something I am comfortable being associated with.

How would you assess Newcastle so far this season? 

Cabaye has obviously been a big loss but I think there is a sense that the club punched well above its weight and early form in 2012-13 was more indicative of the true level of ability at the club. That, unfortunately, has led to poor attitudes here and there and the strike force of Ba and Cisse have provided well-documented problems for the management. 21 points is obviously unacceptable and is a total Reading had a full month before this date when they were last relegated.

Which players do you admire/fear the most in the Newcastle side?

I understand that Cabaye might return while Cisse remains a major threat.

What areas do you think are weak and ripe for exploitation? 

I think the plan will be to defend in depth and hope the Toon Army gets on the home team’s backs – a stolen 1-0 win will be the aim.

What’s your prediction for the game? 

I think a nervy 1-0 win for the Toon is the most likely outcome.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cash converter

So, as we feared, Loic Remy has been stolen from right under our noses by 'Appy 'Arry, lured to Loftus Road by the prospect of piles of lucre. As if our dislike for that saggy-faced wanker wasn't sufficiently strong already. First he sets in motion the process of Demba Ba's departure by trumpeting his release clause from the rooftops, and then, when we source and line up a replacement, he sneaks in and trumps our offer.

However, as .com and TBW (among others) have pointed out, perhaps we shouldn't dwell too long on the affair, stewing in our own bitterness - perhaps, in fact, we've successfully if unwittingly dodged a bullet. Remy has hardly played for Marseille this season so won't be match-fit, and has only found the net on one of his few appearances. The fact that he's joined a club sitting bottom of the league over one that finished fifth last year and that can still offer European football speaks volumes about what exactly has motivated the move. Over recent years much work has been done to rid the club of mercenaries - the sort of mercenaries who litter QPR's bloated current squad and who 'Appy 'Arry blasted in his post-match interview at St James' Park just before Christmas, oddly enough...

On the other hand - and knowing our luck - Remy may help to fire QPR up the table, which would have a negative knock-on impact on our own survival chances.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Month Of Saturdays: December 2012

December, then. 'Tis the season to be jolly, or so they say - and, after a truly wretched November, we were in desperate need of some jollity.

So a handsome victory over Wigan  - our most comfortable league win of the season - when the month was just three days old was gleefully received. Our cause was certainly helped by an early bath for the visitors' Maynor Figueroa, but it was exactly the slice of good fortune we'd been craving without reward for weeks. The final goal, a splendid effort from Master T, was a memorable first for the club, though it was really only the icing on a cake baked by Demba Ba. On a day when rumours of our Senegalese hotshot still having a release clause in his contract began to do the rounds, Ba's brace was both a timely reminder of his importance to the club and (less happily) a further demonstration of his abilities for any salivating scouts in the stands.

Our previous biggest win of the campaign had also been 3-0, at home to Bordeaux in the Europa League, but three days later a repeat never looked remotely likely in the return fixture. Sure enough our reserves turned in a dreadful performance and we concluded the group stage with a comprehensive defeat. Having already qualified for the knock-out stages, it was a journey we hadn't wanted to make (something former Toon midfielder Danny Guthrie could empathise with), but it wasn't quite a dead rubber, the result condemning us to second place in the group and consequently supposedly tougher opponents in our next fixture. In the event, we were paired with Ukrainians Metalist Kharkiv, so another joyless jaunt awaits.

Back to league action, and it had been a while since an old boy had come back to haunt us - so, right on cue, up popped Fulham's Damien Duff to stick a couple of daggers into the back of the side who once paid his wages. The Irishman had a hand in both Steve Sidwell's deflected opener and Hugo Rodallega's winner, deriving great pleasure from shoving the away fans' taunts back down their throats. Sideshow Bob seemed keen to put himself forward as an option in the potential absence of Ba, having one audacious 18-yard header cleared off the line in the first half and striking the outside of the post with a superb curler in the second. Meanwhile, HBA returned from injury with a goal but then hobbled off back to the treatment room after the match. It seems he was only on day release - more's the pity.

