Friday, November 29, 2013

Have Newcastle shirt, will travel

It seems not everyone associated with Newcastle views the prospect of qualifying for European football with suspicion and dread. Dreamboat, for instance, has told French radio "It is true to say I miss the Europa League and the Champions League".

Inevitably, this admission and a vague statement about what might happen at the end of the season ("the future will have in store for me what is meant to be") have been interpreted by mischievous members of the media as a sign that Dreamboat's itching for a move in the summer. There might be more than half the season still to go, but it'd be nice if they could do us the courtesy of acknowledging that his Europa League ambitions (if not the Champions League) may yet be realised without having to leave St James' Park...

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New York, New York

That's the New York Stadium rather than the Big Apple, the temporary home for Toon youngsters James Tavernier and Haris Vuckic, who have both signed on loan for League One outfit Rotherham until 2nd January. Much as it pains me to see us help out that odious oaf Steve Evans in his attempt to get the Millers promoted to the Championship, it'll be useful game time for the duo. The progress of both players appears to have stalled, Vuckic in particular having flattered to deceive, and I'd suggest that they need to seize this opportunity with both hands if they want to have any future at their parent club.

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Quote of the day

"Players would gamble on the bus and I got involved. We would take thousands of pounds onto the bus, anything up to £30,000. It might change hands playing cards on the bus, we would go to the bank before and take out the money. It was part of team bonding. We were playing for real cash, if you were playing for £30,000 you would have it with you at the time."

Giving evidence in a court case, Michael Chopra reveals the extent of the gambling culture at Newcastle during his time at the club. He also admitted that the "main reason" for signing for the Mackems was to use the signing-on fee to pay off his debts. Clearly, desperate times call for very desperate measures...

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This internet ain't big enough for the both of us

Oi! Get your own blog name, you cheeky sods! We were here first...



Thursday, November 28, 2013

Form and formation

It may be tempting fate, but I thought it might be worth taking a moment to reflect on the upsurge in our fortunes since the nadir of our season so far, that defeat down at the Dark Place. A hat-trick of Premier League victories is never to be sniffed at, especially not when those fixtures include the visit of Chelsea and a trip to White Hart Lane. So, what's behind the transformation in our fortunes? As the title of this post would suggest, I think it essentially comes down to form and formation.

One of the most alarming things about the last campaign was the way that players who had performed brilliantly during our unanticipated but ultimately unsuccessful push for Champions League qualification in 2011/2 suddenly lost all semblance of form, all at the same time. Tim Krul wasn't the worst case, but he could have had a better season all the same. Now, though, he's back to his best - as that staggering display in repelling Spurs amply indicated. Mathieu Debuchy may have been suspended against Norwich, but he's at last starting to show why we paid £6m for his services and why he's a fixture in the French national side. More notable is the current form of Mr T and Dreamboat, both shadows of their former selves last season but now once again near the high levels they set upon arrival at the club.

Last term, such was the extent of the issue that the Silver Fox had no option but to continue picking out-of-sorts players. This time around, however, he's been able to drop Papiss Cisse to the bench for the benefit of the side as a whole. What's more, we've also found that when replacements have been called upon, they've stepped into the breach admirably. Few of us would have thought the much maligned MYM and Mike Williamson would be in the side on merit, but they genuinely are at present.

And then there's the formation. While the 4-3-3 line-up held the promise of an attacking style, too often it wasn't working, the three-man midfield overrun and Dreamboat forced into a more defensive and less creative role than we'd like. Cisse wasn't leading the line well enough, and a couple of experiments with HBA in the so-called false nine role didn't work offensively either. The switch to 4-4-2, with Loic Remy playing in a mobile role off Big Lad, has given us greater solidity, Mr T firmly anchoring the midfield so Dreamboat can concentrate on doing what he does best, namely picking passes.

Admittedly, we don't have the width in midfield that a 4-4-2 formation would reply - we're sometimes a bit narrow, with no natural wingers. Obertan Kenobi has rarely looked up to that job, and it's doubtful that Spidermag would step back into the role he served when he first arrived on Tyneside, so perhaps the mooted loan move for Man Utd's Wilfried Zaha would indeed be the answer.

