Newcastle today released images of the new Puma home shirt to be worn next season (2011/12):

The new Newcastle United shit. Sorry, kit.

The shirt is available to pre-order now and will be released on the 19th of May, three days before our final game of the season, at home to West Brom where the kit will presumably be worn by the team against the Baggies as history tends to suggest.

Fans will obviously have their own take on the new strip but my personal opinion is that I don’t like it. I’m not saying I haven’t disliked shirts before, only for them to grow on me, but from the moment I set eyes on the – what proved to be accurate – leaked design several weeks ago, I felt that it was too simplistic and lacked one basic ingredient – Stripes.

The new kit could pass as a jockey's uniform

The lack of white stripes on the edge of the body make the shirt look like a solid black top with white sleeves, leaving room for just 2 white stripes. Also, one of my main bugbears from this season’s kit design is the use of a tacky, plastic badge, seemingly ‘stuck on’ as close as possible to the right-sided white stripe. I’m certainly a fan of the classy, embroidered badges on shirts of old compared to the plastic ones that Puma seem to favour.

Or, perhaps it is just the latest in a long line of Mike Ashley induced spending cuts? Either way it continues this season’s impression that Puma have simply selected a shirt from their 5-a-side or Sunday League catalogue and, quite literally, stuck on the Newcastle badge and Northern Rock logo.

The long-sleeved version looks like even more of a joke – like one of the outfits you see alongside the words ‘Ruby Walsh’ and ‘Epsom 2.15’ on the wall of a bookmakers.

The new, mainly negatively received shirt may divide opinion like Shola Ameobi divides opposing defencesbut one thing is for sure. It will sell well, as Newcastle United shirts always do. We follow the club, the team and whilst it is often said you follow ‘the shirt’, you don’t follow it because of its design, no matter how good or bad. Just look at last season’s atrocious change shirt offering. Slated so badly by the media and opposing fans, it garnered a cult-status among the Toon Army and saw one of the best returns on the pitch in terms of points per game of any NUFC away shirt ever.

Last season's awful away strip gained cult status as it proved to be successful on the pitch

So whilst my first impressions of the new kit are not good, I have learnt from past experience that only time will tell whether I will eventually like it or not. What will certainly help, however, is if the team on the pitch performs well in their new, shit kit.

What are your thoughts on the new shirt? What is your favourite home shirt of all time?

Advertisements

Alan Partridge commentates on some of Newcastle’s recent goals:

A few months ago I found myself sitting, staring at my computer screen in a state of utter disbelief. The reason for my jaw almost hitting the floor was one that has had many a Newcastle fan doing exactly the same over the years. It centred around Tyneside’s favourite Nigerian with a Geordie accent, the Fenham Eusebio, our very own Foluwashola Ameobi. Few football players divide opinion from their own fans like wor Shola – surely the definition, if ever there was one, of a love/hate relationship in a sporting sense. Yet whilst many a Geordie’s jaw has dropped over the years, inspired by the gangly-forward’s ability to both delight and frustrate in equal measure, the reason for my state of shock revolved around something written about Ameobi, rather than his consistently inconsistent on-field antics as is usually the case.

Ameobi - head in hands after missing a chance - A common sight for Toon fans

The article in question started like your average North-East football opinion-piece with the premise of the piece being to discuss the role of playmakers in the modern game, applied to the regions 3 (debatable) major teams. The argument put forward was that playmakers in the modern game are seen as a rarely afforded luxury, often overlooked in favour of players with pace, work rate and tactical rigidity. The article highlighted Andy Reid at 5under1and, and former Valencia and Barça player Gaizka Mendieta at Boro as those, slightly unorthodox midfielders that had been cast aside by Steve Bruce and Gareth Southgate respectively because of their non-conforming playing styles – and in Reid’s case his “physical limitations”.

Fair enough, I hear you say. Sounds like a decent argument. Give those playmakers more game-time, more freedom. To complete the article in non-discriminatory fashion however, an example was needed of such a player to satisfy the readers of a Black & White persuasion. Who would be a good example of an unorthodox playmaker – undoubtedly skillful yet discarded for not being “identikit” as the article’s author put it. I started to rack my brain for United’s playmakers in recent years… Beardsley? Nah, more of a forward and he was hardly cast aside. Dyer? Hmm, sold for fitness reasons rather than tactical non-conformity. I then realised that actually, in the last 15 years we’ve hardly been blessed with what I would call a true “playmaker” – a central attacking midfielder with composure on the ball and an eye for a killer pass – the Xavi’s, Modric’s and Sneijder’s of this world.