We'd made a decent start of a new losing streak, then, so it was with low expectations that we welcomed the champions to St James' Park. We'd already had the misfortune to come up against lowly sides hitting their richest form of the campaign (Reading and Southampton spring to mind) and struggled to find the answers on those occasions, so what we really didn't need was a side of Man City's calibre producing exhibition stuff to blow us away inside half an hour. Thereafter we coped somewhat better and exerted plenty of effort and endeavour but ultimately were always playing catch-up in vain.

The stage had seemed set for us to suffer the ignominy of being the first side vanquished by hapless QPR until 'Appy 'Arry's mob broke their duck against Fulham. Nevertheless, their arrival in Toon marked a must-win fixture as well as representing a potentially embarrassing banana skin. Thankfully, Big Lad mistook the Hoops for the Mackems and pulled a fine late goal out of the bag to settle a precariously balanced game. Before that, the match had been notable only for Papiss Cisse throwing a tantrum when hauled off by the Silver Fox.

That now made two disgruntled strikers, given that Cisse's compatriot Ba had publicly grumbled about our hoofball tactics despite all the evidence suggesting we were playing to his strengths. His mood won't have been helped by missing out on the BBC's African Footballer Of The Year title, and his future on Tyneside looked distinctly uncertain. Meanwhile the squad as a whole missed out on a Christmas party, its cancellation a welcome move both as an acknowledgement of the club's league predicament and in that it spared us from the anticipated lurid tales of the further misadventures of the Lone Ranger...

Our festive munificence towards opponents is notorious, and 2012 was to prove no different. First, the Silver Fox boldly set out to exploit Man Utd's much-publicised defensive frailities at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, and we duly plundered three goals - the second a controversial though correctly awarded own goal by Jonny Evans. Unfortunately, he had neglected to brief the defence on their critical role in the masterplan, and our hosts were allowed to fight back level three times before Javier Hernandez summoned up the ghosts of 1996 with a devastating Fergie Time winner.

Taggart had been incensed by the award of that own goal and, when the Silver Fox justifiably opined that his opposite number would be lucky to escape censure for his barracking of the officials, he found himself on the wrong end of the infamous hairdryer treatment. Hypocrisy was the charge - laughable coming from someone for whom hypocrisy is second nature - though Taggart also took the opportunity to belittle our club and earn his face a place on a few more dartboards.

Arsene Wenger was one of those who essentially came out in support of the Silver Fox by also querying Taggart's conduct, and there was no such ruckus when the two managers locked horns in our final fixture of 2012. There was, however, another extraordinary defeat for Newcastle. This time we were the side who battled back from a deficit on three occasions, only to fall behind again and then, in a horrifying final few minutes, concede a further three goals to give the scoreline the distinctly unflattering look of 7-3. All we could do was savour our attacking ambition and verve, lament our kamikaze defending (and hope the back four got some training drills in their stockings) and reflect on the fact that the result did at least underline our need for new recruits in the January transfer window.

In truth, though, that need had been evident for some time. Even the powers-that-be seemed prepared to concede having regrets over the extent of our dealings in the summer. This time around, it was to be hoped that Jabba would be concentrating fully on the task in hand rather than getting sidetracked by trivial distractions, such as attempting to resurrect the Sports Direct Arena vision north of the border. Six months on, though, and attracting new faces would be easier said than done. Our appeal with respect to prospective signings looked significantly weaker, the league table an obvious indicator of our current malaise, and it was questionable whether our status as the world's first carbon positive football club would prove a sufficiently strong selling point...



Monday, January 14, 2013

Looking for Loic

After the match yesterday, it sounded as though Loic Remy was on his way to Newcastle to have a medical, after we agreed a fee for the player with Marseille.

ASBO, now plying his trade at the Stade Velodrome even took to his favourite metier Twitter to say: "Good luck to Loic in Newcastle. Don't worry I've told him what to expect. Great guy. Perfect club for him #toonarmy".

(ASBO then went on to have a debate with Tim Burgess (from the Charlatans) about the welfare system.)

Anyway, as far as Remy was concerned it was a case of: so far, so good.

However, by this evening ASBO was back on Twitter saying: "Just heard from a magician that Loic Remy has signed for QPR. Not sure what happened at Newcastle probably Llambas (sic) again!"

(ASBO then went on to have an argument with Big-Nosed Judas Bastard Dietmar Hamman. You couldn't make it up.)

