Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Oh for fuck's sake. You really can't trust the Mackems to do anything right, can you? Just when we've stopped shuddering at the prospect of actually willing them to win, they go and get themselves pasted 6-1 at Villa Park. They really must hate us.

The win takes Villa level on points with the pair of us, and shoves us down a place into 17th, one place above the dreaded dotted line, on goal difference. That's the damaging impact an eleven-goal swing in one weekend can have.

On a related note, those possessing a particularly black sense of humour might be able to raise a smile at this...



Sunday, April 28, 2013

Appetite for (self-)destruction

Newcastle Utd 0 - 6 Liverpool

According to the Silver Fox in his post-match interview, we're in a relegation battle. No shit, Sherlock. After our worst home defeat since 1925 and a performance of quite staggering defensive ineptitude and (even more worryingly) spinelessness - quite probably the worst since this site started in 2004 - it would be ridiculous to claim that we're too good to go down. It's incredible that a core of players who finished fifth last campaign can have been supplemented with a clutch of established internationals and yet still find themselves in such serious peril - but no one came out of this encounter smelling of roses, or indeed anything other than manure.

On paper, Liverpool looked like relatively welcome opponents for our first home game since that disastrous derby. First and foremost, Luis Suarez would be missing, leading to hosts of pundits and media types pondering whether Liverpool would lack bite without him (chortle chortle) and Mark Lawrenson to tip us for victory. And then there was recent history: it was the Scousers whom we defeated in the Silver Fox's first game in charge, and last season the fixture was a joyous 2-0 cakewalk in which Pepe Reina was red-carded and we had the added bonus of laughing at Jose Enrique filling in between the sticks.

This time around, however, proved to be very different indeed, instead summoning up the spectre of the 5-1 battering we suffered in December 2008 in which heads went down and relegation started to look a distinct possibility. Fingers crossed this latest appalling pummelling doesn't foreshadow the same fate.

The side showed one change from the one that took to the field at the Hawthorns, the fit-again Mr T returning at the expense of the rather unlucky Goofy, last weekend's scorer. If the Silver Fox's intention was to stiffen up central midfield, the tactic failed horribly - time and again in the first half, Philippe Coutinho and others found acres of space to attack our back four, while Moussa Sissoko, shunted off to the flank, was as hopelessly ineffective as Spidermag.

That Liverpool didn't win their last away game, at Reading, by a similar scoreline was solely down to the performance of Royals 'keeper Alex McCarthy. Not that Rob Elliot, continuing to serve as understudy to the injured Tim Krul, could really be faulted for the astonishing carelessness with which the goals were conceded. He could perhaps have done slightly better for Daniel Agger's opener, after just three minutes, but in fairness his defence - and Massadio Haidara in particular - had left him painfully exposed.

By that point MYM had already had to slide a sizzling Glen Johnson cross behind for a corner with Daniel Sturridge lurking ominously, and the visitors didn't have to wait too long to double their lead. An upfield hoof by Reina was flicked to Coutinho by Sturridge, who span away from Haidara and accelerated into space. Found by the Brazilian's brilliantly deceptive outside-of-the-foot through-ball, he knocked the ball wide of Elliot for Jordan Henderson - oh yes, £15m Mackem superflop Jordan Henderson - to tuck home.

Haidara was having a nightmare, but at the other end did at least beat his man and whip in a cross that an unmarked Perchinho met with the proverbial 50 pence piece header. It could have got worse before the break, too, with the ever-dangerous Sturridge flagged narrowly offside. In the aftermath of the whistle, he tangled with Mathieu Debuchy, both players' names going into Andre Marriner's book.

That something drastic needed to be done at half-time was blindingly obvious - exactly what, though, remained to be seen. Sections of the St James' Park crowd had been chanting HBA's name as early as the 20th minute, and they got their wish with the Frenchman introduced for the second half in place of Spidermag. Goofy also came on, the Silver Fox signalling a serious shift of attacking intent, but the retention of Mr T at Perchinho's expense baffled - the Ivorian had been a liability throughout the first period, hapless in possession, wayward in tracking and tackling, and looking likely to have Marriner reaching for a red sooner rather than later.

Nevertheless, the substitutions (and the decision to move Dreamboat deeper) had the desired impact and for seven or eight minutes we looked a side transformed, with impetus and creative ability in the final third. And then HBA, driven backwards into his own half, cheaply surrendered possession to Coutinho, who advanced and picked out a perfect dinked pass for Sturridge to blast home. Six minutes later it really was all over. Under no pressure whatsoever and with MYM and Haidara making a complete hash of playing offside, Steven Gerrard was able to pick out Henderson, who squared for Sturridge to knock past Elliot's despairing dive.