Emre is the closest Newcastle have come to having a true 'playmaker' in recent years

The best I could come up with was Emre – incredibly talented yet unfortunately injury-prone. His injuries were probably the main reason behind his departure but he was also criticised at times for his lack of defensive work – the true habit (perceived or real) of a playmaker in the English game. So Emre it was. Not a great shout but surely the journalist would refresh my memory and pick a corker. So I scroll down just as you are about to and then my jaw drops…

“SHOLA AMEOBI could sympathise. An unpredictable amalgam of fine touch, exquisite skill, clever turns, inspired passes and accomplished finishing, the Newcastle striker’s unorthodox talent does not always sit comfortably with today’s tick-box culture”

Wow, wasn’t expecting that. I check my watch for the date on one hand whilst frantically scrolling back up to the top of the page with the other. Nope, not April Fools Day. Yep, written by a certain Louise Taylor, a mackem sympathist with a penchant for less than favourable NUFC-related coverage. Things were starting to make sense. The article wasn’t anti-NUFC in any way, but my God was it inaccurate. I know it’s an opinion piece but there is a difference between opinion and downright fiction.

Now let me get this out there – I like Shola as much as the next guy. Obviously I’ve doubted and criticised the big man before, as all Toon fans have (be honest) but at the moment on the 10-year ride that has been the Sholacoaster, I have to admit he is in my good books. Despite his inconsistency and ability to infuriate, his commitment to the cause cannot be faulted with Shola having played through countless injuries in his decade serving the Mags. At present, he is the Man in the Plastic Mask, returning early from a fractured cheekbone sustained at Craven Cottage in February to more than play his part in securing the club’s Premier League status for another year. In particular though, it is his performances against the arch-rivals from down the road that have given him cult hero status, with a song to boot:

I’m a fan of Shola and I’ll admit to ‘doing the Ameobi’ on several occasions but; ‘An unpredictable amalgam of fine touch’ – Rarely. ‘Exquisite skill’ – Sometimes. ‘Clever turns’ – On a good day. ‘Inspired passes and accomplished finishing‘ – Meh, his finishing’s alright but inspired passing?! Anyone reading this without seeing Shola’s name attached could be forgiven for thinking it were an article on Zinedine Zidane, not a man affectionately known as ‘Strolla’ or ‘Bambeobi’. The article continues:

“Ameobi splits managerial opinion as he divides defences but Newcastle almost always excite when spearheaded by their Nigerian Geordie.

The first part is fairly accurate and funnily enough, the same could easily be said of Louise Taylor’s musings in the Guardian with regard to splitting opinion. Newcastle always exciting when wor Shola takes to the pitch however? I’m sure you’ll find a fan or 50,000 that aren’t excited when he produces moments like this all too often:

After the initial shock of seeing Ameobi compared to skillful midfield playmakers and described as having ‘inspired passing’, my mind cleared enough to think ‘I’ve heard this before’. A quick google search reassured me that I was not going insane. Sure enough, an article by Louise Taylor in The Guardian just over a month prior to the playmaker article described Ameobi as:

“A deep thinker and a voracious reader, Ameobi… might have followed his father into academia had an unorthodox amalgam of exquisite skill, clever turns, inspired passes and, of course, goals not led him down an alternative path.”

Interesting – the same description – almost word-for-word. Intrigued by my discovery of Louise Taylor’s admiration for anybody associated with Newcastle, let alone the much-mocked Ameobi, I hunted for more. A quick google search turned into a lengthy one, with endless articles of Ameobi admiration having been churned out by Taylor over the years:

October 2003: “Ameobi is no brat but he can, à la Chris Waddle, at times appear deceptively laconic, almost interested.”

August 2006: “Much more of this and Newcastle’s ‘Shearer’s Bar’ will soon be renamed ‘Shola’s’.”

August 2009: “With the transfer window’s closure looming, time is running out to recruit replacements. After Ameobi’s exploits, Ashley might believe none is necessary.”

August 2009: “..leaving the Geordie-Nigerian striker to chest the ball down and, in one impressively seamless movement guide it expertly just inside a post.”

March 2010: “Switching feet, the Geordie-Nigerian, spun sublimely, stealing half a yard on his markers. Having refined his shooting angle, Ameobi beat Camp with a stunning low shot which flew in off a post. His brilliant backheel then created the second..”