With Sky Sports News also claiming Remy is due to have a medical for Droopy's lot tomorrow, it looks as though we're going to be left frustrated in our quest to sign the Frenchman and, with just over two weeks left before the transfer window closes, will need to keep looking for a replacement for Demba Ba.

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Norwich 0 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Saturday saw the long slog to Norwich for what turned out to be one of the most turgid performances delivered in recent memory as we struggled to fashion much in the way of meaningful chances and thankfully came up against a Canaries side in equally uninspiring form.

The outcome, not surprisingly, was a goalless draw which we needn't dwell on for long. Of particular significance, however, was Sideshow Bob, putting his off-field problems behind him to deliver a man-of-the-match performance as our defence largely looked solid and achieved a rarely sighted clean sheet.

Joining Sideshow Bob was debutant Mathieu Debuchy, who looked solid on debut and made a couple of promising runs forward while also managing to pick up a booking for his troubles.

At the other end, too often Papiss Cisse looked isolated and was unable to get into the game. Significantly, though, Spidermag returned to the starting line-up (which might also have made Davide Santon's afternoon a little easier) and in the second half the Silver Fox was able to give Dreamboat a run out.

Frustratingly we failed to test Norwich with our best chances falling to Obertan Kenobi, who saw a shot saved in the first half, and perhaps to Sideshow Bob who hooked a volley over the bar in the second half. At the other end, Perchinho made one timely interception when we looked to be caught on the break having over-committed men forward, but save for a shot hitting the outside of the post and the home side failing to connect with a loose ball at the end, Tim Krul had a fairly quiet afternoon.

The big positives, though, were the return of Dreamboat and a clean sheet.

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Quote of the day

"My mentality towards it is to make sure everybody is doing their jobs 100 per cent, keeping on top of my stuff, trying to lift my players and kick a couple of them up the bum in terms of the responsibility they have here. Particularly one or two of the younger players, the work ethic needs to improve and they need to improve as individuals. Those younger players have not produced what I wanted them to produce so they're going to have to work harder or they are going to have to leave this football club."

Stern words from a clearly exasperated Silver Fox, for whom the kids clearly aren't all right. Unsurprisingly he didn't name names, but I'd imagine Mehdi Abeid, Little Big Lad, James Tavernier and the Lone Ranger were foremost in his mind following last weekend's abysmal display at Brighton. You could probably add Romain Amalfitano to that list - he's rarely managed to force himself into contention for the bench, even despite all of our myriad problems with injuries, suspensions and lack of form.

The Silver Fox also reiterated the realisation that the club made very poor use of the close season transfer window: "We accept that we didn't do enough in the summer and we need to do it now. We've made it clear we regret that." With Ba gone and Sideshow Bob apparently determined to follow him out of the door, and yet another game without a win (Paul's Norwich report to follow), Graham Carr, Jabba and Llambiarse really need to get their arses into gear.

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Men behaving badly

Apologies for the lack of posts here over the last few days. It's been partly because, after the initial flurry of transfer window activity (Ba out, Debuchy in), things have been quiet - rather too quiet, given recent developments - but also because I've spent much of the week putting together a monster piece on football's convicted criminals for The Two Unfortunates. Needless to say, the man we refer to here as ASBO features prominently...

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Bob off?

If things weren't bad enough already, Sideshow Bob has apparently asked to leave the club and return to Argentina for personal reasons.

Now, I've got a lot of time for our captain, who has developed into a fine player and a rock in our defence so, assuming they are genuine, I'm not going to criticise him for wanting to leave for personal reasons. I can only assume that they are so severe that they require urgent attention.

However, with Demba Ba already gone and our season already one in which our forthcoming run of games takes on a massive significance in our bid to avoid relegation, this is probably the last thing we needed.

What this does is place even greater importance on us signing at least one (and ideally two) new centre halves (as well as a replacement for Ba) in the remaining 20 days of this month. 

It's not looking great, is it?

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A date with disaster

OK, so whose idea was it that the official club calendar for 2013 should have Demba Ba representing January? Though I suppose if he was going to be included at all, it makes some sense - the thinking presumably being that we might at least get most of the month out of him before he toddled off in pursuit of a bigger club (read: bigger pay packet).

