Saturday, 18 May 2013

New site

From now on I will be posting on rather than this site.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Integration time after safety secured

Well that wasn't expected. I'm feeling rather reflective but for entirely the wrong reasons. Following Newcastle United there should be a disclaimer everyone must sign acknowledging that they know it won't be an easy ride and this season it's been no exception.

But we're safe. We live to fight another day and we'll come back next season stronger. We couldn't possibly get any worse that's for sure. With a full pre-season under the belts of the full squad I'm confident we'll be an exciting prospect next year. The new signings will hopefully develop the form that they showed to convince us to sign them and the likes of Tiote and Cabaye - assuming he stays - find their feet once again. Pardew has a talented squad at his disposal and he needs to make the most of this summer. I've labelled Pardew tactically inept in the past and I hope he uses this summer to experiment with new formations, try out partnerships and to practise bloody corners. Hopefully the board has a few transfer targets in their sights, if we are to sign anybody I hope that it is wrapped up early so that we could integrate them also. Ashley isn't a fool, he won't make the same mistake twice. He'll strengthen. We've come to close to the drop this season to make everybody in black and white wake up. 

We've got winners in our side. Ben Arfa, Yanga-Mbiwa, Debuchy, Cabaye, Anita and Tiote have all won titles around Europe. We need to play a strong sides in cup competitions even if it is against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Look at Swansea and Wigan, I want some of that. 

I envisage us starting slowly as Newcastle tend to do before results start to pick up. We need to turn St James' back into what it was last season where only Chelsea, West Brom and Manchester City picked up 3 points as well as picking up points on the road. Newcastle fans deserve better and I'm not just saying that to be romantic, they truly one of the best supporters in the league. 

As for Pardew I'm assuming Ashley will stick by his man. If he is replaced I'll welcome it, if he stays I'll try my best to back him even if I really don't want to. Howay the lads, howay Pardew.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Season changing incidents

Sunday 17th March. I remember it well, it was my first away game supporting Newcastle United and I was ridiculously excited.

I remember the game vividly. From Debuchy's disallowed goal; the incidents pre-match; Beusajour's opener; Carver's scuffle; McManaman's tackle; Santon's equaliser and Kone's winner which secured all 3 points for the Latics. I've never been so angry at a football match and never witnessed as much injustice in one match.

For starters, there was McManaman's horror tackle on Massadio Haidara. It was high, it was reckless, it was dangerous and it should've resulted in a red card. Mark Halsey did not give the lad his marching orders as he claimed to have not seen the incident. Fair enough. His assistant however had and did nothing about it. This act of incompetence meant that young Haidara was writhing in agony and the lad who had injured him had escaped without a yellow card to his name. What infuriated me the most was the ignorance of the Football Association who decided not to intervene out of their own stubbornness. Less than two months later, the FA intervened to punish Luis Suarez for biting Branislav Ivanovic. The correct form of action without a doubt. There double standards seem to be sending out a message. You're allowed to attempt to break someone's leg but biting is unacceptable. If the lad was punished like the media and fans demanded then he would have sat out Wigan's next 3 games. He would've sat out the FA cup semi final vs Milwall. Instead he went on to score guaranteeing a spot at Wembley.

As well as this, Kone's winner was quite clearly handball. It was visible from the away end -at the opposite end to the incident - and from first viewing on television. How can the referee and the linesman fail to see something so obvious. Was it not suspicious that every Toon player in the penalty area appealed simultaneously? Confidence is pivotal in football. The fortuitous win spurred them to defeat Norwich in their next game whereas the defeat hampered NUFC's chances of survival. I said pre kick off at the DW that whoever won would stay up and I'm praying that doesn't come back to bite me in the arse.

If Wigan stay up at Newcastle's expense I will be angry. Of course it's purely hypothetical but doesn't mean it's not a vaild point. I recall Michael Owen having a goal disallowed for United in relegation season in 08.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

One change too many?

On Monday night, Gary Neville played devil's advocate and offered an alternative view on Newcastle's lack of success this season. Do Newcastle United have a few too many continental players or is it Pardew's inability/stubbornness to change his tactics that have failed him thus far?

Tactically, Pardew has been shambolic. At the back end of last season, Newcastle went on a run of a form which saw them blitz everyone and everything in their path securing six wins in succession. Furthermore this was all whilst using the 4-3-3 formation which accommodated Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse and the creative input of Hatem Ben Arfa into a devastating attack. Chelsea, West Brom and Swansea were beaten away and Liverpool were beaten at home in hilarious circumstances. Pardew could do no wrong even when we succumbed to an embarrassing defeat away at Wigan.

However, this season I don't know what sport Newcastle have been playing. I'm unfamiliar with this long ball technique Pardew has employed that sees the ball launched up to Papiss Cisse on his own? It doesn't work. It won't ever work. Pardew reverted to a 4-4-2 formation at the start of the season in order to satisfy Ba's desire to play in the middle. That decision was suicidal and cowardly by Pardew, no player is bigger than the club and no player should have the right to influence a manager's decision. Ba justified his argument by scoring nearly all of Newcastle's goals at the start of the season but his selfishness cost Newcastle dearly. It cost them when he demanded to be moved into the middle and when he jumped ship in January.

Papiss Cisse is a goalscorer. He is paid to score goals. Pass the ball in the box to him and he will probably score. So why didn't we do this? Pardew's man management has been very poor, he admitted that the two could not play together so why didn't he have the bottle to drop one or sign another striker in the summer? Why persist for twelve months? Answers on a flippin' post card please! When Ba did depart, Pardew reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation which with our players should suit us. However, the form of our players has been dire, players such as Tiote has seemingly lost the ability to pass and Coloccini has looked a shadow of the enforcer he was last season which won him a place in the PFA team of the year. Pardew's ineptness tactically has made the toon suffer. Playing players such as Gutierrez at left back on derby day was suicidal, playing Sissoko in centre attacking midfield when he is a centre defensive midfielder is idiotic and playing Shola on the wing earlier in the season was pathetic. Play the players in the right positions Alan and we might have a chance of actually winning a game!