As it stands, though, we're not suffering too much - certainly Goofy's workrate on the flank (and his habit of popping up with timely goals) is much appreciated. HBA, frustratedly kicking his heels on the bench having declared his desire to win the Ballon d'Or, is undoubtedly a more talented player, but he can also be a bit of a luxury, peripheral to the action in the same way that Cisse has been all too often this season.

I'll finish by identifying three areas for improvement. First, I think we could be expecting more from Moussa Sissoko, though in his defence he's being asked to play in a slightly unfamiliar role to allow Mr T and Dreamboat to operate centrally. Second, the over-reliance on Remy is of increasing concern, with still no guarantee we'll be able to sign him permanently in January. He registered in all three victories, and with each goal his value nudges a bit higher and his list of suitors gets a bit longer. Goofy has done reasonably well in this regard, but we need other players to contribute too. Third, and relatedly, our full backs could give us a bit more going forwards, particularly in terms of delivery into the box. That our revival has taken place with Big Lad back in the starting XI is no coincidence - he's been doing an excellent job up front, especially against Norwich - but he needs to add goals, and to do that he'll be counting on better service from wide areas.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Sho goes on

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Norwich City

After the tremendous wins over Chelsea and Spurs, Chris Hughton's Norwich were a blatant banana skin, and came to St James' Park on Saturday dressed for the occasion. However, a splendid display from Big Lad (amongst others) was instrumental in ensuring we recorded three successive victories for the first time in more than a year and a half.

We might have feared the international break would have knocked us out of our stride - but as it turned out Big Lad's goal for Nigeria appeared to have reinvigorated him, while our opener was conjured up by two players who had been away on duty with France, as les Bleus squeezed to World Cup qualification ahead of Ukraine.

The only change from the side that frustrated Spurs (or, more precisely, watched Tim Krul frustrate them) was enforced, with Mathieu Debuchy sitting out through suspension. While some of us would have liked to see Vurnon Anita replace him, especially taking into account the opposition and the fact that we were at home, the Silver Fox went for a more defensive option, switching MYM out wide so captain Sideshow Bob, fresh from apparently reiterating his desire to leave the club, could be reinstated in the centre.

Norwich had been left shell-shocked by their last away trip, a 7-0 rout at Man City for which we could have some sympathy, having been on the wrong end of a Etihad Stadium beating ourselves this season. So it was our good fortune that the Canaries started as they left off, having apparently learned nothing from that chastening experience. It's a measure of how lax their defending was that, with less than two minutes on the clock, they gifted us the lead from a corner. Dreamboat's ball, albeit aimed into the danger zone, was nothing particularly special, but it was allowed to bounce inside the six-yard area for the switched-on Loic Remy to dart in front of the switched-off Bradley Johnson at the back post and head into the roof of the net.

That soon established our dominance and control over proceedings, though the visitors, to their credit, did threaten us on occasion, particularly through the lively Nathan Redmond, who should have done better than blaze over when sent free. Anthony Pilkington too caused momentary panic in our defence, a looping header beating Tim Krul but hoofed to safety by Mike Williamson.

There was no doubt over the identity of the star of the first half. Big Lad was proving far too much for the Norwich defence to handle, and he started and very nearly finished the move that led to our second goal. A clever spin away from Johnson gave him the time to play in Remy wide on the right. He laid the ball back to compatriot Moussa Sissoko, whose cross was headed powerfully goalwards by Big Lad and, when John Ruddy could only parry it, Goofy was on hand to feast on the crumbs.

2-0 at the break, then, and our advantage could have been greater had Sissoko not shot wide following another perfectly weighted Big Lad pass or had the latter not seen his 20-yard blockbuster repelled by Ruddy.

Remy and Big Lad tried their luck early in the second period, but it soon became a familiar story as we opted to sit back and soak up what pressure Norwich could muster rather than play to our strengths and continue to regard attack as the best form of defence. Thankfully, Hughton's side - significantly shorn of both Robert Snodgrass and Ricky van Wolfswinkel - troubled us very little until, with ten minutes remaining, one-time Toon target Leroy Fer profited from Sideshow Bob's doziness, heading a Redmond corner in off the post.

