Tuesday, 30 March 2010

When Saturday Comes

Six points. That's all we need.

Two wins will guarantee that Newcastle return to the top flight at the first time of asking, and it's going to feel oh so good.

The win over Nottingham Forest has once again illustrated the incredible leap in both professionalism and determination that this squad has taken since the dark days of last season. Despite dominating the majority of the game the Magpies and their manager refused to panic that the game was still tied, confident their pressure would pay off.

Chris Hughton was forced into removing on-fire top scorer Andy Carroll at the start of the second half but was able to replace him with Shola Ameobi, making his return from injury. The seasoned Toon striker has had an injury hit season but has shown he is a more than capable of scoring goals in this division.

After 70 minutes of goalless football Shola picked up the ball on the edge of the area, created half-a-yard of space and fired the ball into the far corner of the goal, clipping in off the foot of the post before settling in the net. The strike was Ameobi's ninth goal of the season, that may not sound prolific but the 28-year-old has been restricted to just fourteen appearances and has almost certainly missed out on a hatful of goals due to persistent injuries.

The most significant moment in this match came deep into injury time as Jose Enrique secured victory with his first ever goal for the club. As the full-back's strike hit the back of the net St. James' Park erupted with joy as the Toon chalked up a massive victory in the promotion chase.

But the most telling factor that we are almost there were the celebrations from both the players and the manager. Enrique had a grin so wide I'm surprised he managed to get his shirt over his head as he ripped it off before being wrestled to the ground by a delirious Spiderman.

The Spaniard was duly mobbed by his teammates as the cameras caught images of Chris Hughton jumping into the air, before turning to the crowd and signalling his delight with a pump of his fist.

Enrique celebrates his first Toon goal before being mobbed by his teammates

You could feel the relief that gushed out of the team as they screamed in ecstasy. But it was more than that, it was more a feeling of accomplishment that all the hard work of this season has finally paid off with such a big win. We haven't seen celebrations like it all season. Not in the 6-1 thrashing of Barnsley, or the 4-0 win over Ipswich at Portman Road. This was a uniquely raw celebration of pure joy from everyone connected to the club. Even Fat Ash couldn't contain his excitement, he almost looked like he cared...

Promotion, it's in the bag.

It could be confirmed this weekend as we travel to bottom club Peterborough. Should we win against the Posh and Forest lose to Bristol City at Ashton Gate we will be mathematically secured of promotion.

With Forest now on a run of seven straight away defeats and Bristol City a tough place to go to, as we know from experience, it's a major possibility. By close of play this weekend we could once again be a Premier League team.

I wish it was Saturday now.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

A Right Royal Result

Here's one for you? When is a win not a win? When it's a draw.

Title rivals West Brom stumbled in their promotion push as they missed a golden opportunity to regain top spot from the Toon for the first time in nine games.

The Baggies draw with in-form Reading was just the tonic Newcastle needed to calm their nerves ahead of their crunch game against Nottingham Forest on Monday night. The players now know that even if they should suffer defeat at fortress St. James' they will still retain top spot in the Championship.

Monday's game is a golden opportunity to all-but secure promotion with a win pushing the Toon a massive 13 points clear of third placed Forest, with a game in hand. With just six games left Forest will have a maximum of just 18 points remaining and it would take a collapse of dramatic proportions to see Newcastle fail to secure an automatic promotion slot.

Once promotion is secured they can focus on taking home a trophy and seeing off the resilient Baggies. The men from the Black-country have stuck with Newcastle throughout the course of the season, but with two games in hand the Magpies can give themselves a seven point bumper before tackling the final six games.

However the players must now finish the job. The club has come so far from the heart-breaking final day defeat at Aston Villa last season and learnt harsh lessons along the way. But now we find ourselves within touching distance of the Premier League, an achievement that will mean the squad have well and truly earned their Summer holiday, for once!

It's so close, I can almost taste the inevitable disappointment. HTL.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Have YOUR Say

The Newcastle United Supporter's Trust is campaigning for change at SJP with many campaigns such as the 'Yes We Can' project aimed at a supporter owned Newcastle United.