Since the arrival of the french imports, Newcastle improved gradually and put together a decent string of results. However, the last few games have been utterly shambolic from a United point of view. Losing a home derby to Sunderland is inexcusable and in the manner we did, sackable. Losing to Liverpool 0-6 at home is inexcusable and in the manner we did, sackable. Finding ourselves in the relegation fight is disheartening. We deserve to be there on the standard of football and inability to see games out. But when you compare NUFC's squad to the teams in and around them it's laughable. Do the players  know what football means to geordies, to this city? Perhaps Gary Neville was right.

The only way they can prove they do know is by staying up and starting next season in style. If we fail? God help us.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

My days in Toon #2

After getting my head down with one of my assessments I received an email from Rob inviting me to the press conference for my 2nd and final day of work experience. Initially it was for the West Brom presser before it was changed to the Liverpool match due to changed travel arrangements.

I met Rob at the Sir Bobby statue once more at 9.30 in my blue coat which I think he was sick of seeing. Once again, it was bloody chucking it down. Marc (@MarcJobling) was running slightly late so we made our way to the office he shares with the rest of the boys. Sky sports news was on in the distance, I caught a glimpse of Dortmund's or rather Lewandowski's goals from the night before. I sat down observing Rob sort out his desktop. Whilst he went to retrieve Marc I was given the opportunity to put something together on Rob's Haris Vuckic video. I attempted to implement a PiP effect and failed, my video editing only stretches to Windows Movie Maker although one of my videos did reach 150,00 views on YouTube!

After this, Marc and I followed Rob pitch side where we waited for the players to come out. He showed us his camera, showed us the features he would use and the different microphone settings before stopping to film the lads coming out. I couldn't believe it. The lads I pretty much worship - okay maybe not as much this season - were stood right in front of me. Then I saw Shola. In the flesh. Smiling. Laughing. jhgkjgkgjd. Rob filmed the lads as they went for a run and told us what sort of shots he could obtain. For example, Pardew was in the foreground and the players were just about to run past in the background. He caught this shot and before seeing that I hadn't appreciated the thought that went into camerawork.

We changed various positions around the stadium and I noticed something. St James' should never be empty, it feels wrong. Artistically, Rob positioned himself behind Ian Horrocks or 'Horrocksy' as he is referred to. The lads were still warming up and for a few seconds I forgot that I was on work experience. The temptation to shout 'I LOVE YOU' was overcoming but I kept shut. Then the lads changed to a crossing exercise and to be honest it was shambolic. In half an hour, they scored 5 goals.  Marc and myself were given the chance to film for a short period of time, Marc caught a goal and I caught a lot of wayward passes.

We went back upstairs and Rob uploaded the footage to his laptop. He showed us our footage and give us some feedback. He told us the focus should be the ball and that it should be central at all times. I anticipated the final destination of the ball rather than the actual pass at times. He edited out the clips that were not needed and gathered about 8 minutes of quality footage. What I didn't realise was that Rob had taken individual footage of players such as Coloccini and Tiote as he was anticipating that Pardew would talk about them in his presser and he was right. Derek Llambias walked in through the door, said hello to everybody, picked up the papers and said 'I wonder who we're signing today'. I wanted to shake his hand, Ashley and Llambias have got a lot of unfair stick and I wanted to say 'cheers' but as a fan.

Marc and I went for lunch and were told to head back for 1.15 as the press conference started at 1.30. We arrived back at 1.17 and were not retrieved due to a text message failing to send to tell Rob we were back. After the press conference Rob asked us why we were late and that in this industry it was unacceptable as it was a time sensitive job. He said it was a lesson we had to learn and don't worry I did. The presser itself was similar to the post-Southampton one but even still I thoroughly enjoyed it. I introduced myself to Lee Ryder and Miles Starforth but I stopped due to the start of the presser. There was so many questions I wanted to ask Pardew or lecture Pardew on but I knew I had no right to and that I'd embarrass Rob. I wouldn't have had the balls anyways.

Rob needed to retrieve a disc from the training ground and so we had the opportunity to visit. We piled into Rob's car with another lass (who's name escapes me) and headed to Benton. It was a much more relaxed conversation in the car then it had been previously. At the training ground, Rob retrieved his disc and introduced us to the analysts. That'd be an amazing job. He gave us a tour of the place where we saw the gym, the ice bath, the boot room and the indoor pitch. Whilst in the indoor pitch I started laughing as I realised it was the place they used to film a scene in 'Goal' where Erik Dornhelm tells Santiago Munez 'the name on the front of the shirt is bigger than the name on the back'. After this, we walked back through the corridors to Rob's car where I clocked the inspirational quotes on the wall and statistics for the upcoming match vs Liverpool.

Rob dropped us back, mentioned en route about the fight you need to succeed and encouraged us to get in touch for any advice or references as long as we're not inundating him! 2 unforgettable days that have spurred me on for more. In a few years, I'll buy him a pint.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

My days in Toon #1

'Sort yourself some work experience and then we'll talk' were the words the careers adviser muttered. 'I'll try my best' I replied. 'Experience is everything, you need a portfolio'. I knew that. I'd be trying for months to arrange something. Just as I was about to give up for a few months, I sent a DM on Twitter to Rob Scanlon of NufcTV and to my surprise he replied with some tips on how to improve my CV as well as a potential placement. 

Thankfully and fortuitously Rob did get back in touch offering me the chance to showcase my skills in the press box vs Southampton as well as shadow him filming and interviewing fans. Brilliant! I can't remember what I did but I probably did a Stevie T fistpump in excitement. 

I met Rob at the Sir Bobby Robson statue at 11.45 and it was chucking it down. Rob came out and introduced himself to myself, Marc (@MarcJobling) and Jubilee (@JJJubilee) who were also on placement. We piled into the elevator that took us to level 7 and Rob showed us the offices in which he works along with the rest of the media team. He sat us all down and explained the do's and the don'ts such as celebrating in the press box. That was going to be tricky, 3 days earlier I woke up the neighbour's bairn celebrating Shola's penalty vs Metalist.  After this, he outlined the itinerary. Due to it being 'french day' proceedings were different. Rob was required to capture more footage of the fans than usual such as those in fancy dress and wearing French themed face paint. As well as this, we stopped to film the french dancers which I don't think any of us minded. My job was relatively simple, alert Rob if we see anyone he may miss. 