That meant an unnecessarily nervy climax to the match - though, in truth, the fault wasn't all with the Silver Fox's tactics or the fatigue he later claimed our players were suffering. TV replays proved that substitute Papiss Cisse was onside when he found the back of Ruddy's net on the break, but Mike Dean's whistle denied us the restoration of the two-goal cushion and Cisse an urgently needed confidence boost.

We held out, though, and while the result was less eyecatching than the preceding victories over the two London sides, it was nevertheless hugely satisfying - after all, it was only two months ago that we contrived to follow up decent back-to-back wins against Fulham and Villa with a bewildering 3-2 home loss to Hull. Next weekend sees the return of another former denizen of the St James' Park dugout, Steve Clarke, and we have every reason to feel confident we can give him and his West Brom side the same treatment as was dished out to Hughton's Norwich.

Other report: BBC, Guardian

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Sayling close to the wind

So it's a slap of the wrist and no more for Saylor over his recent questionable tweet. The FA have made the right call in not punishing him, as they (and the club) have in reminding him of his responsibilities and the public nature of social media - a fact that seems to escape the attention of an alarming number of footballers. The message is clear: if you're going to indulge in "banter", do so behind closed doors rather than in public where it can be taken out of context.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tres bon!

A doff of le chapeau to France, who last night overcame a 2-0 first-leg deficit to beat Ukraine 3-2 on aggregate and secure themselves an improbable place at next year's World Cup. While the goals came from Karim Benzema and the unlikely source of Liverpool central defender Mamadou Sakho (twice), two of our players certainly played their part, Dreamboat's scuffed shot ultimately falling to an offside Benzema for the second goal and Mathieu Debuchy clearing off the line with the aggregate scores level at 2-2. The full back was later booked and withdrawn, while neither Moussa Sissoko nor Loic Remy were called upon.

Meanwhile, on Monday night Big Lad was compensated for missing out on Nigeria's play-off victory against Ethiopia with a start in the friendly fixture against Italy. Evidently determined to seize the opportunity to impress, he sent in the cross for the Super Eagles' equaliser and then scored a fine volleyed finish in a game that ended 2-2. The match was played at Craven Cottage, where we don't have a great record - hopefully Big Lad can repeat the trick when we face Fulham on their own turf in March.

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Balancing act

So Mike Williamson has gone on record praising his manager for finding "the right balance". Funny, that - given that doing so has coincided with his return to the first team...

In truth, Williamson initially got back into the side due to injuries and suspensions - it was genuinely desperate measures. But since being handed a chance that many of us thought he might not get again, the former Pompey central defender has seized it with both hands. It would be hard to fault his performances of late, and so his selection ahead of fit-again Sideshow Bob against Spurs was justified.

It'll be interesting to see if he can hold onto his place for Saturday's visit of Norwich, though - publicly buttering up the Silver Fox might help...

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Shorter and sweeter

Interesting stuff in the Guardian, who have analysed the stats from our impressive back-to-back victories against Chelsea and Spurs and concluded that a significant change of style has taken place. Gone (thankfully) is the aimless hoof 'n' hope of last season, and in its place a shorter passing game that relies on swift counter-attacks. That's certainly been a noticeable feature of our three away wins so far this season, and is perhaps attributable to the presence of Loic Remy in the side (not that hoofball was perfectly tailored for Papiss Cisse, mind).

One person who's no doubt delighted by the change is Dreamboat, who initially signed up after discussing footballing philosophy with the Silver Fox and who must therefore have felt somewhat betrayed by last season's tactics. The new approach (or, rather, reverting to the old approach) suits him far better, and is probably one of the reasons why his performance levels have been so much higher this time around.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Aiming high?

I was a bit mystified by many of the reader comments on this article in the Ronny Gill last week, in which the Silver Fox suggested that Spurs are suffering the consequences of playing in the Europa League - and, by implication, that we're reaping the benefits of not doing so. Several commenters interpreted this as betraying a fundamental lack of ambition in focusing on the "dangers" of a decent league finish.

Yet surely our lack of ambition was already obvious from what happened last season: the short-sighted failure to strengthen the squad in the summer, followed by incessant moaning about how participation in the Europa League was stretching and exhausting the players. It really irritated me that the not inconsiderable achievement of qualifying for European competition in 2011/12 - something for which we fought very hard and ultimately deserved - was then presented as a curse and a burden.