August 2010: “Shola Ameobi is better than many people think.”

October 2010: “..it was an assumption-challenging kind of afternoon. The same went for those who said 4-4-2 was “yesterday’s formation” or believed that Ameobi was washed-up.”

January 2011: “Coloccini as commanding in Pardew’s defence as Ameobi was imperious up front..”

March 2011: “If Arteta’s extreme skill and Ameobi’s sheer guts proved the afternoon’s overriding themes..”

April 2011: “The impressive Ameobi, all fast feet and aerial dominance…”

April 2011: “Received wisdom has Shola Ameobi down as a frustrating, inconsistent, injury‑prone bit-part player lacking Premier League quality. This reputation is inaccurate, unfair, and, above all, out-dated… the Wolves centre-halves terrorised by Ameobi will doubtless be convinced that his skilful turns, clever distribution, fancy footwork and heading ability comprise a formidable armoury... at least they do not have to face the Geordie Tevez every week.

So Louise Taylor is certainly not shy in handing out the praise and superlatives for the ‘Geordie Tevez’. In the words of Alan Oliver, she certainly ‘waxes lyrical’ about Ameobi at every opportunity and it is therefore surely no coincidence that Ameobi is often willing to grant her interviews – quotes from Shola are certainly not in short supply throughout Taylor’s articles. It seems Taylor is besotted with our cult hero and has been since 2002 – the earliest Taylor article on the Nigerian-born mackem assassin that I could find. In it appear direct quotes from the Newcastle boss at the time – the late, great Sir Bobby Robson talking about the young Ameobi:

“Shola’s got some exquisite skill, a clever turn and a great pass”

Sir Bobby Robson – 2002

Sound familiar?

I’ll leave you with some of Shola’s better moments in a Toon shirt – watch out for his unorthodox mixture of exquisite skill, aerial prowess, precision passing and clever turns!!

With tonight bringing the first game of the Champions League semi-finals between Manchester United and German outfit Schalke 04, there have been some interesting pieces surfacing about Schalke 04’s similarities to Newcastle United. Here are some cracking articles that may just get you thinking about siding with the Germans in tonight’s clash and beyond if you weren’t doing so already!!

Enjoy:

The two “Meister der Schmerzen” (Champions of Pain)

145,000 see ‘German Newcastle’ blow it

The club built on fan power

“Please allow me to introduce myself,
I’m a man of wealth and taste.
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a mans soul and faith.”

Many a Newcastle United fan would surely empathise with the opening lines of the Rolling Stones’ classic hit ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. In sporting terms, Newcastle’s owner Mike Ashley could definitely be described as being Satan-like in a city where football is regarded by many as a religion – but whilst he is certainly wealthy, the jury is still out as to whether he is a man of taste! Since buying Newcastle United “a long, long year” ago – four to be precise – Michael James Wallace Ashley, otherwise known as the Fat Cockney Bastard or simply as ‘Mike’ has indeed stolen many a man’s soul and faith.

Should Toon fans sympathise with Mike Ashley?

Ashley seemingly came to the club’s rescue in the summer of 2007 when he quickly and unexpectedly forced through the purchase of the club for a total fee in the region of £134m, excluding existing debts. The Newcastle fans had exactly what they had been craving for for nigh on a decade – the replacement of the much-maligned Freddy Shepherd as the club’s chairman. Ashley bought the club with promises of debt removal, squad investment and talk of 5-year plans that would see Newcastle turn into the ‘Arsenal of the North-East’. The clubs new Billionaire owner was seen by many to have bought the club as a toy and in a rare interview with the News of the World, he openly admitted as much following the sacking of Sam Allardyce in early 2008:

“I bought this club to make it a success and the harsh truth is there wasn’t much prospect of that. I bought this club to have some fun and I wasn’t having much fun at all.”

Initially, the fans rejoiced at the positivity of the club’s new owner and his sidekick chairman Chris Mort. Ashley was regularly seen amongst the Toon Army at away fixtures, complete with replica shirt sporting the name of one of his first purchases as owner of the club in the form of striker cum defensive midfielder Alan Smith, signed from Manchester United for a fee in the region of £6m. Ashley’s choice of having ‘SMITH’ emblazoned on the back of his shirt probably had more to do with the former Leeds United player’s newly inherited squad number (17) though than it did the abilities of the former England international. Ashley is a known gambler and roulette enthusiast, with 17 being his number of choice on the green-felted table… apparently. Ashley’s penchant for risk-taking extends far further than the casino’s of Mayfair however and is no doubt one of the major reasons behind his incredible success with his Sports Direct business.

