Monday, March 31, 2014

Turning defence into attack

How typically Newcastle: the first team musters just a solitary goal in four games and yet a defender we've sent out on loan is pinging in matchwinning braces from distance. Saturday's victory over Bristol City all but mathematically guaranteed Rotherham a play-off place, and if our boy James Tavernier keeps on performing heroics they may yet sneak into the automatic promotion positions.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

No comebacks

Browsing the BBC's preview of the Southampton game, I stumbled across a jaw-dropping stat: we've won just three points from a losing position this season. Those three points all came from the same game, the 5-1 Boxing Day thrashing of Stoke at St James' Park, and it should be remembered that on that occasion our mission to overturn the deficit was helped immeasurably by the two red cards picked up by the opposition before half-time.

This essentially tells us two things:

1. We're lacking courage and belief, and heads go down far too easily. Just because our opponents have taken the lead doesn't mean that all hope should be lost.

2. If falling behind means we'll almost invariably get nothing - the Southampton match didn't change that - then it follows that in order to stand any chance of getting any points we need to score first. And given that scoring at any point in matches is currently a major problem - especially with the reliable Loic Remy injured - we're not likely to pick up many points.

Two separate issues for the Silver Fox to work on this coming week. After yesterday's display, though, I'd suggest defensive drills should be at the very top of the agenda.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Black, white and ridden all over

Another Saturday, another appalling performance - and against a team supposedly on the same level as us. Still, it could have been worse - you could have cycled the 400 miles from Newcastle to Southampton to witness it. That's precisely what a quartet of fans decided to do (presumably after a few too many in the pub). So spare a thought for the saddle-sore four this evening - and, even better, donate a few quid to the two cancer charities for which they were fundraising, Macmillan and the Robbie Elliott Foundation. If only the team had shared their guts and determination rather than their generosity of spirit...

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Magpies left counting the cost of opponents' clinical finishing

Newcastle Utd 0 - 3 Everton

Once again we were left to rue our lack of a cutting edge as Everton came to Tyneside, dealt comfortably with what we had to offer and returned to the north-west with three points in their pocket. After the two fortuitously secured 1-0 wins over Villa and Palace, the scoreline harked back to the dark days of January and early February, and though we did as I hoped and raised our game from Saturday, showing plenty of endeavour and having the bulk of efforts on goal, we were never really a match for a side determinedly chasing down a faltering Arsenal for the final Champions League spot.

We set out with the same starting XI as against Fulham and Palace, which meant HBA, the creator of Cisse's winner on Saturday, had to be content with a place on the bench once again. In the first five minutes, the bit appeared to be firmly between our teeth, blue-shirted bodies blocking shots from de Jong, Goofy and Cisse.

However, that superiority had dissipated by the time Romelu Lukaku's shot presented Tim Krul with the unwelcome opportunity to get involved in the action. Ross Barkley then gave the visitors the lead, running 70 yards against a backpedalling defence and firing home - the goal enhancing his personal claim to a place in the England squad for the World Cup and confirming that, whatever happened in the remaining 70 minutes, there would be no repeat of our stoppage-time 1-0 victories in the two previous home games.

We huffed and puffed for the rest of the half, to no great effect, and early in the second our predicament worsened. Loanees Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu combined for the big Belgian to score the visitors' second (his fourth against us in four appearances); by contrast, of our own two loan forwards, Remy was still sidelined and de Jong was once again totally off the pace, belatedly replaced by HBA.

As he did against Palace, the substitute nearly conjured up a goal, his mesmerising run leaving Mini V with a glorious chance to reduce the arrears, but the Dutchman contrived to miss the target - as did Goofy with a volley that flew over the bar. Mr T's long-ranger, meanwhile, was repelled by Tim Howard.

MYM was hauled off for Sylvain Marveaux (though Paul Dummett had been equally poor) as we went for broke. However, we couldn't create another clear-cut chance and Lukaku extended Krul again before Leon Osman rounded off a flowing move in clinical fashion with three minutes remaining, giving the scoreline a gloss representative of Everton's finishing prowess if not of the overall balance of play.

Having gone nine home games without defeat to the Toffees, we've now lost three of the last four St James' Park meetings - a disappointing reversal of fortune, even though (as John Carver acknowledged afterwards) there's no denying they're a quality side.

