Thursday, August 29, 2013

Brothers pair decider

Morecambe 0 - 2 Newcastle Utd

Well, we're through. It was hardly the morale-boosting romp we needed, and at times in the opening half-hour we looked in mortal danger of keeping Sky happy and coming a cropper in a banana skin of a tie. Thankfully, though, a late salvo saved the day and we can look forward to the prospect of the next round with relief.

The Silver Fox's teamsheet will have been the subject of much debate. Only three players from Saturday's draw with West Ham took to the field - French trio Mathieu Debuchy, Sylvain Marveaux and MYM - while Curtis Good and Master T, both last spotted by me a fortnight ago in the U21s' defeat at Reading, joined them. Rob Elliot, Paul Dummett, Dan Gosling, Goofy, Haris Vuckic and Little Big Lad made up the numbers. OK, so it might be considered wise not to have risked injuries to first-teamers - but a handsome win could have worked wonders for the likes of Cisse and Moussa Sissoko, and when the major domestic trophies can be claimed by clubs like Swansea and Wigan, there's certainly an argument for opting for a significantly stronger side than the one the Silver Fox chose to field.

One of his changes, Little Big Lad, was to make his mark before the night was out, but it was Gosling who came to the rescue in a frantic opening period. Twice he cleared Morecambe efforts off the line, the first time with his feet and the second with a combination of chest and post (and possibly forearm). Hearts were in mouths on the second occasion but referee Mark Haywood was unmoved by claims the ball had crossed the line - rightly so in my view, as replays were inconclusive.

Striker Padraig Amond was causing us particular problems, with Elliot called upon to bail us out on a couple of other occasions. You might have expected Good and Dummett, both making their full debuts, to be jittery but actually it was captain-for-the-day MYM who looked most flustered. Jim Bentley's side had set about making the most of both their physicality and height advantage, Debuchy in particular on the receiving end of some unsettling whacks early on and our tallest players Dummett and Little Big Lad out on the left rather than in central areas.

As the half wore on, we gradually got to grips with the game and started having efforts on goal ourselves, Master T stinging Barry Roche's palms with a Ronaldo-style up-and-down free kick. But too many of our forward players were either wasteful and ineffectual in possession (Marveaux, Little Big Lad) or utterly anonymous (Goofy, Vuckic).

It was the Slovenian international who paid the price at the break, the Silver Fox turning to a well-stocked bench that represented a wise insurance policy. On came Big Lad, assuming the captain's armband and Goofy's previous position, with the Frenchman dropping deeper. It wasn't pretty, but suddenly we had a physical presence of our own and could start to dominate proceedings for the first time.

Even then, it was hardly exhibition stuff, with most of our efforts failing to trouble Roche. Big Lad wasted the best one, blazing over when played in, but Marveaux and Dummett also tried their luck without success. It's testament to the Shrimps' tenacity that the Silver Fox had to resort to playing his trump card, HBA entering the fray with 20 minutes of normal time left in place of Goofy.

The substitute made an immediate impact, drifting away past tackles as if they weren't there, and it was no surprise that he had a hand in the goal that belatedly set us on the path to victory. HBA's precision pass was smartly controlled by Big Lad, who took a couple of touches before firing a heavily deflected shot past Roche in front of the visiting supporters in what was a record Globe Arena crowd.

Morecambe attempted to rally, Kevin Ellison acting the wind-up merchant and Roche, up for a corner, giving Elliot work to do, but our passage into the next round and a home tie against Leeds was sealed with a breakaway goal. HBA picked out Little Big Lad galloping forwards in stoppage time and he teased his way past two men before neatly slotting home right-footed.

That euphoria shouldn't detract from the fact that there were too many lifeless, listless, error-strewn performances from players who (in their own minds, at least) have claims on a first-team place, or from the fact that the victory came very late and was over the side third favourites for relegation out of the Football League. Contrary to the Silver Fox's post-match comments, it'll take more than that to get our season properly up and running. But I suppose it's a start.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Ba-ck to the future?

I wondered how long it would be before the Demba Ba back to Newcastle stories would appear - the Metro appear to be the first. It's unclear whether there's any truth to the claims, but let's forget about that and instead weigh up whether it would be a good move for both parties.

For Ba, you'd have to say it would be. At Chelsea, he may have the tempting carrot of Champions League football and a genuine shot at a title-winner's medal, but he seems to be unfavoured by Jose Mourinho, and jostling for a place with £50m Fernando Torres and Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian who devastated defences on loan at West Brom last season. And that's not to mention the fact that the Blues have such a glut of attacking midfielders that Mourinho actually dispensed with a recognised striker against Man Utd on Monday, Andre Schurrle nominally filling the role. By contrast, Ba would be practically guaranteed a starting berth on Tyneside.

More importantly, though, I think it would represent a sound signing on our part too. Ba knows the club and many of the players, he knows the area, he knows the fans - most of whom, I'd suggest, don't hold a grudge against him for choosing to leave when he did. It was often said that Ba and Papiss Cisse couldn't both play to their strengths when they were on the pitch at the same time, and it's true that one generally had to sacrifice himself for the benefit of the other and, by extension, the team. Nevertheless, at any point during the calendar year we had both players, one of them was banging in the goals on a regular basis. What we'd give for someone - anyone - to be doing that at the moment.

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How to make friends and influence people

Over the summer, some fans voiced suspicions that Papiss Cisse's dispute with the club over wearing the Wonga-branded shirt was all just a ruse for the striker to force a move or secure an improved contract. Perhaps he's right in thinking he has bridges to build with supporters, then - bridges he's tried to build by inviting some over to his house for barbeques and games of pool. It's a novel approach, to be sure, and a generous gesture - though the odd sparkling performance and goal would be equally effective...

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How low can you go, Joe?

Hands up whose idea it was to allow JFK to speak directly to the media again? At least the interview for the Mirror was conducted by someone other than Simon Bird - probably wise if the rag wants to be preserve its claim to be a family newspaper...

Needless to say, JFK's pronouncements consisted of the usual bollocks. To take just two examples...

"I don’t understand where the negativity has come from – we are two games into a 38-game season and already the doom-and-gloom merchants are looking for a scapegoat."

Even if he's ignorant of our struggles last season, it's bizarre that he seems unable to comprehend the frustration at our inactivity over the summer. The word "scapegoat" suggests an undeserving fall guy - but JFK is hardly undeserving of the flak coming his way. If you're appointed to a position well above your capabilities, make a host of boastful promises and then spectacularly fail to deliver on them, then - like a former US president - you're there to be shot at from a grassy knoll.

"Before the season started, we had sat down and agreed the squad was big enough, and strong enough, to finish in the top half of the table. But we are working together – not plotting against each other. There seems to be a perception, from outside the club, that we are at loggerheads, but I don’t know why people are jumping on the bandwagon because it is a false picture."

So, JFK, you're claiming the existing squad is big and strong enough while the Silver Fox publicly demands investment in reinforcements. I wonder what it was exactly that gave people the impression you might be "at loggerheads"...

Perhaps most infuriating of all, though, was his mention of what's been going on behind the scenes: "Last week we flew to Nice, and we were met by a private helicopter transfer to Mike Ashley’s yacht off St Tropez, and we spent seven hours thrashing out every idea, and how we plan to take the club forward." Quite apart from the fact that this is in part a smug and vulgar brag and hints at a culture of extravagance at odds with the parsimonious philosophy Jabba appears to have embraced, you have to wonder why on earth such a summit meeting only took place last week. Surely it should have happened within a week of the previous season ending - or, failing that, almost immediately after JFK's appointment. As ever with this club, common sense appears to be in spectacularly short supply.

