I Call That A BargainOur terrible performance against Leicester had little encouragement we could take from it. Outperformed in all areas, admittedly by an excellent well-motivated team, all we can do is hope today’s game is better without there being any reason to think it might be.We have reached a point where despite a fully-populated squad there are numerous positions we are extremely weak in – mostly up front and wide midfield but also right across our defensive line. The reason is the lesser-understood twin to the persuasion we use on prospective signings that if they do well we can sell them on to a bigger club. We buy players not because there is a need for the type of player they are, but because we sense the chance to make a big profit. When asked this week about his plans for January, Arsene Wenger said he loved a bargain but he wasn’t going to buy two tellies on Black Friday because he doesn’t need them. In contrast, we get anything cheap we can lob onto ebay, whether we need them ourselves or not. So we end up with loads of central midfielders but apparently there’s a chance a striker, Yoan Gouffran, will play as a defensive midfielder today. Meanwhile, someone who when bought was a defensive midfielder, Moussa Sissoko, is deemed more suitable to play right wing. We have no credible options at full back, centre-half and striker so there is no competition in those positions. Why haven’t these problems been addressed over the last 5 or 6 transfer windows? I’d say because we haven’t tried to, because that’s not our priority. What a sham.Should Auld Aquaintance Be ForgotI’ve heard a number of people saying recently that Alan Pardew, manager of today’s opponents, wasn’t as bad as we portrayed him at the time. I’ll give him this: our problems while he was manager weren’t entirely of his own making. He wasn’t given the players he wanted (remembering who they were I’m quite glad about that), and our players certainly can’t be absolved of blame themselves either. They have failed now under 3 different managers, over the last 3 seasons and the current one. We didn’t try to build on the single season of success you could say Pardew had here, something he had no say in.Pardew’s big fault was that he could only set his teams up one way ( we all know what that was so I won’t bother expanding).This was the most clearly-signposted trap in history. If the opposition chose not to walk into it he had no answer and between Summer 2012 and Christmas 2014 very few fell for it. Sticking to the plan over that period was more denial of the truth than dogged perseverance.None of this means I’d be surprised to see us lose today. We are as bad as we ever were whereas Palace’s squad and their pace probably suit Pardew’s breaking tactics better than ours ever did.Tea Cup Chuckers Our Club Needs YouSteve McClaren strikes me as a thoughtful kind of man. He would probably be offended to hear a suggestion he needs to lose his rag a bit more. Last week’s ineffectual performance deserved just that though, and It’d be very interesting to hear what happened at half time against Leicester. Tactical instruction is all very well but sometimes players need to be yelled at unfairly and if McClaren’s not the man to do it he needs to employ someone to act as bad cop very quickly. We certainly need someone to smash a few tea cups in that dressing-room and tell a few home truths.I hear there have been furious disagreements at the training ground this week, and that’s bee portrayed as the staff getting tough. Well I believe when a manager is so upset he raises his voice, players need to zip up their mouths and listen and that evidently hasn’t happened. Perhaps what’s needed is someone of the ilk of John Sitton to do the telling, shown here tearing a strip off his Orient players during a half time break.
If the Kids are United
In the January 2015 transfer window Dele Alli signed for Spurs from MK Dons
after being widely tipped to join us. At the time I questioned his choice
and the advice of his agent, referring to Spurs as a ” midfielders
graveyard” where he’d rot in the reserves without ever getting a chance.
That was in contrast to us who were so poor and in such need of some spark
that there was a chance he’d have walked into the first team.
Fast forward less than a year and the positions have turned out to be the
exact opposite to my thoughts then. Alli has broken into Spurs first team
and made a goalscoring first start for England in midweek. Meanwhile, our
own youngsters appear little closer to our Premier League eleven. Adam
Armstrong’s made a splash this season but he’s playing in League 1. Kevin
Mbabu was briefly impressive but we’re yet to discover if he’s seriously in
contention or was just last man standing at the time. The creaking bones of
Rolando Aarons haven’t held together long enough to confirm last season’s
promise. The rest are nowhere near. Does anyone think if Alli had come here
we wouldn’t now be fast tracking him into becoming the next Haris Vuckic?
There’s a point in a youngster’s career where they need the opportunity to
show what they can do and they’re just not getting the chance.
Half season tickets went on sale this week, with the expressly stated
purpose of filling up empty seats in the stadium. They’ve noticed then.