Ashley's fondness for risk-taking has been evident throughout his NUFC tenure

‘But what’s confusing you, is just the nature of my game’

Throughout the last four years of Ashley’s NUFC tenure, his appreciation for gambling has become increasingly apparent to th0se who turn up to watch his assets play each week – yet perhaps the biggest gamble of all was Ashley’s initial decision to buy the club – rather than the many gambles he has taken since (with varying degrees of success). The sportswear giant demonstrated his addiction to gambling, combined with an alarmingly distinct lack of business acumen when he chose to purchase the club despite not having undertaken due-dilligence – a common practice in such large-scale business transactions where the painstaking process of carefully analysing a company’s books is done in order to give the buyer a full-picture of what exactly they are buying.

Some may argue that Ashley’s reluctance to undertake due-dilligence was actually a blessing in disguise, fearing that had he taken a proper look at the club’s accounts, he would have seen the awful financial position that the club was in and wouldn’t have touched the club with the proverbial bargepole. Such a situation would have left the previous devil-incarnate Freddy Shepherd in charge of the club – an option which seems to be increasingly favourable with the benefit of hindsight. Only Ashley, Shepherd and their associates know the true situation that the club was in when the former purchased it in May 2007 but Ashley’s aides – most notably Derek Llambias – have always been quick to portray the Sportswear and waistline giant as the saviour of Newcastle United:

“If it wasn’t for Mike’s continued input… we would be in a similar position to Portsmouth (In administration)…”

Derek Llambias

So should we have Sympathy for the Devil?

The number of mistakes and major gaffes Mike Ashley has made in his relatively short time at the helm of NUFC are far too large in number to comprehensively list, yet despite his obvious and numerous flaws there are also a number of areas where Ashley could perhaps be forgiven or indeed sympathised with. In particular, right from the start, he inherited a club that was inherently poorly run both on and off the pitch. Sorting out the mess that Freddy Shepherd left behind would have taken the world’s best football and business brains combined years to achieve, let alone a cockney knock-off merchant and his casino cronies. He not only inherited a club that was being run into the ground financially from within the boardroom, but also an underachieving team on the pitch, with an aging squad full of overpaid, under-committed ‘stars’. He was also in the unfortunate position that just weeks prior to his purchase of the club, his predecessor had installed former Bolton manager Sam Allardyce and his army of backroom staff on long, lucrative contracts. Faced with the awkward position of either instantly and expensively replacing Allardyce upon his arrival or backing him in the transfer market, he chose the latter option, endearing himself to the Geordie public in the process. If he had chosen to dispense of Allardyce’s services before the Yorkshireman had even taken a training session at the club would have seen a national backlash against Ashley for not giving Big Sam a chance. As a result, Ashley was forced into signing cheques for his new manager – a process which saw the following arrive at St James’ Park for a total of more than £20m with all on lucrative contracts: Joey Barton, David Rozehnal, Geremi, Claudio Cacapa, Abdoulaye Faye, Habib Beye, Mark Viduka, Jose Enrique and Alan Smith. Of those 9 players, only Habib Beye hit the ground running and whilst Barton and Enrique are now justifying their price tags, they did anything but in their first 2 seasons at the club. Others, like Geremi and Viduka took the club for all it was worth in their (fortunately) relatively short stays on Tyneside. After 6 months, with the team playing awful football with some awful results to boot, Ashley sacked Allardyce and although many neutrals will tell you this decision prompted the club’s relegation in 2009, this is a theory most fans on Tyneside dispel as a myth.

‘Made damn sure that Pilate, washed his hands and sealed his fate.’

Ashley replaced Allardyce with fans favourite Kevin Keegan and wanting to make sure that there would be no repeat of the aging, expensive players brought in by Big Sam, Ashley introduced a policy of signing younger players with resale value, should the club wish to sell them in the future. In order to oversee this new policy, Ashley installed Dennis Wise, one of the most hated men in football, above Kevin Keegan, as the head of youth development and scouting. The Keegan/Wise partnership was a marriage made in hell as Keegan found out to his cost some 7 months later, resigning after having players he had not wanted (Nacho Gonzalez and Xisco) forced upon him by Wise – playing the role of Pontius Pilate – on transfer deadline day 2008.