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A novelty: the Lone Ranger hits the headlines for footballing reasons

So it turns out the Lone Ranger is good for something: wiping the smug smirk off 'Appy 'Arry's face with his first goal for Swindon, the latest saps to sign him up.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Two zeroes, no heroes

Newcastle Utd 0 - 0 West Ham

Our first home game of the season turned out to be a complete snoozefest well deserving of bottom billing on Match Of The Day, hardly boding well for the months to come. Not that the new campaign has exactly been eagerly anticipated, but this performance was enough to crush any eve-of-the-season optimism out of even the most glass-half-full of supporters.

Credit to the Silver Fox for sending out an attacking line-up, nominally at least. Two changes from Monday's side were enforced due to injuries to Mr T and Spidermag, their replacements Vurnon Anita and Sylvain Marveaux promising to offer more going forwards, while Big Lad was drafted in in place of Goofy to provide Papiss Cisse with a bona fide partner. Meanwhile, Davide Santon's return to fitness was perfectly timed to coincide with the start of Saylor's suspension, MYM moving infield to a more familiar role in the centre of defence.

It was a centre back in the opposing ranks, Winston Reid, who was at the heart of the first-half action, though. When Moussa Sissoko nipped in to nab the ball and attempted to thread it through for Cisse, the New Zealand international intervened but was somewhat fortunate to see his backpass drift inches wide of the far post as Jussi Jaaskelainen scrabbled in vain to cover.

At the other end, Reid then blasted over from close range before being left unchallenged again and just failing to make contact with a long free kick punted dead straight down the length of the pitch. When the Silver Fox applauded a much improved defensive display in his post-match interview, he seemed to have forgotten that particular incident.

The Hammers only really created one other chance before the break, when new signing Stewart Downing headed the ball back across goal from a left-wing cross and MYM did just enough to prevent Modibo Maiga from flicking past Tim Krul. The alarming ease with which Matt Jarvis skinned Mathieu Debuchy in the build-up was testament to the fact that Dreamboat's chum was once again far from showing us the form that's won him French caps. As for ourselves, we had nothing to show for our own paltry efforts on goal, Sissoko and HBA all lashing efforts off target.

While our performance stepped up a gear in the second half, there was no flood of chances to match the downpour. Indeed, it was the visitors who continued to carve out the better opportunities. Unlike last season, our former skipper Kevin Nolan decided to be merciful, sending a header over the bar when unmarked from Downing's whipped cross, and the winger's replacement Joe Cole fired a shot over the angle with Krul beaten. Cole's fellow substitute Ravel Morrison, meanwhile, made his entrance wearing gloves...

But even that wasn't quite as staggering as our own substitute Goofy's miss in stoppage time. When Little Big Lad's lofted cross/shot bounced off the far post with Jaaskelainen totally bamboozled, Goofy reacted instinctively but ballooned his shot high into the stand. In truth, it would have been a thoroughly undeserved winner, and West Ham had themselves come very close to stealing victory at the death, Maiga knocking home in the 89th minute from a deflected shot but rightly ruled offside.

There were some positives, to be sure: a point on the board (and one we didn't get last season) and a clean sheet following the calamitous defending at the Etihad. But the negatives were plain to see: a fourth successive home game without a goal and an almost complete lack of attacking threat. If Dreamboat does leave before the transfer window closes, as expected, then we'll be deprived of one of the very few players in the squad who can pick a critical pass - without him we were hoping HBA and Marveaux would deliver, but they couldn't. In that respect, another positive of sorts is that there's no papering over the cracks. The fans' chants demanding new signings were largely redundant - the match itself was a sufficiently stark reminder to Jabba and JFK that reinforcements are urgently needed.

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Brad's for the drop

After weeks of protracted negotiations, Brad Inman has finally been confirmed as a Crewe player on a permanent basis. By the sounds of it, we've been able to get the fee we wanted for the Aussie midfielder - a fee the Railwaymen have gone out on a bit of a limb to pay, judging by manager Steve Davis' grateful acknowledgement of the support he's received from his board.

A clearly delighted Davis claimed: "Not many players turn down a Premier League club to drop down to League One. It takes a lot of guts." You're perhaps getting a little carried away there, Steve - when you're at a Premier League club but have next to zero chance of breaking into the first team, then a move to a club where you've previously done very well on loan and where you know you'd be welcome doesn't really take much guts at all. Clearly they have high hopes for him, so it'll be interesting to see how he does and if we come to regret the sale as a mistake.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Let's all laugh at Sunderland - including their own players

No matter how bad things are at Newcastle - and after events at the Etihad, they're pretty bad - at least we don't have our own players mocking the club that pays their wages. So well done to Phil Bardsley for giving us a good chuckle by allegedly celebrating the Mackems' opening-day defeat at home to Fulham. More evidence of Paolo Di Canio's extraordinary man management skills bearing fruit...



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Parental advisory: contains images some viewers may find disturbing

Man City 4 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Six minutes. That's how long it took for my pre-season optimism to vanish as Manchester City, prompted by David Silva, ripped open our defence and took an early lead in the match.

The goal came from a simple enough ball from Silva out to the left-hand channel for Edin Dzeko to pick up.  He beat Mathieu Debuchy and crossed the ball. Saylor was in a decent position to cut it out, but instead of blocking the ball out for a corner it ricocheted off our defender and into the path of the on-running Silva who nodded home past a stranded Tim Krul.

Fifteen minutes later and as we broke forward quickly, things started to look promising. HBA fed Papiss Cisse who was robbed and with one straight pass through the centre of the park our entire midfield was taken out of the play. Sergio Aguero picked up the ball and outpaced Saylor before knocking the ball into the corner beyond the despairing dive of Krul.

If the first was a combination of errors by Debuchy, who allowed Dzeko to get beyond him, and Saylor, who should have knocked the ball out, the second was largely the fault of Moussa Sissoko, whose lazy running out from the back meant he played Aguero onside when the through-ball came.

Spidermag succumbed to a hamstring injury and Saylor saw red following an ill-advised rush of blood to the head, taking the law, and Aguero, into his own hands with something of a forearm smash which left the referee little choice.

With ten men coming out for the second half, we were always going to struggle to contain City and sure enough a third goal came as Yaya Toure's freekick sailed over the heads of Cisse and Vurnon Anita into the corner of the net. Being critical, it looked to me that while most of the wall jumped, Cisse kept his feet firmly on the ground, allowing the ball over his head.

Finally, the coup de grace came as Samir Nasri was allowed a fraction too much space by Debuchy whose sliding tackle wasn't quite close enough to nick the ball away from his international colleague and Nasri was able to calmly add a fourth.

For us it couldn't really have gone much worse. Deprived of Dreamboat before the match because his head wasn't right, we started with a three-man midfield of Mr T, Sissoko and Spidermag only to see the Argentinian fail to last the half.

At the back, we started with Debuchy, Saylor, Sideshow Bob and MYM, with Saylor's sending off prompting a reshuffle which saw Paul Dummett make his league debut in the second half as MYM moved inside.

Up front, Cisse, HBA and Goofy were well marshalled by the City defence, with Goofy sacrificed for Dummett following the sending-off.

Trying to establish some perspective, a few of thoughts occur. Firstly, the poor result should hopefully galvanise JFK and Jabba to spend some money (particularly if they are able to push up the Dreamboat price).

Secondly, while we may be the first side to get stuffed at the Etihad this season, we certainly won't be the last, so the result needs to be treated with a sense of perspective.