This lad was on fire

After this, we headed to level 7 where my season ticket is located. Luckily, we didn't have to trail the steps like I do most match days, we took the lift. I observed Rob interview families and young children who were more than enthusiastic on camera. After this I was offered the opportunity to interview a boy of about 8 which I grabbed with both hands. I rattled off my first question and the young boy replied happily explaining why he was dressed up and who helped design it. I panicked briefly during it as words escaped me for a second before I regained thought. The young lad enthused about Yoan Gouffran and how he was his new favourite player and then the interview finished. Rob gave me some brief feedback, saying I spoke with clarity but that I started too quickly and that I should always check with the cameraman first. Silly me. Humorously one of the french dancers offered me a free t-shirt; she'd mistaken me for a little lad. Slightly embarrassing but I got a free t-shirt! We headed down to pitch side where Rob filmed some crowd shots before showing us to our seats in the press box. What a view. It was remarkable to see St James' from this perspective with the crowd filing in and the black and white shirts on display. As the teams came out of the tunnel to the french national anthem - which was utterly bizarre - I felt proud. The french flag began to form and I was smiling like a cheshire cat. 

As the game settled down, it was the Southampton fans making all the noise in level 7. They then had more reason to cheer when Schneiderlin fired home early on. A bloody frenchmen, irony at its finest. Here we go again I thought. I checked the replay to see if it was a legitimate goal and made a note of the scorer of the goal and the time it went in. I'd done a fair bit of research for the game and had prepared a sheet with the player's names, numbers, goal time and formation which I added to before kick off. 

In the half an hour before Sissoko's equaliser I imagined what Ryan the fan would be doing right now. More than likely, I'd be going mad, letting my mouth go a bit too much and calling them all useless. But I was calm. When Gouffran raced down the left side menacingly, I could feel the whole stadium creep forward on their seats and when Sissoko poked in, nothing happened on my part. Astonishingly, I sat as if we hadn't scored. I turned to see the lads celebrate and I looked round at the Gallowgate and to the Leazes to see the geordie faithful going nuts. When Cisse hammered home that monster of a volley I did nothing as well. Don't ask how, I don't know! I must've been in the zone; smiling no doubt. 

At half time I was about to start typing the start of my 400 word match report that I'd be assigned to do by Rob but before I could begin I was whisked off to the press room where I was easily the youngest there. I had some tea and tasted the nicest brownie ever. As I looked around me, I couldn't believe who was in the same room as me: Supermac, John Anderson and pretty much all the journos I follow on Twitter. 
Rob told me that he'd like the match report pretty much completed by the 90th minute. I started it and just as I'd formed a decent structure, Lambert equalised for the Saints. Not to worry, we have a game on our hands now I thought. I ended up changing my report 3 times and managed to have it done on the final whistle.

How could I not love these guys?
After the game we went back into the press room and I watched the press interview Pardew and Pochettino which was a really interesting experience. As I walked out with Rob back to his office he explained what he's do with the footage, showed us what he'd made for the Kharkiv match and then went onto explain what our second and final day of work experience would entail. What a brilliant day. I learnt a lot and every question I asked was answered. I was told of the not so glamorous side of this line of work but it's spurred me on more.

I think I thanked Rob about a thousand times. I'll say it again for good measure, cheers Rob.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Pride and Parity Need To Be Restored

Losing isn't nice. Losing to Sunderland isn't nice either and in the manner we did, inexcusable.

In blunt terms, we've been nothing short of diabolical. We've failed to reach realistic expectations and to build upon last season's fairy tale. When we have played well - rare occasion I hastily add - it has only been for one half. We have failed to dominate games, dominate teams nor dominate the derby like we have done in recent years.

Next season, things have to change. Is the manager to blame? Is he tactically inept? Is he stubborn? Does he motivate his players enough? These are the sorts of questions that many have tried to answer on forums, on Twitter and in pubs. Assuming he stays, Newcastle have to hit the ground running in August. We cannot blame the Europa League and we cannot blame lack of depth. Hopefully Ashley will allow whoever the manager is to strengthen in the summer, another striker and creative midfielder would be preferable and I pray that he learns from his mistakes last summer when we failed to strengthen and it cost us.

As a die hard geordie, this week has been torture. Losing 0-3 to the mackems on our own patch was arguably as bad as the feeling Sunderland felt when they were demolished 5-1 in 2010. When the fixture list comes out, I want the players to be eager to make amends. I want them to walk the walk instead of just talking it. I want to batter them.

When you look at our squad of players, it's evident that on talent alone Newcastle don't deserve to be lingering near the bottom half of the table. It's quite laughable when you compare Stoke City's squad to our own, we should be in the top 8 comfortably and consistently. But we aren't and we don't deserve to be. For the sake of this football club, for pride and for monetary reasons we need to be there again as soon as possible. We need to find a formation that suits us, we need to hit form, we need to cut out the silly excuses, we need to have more players contributing goals and we need St James' rocking again. Too much to ask for?

For my sanity, restore parity Newcastle.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Harsh Reality Should Serve As Encouragement

Losing any quarter final is bad but in the fashion Newcastle departed the Europa League, there is a sense of unfinished business. There was just one too many mistake in the first leg which always allowed Benfica that safety net even if we did score one first.

The late goal tells only half the story and evokes painful memories of previous European heartbreak. How did we allow ourselves to be so caught up in it? Probably because we've be so poor domestically that maybe it was 'our year' and that we'd be able to replicate Chelsea's European success in some way. It wasn't to be, naturally.
Good to see this man amongst the goals

There was an air of optimism before kick off that I'm sure translated to the players. Mike Williamson, Danny Simpson, Massadio Haidara and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa all defended superbly in the 1st half. I can't fault Williamson's performance, he stuck to his task well, he won the ball in their every time and didn't do anything daft with the ball. How good was it to see Haidara playing as well? He's a very lucky lad.

