Friday, January 31, 2014

Best-laid plans

"I love it when a plan comes together". I bet Hannibal's glad he was part of the A-Team rather than the Newcastle Utd team, then, because at St James' Park few plans ever come together.

Take, for instance, the recent plan which seems to have been to flog Dreamboat to PSG and then recruit Clement Grenier as a younger, cheaper replacement. Admittedly, Stage 1 was accomplished successfully, but Stage 2 has proven much trickier to execute. Damn Lyon for lobbing a spanner into the works and rejecting our bid - the mean spoilsports.

Stilll, all is not lost - we can just take our cue from PSG's dogged pursuit of Dreamboat and trust they'll be more receptive to an increased offer, can't we? Unfortunately, no. Even if Jean-Michel Aulas can be offered sufficient compensation to part with the French international, there's an additional stumbling block. Unlike Dreamboat, the player himself isn't eager for the deal to happen, and for a number of reasons helpfully detailed by his agent Frederic Guerra.

First, Grenier doesn't want to leave the club midway through a season, at the very end of the transfer window and in a World Cup year ("not safe at all"). Second, he's been given assurances of game time from coach Remi Garde, assurances to which we presumably couldn't commit. Third, he's undervalued at half Dreamboat's price (that perhaps might just be Guerra talking here, mind). And finally, but most significantly, he doesn't want to be tagged as Dreamboat's replacement, and that's exactly what he would be.

In light of all that, any attempts to continue negotiations with Lyon seem futile. A shame, really, as this useful scouting report and this "super amazing" free-kick give the impression he's a very promising talent.

Time for Plan B, then. I'm sure there's a Plan B. Is there a Plan B? JFK, are you there?

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sweet FA once again

Well, that was a waste of time: imagining the FA might make a sensible decision for once.

The Silver Fox had ruled out appealing against Loic Remy's dismissal at Carrow Road immediately after the match, but, perhaps aware of our striker shortage in the cold light of day, we performed a U-turn and decided to seek clemency from the authorities. No such luck.

That in itself is arguably unsurprising - Remy did make a forward motion with his head, even if Bradley Johnson made a mountain out of a molehill and even if Swansea's Jonjo Shelvey escaped punishment for a more violent head movement in confrontation with Mathieu Debuchy in December.

What is staggering, though, is that they saw fit to rescind Johnson's red card on appeal. Not only was the Norwich midfielder the initial aggressor in the incident, he was as guilty of raising his hands to an opponent as Remy was.

The upshot of the debacle is that if there do turn out to be any fireworks on the pitch during the derby, Remy won't be involved. Hopefully there shouldn't be any fireworks in the stands either, though Mackem chief executive Margaret Byrne's attempt to get the message across in the programme for last night's match against Stoke was somewhat undermined by an unfortunate typo: "We have also been asked by the FA to remind all supporters about the dangers of flares and polytechnics." Presumably she went on to remind all supporters about the dangers of polyunsaturates, polyester and Polly Toynbee too...

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Quote of the day

"If Newcastle played in the Champions League, I can tell you that Cabaye wouldn't be here."

An interesting comment from PSG manager Laurent Blanc on his club's newest acquisition - not least because Dreamboat turned his back on Champions League football with Lille to join us in the first place. That this was the sole factor in his decision to move to Paris is therefore very doubtful.

Perhaps he crossed the Channel in the first place on the promise that we too would soon be competing in what's branded the world's premier club competition - if so, the move was missold to him. Admittedly we came close to qualifying in Dreamboat's first season on Tyneside, but that was due to an unlikely combination of factors working in our favour - mainly players fit and in top form while some of the usual suspects underperformed.

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The Dreamboat has sailed

So it's official, then: we've waved au revoir to Dreamboat, who's sailed off to PSG in pursuit of greater fame and fortune. More than a few hearts - both female and male - have been broken on Tyneside and, as one Twitter user quipped, we can only hope that club officials have removed his chum Mathieu Debuchy's shoelaces and belt...

Dreamboat was on his way as soon as the French side put in a firm offer and it was rebuffed without the standard accompaniment of a "Not for sale" message. The implication was clearly that if the price was right, we would sell - and a club like Qatari-owned PSG for whom money is no object were never going to pass up an invitation to make a larger offer. That initial bid left me clinging desperately to the hope that he might turn down the move on personal grounds - but that was wishful thinking in the extreme, given the lure of returning to his homeland with his boyhood favourites who are top of Ligue 1 and can offer Champions League football.

Dreamboat has spoken about his excitement at joining an "ambitious project" - some fans may flag up what this implies about the club he's just left behind, but I don't think this is actually necessarily a reflection on our own ambition, as no one could have realistically expected us to hold onto him in the face of that temptation and an offer that matched our valuation.

When Dreamboat signed, in June 2011, it seemed like something of a coup to have secured the services of a 25-year-old French international midfielder, one who had just captained unfancied Lille to the Ligue 1 title, for just £4.3m - and so it proved. After a comically inauspicious start to his Newcastle career - unable to join the squad on a pre-season tour of the US due to a dispute over a dental bill - he soon established himself as the lynchpin of the side. It's no coincidence that our fortunes have waxed and waned with his form - great in his first season in England, poor last campaign (partly, he claimed, due to post-Euro 2012 depression), back to his sparkling best this term. He contributes goals, assists and cultured passing, while also loving a tackle - somewhat unusually for a creative player, he's no stranger to a yellow card.

What will Dreamboat be best remembered for? The stunning free-kick in the 3-0 St James' Park demolition of Man Utd in January 2012? His brace and delicious assist for Papiss Cisse in the 3-0 win over Stoke in April of that year? His thumping volley at Anfield that autumn? For me, though, it would have to be the goal last December that ended the Old Trafford hoodoo. It was fitting, too, that he was superb on his final appearance for the club, pulling the strings and inspiring us to victory over Fat Sam's West Ham with a pair of goals. Aside from the petulant strop he threw in August following a derisory bid of £10m from Arsenal, after which he quickly kissed and made up, he's conducted himself well and enjoyed good relations with the supporters, who have been serenading Jabba from the terraces with the song "Don't sell Cabaye".