Finally, in my job I've been approached by headhunters seeking to entice me to move to a different job, normally in a different city and, while never explicit, probably for more money. However, while I've been content to have that conversation and explore my options, what I've never done is phone in sick saying I can't do the job I'm paid to do because I'm thinking of leaving. In any ordinary job it would unthinkable and inexcusable to do so. For Dreamboat, a man who is considered one of the finest midfielders in France and who is paid exceedingly well to ply his trade, to be unfit to work because a potential different employer has made an approach is disrespectful, inexcusable and ultimately unforgivable.

Other report: BBC

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Unlucky Jim

It isn't just the first team whose season has got off to a shocker, it seems. James Tavernier's loan spell at Shrewsbury looks to have lasted for just two games, with the full-back now set to undergo surgery for a metatarsal injury.

With the long-term absence of Raylor, the injuries for Massadio Haidara and Davide Santon, and now the suspension of Steven Taylor, Tavernier might have found himself back on Tyneside sooner than expected anyway, called upon to provide defensive cover. It's a shame, then, that we're deprived of that option.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"Derisory"? Yes, but I don't see anyone laughing

(I'll leave Paul with the unenviable task of reliving yesterday evening's truly nightmarish start to the new season, but feel compelled to comment on the Dreamboat situation.)

One of the benefits of our poor performance last year is that our prized assets, many of whom were distinctly off-colour, have been somewhat forgotten about over the course of the summer, with the club not forced to entertain or respond to any bids. All that changed yesterday, though, when it was revealed that Dreamboat had been the subject of a £10m bid from Arsenal.

Like ourselves, the Gunners have endured a summer of frustration, missing out on Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Gustavo and (thus far, at least) failing to secure Luis Suarez's release by Liverpool. All that stress, compounded by an alarming opening day defeat at home to Villa, appears to have got to Arsene Wenger - normally dour, he's suddenly cracked up into quite the comedian. Our French captain in waiting was arguably one of our most underachieving players last season, but even still £10m is indeed a "derisory" amount and we'll be fully justified in rejecting the bid out of hand.

Unfortunately, though, that's not the end of the story. As an irritated Silver Fox commented, "To bid on the eve of a game was not necessary. They could have bid when this game was over and it would not have been any further down the line." The upshot of the unsolicited bid was that while Dreamboat travelled to Manchester, he was left out of the squad, the Silver Fox claiming his "head had been messed with".

Not that it would take much to mess with his head, I suspect, given his previous talk of agents working busily for him trying to engineer a move to one of "the big clubs". Despite their distinct and embarrassing lack of silverware for eight long years, Arsenal would constitute such a club (particularly if they can negotiate their Champions League qualification double-header against Fenerbahce). All the same, while Dreamboat might be angling for a move to the Emirates, any deal would have to be struck on our terms - and that would mean the Gunners offering to stump up an awful lot more cash.

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Quote of the day

"I knew Pope Francis was a San Lorenzo fan. He has a season ticket and everything. You could tell he still really loves San Lorenzo when he spoke with us last week. I shook hands with him. He is always speaking about San Lorenzo and so for me as a fan it was amazing."

Presumably the Pope is also busy telling all and sundry how exciting it was to meet Sideshow Bob and how he's always speaking about San Lorenzo too...

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Robins unreliant

So it turns out we're not the only side so desperate for a striker that we've been prepared to welcome with open arms someone with a rape charge hanging over them. We brought in Loic Remy, while League One outfit Swindon have turned to a familiar face: the Lone Ranger.

Yes, that's right, the Robins appear to have overlooked the countless misdemeanours of a man who recently had his own surname tattooed on his forehead. They seriously need their heads examining, even if chairman Jed McCrory did note pointedly that the striker would need and get "rigorous support" from the club.

For his part, the Lone Ranger made the usual noises in such cases, hinting at contrition and redemption and pleading for fans to give him a chance. I give it a month. Just a shame Paolo Di Canio isn't still the manager at the County Ground - the pair of them in close proximity would be a superbly volatile combination...

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Repeat offender

Perhaps we should let it go, but it was interesting to note that our old friend Callum McManaman had an eventful Saturday afternoon, getting himself sent off barely five minutes after coming on as a substitute. Wigan manager Owen Coyle was furious, complaining that the winger "clearly won the ball" - indeed he did, though he also took out the man (Bournemouth striker Brett Pitman) in the process of lunging in karate-style with both feet off the floor.

Anyone getting a sense of deja vu? Rewind exactly five months and Delusional Dave Whelan was claiming that the Scouser won the ball in his challenge on Massadio Haidara "clean as a whistle", despite the TV evidence showing the full horror of the assault on the Frenchman's leg. At the time, Whelan also protested that there was not "one ounce of malice" in McManaman. Pitman might well line up alongside Haidara and former Man City man Gai Assulin to argue otherwise...

Incidentally, Wigan were 1-0 down at the time of McManaman's dismissal and that ended up being the final score, the game's only goal coming from Lewis Grabban courtesy of a truly awful backpass from none other than Perchinho.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013


Having cast an eye over our prospects and those of our competitors, I now have the challenge of putting everyone into some semblance of an order as to how I think the league might look next May. If I get it right, expect a triumphalist post proclaiming my genius; otherwise expect this to be left to wither and die without a second glance.

1. Chelsea
2. Manchester City
3. Manchester United
4. Arsenal
5. Spurs
6. Liverpool
7. Everton
8. Norwich
9. Newcastle Utd
10. West Ham
11. Fulham
12. Swansea
13. 5under1and
14. Aston Villa
15. West Brom
16. Southampton
17. Cardiff
18. Stoke
19. Crystal Palace
20. Hull

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Friday, August 16, 2013

View from the Home End

It's fair to say it has been a funny old summer.

Not funny like a clown, funny in a make us laugh kind of way. Rather funny in an odd sort of way.

After the disappointing end to last season, I outlined where I thought the squad sat and what we needed to do to bolster it, effectively concluding we needed at least three new players (a defender, a striker and a winger).

While the news that Sideshow Bob is staying is music to all of our ears, with Perchinho now gone I still think we look light in defence. Mike Williamson is still lurking in the wings for when Saylor inevitably picks up an injury and is joined by one of Sideshow Bob or MYM.

The only new arrival to the first-team squad is one-time mercenary Loic Remy. His motivation for being with us may be questionable, but at least he has already developed a knack for scoring in the Premier League and with the World Cup looming he has reason to play his heart out if he wants to get into the France squad (a fact which is true for a significant percentage of our first-team squad).

However, Remy's fitness record has some question marks hanging over it and to that end we would be wise to try and add another striker before the month is out, or be left hoping that pre-season tyro Big Lad stays fit and that Adam Campbell and Haris Vuckic enjoy a break-out season.

While we added numbers, and quality, in January (in some cases accelerating planned summer transfers to keep ourselves safe) there remains a nagging concern that despite a strong-looking first XI, once injuries and player form take their toll the squad looks quite thin. A second string featuring Rob Elliot, Williamson, Paul Dummett, Master T, Little Big Lad and friends isn't likely to tear up too many trees (as we found away to Brighton last year in the FA Cup).

It therefore remains to be seen whether (a) we can keep our first team fit and injury-free this year more than we managed last and (b) whether we can attract anyone else to join our merry band before August's end.

The challenge for recruitment is, of course, the big story of our summer; namely the arrival of JFK. Scotching the proposed signing of Douglas was hardly a blistering start (not least because we've subsequently done nothing to sign an alternative defender), and our apparently frustrated pursuit of both Darren Bent and Bafetimbi Gomis has hardly done much to endorse JFK's claims to be BFFs with every top manager in the country and a player magnet. Rather he appears about as popular and appealing as a fart in a lift.