We now have a goal for next season, to secure a European spot. Hopefully the departure from the competition will leave them relishing more. Players such as Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Mattheiu Debuchy and Moussa Sissoko moved for European football and to enhance their national call up chances so we've got the quality. We finished 5th with a decent squad, come next season we could finish 5th with a brilliant squad.

This season will be forgotten and it's imperative that we make strides net year. Ashley will learn from his mistakes last year and strengthen. If we can get another striker in through the door and arguably another creative midfielder/proper out and out winger I think we could be in for a magical season.

As a closing thought, pretty please can we give the mackems a thrashing? Cheers in advance.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Time To Click Into Gear

Football's unpredictability never fails to amaze and with the latest bunch of results, Newcastle will have to be wary of the teams in and around them.

They'll have to focus more on the Premier League than they perhaps would have liked to as Southampton, West Ham and Wigan all won at the weekend and the teams below are making some ground on Newcastle and Southampton's win over Chelsea took them into 12th. Incredibly, Newcastle are 3 points from 11th and 3 points from 18th. Wigan's 2 successive fortuitous wins have closed the gap and has ignited another nervy end to the season for the teams near the bottom of the table. How is it that when the clocks go forward that Wigan start to play like Barcelona? 

A win against Fulham on sunday is vital for Newcastle. If they win they'll be on 36 points and assuming 3 other teams drop points Newcastle will be in a better position than they are currently. As well as this their next game is Sunderland and this will be no easy task especially with the recent introduction of the fiery character, Paulo Di Canio as their head coach. However, Fulham have won their last 2 games and although their away record is infamously diabolical they will fancy their chances against a Newcastle side that has not made St James' Park the fortress it was last year. 

Newcastle need to click into top gear immediately and have no excuses. The Europa League is there for the taking and many fans including myself will be horrified if they throw the competition in order to focus on Premier League survival. There's 3 worse teams in the league than Newcastle however I am aware of the Toon's past complacency such as when they were relegated a few years ago. The issue is goals and negative tactics. Papiss Cisse works his socks off up top on his own but cannot bang them in every week without willing runners. The loss of Ba and Ben Arfa are obvious factors for the lack of goals however in the league players such as Yoan Gouffran and Sylvain Marveaux need to start scoring in order to move away from the bottom of the table. When Newcastle are clear of the relegation zone they can focus 100% on the Europa League but if they are knocked out then it may be too late. They need to juggle the competitions for 2 weeks and utilise players such as Gouffran in the Premier League who is ineligible. 

If Newcastle can achieve a 0-0 draw in Lisbon/score a vital away goal before win on Sunday then they're in a fantastic position to push on in Europe and the Premier League. As for the derby, north east football fans are aware that form counts for absolutely nothing: whoever wants it, wins it.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Why football is at risk of becoming the laughing stock of international sport

Why do we watch sport? Is it the elation of winning or is it the drama that could amass at any moment?

Drama runs through the heart of football, on and off the pitch. Players score last minute goals, players escape red for 2 footed lunges and managers can be sacked at any moment. But when does it get a bit silly? As I write this I’ve just read on the BBC Sport website that Michael Appleton has been sacked after 67 days in charge of Blackburn Rovers. What is even more remarkable is that this was Appleton’s 3rd managerial role since the end of 2011 and Blackburn’s 5th manager since September 2012. Matt Smith, the Doctor Who star, described the Venkeys who run Blackburn Rovers as ‘numpties’ and it’s hard to disagree. Where is the loyalty in football? If Sir Alex Ferguson was sacked in the first 3 years of his reign, Manchester United would still be languishing behind Liverpool and would not be the club they are today.

As a Newcastle supporter I felt aggrieved on Sunday when Callum Mcmanaman was not shown a red card for his lunge that saw young Frenchmen Massadio Haidara fall to the floor in agony. Evidence has shown that the referee Mark Halsey did not see the incident however it has been proven that the assistant had a clear view but did not raise his flag. This is outrageous. In 2013 football is miles behind other sports in the way the game is patrolled. Why can’t there be a 10 second break in play when the ball goes out to review the challenge? This argument supports goal line technology as well but I think everyone’s heard too much on that subject.
The Horror Tackle

Arguably, football wouldn’t be the game it is without controversy. But when players have their legs broken and teams aren’t awarded blatant goals the feeling of injustice is justified and needs to be rectified. Take cricket and football as an example, the ball travels at over 100MPH yet technology allows us to track the movement off the ball and can provide replays in seconds. FIFA’s stubbornness is perplexing.

The FA's response to the incident has been nothing short of disgraceful. Wilfred zaha has been banned for responding angrily to racism yet Mcmanaman walks away unscathed.  You can't make it up. The FA is an embarrassment to the home of football and I agree with Llambias' comments on the NUFC website.Football is crying out for consistency. In one game a two footed lunge which misses the player and the ball can be given as a red due to intent but tackles that result in broken legs can not be dealt with retrospectively if the referee saw it. Where is the logic in that? Rugby has benefited from the technology and has lead to a fairer and more exciting game. Teams can’t rely on poor decisions anymore; they require a high standard of sport from the first minute to the last.Although football may be the biggest sport on the continent, in terms of sense it is very much near the bottom of the list. Technology won’t kill football, it’ll enhance it. What example does it set for up and coming coaches if managers are dismissed 67 days into a job?

Football is an incredible game. Sometimes it's so incredible, it's unbelievable. And sometimes it’s just plain daft.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Is the fairy tale possible?

Tomorrow, it'll mark 3 years since Newcastle played Scuthorpe in the Championship. It will also see a french flavoured Newcastle face Wigan after defeating a spirited Anzhi Makhachkala to reach the quarter final of the Europa League in midweek.

What an achievement. What a job Mike Ashley, Derek Llambias, Chris Hughton, Colin Calderwood, Alan Pardew, John Carver and our players have achieved. It's funny to think that this season's achievements are a bit of a disappointment but last season was a fairy tale. Is there a possibility that the next chapter could be about to be written? Could the slipper find the princess? Possibly. Likely? Who cares?