Of course, our owner has taken no notice of the fans, as usual, and decided to cash in. Theoretically we could have declared Dreamboat was off limits at any price and clung onto him until the summer, which would have allowed us to see how a promising season panned out, before selling at a time when we would have more time to source a suitable replacement. But the lure of hard cash now, with our Premier League status already almost secure for another season and little appetite for Europa League qualification, was too much for Jabba to resist.

In fact, it's emerged that not accepting a reasonable offer would have been to renege on an agreement Dreamboat struck in August, in the wake of the Arsenal debacle. While many fans will bemoan the way a January sale has been secretly on the cards for months, I'm inclined to be grateful for the fact that we managed to get his head straightened out and profited from his talent for six months more than might otherwise have been the case.

So where does Dreamboat's departure leave us? In simple terms, we no longer have a creative central midfielder who can pick a pass, unlock a defence and keep us ticking over nicely. Fans' favourite HBA is now likely to feature more regularly, but he's a markedly different type of player, operating predominantly in wider areas and lacking his compatriot's tenacity in the tackle.

The fee - £19m, potentially rising beyond £20m - is potentially very good business for a player who was an absolute steal at just over £4m two and a half years ago; I say only "potentially" because it all hinges on whether that profit is subsequently invested wisely in strengthening the team, as the Silver Fox insists it should be, or whether it's simply trousered by Jabba. We would struggle to replace Dreamboat adequately in any circumstances, let alone with less than 48 hours to go until the transfer window shuts and with JFK in charge of our transfers. Between now and 11pm tomorrow, watch this space - though I fear that for the rest of the season we'll be left ruefully watching the space Dreamboat used to fill.

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Toon get a Luuk in

On a busy day on Tyneside, Dreamboat's departure wasn't yesterday's only bit of transfer news, as we finally succeeded in getting a deal over the fabled line. Pleasingly we've been able to reach an agreement with Borussia Monchengladbach on our terms rather than what were reported to be theirs, signing striker Luuk de Jong on an initial loan so we can assess him at close quarters rather than having to commit to a hefty transfer fee.

The Netherlands international's arrival couldn't be much more timely, given that our attack has been blunted by injury and suspension. We need him to hit the ground running - a big ask for any player coming into the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a derby match, and particularly one who is desperately short of form and match fitness.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

City's sigh of relief as Remy has a night to rue

Norwich City 0 - 0 Newcastle Utd

This was a match that was always likely to be overshadowed by Dreamboat's impending departure to PSG, and so it proved - our inability to score a goal and claim the win we thoroughly deserved only serving to underline his importance to the side. Loic Remy will hog the headlines, though, repeatedly coming closest to breaking the deadlock before picking up a very untimely red card late on.

There were familiar faces in both the Norwich dugout (ex-Toon manager Chris Hughton) and the Norwich side (Sebastian Bassong), though thankfully Spidermag was ineligible to play under the Premier League's rules for loanees. For us, meanwhile, Dreamboat's absence coupled with the injuries to Goofy and Papiss Cisse was guaranteed to open the door to HBA, but the Silver Fox arguably also sprung a surprise in selecting Little Big Lad ahead of his older brother from the start.

Both decisions were vindicated in an extremely one-sided first half, the duo giving us trickery aplenty in wide areas. Likewise, Mathieu Debuchy justified his immediate recall from suspension, showing no signs of pining over the loss of his best mate.

But it was Remy who time and again found himself in the thick of the action. He had already curled narrowly wide of John Ruddy's goal and found the Canaries 'keeper's gloves with a shot when his cross caused chaos in the Norwich area, Ruddy flapping and the ball deflecting off Bradley Johnson and then the post. Remy rattled the upright himself shortly afterwards, and as the half drew to a close Little Big Lad set up HBA only for the Frenchman to blot his copybook and send the ball over Ruddy's bar.

The under-pressure Hughton will have had stern words in the home dressing room at the break, but we maintained our dominance into the second period. HBA was denied what would admittedly have been a soft penalty while Remy hit the woodwork for a third time, on this occasion with a free-kick of which Dreamboat would have been proud.

HBA went off with what we hope was cramp, replaced with Big Lad, as the players started to look somewhat demoralised at being still unable to score - but in fact it could have been worse had Gary Hooper's deflected attempt not hit the bar or Tim Krul not remained sufficiently alert to produce a good save late on to deny Robert Snodgrass.

By that point, both sides had been reduced to ten men, Chris Foy compounding Remy's frustrating evening with a red card for an alleged headbutt and issuing the same punishment for opponent Johnson for his role in the fracas. While Hughton has intimated that Norwich will appeal on behalf of their player, the Silver Fox ruled out us taking a similar course of action for Remy - despite claiming afterwards that Johnson "made such a drama out of it" and "should be ashamed of himself". A bit baffling, really - especially as he's such a crucial player to us at the moment and as, if you recall, Jonjo Shelvey got away with much the same thing on Debuchy when we visited Swansea in December (before inevitably going on to score).

After a typically turbulent few days towards the end of a transfer window, an away draw (our first of the season) and a clean sheet could be viewed as a welcome result, and certainly the performance gave much encouragement. However, the pessimist in me can't help but feel this was definitely a case of two points dropped rather than one gained, given the way we played and laid siege to the Canaries' goal.

Of course, the game will have significant ramifications in weeks to come as it will result in a suspension for Remy, our top scorer. Without him, the departed Dreamboat and the injured duo of Cisse and Goofy, we suddenly look very light in attack. Big Lad aka the Mackem Slayer will find himself at the front of the queue right on cue i.e. Derby Day, but we'll need to hope HBA is fully fit and we manage to get the deal for Luuk de Jong "over the line" in time for a baptism of fire.