If, and it is a massive IF, we can keep everyone fit and in form we're a match for pretty much every side in the division. However, if we don't start well then, with much of his goodwill eroded by last year's excuse-packed failings, the Silver Fox could well find himself working a zero-hours contract in Sports Direct as JFK breaks out the beta-blockers and settles back into the manager's chair.

Frankly that's a prospect which simply doesn't bear thinking about, so I can only adopt my typically upbeat approach as the season starts and we're all equal. 

Maybe this might be our year. Maybe we'll manage at least one, if not two, good cup runs and a significantly more encouraging league campaign than last year, and maybe we'll put Paolo's mob back in their place. Anything else is a little too depressing to contemplate right now.

Howay the lads!

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Know Your Enemies 2013/4: Part 2

And so to the second part of my assessment of our Premier League opponents (first part here), kicking off with the reigning champions...

Man Utd

He's gone - at last. While Taggart will no doubt find a use for his famous watch-tapping gesture when impatiently waiting at bus stops, free pass in hand, his successor has the unenviable task of carrying on where he left off. In some ways David Moyes made for a bold choice - someone unused to wielding a huge budget or, indeed, winning anything - but it was heartening to see an astute, hard-working manager who has paid his dues and whose side has consistently overachieved get the gig ahead of any of the more celebrated continental alternatives. It's not an appointment Chelsea would ever have made, frankly.

As if Moyes' task wasn't hard enough already, two factors have plagued him this summer. Firstly, there are the ongoing reports of Shrek being unsettled - not helped by the pair's falling out while at Everton or the Scot's public pronouncement that Robin van Persie is his automatic first choice. Secondly, there has been no flagship signing that would be a significant show of faith from the board. Moyes has rightly identified central midfield as an area of relative weakness, despite the availability of England regulars Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, but his dogged pursuit of first-choice target Cesc Fabregas looks to have been futile. Wilfried Zaha, signed from Crystal Palace in January but only now linking up with his parent club, looks an exciting prospect, but it's debatable whether he's the sort of player needed when Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck and Nani are all still on the books. Third place looks a distinct possibility.


Taking into account the stature of Premier League clubs relative to the calibre of players they've recruited, Norwich have arguably had the best summer of any club in the division. In particular, an all-new front line has been procured - skillful Dutchman Ricky van Wolfswinkel and free-scoring Celtic man Gary Hooper, at a combined cost of £13.5m, replacing outgoing Canaries legend Grant Holt, with Chris Martin and Simeon Jackson also departing. The midfield has been bolstered too, with the addition of Leroy Fer, a player nicknamed the Bouncer whom we were sniffing around three years ago.

Anyone fearing that the Canaries had abandoned their policy of cherry-picking the crop of Championship stars needn't have worried, though, with Nathan Redmond and Martin Olsson snapped up from Birmingham and Blackburn respectively. Chris Hughton's job now is to integrate the new players successfully into a team that has survived two seasons in the top flight on account of its hardworking, egalitarian ethic - no easy task. Van Wolfswinkel sounds like a character from a Brothers Grimm fairytale - time will tell if Norwich's season is a fairytale or just plain grim.


At the time, the sacking of Nigel Adkins in January seemed to sum up everything that's wrong with the modern game. Here was an honest, decent manager given the boot by a short-sighted, over-ambitious chairman, despite having led the club to two successive promotions. Now, seven months on, you perhaps grudgingly have to admit that Nicola Cortese was right - the Saints looked better under the stewardship of Mauricio Pochettino and survived with relative ease.

Southampton could have a tough second season in store, but the Argentine has struck a couple of eyecatching deals over the summer, bringing in midfield enforcer Victor Wanyama and Croatian defender Dejen Lovren, and already has the likes of Gaston Ramirez and highly-rated youngster Luke Shaw to work with. The Saints can also boast a striker who has just scored a Wembley winner against Scotland with his very first touch in international football - a perfect pick-me-up just as the season is about to get underway.


And so to the third major, protracted and thus far uneventful transfer saga of the summer, after Luis Suarez and Shrek. There would have been no prizes for guessing which Spurs player it would involve - scintillating form and spectacular goals (including no fewer than nine winners) meant that Gareth Bale very nearly secured the final Champions League spot for his side single-handedly. If Spurs are able to fend off Real Madrid's advances (and turn a blind eye to the offer of a world-record fee), then fourth is within their grasp courtesy of a trio of excellent acquisitions.

It was baffling that there seemed to be no competition for the signature of Paulinho, a fixture in the Brazilian midfield and substantially cheaper than Man City's Fernandinho, while Spanish striker Roberto Soldado (rumoured to have cost a hefty £26m) and Belgian winger Nacer Chadli also arrived. Clint Dempsey's decision to return to his native USA (and pick up a huge salary) after one solitary season at White Hart Lane surprised few people - likewise Tom Huddlestone's departure for new boys Hull, squeezed out by the likes of Paulinho and Sandro. However, the one major blot on their copybook was the sale of England international central defender Steven Caulker to Cardiff - utterly inexplicable, in light of William Gallas' release. Will it come back to bite them firmly on the derriere, just like the continued failure to identify Benoit Assou-Ekotto as a weak link in need of replacement?


Ever since reaching the Premier League in 2008, Stoke have been much maligned (occasionally unfairly) for their style of play - but only last season did it become genuinely prosaic. Mark Hughes is as good a fit as any for Tony Pulis' replacement, but you do wonder whether this might turn out to be a case comparable to that of Alan Curbishley and Charlton in 2006 - the Potters board and fans felt they were stagnating and were happy for the manager to walk away, but it may be that what has seemed like a plateau is in fact a peak and that the only way is downhill.

Hughes has drafted in some intriguing buys, admittedly - Marc Muniesa from Barcelona (clearly in for quite a culture shock), one-time Newcastle target Erik Pieters and raw young American forward Juan Agudelo - but his side will be overly reliant on the ageing strike partnership of Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters for goals. If they get off to a sticky start, then the three promoted clubs will find themselves with competition for the three relegation positions.


As Newcastle fans, it's tempting to caricature the Mackems' transfer policy as, in essence, throw enough shit at the wall and hope that some of it sticks. However, let's be honest and admit that, in light of our own club's extraordinary inactivity, we're just a teeny bit envious of the Dark Place's crowded arrivals lounge. As with Villa, it appears that a list of targets was compiled from scouting reports and that the board then set about swiftly and determinedly getting their men. Emanuele Giaccherini and Cabral in particular look like very useful additions to the side.

Aside from the numerous purchases, Paulo Di Canio's resolve to stamp his authority on the squad has also been demonstrated by the systematic dismantling of his predecessor's legacy. Martin O'Neill's two January signings, Danny Graham and Alfred N'Diaye, have both been deemed surplus to requirements and shipped out on loan, while James McClean, who initially flourished under the Northern Irishman's guidance, has been flogged off to Wigan. Here's hoping that none of the new signings acclimatise to the rigours of the Premier League, and that Di Canio has a complete meltdown at an inopportune moment - preferably in the aftermath of us exacting sweet revenge for that 3-0 defeat last season...


The easiest-on-the-eye side in the top flight, guided to the first major trophy in their 100-year history and a place in Europe by someone who, as a player, won league titles with Ajax, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus and has been named as his country's greatest ever. Yes, Swansea fans could be forgiven for pinching themselves. Not that the Swans' summer got off to a great start, though. Tensions between Michael Laudrup and chairman Huw Jenkins led to the club severing all ties with the Dane's agent, with the manager implying he might walk out, but somehow it never came to that.

