Sunday, September 29, 2013

On the slide

The true cost of last weekend's home defeat by Hull has now become apparent. Norwich's victory over Stoke at the Britannia this afternoon means the Canaries leapfrog us in the table, as did Cardiff, Villa and West Brom yesterday - the latter two courtesy of improbable wins over the two Manchester clubs. That leaves us in 16th, and while we can't fall any lower regardless of the result of the Mackems' meeting with Liverpool and the outcome of tomorrow night's trip to Merseyside, we're already very much looking nervously below rather than optimistically above. Not an ideal time to be playing the division's only unbeaten side on their own patch, particularly now Everton have started to hit ominous form after an opening trio of sub-par draws.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Drought over

Newcastle Utd 2 - 0 Leeds Utd

A long-awaited goal from Papiss Cisse and first home goal for Goofy were enough to see off a solid, if unspectacular, Leeds team.

A decade ago, this fixture would have been a big challenge, and had Ross McCormack's early chip gone in rather than rebound off the Gallowgate crossbar, it might yet have been. Thankfully, though, a team boasting a significant cadre of players with top-flight experience had the skill and composure to win without ever looking troubled.

After some initial frustrating forays went astray, with Cisse guilty of snatching at chances that an in-form striker would have slotted home, we finally got our nose in front when Paul Dummett sent the ball down the line for Little Big Lad. His first-time left-footed cross curled brilliantly round the first centre back and straight on to the forehead of the onrushing Cisse, who didn't even need to break stride to nod the ball home from six yards and end his goalless run which had extended to over 1000 minutes of football.

Little Big Lad again played the role of provider in the second half, when he drove in from the left, before laying a short pass into the feet of Goofy, who took one touch to get the ball out, before swivelling and smashing the ball inside the far post from the edge of the penalty area.

With Loic Remy enjoying a good start to his Toon career, the game gave both Little Big Lad and Goofy the opportunity to keep themselves in the Silver Fox's thoughts, and they both seized the opportunity with strong performances. Also performing well on the night was Paul Dummett, who continues to keep the pressure on both Davide Santon and Mathieu Debuchy.

With the draw pairing us with Man City in the next round, and the club stating that cup competitions aren't a priority, it remains to be seen how much further we go in this competition, but if we keep up the good work of the last few games (blip against Hull notwithstanding) then we may yet manage to keep the cup run going a little while longer.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Look north

In amongst his gushing about Dreamboat ahead of last weekend's disappointment at home to Hull, the Silver Fox made a statement that doesn't seem to have attracted as much attention or comment as it really should: "We have good players and it’s something we’re focusing on in terms of the lack of English players in our group. We have structured our academy and our scouting team to scout only locally at youth levels now and that’s going to be carried through for the next two or three years because we need to produce our own. We have Sammy and Dummett but we need to produce more."

Now, few of us would dispute that our record of bringing through local lads into the first team is poor - we've said as much on this site several times before. What's more, we also have a history of failing to recognise young talent growing up on our doorstep - most famously Wor Al, but Michael Carrick too. Seeing two academy products - the two players singled out by a prescient Silver Fox - combine to create Papiss Cisse's goal on Wednesday night underlined the value of development.

And yet it's extraordinary that in the modern day we've apparently adopted a deliberate policy of only looking for players in the immediate vicinity. Surely we need to be casting our net far and wide in order to be able to compete with the Premier League's big hitters, and can't afford to be myopic. If the automatic assumption is that we'd lose out in bun fights for the top players, aren't we being unnecessarily defeatist?

That said, when you've got JFK spearheading your recruitment procedures, then such defeatism is entirely understandable...

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Quote of the day

"I worked very hard on several targets and we made a number of bids for players, but for various reasons - some of which were outside the club's control - we were unable to secure our targets. It was not an easy task to improve the quality of the current squad with the financial resources at our disposal, particularly in a window in which the value of players was grossly over-inflated and the demands of agents likewise. We will continue to operate in a financially responsible manner, buying only the right players for the right prices and not paying over the odds or making costly knee-jerk decisions."

JFK finally crawls out from under the rock he's been hiding beneath (or, more likely, from out of the Mediterranean villa he's been lounging about in) to spin some lame excuses about what happened - or, more precisely, what didn't happen - in the summer. I wonder how many people who invested in Saturday's programme did so to read that toss?

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Disappointment and disgust at Saturday's defeat was naturally tempered somewhat by West Brom's 3-0 victory over the Mackems (which not only featured a debut goal from Stephane Sessegnon, formerly of the Dark Place, whom Paolo Di Canio had been slagging off all week, but also a late strike from Romain Amalfitano's older brother Morgan) and the fascist sympathiser's subsequent confrontation with fans and sacking. So that meltdown I predicted came before the derby, sooner than anticipated - more's the pity that he earned himself the boot rather than us handing it to him on a plate.

Di Canio was a crazy appointment in the first place - placing a naive, inexperienced egotist with zero man management skills in charge of a bunch of highly strung Premier League footballers was always going to end messily. Ellis Short and company compounded the mistake by allowing Di Canio to completely reshape the backroom staff and spend £19m in the summer before giving him just five games of the new season. It's as though they've taken a look at goings-on on Tyneside and decided they can trump Jabba and JFK for mind-boggling idiocy. Fair play to them for giving us a good laugh, though.