You can have your say in how the trust is run by simply visiting the trust's website and voting in the up coming elections.

Check out the trust and what they have to offer the fans of the mighty Toon!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

JAWGATE: The Rumour Mill Is Churning

So it's been common knowledge for a while now, Andy Carroll has given Steven Taylor a right royal smack in the mouth.

The puns have been all over the papers with anything from 'Jaw-dropping' to 'Hitman' sitting next to Carroll's smiling mug after he fired home the winner against Doncaster on Tuesday night. And yet, despite the considerable press coverage very few confirmed details about the incident have emerged.

The story that seems to have been accepted as 'truth' revolves around Tayls texting antics with Carroll's ex-girlfriend. Apparently young Andrew was a little upset that Taylor had gone and sent his former love a text message while the team were on an away trip.

Now, in some places the row took place during training, some say it happened after and in one terrifying report it is claimed Carroll attacked Taylor in the car park before the session. For some reason this report cast an image of Carroll lurking behind parked cars before launching a vicious tirade of physical abuse on the defenceless defender.

However perhaps Taylor's not really the victim here, I mean obviously he is physically, but is there any chance the Newcastle Sports Personality of the Year has, ironically, managed to disguise his true personality?

I must stress this is nothing but a rumour but I have heard it from a few different sources. According to some Taylor has something of an attitude problem and it hasn't sat well with the rest of the squad. His efforts to manoeuvre a move to Everton in the summer upset some of the players and big names at the club such as Harper, Butt and Smudge have approached the management with regards to 'helping' Taylor out the door.

Is it true? I don't know.
Is it surprising? Somewhat.
Is it possible? Absolutely.

Tayls has had his jaw wired shut and some reports say Carroll had surgery on his hand, although we saw no bandages last night due to some strategically placed gloves. The club have been so tight lipped on the issue you'd think that it was they who had had their jaw wired shut. However it's not an unprecedented response.

The club stayed deathly silent during the summer when the club was constantly surrounded with questions over the future ownership of the Magpies and it wouldn't surprise me if Mike Ashley chooses to ignore the press in dealing with this incident.

However, let's give him a chance. He's launched an internal inquiry and let's wait and see if that leads to another embarrassing Bow-Dyer like public 'apology' or if they get the slap in the face they both appear to deserve.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Andy Carroll Breaks Steven Taylor's Jaw

The Daily Mail is reporting that Newcastle's in-form striker, Andy Carroll, has broken defender Steven Taylor's jaw in a training ground bust-up.

There is no comment so far from the club, manager Chris Hughton or either player involved in the alleged incident.

A broken jaw would almost certainly mean that Taylor would miss the remainder of the season. The former England Under-21 captain had only just returned to training after several months out through injury.

The bust-up is rumoured to be over the difference between the players wages with Taylor's weekly pay estimated to be treble that of Carroll's £10k.

Carroll already has one court date after an alleged assault in a Newcastle nightclub but this incident could prove much more damaging to his future on Tyneside.

The striker's superb form of late, with eight goals in his last nine games, has seen growing claims that he should be handed the coveted No. 9 shirt for next season.

However if the assualt on one of the Toon Army's favourite son's turns out to be true, his Newcastle future may not stretch that far.

Take A Seat, Joey

The news coming out of SJP is that Joey Barton is ready for a return to first team action against Doncaster tomorrow night and I don't really know what to make of it.

Barton is undoubtedly a talented player but he has never really lit up the pitch for Newcastle and has failed to really dominate the middle of the park in the way that you often imagine he could.

Should we be happy to be welcoming a bit of strength in depth, or worrying that it could unsettle the squad at the worst time of the season?

I would expect Barton to take a place on the bench for the trip to the Keepmoat but when he it is decided that he is fit to start, who could possibly be dropped from the Newcastle midfield?