Whether you regard Laudrup's agitating for significant expenditure on new recruits as thoroughly justified in view of his achievements last season and of their forthcoming European campaign (after all, we serve as a useful cautionary tale) or simply as a childish and petulant tantrum, he certainly got his way. A club record £12m was lavished on Mr T's Ivory Coast colleague Wilfried Bony, who will spearhead the attack. This will mean undisputed bargain of the last season Michu will play a little deeper, and while the Spaniard excelled at bursting into the box late to snap up crosses, you do wonder whether Bony's arrival might be to his detriment. Getting Jonathan de Guzman back on loan was a no-brainer, while La Liga was tapped for a further three new additions and no first-teamers have been spirited away. Penny for Scott Sinclair's thoughts...

West Brom

Of all the non-moves this summer, perhaps Peter Odemwingie's has been the most noteworthy. Who knows - he may have been busy frequenting the car parks of rival clubs in the hope of being offered a contract, but at the present moment he remains, most improbably, a West Brom employee. Steve Clarke's biggest headache, though, is how to fill the boots of Romelu Lukaku. The fact that he's signed two strikers - Nicolas Anelka, who has vowed to make the Baggies his sixth and final Premier League club, and Matej Vydra, last season's Championship Player of the Year while on loan at Watford - who are each in a very different mould suggests that he's not even going to try.

Uncompromising veteran centre-back Diego Lugano, Luis Suarez's captain at international level, will shore up a defence in which Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley looked increasingly fallible last year - a key reason why, despite Lukaku's heroics up front, West Brom slumped after a very promising start. If the same happens this year, and the Belgian does indeed prove irreplaceable, then at least Anelka, nicknamed the Incredible Sulk, will have Odemwhingy for company.

West Ham

If one thing's clear from West Ham's summer spending, it's that Fat Sam hasn't had some kind of Damascene conversion and embraced tiki-taka. After some suggestion that he'd be amenable to a return to his hometown club, Rocky signed for the Hammers, followed shortly afterwards by Stewart Downing, another player who had been linked with a move to St James' Park and the man to supply the ammunition. There's no doubt who were the prime beneficiaries of Brendan Rodgers' surplus-to-requirements firesale.

Even with Rocky, they look somewhat short up front, one-time Toon target Modibo Maiga having failed to live up to expectations. In midfield, Mohamed Diame can be an all-action powerhouse, but surely our former captain Kevin Nolan's ageing legs will prevent him from being so deadly in the box this time around? Meanwhile, the arrival of Romanian captain Razvan Rat from Shakhtar Donetsk will have the tabloid hacks rubbing their hands with glee - even if the prospect of watching hoofball at a freezing Upton Park in January doesn't.

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Abbott pins hopes on Adam

Gradually fading from view as Reading dominated and forced victory in Monday night's U21 game was clearly no impediment to Adam Campbell, who today - as had been rumoured - signed a loan deal with Greg Abbott's Carlisle. In fairness, any watching scouts will have been impressed by the deft touches and awareness he displayed in the first half. He joins a club where morale must be rock bottom, after 5-1 and 4-0 defeats in their first two league fixtures. At least it shouldn't be too hard to make a positive impression...

Meanwhile, Brad Inman's future still hasn't been resolved - though it looks highly unlikely he'll be plying his trade on Tyneside for much longer. Crewe are keen to sign the Aussie after his successful loan spell there last year, but it remains to be seen whether a transfer fee will be agreed or whether both parties will allow a tribunal to decide.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Know Your Enemies 2013/4: Part 1

Saturday sees the Premier League kick off for a new season - so let's start our preview by assessing just what we're up against over the next ten months. Disclaimer: the predictions and forecasts that follow may turn out to bear laughably little resemblance to reality...


Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket. Or perhaps that should be one basket-case, given that this is unhinged arm-chomper and thoroughly detestable human being Luis Suarez we're talking about. Arsene Wenger has spent the summer single-mindedly pursuing the Uruguayan striker's signature, for which he's prepared to smash the club's previously modest transfer record - and yet that pursuit has (thus far, at least) been fruitless.

Last season Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker gave the Gunners a more secure platform defensively, summer recruits Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski gradually acclimatised to life at the Emirates and Theo Walcott did an admirable job of attempting to plug the gap left by Robin van Persie's departure to Man Utd. But the stark reality for the club, manager and fans is that they remain without a trophy of any description since 2005 and, while with Suarez they might have the faintest whiff of a chance of breaking into the top three, without him they're once again also-rans playing for fourth place.

Aston Villa

Paul Lambert may have looked like a broken man at times last season, but survival with a few games to spare just about validated his transfer policy, team selection and tactics. This summer Villa acted swiftly and decisively to secure their key targets, all aged 23 or under - defenders Jores Okore and Antonio Luna, midfielder Leandro Bacuna, winger Alexandar Tonev and striker Nicklas Helenius. Evidence of a good scouting network and some careful groundwork - take note please, Silver Fox, JFK and Jabba...

This new clutch of youthful international talent will add to what the Villains already have, Matthew Lowton having proven a sound signing and Andreas Weimann and Fabian Delph both beginning to live up to their potential under Lambert's tutelage. Of course, most significant of all is Christian Benteke's decision to withdraw a hasty transfer request and sign a new deal, though overdependence on their star striker remains a serious danger. I still feel Darren Bent has been ostracised unnecessarily - in tandem with the Belgian, he could conceivably help fire Villa into the top half of the table.


2012/3 was something of an annus mirabilis for Welsh football: Swansea lifting the League Cup and thereby qualifying for Europe, Newport edging out Wrexham at Wembley to secure a return to the Football League after a quarter of a century away, and Cardiff managing to avoid crumbling like Caerphilly cheese, finally holding their nerve long enough to win the Championship and promotion to the top flight. Vindication perhaps for Vincent Tan, who had argued for the Bluebirds' controversial switch to red shirts on the dubious grounds that all the most successful teams wear red.

Tan has been equally bold this summer in allowing manager Malkay Mackay to break the club's transfer record on no fewer than three occasions, with Danish striker Andreas Cornelius, Spurs defender Steven Caulker and aggressive Chile midfielder Gary Medel all recruited. Medel will be teaming up with another infamous walking red card, a certain No-Necked Text Pest, who probably thought his Premier League days were over. More's the pity. Let's just hope he doesn't come back to bite us.


The ego has landed, again! In all the excitement over the return of the self-proclaimed Special One - the media swooning in eager anticipation of his breathtaking arrogance, enigmatic eyebrow-arching and entertainingly expert ruffling of feathers - few have queried the wisdom of the move. Revisiting the scene of previous managerial success rarely ends happily - not that Jose Mario dos Santos Mourinho Felix's first spell in charge ended happily either. He twice took Chelsea to the title and has since won the Champions League (as have the Blues, with Roberto di Matteo at the helm). Surely the man who could once upon a time have been our assistant manager has nothing to gain and everything to lose?

All the same, the calibre of the squad at his disposal is arguably the best in the league. Was it really only two years ago that we finished above Chelsea? That would be inconceivable now. Andre Schurrle and Marco van Ginkel have bolstered their options in midfield and forward areas, while the return of  Belgian loanees Kevin de Bruyne and especially Romelu Lukaku to line up alongside compatriot Eden Hazard makes them an even more formidable prospect. Rafa Benitez's tenure may already seem like a distant dream, but his legacy was not only the Europa League trophy but also the conversion of David Luiz, the subject of unwanted attention from Barcelona this summer, from an ill-disciplined central defender mocked by Gary Neville to an accomplished defensive midfielder. Mourinho might not actually need to work any magic of his own to lift another title.