A final word for Hughton, who at the end of his post-match press conference apparently had the decency to wish the Geordie reporters well for the derby. Here's hoping he manages to turn Norwich's season around - having been sacked from his job on Tyneside barely a month after guiding us to that splendid 5-1 derby victory, he's already had more rough treatment than he's deserved.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Quote of the day


Bloggers united

Friday night saw me making my debut at a London Socrates event, and very enjoyable it was too - gassing with fellow bloggers and podcasters about the merits of Luuk de Jong, receiving threats of legal action from former Carlisle owner Michael Knighton (visit his website for a good chuckle at the man's hubris), and travelling far and wide to watch teams who wear yellow shirts and red shorts for a regular feature in the Watford matchday programme. We even found time for a pint or two. Thanks to Terry and Graham for organising the evening.



Monday, January 27, 2014

No go for Yo - yet

And so it begins - we've rejected a £14m bid for Dreamboat from PSG. That's very unlikely to be the end of it, though, with the moneybags leaders of Ligue 1 expected to come back with a bigger offer and known admirers Man Utd also keen to add more than just Juan Mata to their currently weak midfield. With Jabba at the helm, it's accepted that every player has his price - even the one who has been the absolute fulcrum of our side this season - so the chances of us retaining his services into February are far from certain.

The one glimmer of hope is that even if we accept a bid, Dreamboat may possibly turn down the move himself. It's been rumoured that he's concerned about the possibility of being restricted to sporadic appearances for the French side, and perhaps that might dissuade him from joining other clubs too - at least with us he knows he's the main man.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Ossie OK

It's good to hear that Ossie Ardiles is out of hospital following his car crash in the Falklands, with nothing more than stitches for a head wound. Of course, he already knows a bit about being involved in car crashes from his time as manager on Tyneside, having dismantled Jim Smith's side, drafted in a host of kids and guided us to the bottom of the second tier. Still, he remained a likeable character to whom we bore no ill will (unlike, say, Fat Sam) and we wish him well for his recovery.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Emergency measures

"Drunken United fan calls 999 and demands to speak to Fergie after cup defeat". On the one hand, this bloke's actions were clearly ridiculous - some of us have had to get used to years of crushingly disappointing cup exits, and usually at an earlier stage than the semi-final. On the other hand, missing four out of five penalties and losing to the Mackems is indeed criminal, so perhaps dialling 999 was justified...

As nice as it is to witness Man Utd's continuing fall from grace, it's irritating that the Mackems had to be the most recent beneficiaries. Still, at least they'll get their comeuppance at Wembley - assuming the real Man City turn up, that is, and not the shadow side that lost last season's FA Cup final to Wigan.

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It's Cole's goal

Iron Mike can breathe a sigh of relief - the FA's Goal Accreditation Panel have ruled that it was Hammers striker Carlton Cole rather than our phoenix-from-the-ashes central defender who got the final touch to bundle the ball into our net on Saturday. All he needs to do now is find the net at the right end for the first time in his three-and-a-half-year Newcastle career...

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Upton lark

West Ham 1 - 3 Newcastle Utd

Another win on the road, another stellar performance from Dreamboat and another nail in Fat Sam's West Ham coffin. Frankly, Saturday couldn't have gone much better.

Sticking with the same team who had been robbed against Man City, the Silver Fox sent out a side with clear instructions to put right the perceived injustice of the previous weekend. Something which they set about with aplomb.

Once Goofy robbed Matt Taylor on halfway after only a quarter of an hour, he was charging forward on the attack. His square ball to Dreamboat saw the Frenchman take a couple of touches before calmly slotting the ball past Adrian in the Hammers' goal, to give us the lead.

The lead should have been doubled when Dreamboat threaded the ball through the middle of the West Ham team for Moussa Sissoko to run onto. His shot squirmed underneath the keeper, but he was able to recover and grab the ball before it crossed the line.

Better was to come, though, as Mr T found Mini V, whose first-time pass found Sissoko marauding down the right. His well-struck cross evaded the West Ham defence and fell to Loic Remy, who took the ball down on his chest before toe-poking it home for our second and leaving Fat Sam looking like a bulldog chewing a wasp.

Dreamboat forced a good save from Adrian, before the Hammers were gifted a lifeline when carthorse Carlton Cole's shot was blocked by Tim Krul, only for the rebound to hit Iron Mike and run into the net on the stroke of half-time.

Thankfully, though, we came straight back out in the second half and looked to restore our two-goal advantage, Dreamboat again pulling the strings as he found Remy with another precise through-ball, only for his shot to be well saved.

Carlton Cole reverted to type, side-footing wide when well placed before Fat Sam threw on a bearded Rocky (who now bears such a staggering likeness to Mr Twit that you half expect to hear he's got a caged family of monkeys stood on their heads in the changing room). Rocky it was who then wasted his side's best chance, smashing a shot high over the bar.

The Silver Fox also made a change, replacing Remy with HBA. With the clock running down, Rocky fouled HBA on the edge of the Hammers' box and Dreamboat stepped up and capped a fine individual performance by lifting his kick over the wall and through the tightest of gaps between the keeper's fingertips and the post.

The result ended a four-game losing sequence that followed the 5-1 thumping of Stoke, and meant we've now won all of our London fixtures this season - no mean feat for a club who have customarily struggled in the capital (though admittedly trips to Chelsea and Arsenal are yet to come). Cardiff's St James' Park smash and grab raid has left us without a game this weekend, so next up are Norwich on Tuesday, and another reunion with a former Toon manager now in charge of a relegation-threatened side. Here's hoping for the same outcome.

West Ham fans' perspectives: The Game's Gone Crazy, West Ham Till I Die (more a general appreciation of Newcastle than a match report)

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Loanees making their mark

It was almost as if they'd read Michael's comments and were determined to prove him right. On Saturday, while Haris Vuckic was left kicking his heels on the bench for all but the final eight minutes, James Tavernier was an integral part of the promotion-chasing Rotherham side that handed Shrewsbury a sixth successive home defeat with three goals in the first 21 minutes. Tavernier might be a defender, but he set up the Millers' opener for fellow loanee Tom Hitchcock before scoring the third goal himself, against another club for whom he's turned out on loan.