Our next test, away to Southampton, promises to be every bit as tough, and we can only hope that Remy will be ready to leave the treatment table in time. Against the Saints' fluent midfield and front three, I'd be tempted to play a 4-5-1 formation, with Cisse alone up front and HBA in for de Jong, stationed wide on the right - the three in the middle would give us greater stability and the Frenchman has probably earned a start (and the perpetually misfiring loanee a demotion to the bench). That said, the Silver Fox has spoken of there being trust issues - not only whether he can trust HBA, but whether the players can too - so it remains to be seen whether he mixes things up against our rivals for eighth place.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

New deal for the real deal?

Congratulations to 17-year-old Academy prospect Adam Armstrong, who - alongside 'keeper Freddie Woodman and Slovak defender Lubo Satka - has earned himself a new long-term contract. The lively striker, who recently made his debut from the bench against Fulham and is currently competing for England U17s at the European Championships, commented: "The manager’s shown an interest in the young players which is really good" - perhaps out of necessity rather than choice, though, Adam...

As we celebrate one youngster on the fringes of the first team, we shouldn't forget another who has been there before and is now trying to force his way back into the frame through his loan exploits. Haris Vuckic may have been a stoppage-time sub for Rotherham last night, but there was still time on the clock for him to head the Millers' third against a shellshocked Brentford, the side currently sitting in second place in League Two. It should also be duly noted that fellow Toon loanee James Tavernier got the ball rolling for the Yorkshire side, winning the penalty from which Kieran Agard gave them an early lead.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The late, great Papiss Cisse

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 Crystal Palace

Just when it looked as though we'd fail to find the net for a second successive game against relegation candidates from the capital, up popped Papiss Cisse to score in stoppage time for a remarkable sixth time in his Newcastle career. Not that the identity of the goalscorer wasn't a surprise - he had been thwarted on several occasions previously and seemed destined to draw yet another blank in his quest to score a first Premier League goal from open play since April last year.

The fact that the team was unchanged from the appalling defeat at Fulham might have been interpreted as the Silver Fox demanding they make amends, but - with Mathieu Debuchy, Davide Santon and Loic Remy all out - the truth is that the options available were limited. Remy's continued absence was the most keenly felt, given how hopelessly ineffective Cisse and nominal strike partner Luuk de Jong were at Craven Cottage, and how we had failed to score in all six of the previous matches the on-loan Frenchman had missed. There was at least some cause for optimism, though, with the return to the bench of HBA.

In the initial stages, Mr T appeared to have taken on the burden of breaking the deadlock himself, attempting no fewer than three shots in the first five minutes. None of them troubled Julian Speroni in the Palace goal, and the pattern was set.

The visitors had had to travel to Wearside the previous weekend, when a resolute rearguard action saw them escape with a goalless draw and a potentially valuable point. Tony Pulis seemed to send his side out at St James' Park with exactly the same objective. Cameron Jerome was left to forage around after balls into the channels alone up front and did well to unsettle Mike Williamson and Sideshow Bob, heading wide when well placed at one point. Otherwise, their only threat came from Yannick Bolasie, who, like Fulham's Ashkan Dejagah last Saturday, enjoyed terrorising a frequently backpedalling MYM.

It was Cisse, though, who looked the likeliest to break the deadlock and raise the quiet crowd from their slumbers, first working space before firing straight at Speroni and later meeting the galloping Moussa Sissoko's right-wing cross with an instinctive shot that the 'keeper pawed away. There was precious little else to admire, other than Mr T's ability to always find space (perhaps Palace were content in the knowledge of his powers of distribution) and Mini V's gentle prompting alongside and ahead of him.

As Fulham had, Palace emerged after the interval apparently appreciative that only a slight increase in effort and intensity would be all that would be required to claim the victory. It didn't last long, thankfully, though during that period Bolasie stepped inside MYM and hit a shot that flicked the top of the bar. When the winger was the first opposing player to be withdrawn, we couldn't believe our luck.

By that point, we'd introduced our own tricky talent, HBA, leaving de Jong to rue another dud performance. For the most part, the new man flattered to deceive down the right, cutting inside and thereby playing straight into the hands of his right-footed marker Joel Ward. Even when he did escape Ward's attentions, Palace had doubled up on him and all too often he wasted possession or took on an ill-advised shot.

In the centre, Cisse was admirably persistent, forcing Speroni into an excellent smothering save low to his right, heading over the bar and - after Mr T had walloped the bar from range and MYM had squared the rebound - miskicking right in front of goal.