If we were to qualify again this season - and that's a very big if, despite the promising signs of the last two performances - then you'd hope we'd show evidence of having learned our lesson by investing in reinforcements so we can celebrate and enjoy the achievement, rather than bemoan it.

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Cheik in

Even if Mr T's had a rough time off the pitch of late, things have been going well on it - named as stand-in skipper in Sideshow Bob's absence and back to something like the form that made him one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League. And now he knows he'll be off to next year's World Cup, after Ivory Coast qualified for the tournament via a two-legged play-off victory over Senegal. Mr T was actually suspended, while Papiss Cisse played for the latter, but couldn't score - something that must have frustrated Demba Ba, left on the bench.

Elsewhere, Nigeria also qualified, beating Ethopia 2-0 on aggregate, but Big Lad will be sweating about a ticket on the Super Eagles' plane to Brazil, having been omitted from the squad despite his recent return to the Newcastle starting XI.

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Wilf a wanted man

If the Daily Heil are right and we're set to make a loan approach for Man Utd's Wilfried Zaha in the January transfer window, then I think it would be an astute move. The winger only moved to Old Trafford in the summer (though signed the deal in January), but for whatever reason new manager David Moyes doesn't seem to fancy him much, claiming he's not yet ready for the first team. While a January loan looks inevitable, there will undoubtedly be a flurry of interest. Zaha would fit well into either our usual 4-3-3 or the recent switch to 4-4-2 (on either flank), has electrifying pace and can commit defenders in a way that perhaps only HBA and Loic Remy can. Certainly, he'd be a significant upgrade on Obertan Kenobi.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Banter" backfires

Racist tweets directed at our players are nothing new, sadly - after all, Big Lad, Little Big Lad and even the whole club have all been subjected to abuse. However, it's now emerged that one such tweet has been sent by Saylor. The offending tweet has since been taken down and an apology issued, and Massadio Haidara (one of those to whom it was addressed) has laughed it off as "just bander [sic]", but disciplinary action from the FA and/or Newcastle could nevertheless still follow, and he really should know better. Or maybe he does, and this was just a way of prolonging his holiday from first-team responsibilities.

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Blue shirts, red faces

On Friday evening a France squad stuffed with Newcastle players failed to do what England managed a couple of months earlier - namely, prevent Ukraine scoring on their own turf. The 2-0 defeat in Kiev was the first leg of les Bleus' World Cup qualification play-off, and they now face the very real possibility of having to sit out a major tournament for the first time in 20 years. Mathieu Debuchy and Loic Remy both started the game, the latter replaced by Moussa Sissoko just after the hour mark. Dreamboat, however, was left kicking his heels on the bench - somewhat mystifying given the obvious need for a creative spark. L'Equipe blasted the performance as possibly "the worst in history", while Le Monde pointed the finger at the Premier League contingent. They'll have to up their game considerably if they're to stand any chance of turning it around in the second leg.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Jabba's journal

At the till of our local Poundland today, I noticed copies of a publication called the SportsDirect Magazine. Apparently this was launched back in the summer, with "the aim of boosting the retailer's media presence, following the launch of its online content platform SportsDirect News in May". Suddenly the local press ban makes more sense - Jabba's trying to build a rival media empire of his own...

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Month Of Saturdays: October 2013

Holding court on the Sky Sports sofa during October's international break, the Silver Fox was remarkably (perhaps foolishly) candid about his employer: "He loves football but he sometimes can't understand how it works and it confuses and upsets him, and when he is upset he does things that aren't brilliant for the football club". Essentially, then, the sporadic irrational and idiotic decisions that Jabba's made during his ownership of the club can all be attributed to temper tantrums.

And, as if to prove the point, Jabba promptly made another such decision, banning the Ronny Gill and its sister papers the Journal and the Sunday Sun in a fit of pique over their reporting of the Time4Change protest march which took place prior to the Liverpool home game. The objection wasn't to the coverage per se but to it allegedly being disproportionate given the relatively disappointing turnout of disgruntled supporters. All the same, to issue an outright ban was petty and childish, and once again made us look like a laughing stock and him like a ludicrous little dictator determined to try imposing his will on things beyond his control.