Jonas led by example on Saturday evening with his unfaltering work-rate helping to drag the Magpies back into the game at Bristol City. Danny Guthrie has grown into his role in the middle, a position that has always suited him far better than playing wide and Kevin Nolan and Wayne Routledge have become vital to the Toon with their respective abilities to score and create goals.

So what for Joey? A place on the bench is all that seems to fit. His attacking talents have been overshadowed by Nolan's terrific season and his defensive abilities will almost certainly fall second to Smudge, who is expected to be back to face Forest next Monday.

Even Smudge will find it difficult to oust Guthrie in his current form as the former Liverpool man has shown his ability to supply real quality in the final third. Something Carroll and Lovenkrands have thrived on in recent weeks.

There is one way back for Barton. A change back to 4-4-1-1 would make space for Barton in the middle of the park as Kevin Nolan pushes forward to play off Andy Carroll. With Lovenkrands injured and Best not showing his ability it is a real possibility.

However it's not a change I'd welcome. I always prefer playing 4-4-2 and whilst Best is yet to score he has integrated himself well into the side and came within a whisker of opening his account on more than one occasion at Ashton Gate on Saturday.

Last time I wrote a piece about Barton returning for the Toon the headline was Barton's Back With a Bang. At the moment I'd be more than happy if he didn't come back at all.

Friday, 19 March 2010

TOONPEDIA: Newcastle Utd 3 - 2 Barcelona

UEFA Champions League --- 17 / 09 / 1997 --- St. James' Park

Newcastle may not have had as many historical and momentous European nights as some clubs but few could predict that their first ever Champions League match would turn out to be one of their most memorable.

After sneaking through the qualifying rounds with an extra-time victory over Croatia Zagreb, Newcastle were promptly drawn in a group that contained Ukranian champions Dynamo Kyiv, who boasted a young striker by the name of Andriy Shevchenko in their team, Dutch side PSV Eindhoven and La Liga runners-up Barcelona.

Having been drawn in the so called 'Group of Death' for their first ever Champions League campaign in the 1997-98 season, the Magpies task was made even more daunting when the fixtures revealed their first game would be against Spanish giants Barcelona.

The Toon had to face a team of living legends that included names such as Luis Enrique, Rivaldo and Luis Figo.

With many people expecting Barcelona to run riot over the European rookies Newcastle walked out to a packed St. James' Park with little pressure on their shoulders. The relaxed atmosphere amongst the Newcastle squad was clear for all to see as winger Keith Gillespie soon put his mark on the game.

The Irishman took the game to the Spanish side and their left-back, and supplied a constant threat with his incisive running and pin-point passing. However there was one man who would forever have his name associated with the fixture, Faustino Asprilla.

The Colombian forward had lit up St. James' with some outstanding displays of flair and trickery which combined with his electric pace had struck fear into the hearts of many a Premier League defender.

It was Faustino's pace that allowed him to make the incisive breakthrough for Newcastle in the first half, latching onto a through-ball before knocking the ball past the Barca 'keeper and winning a penalty.

Legendary official Pierluigi Collina pointed to the spot and the Colombian picked himself off the floor to take the spot-kick. The South American hitman calmed his nerves and readied himself to take the spot-kick, only to be ordered to re-spot the ball by the Italian referee. However even this couldn't sway Tino's focus as he firmly struck the ball home and give the Magpies a lead in the 22nd minute.

But it was to get better for Asprilla and Newcastle when Gillespie beat his man down the right-flank before delivering a dangerous cross to the edge of the six yard box. Tino lost his man and rose highest to head home his and his club's second of the night before half-time.

In the second half Newcastle weathered a storm from the Spanish side before Gillespie picked the ball up in his own half and started on another thrilling run down the flank. A quick burst of pace saw him beat the defender and leave him for dead as he advanced towards the penalty area before delivering another divine cross for Asprilla to head home in a carbon copy of Newcastle's second.

Asprilla wasn't the only one doing somersaults as every member of the Toon Army celebrated an incredible result. The hat-trick ball went to Tino and despite a fight back from Barcelona, that saw Luis Enrique and Luis Figo grab a goal each for the visitors, Newcastle saw out the game and picked up a historic victory.