What’s interesting is that they appear to have heeded the grumbling from
full season ticket holders in previous years. This time, the part-season
tickets appear to work out at exactly the same price per game as the
full-season ones, as opposed to the last few years when tickets became
available part way through the season which were appreciably cheaper than
those bought to cover all 19 home games.
It’s probably a wise move on the club’s part, as they may be slightly less
likely to fill up those empty seats, but full-season ticket holders are
also less likely to give their ticket up for next season and wait for a
cheap half-season of football from Christmas onwards. Of course it’s great if you’re getting to see a match on the cheap, not so great if you’ve paid top dollar for your ticket and your loyalty is rewarded by casual attendees turning up every week having paid less than you. I await an
announcement that the practice of offering batches of £20 tickets to large
NE employers will also now come to an end.
I Walk the Line
You may have missed a strange story where a Director of Carlisle ended up running the line after the ref was injured during their FA Youth Cup victory over Doncaster Rovers this week. You’ve guessed it, Carlisle’s director flagged for offside and disallowed an equaliser for Doncaster 2 minutes from the end of extra time.
I’m astonished this was allowed to happen at this level. My own experience some years ago of Sunday League where club officials usually take the flags, was that you had to start attacking runs a minimum of 5 yards onside to avoid activating the Lino’s hair-trigger flag arm.
The serious point here is that people cannot avoid being swayed by their loyalties when officiating. The Premier League rely on officials stating their own allegiances to decide which ones shouldn’t run matches involving particular clubs and that doesn’t seem enough to me.
Keeping it RealWith our 3 senior keepers all injured the talk all week has been of youngsters and loans coming in. Surprise surprise, there’s been no move for out-of-favour Victor Valdes at Manchester United as yet. If the only one of the 3 who has a chance of being fit today, Rob Elliot, doesn’t make it then we will have Freddie Woodman making his debut and youngster Brendan Pearson on the bench. Pearson is actually older than Woodman but he’s not on a pro deal yet whereas Woodman has at least been out on loan and played some senior football so you know what I mean.The temptation here is to be very critical of the club hierarchy, especially after much the same thing happened last season. However in this case I have to say that 3 senior keepers should be enough, especially with Woodman next in line of whom much is expected. We are marginally better off for keepers than last season, with our current 3rd choice Karl Darlow being a better option than Jak Alnwick was, who with the best will in the world just wasn’t up to it when he got his chance.Our injury problems are even worse this time round though. Last time we had our top 2 injured, now it’s all 3 so we bypass Darlow for selection. If the spotlight needs to be pointed anywhere it’s not at our recruitment in this case but at why our players get injured so often. Aside from our keeper problem, we have players who I’d expect to be first-team regulars who are just never available and we seem to permanently have more injured than other clubs. If McClaren is searching for a target for incremental improvement he could do a lot worse than look at this.Terry’s All GoldJohn Terry has been quoted as saying he’ll take criticism from people he regards as his equals, Rio Ferdinand, Jamie Carragher, Gary Neville, but not from someone like Robbie Savage who he says “played at a really bad level, who haven’t had a career”. Now if Terry had said he wouldn’t take criticism from Savage because he’s a halfwit who wouldn’t recognise an incisive point if it stabbed him between the eyes, I’d be inclined to agree with him. But the fact is, Savage played 13 straight seasons in the Premier League, and was a regular in international football for Wales. That’s really not a bad level, yet Terry’s chosen to attack that rather than Savage’s opinions.Of course Terry’s point is that unless you’ve won the Champions League and captained England he’s not interested in your opinion. That includes you, me, and every single person who’s ever bought a ticket to watch Chelsea or England. The contempt drips from the man, and his indifference to the disapproval of others has been clear from his behaviour throughout his time in the spotlight so perhaps no-one should be surprised. The “Show Us Your Medals” attitude was clearly misguided when Hansen and Souness used to do it and it still is now.Beeb Bangs the DrumsAnyone tired of watching Manchester clubs and the other usual suspects on TV all the time might have been looking forward to the 1st round of the FA Cup this weekend. However the BBC have chosen to show Salford City at home to Notts County on Friday night and BT Sport have opted for FC United of Manchester against Chesterfield on Monday. Have Salford City been chosen because of the chance of an upset or because they are part-owned by 5 of Manchester United’s “Class of 92”, and just happen to be the subject of a currently showing and very enjoyable BBCTV documentary series? FC United even tried to refuse to have their game shown, having been founded by ex-Man Utd fans disillusioned by that club’s selling its soul.There are plenty of possible upsets and interesting ties which could have been shown this weekend. They could have done good by showing Carlisle’s game away at Plymouth, and saving a few diehards a round trip to beat them all though I suppose diehards would go anyway. TV executives have been lured by the possibility of boosting viewing figures by attracting the many who are interested in Man Utd and may be at a loose end, even when they aren’t on themselves.Cole ComfortEx-Magpie favourite Andy Cole has announced he’s been struggling with serious kidney trouble recently. Though he lost much of his popularity with our fans while on Manchester United’s books later in his career, I for one wish him well and I’m guessing most of you do too. He was a major part of the most exciting period of my time supporting this club and as I look back fondly to 20 years ago, what happened between then and now matters less with each passing year. What a player he was for us. Get well soon.