Still, I suppose we ought to spare a thought for Portsmouth fans. We're not even halfway through January and of the twelve players featuring in their calendar, only three are still at the club...

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Monday, January 07, 2013

No respite - and no excuses either

Brighton 2 - 0 Newcastle Utd

First of all, I'd like to apologise to ITV on behalf of my team for the failure to pull off the FA Cup upset they were so clearly hoping would take place, given the game had been selected for live lunchtime transmission. What can I say - we were the plucky Premier League underdogs, after all, up against the might of a fair to middling Championship side. There's always next year, though - why not come and watch us have another futile stab at a giant-killing at Barnet next January?

Afraid I can't couch this whole report in sarcasm. So here goes... The defeat may have been predictable, given our form and injury list, but it's worth noting that our conquerors didn't win a single game in December so weren't exactly in great shape either. Quite frankly, our performance was appalling - an utter embarrassment, outclassed from first minute to last. Brighton might as well have been handed a bye into the Fourth Round.

The starting XI showed five changes from the side that played well enough but lost at home to Everton on Wednesday. Sylvain Marveaux and Tim Krul dropped to the bench, Papiss Cisse and Sideshow Bob were left on Tyneside to nurse strains and Mr T had already jetted off to join up with the Ivory Coast squad ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations. Into the team came Rob Elliot and the callow quartet of James Tavernier, Master T, Mehdi Abeid and Little Big Lad.

Our hosts made much the brighter start, zipping the ball about as we chased shadows. Perchinho headed away an effort from Gary Dicker, though it's not certain it was going in, while David Lopez - a winger operating at right-back - was giving us some headaches out wide.

Gradually we started to retain a bit of possession, but hoofball seemed to be our primary tactic from the outset, Big Lad tussling repeatedly with his marker Adam El Abd. Master T blasted a shot straight at Casper Ankergren which the 'keeper could only parry out, though no one was following in, and Obertan Kenobi embarked on the odd reasonable dash down the right.

However, it was our French winger who was then largely at fault for the opening goal. Gordon Greer's raking diagonal pass was hooked back on the by-line by evergreen left-back Wayne Bridge, who had been untracked by Kenobi. Andrea Orlandi touched the ball around a bamboozled Mike Williamson and improvised a smart volleyed finish into the bottom corner.

This appeared to deflate rather than sting the visitors in black and white, who only had a wayward Vurnon Anita drive to show for the rest of the half. The game was particularly being lost in midfield, where Dean Hammond and Liam Bridcutt were bossing the show and Abeid was utterly useless.

That changes were needed at the break was obvious. We've excused the Silver Fox from much criticism this season (rightly, I think), but on this occasion his decision-making deserves comment. The removal of Abeid was inevitable, though Perchinho's withdrawal with a knock was forced. However, it's the choice of replacements that is contentious: the Lone Ranger, to partner Big Lad up front, and debutant Paul Dummett at left-back, with Davide Santon's offensive threat neutralised by shifting him to the right. Meanwhile, Sylvain Marveaux and Shane Ferguson - both crafty and capable of creating chances - kicked their heels on the bench.

The two substitutions duly had negligible impact and shortly after the hour an already grim afternoon got grimmer. Big Lad was already on one very soft booking when he made contact with Lopez, the Spaniard's disgraceful amateur dramatics earning our skipper for the day another undeserved caution from referee Lee Probert and an early bath and prompting ASBO to take to Twitter to express his incredulity.

Down to ten men and with the Lone Ranger now the focal point of our attack - things certainly didn't look good. But, with Marveaux belatedly introduced to immediate effect, we raised our game slightly. He had a venomous half-volley well blocked by Bridcutt, while the Lone Ranger headed over under pressure, Little Big Lad had a deflected shot clawed away by Ankergren and a Dummett cross just eluded our forwards.

But then, just as we were starting to believe in the possibility of an equaliser, came the killer blow. Slick-haired substitute Will Hoskins benefited from yet another defensive error from Williamson and, latching onto an easy through-ball, slid a shot under Elliot.

It could have been worse had substitute Kazenga Lua Lua, who had seemingly made it his mission to crucify Santon at every opportunity, not shot into the side netting. The Lone Ranger did have a shot smothered from close range and Williamson another blocked by a sliding defender, but for our pathetic effort and shapelessness we thoroughly deserved to end the game goalless. Brighton won without regularly extending Elliot, and Craig Mackail-Smith had a poor game and yet still our central defence looked like it could get blown apart by a one-year-old blowing out the candle on their birthday cake.