The Silver Fox's response? Keep Big Lad - the one player who could have ruffled a few feathers - benched and instead bring on Vurnon Anita for Mr T. If this was an attempt at damage limitation, then the horse had very definitely already bolted - and, as if to underline that point, Liverpool scored two more. First, substitute Fabio Borini - an even bigger Kop flop than Henderson - was able to get his first league goal for the Reds with his second touch, a right-foot prod after Stewart Downing had deceived Haidara far too easily. And then Henderson curled in a free-kick that players on both sides dived to connect with but which found its way in at the far post untouched.

That free-kick was awarded for a stupid lunge on Coutinho by Debuchy - doubly stupid because it earned him a second yellow and a place in the stands for next weekend's increasingly vital clash at Upton Park. Thankfully, Liverpool decided enough was enough and, aside from a Coutinho shot that Elliot brilliantly tipped onto the bar, didn't threaten to worsen the humiliation and our goal difference.

If there was one tiny crumb of comfort, it was Spurs' last-minute equaliser at the DW Stadium. Prior to that, Wigan had looked set for three points courtesy of our dear friend Callum McManaman's drive. As it is, we remain just five points above them and praying for (this makes me shudder to contemplate) a Mackem win at Villa Park tomorrow night.

So how are our remaining fixtures looking? West Ham next weekend, when you just know that Fat Sam, Rocky and Kevin Nolan will be keen to kick us while we're down. QPR the weekend after that - the Hoops will almost certainly be relegated by that point, but 'Appy 'Arry and Loic £emy will no doubt relish the opportunity to inflict pain. And then the visit of Arsenal, who are very likely to need the points in their chase for a Champions League place. We've picked up one win away from home all season and now seem to have turned into total basket-cases at St James' Park. All of which means we're in extremely deep shit.

The Silver Fox's immediate task is to rebuild confidence - the players looked completely shot, and worryingly so given the fact that the West Brom display suggested they'd got the derby and subsequent fallout out of their systems. He then needs to impress on everyone the importance of those remaining games and demand a much improved workrate and commitment (at the very least). He also needs to give the defence (now the leakiest in the division) some urgent lessons in the offside trap - not just Papiss Cisse this time. When it comes to the matches themselves, he is now under huge pressure to get the tactics (and substitutions) spot on - though the players need to accept their responsibility and realise that the level of performance against Liverpool was disgraceful and cannot happen again. If it does, make no mistake - we'll be waving hello to the Championship.

A Liverpool fan's perspective: The Liverpool Offside

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Explanation please

While Llambiarse blasted the FA's disciplinary procedures as "not fit for purpose" in the wake of the Callum McManaman incident, the Silver Fox has chosen to be somewhat more diplomatic in his comments on the English game's organising authority. Reacting to news of the length of Luis Suarez's ban, he's politely asked for clarification as to the rationale.

Not that he is disputing that the Uruguayan's ten-game sinbinning was justified (and neither should he - the striker's offence was unforgiveable and yet another blot on an already heavily blotted copybook); on the contrary, it's because there remains widespread bafflement at St James' Park about how McManaman's "tackle" - an incident that was hardly much less savoury and certainly much more dangerous and career-threatening - could have escaped any kind of retrospective punishment.

Setting aside the fact that calling for transparency from the FA has about as much chance of success as the Mackems making it into Europe, the FA would no doubt trot out that line about the officials having missed Suarez's chomp but witnessed McManaman's assault - which, of course, still doesn't justify issuing a ban for one incident rather than the other, but instead just underlines the perverse and arbitrary "logic" of the rules.

In any case, we can take comfort from Suarez's absence for tomorrow's encounter with Liverpool. They may not be a one-man team, but they're not far off it. It's up to us to capitalise and save our Premier League skins.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Get 'em in singles

WBA 1 - 1 Newcastle Utd

There is an apocryphal story surrounding a  test match between England and Australia from 1902, in which, needing 15 to win with only one wicket remaining, one of the men (George Hurst) said to the England number XI (Wilfred Rhodes) that "We'll get 'em in singles, Wilfred".

Currently, as we hover over the relegation zone, just far enough away to not be fully panicked, but equally not so safe that we can count our chickens, there is a sense that we're inching our way to safety.

In that context, Saturday's draw to early-season pace setters West Brom represented another single in our quest for mathematical safety.

Out of the traps early, presumably with an intent to put right the previous weekend's wrongs, we got ahead early thanks to Goofy's deft flicked header from a fine Papiss Cisse cross. Throughout the first half, we continued to push West Brom back, with Saylor unlucky that the ball didn't quite fall for him from a corner and Cisse later firing over having been gifted a clear run on goal thanks to a terrible back-pass (think Santon against Benfica).

At half-time, though, the Baggies regrouped and reshuffled, switching to a more direct approach which saw us quickly pegged back and scrabbling frantically to hold on to our lead. Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku headed over and we looked to be riding our luck, only for our defence to be breached when Billy Jones (the Baggies' first English goalscorer this season) was able to evade a tackler and score with a good low shot.

Back on level terms, the home side continued to press but thankfully their attacks foundered on a gritty black and white rearguard and we came away with a precious point.