Jabba seems not to understand the concept of independent reporting and journalistic integrity, believing instead that the media should simply parrot the party line and pretend everything's rosy. If that's what you want, then go to the club website. There were, of course, no complaints when we garnered coverage and plaudits in the press for our pioneering work to reduce ticket prices for away fans (work which did indeed merit applause despite the fact that a Football Supporters' Federation campaign and a £200,000 sweetener from the Premier League were needed to get things moving in the right direction). You also have to wonder, if Jabba's so serious about how the club is represented, why he continues to employ the one-man PR disaster zone that is JFK - or allows players to tell the French media, in thinly veiled terms, how JFK has spun lies to both the press and supporters.

Of course, the press ban was just another embarrassment heaped on top of a second consecutive derby defeat. The Mackems needed our bogeyman in their dugout, a champion in the Vatican and a spectacular late goal from loanee substitute Fabio Borini to beat us. Divine intervention? Not from where we were sitting it wasn't - more like misery compounded by the knowledge that, with the scores level at 1-1, we had looked more likely to sentence the Great Unwashed to a fifth successive home defeat than to hand them their first three points of the season. Thankfully, at least no horses were punched and there was no repeat of April's violence on Tyneside - violence which ensured our fans finished at the summit of last season's Premier League arrests table.

It may have seemed a distant memory by this point, but the month had actually begun in encouraging fashion. A relatively comfortable win at Cardiff, the result of a supreme first-half display (not something that could have been said about our previous match, at Everton), was certainly not to be sniffed at given that Man City had already fallen victim to the now red-shirted Bluebirds.

For Loic Remy, scorer of the matchwinning brace in south Wales, October was an eventful month. Off the pitch, he ticked the box marked "Road traffic incident/offence", as all Newcastle players seem to have to do, while on it, five goals in three games secured him a start in France's friendly against Australia. Dreamboat also celebrated a return to the side, scoring in a 6-0 spanking of the Socceroos, but both players had to be content with a seat on the bench alongside club colleague Moussa Sissoko for les Bleus' final World Cup qualifier against Finland. Of our French contingent, Mathieu Debuchy was our only starter in that fixture. Just a shame for the right back that his first Toon goal was to come in the loss at the Stadium of Shite.

As well as giving an unexpected insight into Jabba's habit of lashing out, the Silver Fox's Sky Sports appearance was notable for his admission, in language not dissimilar to that of the English Defence League, that "we are starting to get filled up with too many foreign players". So it was a timely moment for a born-and-bred Geordie to score in black and white for the first time since Wor Al's penalty against the Mackems in 2006. We may not have held out for a win against high-flying Liverpool - not that surprising, given that MYM's red card left us a man light for more than half the game - but Paul Dummett's impact as a substitute was just one reason to be cheerful about a very valuable and hard-earned point. It may have resulted in the offer of a new contract on improved terms - but then came the Mackems and Dummett's partial culpability for Steven Fletcher's fifth-minute opener.

Three days after that trip to the Dark Place, a measure of pride was restored by the League Cup meeting with Man City - though the ultimate outcome was, unfortunately, still a premature exit from the competition. We took the game to our more illustrious opponents and indeed created the better opportunities, only to succumb to the sucker-punch in extra time, City returning home victorious.

They weren't the only ones making the journey from north-east to north-west in October, with forgotten man Dan Gosling swapping one Wonga-branded shirt for another when he joined Blackpool on loan. He soon set about endearing himself to the locals, too, by scoring against Blackburn in the Lancashire derby. However, the former Everton man could probably score a hat-trick every weekend between now and the end of the season and still stand less chance of forcing his way back into the frame at St James' Park than Jabba has of reading a glowing personal tribute in the Ronny Gill...

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Spurs 0 - 1 Newcastle Utd

The back four's group hug with Tim Krul at the end said it all. The Dutchman was our saviour on his debut away at Palermo just over seven years ago and has reprised that role several times since, but he described Sunday's stunning performance at White Hart Lane as "the highlight of my career", having pulled off the most saves in a Premier League match since records began in 2006.

