Friday, February 28, 2014

Question time

So, other than the club's reflections on the latest set of accounts, what else was there of note to come out of the most recent Fans Forum?

1. JFK wasn't solely responsible for the programme notes attributed to him - in reality he "was involved in the drafting of the notes but that the overall messaging was determined collaboratively and could be read as communication from the board". Just as we all suspected, in truth - there's no way that, left to his own devices, he could be trusted to produce something scrupulously profanity-free...

2. A request for more information on JFK's departure met with a terse "no further comment to make", while it was confirmed that filling the director of football role he vacated "would be reviewed in the summer" (with the option of scrapping it altogether presumably also on the table).

3. There was an equally terse response to a fans' representative who, quite reasonably, said "he would like to see the Club attempting to improve the tone of coverage afforded by NCJ Media by ending the current ban": "The Club referred to its comments in the previous Fans Forum meeting and had nothing further to add." Nice to know they're open to dialogue, isn't it?

4. When the issue of revenue raised through Sports Direct advertising in St James' Park was mentioned, it was explained that while this doesn't reduce the debt the club owes to Jabba, it does grease his palms sufficiently to allow him to keep the loan interest-free.

5. The club's apparent lack of ambition was, understandably, a hot topic. It was claimed that "the aim for the Club is always to finish as high up the league table as possible, with top ten a minimum requirement this season". All fine and well, but how does that square with making just two signings in the last two transfer windows, both loans, and selling our best player without securing a replacement? The actions of a club setting itself up to fail - and to hang the manager out to dry.

6. As regards Dreamboat, there was plenty of flannel: "In respect of the transfer, the board explained that the Club did not want to sell the player. However, the player was adamant he wanted to leave. The Club made a substantial bid for a replacement but an agreement could not be reached with the prospective selling club. The Club also pursued other options but particular clubs were unwilling to sell. The board explained that the January window is disruptive for clubs and that there are far more options available to it in the summer window." No mention of the fact that the informal agreement struck with Dreamboat in August meant we'd known of the likelihood of his departure months before it happened and so had no excuse for not having a plan in place. At least there was a hint of regret, if not an outright apology - "The board suggested that if it was to be self-critical, it should have had a young player who could naturally step into the squad as it aims to in all positions" - though of course that compounds the failings of our transfer dealings by flagging up the failings of our academy.

7. While it was explained that the Away Fans Fund was "designed to be spent on the clubs' own fans who travel and the designated away end in their stadium", the club wasn't very forthcoming with details on how the £200,000 we received had actually been spent.

8. Following a suggestion in a previous Fans Forum, Gael Bigirimana has been appointed as our Equality Ambassador, a role which involves working closely with the Newcastle United Foundation and Kick It Out. At least it'll give him something to do, given he currently appears to be nowhere near the first team...

9. The Silver Fox formally pledged the club's support for the Football v Homophobia campaign before the home game with Spurs. A very welcome move - only the previous week I had expressed dissatisfaction and bafflement at our silence on the issue.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Quote of the day

"Matchday and commercial revenue is a key driver because that's where the Club can compete with - and outperform - its competitors to enhance its spending capabilities. Ultimately the income the Club generates, particularly, given the restrictions of the Premier League FFP Rules, from matchday, commercial i.e. non-TV income, will directly impact on the strength and quality on the pitch."

The club's board issue a veiled warning to supporters contemplating a boycott over Jabba's continued ownership of the club: do so (whether by simply staying away or by refusing to give money to club catering services and bars, the course of action proposed by Neil Crossley and Time4Change) and you'll be harming the club and the team rather than the owner.

The comment appeared in the statement accompanying the accounts for the year ending June 2013. Commercial revenue was up on the previous season (24.2 per cent to £17.1m), presumably partly due to the contribution of sponsorship from Wonga, though the purchase of a club-branded onesie for me by my work colleagues will also have helped...

Matchday revenue was also up, by 15.9 per cent to £27.8m. Given that this was partly attributed to the additional Europa League matches, which also contributed to the media revenue, then one does wonder why that competition is apparently regarded with distaste. The answer, I suppose, lies in the fact that media revenue overall was down eight per cent to £51m, that this is tied to our league position and that last season's lowly finish wasn't offset by our European adventure. In this regard, it could be argued that we should prioritise the Premier League and that Europe was a distraction (a source of injury and fatigue) that proved costly in terms of our league position. I'd maintain that we should have built a squad that could cope with the dual demands, but I doubt that's the way the powers-that-be would see it.

One positive (particularly in relation to many other clubs) is that we're no further in debt than we were last year - we still owe Jabba his £129m loan, but it's interest-free and there's no timescale for repayment (though presumably that does mean he could suddenly insist on it).

Update: In his post about our accounts on his Football Economy blog, Wyn Grant notes: "The argument that lacklustre spending by Ashley will be justified by the arrival of financial fair play rules is something of a gamble. It still remains to be seen how these complex rules will be implemented in practice or whether they will be subject to a legal challenge." A very valid point - as laudable and honourable as our apparent determination to play by the rules is, we might be left looking like chumps if others flout them and suffer little or no punishment as a consequence.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Relief at last

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 Aston Villa

A home goal, at last. All it took was more than seven hours of desperate football, clumps of hair pulled out in frustration, a couple of lucky deflections in the 92nd minute and a rare moment of class and composure, courtesy of our top scorer.

While Loic Remy's return ultimately proved to be critical, in truth he looked like the player most likely to end our embarrassing goal drought throughout, repeatedly coming closest to scoring while his colleagues in black and white seemed to scuff or sky every opportunity that came their way.