While our inferior goal difference has seen us drop behind both 5under1and and Stoke, we remain three points clear of Villa and six clear of Wigan's 18th place (albeit Wigan have a game in hand).

For those left wondering, Hurst and Rhodes went on to score 13 singles and 1 two to win the match.  Hopefully we'll be able to do likewise.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Knee problem

Sad news from the club last week, who confirmed that Raylor (recently back in training) has had a significant set back and suffered a further cruciate knee ligament injury which is expected to keep him out for most (if not all) of next season.

Hopefully he'll make swift and steady progress next season and we'll see him sooner than currently expected.

With one member of this squad capable of providing full-back cover out for another twelve months it does raise the question of Danny Simpson's future. With Simpson's contract due to expire in the summer and no news of him signing for anyone else, it may yet be that we consider offering him a new contract after all.

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Pride and prejudice

Perhaps it would be best not to dwell any longer on the debacle of the weekend before last and just try to pretend it never happened, but I did spot this news item which indicates that the result had unexpected ramifications well beyond the match itself and the ensuing disorder. Fair play to the juror in question for admitting the situation - though you wonder whether there weren't any others who kept their allegiances quiet.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)



Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Month Of Saturdays: March 2013

(Better late than never - appropriately enough, given the recurring theme of this month's edition. Hopefully this is sufficient excuse.)

Think football is a game of 90 minutes? Wrong. It's a game of 90 minutes plus stoppage time - and in one crazy week in March, events which took place in stoppage time proved critical in determining the outcome of three successive Newcastle matches.

We had begun the month with a disappointing 1-0 defeat at Swansea, belatedly rousing ourselves and taking charge only to pay the price for clumsy defending and succumb to a gruesomely scrappy Luke Moore goal. Thankfully, sinking-like-a-stone Stoke were next in Toon - though we had to come from behind, equalising through a delicious free kick from Dreamboat, who later admitted to having suffered depression in the wake of Euro 2012. The stage was then set for Papiss Cisse to secure a much-needed 2-1 win with an opportunist stoppage-time strike of the sort that a predatory Little Saint Mick might have scored once upon a time. He was an unused substitute on the Potters' bench that day and later announced his retirement, reflecting wistfully what might have been had he not picked up that succession of injuries while we instead reflected on his infuriating determination to put country before club.

One stoppage-time victory achieved, another was to follow a few days later in the Europa League. We had already secured a very creditable goalless draw in Moscow against Anzhi Mackhachkala, courtesy of some superb defending from MYM and Perchino and athletic goalkeeping from Rob Elliot - it could have been even better had surprise starter HBA not fluffed a great opportunity on the plastic pitch, the Frenchman then promptly ruled out for the season. Back on Tyneside, the second leg proved an engrossing encounter, the sides practically inseparable. The Russians were a man light but hit the crossbar shortly before the game drifted beyond the 90th minute and towards extra time and potentially penalties - at which point Cisse again came alive and headed us into the quarter finals, where we were paired with Benfica.

At the DW Stadium the following Sunday, however, our good fortune ran out in one of the games likely to stick longest in the memory from this season, for all the wrong reasons. Mathieu Debuchy had already limped off when his replacement Massadio Haidara's knee was the victim of a sickening assault from Callum McManaman. The full-back was stretchered off but remarkably the Wigan winger remained on the pitch without even a booking to his name. It was another full-back, Davide Santon, who scored our goal, cancelling out Jean Beausejour's opener, but the Latics ultimately prevailed thanks to more incredibly inept officiating, Maynor Figueroa's injury-time handball flick-on from a corner unseen and Arouna Kone allowed to bundle the ball home.

The fallout from a defeat that smarted more than most rumbled on all the following week: Delusional Dave Whelan presenting a predictably hypocritical defence of McManaman, referee Mark Halsey sent to Coventry (literally) and, most incredibly, no retrospective punishment for Haidara's assailant. The club were understandably furious about the FA's inaction, though fortunately for McManaman and Wigan our initial threat of legal action was forgotten when it was confirmed that the Frenchman had, somewhat improbably, sustained no long-term injury as a result of the challenge. Meanwhile, it turned out that destructive acts had been perpetrated by some in black and white too that afternoon, Wigan Cosmos complaining that their match was disrupted by a bunch of disorderly Toon fans fresh off the coaches.

We may have had the international break during which to simmer down (an international break during which Saylor received a call-up to the full England squad) but we fared no better afterwards. Man City had all but lost the title to their fiercest rivals, but we had the considerable misfortune to encounter the outgoing champions in no mood to surrender their trophy cheaply. Four times Rob Elliot's net rippled without reply, and with results elsewhere also conspiring against us, Paul's claim that the Stoke victory meant "that the Silver Fox can afford to focus 100% on the Europa League" suddenly seemed decidedly doubtful.