So, our fourth FA Cup tie against the Seagulls, and our fourth defeat. Any positives? Some will say a cup run would have been a dangerous distraction from our Premier League troubles - not me, though. Why should we be glad to be out of the only competition we still had a vague chance of winning? And if defeat was actually a desirable outcome, then where does that leave the fans who left Tyneside at an ungodly hour to make the lunchtime kick-off and applauded the team despite the crap they'd just served up? Deserving of refunds, perhaps. Nobby was among those who sympathised with our plight. But sympathy is all fine and well - what we need is investment and results.

(Of course, Saturday afternoon then just kept on giving: along the south coast, a debut brace for Demba Ba as his new side, holders Chelsea, swept aside Southampton; a two-goal fightback from the Mackems just when we were hoping they'd be making their own ignominious exit from the competition at the hands of Championship opposition...)

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Friday, January 04, 2013

Quote of the day

"He's a good player. You'd love to have him here but he belongs to West Ham. If he has a clause in his contract, he's a player we'd like to have."

No sooner has the clause in Demba Ba's contract been activated by Chelsea than 'Appy 'Arry is busy unsettling another club's player with talk of release clauses. The player in question is West Ham's Mohamed Diame - wonder what Fat Sam will make of that.

'Arry's comments appear within a BBC article on Wesley Sneijder, seemingly surplus to requirements at Inter Milan. According to his agent, the Dutch midfielder is open to the possibility of a move to England but is "absolutely not interested" in joining 'Arry's QPR. I wonder whether the Silver Fox could pull off the same trick he managed with Mathieu Debuchy and convince Sneijder that, despite appearances to the contrary, we are a big club and last season wasn't a flash in the pan...

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Bargain hunt

With the transfer window now open, it’s customary for us to review the squad and suggest areas in which we might wish to improve.

To be blunt, this year that’s a fairly straightforward task.

With Mathieu Debuchy’s arrival now confirmed, it is clear that we were rightly looking to strengthen at right-back – not least because Danny Simpson is now free to talk with clubs ahead of his contract expiring in the summer. Even if Simpson were on a longer-term deal, the opportunity to replace him with an international right-back for a relatively modest fee is not one we could pass up as it hopefully represents an upgrade on Simpson.

Going the other way is, of course, Demba Ba, who is off to Chelsea claiming the decision to join the European champions was "not a hard one". Having shipped out Peter Lovenkrands and Leon O’Best in the summer, our striking options are now Papiss Cisse, Big Lad, the Xisco Kid, the Lone Ranger and Adam Campbell, which, with the exception of Cisse (and Big Lad on his day) looks distinctly shy of goals, so a further striker (with number one target reportedly Loic Remy) a priority if we’re to score the goals to keep us safe from relegation. Cisse finding the scoring boots he was wearing during the second half of last season wouldn’t hurt – something which Ba’s departure might actually assist as it should provide our remaining Senegalese striker with the opportunity to play through the middle rather than be stranded out on the wing.

With the Silver Fox talking about two or three new recruits, the other priority should be a centre-back, with back-up for Sideshow Bob and Saylor currently limited to Mike Williamson or Perchinho. Currently name in the frame remains Douglas from FC Twente, a player we were previously linked with in the summer, but (like Debuchy) a deal was never done at the time and with Saylor injured and Sideshow Bob not hitting the heights of last year (and according to .com looking for a move back home) a top-class centre-half needs to be a priority.

Hopefully Ba's will be the only locker being cleared out this month; with the squad already hit by injuries we can ill afford to lose anyone else (even the Lone Ranger) with players like Obertan Kenobi and Sylvain Marveaux starting to shine at the moment. Marveaux in particular looks to be hitting his straps and with Dreamboat and HBA still out (albeit the former is now back in training) he’s probably our most creative player currently fit and available so shouldn’t be allowed to go anywhere.