Dennis Wise's actions led to Kevin Keegan's resignation from the club in 2008.

Whilst Ashley’s new policy of signing younger players and looking to improve the club’s academy was an admirable strategy for the club to impose, the personnel chosen to run it were entirely non-compatible. It seemed that Ashley’s problem was not so much his ideas, but instead the people he entrusted to carry them out. This certainly applied to the decision he took next: appointing the former boss of Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang, Joe Kinnear as the club’s caretaker manager. Ashley wanted an experienced head to guide the club while he looked to sell up after the Keegan fiasco turned the Toon Army against him. No serious bidders were forthcoming however, and Ashley took the club off the market in December of 2008 although further criticism was to come.

Following the departure of the talented French sulk Charles N’Zogbia and club legend Shay Given in January of 2009, the club required a further caretaker manager in February when Joe Kinnear was taken to hospital on the eve of the team’s game against West Brom. Chris Hughton originally took charge of first team affairs however with the team struggling and 8 games remaining in the season, Ashley and his new chairman Derek (Silence of the) Llambias managed to persuade club legend and record-goalscorer Alan Shearer to leave the comfort of the Match of the Day studio and return to Newcastle to lead the team until the end of the season.

‘And I was round when Jesus Christ, had his moment of doubt and pain.’

The decision to employ Shearer seemed the correct one, allowing him to galvanise the fans and team alike on the run-in to the end of the season, in the hopes of avoiding relegation to the Championship. However, the club, with its squad desperately lacking in either desire or confidence was virtually already down. Shearer and the fans could only watch in horror as the club slid into English football’s second tier at Villa Park in May. Although it was hardly Shearer’s fault, it was to be the worst moment of his playing and (short) managerial career.

Ashley oversaw Alan Shearer lead the team as they were relegated in 2009.

In the immediate aftermath of the team’s relegation, Shearer claimed the club was in need of a massive overhaul from top-to-bottom. He later declared that he wanted the job full-time and when Ashley and Llambias said he was the man to take the club forward, it seemed only a matter of time until the sheet-metal worker’s son from Gosforth took up the task of guiding his hometown club back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. However, Shearer claimed he was never even offered a contract. It seemed apparent that it was a publicity stunt by the NUFC board, aimed at quelling demand for Shearer to be given the job even though he was never in the running. One of the reasons may have been his wage-demands although it’s more likely the requested control over team affairs and transfer budget that put Ashley off appointing Shearer. Instead, he appointed the low-budget option of Chris Hughton – the quiet ex-Spurs man who had failed to inspire when in temporary charge the previous season. The club was again put on the market and again there were no takers. Ashley took the club off the market for a second time and turned Hughton’s temporary appointment into a permanent one after a promising start to the season.

Hughton – on a reported annual salary of just £250k – received no money for transfers despite seeing the likes of Michael Owen, Mark Viduka, Damien Duff, Obafemi Martins, Habib Beye and Sebastien Bassong all leave the club in the wake of its relegation. Hughton slowly conquered the hearts of the Toon Army as he manfully guided the team to automatic promotion with alarming ease. Only the achievement was anything but easy. The club’s humiliated players, tarnished by relegation, bonded and formed a new-found team spirit, battling their way to 102 points and the Championship trophy.

Chris Hughton delivered promotion and silverware at the first time of asking

Paying PL wages in the Football League: Ashley’s successful gamble

Although many star names left, several remained at the club and due to Ashley’s failure to include relegation induced wage reductions in players contracts, the entire playing staff continued to pick up Premier League wages. The massive reduction in revenue caused by relegation meant that Ashley was left to pay the bills, forking money out of his own pocket to keep the club running and the players paid. It was another Ashley gamble  – The club’s wage bill dwarfed those of other clubs in the Championship – except this time it paid off. By retaining the core group of the playing squad, Newcastle’s quality shone through and promotion was secured. Ashley’s faith in both Hughton and the playing squad must be commended, even if many will see alterior motives behind his decision to back both.