The suspension-free Frenchman wasn't the only welcome name on the teamsheet - the break since the thrashing by Spurs gave Sideshow Bob and Mr T the necessary time to recover from injury. With Paul Dummett also coming into the side, Saylor and Luuk de Jong dropped to the bench while fellow Spurs starters Little Big Lad and Davide Santon, along with HBA and Sylvain Marveaux, didn't even feature in the squad - it remaining unclear whether injuries are a factor or whether they're all out of favour.

We started brightly enough, Remy firing in a low shot that Brad Guzan saved comfortably before his strike partner in a 4-4-2 formation, Papiss Cisse, had an effort that Villa's American 'keeper spilled and Nathan Baker hacked behind for a corner.

That jitteriness in the visitors' defence should have given us sufficient encouragement to drive on in pursuit of an early lead, but instead it was Villa who began to gain the upper hand. A couple of dangerous crosses flashed across the face of Tim Krul's goal, Andreas Weimann just failing to connect with the second, before Gabriel Agbonlahor had a hat-trick of chances - the first a shot parried by Krul (the loose ball thankfully falling to a defender), the second a long-range blast narrowly over and the third an effort well blocked by Sideshow Bob. The Argentinian was enjoying a good game - just as well, as we were too open and vulnerable to Villa's counter-attacks. The prospect of losing 5-0 (to keep up the sequence) didn't look too fanciful.

As the interval approached, though, Remy came back to the fore, first curling a free-kick wide and then creating by far the best opportunity of the half for Cisse. Running onto a deflected through-ball, Remy coolly picked out the unmarked Senegalese striker ten yards out, but in trademark 2013/4 fashion he lofted the ball way over the bar and behind.

Paul Lambert's post-match declaration that his side deserved something from the game may have had merit on the basis of the first half, but ignored our almost complete dominance of the second, when the only goal under any kind of threat was Villa's. Goofy dragged a shot wide and later blazed a left-foot volley over, while Dummett, popping up on the right wing, ruffled the roof of the net with a curler that wasn't quite delicious enough. Crosses looped into the box from both flanks, but any chances arising were wasted - none more painfully than when Moussa Sissoko hammered the ball high into the stand to relieve the pressure.

Villa defender Leandro Bacuna survived a penalty appeal - he did appear to move his hand towards the ball, even if contact was minimal - but we were as grateful to Iron Mike as Bacuna was to referee Martin Atkinson when he capped a commanding display with a superb interception to halt a counter-attack in which our retreating defenders were outnumbered. That set up a counter-counter-attack which resulted in Guzan diving to parry Remy's shot behind for a corner - a reminder that, for all our pressure, their 'keeper hadn't exactly had the most taxing of afternoons.

An indication that it really wasn't to be our day seemed to arrive two minutes from time. De Jong, on for Cisse, robbed the dawdling Vlaar on the goal-line and pulled the ball back to Remy. His shot should have nestled in the bottom corner, but instead pinged back off the post and away.

Thankfully, though, he was able to make amends four minutes later. Mathieu Debuchy's attempted shot or cross was deflected to de Jong, whose attempted shot was deflected to Remy, who wrong-footed Vlaar and thumped a shot past Guzan. The relief was akin to that felt when Cisse got a similarly late winner against Fulham last April, though on this occasion the goalscorer decided to remove his shirt and stand on the hoardings saluting the supporters rather than launching himself into their midst. The Silver Fox too refrained from repeating that day's impromptu and overenthusiastic meet-and-greet session, instead preferring to pump his fist Saylor-style in the directors' direction.

The circumstances were somewhat different - we don't find ourselves in relegation trouble this season, and indeed the victory hauled us back up to eighth, above Southampton and onto the magical 40-point mark - but the goal and win were nevertheless absolutely vital. Our chronic scoring problems probably haven't disappeared overnight, and neither has the gaping hole left by the departure of Dreamboat been plugged - but the clean sheet and ultimate victory (admittedly achieved largely through bloodyminded persistence rather than quality) do at least give us some hope of going to Hull on Saturday and getting a result.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Clark loses friends but influences people

Friday brought interesting news from Birmingham, Lee Clark's Championship strugglers having parted company with fellow former Toon employees Terry McDermott and Derek Fazackerley. The circumstances surrounding the pair's departure remain unclear, Clark insisting they hadn't been sacked but claiming to be unable to add any further information "for legal reasons". The Blues are currently such a basket-case of a club that one wonders if they've been released as part of a cost-cutting drive.

Clark can still count on the assistance of another ex-Newcastle man, his former team-mate Steve Watson, in the role of first-team coach, but no longer appears to have any time for the player he currently has on loan from St James' Park. Fergie was once again missing from the squad on Saturday, but given that Clark inspired them to a 2-1 victory at freefalling Blackpool, it seems unlikely he'll be back in favour soon. A real shame, especially in view of the positive loan experiences of players like James Tavernier and Conor Newton, both of whom have been able to enhance their claims for involvement with the first team on their return to Tyneside.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Quote of the day

"This is a great loss for us so obviously I was sad but I am happy for him because PSG is a great club. I had the opportunity to talk a little with Yohan Cabaye and it is clear he is really happy there."

Mathieu Debuchy, talking to the French media, sounds as though (as expected) he's pining for his chum and perhaps even angling for a move to Paris himself. Bayern Munich are also reportedly interested, but he'll have to rediscover his pre-Christmas form for us before he can even dream of following in Dreamboat's footsteps.