Hull shitty

Newcastle Utd 2 - 3 Hull City

With the benefit of hindsight, this was a classic banana skin. The home side were unchanged, fresh from genuinely hitting their stride against Aston Villa, while our newly promoted opponents were seeking their first away win in the top flight in 21 attempts, not helped by the loss of experienced Premier League pros Robert Koren and Maynor Figueroa. We should have foreseen the fact that the Tigers would prevail - and prevail they did, deservedly so.

Not that an away victory looked to be on the cards early on. We set about showing attacking intent from the kick-off, Dreamboat and Moussa Sissoko providing thrust and craft from midfield while Loic Remy caused havoc cutting in from the left wing. Ten minutes had elapsed when Sissoko's right-wing cross was mis-hit into the turf by Papiss Cisse, only to fall perfectly for Remy to nod past Allan McGregor in the Gallowgate goal, his first strike in black and white.

Things started to change after about 20 minutes, though, as Hull's two imports from Spurs, Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore, started to get a grip on central midfield. The Tigers' tactic of leaving players in advanced positions in the hope of profiting by lofting underhit clearances back into the danger zone had already nearly paid off, with our back four rescued once by the offside flag, but they failed to heed the warning. When Sone Aluko slipped in Robbie Brady on the left side of the box, he drilled a shot through Tim Krul's legs.

In truth, by that point Hull could already have been level. From Brady's cross moments earlier, Danny Graham's point-blank header had been somehow clawed to safety by Krul. It was our good fortune that the prodigiously eyebrowed Toon supporter on loan from the Mackems is in such poor form - and we were even luckier with the goal that took us back into the lead shortly before half-time.

Hull had arguably been the better side since equalising, Brady continuing to cause problems on the left while Aluko's willing running dragged our central defenders around. But when Dreamboat's optimistic 25-yard drive was inadvertently deflected off the otherwise impressive James Chester to Remy, the Frenchman's finish was unerring.

That should have given us the platform to push on for a comfortable win, but instead we gifted our visitors a second equaliser within minutes of the restart. Brady was once again instrumental, punishing a foolish challenge from Vurnon Anita by whipping in a free kick that ex-Mackem Ahmed Elmohamady glanced in off the far post.

We'd taken the lead twice, but it was now far from obvious where the spark of inspiration to do so again was going to come from. Remy was being shackled much more effectively; Sissoko had faded from view, now looking leggy and lethargic; HBA kept dribbling into trouble and being dispossessed by the first defender, that claim about wanting to win the Ballon d'Or hanging like a millstone around his neck; and Dreamboat, whom the Silver Fox compared to David Frost in the week on account of his unflappable composure under pressure, was now playing about as well as the late broadcaster before succumbing to an injury. His replacement Yoan Gouffran had secured the win at Villa Park but offered nothing this time.

Arguably most alarming, though, was Cisse's display. His sole contribution of note was to cock up productively in the build-up to Remy's opener. He was aimless and half-hearted, never looking likely to even come close to ending his scoring drought. Frankly, as our number nine, he should be utterly embarrassed at being (rightly) hauled off with twenty minutes to go and us in increasingly desperate search for a winner.

Three minutes later there was a winner - just not for us. For the most part Hull had been content to absorb with ease what little pressure we could muster, but seized an opportunity to forge ahead for the first time in the match. Substitute George Boyd benefited from what passes for close defensive attention from HBA to put in a perfect cross that Aluko volleyed past Krul.

That should have spurred us to redouble our efforts, but heads went down, passes continued to go astray, HBA continued to wander into a mass of blue shirts so often he was liable for a hefty congestion charge, and the volume of groans and dissent in the stands increased. Remy could and indeed should have completed his hat-trick to snatch a point at the death, but, to the disbelief of all of us in the Leazes Stand in particular, blasted wide from what looked like a matter of inches.

For Ol' Cauliflower Face, gallingly, the final scoreline helped to exorcise the demons of that 5-1 humping of the Mackems - "the worst experience of my football life", he claimed afterwards. His opposite number, meanwhile, was left muttering about us being inconsistent and "loose", clearly and justifiably feeling let down by the players - though his decision to replace Mathieu Debuchy with Mr T in the closing minutes defied comprehension about as much as did the result itself.

No fixture is must win at this stage of the season; however, you do have to concede that, with two consecutive away days followed by the visit of Liverpool, 6-0 victors at St James' last season, on the horizon, those lost three points would have been very welcome indeed.

A Hull fan's perspective: Amber Nectar

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Excusez moi

While sorry still seems to be the hardest word for JFK, who's been lying low and unusually silent since the end of August, another Toon employee has made a point of expressing contrition for his recent conduct. Dreamboat has apparently accepted that supporters might be somewhat miffed at his refusal to play against Man City and West Ham in the wake of that "derisory" bid from Arsenal: "If the fans were, or still are, mad at me for what happened, then I understand and I apologise to them".

Encouragingly, though, he now seems determined to refocus: "I have moved on and now in my head I just want to work really hard, to get back in the team every week and to help the team - that is the most important thing for me. I want to forget what happened during the summer, I want to put it behind me and give everything for Newcastle every day, for the club and for my team-mates."

Saturday's display at Villa Park suggested that he's already started to do just that - and, make no mistake, a rejuvenated and in-form Dreamboat would be a very valuable asset indeed.