Curiously enough, it was much the same story north of the border, where Adam Campbell also claimed a goal and an assist for St Mirren, before appearing somewhat fortunate to get away with a penalty-box handball that would have gifted Hibs the chance to level the game after being three goals down. Our other Buddies loanee Conor Newton played the full 90 minutes, and had a hand in Campbell's goal.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Quote of the day

"They are not a big club. And I hope another club tries to buy him. As a player I would not even want to spend a week there."

Poor old Rolland Courbis. Such a shame for the Montpellier coach that his best player Remy Cabella feels rather differently about us - and that his agent (and father) is adamant the winger will move to St James' Park this transfer window.

One player possibly going in the opposite direction across the Channel is Dreamboat, with the Torygraph's Luke Edwards reheating claims of a £20m+ bid from moneybags PSG. All we can do is sit tight and hope such a bid doesn't come in - if it does (and that looks increasingly likely with every performance like Saturday's at Upton Park), then the odds are that Jabba will cash in without giving it a second thought.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Progress report

High time we checked in on Rotherham to see how our two loanees James Tavernier and Haris Vuckic are getting on there - here's Millers fan Michael Stevens with his verdict:

"Tavernier has been excellent. He looks like an upper Championship/ lower Premier League player. He can defend, has a rocket of a shot and goes past people at will.

Vuckic, in my view, has been really poor. For all but one game, he has been 'on his heels'. He is painfully slow, very easily shoved off the ball and doesn't move or anticipate passes. Due to a lack of movement, he offers little threat, regardless of his obvious talent. His effort levels have been very low. He doesn't appear to challenge physically or aerially, which is criminal at lower league level. He does possess exquisite touch and a good shot, but it feels like we're playing with ten men. I can only assume he is best in midfield. Up front, he just seems sluggish to me."

Very interesting, I think you'll agree. Of the two, it's definitely Vuckic of whom we have the highest hopes, so it's concerning to hear that he's proving such a flop even in the third tier. The Slovenian has shown flashes of promise for us, even briefly breaking into the first team a couple of seasons ago (admittedly partly due to the unavailability of others), but has often been thwarted by injury. Michael's right in suggesting his best position isn't as a striker - he's more of a playmaker who needs to operate centrally rather than out wide, but then represents a risk because his lack of strength and tackling ability leaves the central midfield dangerously light.

Tavernier, on the other hand, has not really been regarded as a player destined for the Newcastle first team, so it's encouraging to hear that he might yet provide useful back-up to Mathieu Debuchy.

Thanks to Michael for his thoughts.

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Jong love

I'm not convinced that "I can imagine going" - a lukewarm, non-committal statement if ever there was one - quite constitutes a "'come and get me' plea", but that's what the Ronny Gill are claiming with regard to Luuk de Jong's potential move to St James' Park.

The Netherlands striker was hot property when he announced his intention to leave FC Twente in the summer of 2012, Bundesliga outfit Borussia Monchengladbach beating us (and others) to his signature in a £12.6m deal. So it's something of a surprise to note that the move has turned very sour, de Jong having fallen out of favour with coach Lucien Favre and openly criticised him for a lack of game time.

Both the player and his club appear keen for a permanent deal to be struck, but we'd allegedly prefer to be cautious and sign him on loan, at least initially. That would probably be prudent - after all, he's likely to be short of match fitness and form. It would however take us to our loanee limit, which would mean any other signings would have to be on a permanent basis - not necessarily an issue, but knowing Jabba's reluctance to part with any cash that might end up being the sum total of our transfer activity.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

So long, Spidermag

When Spidermag took to Twitter at the weekend to say "It was an honour and a pleasure to play with the Newcastle shirt and to have the support of the Geordies", it was clear his time on Tyneside would soon be up. There was hardly time for speculation about his possible destination to start circulating before his former manager Chris Hughton, now at Norwich, confirmed the Canaries' interest - and now a loan deal for the remainder of the season has been agreed.

Back in 2008, King Kev was delighted with the recruitment of the Argentine (certainly more delighted than he was with subsequent purchases made on his behalf...) and Spidermag announced his arrival in English football with a tremendous debut as we drew at Old Trafford. Sadly, just as that was a false dawn for a season that was to end in relegation, he never quite lived up to those early high standards, or his billing as one of the best players in the league (according to one Lionel Messi). He certainly grafted hard but rarely gave us as much as might have been hoped going forwards - ten goals in 195 appearances is a poor return from a supposedly attacking player. As a winger, his crosses were too often below par, flat and easily cut out, and when the Silver Fox shifted him to a more central and defensive role he was too easily knocked off the ball to be effective.

Spidermag's regular inclusion in the side last year was to the annoyance of many fans who failed to understand what he contributed, but this campaign his status as a manager's favourite has been lost and, also afflicted by injury, he's featured just twice - rumours suggesting that a couple more appearances would have triggered a clause in his contract resulting in a new deal and pay rise. In his absence, Goofy has established himself as a superior player in the same mould - an exceedingly hardworking and defensively savvy operator on the flank, but one who can also come up with crucial goals at crucial times.

Spidermag is an astute signing for the struggling Canaries, and a known quantity for Hughton, and goes with our best wishes. Let's hope this kickstarts our own recruitment drive - we need bodies in, especially if we're prepared to let bodies leave.

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Black sheep back in the fold

He may already have had "more lives than a cattery let alone a cat", but it seems the Lone Ranger has been handed yet another one. Just a week after his contract with Swindon looked set to be terminated, our errant old boy was back in the first team - and back on the scoresheet, setting the Robins en route for a victory over Peterborough. As always, though, you suspect he's living on borrowed time and his next off-field misdemeanour is just around the corner.