Would the goal ever come? Yes, it would - and shortly after Palace were appealing for a handball against Williamson at the other end of the pitch. HBA worked his way infield, teasing defenders before playing in a clever cross for Cisse to head home.

Harsh on the visitors, perhaps, but then for the most part they'd been happy for us to show the greater will to win and must have left kicking themselves at passing up a (possibly unexpectedly) golden opportunity to pull clear of the relegation zone. As for us, we climbed back into eighth, and stayed there thanks to another stoppage-time goal on Sunday - Gylfi Sigurdsson's strike for Spurs capping a fine comeback over Southampton.

Everton are next up at St James', and we'll certainly have to play much better than this if we want to avoid defeat against a side who, as usual, are mixing it with the big spenders above us in the table. Remy, like his manager, will miss the game, but will be back for the crunch trip to St Mary's at the weekend. In the meantime, here's hoping Cisse's finally rediscovered his mojo.

A Palace fan's perspective: Five Year Plan

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Damage limitation

Reflections on Saturday's last-gasp win over Palace to come, but first something which should have gone up last week. It's not often we doff our cap to the club for the way they handle things, but in the case of the Silver Fox's recent tete-a-tete with David Meyler I think some credit is due. The independent FA commission that decided on his punishment has released details of the mitigating circumstances, which include the verbal and written apologies and the swiftness with which the club imposed its own punishment. It seems that someone immediately identified what redressive action could be taken and made sure we did so as quickly as possible. Without that, he'd clearly have been facing up to a longer ban.

The Silver Fox isn't alone in having been handed an FA punishment of late, though. Fair play to Dan Gosling for having solidarity with his manager, picking up a £30,000 fine for his gambling misdemeanours...

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Monday, March 17, 2014

No Cottage industry

Fulham 1 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Maybe the Silver Fox's actions on the touchline at Hull were rational and sensible after all. In the wake of yesterday's game at Craven Cottage, getting himself banned from the stadium so that, unlike us, he didn't have to witness the performance of the away side looked a very shrewd move.

In truth, though, he did apparently watch the game, in his hotel room. Such was the quality of what he saw that it presumably wasn't long before he did an Alan Partridge: got drunk and rang reception to ask "Can you make pornography come on my telly please?"

Going into the game Fulham had lost their previous four at home, not won anywhere in nine and not kept a clean sheet in fourteen - so the appearance of the Newcastle team bus on Fulham Palace Road must have been a real sight for sore eyes, given the Cottagers had beaten us on their own turf in each of the last four campaigns.

Our cause was certainly not helped by the injuries to French duo Loic Remy and Mathieu Debuchy, who were replaced in the starting line-up by Papiss Cisse and fit-again skipper Sideshow Bob, whose return shunted MYM out to right-back.

Meanwhile, Felix Magath, Fulham's third manager of the season, reacted to the 3-1 defeat at Cardiff that left them adrift at the foot of the table by dropping five players including Maarten Stekelenburg, Tim Krul's rival for the Dutch number 1 shirt, and Kostas Mitroglou, the £11m January signing who didn't even make the squad. It smacked of a manager who didn't have a clue what he was doing.

There was very little for either set of supporters to shout about in the first half - watching the low-flying planes en route for their landing at Heathrow would have been more entertaining than a match in which both sides were regularly guilty of poor distribution and aimless long punts. The home defence looked very nervy, Fernando Amorebieta in particular.

Paul Dummett had our first chance of note, curling a free kick over the bar. De Jong then made space well for a shot but could only send a stubbed effort trundling into David Stockdale's arms. Worse was to follow, when he miskicked an inviting cross and Cisse's prod was put behind by the Fulham 'keeper. By that point Stockdale's opposite number Krul had seen a dipping volley flash over the bar and tipped away Spurs loanee Lewis Holtby's vicious curler.

Goalless at the break, then. The three points were without doubt there for the taking, and so, while Fulham's need may have been greater than ours, our limp second-half surrender was nevertheless utterly inexcusable.

Our opponents had the ball in the Hammersmith End net within minutes of the restart, the goal chalked off for offside. The same thing happened ten minutes later as Cauley Woodrow, the teenage forward who gave our experienced central defensive pairing a real run-around, followed up after a Johnny Heitinga shot had hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced down a matter of mere millimetres away from crossing the line. All we had to applaud was the occasional storming but ultimately unproductive run from Moussa Sissoko and another dribbling shot from de Jong.

