Thursday, December 23, 2004

View From The Home End

To follow up the latest View From The Away End feature (see above), we thought we should both offer some reflections and speculations of our own...

Paul: "Three words of advice as to where we need to strengthen in January: defence, defence, defence.

The first thing to address is who should we ditch from our current squad, and who should we cling onto at all costs.

On the untouchable front, we should bend over backwards to keep Bellamy, Jenas and Given, and really should give Bernard a new contract he's happy to sign (but I don't think that last one is going to happen).

Of those I'd like to see leave, only Dyer stands out as a good riddance to underperforming rubbish, although I would be inclined to take the money if anyone was foolish enough to offer us a good price for Titus.

Of the rest, I expect the injury-prone Ronny Johnsen depart when his contract expires in January, and wouldn't be surprised to see Laurent Robert given the chance to mix genius with petulence for another employer.

In terms of reinforcements, it's obvious that we need defenders and a commanding, competant centre-half who is not injury prone is a must. To that end, I'd like to think Boumsong can come in and fulfill that role, although if we can land Ledley King from Spurs I think he'd also be an excellent acquisition as would Sammy Kuffour.

I wouldn't be shocked, or particularly unhappy if we signed Michael Dawson from Forest as well to give a bit more depth to the squad, although his record with injuries hasn't been great this season, and Steven Taylor's emergence as a first team player with a massive amount of potential might satisfy the need for more depth without the need to spend any money.

If we are going to lose Bernard, we also need to be thinking about a new left back, but unless Wayne Bridge is really sick of the Chelsea bench I can't think of any other outstanding candidates.

If we are planning to flog Robert and Dyer, then some more midfield blood wouldn't go amiss. I'd plump for Andy Reid of Forest and wouldn't be surprised to see Souness return to Blackburn to try and pick up Barry Ferguson, although Scott Parker would also be welcome (injured foot permitting).

If we aren't planning to extend Kluivert's deal in the summer, then picking up Beattie if he becomes available wouldn't be a bad plan, but I'd rather that happened in June, as the priority for the money MUST be defenders.

Ben: "At the moment Newcastle fans appear to me to be divided into two camps: optimists who regard the January transfer window as some kind of panacea during which time we can make the changes that will completely transform and revitalise the club, with spring results sending us rocketing up the table; and pessimists who don't think Souness will be around for too much longer and are so petrified by his history in the transfer market that they are earnestly praying that January is an exceptionally quiet and uneventful month.

Though normally the glass-half-empty half of the B&W&RAO partnership, I'm not entirely on the pessimists' side of the fence - but neither do I subscribe to the rather naive fantasies of the optimists.

Shepherd is not about to admit his error in hastily appointing Souness just yet, so we're stuck with him for the time being at least, and as long as Fat Freddy has a fat finger in the pie of potential incomings and outgoings, there will be transfer activity of some sort.

On the other hand, I can see January being a crushing disappointment to anyone who thinks we'll be able to utterly revamp the squad. Transfers take time, and of all the moves we might potentially want to make, very few will come to fruition. Quite simply, we've got to be realistic and we've got to prioritise, and as nice as a new striker and a wide midfielder (left or right) would be, it's glaringly obvious that it's our horrendously porous defence that is in most desperate need of strengthening.

We need three or four players (especially if Johnsen goes), which means we'll probably end up with two - not necessarily a problem, as long as at least one of them is a commanding and experienced centre-half capable of shoring us up at the back and marshalling the halfwits he'll have to work with into some semblance of order and organisation. Boumsong still looks like a possibility, and Matthew Upson has been mentioned in the past. If we do make a move for Michael Dawson, we'll definitely need to bring in an experienced pro too - we've gone down the "talented but young and raw" route with Bramble and O'Brien and look where that's got us.

Further upfield, if Robert leaves as expected, having torched his bridges with Souness in spectacular style, then Stewart Downing would be a dream signing, and if Dyer packs his bags then Steed Malbranque would fit the bill perfectly - but why would either player want to leave for an underachieving club likely to miss out on the European places altogether? The same goes for players like Joe Cole, Ledley King and Wayne Bridge, all of whom we might at the start of the season have confidently expected to be at least interested in joining us.

Up front, with one eye on Shearer retiring, we could certainly do worse than monitor the situations of Robbie Keane and James Beattie, as well as taking an interest in Crewe's Dean Ashton and Ipswich's Darren Bent.

If Souness absolutely HAS to return to Blackburn to pick up a familiar face, I suppose we could do worse than Brett Emerton or David Thompson. Lorenzo Amoruso? PLEASE GOD, NO!!!

Also currently giving us nightmares is the distinct possibility that we'll be unable to shift any of the rubbish and that one of our must-keep players will depart, the favourite being Given. Fingers crossed we can persuade him to stay, at least until the summer.


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