Talking of our departed midfielder, he scored his first goal for his new club against Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday night. Given that, according to Laurent Blanc, the prospect of Champions League football was his primary reason for swapping Newcastle for PSG, he probably won't be too chuffed to have only featured from the bench...

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What's wrong with "modern football"? The word "modern"

My latest contribution to The Two Unfortunates - a review of Tony Collins' Sport In Capitalist Society, incorporating reflections on the "Against Modern Football" movement - appears to have ruffled a few feathers. The book is a fascinating read, offering an invaluable historical perspective on sport in general, though with plenty of reference to the so-called beautiful game. I'll admit to, on occasion, having repeated uncritically what Collins reveals to be myths about football past and present (even if I've never proclaimed myself to be "Against Modern Football") - someone please stop me if in the future I ever start a sentence with "The problem with the modern game..." or whinge that Jabba is "symptomatic of everything that's wrong with twenty-first-century football".

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Friday, February 14, 2014

In the clear

Good news for Loic Remy - not only will our top scorer be available to try and help end our alarming goal drought for the visit of Villa next weekend, he's had the rape charge against him dropped. Without the threat of a jail sentence hanging over him, he has no excuse not to knuckle down and stop our season petering out into nothingness - not that that responsibility rests solely on his shoulders, of course.

While Remy is in the clear, one of his predecessors in the Toon front line has had his collar felt by the long arm of the law for the umpteenth time. On this occasion the Lone Ranger did nothing more than come up to Newcastle for a night out - the problem being that his bail conditions barred him from doing so. Having only recently won himself a reprieve at Swindon, it will be little surprise if the Robins finally decide enough is enough and ditch him.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Say nothing or say sorry?

One good thing to come out of last night's debacle: Saylor has quit Twitter. Here's hoping he now gets his head down and starts performing like the player some of us still hope he might possibly be. With Sideshow Bob still injured and MYM a liability of late, we certainly need it.

Little Big Lad may not have followed Saylor's lead, but he did at least have the good grace to use Twitter to say sorry. Now we await apologies from some of his more senior colleagues whose personal displays were more pathetic.

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Home is where the hurt is

Newcastle Utd 0 - 4 Spurs

It's saying something when we're not even good enough to record a third successive 3-0 defeat. The stats have been widely reported but bear repeating, as painful as they are: we've now lost five games in a row at home in all competitions, and we've managed four consecutive home league defeats for the first time since 1987, and this time all without scoring. Typical, isn't it, that just as the much of the rest of the country is experiencing flooding we're suffering from a drought...

Of course, it didn't help that our visitors were an in-form side with an excellent away record who have been invigorated by the appointment of a new manager since our last meeting and who are engaged in determined pursuit of Champions League qualification.

The Silver Fox decided to take a gamble, throwing fit-again Papiss Cisse and Goofy straight back into the side at the expense of HBA and Paul Dummett, with Davide Santon switching back from midfield to his familiar left-back role.

I say "familiar", but it didn't look that way when he sloppily gifted the ball back to Spurs on our byline, allowing Emmanuel Adebayor, the striker frozen out under Andre Villas-Boas, to skim a shot wide of Tim Krul's far post. Shortly afterwards, Paulinho forced Krul into a save with a venomous shot from a tight angle.

The best early chance, though, fell to us. We're pinning our hopes on loan signing Luuk de Jong striking up a partnership with someone, and when he headed a long free-kick down and square into Cisse's path on the edge of the six-yard box, the evening's opening goal looked to be the only possible outcome. That, though, was to reckon without either our number nine's appalling lack of form and confidence or the quick reactions of Spurs' French 'keeper Hugo Lloris, who kept the weak effort out.

Naturally, it was the visitors who then took the lead. Nabil Bentaleb should have been tackled more forcefully out on the right, but even when he wriggled free of a challenge to play in a teasing cross there didn't look to be much danger. However, Krul flapped the ball pointlessly straight to the feet of the grateful Adebayor and he finished into the empty net. The Dutchman was the hero of the victory at White Hart Lane in November, when we were besieged but kept our goal intact; now, at a time when we're desperately struggling to score goals ourselves, the last thing we needed was our 'keeper to start gifting them to the opposition.

It could have been worse before the break had Aaron Lennon's scuffed shot trickled in rather than bounced off the post. Presented with another chance to score by Little Big Lad's pass, Cisse beat the onrushing Lloris to the ball but, perhaps fearful of being clattered, lobbed the ball harmlessly wide.

Dummett replaced Santon at the interval - presumably a tactical change (if indeed it required any tactical nous to identify the fact that the Italian was having a stinker) - but he'd hardly got his boots dirty before we were two goals down. Paulinho's neat flick set Adebayor up for a drive from outside the area, and when Krul parried straight to the Brazilian, he followed up mercilessly.

That was the cue for us to (belatedly) raise our game and enjoy our best spell. Little Big Lad and De Jong departed for HBA and Sylvain Marveaux, and Lloris had to make saves from Dummett, Cisse, Goofy and Mathieu Debuchy - the latter in particular was superb.

A foothold back in the game would have been scarcely deserved, though, and Spurs' superiority was underlined in the last ten minutes. Krul contributed his third error of the day for the third goal, palming Andros Townsend's piledriver up into the air for Adebayor to mis-hit it slightly fortuitously into the ground and over his despairing dive, but was powerless to prevent substitute Nacer Chadli from recording his first Premier League goal with a curler into the top corner. Quicker and more effective closing-down of Chadli would have been demanded by the home supporters, I'm sure, if there had been many left still inside the ground.