Goalscorer and the man of the match.
In a season where Bradford have reached the Capital One cup final it is clear anything can happen. Fortune favours the brave and brave men make fairy tales great. Newcastle have been this and more in the Europa League. Pardew gambled in Kharkiv and won. Pardew gambled against Anzhi and won. I wonder what he'll do against Benfica? We've got the talent and depth to give it a go as well. The January signings have added quality as well as numbers. They've all hit the ground running; Debuchy and Gouffran are ineligible in Europe but this means that we have them available and hopefully hungrier to play in the Premier League in which we're almost mathematically safe. Haidara has looked decent when he has started, Yanga-Mbiwa and Taylor have been superb at the back and Sissoko has been a monster in the midfield. With Papiss Cisse seemingly getting back amongst the goals and Shola's incredible record in Europe our attack can hurt Europe's defences. If Yohan Cabaye is fit for both legs and Tiote manages to recall how to pass we're in with a shot. The derby days after the 2nd leg will pale into insignificance if we beat the Portuguese side.

In regards to the league, it is both a realistic and sensible goal to aim for 10th. Personally, finishing 17th would suit me if it meant European glory. This season's final league position will not be representative of what this team can achieve. I'm not saying we should throw away our games but importance should not be placed on the Premier League game if there is a Europa League game in midweek. We should look to emulate Swansea when they secured silverware after choosing to rest key players vs Liverpool.

Is it daft to dream? Once upon a time there was a wee club in the North East of England who went by the name of Newcastle United. They slayed dragons, ugly sisters and mackems, can Shola slay Europe?

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Does nationality matter?

Recently I've read a lot of comments regarding Newcastle's influx of new signings. Some neutrals are claiming that fans of Newcastle United are unhappy with the number of foreign players who play for NUFC rather than geordies.

That statement is wrong and does not in any way shape or form represent the view of the majority of Newcastle fans and I'll explain why. It goes without saying that we'd prefer if everyone who lined up in the tunnel was born down the road and had a geordie accent but we aren't complaining when the likes of Hatem Ben Arfa and Moussa Sissoko are donning the black and white shirts; times have changed.

Also, if British talent wasn't so horribly overrated and overpriced maybe Mike Ashley might even consider it - at the moment it doesn't even enter into his mindset. Why? Jordan Henderson from Sunderland for £20 million. Yohan Cabaye from Lille the French Champions for £3.5 million. Who's the better player? Who's adapted quickest? Who's of international class and maintains his position in the national side? Cabaye is just one example but the same could be said of Ben Arfa, Sissoko, Yanga-Mbiwa, Cisse, Tiote and to a lesser extent Gouffran. Downing, Sturridge, Joe Allen, Andy Carroll and Adam Johnson are all examples of inflated prices for players who have been signed for their nationality and to appease fans rather than for the benefit of the football club.

Andy Carroll learnt his trade at Newcastle, impressed for a year and a half in the Championship and briefly in the Premier League before being sold to Liverpool for £35 million. It's astonishing, Mike Ashley must have laughed his way to the bank in a similar way football fans are laughing at Liverpool's transfer policy in general. Statistically, Carroll was average for Newcastle. Liverpool attempted to take advantage of his hot streak in the top flight and failed. With the money from that one sale, Ashley and Pardew were able to fashion a team which was then to finish above Liverpool in the following season.

More of this please Mr Ashley
But I've got off topic a little bit. It makes sense to buy cheap, achieve success and then if the price is right sell. Take Yohan Cabaye as an example, we bought him and he's achieved success with us. We've scratched his back; he's scratched ours. The likelihood is that Cabaye will be sold sometime in the future but he won't go for cheap and Ashley will do his best to pin him down with a new contract. Newcastle can easily make £12-15 million profit on Cabaye as he's impressed in his 2 seasons in the top level. He's brought versatility, flair, potency, goals and assists to Newcastle and I'd much prefer him to some wannabe David Batty from Red House Farm or worse another Nile Ranger.

However, I would be extremely disappointed if our match day squad did just become all foreigners. I want success and I'm not fussed who plays in the team but I would like to see local lads/Englishmen in and around the first team like Carroll was 4 years ago. Hopefully, Adam Campbell will even break into the elite. I have high hopes for him.

I'm proud to support Newcastle and I'm proud that I support a self sufficient club who hopefully can continue to show the rest of football how a modern day football club should be run. Ashley's took some stick in the past but I can only commend him for what he's done at Newcastle United. He's stuck in at running a football club just like the Newcastle players have since they were promoted in 2009.

Nationality doesn't matter to me, nor does race or sexuality. If someone plays for the shirt I'll support them and I'll sing their name in St James' Park. If he's local, great. If he's not, so what?

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Ball is in Newcastle's Court

Since Ashley invested in Newcastle's french contingent, things have really started to pick up at Newcastle United. The club has recorded 3 wins in the Premier League and managed to progress in the Europa League.

A quick analysis of the table adjacent suggests we're in a much better position than we were 3 weeks ago. For starters, we're ahead of the mackems. As well as this, we've managed to pull away from QPR, Reading, Villa and Wigan who are lurking perilously close to the drop zone. The win away at Villa was pivotal and the turning point in our season without a doubt but the win over Southampton is up there with the Chelsea result. The Chelsea result would of mattered for little if we were unable to add to it without victory over the Saints. But we did win and we're on the up. In his post match press conference, Pardew suggested that 10th was a real possibility and that's what they're striding for at the moment. We currently sit on 30 points and the team in 10th (Stoke) have 33. This is very much achievable, 3 points in the Premier League is vital, Stoke, Fulham, Norwich and West Ham are all likely to lose more than one of their remaining games and I'm confident Newcastle can improve on what has been a disastrous season so far. What remains to be seen however, is whether or not Newcastle will be able to juggle the European commitments. Pardew has stated that he will take the competition seriously - we have the depth to compete in two competitions it's a question of whether we're able to perform well in two. On a positive note,  Newcastle are closer to 6th than they are 20th.