The Silver Fox sent out an unchanged side, keeping faith with those who performed so well in the defeat of Chelsea the previous weekend. That not only meant that Big Lad kept his place in a 4-4-2 formation with HBA and Papiss Cisse substitutes, but also that fit-again skipper Sideshow Bob was only watching on from the bench, Mike Williamson and MYM once again paired in central defence.

While we were wearing yellow shirts and blue shorts, it wasn't really much like watching Brazil for the most part - though we certainly started the better of the two sides. Loic Remy had an early shot deflected behind by a challenge from Vlad Chiriches, having been set free by a sublime Dreamboat pass, but wasn't to be denied a second time. The tireless Goofy won the ball to play him in, and Remy rounded Krul's opposite number Brad Friedel to score.

The American 'keeper was playing as a result of Hugo Lloris' concussion sustained against Everton, but it was Lloris' on-field colleagues who were looking concussed. By contrast, we were sharp, aggressive and committed, and could have extended our lead had Big Lad not been marginally offside.

Gradually, though, Spurs came to, and Krul's afternoon started to get busier. His first real save of the day was arguably his best, an incredible dive to claw away Roberto Soldado's clever flicked header, and he was called upon again soon afterwards when Paulinho tried to make amends for being dispossessed by Goofy for the goal.

At the break, a clearly rattled Andre Villas-Boas made two changes in recognition of the ease with which we'd sliced them open, Younes Kaboul and Sandro taking over from Chiriches and Moussa Dembele. We weren't seen as an attacking force much at all in the second period, other than a lungbursting run from Moussa Sissoko in which he outmuscled Jan Vertonghen and forced Friedel into a near-post save and what would have been a spectacular volley from substitute Cisse. However, this was due less to their reinforced defence than to the way they pushed us very much onto the back foot.

The prodigiously talented Dane Christian Eriksen, handicapped by Mr T's close attentions, should have drawn our hosts level, only for Krul to save with his feet. Even better was to come, our 'keeper repelling Gylfi Sigurdsson's wickedly deflected free-kick and  two follow-ups from Kaboul before MYM somehow managed to hook the ball away a yard out.

That was the Silver Fox's cue to try tightening things up by withdrawing Big Lad for an additional midfielder, Vurnon Anita, and while that made us more solid, it also invited more pressure. Like Eriksen, new England hero Andros Townsend was enduring a relatively poor game, but he nevertheless came close to equalising only for Krul to make the sprawling save.

Even when Krul was less than convincing, he got the luck we needed. Having palmed one shot up into the air, he was relieved when Soldado headed straight into his hands - as he was when Vertonghen beat him but not the crossbar with a late header.

Spurs' total of 31 efforts on goal indicates their dominance, particularly in the second half, and on another day, when Krul hadn't had his pre-match Weetabix, this might have been more like the 5-0 drubbing 'Appy 'Arry's side dished out in February last year. But we defended stoutly nevertheless, and the fact that Spurs deserved a draw is of no concern to us. We're quite rightly too busy celebrating back-to-back wins (with clean sheets) against much-fancied London sides - wins which are especially welcome after the defeat at the Stadium of Shite.

It's a shame, then, that the international break has interrupted our league campaign just as we seem to be gathering some forward momentum. Our next match sees Norwich visit St James' Park, the Canaries having lost 7-0 on their last away trip. West Brom after that promise to be tougher opposition, having beaten Man Utd and very nearly Chelsea too, but if we perform as we did against Chelsea and Spurs then there's no reason why we can't bag another brace of victories.

A Spurs fan's perspective: Dear Mr Levy

Other reports: BBC, Guardian (who also published a photo gallery of Krul's saves)

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Friday, November 08, 2013

Things can only get better?

My most recent contribution to The Two Unfortunates - about football and so-called "failing" towns - might be focused on other clubs (the Smogs and Hartlepool among them), but it does include some reflections on Newcastle fans' responses to the Ronny Gill's recent question as to what the club means, so might be of interest.

On a related note, and if you'll excuse the trumpet-blowing, the site has been nominated in two different categories in this year's Football Supporters' Federation awards - so, if you think it would be deserved, your vote would be very welcome.