Still, on the bright side, at least the club's finances were looking relatively rosy (participation in Europe couldn't be doing any harm on that front, even if Llambiarse had previously declared that it should be more lucrative) while we could at last toast the departure of the Lone Ranger - who was promptly arrested again. Oh well, our loss is Sunday League football's gain, obviously...

Contrast that utter waste of raw talent with two of our other young guns, Conor Newton and Paul Dummett, who collected winners' medals by helping St Mirren to lift the Scottish League Cup. Newton in particular was invaluable, scoring what proved to be the decisive goal against Hearts. Meanwhile, two other loanees made their impact felt south of the border, Little Big Lad scoring on his debut for the Smogs and Shane Ferguson putting in a superb shift as Birmingham romped to a 4-0 win at promotion-chasing Crystal Palace. When the duo found themselves on opposing sides, bragging rights went to Fergie, who set up Blues' winning goal.

On the subject of bragging rights, the Mackems gave our derby prospects a massive boost by sacking Martin O'Neill and appointing inexperienced lunatic and self-confessed fascist Paolo Di Canio in his place. At least they could guarantee that the training would run on time, I suppose...



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Violence made a dark day darker

It goes without saying, but we echo the club's statement condemning Sunday's appalling post-derby violence - though would point out that many if not most of those involved hadn't attended the game and so it's unjustified to tarnish all Toon supporters with the same brush, and that it's overstatement to link events to the incidents of crowd violence at Saturday's Millwall v Wigan FA Cup semi-final and conclude that we're witnessing a renaissance of 80s-style football hooliganism.

Nevertheless, it just served to make it an even more depressing afternoon. A comment from a North-East-based friend in the legal profession made me chuckle, though: "A bad day to be a Newcastle fan. Unless, of course, you happen to be Duty Solicitor"...

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Diabolical derby display

Newcastle Utd 0 - 3 The Great Unwashed

Well, that was all a bit shit really, wasn't it? Certainly not the introduction which our newest fan would have wanted.

Shuffling his pack after Thursday's Europa League exit, the Silver Fox welcomed back Saylor, Goofy, Mathieu Debuchy, Mr T and Sylvain Marveaux to the starting XI. With Santon still injured, he opted to deploy Spidermag at left-back rather than stick with Massadio Haidara.

While we had some fresh legs on the pitch, equally there were a number of players, Dreamboat included, for whom this was the fourth game in 11 days and, to be blunt, it showed. In the first half, we looked off the pace, continually second best to a team enjoying the dead-cat bounce of a new manager and undoubtedly benefiting from not having played in midweek.

With Adam Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon looking threatening for the visitors, we were perhaps fortunate not to concede an early penalty for a Saylor tug on Toon fan Danny Graham. We were undone soon enough, when Spidermag cut infield before playing a poor square pass which allowed 5unde1and to break quickly and Sessegnon took full advantage with a shot from outside the box which just found the bottom corner.

At the other end, we nearly got back into it, with Papiss Cisse drawing a good save at point blank range from Simon Mignolet, and then testing the 'keeper again a few minutes later with a longer-range shot which saw Mignolet at full stretch.

As is expected in a derby, even one in which Lee Clattermole isn't playing, tackles were still flying in with Goofy fortunate to only get booked after going over the top of the ball, while Saylor was perhaps unlucky to be booked challenging for a loose ball in the penalty area. For the Mackems, Danny Rose picked up a yellow for a two-footed lunge on Debuchy.

At half-time, the Silver Fox turned to Big Lad, in the hope that he could carry on his Mackem-slaying heroics of recent years. It wasn't long before the bench was again in use as Tim Krul departed in obvious pain, with a dislocated shoulder.

What was apparent was that we at last looked to have raised our tempo, and we started to take the game to 5under1and and looked to be back on terms when Cisse fired home from a tight angle, latching on to Moussa Sissoko's knock-down from Marveaux's free kick, only for the linesman to wrongly rule it out for off-side.

HBA was introduced in place of the flagging Dreamboat in the hope that he could reprise his impact from Thursday night, and he nearly did so, heading over from close in.

Having had one goal wrongly ruled out and having missed another good chance, we then allowed Adam Johnson too much space and he cut infield and curled a long-range shot past Elliot's outstretched hand.

As we continued to press forward, we were again caught with a sucker punch when Sessegnon again ran forward before cutting the ball to David Vaughan who was borderline offside. Vaughan took one touch before curling the ball into the far corner.

Much as it pains me to say it, on the balance of the whole game the better side left with the three points.  That said, if Cisse's goal had been allowed to stand, we'd have been back on terms and with the momentum we could well have gone on to win.

The Silver Fox pointed to tiredness after the match, and in some cases that may well have been true. However, it doesn't explain the fact that as a team we were all sluggish and particularly in the first half were second best too many times. Nevertheless, if the price to pay for further adventures in Europe is the occasional loss to a team who have fewer European goals as a club than Big Lad, it's possibly a price with paying (provided we don't have to pay it very often).