In our next few games there is potential to pick up points. Our next trip sees us travel down to Wales to play Swansea who beat Bradford in the Capital One cup final. Hopefully, the Swans will be hungover from their cup antics and Newcastle will be able to sneak a point or even a win. When Birmingham won the competition 2 years ago, their league form suffered. Hopefully Newcastle will benefit from something similar. Squeezed in between the next league fixture is the away leg of the European tie which will see the Toon play Anzhi Makhachkala. If the lads can score an away goal we'll be in a great position to progress. Then we play Stoke at home - a very winnable game. We beat them comfortably at St James' last season but they did beat us 2-1 at the Brittania this year. If we're to maintain our charge up the table, one would assume a win against Stoke is imperative. It's achievable but it's difficulty must not be underestimated.

The ball is in Pardew's and Newcastle's court, it's just what we do with it.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Getting the job done and progressing

In my previous post, I gave my arguments for why Newcastle should have fielded a strong team against Metalist Kharkiv. In the aftermath of the result I believe many more fans are realising why they should have too.

We have something to strive for now. In a year where Bradford have reached the League cup final why shouldn't Newcastle United fans feel optimistic about progressing in the Europa League? After thursday night's performance hopefully we've sent out a message to the other teams left in the competition; we're not going to roll over. We did what we had to - score in the Ukraine. It was left to Shola again who dispatched his 15th European goal from the penalty spot. Remarkable.

Newcastle played well, we kept possession nicely in the first half an hour and contained them manfully. It was evident we didn't want to concede and at the back we looked solid. Up top we didn't look as sharp however we still showed signs that we could hurt them through Sissoko, Cisse and Shola. Thankfully, Papa Gueye decided to hand the tie to us with a comical back pass which left his 'keeper stranded in no mans land .We took advantage and now we're through thanks to some heroics from Tim Krul.

Now we need to push on. A win at Southampton is a must and very much achievable with Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran coming back into the side. From there, hopefully we can take advantage of Swansea's jubilation/misery by turning them over on their back yard or by nicking a point. Michael Laudrup has turned them into a decent side - a point is a decent result. Then we face Anzhi in Moscow. They sit 2nd in the Russian league and possess some quality players with the most recognisable being Samuel Etoo. If we can get an away goal and keep the tie low scoring Newcastle have every chance of progressing. By the time the tie comes around we will have players such as Hatem Ben Arfa at our disposal as well as hopefully an in form Papiss Cisse. On home soil with the backing of a bouncing Strawberry Corner who knows what may happen? Pardew's team selection against Kharkiv was a signal of intent - we're going for it. I can't wait and I haven't been as excited in a very long time. Long may it continue!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Why a result in the Ukraine is vital to Newcastle's resurgence

Last season Newcastle United finished 5th which secured a European place and European nights for Newcastle supporters. But they now are in a precarious predicament, do they sacrifice Europe to focus solely on premier league survival or do they dare to dream and juggle both?

As far as I'm concerned, not attacking Thursday night's game is suicidal and would be idiotic. Why? What was the point I'm qualifying for the competition in the first place? Thankfully Pardew has been quoted as saying that he will attack Kharkiv as 'we want to win something'. So do I and his squad selection matches his words. We now have the players to accommodate both competitions and mount a serious challenge for the Europa league. Sounds absurd but it really is my view. We have quality in depth in every position apart from up front although I'm hoping Yoan Gouffran proves me wrong. All we need is a score draw in Kharkiv to progress. One positive from last Thursday was that we didn't concede an away goal. We also proved that we can score goals past them. But playing Metalist in Kharkiv provides a much trickier affair. We're away and in uncharted territory - playing in temperatures unimaginable and unenviable.

An argument posed by many NUFC fans were along the lines of 'Sunday is a must win game, lose it and our season is gone'. Our season has already gone and I think Pardew/Ashley/Llambias know that. Although this may sound cocky, there are 3 worse teams than Newcastle in this year's premier league. We can afford to not be as worried as were after the defeat to Reading. If we play our strongest team tomorrow and then go out then we have no excuse for premier league failures that may befall us. What will be to blame then? Also, if we do progress surely we'll have something to aim for rather than finishing 15th in the league. Personally I'd take 17h in the league if it meant we reached the final of the Europa league and were in contention to win a trophy.

The squad Pardew has chosen to take with him is the one is a nice blend although his inclusion of so many first teamers surprises me and excites me. I would of left a centre back at home and left either Anita/Tiote at home to prevent any injuries/have fresh legs come Sunday. Id use Sissoko as an impact substitute as well. We also have Gouffran, Ben Arfa and Debuchy all available for Sunday as well as those who don't make the first XI against Kharkiv. So the argument for fresh legs from toon fans is invalid in my opinion.

We can do it. Fortiter Defendit Triumphans but only if we get that elusive away goal.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Newcastle roller coaster takes new twist

It's not often you can come away from a football match feeling both joyous and bewildered but that's exactly how I felt walking down from level 7 on Saturday. Newcastle United, the wee club in the north east had managed to nullify and defeat the reigning champions of Europe, snatching the game with a late winner. A result even Alex Ferguson would be proud of.

There's something about NUFC that's special. Something that separates it from every other club. Every time you try to escape the chaos, something extraordinary happens. In the latest twist, it was a gift from across the  water in the shape of Yohan Cabaye, Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran. They led the Toon to victory with Moussa Sissoko steamrolling everyone and everything.

I went into Saturday's game slightly more optimistic. The vital win at Villa settled my nerves and meant I had some belief that we could our season back on track. I hoped for a draw and felt it was achievable - Eden Hazard was suspended and Turnbull was likely to be in goal. As I took my seat at the back of the rollercoaster, I prayed we didn't suffer the fate as Aston Villa when they succumbed to an 8-0 defeat. My heart sank when I found out Juan Mata was fit and Petr Cech returned between the sticks. We would have to on the top of our game and I was aware Chelsea have a better away record under Benitez then they do at Stamford Bridge.

After 40 minutes of relatively enjoyable football, something miraculous happened. Jonas Gutierrez scored. That's a miracle. He even scored with his head, possibly the first header he's won in a black and white shirt! My eyes were surely deceiving me? It was fantastic wing work from Santon on the left for the goal and thankfully he's looked more composed in the last few games. He's been one of Newcastle's best players this season but has suffered recently. Hopefully, the assist will do him the world of good. His performances have not gone unnoticed and he's since been called up and played a full 90 minutes for Italy.