This was most certainly not the way in which the Silver Fox will have hoped to celebrate his 150th match in charge. Before the game he had declared: "Part of my job is to try and motivate the side with any incentive I can find" - presumably no incentive could be located on this occasion (and how exactly the players lacked motivational incentives for the derby is beyond me). He had also taken pains to thank fans for their patience - a fair few more will have lost it after this latest abject display. In his post-match interview he came across as a broken man, as downbeat and angry as I can remember, confirming that there had been some harsh words spoken in the dressing room.

It's a sorry state of affairs that a season that still looked highly promising as recently as Boxing Day now appears to be all but over, and that rather than speculate about the possibility of European qualification (which the Silver Fox insisted has been a curse rather than a blessing for Spurs) we're now inclined to be thankful for the fact that we've already amassed sufficient points to insulate us from the relegation dogfight, at least for the time being.

The break might do us some good - certainly there's plenty of work to be done - and we'll have Loic Remy back available for our next fixture, the visit of Villa on Sunday 23rd, but I do wonder what odds the bookies are offering on a 5-0 away win to keep the sequence going...

A Spurs' fan's perspective: Tottenham Hotspur Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Question time

Further proof that Newcastle Utd players and Twitter should never mix: the club's attempt to elicit questions for Saylor using the hashtag #AskTayls gets hijacked. Some of the queries are priceless. For the record, I'd rather fight ten duck-sized Andy Carrolls than one Andy Carroll-sized duck.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Crisis - what crisis?

I debated whether or not to bother dignifying this article with a response, but... a hearty round of applause to the Torygraph for giving Little Saint Mick a platform from which to air his jaundiced, ill-informed views on our club and fans.

Where to start? How's about with the observation that we're "eighth in the league". That much is true - as I think is the suggestion that, with the existing squad, the club is "punching at their correct weight". Lower mid-table is where I'd expect us to be - the previous two seasons having been pretty freakish aberrations.

However, he also claims we're "far more likely to qualify for Europe than get involved in a relegation scrap" - again arguably true, but this overlooks the fundamental mistrust with which the Europa League is eyed by the club hierarchy. Our ambitions should of course be realistic and proportional, and European qualification is still achievable - so why not go for it? If the current squad isn't strong enough to compete in the additional fixtures that accompany qualification, then there's a simple solution: bolster the squad in the summer. But the appetite to do so simply doesn't seem to exist.

Owen also has a point in characterising our transfer policy as one of signing players cheaply and selling them on for a significant profit. Dreamboat would of course be a great example. I think most of us would agree, perhaps grudgingly, that if Jabba isn't prepared to put his hand into his pocket and fund the club in the manner of an Arab oligarch, then this is a sensible course of action. What he omits to mention, of course, is the crucial second stage of the model, the one that makes it sustainable: that departees need to be adequately replaced. Again, Dreamboat is a prime example of where we're failing.

Then there are the comments on JFK: "It appears that he was not a successful appointment as director of football". The understatement is laughable. Owen claims that this is a simple mistake now rectified, not something we should be up in arms about - but then when it comes to drawing huge wages from a club to which we contribute financially in return for fuck all, he should know. The aside that "there was a feeling the game had moved on too much for him to be given such a role" hints that he's aware of the flimsiness and ridiculousness of his own argument.

Much of the rest of the article is a lazy reheating of the usual tedious trash about fickle fans with unrealistic expectations and the goldfish bowl of life on Tyneside ("the scrutiny is unyielding"). He harps on and on about us being a "crisis club" once again - seemingly unaware that that's a term bandied about by the media rather than the supporters. A club in crisis sells newspapers. The media uses poor results on the pitch as an angle, when in reality the grumblings of discontent have been constant for some time now. Few of us would say we're in the midst of a "crisis" - we would, however, justifiably observe that our current league position obscures a multitude of problems, including a complete disconnect with an owner who appears to give no regard whatsoever to the people who have made and continue to make the club what it is today.

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Eden ensures Stamford Bridge is no paradise

Chelsea 3 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Facing Chelsea immediately after their win at the Etihad and our demoralising thumping by the Mackems was never likely to end well - and so it proved. Jose Mourinho was rightly lauded for his tactical nous in engineering the victory over Man City, but it doesn't take a genius to select Eden Hazard, "the best young player in the world" (according to his manager) in exhilarating form proving too good for our patched-up side.

The Silver Fox opted to hand Luuk de Jong his full debut, dropping Big Lad to the bench. Meanwhile, Mr T's absence through injury saw Davide Santon somewhat surprisingly moved into central midfield (Dan Gosling and Sylvain Marveaux left to kick their heels on the sidelines), with Paul Dummett equally surprisingly preferred to Massadio Haidara at left-back.

Our hosts weren't without their own injury problems, the loss of John Terry lending encouragement to our forwards, and we started on the front foot. On two occasions our own answer to the dazzling Belgian, HBA, tried his luck, but the dribbling efforts were of no concern to a 'keeper of Petr Cech's quality.

Chelsea gradually upped their game, Oscar skimming a shot just wide of Tim Krul's right-hand post, before Hazard took charge. After a neat spin and pass out wide, he swept the return ball emphatically into the far corner.

Moussa Sissoko has a useful habit of raising his game against the Blues, having been instrumental in the two home victories since his arrival from France, and sure enough he was once again at the heart of the action shortly afterwards. Sadly, a poor first touch from Santon's clever through-ball gave Cech the chance to block with relative ease.