What we still need to do is focus on our remaining league games so that we can firstly pick up enough points to survive and secondly generate some momentum to take into the summer. If the Silver Fox can do that, then he'll be safe. If he can't then the murmurings of discontent which this result inevitably triggered may grow into a sizeable protesting voice.

Other reports:  BBC, Guardian (thankfully not TBW)

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Monday, April 15, 2013

How not to be bothered by crushing derby defeat

OK, I'm going to be honest here. I don't really give two shits about yesterday's nightmarish home defeat to the Mackems (Paul's report to follow). But then that's what witnessing your first child being born on the eve of the match will do. An anaesthetic for the pain. Personally speaking, yesterday was a very good day to bury bad news. As one friend has commented, Newcastle agreed to call off the match as a mark of respect, but unfortunately Sunderland refused...

Of course, it might all have been different if only the club's newest fan had been wearing his specially purchased Toon babygro for the occasion. It's all ifs, buts and maybes. The timing of Stanley's arrival, at 2.15pm on Saturday, suggested that he wasn't aware the derby had been switched to a Sunday lunchtime kick-off for television. However, the fact that his first match was a devastating defeat inflicted by our most bitter rivals should help ensure he's under no illusions about the realities of life as a Newcastle supporter.

Now to weigh up how much to bet on him playing in black and white in twenty years' time...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Europa exit no embarrassment

Newcastle Utd 1 - 1 Benfica

Heartening to know, isn't it, that an intensely dislikeable team of Champions League fuck-ups whose players sneer at the Europa League remain in the competition (that would be Chelsea, in case you're wondering), while a side of more modest ambitions and investment, hamstrung by injuries to key players, can bust an absolute gut in an attempt to progress into the next round, only to come up agonisingly short against one of Europe's form teams?

The initial signs were unpromising, but the Silver Fox got his strategy - if not all the minutiae of his tactics - spot on: get to half-time goalless and then step up a gear and take the game to the visitors. For the final 23 minutes of last night's match, we had a line-up so attacking it would have even given King Kev kittens - and, make no mistake, the previously unflappable Benfica were rattled. But we spurned our chances and it wasn't to be, a stoppage-time goal on this occasion going against us, the fatal blow to our fading hopes.

With Mathieu Debuchy ineligible (and injured) and both Davide Santon and Saylor joining Sideshow Bob in the treatment room, the Silver Fox found himself deprived of his entire first-choice back line. That meant two notable inclusions: Massadio Haidara, now miraculously recovered after the infamous DW Stadium assault, and Mike Williamson, back in from the cold, having been frozen out of the first-team picture since MYM's arrival. There was an unexpected start for Master T too, on the right side of midfield, as Sylvain Marveaux dropped to the bench.

The starting line-up had a defensive look about it, and so it proved as we created precious little in the first half. Our best chances, typically, fell to Papiss Cisse - first when Master T flighted a perfect ball into him but his control let him down, and then close to the interval when he swept home Danny Simpson's cross from an offside position.

A cautious approach didn't seem like the most sensible tactic, as it gave encouragement to a visiting side who didn't really need it. Their exuberantly maned coach Jorge Jesus had chosen to rest strikers Oscar Cardozo and Rodrigo, both of whom scored in the first leg, but that could hardly be taken for arrogance or complacency given that their replacements Rodrigo Lima and Eduardo Salvio looked equally dangerous.

Lima tested Tim Krul's reflexes with a clever flick from a low cross barely three minutes in, and winger Salvio nodded a cross just wide of the post later in the half. It was Nicolas Gaitan who had their best opportunity, though, when Krul had to release the ball to avoid carrying it out of the area. The ball was pulled back to the Argentinian schemer and, with the Dutchman all at sea, Haidara came to the rescue with a Saylor-esque goalline clearance.

Our problem was that we simply couldn't contain Benfica's midfield, who are masters of what Alan Partridge would rightly call "liquid football". Moussa Sissoko was offering neither much support to Cisse nor much asistance to a central midfield in which Vurnon Anita and Dreamboat were too far apart, the latter skippering the side but having a distinctly off-colour evening in a deeper-than-normal role. Having made it to the break with our goal intact, the Silver Fox chose to make a change, taking off the slightly unfortunate Master T (it could have been pretty much anyone) and throwing on Big Lad. If nothing else, it signalled a determination to give Benfica a rougher ride in the second half - and so it proved.

Suddenly the long ball became an option, which was particularly useful for Williamson - commanding in the air but worryingly nervy in possession on the ground. Big Lad started buffetting their back line in a way they didn't want while Cisse continued to look threatening, seeing another net-rippling effort chalked off. HBA made his unexpected but hugely welcome early return from injury and Marveaux also entered the fray. The fact that our two left-footed French wizards replaced Haidara and Anita meant we now had an eye-wateringly offensive line-up.