But Chelsea fought back with 2 wonder goals. Frank Lampard blasted in from 25 yards. Brilliant goal from the Chelsea talisman but I'm annoyed we sat back. Too many times we've invited pressure on ourselves and it nearly cost us. Minutes later Juan Mata put Chelsea into the lead with a delicious finessed finish past Tim Krul. We weren't outplayed, we were victims of 2 unbelievable goals. For the next 10-15 minutes we were mere passengers and didn't look at all interested until Papiss Cisse left John Terry on his backside and played in the impressive Gouffran. Gouffran raced through on goal and did well to power a shot goalwards. Cech saved but could only parry to the onrushing Sissoko who adopted a very good attacking position and was able to slot home for his debut goal. A very good finish from the frenchman but a poor mistake from the experienced Cech.

I was delighted with 2-2. We'd fought our way back into the game and were giving Chelsea a game which was refreshing to see. But my highlight was to come; Sissoko chased down a lost cause, kept the ball in play,  knocked the ball past Ashley Cole and out sprinted him. Utter madness but one of the best things I've ever seen at St James' Park. The crowd went nuts - it was evident the Toon army had taken the lad to their hearts already. Little did they know, he was to become an instant hero. For his next trick, he picked up the ball, spread it out wide to Santon who played it back to him. From 20 yards, Sissoko fired home. Pandemonium. Ecstasy. Joy. 3 words I haven't been able to say since Chelsea away last season. What a player, what a game. We'd nicked it at the death.

Where do we go from here? Upwards. Avoid any unnecessary bumps in the track and push on. With the return of Cabaye and the influx of new signings, we have a real chance of achieving top ten. And with the return of Hatem Ben Arfa, who knows what will happen?

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Better but more is needed

So it's been a few days since Newcastle won away from home. Impressive from the Toon but months too late. The season's objectives have changed a lot, last week it was to stay in the premier league whereas at the start of the season it was to push on from last season's heroics when Newcastle finished 5th.

Lets look at the positives. Once again we played fantastically in the first half, controlling the game, spreading balls around the park and looking very confident against a shoddy and very young Villa side. The new signings seemed to fit right in, Sissoko being the more impressive. He got stuck in whilst playing in a more advanced role than was expected pre game. In doing so, he set up the first goal finding Cisse with a delicious through ball. Cisse dispatched and Newcastle went one nil up. What was this madness? The other debutant Yoan Gouffran showed pace and determination, chasing down every ball in the first half. His eagerness was infectious and is what you want to see from every new signing. Seemingly, there will be no problem with the new contingent settling in. At one nil, Newcastle were still fragile. Although they were dominant, the travelling fans and Pardew would of been wary of their away record. Instead of taking the foot of the gas, they pushed on for a second. Enter Yohan Cabaye. Jonas crossed from the right, Yohan took the ball down and with his second touch rifled it home. Top corner. Top goal. We were on our way to an away win. Not since Chelsea away had the Toon won. For the first time in a long while, I felt confident going in at half time but I wasn't counting my chickens. Not yet - I support Newcastle, trouble isn't usually far away.

Aston Villa are also in a dogfight. Their situation is worse than our own. They face relegation with a young inexperienced squad and have recently been knocked out of two competitions. Losing to Bradford was embarrassing enough but to go out of the FA cup days later is diabolical and I'd be worried if I supported Villa. Who's their next messiah? Accio Radcliffe? David Cameron?

Lambert made attacking subs at the start of the second half, going for broke and praying for a miracle. Rather fortuitously, they were awarded a penalty after Debuchy tripped Agbonlahor, the Villa man hitting the deck. It's a penalty but Agbonlahor's reaction was extravagant to say the least. Annoyingly, Newcastle sat back again. Did they learn nothing from the Norwich fiasco? Thankfully Newcastle came away with the points but were 2nd best in the 2nd half. We were overrun in every area of the pitch and were sloppy when we were in possession of the ball. Villa had 4 strikers on the pitch and all were capable of putting the ball in the net. To be fair to the Toon defence they were exceptionally resolute. A win is what Pardew wanted and a win is what he got. Newcastle fans have waited a long time for the win, naturally Newcastle were going to make them sweat it out.

There's now no excuse to not push on. They have the away win under the belt and have key players such as Cabaye back from injury. The new players have added quality and depth and we should be able to cope with European commitments easier. Next up is Chelsea, if Newcastle avoid defeat I firmly believe they will be able to go on a run of form and move away from the drop zone. Eden Hazard is unavailable for Chelsea and it's likely Ross Turnbull will play in goal. If we attack Chelsea and limit their attacking threat, there is points to be gained. Chelsea fans turn on Benitez for nothing, if the Toon get under their skin, Chelsea will have a very uncomfortable saturday afternoon.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Brave Ashley backs Pardew

In my last blog, I posted about the current predicament Mike Ashley faced. Days later, he has answered the question on every Newcastle fan's lips by backing the under fire Pardew. Not by declaring it but by stumping up £18 million pound on 5 new French players. The north east hasn't had this many Frenchmen in town since the days of William the Conqueror; they must like it here though, as they haven't looted it and burnt everything in their path (I'm looking at you William).

In all seriousness, I must applaud Ashley and Llambias as they haven't pushed the panic button. It would of been far too easy to just relieve Pardew of his duties, instead they've got down to business, got the cheque book out and managed to get Graham Carr's long term targets over the channel and into a black and white shirt. The calibre of signings are impressive which is very surprising considering they have all been allowed to leave in the January window. Firstly they managed to acquire Mattheiu Debuchy. It has been well documented that Newcastle had been tracking him and Lille finally let him go at the start of January. This was due to Newcastle playing the waiting game, when Lille crashed out of the champions league, his valuation lowered and Newcastle were able to nab their man for a price they seemed content to pay. On a side note, I'm very happy for Yohan Cabaye, Newcastle bought his best friend and I don't think I've seen a picture of him where he isn't smiling!