A few minutes later and we were rueing the miss even more. Hazard once again profited from an incisive one-two, darting onto Samuel Eto'o's back-heel as Dummett floundered and finishing clinically. De Jong's tame downward header meant we went in two goals down.

The deficit could have increased further after the break when David Luiz hoofed clear and Krul slipped on the edge of his area, Oscar not quite able to touch it into the empty net before it ran behind, but it wasn't long before we gifted Chelsea their third. MYM, on for the injured Mathieu Debuchy in the first half, had already picked up a booking for a clumsy foul when he took it upon himself to wrestle Eto'o to the ground from a corner. The pundits purred about the spot-kick with which Hazard completed his hat-trick, but it was cocky and Krul could have made him look very silly - as it was, though, the Dutchman was the one with an embarrassed look on his face.

HBA had been ineffectual, but in replacing him with Gosling the Silver Fox made us more defensive, as though we were attempting to shut the stable door with Mourinho's "little horse" already several furlongs away. The fact that a player just back from an unspectacular stint at Championship strugglers Blackpool could find himself back in the first-team frame so soon speaks volumes about the paucity of options available.

Chelsea, meanwhile, rubbed salt into the wound by bringing on both Mohamed Salah, fellow big-money transfer window acquisition Nemanja Matic having started the game in midfield, and our old boy Demba Ba, the subject of unjustified abuse from the away end.

Salah fluffed a good opportunity to make the scoreline even more emphatic, while Marveaux, on for Mini V, fired harmlessly into the side-netting when he really should have shot across Cech's goal.

The final whistle brought an end to our four-game winning sequence in the capital, though we can take some consolation from having acquitted ourselves reasonably well away to a side that edged to the top of the league, thanks to Arsenal's mauling at Anfield and the failure of Man City's potent front line to find a way past Norwich's stubborn defence. While drawing yet another blank is of concern, we were up against the best back four in the division.

Now we need to put this fixture behind us and refocus for the visit of Spurs on Wednesday. Not that getting a result then will be an easy task - we've lost four in a row at home in all competitions, and our visitors have already recorded eight league wins on the road this season. Factor in the fact that Debuchy has been added to an already lengthy injury list and our prospects don't look too rosy.

There was at least some small consolation from the Stadium of Shite, where Wes Brown was sent off for the third time this season in the third minute and Hull - with Steve Harper between the sticks and nominal Geordie and sacked Mackem boss Ol' Cauliflower Face in the dugout - went on to win 2-0. Even still, though, it was laced with chagrin that they chose to return to their usual calamitous ways only after beating us so comfortably.

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

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Danny in the dock

Poor old Danny Simpson: dumped by Tulisa and now accused of apparently confusing himself with a Danny Dyer character. Our former right-back has been arrested on suspicion of assaulting a man with an iron bar following the theft of his mobile phone. Readers will recall it's not the first time he's got himself into trouble in his native Manchester, either...

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Saturday, February 08, 2014

A fine old ruckus

Yesterday brought confirmation that both ourselves and Norwich had been fined for failing to control our players during the meeting of the two sides at the end of last month. We admitted the charge and consequent £20,000 fine, whereas Norwich - perhaps encouraged by the success of their appeal against Bradley Johnson's red card - denied it and, found guilty, were hit with a heavier fine of £30,000. The cash penalties aren't something either club is likely to lose much sleep over - but the suspension of Loic Remy while Johnson is free to turn out for the Canaries continues to rankle with us.

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Tav misses out

Commiserations to James Tavernier for losing out to Peterborough's Nicky Ajose for the League One Player of the Month award for January - though congratulations are due, of course, for being nominated in the first place. The nomination only goes to confirm what we've been hearing from Rotherham fans - that the full-back is in fine form, having established himself as an integral part of the Millers' promotion-pushing team, and that he might well be capable of coping at Championship level or even higher. The extension of his loan deal means he has the rest of the season to continue to impress. It would just be nice if Haris Vuckic could follow his lead...

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Friday, February 07, 2014

A Month Of Saturdays: January 2014

In a month that saw an unlikely alliance between Newcastle and the Mackems burst Northumbria Police's "bubble" match proposal for the derby, it was perhaps fitting that our own bubble should burst. While the last two months of 2013 brought a host of memorable three-point hauls (Chelsea, Spurs and Man Utd in particular), we won just once in January - a largely slick, clinical and professional victory over relegation-threatened West Ham that owed everything to the performance of Dreamboat. Unfortunately for us, his display wasn't just a delicious slap around the chops for Fat Sam - it also served as a convincing audition for the onlooking PSG and the match ended up being his swansong in black and white.

The two clubs then engaged in the customary transfer tango. PSG made a cheekily low initial bid, our polite refusal tacitly invited an improved offer, the Ligue 1 leaders promptly returned with one that met our valuation, and by the time we next kicked off, our influential midfield talisman was in Paris nearing the completion of a £20m move. In an instant Paul's hopes of "a quiet month in which we keep hold of our best players" went out of the (transfer) window.

According to Dreamboat's new coach Laurent Blanc, the prospect of Champions League football was what lured him back to his homeland, but whatever the reasons behind the move, it was depressingly inevitable - as was our failure to replace him before the window slammed shut. Despite his agent and father being adamant that a deal would go through in January, winger Remy Cabella remained with Montpellier, and we had to suffer the scathing mockery of his coach Rolland Courbis. Our approach for Clement Grenier, meanwhile, met with perhaps the most comprehensive rejection imaginable - his club Lyon turned their noses up at the fee, while the player's agent Frederic Guerra effectively produced a bullet-point list of reasons why his client was also opposed to the move. Perhaps someone should point out we could look further afield than France...