The game remains fresh in the minds of many a Newcastle fan as one of the greatest nights in Newcastle's history and the performance of a certain Colombian means his name will forever be synonymous with European nights at St. James' Park.



Thursday, 18 March 2010

Trending Topics

Scunthorpe rolled into St. James' Park looking to repeat their trick from earlier in the season and send Newcastle to defeat.

However it wasn't to be for The Iron and they fell victim to the Toon's deadly duo, with Andy Carroll grabbing his fifth and sixth goals in the last seven games and Peter Lovenkrands netting for the fifth consecutive match.

In fact the Danish strikers run of form has caused such a stir that it's managed to make the holy ground of cyberspace and become a 'Trending Topic' on social networking site Twitter.

The topics are the most commonly occuring subjects in people's tweets and Lovenkrands rich vein of form has made him extremely tweet-worthy. After grabbing his first away goal in the two-all draw with Middlesbrough, his return to St. James' was followed with another goal.

Footballers have caused something of a stir using Twitter with Darren Bent's infamous rant at Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy over his protracted summer move to Sunderland. It went something like this, "Do I want to go to Hull? No. Do I want to go to Stoke? No. Do I want to go to Sunderland? Yes. Winge, Winge, Winge! I'm under appreciated : ( "

To my knowledge there is only one account attributed to a Newcastle player and that is right-back Danny Simpson. I have no idea if this is the man himself but if it is, it doesn't say much for his professionalism. His last 'tweet' came after the demolition of Barnsley at SJP, "6-1 hahahahahaha premiership here we come!"

Well respected sports writer, Henry Winter has broadcast his opinions on Lovenkrands' strike partner, Andy Carroll, praising the Geordie hitman for his ability to show both power and grace in his two strikes against Scunthorpe.

In the process a twelve point gap has emerged between ourselves and third placed Nottingham Forest and we could find promotion meere inches from our grasp by the time we take on the Reds at the end of the month.

It's so close, I can almost tweet it.

P.s if you're interested I've been known to grace the Twitter myself. Follow me here.

Monday, 15 March 2010

"Are you in or are you out?"

Chris Hughton has certainly got his players well trained on Tyneside after not just one, but two came out to praise the Newcastle manager in recent days.

First up was newly crowned Championship player of the year Kevin Nolan, who thanked the gaffer (along with just about everyone else) during his acceptance speech. "I am delighted to pick this up and I want to thank my team-mates, Chris Hughton, all of his backroom staff and the fans and, of course, my family."

Nolan went on to point out, in no uncertain terms, that Hughton has had no easy task in turning the Newcastle squad into Championship leaders, and signalled the soul-crushing embarrassment of the 6-1 walloping received in pre-season at the hands of League One outfit Leyton Orient as a major turning point for the squad.

"People thought that we would do a Leeds and go down again, but we got together after the Leyton Orient game and that probably put us where we are now to be quite honest. That 6-1 thrashing has played a massive part in our season.

"We tried to play it down at the time, but we were all hurting. It actually made all the rubbish come to the top and it was a case of 'Are you in or are you out?'

"Everyone should appreciate what Chris has done for this club. Mike Ashley realises what he's done. In pre-season, he didn't have to go to Leyton Orient, he didn't have to endure that, but he did and we thank him for that and that's why we want to repay him and win the title for him.

"Our main aim is to get promotion and win the title and if we can do that I'll be a very happy man to have given it to Chris Hughton because he deserves it."

Before Nolan's words were dry on the paper, in-form striker Andy Carroll came out to praise his boss saying, "Chris and Colin [Calderwood] have done a great job by getting the team 'as a team'. They kept everyone together as a team, and it's showing on the pitch."

This season there has been a whispered question echoing around Tyneside, "Would Hughton keep the job if/when we are promoted?" After seeing the resounding support he has from the players, I think we'd be fools to replace him.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Boring, Boring, Shearer

I'll admit, it doesn't take much to get me to criticise someone, especially at the back end of last season. Everyone got a handful, Colo, Ashley, Owen, Kinnear, anyone and everyone was criticised for our spectacular fall from the Premier League...well, almost everyone.