They'd only both been on the pitch for three minutes when we took the lead. HBA's jinking run looked to have come to nowt, but his quick nutmeg after dithering from Lorenzo Melgarejo and Ezequiel Garay and a deflected toe-poked cross from Big Lad later, and Cisse was nodding past Artur into the Benfica net. Now we didn't just hope we could overturn that first-leg deficit - we believed it and we knew it too.

Wave after wave of attacks followed, panicked defenders sliced clearances behind for corners, the sell-out crowd roared with all the vigour they could muster, Jesus prowled the touchline like a man in electrified shoes - but the ball wouldn't fall for anyone in black and white to have a real chance. Big Lad's hustling and bustling created a number of near-opportunities, but HBA had the best sight of goal, cutting in from the right and firing high over the bar with his normally trusty left.

We only needed the one goal to progress into the semi-final, but in truth, as the match ticked into the final few minutes and then into stoppage time, Benfica started to regain a grip on things and were once again looking dangerous - and then they struck the killer blow. working a nice move that was completed by Salvio, who nipped in front of a dozing Sissoko to fire under Krul's body from six yards. The defending wasn't textbook, affording their players too much space in which to operate, but that was a consequence of us chasing the game and so it's hard to apportion much blame to anyone.

The final whistle was greeted with appreciative applause for the players' effort and the fact that, for a spell early in the first leg and again for a spell in the second half at St James', we had undoubtedly excellent opponents on the rack. There's no shame in failing to do what only Barcelona have done this season - namely, beat Benfica by two clear goals. We came very close to pulling off another Feyenoord, but just came up short, and are left to rue the mistakes and misfortunes of the away trip in particular, and to reflect on a European campaign that for months was depicted as an unwelcome distraction but that gradually came to assume greater importance.

Not that we can spend too long feeling sorry for ourselves, though, with the small matter of the derby only two days away. Fatigue may be a factor, but hopefully that will be obliterated by the adrenaline and sense of occasion - and we'll go into the game safe in the knowledge that we've just given a far better side than Di Canio's rabble a serious fright.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pop stars in stripes

Two massive fixtures ahead, so I'm not sure whether inviting teen-pop idols One Direction to come and have a kickabout with the coaching staff was ideal preparation. Needless to say, Danny Simpson seems to have taken them under his wing - he clearly has a thing for pop stars.

After the match Niall Horan took to Twitter to express his amazement at the fact that Peter Beardsley's lost none of his skills. A little bit of Pedro-esque magic could be what's needed tonight against a side who've only been beaten by the requisite two goals once this season - by Barcelona...



Lurking for Loic

Might we be able to get revenge on 'Appy 'Arry? The Metro seems to think so, reporting that we're waiting in the wings to activate a release clause and sign up Loic £emy on a free if QPR are relegated. The Frenchman is currently doing well in a struggling side and scored a spectacular goal against Wigan at the weekend - but, after his shoddy treatment of the club in January, whether our supporters would be behind him is another matter entirely. What's more, in all likelihood it wouldn't really be revenge - if the Hoops do go down, 'Appy 'Arry will probably scarper faster than if he'd heard the taxman knocking, and they'll be only too happy to get a high earner off the wage bill.

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No laughing matter

Northumbria Police have issued a warning to fans not to make fascist salutes in Paolo Di Canio's direction during Sunday's derby. You'd hope none of our supporters would be stupid enough, but it's worth stressing all the same. Let's just get working on the witty chants instead.



Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Guilty as charged

Part of me wonders whether we should be bothering to waste any more time, effort and thought on the Lone Ranger now that we've washed our hands of him. So this is just a very quick note to say he's been found guilty of assault (again), this time on his girlfriend, and that his solicitor's comments in court make clear, as everyone could have guessed, that his departure from Newcastle wasn't so much "by mutual consent" (as per the club statement) as terminated at the club's insistence: "He has had to leave Newcastle United FC by way of settlement. It was not something he wanted to do. He brought it upon himself, he has to move on with his life."

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Quote of the day

"We owe Mrs Thatcher a minute's silence. ... It is not my decision, it is for the FA to decide, but I would be in favour of wearing an armband out of respect to Mrs Thatcher. We have to say thank you very much for the services the former PM has given us. ... Mrs Thatcher was a very, very special lady and a very special prime minister. After Winston Churchill, we have probably had two or three really good PMs and she was definitely one of those. I only met her once and I just thought she was a fantastic lady, the country could do with another lady, another PM who can do what she did. We shall sadly miss her."

Wigan chairman Dave Whelan continues to do his best to make himself the most unpopular man on Tyneside.

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Monday, April 08, 2013

Stoppage-time superstar strikes again

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 Fulham

If you score a hat-trick, you get to keep the match ball. So, by an extension of that logic, if - like Papiss Cisse - you manage to score a hat-trick of post-90 minute winners in three consecutive home matches in the space of less than a month, surely you get to keep stoppage time? Though I suppose you'd have to wrestle it from Taggart's grasp first...