With Dreamboat in Paris ahead of sealing the deal, we played out an ultimately frustrating 0-0 draw at Carrow Road in which he could well have made all the difference in transforming one point into three. The frustration was only compounded by the red card received by Loic Remy, the only player in the squad to have scored more goals than Dreamboat, and the fact that an appeal against the dismissal and subsequent three-game ban was rejected while Norwich had Bradley Johnson's red card overturned for the same incident.

That meant the month was bookended by away matches which prior to kick-off looked like appetising prospects but in which we managed to register more sendings-off than goals. The new year had got off to an inauspicious start at the Hawthorns, where we were holding our own until Mathieu Debuchy's reckless lunge was rewarded with an early bath. West Brom were then able to heap on the pressure and we eventually succumbed to a late Saido Berahino penalty.

Worse was to follow in the form of yet another early FA Cup exit, Cardiff this time the beneficiaries of our alarming recent inability to make any significant progress in knockout competitions. We huffed and puffed to a barely deserved 1-0 lead, only for new Bluebirds boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to introduce Craig Noone and Fraizer Campbell, both of whom promptly scored. Sod's law that the former super sub's first subs would turn out to be super, and that our own would have no reply.
No team that has just suffered three successive defeats, including two to struggling sides, would be thrilled to have to face Man City next, but to our credit we picked ourselves up and gave most people's champions elect a sterner examination than they might have been expecting. Admittedly we were behind early on, but only conceded the killer second in stoppage time, while pressing for the equaliser our play deserved. We would have had one, too, had Mr T's stunning left-footer not been ruled out for a ridiculous offside decision from referee Mike Jones, prompting fury from the fans, bafflement from the pundits and touchline banter between the Silver Fox and his opposite number Manuel Pellegrini that might have made JFK blush (almost).

The sequence of losses was brought to an end by the visit to West Ham, which saw us score three times, but generally we found goals hard to come by in January, drawing blanks in three of our five games. That made the long-rumoured arrival of Luuk de Jong - and on the terms we wanted (a loan rather than a permanent deal) - very welcome, even if some cynical fans might have questioned the wisdom of signing a second out-of-form striker from the Bundesliga. Here's hoping he understands the offside rule better than Papiss Cisse, at least.

The Dutchman was the only new face, and in addition to Dreamboat we waved goodbye to someone once labelled as one of the best players in the Premier League by Lionel Messi (in fairness, he's only little and probably can't handle his drink). Spidermag may only have hooked up with former manager Chris Hughton's Norwich on loan, but the Tyneside chapter of his career does look to be over. By contrast, Curtis Good will be hoping he can secure himself a future at St James' Park by impressing at Dundee Utd in much the same way as other young Toon loanees are doing at St Mirren and Rotherham. As Millers fan Michael Stevens reported, James Tavernier in particular is delighting crowds down at the New York Stadium, and having a buccaneering full-back waiting in the wings might help to convince Debuchy not to lose his head quite so often.

That was a rare positive, though, in a month that ended with our squad smaller than it had been at the start, JFK living up to his billiing by .com as director of fuck all, Dreamboat turning out for PSG against Bordeaux, Remy suspended, goals hard to come by and no cup run to look forward to. Still, at least we had the fillip of an overdue victory over the Mackems to look forward to at the start of February...

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Willie walks

First it was JFK, now Willie Donachie's left - and under a dark cloud. It's been reported that a physical altercation with a player (rumoured to be defender Remie Streete) in the wake of the U21s' 2-0 defeat to the Mackems on Monday has led the Scot to tender his resignation. The Silver Fox has hinted there will be big changes at the club in the summer - but at this rate there are going to be plenty taking place well before then, at least in terms of non-playing staff.

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Thursday, February 06, 2014

Quote of the day

"I am sad to see anybody lose their job and he did a lot of good work here – but the decision was the board’s decision."

Let's unpick this statement about JFK from the Silver Fox, delivered during his pre-Chelsea press conference.

1. Come on, you're not "sad" at all and you're fooling no one by pretending you are. You're as delighted as the rest of us that you've won that particular battle.

2. Likewise, you're fooling no one with that platitude about him doing "a lot of good work". He did fuck all - unless, that is, you consider pissing off countless players and staff by mispronouncing their names to have been a positive contribution.

3. "The decision was the board's decision" - when you say "the board", you mean "Jabba", right? And so JFK didn't jump but was indeed pushed after all? That would confirm that Jabba has at least some semblance of common sense, and that, as many of us suspected, our outgoing director of football didn't have the decency to admit he was failing in his remit and do the honourable thing by resigning.

The Silver Fox did also say, though, that he wasn't opposed to the idea of working with a replacement, if the role is retained and filled - and indeed he suggested, in a slightly wistful tone, that gone are the days of managers being intimately involved in transfer negotiations. Not a viewpoint you'd expect King Kev ever to endorse...

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Tackling discrimination? No thanks

Why is it that a club in desperate need of some positive PR hasn't yet brought itself to sign up in support of the Football v Homophobia campaign? Baffling - and irritating.

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Pap staying put - for now

In today's Shields Gazette, Miles Starforth is reporting that the club yesterday rejected a bid from Turkish side Fenerbahce for Papiss Cisse. That might not be the end of the story, though, with Russian outfit Rubin Kazan rumoured to be lining up their own approach.