There is one man that I have never criticised, the mighty Alan Shearer. Yes he was the man at the helm on that fateful day and yes his experimental line-ups didn't exactly give us the greatest chance to stay up, but I knew he always did what he believed was best for the club.

However, after worshipping the man for some thirteen years I finally (and regrettably) have a criticism. He needs to lighten up a wee bit.

In an interview for the Guardian's Small Talk feature the legendary frontman appeared to get a little ruffled by their questions. If you're unfamiliar with Small Talk it's very similar to FourFourTwo's, Ask a silly question feature where the questions are often very loosely based on football and can range as far as "Would you drown a bag of kittens for a tenner?"

I'm a big fan of these features because they're often funny, and they truly bring out the personality of the interviewee but on this occasion I'm somewhat disappointed at the results. They say you should never meet your heroes and I feel like this interview has struck on a similar cord, revealing Shearer to not quite be the man I had imagined.

I won't go into details but for those of you who still have your innocence over the Great Man's sense of humour, probably best to give the article a miss.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Let The Mind Games Begin

Chris Hughton broke his silence over Newcastle's promotion credentials today after issuing something that sounded considerably like a rallying call to his Newcastle team.

The Toon boss has been relatively tight-lipped over the chances of Newcastle returning to the top flight this season but has now called for consistency in the Championship run-in. With Newcastle currently six points clear of closest rivals West Brom and a game less played, it's looking good for Hughton's men.

Baggies boss Roberto Di Matteo kicked off the first round of mind games with a sly comment about Newcastle's promotion chances on Tuesday, and seemed to be desperate to put some pressure on the Magpies.

"I have been saying for a while now that it is probably going to go down to the last few games. But I think this month will probably be decisive in terms of Newcastle pulling away or not." said the former Chelsea star.

Admittedly it's not exactly the sort of scathing attack that is often associated with Premier League title races, but it was a statement designed to inject some pressure in to the Newcastle squad.

Di Matteo knows that for his side to claw Newcastle back then the Magpies have to slip up, and with just one league defeat in the twenty-odd games since Chris Hughton took permanent charge the Toon may need to be forced into an error.

With Lovenkrands claiming there's no pressure at home and the absent Steven Taylor eyeing up a League title perhaps it's no surprise that Di Matteo has sensed it's time to play the over confidence card. Basically saying it's Newcastle's title to lose from now on.

Hughton responded with the typical calmness that has oozed out of his press conferences all season, and has subsequently seeped into the players themselves.

"We're approaching a run of games that come thick and fast. Having a head of steam up going into them is very important. A run of consistent results over the next seven weeks should see us achieve our objective."

The 'objective' is undoubtedly promotion as oppose to the title, but if we can maintain a winning mentality for long enough to see us go up, I'd back us to take the title too.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

TOONPEDIA: Laurent Robert

Laurent Robert (born 21 May 1975 in Saint-Benoît, Réunion, France) is a French Footballer who played for Newcastle United from 2001-2006.

The left winger was known for his electric pace and ability to score goals from long range and was a set-piece specialist. Robert signed for the Toon Army from Paris St. Germain in 2001 for a fee of £9.5 million and quickly became a fans favourite.

In the 2003-04 Premier League season Robert, who had already made spectacular goals his trademark, scored a remarkable overhead-back heel goal against Fulham in a 3-1 victory at St. James' Park.

This goal was used in the movie Goal! 2: Living the dream... as a goal by fictional Newcastle United striker Santiago Munez. This was the second of Robert's goals to be attributed to Munez after a spectacular free kick he scored against Liverpool was shown as a strike by Munez in the original Goal! movie.

Despite his undoubted ability Robert was often criticised for his work rate and labeled as lazy by many Toon fans. Often supporters were left to ponder which of Robert's split personalities would turn up from game to game.