Next up was Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. Admittedly I don't know very much about the lad however the fact that Arsenal and AC Milan were interested signals the lad's talent. Then again, Arsenal did sign Maraoune Chamakh. I trust Graham Carr and he hasn't produced a dud yet. Hopefully we will see Yanga-Mbiwa play alongside Coloccini but that's another story altogether. We desperately needed a defender especially after the 2nd half horror show against Reading. If he was signed to play alongside Coloccini and not his replacement then we're finally showing ambition. He's a leader and is a ball playing centre back. Hopefully we'll no longer be known as 'le hoof'.

Out of nowhere the toon then signed two more players: Yoan Gouffran and Massadio Haidara. It's unknown whether Gouffran is Ba's replacement however he adds more pace and hopefully more goals to our attack. Again the board must be praised due to the speed in which they've acted. Massadio Haidara is the least experienced of the signings yet that makes me more excited about him. He's highly rated and offers pace at left back. Hopefully he will be good competition for Santon who has been exciting offensively but frail defensively. His addition may mean Haidara plays left back, pushing Santon to the wing.

Finally, we brought in Moussa Sissoko. Now, this lad intrigues me. Any player who is described as the French 'Yaya Toure' should make anyone pay attention. Any lad who waives his signing on fee to push the deal through is one that should be applauded. And any lad who turns down the mackems should be knighted. (Don't worry Papiss I haven't forgotten about you!) He possesses pace, power and is the box to box midfielder we've been desperately lacking. This should hopefully take some of the emphasis of Cabaye and if both players shine at the same time, I believe that we could be a force to be reckoned spwith. Last season, although we won a lot of games, we rarely dominated. Hopefully, we can have a hold on them more and squeeze the opposition into submission, something Manchester United do all too often.

One thing I have had to do is remind myself of our league position. We're not out of the woods yet, Southampton are still higher than us. New signings don't mean points. Am I worried? Not as much. Am I excited? Yes I am. Following Newcastle isn't easy but as they say in France c'est la vie!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Stick or Twist time for Mr Ashley

Newcastle United are precariously placed, they're sitting just above the drop zone and in serious danger of relegation. One thing the fans know is that they aren't too good to go down. Scarily, it mirrors 2008/2009 in which the toon sadly dropped from the top tier.

Travel forward in time to 2013 and it's been a disastrous season for Newcastle. They've played more games then they have points and the injury list is horrendous. The facts are scary, St James isn't the fortress of last season and the away bus must be cursed. Even I must confess that it isn't Mike Williamson's fault. A manager must do the best with what he has at his disposal, he hasn't outsmarted any opposing managers and hasn't replicated what won him the manager of the year award last season. His tactics have been appalling to the extent of lazy. He's experimented with 4-2-3-1 lately and it hasn't worked, we showed fight vs Manchester United and Arsenal but were defensively hapless. Naively, he has placed Cisse on the wing and bizarrely Shola Ameobi who's famous for beating his man at the byline. Even before Demba Ba was sold, he failed to find the right formula, choosing to play 4-4-2 instead of the 4-3-3 formation which served Newcastle so well in the second half of last season. I still wasn't worried, until yesterday.

Yesterday, we surrendered a lead against Reading who until yesterday had the joint worst away record in the premier league alongside Newcastle. Don't get me wrong, Newcastle played very well in the first half, knocking the ball around confidently, finding space and looking dangerous offensively. If it wasn't for the heroics of Federici we would of been 3 goals to the good. But Pardew's team talk was hardly inspiring with Newcastle looking lacklustre and seemingly determined to let Reading back into the game. We were still in control until Pardew made a bizarre substitution, taking the creative Marveaux off and replacing him with a defensive midfielder James Perch. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, we were sitting back on a 1 goal lead against Reading! Pardew's counterpart Brian McDermott took advantage of this bringing on the poacher Adam Le Fondre in the hope he'd grab an equaliser. BOOM. 1-1 within seconds. The scorer? Adam Le Fondre; super sub. Fair play McDermott. If the Newcastle fans thought the Marveaux sub was bizarre his next one was worse. Gael Bigirimana for Yohan Cabaye. Another defensive midfielder. 3 defensive midfielders on the pitch, taking our only 2 creative players off the pitch. I booed and in my opinion i had every right to. Pardew's justification for his substitutions were pathetic, claiming both were injured, Cabaye had attempted an overheard kick 30 seconds earlier, a clear sign of an injured player. Le fondre then scored again breaking geordie hearts. How did Jonas and Shola play 90 minutes?

It was a must win game. If we won, we may of had the confidence to push on and go on a run of form. Instead we face a difficult trip to Villa knowing defeat is disastrous. Ashley needs a central defender and another striker. Get them in and we may have a chance. More injuries is suicidal.

Ashley faces another challenge. Whether or not to relieve Pardew from his duties or stick by his man. The 8 year contract was to install confidence and stability and so far the only positive has been Henry Winter swimming the Tyne for charity. I have defended Pardew a lot recently but yesterday was a wake up call and I'm scared at the thought of relegation again. How can we go from being champions league contenders to being favourites for the drop? Ashley please put your foot down, be decisive, take action and keep us afloat. We don't want to sink, not again.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

A possible solution to avoid young players going off the rails.

Recently, a photo was leaked online of Michael Johnson, the 24 year old midfielder. He was once described as the next big thing, he was touted as one for England and was linked with a number of clubs including my own, Newcastle. In this photo, we saw a barely recognisable Johnson. Soon after, Manchester City released a statement announcing that he had been released. What a sad story - an english talent ruined. I blame the ridiculous sums of money clubs are willing to pay these players when they have not established themselves. Take Raheem Sterling for example, I read somewhere that he was demanding something like £60,000 a week at Liverpool. That's ludicrous especially for a player who has only just broke on to the world stage (and by world stage I mean Liverpool's first team.)

How can a player who has barely played have the cheek to demand such a thing? Even somebody who has been in their job for 30 odd years would know not to ask their employer to quadruple their wages. This is why I propose that a rule is introduced worldwide. A player must play a certain amount of games to earn a certain amount of money per week. Or he must be 23 or over. Therefore this lowers the likelihood that younger players go off the rails and don't feel it necessary to blow their money on luxuries rather than necessities. This is highly hypothetical and is unproven but in my opinion it is something that has to be dealt with - the lack of english players in the premier league worries me and the amount of players holding out for ridiculous sums is even more startling.