Meanwhile, another of our French imports has been looking forward to a big season. HBA may have turned in match-winning performances against Fulham and Villa, but it's important he doesn't let the accolades go to his head - starting to talk about himself in the third person is a bad sign...

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

So long, Steve

A spectacular send-off for Steve Harper, one of the most unassuming professionals in the game; a parade of famous faces; the prospect of a few spicy encounters (those in black and white v Paolo Di Canio, Alan Shearer v teammate for the night ASBO). Our correspondent Kyle was lucky enough to be there and sent us this report...

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A mild Wednesday night at St James’ Park saw the Newcastle Legends take on Milan Glorie for a testimonial to celebrate Steve Harper’s 20 years of loyal service. A crowd of over 50,000 turned out at a tenner a ticket with all profits being split between various charities, including the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

The game had a festival feel to it with lots of young kids around and a fairly gentle tempo. Both teams had plenty of faded talent on display, with all-time Milanese greats such as Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Pippo Inzaghi (as well as panto villain Paolo Di Canio) facing off against a Newcastle squad packed with players from the more recent glory years. Big names like Wor Al and Sir Les were backed up by cult heroes like Ruel Fox and Darren Peacock.

With nothing much of note happening on the pitch, the interest was more in how former players are looking these days. Some have certainly been enjoying their retirement and the reduced physical demands, John Beresford and Alan Thompson both cutting significantly more wind-resistant figures these days. Some don’t look a day older than when they last played, though. Nikos Dabizas in particular looked like he could step back into the first team, showing superb anticipation, strength in the tackle and some decent distribution too – perhaps a masterclass with some of the current defenders wouldn’t go amiss...

On the Milan side panto villain Paolo Di Canio’s every touch was accompanied with a chorus of boos, which to his credit he took well – it may be heresy to say it on this site but he actually looked sharp and was tidy in possession. The biggest cheer of the evening came when, in a populist nod to the crowd, ASBO cleaned him out from behind. The whole Milan team still looked pretty classy, Baresi, Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta and Mark Van Bommel in particular.

It was also a chance for players to pretend to be the player they always wished they were. David Ginola in particular swaggered around like a tiki-taka midfield general, all short passes, little flicks and gorgeous crossfield passes, notably short on dribbling (though the beer gut might have contributed to that too). Some things never change, though – within five minutes of coming off the bench, Tino Asprilla had connected with a glorious overhead kick, sadly blocked on the line, while Inzaghi was flagged for offside on a regular basis. Keith Gillespie still looked a class apart with the ball at his feet and Andrew Cole showed the old instincts are still strong when he hit the post with a clipped shot. In a nice touch Gary Speed’s two sons both got a run out in the last ten minutes to sustained applause.

As for the man himself, one nice diving save aside he didn’t have much to do in the half hour he was on the pitch, spending most of his time soaking up the cheers for his every touch and the sound of his name being sung by 50,000 fans all there for him alone. With the game ending in a 0-0 draw (surely the best way for a keeper to go out), his chance for a moment of glory came in the penalty shoot-out. Sadly, his decision to go for power didn’t pay off as he belted it straight at Massimo Taibi in the Milan goal so hard that he didn’t have a chance to get out the way. Needless to say, Di Canio put his away with Milan winning the shoot-out 2-1.

On the whole a nice evening, a lot of money raised for charity and a fitting send-off for one of Newcastle’s most loyal servants. Twenty years at his hometown club is a pretty decent career by anyone’s standards and though I wish him well in his late career swansong at Hull he’ll always be a Geordie keeper at heart.

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Well, as ways of raising money for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation go, Harps' method was a lot less arduous than running from John O'Groats to Land's End with a 42.5 kg fridge strapped to his back...

Photos from the game are available here.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Hat’s the way to do it

Aston Villa 1 – 2 Newcastle Utd

Another week, another win all thanks to a storming performance by HBA. This time the full-back left nursing nightmares having been twisted inside out was Matthew Lowton, who can have enjoyed few more torrid afternoons in his professional career.

With almost a full squad to choose from, the Silver Fox opted to stick with the same back five who have kept clean sheets in previous weeks, meaning there was only space on the bench for Saylor. Further forward it was telling that Vurnon Anita kept his place alongside Moussa Sissoko in midfield, with Mr T held in reserve. In attack, Papiss Cisse was given support by a combination of Dreamboat, HBA and Loic Remy.

Thankfully, what looked a strong line-up on paper proved to be in the mood on the pitch, with Remy and HBA both carrying a pacy threat down the flanks, and Dreamboat getting back in the swing of things in midfield. Sure enough, we started brightly and were deservedly ahead after Remy beat his man and cut the ball back from the byline to Cisse.  While our Senegalese striker’s shot was blocked, the ball fell nicely for HBA to tuck into the empty net from six yards and embark on a Francophone group hug with Dreamboat, Debuchy et al.

With Villa’s principal threat coming from Christian Benteke, our defence once again stood firm, with only one flap from Tim Krul to worry about. At the other end, we continued to press and look dangerous, without ever managing to carve Villa open and score what would have been a decisive second.

With Paul Lambert tearing into his charges at half-time, it was inevitable that Villa would come out stronger in the second half. Sure enough, they should have equalised when One Direction fans’ favourite Gabby Agbonlahor headed wide when presented with an excellent opportunity, which should have served as a warning to our increasingly threatened defence. Sadly, the warning wasn’t heeded as moments later Benteke managed to lose his marker enabling him to power home a free header from a corner which again saw Krul flying out to claim, only to not quite get there, and leave an unguarded goal in his wake.

