Monday, 13 April 2009

Fighting Spirit or Punch Drunk?

Watching, somewhat nervously, as Newcastle fought back against Stoke on Saturday I couldn't help but feel a little let down by some of our players.

No doubt they ran all day, and they clearly want to keep the club up, but it's the way the small minority go about their business that worries me for our crucial end of season run-in.

Messers, Nolan, Guthrie and Ameobi are top of my list.

First up, our friendly midfield maestros. Whilst their inclusion in the team adds bite, grit and pure determination to our midfield I fear for our ability to finish the game with eleven men whenever either of them flies into a tackle or questions a decision.

The pure ferocity that erupts from the pair worries me beyond belief and with the upcoming fixtures set to become ever more crucial as each game passes, will they be able to keep their heads? At the Britannia stadium Nolan seemed desperate for a punch up and he is unlikely to be protected by his captain as little Mickey just seems desperate for a decent ball.

Moving onto Owen's strike partner for the day, the ever-pointless, never-useful Shola Ameobi. I struggle to find a reason why still has a shirt at Newcastle.

Is it due to his four goals in 21 games this term? It can't be because of his failure to score last season, so it must be due to his somewhat persistent injuries that have meant we've never seen enough of the guy to realise quite how useless he is.

It's not inaccurate to say he actually hampered the team by being on the pitch against Stoke. His apparent inability to sprint, shoot and jump leaves me scratching my head as to why he was on the pitch, let alone given the duty of marking the oppositions best header of the ball.

To call Ameobi a Donkey, would be harsh on Donkeys. In fact fielding a Donkey up front would probably not have aroused much more than a, "Aay, our Shola's looking lively today." from the travelling Geordie faithful.

I believe the only time Ameobi sprinted during his painful 74 minutes on the pitch, was to the touchline, when super sub Andy Carroll replaced him.

As it happened, Everything Shola wasn't, Andy was.

The born-and-bred Geordie threw himself at everything in the air, connecting more often than not, in both attack and defence. The Stoke defence were bemused at the aerial threat and it eventually produced a wonderful headed goal.

A goal that could save our season.

If I were Alan Shearer one of my goals for the remaining six games of the season, would be to make sure Carroll gets as much time on the pitch as possible.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Timing Is Everything

Newcastle head into a crunch relegation battle against Stoke City with somewhat less media coverage than last weekend's game against Chelsea managed to attract.

Alan Shearer's first game in charge saw media representatives from all corners of the footballing world inside St. James' Park, and if three more of the Geordie faithful had turned up it would also have been the biggest crowd of the season.

The timing of Shearer's appointment was questioned, many suggested it would have been a better move to take charge after the Chelsea game, a match that Newcastle were unlikely to get anything out of, with or without Shearer in charge.

But perhaps now we are seeing the canniness that Shearer exercised in his timing, to take charge when he did meant that whilst dreams of a debut victory existed, realistically it was a game Newcastle could afford to lose. Now he has had ten days to learn what his squad has to offer, and for his squad to understand his way of thinking.

An open training session at SJP attracted 7,500 fans and with 3,000 following the team down to the Britannia stadium maybe they can see that they still have the support to push on and survive the dreaded drop.

Media coverage has dropped off since the open training session and given players a chance to relax and enjoy training with their new boss.

The atmosphere seems calm, and I'm just hoping that a storm is brewing up to be released on the pitch.

Preview: Stoke City vs Newcastle

Premier League - Britannia Stadium - Saturday 11th April - 17:30

TEAM NEWS

Spanish left-back, Jose Enrique joins Steven Taylor and Peter Lovenkrands on the injury list but Sebastien Bassong brings a boost to a frail Toon defence. The Frenchman has been a big hit on Tyneside and fans will hope his return can sure up a defence that has failed to keep a clean sheet in it's last five games.

Obafemi Marins and Michael Owen are expected to start up front and Owen bagged a brace in the reverse fixture. Tall striker Andy Carroll could make an impact from the bench with his aerial threat against a strong Stoke defence.

Stoke's only injury problem is the long term absence of Madamy Sidibie and with a fully fit and fully confident squad, including free scoring striker James Beattie, Tony Pulis' men will be more than ready for the visitors.

HISTORY

Played - 33
Stoke - 17
Draws - 9
Newcastle - 7
Goals - 79

PROBABLE LINE UPS

STOKE
Sorensen, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Abdoulaye Faye, Higginbotham, Lawrence, Delap, Whelan, Etherington, Fuller, Beattie.

NEWCASTLE
Harper, Coloccini, Cacapa, Beye, Bassong, Nolan, Butt, R. Taylor, Jonas, Martins, Owen

PREDICTION

This will be a very close and likely painful match to watch for all involved. The football on show will not be the most beautiful that the world has ever witnessed but it will be some of the most exciting and nail-biting action all season.

STOKE 1 - 1 NEWCASTLE

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Move Over Colo?

Newcastle's latest defeat to Chelsea a defensive lapse that has seen yet another of our men in stripes have his diagnosis confirmed as a serious bout of centre-back-itus.

On the face of it he seemed to be the signing of the summer, Fabricio Coloccini was brought in at the staggering cost of £10m and was expected to finally solve the problem of a leaky Tyneside defence. Unfortunately he has gone the way of Titus Bramble and Jean Alain Boumsong and despite looking like a solid buy has consistently been overpowered and too easily fooled.

For the away trip to Manchester City, Colo was moved into defensive midfield, his 'favoured' position. It was hard to see why as he failed to complete a pass over five yards for the entire first half and was dropped back into the defence at half time.

The answer is a tough call that I wouldn't like to make, but it is a rather clear one. The Argentine defender must take a place on the bench whilst Steven Taylor and Sebastien Bassong are given the chance to expand on what promises to be a flourishing partnership.

