Thursday, August 05, 2010

A Month Of Saturdays: July 2010

Prudence, caution, restraint. Hardly the most exciting approach to the transfer market, but in truth few clubs other than Man City have got all kid-in-a-sweet-shop wide-eyed and greedy, and for us at least it's very much a case of needs must - as Chris Hughton didn't really need to remind us. We were well aware that (to use the common parlance) "marquee signings" - the sort for which fans would flock to St James' and thence to the club shops to get a new name emblazoned on the back of their shirts - were unlikely to be forthcoming. But July did at least see the arrivals of two players to raise the spirits, if not quite quicken the pulse.

Probably most significant was Sol Campbell, who opted against staying on at Arsenal and rejected the overtures of Celtic (amongst others) in our favour. How much of an influence his new bride, Geordie Fiona Barratt, had over his decision is unclear, but I doubt I was alone in wondering whether she might be that rarest of things: a likeable WAG. The ex-England central defender, now 35, brings with him an expert reading of the game and a wealth of experience to pass on to our younger heads, and while his hefty £35,000-a-week salary crashes through Jabba's alleged wage ceiling, we're only committed to a year and so if it doesn't work out the damage won't be too lasting.

Also snapped up on a free transfer, after a protracted pursuit that dragged on for most of the month, was Dan Gosling, who chose to leave Everton when no formal contract offer was forthcoming. It remains to be seen whether he'll get the first-team football he craves, but he must now surely be closer to regular action than he was at the Toffees, where he had at least six fellow attacking midfielders ahead of him.

However, while the signings of Campbell and Gosling were pleasing coups (not least because we fended off interest from others and secured their services without having to pay a fee), I think it's fair to say we're still slightly wary of both players: Campbell after last season's brief, bizarre and mercenary dalliance with the other Magpies, and Gosling because of his allegedly ungentlemanly conduct in extricating himself from Everton's clutches.

The big question, of course, is: will their recruitment and that of our other less heralded newbie James Perch - a utility man most likely to feature in defence - be enough to ensure that we're able to retain our Premier League status rather than sliding back into the Championship? To which the sceptic in me gags the optimist and answers "Probably not". We're still short of a defensive midfielder to interchange with (or replace) Alan Smith and an out-and-out goal-getter - but thankfully reports of interest in the likes of Mathieu Flamini, Mahamadou Diarra and Mevlut Erding suggested Hughton is at least aware of our deficiencies.

One position in which we look genuinely blessed is between the sticks. Celtic were rumoured to be sweet on first choice Steve Harper, while Tim Krul was awarded a new four-year deal and his other understudy Fraser Forster was in demand by both Norwich and Burnley (though Clarets boss Brian Laws grew impatient and signed Lee Grant from Sheffield Wednesday instead).

Pre-season began at Brunton Park - minus Spidermag, given time off to recover from the exertion of watching from the bench as his compatriots suffered an undignified World Cup mauling at the hands of Germany. Carlisle were defeated 3-0 courtesy of a strong second-half showing, but more significantly Steven Taylor's comeback was curtailed by a shoulder injury. The subsequent operation and recovery will keep him out for three months.

Sloppy defending contributed to a disappointing 2-1 defeat at Carrow Road, and so it was little wonder that news of Campbell's capture three days later was so welcome. We also conceded twice to PSV Eindhoven in the home friendly arranged to mark the anniversary of Sir Bobby Robson's death, but fought back to claim a draw. Bigger Lad may have had the honour of the No 9 shirt bestowed upon him, but he ended the month without a pre-season goal to his name, Leon Best's strikes against Carlisle and our Dutch visitors making him the forward in form.

And finally there was light relief. We might not have found the preposterous declaration made by ASBO (appearances last season: 8, goals: 1) that he's "as good as anybody in this country" quite as amusing as others, but at least Ol' Cauliflower Face and the Plymouth board gave us a good chuckle by signing up Calamitous Bramble for the Mackems and appointing Monkey's Heed as their new manager respectively. I began this piece with the word "prudence" - needless to say, we've come a long way since then...


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