Thankfully though, with the home side barely settled after getting back on terms, HBA again stepped up to run at Lowton and while Brad Guzan was able to palm away his stinging shot, the ball fell kindly for Goofy (on for Remy) to knock the ball home and notch his first of the season.

From there, Villa never really looked like getting back into the match a second time, while we continued to press with both Cisse and substitute Mr T going close.

The Silver Fox withdrew Dreamboat with a couple of minutes to go, which saw the Frenchman receive a good reception from the away support, hopefully showing him that with a few more performances of this calibre, his reputation on Tyneside can be repaired.

Special mention though to HBA, whose exuberant interview (quoted on shows his joy at playing for the club.  When he plays like this, the joy is most definitely a two-way street.

A Villa fan's verdict: The Villa Blog 

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

A price worth paying?

The BBC's annual Price of Football report has been published and, as usual, makes for interesting reading.

As was the case last year, our club continues to offer the cheapest day out in the Premier League - a day out being defined as the combined cost of the cheapest matchday ticket plus a programme, a pie and a cup of tea. The cost has increased by 20p to £23.20, but the next lowest, for Cardiff, is £28.10, nearly a full fiver more. What's more, it's less than the cheapest day out at no fewer than 18 Championship clubs, 20 League One clubs and 17 League Two clubs.

Liverpool come out at the top (or bottom, depending on how you want to look at it) of the Premier League table with £46.60, though West Ham run them close. As the Hammers' hefty £45.70 indicates, there's little correlation between the status and success of the club and what it charges. A day out at megarich title challengers Man City could set you back as little as £28.10, while the Etihad is also home to the cheapest season ticket, at £299.

Intriguingly, the cost of our equivalent is given as £530, whereas last year it was just £322. There's no specific comment in the article about the reason for the significant discrepancy, but presumably the oddity can be explained. Perhaps we just scrapped our cheapest season tickets? Answers on a postcard. Either way, it means we compare much less favourably to our rivals than we did before - though it's still some way short of Arsenal's eye-watering £985. Talk about a grand day out...

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Big Lad's on tour

While the nation was roaring on one 31-year-old late developer (in international terms) this week, another was scoring his first goal for his country. His younger brother may have been following in his footsteps by turning out for England U21s, but Big Lad has since pledged his allegiance to Nigeria and broke his duck in a friendly against Burkina Faso. Despite expressing delight in his post-match interview, he did also hint at a dispute with his employers - the clearest evidence yet that he was barred from playing for his country in January against his will: "It's unfortunate I missed the African Cup of Nations triumph. A lot of things happened that I don't want to go into."

Also on the scoresheet this week was Haris Vuckic, who netted in both of Slovenia U21s' fixtures - something that will presumably have caught the Silver Fox's eye, given that we've been short of goals as well as creativity in our opening few games.

You have to feel some sympathy for Shane Ferguson, for whom the international fixtures provided no respite whatsoever from what is already shaping up to be a tough season for Birmingham. First the Northern Irishman was asked to fill in at left back at home to Portugal and found himself part of a defence tormented and tortured as Ronaldo bagged a hat-trick and overhauled Eusebio's scoring record in the process. Of course, it didn't help that they finished the game two men light... Worse was to come, though, in the form of an embarrassing 3-2 defeat to lowly Luxembourg.

Also in action for their countries were Sideshow Bob, Moussa Sissoko and Mr T. It'll be interesting to see if the latter gets the nod ahead of Vurnon Anita for tomorrow's trip to Villa - or indeed whether both miss out if the Silver Fox decides to reintroduce Dreamboat at the expense of a defensive midfielder rather than sacrificing a more forward-thinking player.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Month Of Saturdays: August 2013

Last month I was bemoaning the apparent difficulty of getting a transfer deal "over the line". When something is proving extremely difficult, there are essentially three options: redouble your efforts, quit or cheat. We went for the latter, opting to pursue a player we'd already come close to dragging "over the line" in January, only for him to decide to trouser a load of cash by hitching a ride on 'Appy 'Arry's Relegation Bandwagon instead. Facing the prospect of a season in the Championship being overlooked by French coach Didier Deschamps, Loic Remy didn't need much persuading to make the move to Tyneside that he turned his back on seven months earlier. He clearly has a firm grasp of the significance of the striker's role at St James' Park, even going so far as to arrive injured and with a court case already hanging over his head...

It's just a shame that we were doing 'Appy 'Arry a favour, lightening QPR's ludicrously heavy wage bill, rather than poaching Remy from under his nose. After all, that would have been sweet revenge for the way he gazumped us for the Frenchman in the first place - and we already owed him one for helping to unsettle Demba Ba by widely broadcasting the terms of his release clause. Incidentally, it was no surprise, given Chelsea's apparent policy of signing every attacking midfielder under the sun and playing a lone forward, to see Ba linked with a return to the club that only sold him in January. Presumably those in the club shop will have been rubbing their hands in anticipation - a quick and easy job applying letters to the back of replica shirts as well as an opportunity to shift more of that strawberry syrup they got in. Not that everyone even remembered who Ba was - the Torygraph's Luke Edwards seems to have forgotten about him ever turning out for the Toon.