Return to the Premier League (and old ways)

Once back in the Premier League, Hughton received limited funds to strengthen the squad, bringing in Cheik Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa (initially on loan), but the outlay of £3.5m in summer transfer fees was one of the lowest in the Premier League. Ashley was gambling again – this time that the squad was good enough to survive the 2010/11 season. By the start of November his gamble seemed to be paying off, with the club sitting safely in the top half of the table and great results against Aston Villa, Sunderland and Arsenal showing that Newcastle were able to compete in the top-flight. However, when Hughton’s assistant Colin Calderwood left to take over at Hibs North of the border, doubts about Hughton’s future began to surface as he was unable to choose his replacement. In true Mike Ashley fashion, the owner bit the hand that fed him and dispensed of Hughton in December, replacing him with Alan Pardew, rumoured to be a London gambling buddy, known through former casino manager Del boy Llambias. The move further angered the Toon Army as Hughton had worked minor miracles in the face of adversity yet this time it also served to anger the footballing community as a whole, with Hughton one its most-liked members. His replacement with a man whose track record included relegating Charlton Athletic and, most recently being sacked as manager of League 1 outfit Southampton failed to inspire Newcastle’s fans although with safety virtually assured and £35m from the sale of Andy Carroll to spend, it remains to be seen if the appointment of Pardew will be a successful gamble or the latest in a long line of major Ashley gaffes.

The jury is still out on Ashley's decision to appoint Alan Pardew as Hughton's successor

Whilst Ashley is undoubtedly guilty of committing several high profile mistakes and PR errors, he has also made some good decisions in the running of the club. Ashley finally has the club running like a business and as much as some people may hate it, in the harsh current economic climate, that is how football clubs will have to be run as fans of Leeds, Portsmouth and Plymouth will doubtless agree. If the man portrayed as the Devil by most on Tyneside has good intentions for the club’s future then he simply MUST show them this summer with the substantial amount of cash he pocketed from the sale of Andy Carroll in January. For many, Ashley had his last chance too long ago but some are willing to have Sympathy for the Devil and see what he does in the summer before making their final judgement.

Some of Ashley’s biggest NUFC PR gaffes:

  • Appointing Dennis Wise above KK
  • Appointing Joe Kinnear
  • Poor treatment of club legends Keegan and Shearer
  • The stadium naming rights fiasco (SportsDirect.com@StJamesPark)
  • Sacking Chris Hughton
  • The sale of Andy Carroll

“Forget Andy Carroll – he is not for sale at any price!”

‘Toon Insider’: November 2010

 

“When I sat down with Derek Llambias last night, Andy Carroll came up and he stays”

Alan Pardew: 9th December 2010

 

“He loves it here and loves the fans – long may it continue.”

Alan Pardew: 21st December 2010

 

“They can put together whatever they like. He is not for sale. I am going to say it for one last time, he is not for sale”

Alan Pardew: 17th January 2011

 

“He’s tired of saying how much he wants to stay.”

Evening Chronicle – TODAY 31st January 2011

 

“A transfer request from striker Andy Carroll has been accepted by Newcastle United.”

Official Newcastle United Website – 31st January 2011

 

A crazy transfer deadline day has so far brought with it rumour and counter-rumour galore, mainly revolving around Fernando Torres’ impending departure from Liverpool to Chelsea. With Liverpool having £50m burning a hole in their pockets and their distraught fanbase to appease, they have moved to replace Torres with Newcastle’s number 9 and Local Hero, Andy Carroll. The day started with rumours of a £30 million bid from Liverpool for the Gateshead-born talisman. This bid was supposedly rejected with Newcastle setting an asking price of £35million for their young striker.

By the late afternoon, Skyports News reported that Newcastle had “reluctantly” accepted a transfer request from Andy Carroll as he headed towards Merseyside for a medical. The transfer fee for Carroll is rumoured to be in the region of £35+ million with potential future additional payments. You would hope that Newcastle, taking heed from the Milner-Man City transfer will have included a sizeable sell-on fee clause, so that the club can profit in the event that Carroll should move on again in the future. The news of Carroll’s sale will spark a mixed reaction amongst Toon fans, with the player undoubtedly a fantastic, local prospect worthy of potentally emulating Alan Shearer as the club’s record goalscorer. However, £35 million plus is an incredible amount of money and should Carroll sign for the Reds before Torres puts pen to paper with Chelsea then he will become the most expensive player in British football history and the 8th most expensive in the world. For a player that has 14 top-flight goals and one international cap to his name, it is a phenomenal price, achieved purely as a knock-on effect of Torres relocation to London. Considering Carroll was supposedly offered around to clubs for a a paltry £1m only 18 months ago, the deal represents a great profit for Newcastle, but also underlines the immense improvement in Andy Carroll’s game since Newcastle were relegated in 2009.

