Monday, 10 January 2011

TOONPEDIA: Newcastle Utd 5 - 0 Manchester Utd

Premier League --- 20 / 10 / 1996 --- St. James' Park
As fans flooded into St. James' Park on a cold October night everyone to a man knew they were going to see something special.

The defending champions came to town having not conceded a goal in nine hours and nine minutes of football, with the seemingly unbeatable frame of Peter Schmeichel the keystone of an impressive United back line.

Kevin Keegan's 'Entertainers' couldn't boast such an impressive defensive record but their 'score-one-more-than-you' attitude had put them on a run of six league wins and the Magpies were in no mood to lie down for Alex Ferguson's side. The Toon were a wounded animal, having thrown away a supposedly unassailable twelve point lead over the Red Devils the previous season and then been thrashed four-nil at Wembley in the Charity Shield by the same team at the start of this one, revenge was the dish of the day.

Keegan's men had their pride on the line, they didn't want to win, they wanted to make a statement and avenge the mistakes of the previous term.

Newcastle were out of the traps in a flash and had an early reward when Alan Shearer nodded David Ginola's corner back across the box to the waiting Darren Peacock. The ball bobbled into the goal and despite Denis Irwin's clearance and Schmeichel's protests the goal was given and the Toon were ahead.

There was no arguing with the second goal of the game as Ginola produced a memorable strike to double the lead. The Frenchman received the ball on the edge of the box and with his back to goal he shouldered off Gary Neville to make half a yard and unleashed a vicious strike that rocketed into the net.

The second half continued in much the same vein when the irrepressible Shearer smashing the post before Nicky Butt and David Batty were booked for trying to smash each other. Shearer's influence was plain for all to see and he set up Newcastle's third after finding space on the right flank, sprinting past Irwin and knocking back a pin-point cross for Les Ferdinand who's headed effort pin-balled off bar and post before settling in the net.

Newcastle were away and weren't going to be caught. Shearer got a deserved goal of his own in the 70th minute starting and finishing a move that proved Newcastle's attacking nature. A magnificent double save from Schmeichel may have been enough to thwart most teams but with Newcastle's embarrassment of attacking riches there was always going to be someone to tap the ball into the net and this time it was the Geordie number nine.

St. James' Park was in awe of the performance they had seen from their team but what they were unaware what they were to see next would become an iconic image of both their club and of the Premier League. Defender Phillipe Albert picked up the ball in the centre of the pitch and dashed towards the box. Schmeichel took a step forward and Albert sent an audacious chip goalwards, leaving the Danish keeper rooted to the spot as a packed house were sent into ecstasy.

The game has been refereed to as Keegan's greatest managerial achievement and it seemed the manager agreed, resigning from his position a couple of months later stating he believed he had taken the club as far as he could.

Alex Ferguson blamed jet lag and then bizarrely claimed his side were unlucky not to score five of their own but things weren't to get much better for the Manchester United manager as his side lost 6-2 to Southampton in the very next game.

Newcastle were unable to capitalise on their memorable victory as they finished second to Manchester United for the second successive season but did, in the process, qualify for the debut season in UEFA's rebranded European Cup, the Champions League.


Sunday, 9 January 2011

Reality Cheick

Remember Wednesday? Wednesday was a good day. Yesterday wasn't Wednesday. Yesterday was Saturday. Saturday wasn't a good day.

After showing their Best against West Ham in midweek, Newcastle were brought brutally back to Earth with a crushing defeat to League Two Stevenage Borough in the FA Cup Third Round on Saturday.

Newcastle never looked good enough to see off a superb Stevenage side who totally outclassed a side sitting a mere 74 league places above them, and thoroughly deserved their 3-1 win.

More bad news came in the shape of a red card for midfield powerhouse Cheick Tiote, who could have little complaint at his dismissal for a flying lunge, that will now see him miss next weekend's massive Tyne-Wear derby.

The Magpies have been frustratingly inconsistent all season, as just a fleeting glance at our results shows. A home loss to Blackpool was followed by a Ben Arfa inspired win away at Everton. A 4-3 league cup win over the champions at Stamford Bridge was followed by defeat at home to Stoke City while our win away at Arsenal was followed up by another home defeat, this time at the hands of Blackburn Rovers.

It was shaping up to be a good weekend at about five o'clock yesterday evening after both Sunderland and Middlesbrough had crashed out of the cup to lower league opposition. Yet, instead of cruising into the fourth round we compounded those defeats and rounded off a bitterly poor weekend for North East football.

After defeat at Spurs I said there was no need for Toon fans to panic, and I would reiterate those claims today. Yes the banter will be nearly unbearable at work on Monday morning and no the media will never miss a chance to drag up footage of this game as an example of the 'magic of the cup' but that's football and occasionally you have to take one on the chin.

The bigger picture shows us sitting eighth in the league and, as I've already mentioned, with some impressive performances under our belts. What we do need to do is add a little more quality to our squad and maybe show a couple of players the door. Alan Smith looked a shadow of the man who captained the side for much of last season and James Perch, whilst admittedly out of position, isn't good enough to cover for Jose Enrique.

On the plus side Tim Krul again looked like a good reserve keeper, pulling of a superb save in the first half of the match, but has now gone seven games without a clean sheet. In contrast Steve Harper kept two in a row after his return from injury and perfectly illustrated the difference between a first-teamer and a reserve player.