Nothing transpired, though, and the arrival of Remy to relatively little fanfare was our sole piece of business in August. JFK - someone we WOULD like airbrushed out of history, Luke - might have blithely claimed that everyone was singing from the same hymnsheet, but in reality the Silver Fox was acting the naughty choirboy, repeatedly chirping about the need to strengthen in the face of the official party line that suggested (laughably) that the squad was sufficiently strong as it stood. It seemed the one-man PR disaster was once again on a mission to see how deeply he could offend us, not only insulting our intelligence with that comment but also taunting us peasants with talk of private helicopter rides en route for a cosy get-together on Jabba's yacht off St Tropez. Needless to say, he offered no explanation for the fact that the get-together was organised to discuss planning and strategy and yet took place in late August.

By that point, our Premier League campaign was already underway. The pre-season fixtures had concluded with an arguably full-strength side coming perilously close to losing to Rangers of Scottish football's third tier, and a draw at home to Braga. The latter match might have taken place on National Football Day in memory of Sir Bobby Robson, but the game itself was nothing to get excited about, the Silver Fox later whining about the lacklustre tempo typical of Portuguese teams but failing to explain why we'd elected to play three of them.

An opening weekend defeat at Man City was hardly unexpected, though the manner of the thrashing was no less disspiriting as a result. I'd obviously tempted fate by hoping the "secret formula" would elude our hosts. Manuel Pellegrini's men hit the ground running, flexing their muscles as title contenders and showing off some of their expensive summer imports. Tim Krul was superb while all around him froze like rabbits in headlights, but couldn't prevent a 4-0 deficit. Our misery was completed by an injury to Spidermag and a red card for Saylor. Nice to see him getting both his blatant penalty-area handball (not spotted) and impetuous dismissal out of the way in the first fixture of the campaign.

One game in, then, and already Paul's prediction of a ninth-place finish was looking decidedly optimistic. The inauspicious start to our season wasn't helped by the fact that Dreamboat had been unsettled by a £10m bid from Arsenal - "derisory" according to the club but enough to turn the player's head, with rumours suggesting he'd refused to play at Man City. Going on strike? How very French. Hardly the most edifying behaviour from a man we'd earmarked as a future club captain.

The Silver Fox was spouting nonsense when he suggested Dreamboat's absence was a critical factor in our loss to Man City, but it would have been a valid point with respect to our goalless draw with West Ham, when creativity was in desperately short supply. I'd caricatured Fat Sam's mob as limited hoof-merchants in my season preview, but we can consider ourselves lucky to have escaped being beaten at home by them for the second season in succession. Even without Rocky they created enough opportunities to win - though it was us who struck the post and skied a sitter in the dying minutes.

We were in need of an ego boost and the League Cup victory over Morecambe didn't really provide it. Big Lad and Little Big Lad may have ultimately made it a night to remember for the Ameobi family, but we had to endure several hairy moments before that, as our hosts made a mockery of the gulf in status and Dan Gosling twice cleared off the line, thereby making his most significant contributions in a black and white shirt (not that that's saying much).

Against Fulham the following weekend, we were within four minutes of drawing a blank for a fifth home game in a row, stretching back to the spring. Thankfully, though, HBA had other ideas, popping up with a spectacular trademark strike to earn us a deserved three points if not the enthusiastic gratitude of his manager. It also meant a third clean sheet in a week, albeit against mediocre opposition - a welcome sequence given how easily we'd been sliced apart by Man City.

While Dreamboat remained on Tyneside, making his first appearance of the season from the bench against the Cottagers, the club's youngsters were scattered to the four winds. Michael Richardson signed for Accrington Stanley, Mehdi Abeid hooked up with Panathinaikos, Conor Newton went back to St Mirren (this time without Paul Dummett), and, after featuring in a U21 fixture that didn't offer us much hope for the future, Adam Campbell swapped St James' Park for Brunton Park. Not that all the loan deals we struck lasted the course - James Tavernier managed just two appearances for Shrewsbury before hobbling back to the North-East with metatarsal knack.

One player who did leave permanently was Brad Inman, Crewe for once buying in rather than selling a promising youngster. The Aussie soon came up against a familiar face in League One, the Lone Ranger scoring as Swindon, the saps who in their infinite wisdom have decided to give him an umpteenth chance, ran out 5-0 winners over the Railwaymen. That goal came three days after his first for the club, which helped to give 'Appy 'Arry a bloody nose. Haven't I always said how much a fan of Ranger's I am? As for QPR, it was slightly upsetting to see that Danny Simpson broke his scoring duck for his new club almost immediately - just our luck that he'll now turn out to be prolific.

Down the road, Sunderland players seemed intent on burning bridges (much to our obvious amusement), but ours were more keen to build or at least repair them. Some supporters were sceptical of Papiss Cisse's motives for kicking up a fuss about the Wonga shirt branding, so his decision to invite fans to his house for barbeques and games of pool and FIFA could be seen as an olive branch or an act of contrition. Meanwhile, Sideshow Bob made friends with the Pope, the pair bonding over a mutual love of San Lorenzo. A wise move on the part of our captain - we may yet need to rely on divine intervention...