Crystal Palace

And so to another London club whose manager's pronouncements are media manna and who have made a significant (if somewhat lower-profile) recruit from Spain. Like fellow promotees Cardiff, Palace have gone to Sevilla in search of midfield reinforcement and returned with the country's U20 captain Jose Campana. Quite a coup, though, it may unsettle Mile Jedinak, the Australian crowned the club's player of the year last season despite stiff competition from the now departed Wilfried Zaha.

Up front, while more limited than the likes of Grant Holt and Ricky Lambert before him, Glenn Murray will be hoping to prove himself another meat-and-potatoes striker unpalatable to the delicate stomachs of Premier League defenders. He's now been joined by Dwight Gayle, a revelation at Posh but an expensive gamble for Palace, and Arsenal's no-trick showpony Marouane Chamakh. However well those three do, though, is likely to be negated by a defence in which Peter Ramage is considered a stalwart.


Since his appointment as David Moyes' replacement at Goodison Park, Roberto Martinez has - perhaps inevitably - regarded former club Wigan much as a famished tramp might regard an eat-all-you-like buffet. The ink had hardly dried on his new contract when he beat us to the signature of Arouna Kone as well as getting his sticky paws on the Ivorian's Latics team-mate Antolin Alcaraz and Atletico Madrid's JJB Stadium loanee Joel Robles. Few would be surprised if James McCarthy or Massadio Haidara's chum Callum McManaman were to tread that well-trodden path before the closure of the transfer window too.

With Nikica Jelavic falling into poor form and Victor Anichebe inconsistent (except against us), Kone will serve as a focal point for Everton's attack, aided and abetted by Gerard Deulofeu, an eyecatching loan signing from Barcelona. At the time of writing at least, Martinez can still call upon the services of Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines, while Kevin Mirallas is yet another Belgian increasingly at home in the Premier League. Where the Toffees might come unstuck, though, is in defence, the Spaniard's brand of fluent football generally coming at the expense of clean sheets. Paired with Alcaraz, the ageing Sylvain Distin or the past-it John Heitinga, Phil Jagielka will probably be left feeling like King Canute.


Fulham bade farewell to Mohamed Al Fayed this summer, welcoming luxuriantly moustached new owner Shahid Khan, and there has also been a changing of the guard between the posts, with Mark Schwarzer making the short but improbable hop to Stamford Bridge to be replaced by Maarten Stekelenburg. The Dutch international might be ten years his Australian counterpart's junior, but, at 30, he hardly helps give the Cottagers' ageing squad a youthful feel - and neither do fellow new boys Derek Boateng and Fernando Amorebieta, aged 29 and 30 respectively. All it would take for Fulham to pitch up in peril, you suspect, would be a global shortage of cod liver oil...

At least full-back Sascha Riether, now a permanent signing, gives some energy on the right flank, though Martin Jol's decision to help alleviate 'Appy 'Arry's wage bill burden by borrowing Adel Taarabt is mystifying - he couldn't get the best out of the mercurial Moroccan when at Spurs, since when the latter has repeatedly flattered to deceive in the top flight. Like the Michael Jackson statue Al Fayed erected outside the ground, you wonder how long Jol might survive in situ under the new regime.


Shahid Khan might own Jacksonville Jaguars, but it's Hull 's Assem Allam who appears determined to rebrand his club as an NFL-style franchise. Hull City Tigers? They'll be playing at the Frosties Bowl any day now... Whatever, the Tigers' promotion gives us the opportunity to renew hostilities with Ol' Cauliflower Face - one plastic Geordie following in the footsteps of another, Phil Brown. How long before we see the first half-time team bollocking on the pitch?

In fairness to Agent Bruce, he did do an excellent job at the Mackems - as did Agent Graham (£5m of their money squandered in return for no goals whatsoever). Perhaps that mutual bond is what's drawn them together. While Charlie Austin failed a medical, George Boyd signed permanently - presumably the Tigers' eye test is rather less strenuous than Forest's... Also joining the gold-clad ranks are two goalkeepers, Allan McGregor and our old boy Steve Harper - does Bruce realise he can't play them both at once? Even if he could, survival would still be a long shot.


You've got to hand it to Luis Suarez. It was no mean feat becoming the most odious player in a league also featuring John Terry and Ashley Cole, and now he's managed to offend the minority who felt differently at the start of the summer too. Liverpool have quite rightly attracted universal mockery and scorn for their blind defence of the Uruguayan and his various misdemeanours, so Brendan Rodgers was justified in describing the striker's attempts to engineer a move away from Anfield as displaying "total disrespect". The manager's demand for an apology is only likely to inflame the situation and harden Suarez's resolve to leave, though, and while a move to Arsenal looks increasingly improbable I simply can't see him staying at the club and being reintegrated into the side.

So where would that leave the Reds' front line? As we found out to our considerable cost, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho are perfectly capable of wreaking havoc in Suarez's absence. In Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas Liverpool have a couple of promising new attacking options in wide areas, and while Raheem Sterling needs to rediscover his mojo, Jordon Ibe has caught the eye in pre-season. The unsentimental dumping of Pepe Reina in favour of Simon Mignolet raised a few eyebrows, but will nevertheless be for the long-term good. Nevertheless, key central defenders Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger may both be unsettled, having been linked with moves to the continent, and flogging Rocky and Stewart Downing to West Ham for £35m less than they shelled out was an embarrassing indictment of their recent transfer policy. Sixth is surely as good as it'll get.

Man City

Long gone are the days when finishing second in the top flight, reaching the FA Cup final and participating in the Champions League group stage would have been considered achievement enough for Man City. After the high of lifting the league title in 2011/12, last season was a serious disappointment, with Roberto Mancini unsurprisingly paying the price of failure and (after a protracted pursuit) Manuel Pellegrini installed as the new man in the hotseat.

The moneymen's solution, of course, was to get the chequebook out, and £87m has been spunked on a quartet of new players - Alvaro Negredo, Fernandinho, Jesus Navas and Stevan Jovetic - all of whom promise to add to City's threat in attacking situations. Pellegrini's most acute dilemma is how to juggle all the talent at his disposal, and how to get more out of those supposed superstars the club already owned (Samir Nasri and Javi Garcia, for a start). Here's hoping the secret formula is still eluding him by the time we kick off against them on Monday evening.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A defeat and a couple of injuries: welcome back, competitive fixtures, how we've missed you

Monday evening saw us start as we hopefully don't mean to go on, the U21s slipping to a 4-2 defeat to Reading as two players were added to the injury list.

In the company of a whole host of scouts (as well as Wycombe manager Gareth Ainsworth, Royals first-teamers Sean Morrison and Nick Blackman, manager Nigel Adkins and former owner John Madejski), I'd been looking forward to assessing Olivier Kemen on his competitive debut. But the French teenager, until Loic Remy's arrival our only summer signing, lasted only 38 minutes before pulling up with what looked like a hamstring injury. Prior to that, he'd proven himself practically indistinguishable from Master T, with whom he was beginning to form a tough-tackling (sometimes overzealously so) and athletic central midfield.