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Mr T doesn't pity the fool

Newcastle Utd 0 - 2 Man City

In stark terms this was a fourth defeat in a row - but the reality was far more complex than the final scoreline would suggest. After the disappointing losses (and performances) against West Brom and Cardiff, this was a carbon copy of the Arsenal match that began the sequence - a hugely creditable display from the home side, only for their considerable efforts to go unjustly unrewarded and the title-chasing visitors to win ugly. In this instance, though, Man City needed the help of an outrageous refereeing decision to claim their three points, and the Newcastle goal that wasn't allowed to stand was much more of a talking point than the two City goals that were.

The Silver Fox made four changes from the side that lost at home to Cardiff last weekend, with Tim Krul, Iron Mike, Dreamboat and Loic Remy retuning at the expense of Rob Elliot, Massadio Haidara, HBA and Papiss Cisse. The personnel changes also meant a reshuffled defence, with Iron Mike paired with Saylor while Davide Santon reverted to left-back and MYM stepped into the suspended Mathieu Debuchy's boots on the right.

We started brightly, but any early optimism that we might be set to avoid a tenth successive defeat to City in all competitions suffered a heavy blow just seven minutes in. The move was slick enough: a neat turn and pass from David Silva, an overlapping run and cross from Aleksandar Kolarov, a clinical finish from Edin Dzeko. But we could have done more to prevent it, Goofy showing an uncharacteristic lack of awareness in letting Kolarov in, Iron Mike appearing to think better of cutting out the cross and Saylor allowing the goalscorer to steal in front of him.

As the Match Of The Day analysis underlined, City's formation in the first half approached 2-2-4-2, with nominal full-backs Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta providing the width in midfield, allowing playmakers Silva and Samir Nasri to operate more centrally. Kolarov's cross-shot was nearly touched in by Alvaro Negredo and Silva shot just wide of the same post as the visitors threatened to double their lead.

City were strong through the centre, with Loic Remy kept very quiet and Dreamboat struggling to get into the game. Our midfield gradually got a grip on the game, though, Mr T and Mini V buzzing about and biting into tackles while hardworking duo Goofy and Moussa Sissoko carried threat on the flanks, exploiting their markers' eagerness to get forward.

Our first real opportunity was prodded wide on the volley from a corner by Saylor, and we won another when Dreamboat's audacious effort from an impossibly acute angle was tipped over and behind by Joe Hart. The subsequent flag-kick was half-cleared to Mr T, who walloped the ball left-footed into the back of the net from distance. It was a spectacular strike and he understandably lost the plot, sprinting to the touchline to embrace John Carver. Meanwhile, however, Hart had belatedly decided to appeal for offside, receiving the support of his colleagues, and after briefly conferring with the assistant referee, Mike Jones ruled it out for offside.

While it's not in question that three of our players were standing beyond the last defender, none of them interfered with play, either by touching the ball (Goofy niftily sidestepping it as it flew past) or by obstructing Hart's line of view (despite what deluded City fans might laughably claim). Ex-refs Mark Halsey and Graham Poll agreed it was a scandalous ruling - a "huge injustice", in the words of the Silver Fox, who wasn't satisfied with Jones' explanation and became embroiled in a touchline spat with Manuel Pellegrini, visibly branding him a "fucking old cunt". He has subsequently apologised and been reprimanded (though not punished) by the FA, but perhaps he should consider spending a little less time in JFK's company...

Our manager wasn't the only one fired up by the injustice - our players too were incensed and some robust challenges ensued. The ankles of the City players were probably most grateful for the half-time interval, though Jones' ear was in for a bashing from the Silver Fox as the officials made their way down the tunnel.

Tim Krul, relatively underemployed in the first period, was forced into a good save early in the second half. Before long, though, we began to impose ourselves again, Dreamboat's swerving smash unfortunately the right height for Hart to push behind. Dzeko, who had suffered a knock, was withdrawn for pacy wide man Jesus Navas, Pellegrini changing formation and tactics, hoping to catch us on the break. Negredo and Nasri both went close before the latter was crudely scythed down by international teammate MYM. Nasri might now be out for eight weeks, but those City fans complaining that MYM wasn't red-carded might like to remember Nigel de Jong's unpunished assault on HBA - the two simply don't compare. (Admittedly, though, Dreamboat was somewhat fortunate to get away without a second yellow for an unnecessary challenge on Navas on the touchline.)

By that point, the Silver Fox had signalled an intention to push harder for an equaliser by replacing defensive midfielder Mini V with a striker - but, without the option of Big Lad and the Plan B he would provide, he had to resort to Papiss Cisse, whose impact was once again negligible. Saylor actually looked a likelier scorer, one effort blocked by a sliding Kolarov and another wide after he'd been given marginally offside. Our best opportunity fell to Remy following confusion between two City defenders, but his firm left-footed strike was repelled by Hart's outstretched leg. It wasn't all one-way traffic, though, with Fernandinho heading onto Krul's crossbar and Saylor getting in the way of Negredo's shot when the Dutchman was beaten again.

The clock ticked into stoppage time - all seven minutes of it, thanks to the time it took to stretcher off Nasri - and further chances came, Remy sending a header looping harmlessly wide and substitute HBA (on for Goofy) dribbling himself into a good position only to waste it impetuously. The stage was set for the sucker punch, then, and Negredo got it, breaking a poorly executed offside trap and profiting from good fortune when his initial effort was saved by Krul but bounced off him towards the empty net.

It was a devastating end to a game in which we'd given our all and stood toe-to-toe with many people's favourites for the title. We should take heart from the performance, though, in the knowledge that it would have been sufficient to beat most Premier League sides - and indeed might have been sufficient to beat City, had Jones not intervened. Fat Sam's injury-hit and goal-shy West Ham are up next, and represent as good an opportunity as any to arrest our recent slump.