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Salary sacrifice scuppered Gomis deal

In an interview in France Bafetimbi Gomis has lifted the lid on what exactly went on last month and why his proposed move to Newcastle fell through - surprise surprise, it stemmed from us attempting to move the goalposts at the last minute in a bid to pinch the pennies:

"I was interested in two clubs and after a discussion with the coach [national coach Didier Deschamps] I decided on Newcastle as he recommended them because there are already many French internationals. I then talked to Newcastle’s coach and we reached an agreement. There followed a discussion with Lyon when an initial offer was rejected but a second accepted. Newcastle later came back to me and asked me to take lower wages but I said to myself, it wasn’t I who had asked to leave but my club [Lyon]. So if there was an effort to be made with the finances it was up to Newcastle or Lyon to find the money."

So, just to get this straight, we had another French international keen to sign up - and a striker to boot - but managed to scupper the deal through our own tightfistedness. Marvellous. Why we continue to indulge in such stupid and costly acts of brinkmanship I have no idea, and, having been treated with so little respect, it's a wonder that Gomis would apparently still be open to the possibility of a move in the future.

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Quote of the day

"The Journal understands the club’s scouting efforts have begun in earnest this weekend."

Because clearly there's no point in starting scouting efforts when the transfer window is open and it's still possible to sign the subjects of scouting missions, is there? Talk about an impeccable sense of timing...

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Saturday, September 07, 2013

Quote of the day

"At a time when every other Premier League club is strengthening their squad, it defies belief that Newcastle United's is numerically weaker than the one that finished last season. To not make one player purchase this summer is astounding and calls into question the ambition of Mike Ashley and those tasked to run Newcastle United on his behalf."

Following the club statement allegedly from the Silver Fox, NUST respond with a far more blunt and honest one of their own.

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Cash for (no awkward) questions

The Ronny Gill recently partnered up with Wonga to offer a fund to which local sports clubs can apply for grants. No prizes for guessing that the paper's coverage of the company suddenly seems to have got far more positive...

(Thanks to Danny for the link.)

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Friday, September 06, 2013

The outsiders

Saturday's substitute appearance wasn't enough to get Dreamboat a place in the French squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers - an omission which came as a "shock" to the player, according to the Silver Fox, who is planning on using the down time to hold clear-the-air talks with the midfielder and his representatives. With any luck, he'll realise he can't now leave until January anyway, so he might as well start putting in the sort of effort and performances that might merit a big-money move away from Tyneside.

Meanwhile, our 25-man Premier League squad was announced yesterday. We can adjust it again in January, but until then there's no room for loanees Shane Ferguson, Conor Newton and Romain Amalfitano. While the latter two are no great loss, it is something of a surprise that Ferguson - who has at times looked close to breaking into the first team and gives us a useful option wide on the left - has been omitted in favour of Raylor, who is widely expected to be out for the whole season. Unless the Silver Fox knows something that we don't...

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Director's cut?

So Damien Comolli thinks Man Utd would benefit from having a director of football, does he? The statement might have been a transparent attempt to fish for a prestigious new job, but if the Red Devils really do want a director of football, they'd be extremely welcome to have ours...

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Thursday, September 05, 2013


Newcastle Utd 1 – 0 Fulham 

Finally, after what has felt like an eternity, we have a goal at home to celebrate. What a goal, too, as HBA cut inside onto his favoured left foot and smashed a shot into the Gallowgate goal to send the crowd into raptures and give us the win which our second-half performance deserved. As the player himself said afterwards when describing his strike, “Ooof”. 

The game itself saw us retain the same XI who had secured the goalless draw against West Ham the week before, with the only changes being on the bench where summer signing Loic Remy and Dreamboat were both available after their injury and temptation troubles had begun to clear. 

Unfortunately, the same failings which had seen us struggle to create much in the way of chances or inject sufficient urgency in our play against West Ham also continued with little for either set of fans to get excited about in the first half. The closest we came to a goal was Sideshow Bob’s goal-bound header from a corner, which unfortunately struck the foot of Papiss Cisse and rebounded to safety. 

Thankfully, unlike last season, we emerged in the second period as a team with a greater intent and slowly started to press the visitors back down the hill towards their Gallowgate goal. With Fulham’s twin strikeforce of Darren Bent and reported boyhood Toon fan Dimitar Berbatov both enduring off-days, the Cottagers looked toothless. By contrast, we started to look like a side at least capable of creating chances, with HBA in particular enjoying skinning John Arne Riise at every opportunity, even if his end product was decidedly mixed. 

Shola missed one decent opportunity and Cisse later hammered a header against the bar, and, with the clock ticking, the Silver Fox turned to the bench, bringing on both Remy and Dreamboat (for Sylvain Marveaux and Vurnon Anita) in a bid to get the goal. While the former was warmly welcomed, the latter endured a decidedly mixed reaction, with a combination of cheers and boos letting the Frenchman know exactly what the crowd thought of his attempts to agitate a move to Arsenal. 

Despite conceding a dangerously located free-kick as his first meaningful action, Dreamboat settled into midfield and started to show the passing and drive which we have lacked thus far, almost scoring a goal in the dying seconds. Remy too showed electric pace and drive down the left, which seemed to pick us up a gear. Further chances came and went, with Goofy (on for Big Lad) guilty of missing from a couple of yards out, before HBA took matters into his own hands to get our first league win of the season and leapfrog us halfway up the table. 

On the plus side, another clean sheet (even against a toothless Fulham side) is never to be sniffed at. Similarly, the prospect of Remy and Cabaye coming into the side definitely increases our attacking threat. 