The game's critical moment came in the 66th minute, when a loose ball from William Kvist allowed Papiss Cisse a one-on-one opportunity that he fluffed - as he has all too often this season. Fulham promptly broke down their left, where first Alex Kacaniklic and then substitute Ashkan Dejagah had been posing an increasing threat. The German-Iranian winger was allowed to cut in on his right foot by MYM and seized the opportunity, driving a bouncing shot under an unsighted Krul.

Cisse was put out of his misery soon after, leaving the action to make way for Big Lad, while Sylvain Marveaux and debutant striker Adam Armstrong also came on. Our response to falling behind, however, was pathetic, consisting largely of one header off-target from de Jong and a direct run and shot over the bar from Armstrong. It's telling that the closest we came to an equaliser was when Krul, up for a corner in the dying seconds, had a shot that struck Heitinga's outstretched arm. It should have been a spot-kick, but that would have been more than we deserved.

As stacked in our favour as the odds were prior to kick-off, in terms of form, another defeat without scoring always looked the depressingly likely outcome given Remy's injury. It's no coincidence that without him (as well as HBA and Dreamboat) we carry very little threat - in de Jong and Cisse we have two strikers who couldn't be more out of form if they tried. The result (coupled with Southampton's win) dropped us to ninth, but did also ratchet up the pressure on the Mackems, who remain in the relegation zone and who are now just one point off bottom.

This tale of woe wouldn't be complete without a moan about my personal experience of the day. An ill-advised trek in the unseasonable heat along the Thames Path from Mortlake during which I got lost meant I missed the first ten minutes of the game, only to discover I'd paid £40 for the privilege of sitting in a home area surrounded by rugger-shirted toffs more interested in the Six Nations, teenage tossers complaining about the assistant referee being a "spastic" for making offside calls, and (with apologies to some of our readers) the very worst kind of American fan - club shop-fresh scarves and baseball caps, father telling chubby son things like "that's what they call a 'handleball'"...

All things considered, then, it wasn't the most enjoyable afternoon I've ever had. Here's hoping they get relegated, just so we don't have to go there and lose yet again.

A Fulham fan's perspective: Craven Cottage Newsround

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Friday, March 14, 2014

The generation game

In light of my recent reading matter, Tony Collins' Sport in Capitalist Society, I'll admit I was initially sceptical about this excerpt from Adrian Tempany's book And The Sun Shines Now. With its self-confessedly rose-tinted jumpers-for-goalposts perspective on childhood and football in the 1970s, it begins in exactly the sort of fashion that might be expected to irk Collins - historically naive and misty-eyed reflections on mythical halcyon days before football became "modern". He also blots his copybook with his concluding remark, that football "has never been less about the culture of the people who shaped our football clubs" - Collins would argue that it was never really "the people's game", as it's often made out to be.

However, as the excerpt progresses, it's clear that Tempany has the stats to back up his argument that football has lost touch with a whole tranche of fans. On the one hand, all-seater stadia have made attending matches much safer and more secure for young children - but on the other, ticket prices are now so high they effectively prohibit teenagers from going once their parents are no longer prepared to fork out.

At one point Tempany makes reference to our club to illustrate his point: "the average age of Newcastle supporters at St James' Park in 2002 was 35; by 2012, that had risen to 45. These are the same Geordies, simply a decade older". It's a revealing statistic, and one that rings true when I recall how, as a 14-year-old, I went with a gaggle of friends to stand on the Gallowgate as we thumped Bristol City 5-0 during that record-breaking run at the start of the 1992/93 promotion season. Sadly, that's not something that would ever happen at a Premier League club now, and even further down the divisions ticket price increases have no doubt significantly outstripped inflation in pocket money.

So what's Tempany's solution? Look to the German model, essentially: low ticket prices, standing areas and positive age discrimination. Significant changes that would take considerable time, money and effort to implement - but should German clubs continue to thrive, you'd presume the likelihood of others elsewhere taking them as models for progress will increase.

One stat that leapt out at me was the fact that only one in five children ends up supporting the same club as their dad. I'd imagine the odds are even worse when you don't live anywhere near the club in question. Clearly I'm going to have my work cut out to bring Stan up to wear the black and white shirt...

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Apology accepted

So Ol' Cauliflower Face and, by implication, David Meyler have accepted a written apology from the Silver Fox for the incident that has seen him receive a three-match stadium ban and a further four-match touchline ban. As the saying goes, sorry means you won't do it again - while an exact repeat is highly unlikely, the Silver Fox must be under no illusions that his pitchside conduct has to improve if he wants to avoid further punishment from the FA and potentially the sack from the club. Let's hope a line can now be drawn under the whole affair.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lucky seven?