The game got off to an explosive start, with two goals apiece in the opening quarter. Master T's spot-kick and 16-year-old debutant Adam Armstrong's slotted finish were sandwiched by a pair of sumptuous strikes from Gozie Ugwu. Armstrong was involved in some neat interplay with Adam Campbell, who will have caught the attention of a few onlooking scouts (from Carlisle, perhaps) in the first half in particular with some darting runs and neat lay-offs, before fading from view in the second period. The diminutive strikeforce did leave us vulnerable at Reading corners, though.

We came out after the interval with some purpose, but by the time Kemen's replacement Brandon Miele was himself forced to limp off, the Royals had seized control. Jak Alnwick showed some good handling in catching a couple of powerful drives cleanly, and our defenders' willingness to prostrate themselves in the line of fire suggested time spent in training with Saylor. But we were struggling to cope with our hosts' trio of rangy, pacy forwards Ogwu, Dominic Samuel and Jordan Obita, and though chances still continued to come our way, it was little surprise when Reading retook the lead through Lawson D'Ath. Samuel then added a fourth as we were caught out pressing for an equaliser in stoppage time.

For Master T, what a difference a year makes. Last season he featured in a number of first-team games, sometimes as a starter, and yet last night he failed to stamp his authority on an admittedly fluid frontline in the U21 league. In the second half, without Kemen for company, he too often missed tackles or was nowhere to be seen as Royals forwards advanced into the space between our midfield and defence. It was telling that, after emerging for the second period, he had to send manager Peter Beardsley back to the dressing room to fetch his captain's armband...

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Nothing much to Braga about

It may have been billed as a day of celebration, but there was little for Toon fans to cheer on Saturday as our pre-season fixture programme came to an end with a dull 1-1 draw at home to Braga.

The visitors had taken the lead (in contentious circumstances) from the spot through captain Alan shortly before the break, but his opposite number Sideshow Bob equalised with - steady yourselves - a goal from a corner (yes, really) in the second half.

Our skipper was extremely fortunate not to earn himself a second red card of the summer soon afterwards, and while Goofy had a goal disallowed for offside, a winner would have been undeserved. The only other real point of note was an injury to the anonymous Spidermag.

Afterwards the Silver Fox complained: "It wasn't really the pace I would have wanted with a week to go before the season, but that's the pace Portuguese teams play at." But then I suppose you have no choice but to make do with the opposition that are put in front of you. Eh? Oh.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

A knight's day

Saturday saw one of our recent greats, Sir Bobby Robson, remembered with a National Football Day, part of the FA's 150th anniversary celebrations. It remains the source of some pride that a man respected and admired the world over was a Geordie and manager of our club. I wonder what odds you'd get for JFK being posthumously honoured in the same fashion?

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Friday, August 09, 2013

Globe Arena trotting

Our opponents in the Second Round of this season's League Cup will be Morecambe - a first-ever meeting between the two clubs. Last year we were predictably knocked out by Man Utd, so this time around we face a different sort of challenge. As if it didn't look like a big enough banana skin already, the tie is the Shrimps' reward for sending Wolves crashing out in midweek. With a bit of professionalism and application, we'll win - but with Newcastle you can never be sure of that.

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Thursday, August 08, 2013

Thistle do not so nicely

Credit to Rangers for taking time out of their busy schedule of self-implosion to play us in our third Scottish pre-season friendly on Tuesday night - the first we've failed to win.

The fixture doesn't present anything like the test it might have done in years gone by, with the side described by Charles Green as the worst in the club's history (much to manager Ally McCoist's anger) languishing in the third tier of Scottish football and fresh from a humiliating first-round League Cup exit at the hands of Forfar. So it was somewhat embarrassing that we turned in a poor display and only managed to salvage a draw thanks to a last-minute strike from substitute Big Lad - even more so when you consider that we began the game with arguably our first-choice XI.

While Paul Dummett appears to find himself in the first-team picture, replacing Davide Santon shortly after the hour mark at Ibrox, fellow former St Mirren loanee Conor Newton doesn't - and indeed, as I'd anticipated, has just headed back to the Buddies on loan until the new year. There's been reports of them temporarily recruiting striker Adam Campbell too - which, again, would be a good deal for all concerned - and Newton has been talking them up in the hope that he'll end up playing alongside another club colleague north of the border.

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

To forgive and forget?

It's with mixed feelings that I report on the arrival of Loic Remy on a season-long loan from QPR.

On the one hand, the signing represents our first real bit of transfer business of the close season, if you discount the acquisition of teenage midfielder Olivier Kemen. Remy is also a much-needed striker, and one who performed well in a struggling side last year. Furthermore, the temporary nature of the deal means that we aren't committed to paying out a hefty salary on a long contract if it doesn't work out - though mention has been made of a £2m loan fee.

On the other hand, though, the Frenchman not only has a rape charge hanging over him (as a Newcastle player there's nothing new there...) but is also a notorious mercenary. Not that you'd know it from what he said upon signing: "I was very flattered by the club's interest in me back in January and also very happy that they showed interest in me again this summer." The reality is that he wasn't flattered with enough wonga to come to St James' Park in January, preferring the significantly heftier pay packet on offer from the London club, and is now arguably only happy at the club's continued interest in him because he suspected his previous decision may well have torpedoed it. Actions speak louder than words, though, and so if he can prove his commitment to the cause and demonstrate his talents on the pitch, all will be forgiven.

One definite positive to emerge from events is that our old chum 'Appy 'Arry appears to be on collision course with his employers. One minute he was adamant that Remy would only be allowed to leave if QPR recouped their £8m outlay, and the next he was backtracking and conceding that a loan deal would be a possibility after all. Did someone have a word? He should be careful of turning face so quickly - he's in danger of catching himself in the eye with some of that jowl flab.

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Smog on the Tyne?

Might we be about to add to the capture of Loic Remy with that of Stewart Downing to help provide some ammunition? The Liverpool Echo seems to think so, and in truth a move for the ex-Middlesbrough winger wouldn't be the worst piece of business imaginable, especially at a cut-price £5m.

You do wonder, though, how Shane Ferguson might feel at the Smog's arrival - after all, Fergie's shown sufficient promise in a role wide on the left to have been given more of an opportunity at the club that pays his wages, rather than at a club happy to borrow him to keep their heads above water in the Championship.



Oh Danny boys

Danny Simpson may have managed only two goals in 138 appearances for Newcastle, but it's taken him just two games to get off the mark for his new side QPR. Tulisa's ex grabbed the second goal as the Hoops comfortably defeated League Two Exeter in the League Cup.

On the subject of old boys finding the back of the net, it escaped my attention (and therefore mention in my round-up of the weekend's action) that Reading's winner on their return to the Championship was struck by Danny Guthrie. Having been a peripheral figure under Brian McDermott, the savagely shorn midfielder appears to be featuring in Nigel Adkins' plans.

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Monday, August 05, 2013

A Month Of Saturdays: July 2013

Prime minister? Bomb disposal expert? The Lone Ranger's lawyer? All undoubtedly tough jobs, but if we learnt anything in July it was that the toughest job in the world is actually to get "something over the line". Time and again we were told this was being worked on intensively, and yet nothing transpired. That "something" seemed to be a planet-sized boulder.

The person doing the talking was invariably the Silver Fox, who did at least mix his metaphors up a bit when he talked about getting "down the road" with something instead. In fairness to the manager, he was under constant pressure to enthuse about progress that hadn't been made, and his pronouncements had the dual function of (supposedly) reassuring and placating us fans desperate for news of incoming reinforcements while also chivvying along those responsible for making the deals happen.