By contrast, Cisse continues to labour in need of a goal as does his fellow Francophone Goofy. It’s going to be a long slog to January unless one of them (or Big Lad) doesn’t suddenly start banging some goals in. 

Other reports:  BBC, Guardian

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Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Well, at least the powers that be were decent enough not to make the Silver Fox to defend our transfer window failings to a cackling media in person. Instead, a short formal statement appeared on the official site in his name. I imagine the situation being akin to a man being forced at gunpoint to sign his own death warrant. It's beyond me why he should even have to go through the farce of pretending to be content with what he's got and why JFK isn't the one thrown to the press pack like a particularly juicy bone.

Anyway, let's take a look at what the Silver Fox (allegedly) had to say...

"We are delighted to have brought Loic Remy to the club in this window and we believe he will form an exciting and effective partnership with Papiss Cisse."

How to begin? By accentuating the positives, of course - namely, by reminding fans of the one (admittedly quality) player we did bring in. Just surprising there's no mention of Dreamboat not departing - though perhaps that's because his continued presence on Tyneside is very much against his will...

"Joe has worked hard on numerous targets, particularly an additional offensive player. However some of the options that were available within our financial means were not as good as the players we already had and there is no point bringing in new players unless they can improve us and take us forward."

Financial constraints are one thing, but spending no cash whatsoever is another. Also, "some of the options" - what about the other options, then? Presumably they were better than what we already have, but we just didn't get our arses in gear to get them. In that final statement there's the implication that, far from us being the foolish ones, it's actually other clubs that have been left with egg on their faces, for shelling out small fortunes on recruits who will make negligible impact. That may be the case with some of Monday's panic buys, but it doesn't excuse the fact that we have discernible weaknesses and should have made decisive moves to identify and then sign players to plug the gaps.

"We did the majority of our business in the January window, signing five excellent first team players."

Hang on a minute. Wasn't the raft of January signings (all sound additions, I'd agree) a response to the fact that we'd complacently rested on our laurels last summer, signing just Vurnon Anita, and then been stung by injuries and loss of form? At the time there was talk of deals being "accelerated forwards", but it's curious that this hasn't been mentioned all summer and is only rearing its head now that the window's closed, isn't it? There were hints in January that we'd learned from the lessons of last summer - not so, it seems.

"With the strong squad we have we should all approach the season in a positive, optimistic frame of mind."

Ah yes, that's right - if all else fails, bury your head in the sand about the squad's deficiencies, contradicting everything you've said over the past four months, and just rely on blind, stupid faith. Because, of course, that always works out well. The use of the word "should" (rather than "can") is particularly telling - we're being instructed how to view the forthcoming campaign, with any dissent and negativity depicted as detrimental to the club.

One thing conspicuous by its absence in all that, then: an apology.

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Critical reflection

One of the weekend's talking points was Paolo Di Canio's public slating of his players following the Mackems' defeat to Crystal Palace, a side widely expected to be among the division's whipping boys. The unhinged loon displayed his very tenuous grasp of psychology and man management by criticising both Ji Dong-Won (for ducking out of a header) and captain John O'Shea (for making a bad cock-up and then giving away a penalty and getting sent off when trying to recover) in his post-match interview. Both players did indeed deserve a rollicking - but that's what the dressing room's for.

While Di Canio came under fire from hacks and pundits, rather less was said about the fact that the Silver Fox actually did much the same. HBA was not only our matchwinner against Fulham, he was also the player who carried the most threat and spark all afternoon - and yet after the game his manager decided to declare our mercurial forward had "made some poor decisions" and reveal that he'd given him a half-time dressing-down, accusing him of slowing down our attacks.

I suppose the difference is that the Silver Fox could say it with a wry and relieved smile on his face rather than a scowl. All the same, I don't think public criticism is what a player as psychologically fragile as HBA needs, and certainly not when he's ultimately made the game's key contribution. On the contrary, the occasion surely called for the confidence boost of a manager raving about another superlative goal added to a growing collection.

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Keen as mustard

No sooner has his big brother pitched up in England than Romain Amalfitano has decided to flit back across the channel, signing on loan for Dijon. This league ain't big enough for the both of them? Not really - Jr has never even come close to threatening to break into the first team. A shame that it's au revoir rather than adieu - unless he somehow manages to impress during his sojourn back home.

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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

No news isn't good news

And so, once again, while everyone else leaves everything to the very last minute but still manages to secure beneficial deals, we're left with the "dog ate my homework" excuses - excuses that it'll be left to the Silver Fox to deliver, even though the failure is through no fault of his own.

With West Brom picking up Victor Anichebe and the Mackems' Stephane Sessegnon to bolster their goalshy attack and Arsenal spunking £42.5m on the admittedly brilliant Mesut Ozil, we were confirmed as the only Premier League club not to spend a single penny in the transfer window, the loan deal for Loic Remy our sole bit of business.

It wasn't even as though there seemed to be even the pretence of any effort. We reportedly put in a bid for Watford 'keeper Jonathan Bond, but that appears to have come to nothing. Demba Ba was linked with a move, though only to Arsenal or West Ham, and in the end stayed put as Chelsea rather surprisingly allowed Romelu Lukaku to leave on loan instead, joining Everton to fill the hole left by Anichebe. The Belgian would have been perfect for us - as would Ba, in truth.