So it's a £60,000 fine and a seven-match ban for the Silver Fox, and for the first three games (Fulham away followed by Crystal Palace and Everton at home) he can't even be in the stadium. The length of the ban is a Premier League record for a manager, but comes as little surprise - indeed he might have expected worse, such has been the media hysteria surrounding the incident.

Our position remains the same: while the so-called headbutt has undoubtedly been blown out of proportion by some in the media, it was nevertheless an act of rash stupidity that has brought shame on the club and undermined his status as someone our players are supposed to look up to and respect. The Silver Fox has sailed close to the wind on a number of occasions - let's hope this is the wake-up call he needs to improve his touchline conduct.

Of course, in the Silver Fox's absence all the focus and scrutiny will be on his deputy John Carver, hardly the least combustible character himself. What odds on him picking up an FA charge of his own?

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Gambler Gosling caught out

Another day, another FA charge - and it's typical that the one time Dan Gosling hits the headlines it's for bad behaviour rather than any positive contribution. He's been charged with misconduct following "multiple breaches" of the betting rules - rules which he evidently didn't fully understand. While he's asked for a personal hearing in which he'll be able to defend himself, he's already admitted the charges and has engaged in damage limitation by donating his £5,000 winnings to the Newcastle Utd Foundation.

There's a recent precedent in the form of Spurs' Andros Townsend, who was fined a paltry £18,000 and banned for four months (three of which were suspended). Given that Gosling's contract is up in the summer, a ban could conceivably mean he doesn't make another appearance in a black and white shirt.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

James knocks Man City off their Perch again

Congratulations to Perchinho, scorer of what proved to be the winning goal as FA Cup holders Wigan beat Man City yesterday - a result no less improbable for the fact that City were also the fall guys when the Latics lifted the trophy back in May. The defender who became a cult hero on Tyneside isn't exactly noted for his goalscoring exploits, having found the back of the net just once for us (albeit against Man Utd at Old Trafford), but showed a striker's instincts and determination in stealing in front of Gael Clichy to prod home James McArthur's skimming cross.

Elsewhere, a pair of comical errors from Lee Clattermole helped ensure there would be no more cheesy chips eaten on Wembley Way this season. Hull ambled to a third win of the campaign over the Mackems, to the evident delight of their ex-manager (and alleged Geordie) Ol' Cauliflower Face, during which their old boy David Meyler scored and celebrated by headbutting a corner flag in a light-hearted nod to his tete-a-tete with the Silver Fox last weekend. Steve Harper, sat on the Tigers' bench, is likely to have savoured the victory rather more than most.

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Saturday, March 08, 2014

Score draw

Thanks to Neil for pointing us in the direction of a series of caricatures called Badly Drawn Footballers, for which Sean Ryan sketched every player in Merlin's 1994 Premier League sticker album. The Guardian's gallery includes pictures of our very own Rob Lee and Peter Beardsley. The latter's face looked badly drawn at the best of times, and Ryan has done it justice - as indeed he has all of the other featured players.

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Friday, March 07, 2014

The boy Den Good

Congratulations to Curtis Good, who can now boast as many full international caps as he can first-team appearances for Newcastle. The 20-year-old defender, currently on loan at Dundee Utd, made his debut for Australia on Wednesday night in a friendly fixture against Ecuador, putting in a performance that the Guardian's reporter rated as "solid" and lasting 66 minutes before succumbing to a hip injury.

While England toiled to an uninspiring 1-0 win over Denmark at Wembley, the game across London at the New Den served up splendid entertainment. Good's side led 3-0 at the break, but by the time our man was withdrawn, Ecuador had pulled two goals back, the second a spot kick after Aussie 'keeper Mitch Langerak was sent off. The South American side went on to equalise and then, three minutes into stoppage time, to grab a dramatic winner after Good's replacement Alex Wilkinson was guilty of giving the ball away.

The knock and the final result didn't seem to take much gloss off the evening for Good, who gushed: "You dream about it your whole life - it's the absolute highlight of my career. I felt so confident out there." It will serve as vital big-game experience - not least because his previous taste of such an occasion ended in acute disappointment, when he was hauled off at half-time as Bradford lost 5-0 to Swansea in last season's League Cup final. Hopes are high that Good might one day be ready to step into the first team - but let's not forget the sad case of another promising young foreign defender, Tamas Kadar, who failed to live up to his considerable potential and is now back in his native Hungary.