Iron Mike on his WaySo Mike Williamson’s on his way out of the club. He’s signed on loan for Wolves, who play in the Championship. It’s a quick downturn in his fortunes here. Last season he was one of our first-choice pairing at centre-half, now he appears to have dropped if not off the radar completely then certainly down the pecking order. Not only is he not a first-choice, neither is he even next in the list to replace one of those who are. Just 18 months ago, our fans only half-jokingly campaigned to #GetMikeOnThePlane, the plane in question being that taking the England squad to the Brazil 2014 World Cup. Now it’s more likely we’ll #GetMikeOnTheMegabus, all the way to Wolverhampton. In the continued and continual absence of Steven Taylor this leaves us with Jamaal Lascelles as our next replacement at centre-back. Lascelles is young and unproven at this level and it’s not right that we should rely on him, though the return of Paul Dummett from injury means he can fill in there too if necessary. For all Williamson’s well-documented faults, even if he did want to leave for first-team football, I find it astonishing that we are reducing our already-thin defensive options. If we were going to ship him out, the time to do it was the summer, when we could have replaced him. This is nothing less than short-term, short-sighted incompetence by our transfer team.Rats in a SackSepp Blatter has come out fighting this week and attacked Michel Platini, saying that Platini began the whole FIFA crisis merely to unseat Blatter. He also let slip that the decision to award the 2018 tournament to Russia had already been made before it was voted upon, implying that the entire voting process was merely a PR exercise, a sham. In his enthusiasm to smear others he doesn’t seem to have noticed that he is digging himself an ever-bigger hole. None of this makes him look any better certainly yet he lashes out anyway. Apparently he considers himself still FIFA President and astonishingly will attempt to carry on as such if there isn’t a clear winner of the Presidential elections in February, even though he is currently suspended from all football-related activity by the organisation he claims to lead. How on earth did we ever let these people run our game?On a RunYou may have noticed Derby storming up the Championship recently, they are currently the form team of the division with 6 wins and 2 draws in their last 8 league games, and are poised in the playoff positions to push on. Their manager Paul Clement has turned them around from the awful run they suffered under Steve McClaren at the end of last season to miss out on the playoffs on the final day. Contrast that with McClaren’s so far unsuccessful attempts to alter the relegation form we’ve been in since before last Christmas.Of course it’s not as simple as that. Prior to their bad run Derby were top until as late as the end of February. They were never a bad side so changing their fortunes wasn’t as difficult a task as doing the same to us, who’ve been flirting with the drop for years now. Derby’s form at the end of last season was out of character but ours wasn’t. I read a story this week about Alex Ferguson phoning Paul Sturrock when he was struggling and telling him he should “get rid of under-performing players instead of trying to change their mentality”. We may need to employ a similar tactic sooner rather than later.The top of the Championship makes interesting reading for those interested in Newcastle. Top are Brighton, managed by Chris Hughton, proving his credentials again. Next come Burnley and Hull, newly relegated and enjoying their financial superiority over their competitors, a situation we could feasibly find ourselves in again next season. After that come Derby, their problems under McClaren apparently solved now by Clement, and finally Birmingham who perhaps even more impressively than at Derby have been reborn under Gary Rowett after they dispensed with the services of ex-Mag Lee Clark.Points mean PrizesPeople tell me there’s a silver lining to our defeat down the road last Sunday, that being our performance in dominating the game even with 10 men and losing only to the vagaries of a whistler’s whims. It’s certainly better than the flat drifts to defeat we’ve suffered so often recently in that fixture. However we are 10 games into our league season now, over a quarter of the way in and we are at the point where encouraging performances are of scant use. We need points and fast. I appreciate that in the long term better football will serve us well but we are in a fight now and there’s only one way to get out of it: win and keep winning.