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Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Quote of the day

"We believe Port Vale and The Sentinel are mutually beneficial and that a successful, positively publicised Port Vale is good for our city."

From a joint statement issued by Port Vale and local paper The Sentinel, after "several days of discussion" resulted in the lifting of a ban. Jabba, take note: this is how to resolve a dispute with the local press in a mature, reasonable fashion - through constructive dialogue. That doesn't seem to be an option, though, with Head of Media Wendy Taylor's letter having petulantly declared "our position on this issue is not up for negotiation".

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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Yo-Yo and Lo(ic) sink Jo(se)

Newcastle Utd 2 - 0 Chelski

Well fuck me, I didn't see that coming.

I went into this match with low expectations, thinking that we would be lucky to somehow scrape a point and well, wow...

Having been overwhelmed by the Great Unwashed last Sunday, a modicum of pride had been restored in our added-time defeat to Man City in midweek. However, we went into this game against a resurgent Chelski team unbeaten in six games and boasting a staggering array of talent to call upon.

In contrast to the visitors, who were able to rest the majority of their team in the cup, the Silver Fox fielded seven of the team who played the full 120 minutes against Man City, with Big Lad partnering Papiss Cisse up front in a 4-4-2 formation which saw Goofy and Moussa Sissoko down the flanks with Dreamboat and captain Mr T in the middle of the park.

It was, unsurprisingly, the visitors who started the stronger, with Newcastle content to sit back, stay tight and seek to defend in numbers, a tactic which largely worked. The closest Chelsea came was a header by the world's biggest full kit wanker and all-round upstanding team mate John Terry, when he outjumped Mike Williamson at a corner but saw his attempt cannon back off the bar.

At the other end, our best chance of the half came from a swift counter-attack after a Davide Santon goal-line clearance was swiftly ushered forward.

Invigorated at half-time, it wasn't long before the Silver Fox sought to add fresh legs, and when Vurnon Anita replaced Mr T we started to get a foothold in the match. Sissoko in particular was enjoying a game to remember, causing Ashley Cole no end of trouble and narrowly failing to get on the score sheet when he latched onto an excellent through-ball only to see his low shot brush Petr Cech's fingers and go beyond the post.

Thankfully, we didn't lose momentum and when Cole fouled Sissoko it presented us with another chance. The Silver Fox issued Dreamboat with a whole raft of instructions (which were later revealed to essentially amount to "hit it over their defence"), and the Frenchman duly obliged, flighting a brilliant ball over the static Chelski backline for Goofy to rush onto and score a fine header into the Gallowgate net.

Inevitably, Jose Mourinho's side started to press further forward and create chances, the best of which fell to substitute Willian whose shot was saved at point blank range by Tim Krul, with Mathieu Debuchy flinging himself in front of Samuel Eto'o's follow-up.

With time running out, the game was settled following neat interplay between substitute Obertan Kenobi and Anita ultimately saw the Dutchman beat two men and pull the ball back for Loic Remy (who had been a constant threat all afternoon) to fire home off the inside of the post.

Sometimes, football has the amazing capacity to surprise. Saturday was one of those days. Savour it.

Chelsea fans' perspectives: Chelsea FC Blog, We Ain't Got No History

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Monday, November 04, 2013

Talent spotting JFK style

From Alan Oliver, writing in yesterday's Sunday People, came evidence that JFK is actually doing his job: namely, scouting for new talent we could potentially add to our ranks. At a recent League Cup match between Birmingham and Swansea, he's reported to have made very enthusiastic noises to a Blues official about the prospect of signing their young left winger. Sadly for JFK's already less-than-stellar reputation, he was then informed that said left winger was Shane Ferguson, currently on loan from us. As if further proof were needed that the man is a complete and utter fuckwit...

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Mackem misfortune continues

While Saturday was notable chiefly for our 2-0 win over Chelsea (Paul's match report to come), there was also plenty of cheer in the fact that absolutely nothing went right for the Mackems: an injury to their goalkeeper, two red cards (one to Lee Clattermole, of course) and a 1-0 defeat to Hull secured by an own goal and celebrated by two Geordies in the Tigers' ranks, 'keeper Steve Harper and former Mackem manager Ol' Cauliflower Face. It was a result that leaves them in 19th, with only the hapless Crystal Palace beneath.