A Man City fan's perspective: Bitter And Blue

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hitting the post

New year, new email address. If you've got comments on specific posts, please continue to use their comments fields, but for anything else we can be contacted at

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Clear and present danger

Much as we can delight in Fat Sam getting slapped with a 6-0 thrashing only days after losing 5-0 to a Championship side in the FA Cup, it's rather ominous that the side allowed to sharpen their claws and rack up the goals in last night's League Cup tie were Man City, our visitors to St James' on Sunday...

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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Bursting the bubble

My enemy's enemy is my friend. So goes the old adage - which explains the curious entente cordiale between Newcastle and 5under1and over the timing of, policing of and away fans' transportation to and from the forthcoming derby on 1st February.

The encounter was initially designated as a "bubble" match, meaning that all of the away supporters would have had to travel to St James' Park on official transport - a move allegedly determined by Northumbria Police. Fans of both clubs united to oppose this curb on individual freedom, with the Football Supporters' Federation throwing their considerable weight behind the challenge too. This led to a statement from the police force saying that they "cannot direct changes" to transport arrangements or kick-off times - which resulted in the Mackems bowing to supporter pressure and scrapping the bubble.

That wasn't the end of the story, though, with both clubs then following their fans' lead and joining together to condemn the police statement as "false and absurd". They went further, vowing to set derby kick-offs to suit themselves, the league and TV companies from now on and to expect the police just to turn up as required. Somewhere, there appear to have been some crossed wires...

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Adidas get shirty

Poor Jabba. He's been barred from flogging the strips of the club he supports in his own chain of shops. That's Chelsea, in case you're wondering. Perhaps the Newcastle shirts will be positioned a bit more prominently now there's more space.

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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A Month Of Saturdays: December 2013

Round these parts the festive season is usually about as welcome as it is among turkeys and A&E workers, as messy as an office party with a free bar and a bouncy castle, and as enjoyable as watching the Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special while trapped in a telephone box with a chronic farter suffering from a sprout addiction. And yet, for once, we had what could be justifiably described as a merry Christmas.

Not that it got off to the best of starts, mind. Facing a Swansea side with one win in eleven attempts was like receiving a beautifully gift-wrapped parcel - but subsequently losing 3-0 to them was like opening the parcel and discovering Keane's greatest hits album or a shit inside. Things could have been different had either or both of our reasonable penalty shouts not fallen on deaf ears, or had Jonjo Shelvey been dismissed for dipping his bonce in Mathieu Debuchy's direction, or had the Frenchman not had the misfortune to bundle the ball past Tim Krul for the crucial second goal. But it wasn't to be our night - a fact underlined by a traumatic flight home which petrified even John Carver. One can only speculate as to what Mr T made of it (if he'd regained consciousness from his drugged milk, that is), but it may turn out to have been good experience for Iron Mike if he ends up heading to Rio with Woy's boys...

Only three days later, though, we were in full Christmas party mode. The reason why champagne corks were popping, crackers being pulled and intimate body parts being photocopied? The small matter of a first victory at Old Trafford since 1972. Finally, after 41 years, Santa had read our wishlist and dished out an early present. Noting the vulnerability of our opponents (a shadow of the former selves) and scenting blood, we did a thoroughly professional job on them, Dreamboat's second-half goal the difference. Admittedly we rode our luck at times - Patrice Evra hit the post, Mini V survived a penalty claim, Robin van Persie had a header disallowed - but the win was deserved and could only have been sweeter if the fuming, bug-eyed Scot in the dugout had been Taggart rather than David Moyes.

Southampton's visit to St James' the following weekend couldn't help but be a bit after the Lord Mayor's show, the ensuing draw a slight disappointment given the Saints' recent downward spiral and our exploits at Old Trafford, especially as we had taken the lead. Aside from another goal for Goofy - his fourth in consecutive home matches - the game was notable largely for the injury-time fracas sparked by Morgan Schneiderlin's aggressive challenge on Massadio Haidara which saw the number of personnel from each bench sent to the stands mirror the scoreline, goalkeeping coach Andy Woodman subsequently hit with a charge of improper conduct.

There was nothing remotely improper about the players' conduct in our next fixture, a trip to Selhurst Park. Showing scant regard for Crystal Palace's revival under Tony Pulis, we recorded a fifth successive away victory over them with ruthless efficiency. The Black & White & Read All Over match report was filed by friend of the blog Tim, who took delight in some improper conduct of his own, quietly slipping in the epithet "hairy passage"...

Even with everything going swimmingly (us sixth at Christmas, and the Mackems bottom), I couldn't help myself from worrying about Loic Remy's goal drought - so the loanee's brace in the Boxing Day battering of Stoke came as something of a relief, even if he did also miss a penalty. We may have romped home 5-1 in the end, Goofy scoring on home turf once again and even Papiss Cisse getting in on the act (albeit from the spot), but we endured a very sticky opening 40 minutes and only triumphed thanks to our opponents' indiscipline. Our old foe Mark Hughes was as guilty of this as his two red-carded players Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson, the pantomime villain coming across as more of a pantomime dame when he chucked his coat in the air in disgust and flounced off to his seat up in the stands.

Sadly, the final fixture of the year ended in narrow defeat, Arsenal's Olivier Giroud doing the damage that his numerous compatriots in black and white couldn't quite repair - not even Goofy, who drew a blank in a home match for the first time since October. There was no disgrace in losing to a side clawing its way back to the top of the league, though, especially when our performance deserved better, everyone apparently acutely aware of the considerable competition for places.

No doubt through gritted teeth, Wor Al acclaimed that result as an instance of the Gunners winning ugly in his capacity as a Match Of The Day pundit - a role which he expressly prefers to the prospect of management, having dipped his toe in those murky waters with us back in 2009. One old boy who did take the plunge in December was Olivier Bernard, though with the purchase of Durham City he's seized the challenge of club ownership rather than management. Also back in the North East was Shay Given, turning out on loan for the Smogs in their hour of need.

Just don't put any money on ASBO doing likewise for the Mackems in January - "It wouldn't be right", he declared. Still, if we can go to Old Trafford and win without really having to break sweat, and if Cisse can find the net in a league match, then frankly anything's possible.