A successful January should hopefully allow us to kick on over the second half of the season and find some security in mid-table and maybe prolong our Europa League adventure. A bad month, in which more players depart without being adequately replaced, and we’ll be in real trouble. As ever, our season hangs on the decisions of Jabba and Llambiarse loosening the purse strings and on Graham Carr pulling yet more rabbits from his hat.

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Thursday, January 03, 2013

To the Victor the spoils

Newcastle Utd 1 - 2 Everton

After dramatic, traumatic back-to-back defeats at Old Trafford and the Emirates, the fag end of the festive season brought no cheer either, Everton triumphing at St James' Park with our absent top scorer on the verge of joining Chelsea.

Paul may have imagined (or hoped) that Ba's impending departure would mean Papiss Cisse being restored to a central striking role, but it wasn't to be, with Big Lad drafted in to spearhead the attack. Positions and tactics were made to seem of negligible significance just two minutes in, though. Big Lad looked set to flick on a long lump forwards, with Cisse offside. Thankfully, the former made no contact and, with Johnny Heitinga and former Mag Sylvain Distin sufficiently distracted to take each other out in a comical collision, Cisse was left free to loop a header over Tim Howard and into the net.

We went on to threaten with pleasing regularity, Obertan Kenobi in particular tormenting the Toffees' out-of-position right-back Phil Jagielka while dangerous crosses were close to picking out Cisse and Vurnon Anita. It was the unlikely figure of Perchinho who was closest to extending our lead, though, sufficiently inspired by his goalscoring exploits at Old Trafford to nod a free kick onto Tim Howard's far post.

Nevertheless, the visitors were enjoying the bulk of possession, and could point to a number of opportunities of their own. Marouane Fellaini had a shot well blocked by Davide Santon and Steven Naismith planted a free header tamely at Tim Krul, while the Dutchman also made a decent stop from a Steven Pienaar shot and tipped over a wickedly deflected drive.

Down at Goodison Park in September, Everton's main menace was Leighton Baines, and once again he had set about causing us innumerable headaches - aided at least in part by the fact that the man detailed to mark him, Cisse, had a loose grasp of his defensive duties. Krul made a fine smothering save when Baines got onto the end of a lobbed ball that caught the defence napping, having already performed heroics to touch the left-back's curling free kick around the post.

But Baines was not to be denied, and was presented with the opportunity he needed by referee Martin Atkinson, who seemed intent on punishing our players for daring to breathe in the vicinity of their opponents. Obertan Kenobi, nominally affording protection to Krul in the wall, turned his back, and the Dutchman's two steps to the left, plus the vicious swerve on the smashed 30-yard drive, resulted in an unwelcome bulge in the net. Soon afterwards, Big Lad went to ground in the penalty area under challenge from Phil Neville, but even replays proved inconclusive and the scores were level at the break.

We began the second period with renewed vigour and determination, Sylvain Marveaux seeing more of the ball and frequently driving towards the heart of the Everton defence. Big Lad's beautiful close control created a golden opportunity, but he couldn't quite steer the ball inside the post with his second touch. It was the sort of chance that makes you wonder how much Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi will be ruing his failure to respond to phone calls ahead of the African Cup of Nations - and another striker of Nigerian descent soon made the miss all the more painful.

Everton's goalscorers at Goodison Park were Baines and substitute Victor Anichebe, and this time the latter took all of two minutes to make an impact from the bench. Neat interplay involving Baines, Pienaar, Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic ended with Anichebe stealing in front of a dozing Santon and converting from close range with Krul helpless.

That left us with half an hour (plus what turned out to be six minutes of stoppage time) to salvage something, but there was to be no way back, despite significant pressure and numerous efforts. Obertan Kenobi had a near-post shot saved by Howard before being replaced by Master T, a curious move given the threat he'd carried as well as the fact it seemed to result in Anita, who had provided drive through the middle, moving out to the right. Cisse had a header blocked and saw his improvised follow-up smartly stopped on the line by Howard. Marveaux was the beneficiary of a defensive slip but was unlucky that his fierce shot was blocked to safety by a well-positioned Leon Osman - and later, after falling over and making no attempt to claim a foul, had to suffer the indignity of being barracked by Everton skipper Neville, someone who certainly knows a thing or two about diving.

Santon, presumably desperate to make amends for his defensive error, pushed himself into good offensive positions overlapping on the left, but saw one shot well saved for a corner and another comfortably gathered with Cisse closing in. Surely it's only a matter of time before the Italian gets his first goal.

