Friday, August 18, 2006

View From The Away End

Enough of our partisan ramblings. What do fans of other clubs make of our prospects? We asked Pete of Round And White, David of From The Doncaster Road End, Danny of Bitter And Blue and Swiss Toni and Lord Bargain of Cheer Up Alan Shearer for their views.


Pete: “So, a new season dawns for Newcastle and it seems as though the club have started exactly where they left off. While most clubs have been busy frittering their money away (this means you Man United and Chelsea), the most exciting thing to happen to the club this summer was Titus Bramble driving his Beemer into a garden wall in Norfolk. Ok, so they signed Damien Duff as well, but while he's definitely a top-class player, he won't be changing their fortunes a great deal.

Those now heavily ironic Northern Rock World Cup ads of Mickey heading off to Germany on a luggage belt captioned with "Can we have him back in one piece" highlight the problem for the Magpies. Where are the goals going to come from? Even when Owen returns, with Big Al gone, the club will still be searching for a 20 goals per-season forward, who is injury-resistant, physical, strong in the air and a consistently good finisher. Unfortunately for Newcastle, Ruud moved to Madrid, Berbatov signed for Spurs and Kuyt is overrated.

Happily, in Roeder, the team probably have a manager who is more capable than Souness ever was of making the most of the players he has available to him. Nevertheless, there must be a fair bit of head-scratching going on at St James'. Shay is thankfully still there, but the defence is yet to see any beefing up. As long as Emre, Parker and Dyer are all fit at the same time (a rarity last season), the midfield could prove handy. Up front, Glenn looks as though he'll be relying on Amoebi and Luque to put away the goals, at least until the transfer window reopens; not necessarily a pair that strike fear into the hearts into the defences of the top four. All in all, a recipe for results ranging from the tremendous to the terrible.

Time for me to stick my neck out then. Mid-table all season, quarter-finals of the league and FA cups and an embarrassing result against a Eastern European team in the 3rd round of the UEFA Cup”.

David: "At the end of last season, we were all hearing how great Harry Redknapp was for saving Portsmouth - mainly because he achieved Champions League qualification form by getting 20 points from 10 matches - but not many people mentioned Glenn Roeder. From his last 10 matches, he got 19 - over his time in the job, he got 32 points from 16 matches, and hauled the team into that Intertoto place, something that is easily mocked.

It is also worth remembering that this was without the over-priced Michael Owen. Don't get me wrong, if he regains his fitness, he will score twenty goals a season and be adored by the St James faithful. But without Shearer as well, we're told it becomes a tall task for Newcastle to obtain at least the modest objective of UEFA / Intertoto cup qualification - or so the press likes to tell us.

But that isn't the case - looking at Roeder's games in charge, it is clear that team was preparing for the departure of Shearer and adapting to not having Owen for the almost all of those games. Of 23 goals scored in open play, only three were scored by Shearer - six were Shola Ameobi's, the other 14 coming from eight players across the park, of which you still have all but Lee Bowyer. What's to say this form isn't going to continue?

Plus, there's the England effect - we've got a new manager, and Beckham has departed. Two Newcastle players have been called up to the under 21 squad - Milner and Taylor - but none to the main squad. I'm pretty sure that by 2008 Milner will want to be on the fringe of the squad, and that Scott Parker will want to be in it, and Kieron Dyer will want to get back in there.

I can't see you bringing home any silverware this year unless you get a lucky cup run. But that shouldn't be what this season is about - Roeder may not have the funds to buy anyone other than a bargain priced Damien Duff - this season is about building and stability for the club to move on. You don't need any new players - okay, maybe a striker might be useful - there's a terrific amount of untapped talent in that side, a solid midfield, an improving defence, a terrific keeper and a forward pairing of Ameobi and N'Zogbia that has potential and the ability to score.

That fifth, sixth place is going to be hard. There'll be Tottenham, West Ham, Everton at least to fight for it. The top four is going to be even harder. You have a long 38 weeks - don't give up five matches in. However, if you do meet Scunthorpe in a cup run, give us a break, hey?

Danny: “A surprise in the off-season has been the lack of reinforcements into both the defensive and striking departments – both areas identified from last season as needing improving. The loss of Shearer and Owen leave an attacking combination of Luque and Ameobi, who will not have Premiership defences overly concerned whilst a defensive partnership of Bramble and Boumsong leave opposing strikers salivating.