The news is a timely reminder that some transfer windows elsewhere in the world are still open, and so, with an owner fond of cash in hand, our squad remains vulnerable. As regards Cisse specifically, there's no doubt he's a player spectacularly out of form - even last year he looked a shadow of the striker who was scoring for fun as we galloped to a hugely creditable fifth place in 2011/2. Even then, though, common sense dictates that it would be a huge mistake to cash in now - even with the arrival of Luuk de Jong we're short of numbers in attack, and wouldn't be able to reinvest the transfer fee in a replacement until the summer. The only problem is that, as ever, common sense is in short supply at St James'.

Fingers crossed any further bids are also rejected and Cisse rediscovers his fitness and touch in front of goal sooner rather than later - and learns the offside rule.

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Quote of the day

"It’s a terrible debut for me – I’m so disappointed. I’m happy to be here and to play, but it is not the beginning I hoped for. I had a couple of chances, and I expect myself to finish better there. I’m not satisfied with that."

Luuk de Jong's post-derby comments exhibit a refreshing honesty and refusal to shirk personal responsibility in defeat. In fairness the damage had already been done by the time he was introduced at the break, but I like to see a player admit disappointment with his own performance - a few others could learn that lesson. Of course, such talk is worth little unless he now works hard and makes amends.

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Fat Cockney bastard gets out of our club

At last, something for us fans to rejoice about (and something for the club's overworked PR department to breathe a sigh of relief about): JFK has followed his own advice to countless journalists and fucked off. Even still, with nothing to show from two transfer windows except a pair of loanees who were already on our radar before his appointment as director of football, the fact that he's been afforded the opportunity to resign rather than simply being given the boot beggars belief - though I suppose that comes down to his chumminess with Jabba.

The events of last week proved the final straw. JFK had promised no players would be sold, and yet in the wake of Dreamboat's departure he admitted there had been an agreement in place for the player he unapologetically misnamed Yohan Kebab to leave in January. Not only did this attempt to shift the blame onto Dreamboat underline that the promise had been a blatant lie (certainly not the only one he told during his time on Tyneside), it also unwittingly revealed the level of the buffoon's incompetence - even with significant forewarning of the player's departure, he was still incapable of sourcing and securing a suitable replacement. In his interview after the derby defeat, the Silver Fox struggled to keep a lid on his irritation at JFK's ineptitude: "If I was in charge, solely, of transfers things might be different but I'm not. I think I've made my opinions very clear this week and all the rest of it is confidential."

Sadly, the timing of the resignation isn't ideal - the damage has been done for this campaign, and we'll just have to soldier on with what we've got. If only JFK had walked before the end of January - or, better still, never been appointed to a position far beyond his meagre capabilities in the first place. (Those capabilities, in case you're wondering, are swearing and self-delusion.)

No doubt his pride will be wounded, but JFK does at least have the consolation of knowing that he's "more intelligent" than all of us critics. Here's hoping that the man who made himself (and us) a laughing stock by boasting he "could open the door to any manager in the world" soon finds gainful employment in his dream job as a doorman.

So, as regards fat Cockney bastards, that's one down and one to go.

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Monday, February 03, 2014

Out of control

The club as a whole may have evaded any FA charge following the touchline fracas during the home game against Southampton in December, but no such luck in the wake of the scrap between Loic Remy and Norwich's Bradley Johnson last week. We've been charged with failing to control our players over the incident, which resulted in both Remy and Johnson being sent off - only for the Canaries midfielder's dismissal to be farcically quashed on appeal.

I don't know about failing to control the players, but the Silver Fox should be up on a charge of failing to coach or motivate them, given Saturday's horrorshow...

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Sunday, February 02, 2014

Derby despair - again

Newcastle Utd 0 - 3 Sunderland

Well, quite frankly, this is getting ridiculous. For the third derby fixture in a row, we faced inferior Mackem opposition only to play abysmally and slide to a deserved defeat. How, in a season in which we've outplayed Chelsea and won at Old Trafford, did we once again manage to lose so comprehensively to that shower of shite? It was 1st February, not 1st April, after all.

After the previous two meetings it was obvious we owed them one, and needed to channel the spirit of that famous 5-1 drubbing in October 2010. Two players did just that - unfortunately for us, though, Rocky and Kevin Nolan were turning out for West Ham in the day's other 12.45 kick-off when they twice combined for goals. At St James' Park, by contrast, we succeeded only in channelling the spirit of April 2013's 0-3 embarrassment - the only difference being that Gus Poyet refrained from doing a Di Canio-esque knee slide in celebration.

One imagines Sir Bobby Robson looking down and shaking his fist in the direction of the man he branded "the scourge of Newcastle", but the visitors' ranks were stuffed with bogeymen: Fabio Borini, who scores every time he plays us; Tynesider Jack Colback; former Newcastle Centre of Excellence attendee Adam Johnson; debutant Liam Bridcutt, who was integral in helping Poyet's Brighton knock us out of the FA Cup in two consecutive seasons. All made vital contributions to our defeat, though in truth we shouldn't shirk from the fact that for the most part we were our own worst enemies.

The appeal against Loic Remy's red card having failed, Big Lad was drafted in to lead the attack in an otherwise unchanged team, meaning a 4-3-3 formation and Little Big Lad retaining his starting place. The Mackem Slayer's young apprentice proved to be one of our very few semi-bright sparks in the first half, combining well with Moussa Sissoko on occasion but with no overall end product.