Of the Silver Fox's final two substitutes, Little Big Lad contributed energy and skill with some rousing gallops forwards, but the Lone Ranger's arrival (for Perchinho) once again had me shaking my head in dismay at our paucity of options, as did the increasingly desperate use of hoofed balls from back to front that Big Lad was supposed to win on his own.

Afterwards the Silver Fox commented, with some justification, on the commendable effort the players put in. He also noted: "We have to take heart from the performances we are giving". Offensively, yes - we look a constant threat and six goals away to Man Utd and Arsenal are not to be sniffed at. But defensively, no - again, mistakes cost us dearly and we looked brittle throughout, Williamson in particular.

The Silver Fox went on to add: "If we can get a bit more quality back in the team and maybe one or two in, which is probably important now, we'll be OK." Safe to say that that "probably" was redundant, not least because of Ba's impending departure (he's been routinely burying the sort of chances Cisse and Big Lad squandered). Mercifully, Mathieu Debuchy was in attendance (sat next to his good mate Dreamboat), giving us hope that decisive steps will be taken early in the transfer window to address our alarming slump - and even more alarming proximity to the relegation zone.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

One man went to mow?

According to reports Chelski have triggered Demba Ba's release fee and our man is currently in talks with them over wages.

Given the huge financial resources at their disposal, it seems unlikely that the deal is going to hit a stumbling block over wages for Ba, or cash for his many advisers, which means that the transfer will presumably hinge on the medical, and whether or not the Blues are prepared to gamble on the "ticking timebomb" knee condition.

I suspect we've probably seen the last of Ba in black and white stripes, given that the Blues have the resources to essentially take the financial hit even if he does break down and find his career over.

Sad as I will be to see Ba go, in fairness to the player he's never given anything less than 100% for the club and both last season and this scored more than his fair share of goals. What this hopefully will mean is that Papiss Cisse will now be given the central striking role which appeared to suit him better last season, meaning we might start seeing a better return from our number nine.

The other crumb of comfort is that if the deal is to happen soon it gives us a chance to push for a replacement (presumably Loic Remy) and avoid another deadline day Rocky fiasco.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year

A short note to wish you all our readers a Happy New Year!

Hopefully 2013 will see us surge up the table away from the relegation zone and give a good account of ourselves in Europe.

Best wishes,

Paul & Ben

Seven kinds of wrong

Arsenal 7 - 3 Newcastle Utd

While the scoreline perhaps flattered the home side, who undoubtedly benefited from not playing on Boxing Day, the reality is that we lost this match, and lost it badly, thanks to a host of terrible defensive errors.

In what to neutrals and home fans would have been a cracking match, to those of a black and white persuasion this was a depressing defeat whose only saving grace was that it served to highlight all of our current problems just before the opening of the transfer window.

In short, we lack quality cover in defence (where even some of our first choice XI aren't currently covering themselves in glory) and central midfield (where Mr T in particular seemed to be caught on the ball too frequently). Up front, we remain reliant on Demba Ba who did everything possible to win the game for us, and in doing so once again highlighted his worth as the January sales start.

For us, two goals by Ba sandwiched a tap-in for Sylvain Marveaux (one of the few bright sparks). At the back, however, we consistently failed to adequately mark players, track runs and sweep up loose balls. Gallingly, Arsenal's second even came from our own throw, with Danny Simpson unable to pick out one of his static team mates.

Unlike our Boxing Day game at Old Trafford, this time it was Newcastle who thrice equalised only to then to capitulate at the end, when heavy legs and lack of squad depth took their toll as Arsenal tellingly scored three goals in the last seven minutes to give the score an unfairly lopsided feel.

Exasperatingly for the Silver Fox, we actually dominated possession, only to be ruthlessly punished for some pretty lax defending.

What the game clearly illustrates is the need for more bodies in the squad, with defensive reinforcements (ideally at right back and centre-half) of paramount importance (not least following Danny Simpson's broken toe). With half the season gone 40 points still looks a long way away from where I'm sitting. To get there we need to tighten up at the back and hope that, should Ba leave, we can still score enough goals to keep us the right side of the line come May.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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