That said, the team that Alan Pardew sent out was one that should've strolled past the League Two side, a centre back we paid £10 million for in Colo, a striker fresh from a SJP hat-trick in Leon Best and a midfield duo who are being mentioned in the same sentences as the words 'England' and 'squad' in the shape of Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton.

Pards' excuse for the game was tiredness, saying his players were "running on empty", but I don't want excuses. I don't even want an apology. I just want a performance to show the players were hurt and a result that can make me forget about this defeat.

You don't often get such a quick chance to make amends, but that is exactly what the players will have when they take the short trip to Sunderland next weekend.

The Toon will have to be at their very best when they take on a Sunderland side who have plenty to prove to their own fans after their crushing defeat at SJP in October, as well as suffering an equally embarrassing cup exit yesterday, losing at home to a team that usually wear black and white stripes.

I'm taking that as a sign, and you can't stop me.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

One In, One Out?

Newcastle United have confirmed the permanent signing of French winger Hatem Ben Arfa from Marseille, but the biggest transfer story involving the club revolves around a potential exit.

Twenty-three-year-old Ben Arfa becomes Alan Pardew's first signing since stepping into the role of Newcastle manager but the leg work for this transfer was done long before the current Toon boss came into the frame.

The Frenchman took no time at all to become a Geordie favourite while on loan this season, smashing the winner on his full debut against Everton back in September. The winger suffered a devastating leg break against Manchester City but the Magpies have decided to complete his permanent transfer and fans will be desperate for the exciting youngster's return.

More concerning news emanates form Sky Sports who claim the club have knocked back an approach from Tottenham for eleven-goal top scorer Andy Carroll. There has been no news on potential figures but it is believed that the club have informed Spurs the player is not for sale at any price.

Personally, no amount of money could replace Carroll, who has developed into a talismanic part of the team. And the Newcastle fontline would be much less of a threat without the 21-year-old England striker.

In a lengthy statement last year the Newcastle board set out their stall with regards to transfers, with one of the main points of the document being that Newcastle would not be a selling club. They also stated that they would, when possible, be looking to promote players from within our youth system.

The statement read, "The days when players such as Alan Shearer, Steve Bruce, Peter Beardsley and Michael Carrick had to leave Newcastle to begin their illustrious football careers elsewhere are over. Newcastle United is more than aware of the great passion for the game of football that exists locally and is intent on ensuring that every great Geordie footballer has the opportunity to play for his home team club."

Carroll is one of the few shining lights to have come through our youth system in recent years and if this statement is to be followed I would be surprised and disappointed to see Carroll leave for anything other than a very hefty fee.

That said you just never do know with our club. We've had a reported interest for some time in the out-of-favour Spurs men Robbie Keane and David Bentley, and the North London club may try to tempt us with a player-plus-cash deal.

Even with those two in the mix I'd be reluctant to do any business that resulted in Carroll leaving the club. After Chris Hughton's disgraceful sacking it could just be the last straw for many a Toon fan should our No. 9 move South.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

War Of The Worlds

Taking reference from the comments on my latest post it seems our recent trip to North London may have upset a few of the Spurs supporters.

The matter in contention being Newcastle's, shall we say, robust style of play. It's a point opposition fans have raised to me before, most notably the case of my former housemate. The Loyal Royal was less than impressed with how we went about dismantling his boys at the Madejski but I put the moaning down to jealousy and fear that we were closing in on Reading's coveted 106 point record.

However since the argument has once again raised it's head I felt it was time to tackle the issue head on. It's that old argument of playing effective football at the expense of good football.

There is no denying Spurs play much more attractive football than ourselves but it's much easier to play attractive football with the likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Rafael van der Vaart in your team. Every successful team has to play to their strengths and when you look at our three best players, Carroll, Nolan and Barton, their strengths are, their strength.

Whatever the reason it's led to a relative war of the footballing Worlds.

The thing that gets me is how if it's happening to your team you hate it, but if your team hand are handing it out it's passed off as good old fashioned football. Spurs fans may have been 'outraged' at the brutality of our midfield but have Spurs fans not cheered when Wilson 'The General' Palacios crunches through the back of someone? Every team does it, and you can't have it both ways.

Lest we forget we have been on the receiving end of plenty of the rough stuff this season. Remember the relentless abuse dished out by Wolves on Joey Barton? When the Daily Mail started their match report with the line, 'Karl Henry spent 90 minutes smashing Joey Barton all over the Wolves pitch.'

I don't expect Joey to recieve much sympathy but he's not the only member of our squad to take a battering. Andy Carroll suffers much the same abuse from defenders as Peter Crouch and yet most referees wave away the protests, because he's a big lad. Then the worst happened when Hatem Ben Arfa became Nigel De Jong's latest victim back in October, suffering a double leg break.

To be honest I've never had a problem with roughing up your opponents, I'd much rather stay up playing bad football than go down playing well and in a physical game injuries will happen, you just have to accept it and move on.

I hate to label certain teams like this but reputations are earned for a reason and Stoke, Blackburn and Bolton (pre-Coyle) have all made direct football work for them. All these teams have set a base and then attempted to bring in a flair player or two to give them that edge, Elmander at Bolton, Pennant at Stoke etc.

Newcastle obviously identified this as the best way to stay up and brought in the brute force of Cheick Tiote and the raw talent of Ben Arfa. With the Frenchman's unfortunate leg-break we've reverted to type, get the ball in the box and let Andy do the rest.

At the end of the day, of course I would love to have a Bale-like player ripping teams apart single-handed, but if we're still a Premiership team when August comes around, it doesn't bother me too much what the football is like until then.

But, maybe that's just me.