And when I say "those responsible", I really mean JFK, the man who swanned into St James' Park for a second time bragging about all his connections and contacts. He's proving to be a magnet all right - if you remember that magnets repel as well as attract. At the same time as attracting nothing but ridicule to the club, he's contrived to repel even those close to him, his old mucker Mick Harford turning down a backroom role in favour of a glamorous position as Millwall assistant manager...

In July, experienced pros Steve Harper, Perchinho and Danny Simpson all left permanently, with Shane Ferguson and James Tavernier temporarily switching allegiances to Birmingham and Shrewsbury respectively, and yet our only addition was a 17-year-old teenager (French, of course, and already sporting the club's official haircut) whose signing had nothing whatsoever to do with JFK, though he's probably tried to take some credit. If the Silver Fox's nose was somewhat put out of joint by JFK's appointment, then you'd imagine his view of his new boss would have been growing dimmer by the day during July.

Not that player recruitment was the Silver Fox's only headache last month. The rumblings of discontent emanating from Papiss Cisse in relation to wearing the new Wonga-branded shirt came to a head with the striker missing out on our pre-season trip to Portugal, and for a while it looked as though we might never seen him flagged offside in black and white again. But then came tabloid revelations that were, for once, welcome, exposing our number nine's habit of occasionally visiting casinos. After apparently consulting various religious teachers, he backed down - but you have to suspect that the newspaper article had a hand in the swiftness with which the dispute was eventually resolved.

Soon afterwards, Cisse was back to doing what he does best and most naturally, smilingly finding the back of the net in an encouraging 2-0 friendly win at St Mirren. That was our fifth fixture of the pre-season; we'd already triumphed once against an SPL side, beating Motherwell 4-2, before a morale-sapping 3-1 defeat to Rio Ave and a 1-1 draw with Pacos de Ferreira in which skipper Sideshow Bob lost his cool and received a red card for throttling the home side's scorer.

Scorer of both our goals in Portugal, as well as the only strike at Blackpool when we returned to Blighty, was Big Lad. In July, rumours of his international career with Nigeria being over as soon as it had started proved premature, with the striker eagerly welcomed back into the fold only a few days later. The expiry of the gentleman's agreement between player and club that enabled this to happen suggested that he's no longer regarded as a hugely significant member of the squad.

Mr T, on the other hand, still is - though the Silver Fox may have misgivings about his state of mind (well, more misgivings than usual) given that he's up on fraud charges shortly and is determined to deny them. (At least the manager no longer has to take any responsibility for the actions of the Lone Ranger, who was charged with rape and, rather than getting fitted with a tag, very thoughtfully had his name tattooed on his face so he'll be even easier for the police to identify in future...)

With the lack of signings and the farcical appointment of JFK over his head, the Silver Fox could be forgiven for thinking he's being hung out to dry. Certainly it's hard to see him (or Llambiarse, King Kev or Wor Al for that matter) agreeing with the Sports Direct employee who gushingly described Jabba as "a brilliant boss" in a profile piece that appeared in the Independent. The club's owner has always acted ruthlessly and unilaterally (bringing JFK back being just the most recent and starkest case in point), so it was something of a surprise to learn that a revamped fans' forum is being launched with the full involvement of the club. Might he actually be about to start listening?



Pitch perfect for Perchinho

The Football League kicked off on Saturday, and Perchinho's Wigan debut couldn't have gone much better. Aided and abetted by a red card for Barnsley debutant Dale Jennings, the Latics romped to a 4-0 away win as they kicked off their bid for an immediate return to the top flight in fine style.

Danny Simpson's new side QPR have similar ambitions, and got off to their own winning start by beating Sheffield Wednesday 2-1. Simpson's old St James' Park colleague ASBO was partnered in central midfield by Karl Henry, the pair apparently nemeses no more following a kiss-and-make-up session shortly after the latter's arrival from Wolves.

Elsewhere in the Championship, Shane Ferguson couldn't prevent Birmingham from opening their campaign with a home defeat - though Blues do at least have the consolation of knowing they're unlikely to be the last side to be beaten on their own patch by most people's promotion favourites Watford. In the sole fixture yesterday, there was a familiar name on the scoresheet for Blackburn, first-half substitute Leon O'Best popping up with an 89th minute equaliser at Pride Park. Good to see him back playing again.

Further down the divisions, James Tavernier helped Shrewsbury keep a clean sheet at home to MK Dons, but it was a baptism of fire for Michael Richardson, whose Accrington Stanley side suffered a 4-1 spanking at League Two new boys Newport.

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Friday, August 02, 2013

Two more out of the door

Michael Richardson and Mehdi Abeid are the latest fringe players to be allowed to leave on loan. Richardson, who had a spell with Gillingham this spring, has gone back to League Two with Accrington Stanley. His namesake Leam left the club in April, so the manager he'll be turning out for is none other than James Beattie, once upon a time strongly linked with his parent club as a potential replacement for Wor Al. Abeid, meanwhile, has teamed up with Greek outfit Panathinaikos, and like Richardson is probably looking forward to getting some game time. It's doubtful that either has much of a long-term future on Tyneside.

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Quote of the day

"In the summer of 2011, Newcastle failed to sign a striker to replace Andy Carroll, who had joined Liverpool for £35m more than six months earlier."

As has been pointed out in the comments beneath the article, in his haste to stick the boot into Pardew and particularly JFK, the Torygraph's Luke Edwards appears to have completely forgotten about Demba Ba. OK, so we didn't appreciate he was a replacement at the time, but he certainly proved us wrong.

Lest we forget, Edwards is already banned from St James' Park and this article is hardly likely to curry any favour, given that it's a mixture of source-free statements of apparent fact (mainly about the alleged collapse of the Darren Bent deal) and conjecture such as the following: "Pardew has been trying to stay positive in public, despite the frustration that must be building up as his relationship with Kinnear already begins to show clear signs of strain."

In Edwards' defence, that particular claim seems fairly reasonable - after all, having arrived at the club in mid-June boasting of his contacts around the world, JFK has yet to deliver a single player a month and a half on. If you were the Silver Fox, wouldn't you be royally pissed off, and not just because you've got that oaf to answer to?

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Singing signing

We may have invited One Direction to come along for a training session back in April, but Championship new boys Doncaster have gone a step further, signing the group's Louis Tomlinson as a non-contract player. Another deal JFK couldn't quite "get over the line"?



Thursday, August 01, 2013

Back to business

Newcastle fans who made the trip up to St Mirren on Tuesday evening were rewarded with something that some of us suspected and feared we may not see again: Papiss Cisse wearing a Newcastle shirt - this one emblazoned with the Wonga logo. Despite the weeks of wrangling, brinkmanship and exile from the first-team squad, Cisse looked remarkably fresh and was immediately in the thick of the action, scoring our opening goal. It wasn't quite business as usual, mind - as .com pointedly noted, he wasn't caught offside once...

Big Lad hadn't recovered from Sunday's knock sufficiently to take part and continue his goalscoring streak, and the only other goal of the night against our fellow black and whites was a first in Toon colours for Mathieu Debuchy.

Other notable names on the teamsheet included HBA and Dan Gosling. The latter was heavily involved for the 65 minutes he played, but in his post-match interview the Silver Fox expressed disappointment that a deal with Crystal Palace had fallen through and gave the ex-Evertonian little hope that good pre-season performances could salvage his Toon career.

Meanwhile, Paul Dummett (who started) and Conor Newton (who came on as a sub) were afforded a warm reception by the home crowd in appreciation of their efforts on loan at St Mirren Park last season. There's every chance the pair will be allowed to leave temporarily again, and I'm sure the Paisley side would gladly welcome them both back.

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