And yet our amusement was tempered by disappointment and regret - after all, it makes it all the more embarrassing that we gifted them three points last weekend.



Saturday, November 02, 2013

Fans Forum not for 'em

Jabba Strikes Back continues. Not content with banning the local press, the club have now barred NUST from participating in the newly revamped and much trumpeted Fans Forum. The inaugural meeting of the forum only took place in September but NUST's permanent place has already been revoked. Their alleged crime? Publishing minutes of the meeting 24 hours earlier than the club's own (delayed) minutes. The pettiness of the decision is mind-boggling. I think we've got an answer to our question of "whether the notoriously cloth-eared Jabba will be prepared to listen"...

As NUST have taken pains to point out, the ban was handed out in the same week that they held a conference on Football Governance and Fan Engagement at Newcastle University Business School, which received coverage on the BBC's Politics Show. Their statement on the ban rightly flagged up the fact that "the Government's Culture Media and Sports Select Committee have recommended that football clubs develop meaningful and structured relationships with supporters" - something that Jabba and Newcastle appear determined to avoid.

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Alan attack

If you can overlook the occasional bit of groundless guff (e.g. the suggestion that he personally had a hand in ousting Chris Hughton) and the fact that it's now more than two months old, this Vice article on the Silver Fox is an entertaining read, not least for the marvellous turns of phrase. For instance: "At that point, I imagine, he lay in bed at night, thinking of what might have been, haunted by visions of Steve Claridge and Manish Bhasin patting an empty seat in their Football League Show sex dungeon."

I'm still not quite sure what the Silver Fox is guilty of to have aroused so much animus - surely there are plenty of other figures within football, and indeed within football management, who are significantly more unpleasant and Machiavellian than our manager. It's also worth noting that, despite being written two months ago, it's still sadly spot on about Papiss Cisse's shattered confidence.

(Thanks to Leon for the link.)

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Friday, November 01, 2013

The nearly men

Newcastle Utd 0 - 2 Man City (aet)

Newcastle nearly got through to the quarter finals of the League Cup on Wednesday night with a spirited performance against a significantly better resourced Man City side.

The Silver Fox opted to make a handful of changes to the side which lost the derby on Sunday, with Big Lad, Vurnon Anita, MYM and Papiss Cisse all handed starting berths in a 4-4-2 formation. For the visitors, Manuel Pellegrini chose to utilise his squad of expensively assembled regular substitutes to see whether any were worthy of more regular game time.

While the visitors looked quite rusty, it was Newcastle who started the brighter and were on the offensive from the off. With Anita and wannabe Belgian Mr T establishing a stranglehold in midfield, we started to create chances, with Cisse spurning a couple of good opportunities in the first half.

Frustratingly, we weren't able to take the lead and the second half saw very little in terms of chances for either side. Curiously, with the game poised at 0-0, the Silver Fox withdrew Big Lad and brought on Dreamboat, possibly in a bid to give our midfield greater poise. However, the reality was that he withdrew the wrong striker, with Cisse continuing to carry the look of a man who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and for whom the goal looks the size of a microwave.

Goalless at full time, and with our bench emptied thanks to the arrival (and departure) of Paul Dummett, with the defender replaced by HBA which forced a reshuffle that saw Anita moved to left back, we continued to press forward.

However, it was City, perhaps due to their fresher legs, who got the breakthrough when Alvaro Negredo connected with Edin Dzeko's pass to shoot past Krul, before Dzeko added a second a few minutes later, taking with it half of our chances to win a cup this season.

While undoubtedly an improvement on Sunday's performance, the defeat still sees the vultures circling over the Silver Fox's head, with Saturday's visit of Chelski a increasingly pressurised game.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Quote of the day

"This kind of fight is nothing new — see recent examples at Manchester and Southampton — but the club should keep in mind that the press often tend to be the victors when football bosses get too big for their boots. For NUFC fans, it’s another example of people at their beloved club throwing their weight around for the sake of it, and this time the local press has sadly become unwitting target."

Sebastian Payne of the Spectator weighs in with some commentary on the ludicrous press ban.

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