While Good was turning out for the Socceroos, Mathieu Debuchy was busy playing all but the final three minutes of France's 2-0 victory over the Netherlands. Loic Remy and Moussa Sissoko both also appeared, though only from the bench.

Elsewhere, Papiss Cisse and Mr T were on international duty for Senegal and Ivory Coast respectively - the latter mustering an impressive 2-2 draw in Brussels against a Belgian side many people (myself included) fancy to be a real force over the next few years, though the game was most notable for a staggering miss by Villa's Christian Benteke.

Finally, Fergie got a welcome reminder of what it's like to lace up his boots, enjoying a spell as a substitute as Northern Ireland laboured to a stalemate in Cyprus. Much as I like Lee Clark and want him to do well, it's baffling as to why he's excluding our winger from his Birmingham squad. Leaving him twiddling his thumbs on the sidelines is doing no one any favours.

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Quote of the day

"What I try to teach the players is to be responsible for your actions – don’t try to blame anyone else. And so I’m going to go somewhere else to try to be a great coach."

No, not the Silver Fox, but recently departed reserve team manager Willie Donachie, who resigned last month after a post-match confrontation with Remie Streete got out of hand. As some on Twitter have pointed out, it's hard to see why Donachie was suspended when the Silver Fox was only fined and given a formal warning for his own dust-up at Hull on Saturday. One difference is that Donachie's disagreement was with one of our own players, whereas the Silver Fox's aggression was directed towards someone in the opposition ranks, and an ex-Mackem to boot. That hardly makes it any less serious, and indeed the fact that the Silver Fox's moment of madness was beamed into pubs and living rooms around the world on Match Of The Day arguably makes it more so.

As for Donachie, he was effusive about the welcome and support he'd had on Tyneside, and commented: "They’re really the club – the fans." A subtle dig at Jabba and his fellow suits on the board?

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Thursday, March 06, 2014

A Month Of Saturdays: February 2014

If January got off to an inauspicious start with an opening-day defeat at the Hawthorns, then February was infinitely worse.

Newcastle supporters woke up on the morning of 1st February with a groggy head, the result of a transfer window hangover. Not only were we still reeling from the sale of Dreamboat, we were also coming to the realisation that, a few half-hearted bids having failed, our apparent solution to the problem of how to fill the gaping hole in our midfield was Dan Gosling, recently returned from an unspectacular spell at a Blackpool side in freefall in the Championship.

In days gone by, a visit from the Mackems would have been just what the doctor ordered in these circumstances, to raise our spirits - not now, though, as we somehow slumped to a second consecutive 3-0 home defeat to the Great Unwashed. That first humilation, encapsulated forever in the image of Paulo Di Canio's touchline kneeslide, could arguably be written off as a complete freak, so this recurrence was even more deeply upsetting - as was the fact that boyhood Toon supporters Adam Johnson and Jack Colback scored two of the three goals. Luuk de Jong made what was, by his own admission, a disappointing debut and the only vague positive was that this time around trouble was minimal and police horses remained unscathed.

I concluded my match report by looking for crumbs of comfort going forwards: "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." No such luck, as it turned out. The trip to Stamford Bridge saw an improved performance, but we were still no match for a club with the top of the table in their sights and, in Eden Hazard, a world-class player in exceptional form. Worse was to follow a few days later, as we were battered 4-0 by a side for whom St James' Park has in recent years been a very unhappy hunting ground - this, though, was like shooting fish in a barrel.

So, three straight league defeats, with no goals scored and ten conceded - far from ideal. Little wonder that we, like his chum Mathieu Debuchy, spent the enforced break due to our early FA Cup exit pining for Dreamboat, though in truth we were also pining for a defence worthy of the name and the return from suspension of our one serious goal threat, Loic Remy.

When our on-loan French forward did pull on a black and white shirt again, against Aston Villa, he was a free man in the eyes of the law as well as the FA, the rape charge against him having been dropped. Nevertheless, he still took to the pitch shouldering a considerable burden - that of ending our embarrassing goal drought. Thankfully he was up to the task, our best player on the day who, having hit the post two minutes before full time, kept his cool to grab the winner with the whistle practically between referee Martin Atkinson's lips. Perhaps he's taking over the role of last-gasp saviour from Papiss Cisse - who, rumour had it, was interesting clubs in Russia and Turkey.