First came Stoke, and then Anzhi - and now Fulham. For nearly the entirety of yesterday's game it looked as though it just wouldn't be Cisse's day. He'd tried his luck with foot and head, from distance and from close range, and yet the ball wouldn't go in. But, to his credit, he never gave up hope and, at the death, came up with a goal that was part skill and part instinct to spark wild scenes in the stands and propel us out of the mire.

The Silver Fox made just one change to the team that went down in Portugal on Thursday, the injured Perchinho's place taken by the previously ineligible Goofy. That made for an attacking line-up with no natural defensive midfielder, Spidermag expected to perform in that role.

As fate would have it, we had a defensive midfielder on the pitch soon enough, an injury to Davide Santon continuing the Curse of the Full-Back and resulting in an early introduction for Vurnon Anita and another new role for Spidermag, now at left-back.

By that point, though, in-form Fulham had already shown they would be no pushovers, their mercurial Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov firing a shot just over the angle from distance with a nonchalant stroke off the outside of his right boot. Their best chance of the half fell to Bryan Ruiz, but a tremendous Saylor-esque sliding block from MYM deflected the ball behind without Tim Krul having to make a save. The Dutchman was called into action soon afterwards, though, preventing Stanislav Manolev from finding the net from close range.

For our part, Saylor planted a header over the bar while Cisse squandered a great opportunity when played in by Sylvain Marveaux, ballooning over the bar despite Marveaux being perfectly placed for a return ball. Overall, we looked somewhat jaded after the exertions of Thursday evening, and the 0-0 half-time score did little to ease the tension around the ground - news of the Mackems' 1-0 lead at Stamford Bridge only making matters worse.

Thankfully, the players emerged for the second half with more purpose, gradually looking brighter and fresher (Marveaux in particular) when by rights they should have been more fatigued, and set about translating the pressure on them into pressure on their Fulham counterparts.

A shot from Anita that deflected onto the bar with Mark Schwarzer beaten was the first of many close shaves for the visitors' goal. Cisse was at the centre of everything, overrunning one chance into Schwarzer's grateful arms and seeing the Australian tip another shot onto the post. The frame of the goal was struck twice more in very quick succession, first by Goofy's header and then by Cisse's point-blank follow-up. Unfortunately for us, the ball wouldn't go in - and neither did referee Kevin Friend or his assistants spot that Sasha Riether had handled Goofy's initial effort off the line.

The Silver Fox threw caution to the wind, withdrawing Goofy and Danny Simpson and throwing on two strikers, Big Lad and Adam Campbell, and the former soon set about getting on the end of and missing chances. No doubt he'll be more deadly against next Sunday's opponents... From nowhere, Berbatov's header forced Krul into a spectacular tip-over, while at the other end Cisse's header was well clutched by Schwarzer as time ran out.

By this point Dreamboat was limping, but suddenly came alive to thread a ball through for Cisse, who with his back to goal flicked it up, span away from Berbatov and fired into the net. That was the cue for all hell to break loose, the goalscorer and Moussa Sissoko introducing themselves to the lower tiers of the stand and the Silver Fox also losing his cool and launching himself into the fans. He emerged dishevelled and apparently relieved of his keys (wonder if the Mackem supporters will be waving keys in his direction on Sunday?), but with a manic grin that told you all you needed to know about the goal's importance.

Our joy on the final whistle was only magnified by the confirmation of the Mackems' defeat, the results putting us five points clear of the Great Unwashed and up to 13th, above Norwich and Stoke too.

But the final word has to be for Cisse. My first born is due today - as Paul has pointed out to me, if his or her arrival happens to slip into added-on time, then there should be a serious temptation to name him or her after a certain Senegalese striker...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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JPT just the ticket for Brad

It's a sad state of affairs when the only way you seem to be able to get your hands on silverware as a Newcastle player is to go out on loan. Not to be outdone by Toon colleagues Conor Newton and Paul Dummett, who lifted the Scottish League Cup with St Mirren last month, Brad Inman was able to celebrate a similar feat yesterday as his Crewe side beat Southend in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final.

The Aussie midfielder was instrumental in the Railwaymen's passage to Wembley, scoring two crucial goals in the first leg of the semi-final at Coventry, and played his part against the Shrimpers but, despite a couple of decent skidding efforts from distance, couldn't find the net and was withdrawn with twenty minutes remaining.

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Ahead of schedule?

Could HBA be back before the end of the season? That's the claim made by the Independent's Martin Hardy. While it would certainly be welcome news, Sylvain Marveaux seems to have grasped the importance of filling HBA's sizeable boots and it's the fact that our full-backs are dropping like flies that is currently causing most concern.



Friday, April 05, 2013

Race half run

Benfica 3 - 1 Newcastle Utd

In Grand National week, it is perhaps appropriate to consider our Europa League quarter-final against Benfica as a horse race,

While second favourites before the start, in a two horse race we always had a chance and it was Newcastle who started the stronger and for about twenty minutes we looked every inch the thoroughbred.