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Age concern

According to the Daily Heil, we're keen to capture Man City's Joleon Lescott on loan. While it wouldn't be the worst move in the world (especially with our most experienced and level-headed centre back Sideshow Bob sidelined with injury for six weeks), I do wonder whether it would be rejected on the grounds that his best years are firmly behind him - hardly in line with our general recruitment policy. Perhaps that's why we've already dismissed any link to Everton's Johnny Heitinga, another thirtysomething who's desperate for a move but who recently gave Fat Sam a satisfyingly firm slap in the face.

Lescott has always struck me as a calm, cultured, assured defender of the sort we rarely see at St James' Park, but City fans may feel differently. He's certainly managed to offend some of them, with a series of tweets that reveal he's far better at football than he is at spelling...

Meanwhile, we've also been linked with a French (quelle surprise!) winger called Remy Caballa, which begs the question: is JFK on a mission to sign only players called Remy so he has fewer names to remember and because he's a fan of cognac?

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Sunday, January 05, 2014

Super sub's subs sink sub-par Toon

Newcastle Utd 1 - 2 Cardiff City

The Baby-Faced Assassin returned to English football and immediately claimed another victim - though this was less carefully premeditated murder and more opportunistic hit-and-run. Not for the first time, we were willing to play to perfection our part in the media's dream plot (synopsis: former super sub sends on two super subs to overturn deficit and seal unlikely victory).

The triumphs for the unfashionable duo of Wigan and Swansea in last year's domestic cup competitions should have been incentive enough for a club that claimed a major trophy since 1969. In the League Cup, we we had the misfortune to come up against Man City, but fate was certainly kinder in the draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Cardiff might be Premier League opposition, but they came to St James' without a win on our patch since six years before that Fairs Cup victory, as the joint lowest scorers on the road in the division, and with more reason to want to concentrate on the league, nervously sitting 17th in the table.

Suspension (Mathieu Debuchy) and injuries both long-term (Sideshow Bob) and hopefully minor (Dreamboat, Tim Krul) forced the Silver Fox's hand as regards team selection, but he also opted to rest Loic Remy, Big Lad and Iron Mike from the line-up that lost at the Hawthorns on New Year's Day, the trio all taking their places on the bench. In came Rob Elliot, MYM, Saylor, Mini V, HBA, Papiss Cisse and Massadio Haidara, the latter's inclusion meaning that Davide Santon switched to right-back.

There was an early warning that the Redbirds would be no pushovers when Mark Hudson headed home, the goal disallowed for his shove in the build-up, but the first period was generally very drab. Only HBA did much to quicken the pulse, striking the base of David Marshall's post with a left-footed shot from just outside the area.

Against Stoke on Boxing Day, HBA hit the bar having already hit the upright and sure enough he was again doubly unfortunate early in the second half. The rumours of discontent are troubling because, while undoubtedly mercurial and not ideal for selection in all fixtures, he gives us an added dimension that we lack even when our next most creative player, Dreamboat, is available.

We took the lead on 62 minutes when Goofy's long ball controlled by Moussa Sissoko and his blocked shot was bundled home by Cisse, for once in the right place at the right time. That should have been our cue to push harder against a vulnerable and low-on-confidence side, or at least exert control, but instead the Silver Fox decided to replace the hard-working Goofy with the feckless Obertan Kenobi, apparently feeling we could hold out by effectively being down to ten men.

In the opposite dugout, Solskjaer used his substitutions rather more judiciously. First substitute Fraizer Campbell came on shortly before Cisse's goal but rattled Elliot's post as the Redbirds fought back. With eighteen minutes remaining, Solskjaer threw on winger Craig Noone, who equalised within a minute of entering the action with a left-footer from long distance. And with ten to play, Campbell - an ex-Mackem, just to rub salt into the wound - headed home from a corner.

The Silver Fox belatedly turned to Remy and Big Lad, with Cisse and Sissoko making way, but it was to no avail and once again we crashed out of the FA Cup to opponents who - on paper, at least - are inferior.

While the Silver Fox will rightly come under scrutiny for the nature and timing of his substitutions, I don't think his initial team selection can be quibbled with. Frankly - and as he himself said post-match - the side we put out should have been good enough to win. No, this was a frustratingly familiar case of squad players failing to take the opportunity handed to them. If there's a positive to come out of another dismal cup result, it's that it might possibly nudge Jabba into parting with some cash this month.

After high-scoring victories at Palace and at home to Stoke, we've now suffered three successive defeats, with Man City the visitors next weekend. Post-festive-season gloom indeed. The only magic of the cup we still believe in is the power of copious quantities of alcohol to help us to forget...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Saturday, January 04, 2014

The Secret Diary of Joke In Ear aged 67 & 3/4

2nd January 

Fackin' 'ell what a new year that was. Don't remember much, but can't help feeling I must have watched Ghostbusters and Return of the Jedi back to back. That or Mike took his top off on the dancefloor again. 

That cunt Al was knocking on my door at lunchtime. The noise made my headache worse, so I told him to fuck off and had a pasty and a couple of Alka Seltzer.  

Fucker wouldn't leave it alone though, would he. Banging on about wanting a new striker because the one I got him in the summer is only around until June and the rest are useless, or something. Ungrateful bastard.

He kept going on about wanting to win a trophy and challenge for the top four. I said, "That's not what Mike's told you to do and just to fuck off" but he reminded me about the four cans of Special Brew he got me in the club Secret Santa, so I said I'd see what I could do. 

True to my word, I phoned up Sira Ferguson and said "Fergie, you cunt, have you got any strikers who we could borrow?  That Albertan lad was one of yours, and he's a fucking Frenchie, so is OK by us."