In the summer of 2005 Robert fell out with Newcastle manager Graeme Souness and was subsequently loaned to Portsmouth for the season. During the loan spell he fell out with the south coast club's management by refusing to take a place on the bench in a match against Sunderland, storming out of the ground and returning to Newcastle for the last few games of the season.

The fall-out eventually led to his permanent departure from Newcastle and he joined Portuguese side Benfica. Since his departure from the North East he has had spells at Levante, Derby County, Toronto FC and Larissa.

After his final appearance at St. James' Park, Robert striped down to his underwear (right) and ran the length of the pitch in a bizarre display of his affection for the Newcastle fans. The gesture was warmly received by the Geordie faithful.

In December of 2009 rumours abound that Robert was looking for a return to Tyneside with English newspaper The Daily Mail reporting that the Frenchman had enlisted Newcastle winger Fabrice Pancrate to help him orchestrate a move back to the club.

However the transfer did not materialise and at the time of writing Robert remains a free agent.




Monday, 8 March 2010

Spidermag, Spidermag...

There were many topics that could lead the focus of this post after such a successful weekend's football for Newcastle.

Another goal-rush at St. James', West Brom losing to QPR, pushing eight points clear in the promotion race, Lovenkrands scoring again, Guthrie replacing Smith and so on, and so on. But there is only one man that I could feature, the man that's dominated all the pictures surrounding Newcastle this weekend. That man is Jonas Gutierrez, aka, Spidermag.

For the first time in almost two seasons we got to see the infamous Spiderman mask in celebration of Jonas' wonderstrike against Barnsley. In many ways this goal felt like Jonas' first real goal for Newcastle. His strike against Peterborough earlier in the season took a notable deflection on his it's way into the net and we didn't see any sort of celebration from the Argentinian.

This time around his effort in the demolition of Barnsley has capped a string of good performances. His final ball has become a consistent danger-maker (yes I have just made that up) and if he can continue to cause havoc with his runs down the left goals is all he needs to add to his game.

A strike of such quality illustrated why Spidey is the only member of the Newcastle squad that is going to South Africa this summer to strut his stuff at the World Cup. Legendary Argentina coach Diego Maradona has shown something of an affinity to the player since he took charge of the national team. Going as far as to tell the media that the Argentina team consisted of "Mascherano, Messi, Jonas and eight others," naming the Toon's left winger as a major part of his plans.

Despite Maradona's assurances on his international place it has taken a while for Spidey to win me over. He always looked dangerous and you could never fault his work-rate but he regularly failed to produce in the final third and failed to provide goals.

I was desperate for things to change and it appears that they have. If Jonas can keep up his good form and continue to produce crosses and goals of the quality he has shown in the last few games he could soon become a bona fide Superhero.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Keep Marching On

So another month has passed and still we proudly sit atop the Championship table.

Looking back February was something of a topsy-turvy month. The Toon produced a fantastic display to cruise past Cardiff early on before twice failing to win away and slipping, briefly, into second spot.

However a stumbling run of results from promotion rivals West Brom and Nottingham Forest saw Newcastle spring back to the top of the table with a 4-1 win over Coventry. And then a confident run to the end of the month saw Newcastle pull five points clear of their closest rivals.

With a five point lead to work with a run of good form behind us it's time to push on through March and, perhaps, leave ourselves within touching distance of promotion by the end of the month.

March brings with it two of the biggest fixtures of the season, a trip to play the Smoggies on Teeside before rounding off the month with a home game against Forest. This match looks unlikely to be a promotion clinching game, with a fair few points still available through April and May, but a win over one of our nearest rivals would give the side a welcome boost to kick on through the final days of the season.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Before Forest we have trips to Doncaster and Bristol as well as a less than straight forward home game against Scunthorpe. The players have to keep taking each game as it comes and for as long as possible keep the game against Forest on the periphery.

We start the month by welcoming Barnsley to SJP, and with free-scoring Peter Lovenkrands apparently fit and ready to rejoin free-scoring Andy Carroll up front on Saturday, who would bet against Newcastle to carry on their free-scoring home form? Not me.