A half-chance had been spurned by Mathieu Debuchy before on-loan left-back Marcos Alonso gave us a timely warning with an unmarked header over the crossbar from a whipped Johnson free-kick. Sadly it wasn't a warning we heeded, Mini V's clumsy challenge on a marauding Phil Bardsley giving Borini the chance to score from the spot - a chance he seized with style. We'd hardly got over that shock when the situation got even stickier. Dozy Alti-Can't-Hit-A-Barn-Door produced an exquisite flick (a fluke, surely) to release Colback, and when his shot deflected off Saylor and Tim Krul tipped away, the rebound was buried by Johnson, grateful to Davide Santon for a lack of awareness.

It says much about our first-half performance that captain-for-the-day Mr T (total Toon goals: 1) was having most of our efforts on goal, as any attempts to get back into the game were blighted by poor crossing and decision-making, and HBA was struggling in the Dreamboat role. A last-ditch clearance to deny Debuchy was about as close as we came to reducing the deficit before the break.

The Silver Fox's half-time changes - the introduction of new boy Luuk de Jong in place of Little Big Lad, and a switch to 4-4-2 - signalled an acceptance that his tactics had been hopelessly exposed in the first period, when we were regularly overrun in midfield. The change of formation made a positive difference, even if de Jong didn't, looking off the pace and too often easily dispossessed. (It reminded me, worryingly, of Stephane Guivarc'h's debut when we were thrashed by Liverpool - though at least on that occasion the debutant striker scored.)

Vito Mannone made a fine save when Mr T finally got an effort on target and with power, but it was de Jong's strike partner Big Lad who had our three best chances. First he flashed a header wide from a set-piece; then he saw an improvised shot saved following an excellent long ball from Krul; and finally he sent another header goalwards only for Borini to clear off the line.

Though this implies correctly that we were applying considerable pressure to the 5under1and rearguard, the visitors remained dangerous on the break and indeed could well have extended their lead sooner than they did. Johnson's trickery dazzled a clutch of home defenders before he curled a shot off Krul's far post, and then the Dutchman pulled off an impressive interception when Alti-Can't-Hit-A-Barn-Door tried to round him.

In that instance it was Mr T who had cheaply surrendered possession in a dangerous area, but when the killer third came, it was HBA who was culpable, collapsing to the turf and appealing in vain to referee Phil Dowd while the Mackems played on. Borini slipped Colback in and his left-footed shot arrowed into the top corner.

That goal ensured the Mackems recorded three successive derby victories for the first time in 91 years - and our embarrassment wasn't even brought to a merciful close by the final whistle, as a smattering of youths calling themselves supporters decided to disrespect the joint message about having a derby to be proud of by lobbing glass bottles at police in the Bigg Market.

After the match, the Silver Fox - visibly shellshocked by events and the barracking he'd received from supporters - talked about "taking stock" and "going back to basics", adding: "We have to remember where we are in the league and what got us there". That would be fine if "what got us there" wasn't the goals of Remy, Dreamboat and Goofy, none of whom are available to us at present for a variety of reasons. Since putting five past Stoke on Boxing Day, we've failed to find the net in five of six league matches. Against the Mackems, we contrived to have no fewer than 28 attempts on goal and yet never really looked like scoring.

The Silver Fox may have got it horribly wrong tactically, but doesn't deserve all the flak and ire - the players must take their share, as must an owner more concerned with lining his own pocket than the club's future and a director of football who is yet to make a single permanent signing and who failed to replace Dreamboat despite admitting his January departure had been agreed months earlier. Those fans who publicly threw away their season ticket books were, I suspect, protesting about the way the club is being run off the pitch as well as a third humiliation by the Mackems on it. Pundits who talk about retaining a sense of perspective and point to our healthy league position - we're still eighth - ignore the fact that this is papering over a multitude of cracks.

Bear with me, though, as I try to end with some positives:

1. We've discovered the whereabouts of Sylvain Marveaux, who came on as a sub. Presumably he had been down the back of the Silver Fox's sofa all along.

2. De Jong wasn't injured on his debut (or indeed in a training session immediately before joining the club).

3. Due to their association with this debacle, we'll hopefully never see the Wonga clapperboards again.

4. It may have been the away fans celebrating, but at least we didn't have to go back to the Dark Place after the game.

5. Last time we were beaten by the Mackems, it was the catalyst for a superb November during which we recorded notable victories over Chelsea and Spurs. Next up for us are the return fixtures against both, so here's hoping this defeat has the same effect.

6. At least we're not Leeds.

A Mackem fan's perspective: Roker Report

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Saturday, February 01, 2014

Good news for Dundee Utd

Lest the club should be accused of inactivity on the final day of the transfer window, I should point out that something did happen: Curtis Good joined Dundee Utd on loan. The Australian defender has followed young reserve colleagues Conor Newton and Adam Campbell in signing up for a temporary spell north of the border. He's only featured for us once since signing in the summer of 2012, in the League Cup fixture at Morecambe earlier this season, so it's hardly surprising he's jumped at the chance to gain some first-team experience.

Meanwhile, the loans of James Tavernier and Haris Vuckic to Rotherham have been extended to the end of the season - understandable and expected, as it was a no-brainer from the perspective of both clubs and both players.

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Automatic reply: Transfer window

I am currently out of the office, enjoying the fuck out of a long weekend in the Lake District. I will respond to your fucking email on Monday.

Kind regards (unless you're Simon Bird, in which case you can fuck off)

Joe Kinnear

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Subject: Transfer window
Sent: 31/01/2014, 12:37

Dear Joe

Please could you stop sitting on your arse, pull your finger out of it and get us a replacement for Dreamboat.

Yours sincerely

All at Black & White & Read All Over

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