After creating a couple of decent early chances we got our noses in front thanks to a great through-pass from Danny Simpson which went between full-back and centre-back and allowed Moussa Sissoko to run on to the ball behind the home defence. His right-wing cross found the on-rushing Papiss Cisse who sidefooted home from six yards to give us a deserved lead.

With the team pressing well and Benfica looking decidedly ordinary, we continued to press our advantage and Cisse was desperately unlucky to see a second chance flicked onto the post by the keeper's fingertips and agonisingly bounce back to the grateful goalie.

Having nearly gone two up, things frustratingly started to go awry.  First we allowed Benfica to equalise when MYM was slow to react to a good save by Tim Krul, allowing Rodrigo to be first to the rebound, and he calmly slotted home.

From there, Benfica's ears pricked up and they started to look far livelier and by the end of the half we looked to be struggling to contain our hosts, who were now looking the stronger side.

Fired up at the break, we again came out all guns blazing and Cisse was again unfortunate to see another shot hit the woodwork when he latched onto Sylvain Marveaux's fine through-pass and lifted the ball over the advancing Artur.

At that stage, we unfortunately started to clip fences. First, Davide Santon played a backpass without first looking to check the way to Krul was clear. It wasn't, and the recently arrived Lima was able to intercept the ball before firing past Krul from a tight angle.

Again, Benfica applied the pressure and six minutes later Saylor cracked, handling a corner and conceding a penalty (one which was only awarded by one of the Harry Potter assistant referees), but which was nonetheless fairly clear cut.

Oscar Cardozo stepped up and fired the ball past Krul, but was made to take it again due to a minimal amount of encroachment as he was running up. Undeterred, he replaced the ball and again knocked it past Krul to give Benfica a two-goal cushion.

With the race now half run, it's fair to say that we're currently lagging behind the Portuguese side who will go into next week's second leg as clear favourites to progress. However, with a strong home crowd a 2-0 win is certainly not beyond us, with Cisse clearly dominating his markers last night and unlucky not to have a hat-trick.

For us to get through, though, we're going to need a brilliant performance both up front and at the back, with a clean sheet looking like a necessity. The odds may be against us, but sometimes the outsider comes up on the rails to win by a nose.

Ha'way the lads!

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Shitty at City

Man City 4 - 0 Newcastle Utd

A slick polished performance, uncharacteristic of much of what they have produced this season was, unfortunately, Man City's Easter gift to their fans, as we watched helpless as the defending champions rediscovered their mojo to devastating effect.

Forced to reshuffle our backline in light of our current full-back injury list, the Silver Fox opted to give Danny Simpson a first league start of 2013 and deploy Spidermag at left back, with Obertan Kenobi replacing him further up the park and Vurnon Anita coming in for Mr T in midfield.

Unfortunately, with Anita and Dreamboat in the deep-lying midfield positions, our back four lacked the protection which a more defensive-minded player might have afforded and as a consequence we too often allowed Man City to pass the ball through us, with Samir Nasri to the fore.

Despite facing something of a passing masterclass, we were the side who crafted the best early chance, with Papiss Cisse volleying a diagonal ball from Anita against the foot of the post. Disappointingly, having held on for much of the first half, our resolve collapsed just before the break as first Carlos Tevez and then David Silva found the net in a four-minute spell which turned a decent performance into a poor half.

Identifying the problem, the Silver Fox replaced Kenobi with Perchinho at half-time to give us more bite in midfield, and we emerged re-energised as first Dreamboat and then Moussa Sissoko both shot wide. However, with the home side in this kind of form, it was almost a case of when, not if, they would add to their tally and sure enough they didn't take long, with returning captain Vincent Kompany scoring after we failed to adequately clear a corner.

The coup-de-grace came ten minutes later when Yaya Toure's fierce shot was deflected past Rob Elliot by the sliding boot of Perchinho.

The result itself was particularly tough on our keeper, who made a number of fine saves in what was an otherwise flat performance.

With a number of results elsewhere proving unhelpful, we once again find ourselves with an eye on the relegation fight, when our focus needs to be on Thursday's Europa League quarter-final against Benfica.

Hopefully whatever cobwebs we had from the international break have now been well and truly blown away and we can rediscover the defensive parsimony which has served us so well to date in Europe. If not, Thursday could be a particularly unpleasant experience.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Stadium of Light Far Right

As if losing (again) courtesy of an Agent Bramble own goal wasn't enough, the Mackems compounded a hilarious weekend by attempting to arrest their impressive decline by swapping a thoughtful, shrewd manager with a proven track record for a complete lunatic with no experience at the top level and a dubious record of pro-fascist remarks and gestures. MP David Miliband has quit the board in protest at the appointment, while the club have been sufficiently upset by external criticism to issue a statement in defence of the new man, claiming it's "insulting".

Several people have suggested on Twitter that Di Canio's arrival might mean a push for a move from the Premier League into the English Defence League...