He may hail from Gateshead but Carroll is far from the Angel of The North

The hurt for Newcastle fans will be tempered somewhat by Carroll’s apparent desire to leave, proven by  his decision to hand in a transfer request. Although the player wanted to leave and the price is an incredibly good one for Newcastle, the real reaction from Newcastle fans will come from the clubs response in replacing Carroll. With such little time left in this window, it is highly unlikely that the Magpies will be able to buy a high-calibre replacement, so a loan deal for an out-of favour striker from elsewhere in the Premier League seems likely, although rumours linking Peter Crouch with a move to the North-East seem unlikely as Spurs are themselves looking to bolster their attacking ranks having let Robbie Keane go on loan to West Ham. Newcastle may have to wait until the summer to sign Carroll’s replacement and will then be able to benefit from the lower summer transfer window prices.

Liverpool are getting themselves a very good player with undoubted talent and potential, yet £35 million is an incredibly big millstone around his neck and should he fail to hit the ground running, there will be plenty of doubters ready to criticise the Geordie and make him a scapegoat after the loss of their beloved Torres. Whether or not the pony-tailed striker can carry the weight of expectation that will follow him remains to be seen. Whether Newcastle can recover from the loss of their highest goalscorer and one of their best players also remains to be seen. The only way Newcastle can move on is through shrewd reinvestment of the Carroll transfer fee in developing the squad: Anything else will spell disaster for the Mags.

Saturday saw Newcastle repeat their performance of 6 days previous, against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. In the Tyne-Wear derby, having led 1-0 through an early second-half goal and despite dominating proceedings, Sunderland somehow equalised in added time to snatch 2 points from the Magpies. On Saturday, at home to a (supposedly) title-challenging Spurs side, Newcastle again led through a goal in the third quarter of the game, only to be denied taking all three points by another injury-time leveller. The main difference between the two games was that unlike Asamoah Gyan’s lucky looping effort that took him by surprise the week before, Tottenham’s sickening equaliser was most definitely avoidable.

A combination of injuries, suspensions had left the squad looking incredibly bare, with even the lesser-spotted Xisco making it on to the bench for the Spurs game. The absence of key players Cheik Tiote and Andy Carroll in particular had dampened expectations ahead of the two games, combined with the recent and utterly humiliating FA Cup defeat to League 2 minnows Stevenage. Whilst most level-headed Toon fans would agree that they would have taken draws against two sides pushing for Europe prior to the matches, to lose 4 points in injury time over the two games makes them feel more like defeats and leaves the Toon Army with the feeling of “what if?” Nevertheless, it’s two points gained, but four points lost.

The Premier League table makes for good reading for Toon fans, but it could have been even better.

As far as achieving our original aim at the outset of the campaign of finishing 17th, we are well on course. In fact, we are on course to finish in the top-10; something even the more ambitious Toon fans would probably admit they didn’t expect back in August. Compared with the infamous relegation campaign of 2008/09, we are 7 points better-off than at the same point (23 games in) 2 years ago. Despite only taking 2 points from the last two fixtures when we should really have taken all six, the signs are good for the Mags. Unbeaten in the league in 2011, Newcastle have collected 8 points from a possible 12, pushing thoughts of relegation onto the back-burner once again. Yet it is the performances in the last four (league) games that have quelled relegation talk as much as the points haul that they have brought. The team has impressed, despite notable absentees, in all four games.

Beating the beatable

Firstly, Newcastle won for the first time ever in the DW/JJB stadium. The 1-0 scoreline at the DW belies the ease with which Newcastle dominated their blue and white opponents. As far as Newcastle away performances go, they don’t come much easier than this. Newcastle dominated a poor Wigan side from start to finish and should really have added to their goal difference with Shola Ameobi and Leon Best both squandering great chances they would usually bury. Secondly, only a matter of days after registering 3 points at the home of Mike Ashley’s sports-retail nemesis, the team maintained its winning ways by thoroughly thrashing a woeful West Ham by five goals to nil at St James’ Park. The game saw Leon Best mark his full Newcastle United and Premier League debut with a left-footed hattrick, moving him above Wayne Rooney in this season’s Premier League goalscoring charts in the process.

Leon Best silenced some of his doubters with a well-taken hattrick on his full debut against West Ham

It was also the third time this season that United have registered 5 or more goals in a single game (following Villa and Sunderland); something Toon fans could only dream of 2 years ago. These are the games that Newcastle notoriously struggle to win. Over the last decade, impressive performances against the so called bigger-teams have often been followed up by humbling defeats to the likes of Wigan and West Ham. It is these games that must be won if United are to survive and in winning these, Newcastle went a long way towards securing their place amongst England’s elite come the end of May.