Bassong has been something of a rarity for Newcastle in recent times, a good buy. Just one million pounds was spent to secure the Frenchman's signature and he has looked more than comfortable with the pace of the Premier League.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how much money you spend on a door, if it doesn't fit the hole, you can't use it.

The Honeymoon Is Over

It's harsh, but it's football.

Alan Shearer's first match in management went the way most would have expected, with a solid win for Chelsea. Fans flocked to St. James' for a glimpse of Newcastle's latest messiah but unfortunately on this occasion, miracles could not be delivered.

Hark though loyal followers! This is not a defeat that condemns Newcastle to relegation, it does however mean we are deeply immersed in squeaky-bum territory. The bus that takes the squad down to the Potteries this weekend will have to have a few extra seats to accommodate the three points that simply must join the players on their trip back to the Toon.

Shearer has been widely acclaimed as having a one-track mind, something he will need to install into the players. Victory is the only option for this club if they wish to remain amongst England's elite.

Whilst the task of avoiding relegation would still be possible, the already low confidence levels will take a deathly strike if we walk off the Britannia Stadium pitch with no points.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Preview: Newcastle vs Chelsea

Premier League - St. James Park - Saturday 4th April - 15:00

Newcastle's gloom and doom will be wiped away if they can produce a result against title chasing Chelsea on Saturday. The return of Alan Shearer will rally the toon army and raise the temperature at St. James Park.

Chelsea Manager Guus Hiddink has warned against complacency and told his side they will have to work harder to combat the 'Shearer effect'. Chelsea come off a loss to Tottenham and will need to pick up all three points if they wish to stay on the tail of Liverpool and Manchester United at the top of the table.

TEAM NEWS

Interim Newcastle manager Alan Shearer will be able to welcome back Steven Taylor, Sebastien Bassong and Damien Duff from injury for his first game in charge.

Newcastle will need their strongest defence as they have to contend with the return of the Premier League's leading goalscorer Nicolas Anelka. But as the frenchman comes in his Ivorian teammate Didier Drogba will miss out with an ankle injury.

The London club will also be without full back Jose Bosingwa (hamstring) and England Under 21 international Michael Mancienne may deputise, whilst Newcastle will be without frontman Shola Ameobi (ankle).

HISTORY

Played - 64
Newcastle - 34
Draws - 16
Chelsea - 14
Goals - 163

PROBABLE LINE UPS

NEWCASTLE
Harper, Coloccini, Bassong, S. Taylor, Enrique, Nolan, Butt, R. Taylor, Jonas, Martins, Owen

CHELSEA
Cech, Terry, Carvalho, Mancienne, A. Cole, Essien, Lampard, Ballack, Mikel, Malouda, Anelka

PREDICTION

Newcastle will find it tough to get a result after a run of five games without a win and Chelsea will be fully prepared to fight to from minute one to minute 90.

Newcastle 1 - 1 Chelsea

Time Is Right For Ferguson

An interesting week of international football caught the eye as England battled their way to two solid victories, but with no Newcastle players on England duty happenings north of the border may be more intriguing for the toon.

Scotland and Rangers captain Barry Ferguson and goalkeeper Alan McGregor were dropped to the bench for Scotland's qualifier against Iceland on Wednesday night and to find out why you must look back to the previous weekend. The two decided on a late night drinking session after the qualifier against Holland on Saturday and this serious breach of discipline saw them dropped for the following fixture.

This alone landed them in trouble, but what followed left fans and professionals embarrassed and disappointed. The pair decided that instead of graciously accepting their punishment and keeping their heads down, their best course of action would be to stick two fingers up at the TV cameras and watching audience.

They may apologise now but the damage has been done. Both were sent home from training with Rangers and suspended for two weeks, without pay. It's what followed this afternoon that will have stunned them as they were banned from playing for Scotland, for life.

As much as this may interest you, you're probably wondering what this has to do with Newcastle. With Ferguson's international career gone like dust on the wind, what reason is there for him to stay in Scotland?

He will undoubtedly be jeered by fans when he makes his return so why not get out and have one last flurry of comfort in England. He has long been linked with Newcastle and now may be the time Rangers are most open to a sale.

The Geordies have never been a club to turn down a player based on his reputation, look no further than Joey Barton, Lee Bowyer and Duncan Ferguson for proof of this. He would undeniably strengthen the midfield with both talent and experience.

There is perhaps just one hurdle to this potential deal, Newcastle's league status. If relegated this deal is off, but if they manage to stay in the Premier League then I feel this is a very realistic move.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Ashley's Final Gamble

Interim Newcastle manager Alan Shearer insists Newcastle can be saved from relegation.

Shearer's official appointment came just hours after the announcement that controversial figure Dennis Wise had left the club. It was also announced that Wise's role as director of football, a role publicly criticised by former manager Kevin Keegan and Shearer, would cease to exist at the club.

Is this a sign of Ashley attempting to rebuild the club in the fans vision or just the desperate actions fo a chairman who knew what he had to do the bring in big Al?

As much as I hope i'm wrong, I fear the latter may be true.

Ashley has taken more than one managerial gamble; appointing Kevin Keegan pleased the fans, but something never felt quite right and he left after 22 games in charge. In came Joe Kinnear as interim manager before he earned the right to manage the club until the end of the season.

It was a seemingly strange decision to place the reigns of your team in the hands of a man who had been out of football for some time. However when you consider this was at a time when Ashley was attempting to sell the club, it was perhaps less a gamble and more the easy option.

So we find ourselves with eight games to go in the season, with three different men managing to achieve just six league wins between them, we now ask one big man to keep us up. A task that could require another four victories.

We now stand a much better chance of staying up with Shearer at the helm, but if it doesn't pay off, Ashley is all out of messiahs.