Despite an improved display that at least demonstrated tenacity and determination if not abundant quality, the victory was only papering over the cracks. That's what made Little Saint Mick's Torygraph article, published prior to the Villa win, so infuriating. The talk of "crisis" was coming from the media rather than the supporters, but that didn't stop him from having another pop at the people who helped pay his exorbitant wages while he lay on the treatment table for months at a time thinking of England. His view that, because we were comfortably in the top half of the table, there couldn't be anything to complain about was myopic in the extreme.

Many grievances of the sort Little Saint Mick tried to explain away or ignored entirely were aired at the Fans Forum meeting - the club's perceived lack of ambition, the sale of Dreamboat and bungled attempt to secure a replacement, the ban on NCJ Media, the value of the Sports Direct branding plastered all over the stadium - but the answers given were rarely convincing or satisfactory. Certainly not enough to dissuade those supporters already contemplating a boycott of the club shop, matchday facilities or indeed everything to do with the club - though the announcement of the annual accounts was accompanied by a veiled warning that such actions would harm the club rather than the owner.

The Fans Forum did bring news of a couple of positive developments, though, in the shape of Gael Bigirimana's appointment as Equality Ambassador and the club's formal commitment to the Football v Homophobia campaign. At least we appear to be taking corporate social responsibility seriously - though of course the positive PR can't do any harm.

Another candle in February's gloom was James Tavernier's shortlisting for League One Player of the Month for January. He may have missed out on the accolade, but it was nevertheless testimony to the fact that he and hopefully we are reaping the rewards of his loan spell at Rotherham - a spell that was extended until the end of the season. Haris Vuckic will be there to keep him company, while defender Curtis Good signed up for a stint with Dundee Utd. When the trio return to Tyneside in the summer and resume playing for the Reserves, it will be under a different manager, Willie Donachie having resigned following reports of a post-match bust-up with defender Remie Streete.

But of course the Scot wasn't the highest-profile departure from St James' Park in February. The news that JFK was no longer a leech on the club's payroll was greeted not so much with dancing in the streets as with relief and renewed anger that the appointment was made in the first place. A second pathetic transfer window in a row precipitated the parting of the ways - a classic case of every cloud having a silver lining. Initially it was reported that JFK had resigned, but the implication that he might have the decency to fall on his sword didn't ring true and sure enough the Silver Fox, whom JFK had frustrated and infuriated, soon let slip that the board had given him the boot. At the Fans Forum event club representatives confirmed that the director of football role will remain vacant until the summer, when it'll be re-evaluated and then either filled or scrapped. JFK, meanwhile, finds himself where he belongs - on the football scrapheap, alongside people less deserving of such a predicament, such as Terry McDermott and Derek Fazackerley.

Sadly, sacking JFK didn't signal the fact that common sense was finally pervading the decision-making process at St James' Park. Whichever bright spark it was who came up with the idea of the #AskTayls hashtag on Twitter must have been horrified when, inevitably, it was hijacked and abused, often to comic effect. One wag enquired of Saylor: "If you were a footballer, what would your preferred position be?" The mauling by Spurs had a few more Twitter users questioning his abilities in rather less tongue-in-cheek and rather more forthright fashion, prompting him to turn tail and quit the social network.

By contrast, Little Big Lad stayed to face the music, offering a one-word apology: "Sorry". At least someone at the club was prepared to say it - and, as February just went to prove, at Newcastle Utd it needs saying on a regular basis.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Heads (we win)

Hull City 1 - 4 Newcastle Utd

A magnificent away performance, including scoring four away from home for the first time this season, was sadly overshadowed by one rush of blood to the head of the Silver Fox.

However, before we get on to the negative, full credit should first be given to what was a brilliant away performance. Deprived of Sideshow Bob due to a family bereavement, Mike Williamson was this time partnered by MYM, with Paul Dummett continuing at left back in the absence of the injured Santon. Further forward, Loic Remy was partnered by Luuk de Jong, with Papiss Cisse dropping to the bench.

After an early Goofy miss, it was Hull who were on the front foot first with manager's son Alex Bruce drawing an outstanding double save from Tim Krul. Having gathered the ball at the second attempt, our Dutch custodian launched the ball forward and after a swift succession of passes the ball was fed to Mathieu Debuchy charging down the right. He cut the ball back to Moussa Sissoko who slammed the ball into the back of the net.