Still, a good reinforcement by Roeder was that of Damien Duff and at only £5 million must have left a few managers questioning why they didn’t make more of an attempt to sign him and it is Duff who I think could be the key to success this season, but will he have to carry too much of a burden attacking wise?

Roeder has also trimmed the squad, ridding the likes of Bowyer, Faye and Chopra and looks likely to lead the side in the UEFA Cup proper, successfully navigating the wastelands of the Intertoto.

Roeder was a strange appointment to me, and I would have thought that a “bigger” name with a greater track record could have been enticed following the World Cup – and surely Martin O’Neill would have chosen St James’ Park over Villa Park? To his credit though, he does appear a steady hand and the lack of a “headline” name at the helm may actually benefit the club.

Looking at last season, a final standing of seventh may have been slightly inflated but sort of position will again be the aim for this season. It is achievable if Roeder can garner a consistent season but the lack of attacking threat and distraction of a UEFA campaign could hit real Premiership hopes”.

Swiss Toni: “There surely isn’t a club anywhere in the world to compare with Newcastle. Oh yeah, I know that loads of other clubs have ambitions and expectations that far outstrip their achievements. Many have remarkably loyal fans that will put their hands deep into their pockets to follow their heroes to the gates of hell with precious little in return. Hapless, greedy, arrogant chairmen are ten a penny. And yet there’s something unique and special about Newcastle United and the way that they can turn even the sanest men into misty-eyed romantics. Logic tells me that although they have the makings of an enviable midfield (and Duff must surely be one of the steals of the summer), there simply isn’t anyone up front to score the goals needed to really threaten the top half of the table, even if the slightly hapless defence is able to concentrate for long enough to keep things tight at the back.

... and yet.

Somehow when I sat down to have a go at predicting the final standings (something you can do here), I found myself automatically placing the top five and then looking to see if I thought Newcastle might finish sixth. I quickly came to my senses and tucked them in at 11th, which if I applied more logic and less sentiment to my thinking, probably still looks too high.

And how did Glenn Roeder end up in the manager’s dugout when Martin O’Neill was clearly on the market? Roeder seems like a lovely man, and he did a great job towards the end of last season, but does anyone really believe he’s the man to turn things around and take the Toon back up the table? Really?

I wish you well, but I have my hankie at the ready

Nick: “I was walking past my local Ladbrokes the other morning when I spotted their Premiership betting poster in the window. Odds for the title for Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool… and Spurs. It was then that I realised what has happened to Newcastle United in the last few seasons. Have Newcastle ever been favourites for the Premiership? Maybe they haven't. Have they been on that top five list at the start of the season? Surely. And how recently? Two, three years ago?

I don't think Newcastle fans can expect anything different this season from last. As I have said before, you go back in time three years and tell a pub full of Toon fans that they would be fighting the Premier League to appoint Glenn Roeder as manager, and they would have laughed you out of the door. Whilst I admire his stance on signing hungry players (rather than the complacent shower of dross that millions has been wasted on over recent years) I am not sure he is the man to take Newcastle back into the Champions’ League. Far better would have been the appointment of someone like O'Neill or Le Guen.

And then there's the side. Damien Duff is an excellent signing. A midfield quartet of Parker, Emre, Duff and Solano is pretty good, and with back up in Milner, N'Zogbia and Butt that looks pretty strong. The defence still looks shaky - the addition of a Wayne Bridge would certainly help - and so I am not sure there will be enough clean sheets. But it is up front where Newcastle could face their biggest challenge this season. With an opening day strikeforce of Luque and Ameobi that is a hell of a burden for two unproven strikers to carry. It looks like Owen will miss most or all of the season and so the necessity to sign a proven goalscorer is immense. Having trifled with Kuyt and Martins to no avail, the latest few players they have linked with would make me decidedly pessimistic as a Toon fan. Henri Camara? Really?

So, I can see it being another mediocre season. I can't see the top five changing this year, and then there are probably three teams safe from relegation, of which Newcastle are one. What's the best that can be hoped for? Pushing Spurs for fifth? Pushing Bolton for eighth? Pushing the Boro for 15th? Who knows?"


Thanks to Pete, David, Danny, Swiss Toni and Nick for their views.


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