Failing to hold on

After the debacle at Stevenage in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, attention turned to the Stadium of Light where local bragging rights were again at stake, although it would take some performance from Sunderland to match or eclipse the events of Halloween when they were well and truly embarrassed by a rampant United side. In the end, an under-strength Newcastle team performed admirably and dominated the home side in a tense affair. The lack of cutting edge that would have allowed Newcastle to score a deserved second goal to kill off the game however, was obvious. Squandered chances and a defensive approach in the final minutes allowed Sunderland to score their undeserved and fortuitous last-gasp equaliser that robbed the Mags of all three points. The failure to convert a second goal and claim all three points on Wearside clearly had a profound effect on the Newcastle team that faced Tottenham on home soil less than a week later. Heading into the last 15 minutes in the same situation as they found themselves against their local rivals, Newcastle led 1-0 through a fantastic Fabricio Coloccini strike at the Gallowgate end. However, whilst Spurs dominated possession, they looked unlikely to score as Newcastle defended magnificently, led into battle by their Argentine Colossus who snuffed out attacks and blocked shots at will.

The difference in approach from Newcastle was obvious against Spurs. Wounded by the mackems’ late leveller the week before, the team broke forward on the counter-attack against Spurs at every available opportunity, often finding themselves with men to spare as Tottenham pushed for an equaliser. Again, numerous chances were squandered by the home side; Lovenkrands hitting straight at Cudicini when clean through on goal and Nile Ranger sidefooting just wide when a simple pass to the unmarked James Perch would have sufficed. Then, as the game entered injury time, United broke forward with 3-on-2. The corner flag beckoned and had the game taken place some 10 years ago, we surely would have seen the iconic image of the club’s greatest ever goalscorer facing the flag, ball at his feet, fending off 2 or 3 opposition players at a time, all in the aid of 3 precious points.

However, it was not to be. The usually impeccable Joey Barton had given his all in the previous 89 minutes as he broke forward with the ball at his feet, Peter Lovenkrands to his right and Nile Ranger to his left. Barton was visibly shattered as he overhit his pass, intended for Ranger into the box and the waiting hands of Carlo Cudicini. The former Chelsea keeper threw it to Michael Dawson, who in turn launched a long ball onto the head of Peter Crouch, some 50 yards up the pitch. Crouch duly won the header, with the ball ending up at Aaron Lennon’s feet, via Jermain Defoe. By this time, the miniature England winger had switched flanks after it took him nearly an hour to find his way out of Jose Enrique’s pocket on the opposite wing. For the last half hour of the game, Lennon ran his marker – Danny Simpson – ragged. As Lennon approached the Newcastle box, Simpson continued to back off at an alarming distance, as has become his trademark. By showing Lennon too much room, he invited the former Leeds trainee to cut inside and onto his favoured right foot. The wideman duly obliged, before placing his shot low into the bottom left corner of the Leazes’ end net. Had Barton not misplaced his pass or had Simpson shown Lennon onto his weaker, left foot, we would surely be talking about a fantastic victory and 3 points. Instead, we are left to rue our misfortune/mistakes for the second time in a week, leaving Alan Pardew with the task of finding a more balanced approach to seeing out games in the future.

Safety virtually assured

Whilst the late, harsh equalisers in Newcastle’s last two games have soured fantastic team performances, it should be remembered that a current Champions League team and our Europa-League chasing local rivals have both left the field extremely happy to have a solitary point in the bag, having been out-battled and at times outperformed by a newly promoted team. If the current form of the team carries on and coincides with the return to action of Tiote, Carroll and, further afield, Hatem Ben Arfa, then there is no reason why the team can quickly reach the “magical” 40-point safety mark and push on for a top-10 finish.

The return of Mr T-iote will help the club push towards guaranteed survival

If Alan Pardew can add to the current squad with some real quality in the coming week then this will help to improve the squad depth and go some way to re-establishling Newcastle as a Premier League side. With the recent departure of Wayne Routledge, the addition of a right sided midfielder is a necessity before the window closes. At the moment though, on the basis of the league performances since the turn of the year, only minor tweaks are needed to see us through to the summer when more radical changes can take place and Pardew can start to put his own stamp on what is in reality, still Chris Hughton’s squad.