Meanwhile, Andre Ayew and Bafetimbi Gomis also remained with their clubs, the latter responding to speculation by apologetically confirming as much on Twitter, and Villa - a club of similar stature and predicament to ourselves - were able to go out and sign an Czech international striker from Lazio, top scorer in last season's Europa League, for a very reasonable £7m.

I suppose that if there's any consolation, it's that Arsenal's preoccupation with the Ozil deal resulted in Dreamboat remaining on Tyneside, no follow-up bid having been received. The Frenchman has serious bridges to build, and there will be question marks over his commitment to the club (after all, he was clearly agitating for the move), but we do need someone who can pull strings in central midfield. It was also a relief when Arsene Wenger brought in Palermo 'keeper Emiliano Viviano, eradicating fears that the Gunners could still steal Tim Krul away too, while Gabby Logan declared: "Phew so relieved that NUFC haven't made a bad signing." Tongue firmly lodged in cheek there, I think...

Let's allow JFK the final word, though. "Judge me on my signings", he confidently declared. Well, OK - we will. You're a first-rate clueless cretin. Get out of our club.

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It'll be all Jim White on the night

A quick round-up of other goings-on of interest on deadline day...

For a brief moment I thought we'd managed to offload French flop Romain Amalfitano to West Brom, but unfortunately not - it's actually Morgan Amalfitano, his older brother, who has joined the Baggies. More's the pity.

One eyebrow-raising move involved the purchase of one-time Toon target Adrian Mariappa by Crystal Palace. The Premier League new boys bought the central defender despite the fact that he's been out of favour in the Championship and has made just one appearance so far this season - in Reading's 6-0 League Cup humilation at League One Peterborough.

Meanwhile, the Eagles waved goodbye to Peter Ramage - the defender featured 43 times in their promotion season, but Ian Holloway appears to have seen sense, realised he's not Premier League material and loaned him to Championship strugglers Barnsley. Bradley Orr, who likewise never made the grade on Tyneside, has been farmed out to league leaders Blackpool by Lancastrian rivals Blackburn.

On the continent, January target Florian Thauvin left Lille for Marseille in an acrimonious and controversial £12.7m deal, just six months after signing from Bastia, to whom the Young Player of the Year had been immediately loaned back for the remainder of the season. A former Lille midfielder going on strike in an attempt to force a move? Sounds familiar...

One move that didn't happen was Shay Given's mooted switch to early Premier League pacesetters Liverpool. Instead, he's been left to collect splinters at Villa, hoping Brad Guzan picks up an injury.

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The boyo done good

Setting transfer window issues aside, congratulations to Paul Dummett, whose elevation to the Newcastle first-team squad has resulted in a similar elevation to the senior Welsh squad for the forthcoming international fixtures. Whether he makes his bow alongside the world's most expensive player remains to be seen.

Fellow left-sided player Shane Ferguson has been enduring a tougher time at Birmingham. Despite creating the opening goal for Matt Green with a delicious cross in the 3-2 defeat at Leicester, the Northern Irishman was dropped to the bench for Saturday's visit of Ipswich. Blues appear to have continued last season's form, much to Lee Clark's dismay, and the picture is even less rosy off the pitch, as detailed in a recent post on The Two Unfortunates.

Meanwhile, Mehdi Abeid scored a somewhat fortuitous goal for his loan club Panathanaikos at the weekend. Scoring is something that Adam Campbell wasn't given the opportunity to do on loan in Cumbria - he's already back on Tyneside, a clearly disgruntled Silver Fox commenting "That didn’t work out at Carlisle, and he won’t be going back there". He may only be back temporarily, though, with a move to hook up with Conor Newton at St Mirren a possibility.

Steve Davis may have talked up Brad Inman's future, but his recent past at Crewe has been far from encouraging. He played for 21 minutes off the bench as the Railwaymen lost to League One leaders Leyton Orient, and was then handed a start for the trip to Swindon last weekend - only for the home side to romp to a 5-0 victory. The identity of the Robins' first scorer? Inman's former club colleague the Lone Ranger.

On the subject of familiar faces, the Reserves were beaten 5-4 by West Ham yesterday, despite taking a three-goal lead through a Jonathyn Quinn hat-trick. You ain't seen nothing like the mighty Quinn? Well, the Hammers had - one Elliot Lee, who grabbed a hat-trick of his own, two goals coming from the spot. The onlooker with conflicted loyalties? That would be his dad, Rob Lee.

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Monday, September 02, 2013

The final countdown

HBA's splendid winner over Fulham may have lifted the gloom around St James' Park temporarily (Paul's match report to follow), but as we move into the final day of the transfer window, our sole first-team signing of the summer remains a loanee. The next 23 hours are going to have to be extraordinarily busy to match up to the expectations of the fans or, indeed, the manager.

Not that additions are our only concern, mind - there's also the ongoing threat of Dreamboat's departure, and being left with no time to replace him. Not a scenario that's unfamiliar to us - think Rocky... Entering Saturday's game as a substitute, the midfielder was greeted with a mixture of applause and boos - rightly so, suggested the Silver Fox. Whether he stays on Tyneside depends partly on whether he takes the applause or the boos to heart - though primarily on whether Arsenal bump up their offer significantly. That's not a foregone conclusion now that they're reportedly in advanced talks to sign Mesut Ozil, rendered somewhat surplus to requirements by Gareth Bale's record-breaking move to Real Madrid.

Watch this space.

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