Lone RangerEx-Magpies favourite Nile Ranger has been doing some soul-searching on Twitter this week, apologising to the clubs he’s played for saying he “should have given more”. He said the trigger for this had been the death of two friends recently and that he hoped to be able to get back on the pitch some day. He even posted videos of himself training. He is still on Blackpool’s books, who extended his contract in the summer surprisingly after he stopped turning up last November. Tangerines’ manager Neil ‘Spotty’ McDonald was less than impressed though, saying that despite the videos Ranger hadn’t even turned up for training the day before. Sky quoted McDonald as saying “The player has no future at this club. You’ll have to ask the hierarchy why he is still here.”Far be it from me to begrudge anyone the ability to make a living. If he really wants to get back into football and can turn himself around, then good luck to him. It would be a very strange decision by any club to offer him another chance of course. However, we all saw Ranger has talent in his time at Newcastle. If he took things seriously he would be a very attractive proposition for many lower-division clubs, big if though that is. Someone desperate might well take a gamble on him, and there are plenty of clubs in that situation. Don’t be surprised to see him pop up again somewhere soon.Kings become KnavesThe moment that FIFA-watchers have been waiting for has finally arrived. Yes, criminal proceedings have been initiated against Sepp Blatter by Swiss prosecutors. Meanwhile Jack Warner of CONCACAF has been barred from all football activity for life. Blatter’s alleged wrongdoings involve payments to Michel Platini, up to now the favourite to take Blatter’s role at the next elections. The prosecutors have said Platini himself is not being interviewed merely as a witness.As the House of Cards falls, it seems all the picture cards in the pack are to be dragged into the mire.Selective EffortFollowing on from our tremendous performance against Chelsea at the weekend, Jose Mourinho made a serious allegation against Newcastle’s players; that they can put everything into games against sides such as his, yet not find it within themselves to break sweat against less feted teams.Love him or hate him, you have to say the Special One has a point here. If our side can pull out all the stops against Chelsea and come within a whisker of winning, can battle to the end when a man down against Arsenal, and gain a deserved point at Old Trafford, how come they can be so lacklustre against Watford, Swansea, and West Ham? It would be easy to make excuses and say that cautious tactics work better against sides who come on to you, but our tactics were the most cavalier they’ve been for years against Chelsea. The fact of the matter is that our players took the fight to the opposition, something they’ve done all too infrequently whatever our tactics. Well done to them for that but it needs to continue and it needs to happen every week, starting with Man City this afternoon.Do I want us to go gung ho at the Etihad? Perhaps not, but nothing is more certain than that if we go back to strolling around and letting them do what they want we will be on the end of a serious thumping.
Up by the Bootstraps
Getting to Know You
Old Boy Update
We’re all aware of the rule of the returning player: an old boy will always score against you, particularly if their departure was in some way upsetting to one or other of the parties. So I’m delighted to report that Kevin Nolan has left West Ham with us playing them today. He supposedly left as he was not guaranteed a place in the side by new manager Slaven Bilic. Is anybody really ever guaranteed their place though? Least of all a 33-yr-old who looked 40 when he was 25. He’s training with Orient while looking for a new club. That surprises me. If ever there was someone I assumed wouldn’t keep dragging his bones round a pitch into footballing old age it was Nolan. He was of course an important player who had many good days for us, which deserves its own respect. In addition to that, well done to him for finding the motivation to keep playing when the only real reason for doing so is the enjoyment of it.
There’s a growing trend for football clubs to try to improve their fortunes through the use of computer analysis of players, Moneyball in common parlance. Forest Green are the latest to be reported as trying it out. Their chairman this week stated they’d signed 2 players using these techniques, one of whom had been a success and the other had not so hardly an all-encompassing commitment to new technology. Brentford last season had great success using these kind of ideas under manager Mark Warburton, now at Glasgow Rangers. Warburton’s an ex-City trader which is always mentioned to give the story some crazy numeric obsessional qualities. He’s also an ex-pro like 99% of all league managers which doesn’t produce the same atmosphere. The basic point of Moneyball methods is to identify value in players, those who can be acquired more cheaply than their talent should allow. That sounds like our own recruitment policy to me, for better or for worse.
After a spell at Wigan, our ex-reserve right back James Tavernier has popped up at Rangers in the Scots championship. At the time of writing he was their 2nd top scorer for the season with 7 goals. Good luck to him obviously but this is someone loaned to Bristol City by Wigan last season. Despite his recent success I don’t think we should lose much sleep about letting him go.