The home side came back, with both Nikica Jelavic and Ahmed Elmohamady heading wide when unchallenged and well placed. However, with half time looming, Maynor Figueroa's underhit back-pass allowed Remy to nip in and take the ball round home 'keeper (and shit Steve Harper) Allan McGregor and slot into the empty net.

Doubtless suitably inspired by the prospect of getting back into the fresh air having spent 15 minutes in a confined space with Ol' Cauliflower Face, Hull pulled a goal back when Curtis Davis rose highest to nod home Tom Huddlestone's free-kick beyond Tim Krul's flapping leap.

However, rather than let the home side press for an equaliser, we continued to play well, with Mini V performing particularly adeptly in midfield alongside Mr T.

Goofy it was who proved the catalyst for the next goal, with his long-range shot being spilled by McGregor straight into the path of the onrushing Sissoko, who calmly notched his second.

At which point things took a turn for the surreal.

In short, the ball squirmed out for a home throw in right in front of our technical area. Hull player David Meyler ran after the ball and shoved the Silver Fox out of his way with both hands, before collecting the ball. Pardew reacted strongly to the shove and walked towards Meyler, and effectively appeared to attempt to push him back, using his forehead instead of his hands. At which point, Meyler pushed Pardew again and embarked on a prolonged bout of finger-pointing and appeared to be suggesting that the two carry on their tete-a-tete outside.

The upshot of all this saw Meyler booked and the Silver Fox banished from the touchline.

With the Silver Fox now watching from the stands, Dan Gosling drove into the box before slipping and nocking the ball into the path of Dummett. His shot was deflected away but fell to Mini V at the back post who scored his first Premier League goal for the club, capping an outstanding display from the Dutchman.

However, it's a result which will be remembered for Pardew's moment of madness rather than anything any of our players did on the pitch.

Within hours the club had issued a statement confirming that the Silver Fox had been fined £100,000 and issued with a formal written warning. With the FA also paying close attention, the consequences for the club, and the Silver Fox in particular, look to become even worse.

While there is clearly no excusing Pardew for his actions, at the same time the mass hysteria which seemed to engulf certain elements of the media would suggest to anyone who hadn't seen it that the head butt was on a par with Zidane v Materazzi in the World Cup final, rather than a rather pathetic coming together between a man in his fifties who should know better and a Premier League footballer who shouldn't have pushed him in the first place. However, regardless of the shove, Pardew simply should not have responded. Whatever apology he issued afterwards will never remove the stain that this incident places on his CV going forward.  He's been heavily fined by the club (who frankly were never going to sack a man who has guided a club making profit to eighth in the table) and will undoubtedly be heavily sanctioned by the FA.

A dark mark against what should have been a real cause for celebration.

A Hull fan's perspective: Amber Nectar

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Sunday, March 02, 2014

Magpies help put Magpies to the sword

Paul's report on an, ahem, eventful match at the KC Stadium yesterday is to come, but in the meantime let's congratulate some of our loanees for enjoying unequivocally good afternoons.

At the New York Stadium, Rotherham racked up six goals without reply. James Tavernier and Haris Vuckic may be Magpies, but they showed little mercy towards birds of a feather Notts County. Tavernier opened the scoring with a classy free-kick, before Vuckic seized the opportunity afforded to him by a rare start, grabbing two goals (albeit both with the aid of considerable deflections).

There was also a goal for Conor Newton, who made the all-important breakthrough for St Mirren in their victory over Kilmarnock, but Shane Ferguson was again absent as Birmingham lost at Ipswich - not the ideal start to life without Terry Mac and Derek Fazackerley for Lee Clark.

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Quote of the day

"Went to London for dinner. Wish I hadn't. Scumbag football hooligans turn Covent Garden into a disgusting Cesspit"

Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, takes to Twitter to comment on Sunderland supporters enjoying themselves in the capital ahead of this afternoon's League Cup final.

Much as we like to mock the Mackems, on this occasion we're firmly in their camp. Post-Hillsborough verdict, you'd have thought Tory MPs would be rather more reticent to use such inflammatory language - though, as the FSF are keen to point out, football supporters continue to be demonised in certain quarters. In any case, as numerous people have pointed out on Twitter, there was much more littering and mess as a result of the celebrations surrounding William and Kate's wedding and the Jubilee, as well as every year after New Year's Eve and Ascot - presumably that put Mr Halfon off his supper too...

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