To be honest, I think he'd been at the Buckfast, 'cos all I could hear was him laughing and shouting about how Davie Moyles was just getting him some more Tennents Super so he'd ask him when he got back. Fuck knows why he thinks I'd want anyone from the manager of Preston North End, mind… 

I was just about to call Al back in to my office so I could see his face when I told him to go fuck himself, but the TV was on and there was some advert for one of them loan companies, so I called them up and they agreed to loan us someone called Munnee. Apparently there's loads of interest in him, so he must be great.

You should have seen the look on Al's face when I told him; he was choking back the tears with gratitude. Soft bastard. 

Job done, I went back to looking at holiday brochures. Fancy a bit of winter sun, me - can't be doing with hanging around 'ere in January.



Quote of the day

"He’s had more lives than a cattery let alone a cat and there’s no more the club can do any more."

Swindon chairman Lee Power has clearly run out of patience with the Lone Ranger, who's set to have his contract terminated. I hate to say we told you so, Lee, but we did.

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Friday, January 03, 2014

View from the Home End

Our strong performance in the first half of the season has, I suspect in the minds of the board at least, given them cause to believe that they won't need to do much business this January and unless someone comes in with a Rocky-esque bid for one of our players, can't see much changing that. If we didn't have cash available for signings in the summer, then I can't see how that will have changed over the last few months, and unless someone leaves we will probably be pretty quiet. 

We may yet go back to Bafetimbi Gomis or someone else in the last few months of their contract and see if we can't get them in early (a bit like we did with Moussa Sissoko and Goofy last January), but without the threat of relegation hanging over us there isn't the incentive to pay for players we might hopefully sign for free in six months' time. 

In practical terms, I remain of the view that we need another striker (and a permanent deal to sign Loic Remy wouldn't go amiss either). Otherwise, really it's a case of adding quality if the chance arises. I can't see us rushing out to plug gaps (striker aside) which our current form suggests don't exist. What we lack in depth of squad is currently less of an issue given we're only fighting on two fronts (and Saturday's FA Cup game against Cardiff might yet halve that number), and with 33 points and minimal ambition from the board there really isn't the incentive to push for a Europa League spot and to be blunt the Champions League looks beyond us. 

A pacy winger wouldn't go amiss if one were available, and a departure for Obertan Kenobi would almost certainly be welcomed by all concerned, but that aside I'm hoping for a quiet month in which we keep hold of our best players, but as this is Newcastle frankly anything could happen!

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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Mon dieu, Mathieu!

West Brom 1 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Defeat to a managerless side that hadn't won for nine games, plus a red card and an injury: here's very much hoping we haven't started 2014 the way we mean to go on. Yesterday's loss to West Brom was nearly as miserable as the weather - and of course it was just typical that Mathieu Debuchy, a player upon whom I very recently lavished praise, turned out to be very much the villain of the piece.

Dropping Mini V to the bench left the Silver Fox with the same decision he faced before the Stoke match: HBA or Big Lad? This time around he plumped for the latter, but the introduction of the former at half-time (for Goofy) indicated that the tactics weren't going according to plan.

While we had plenty of possession in the first half and carved out one good chance, Dreamboat volleying wide from Iron Mike's knockdown, the Baggies enjoyed the bulk of the opportunities. Stephane Sessegnon was very close to becoming a particularly unwelcome goalscorer, the ex-Mackem just failing to steer home Liam Ridgewell's cross,  while Nicolas Anelka (selected to play despite the FA investigation into his recent goal celebration) somehow contrived to lash over the bar from point-blank range. Meanwhile, Toon fans were being treated to the sight of a midfielder called Amalfitano enjoying a fine game - sadly for us, it was Morgan rather than Romain.

At the break, when the Silver Fox threw on HBA, Baggies caretaker Keith Downing made what proved to be a more telling switch. The injury sustained by full-back Billy Jones in a collision with his 'keeper Ben Foster may have forced Downing's hand, but his decision to replace Jones with a forward, Saido Berahino, was telling. The game was clearly there to be won.

Unfortunately for us, that also meant it was there to be lost - and, after we'd failed to take a clutch of half-chances (including a curled shot from Loic Remy that sailed high and wide), up stepped Debuchy to hand the advantage to our hosts. The fact that he didn't injure Claudio Yacob is immaterial; it was a reckless two-footed lunge committed by a player who'd evidently momentarily taken leave of his senses. The Silver Fox was honest in his assessment, admitting we can't have too many complaints and that "there was no malicious intent, but you can't take off with two feet like that".

A rearguard action lay in prospect, and that called for defensive reinforcements - not least because skipper Sideshow Bob was taken off with an injury. MYM was deemed the man for the job, though Massadio Haidara came on too ten minutes later, replacing Big Lad.

The Baggies were by now on top and fashioning most of the opportunities - none better than when Ridgewell popped up unexpectedly on the edge of the six-yard area but amazingly fired wide. Just when we were starting to think we might have escaped defeat by battening down the hatches, HBA carelessly surrendered possession at a time when we needed to conserve it, Chris Brunt played in substitute Matej Vydra and Tim Krul brought the striker down for a penalty. Again, not a decision we could quibble about, and Krul could do nothing about Berahino's spot-kick.

That left us with just three minutes to snatch an equaliser, but HBA and Dreamboat both failed in that pursuit and we returned home to Tyneside empty-handed.

In the report on the Arsenal match, I urged fellow fans not to be disheartened - it was an undeserved defeat to the table-toppers, after all. Three days on, and the perspective has changed somewhat. Suddenly we've lost two consecutive matches without scoring, have slipped to eighth and, with Man City our next opponents in the Premier League, the immediate future doesn't look particularly rosy.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

"Quality, not quantity"

That, according to that esteemed sage Mark Lawrenson, is what we need during the January transfer window. I'd suggest we need both, as beyond our first team we still don't have a great deal of strength in depth and last season should be lesson enough that form and fitness can both be temporary.

In truth, Lawrenson's predictions generally aren't really worth bothering with, given that he claims most sides would be grateful of a goalscoring striker. Really, Mark? What incredible revelation do you have lined up for us next - that the Mackems are in danger of relegation?

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