Posts Tagged ‘Carroll’

August 31st 2011 is promising to be a big date in the calendars of Newcastle United fans as it should finally prove what Mike Ashley really intends to do with the club. The day marks the end of the summer transfer window and Newcastle’s business in the coming months will either confirm the doubts of many of the club’s fans or provide much needed hope and invigoration for the future.

In years gone by, a seemingly non-existent scouting team combined with constant managerial upheaval and a lack of funds meant that incoming transfers were usually concluded towards the end of August or January, on a whim, as panic set in and fans frustration grew. There are too many examples to list but some of the signings that have stereotyped Newcastle as a whimsical procrastinator in the transfer market include the likes of Albert Luque, Xisco, Nacho Gonzalez, Oguchi Onyewu et al. However, the appointment of Graham Carr as the club’s head scout has undoubtedly improved the way the club does its transfer business.

Under Graham Carr, expensive, whimsical flops like Albert Luque should be a thing of the past

Last summer the club, on a shoestring budget, carefully identified their targets and acquired them. The shrewd business conducted by Carr, Llambias and Lee Charnley saw Newcastle bring in the French whizzkid Hatem Ben Arfa and the unknown midfield anchorman, Cheik Tiote. Whilst Ben Arfa showed glimpses of his potential before being sidelined by Nigel De Jong at Eastlands, Tiote was undoubtedly the success story of the season. A bargain £3.5m was paid to Dutch champions FC Twente and but for his disciplinary problems, the defensive midfielder would most likely have been the clear frontrunner for the club’s Player of the Season award. The astonishing amounts of money that have been changing hands in England’s top flight since the turn of the year underline just how good a price the Magpies paid for the Ivorian. Newcastle’s number 7, Joey Barton, stated as much via his twitter account recently:

“English players are really expensive at the moment…. Mr T (Tiote) looks even more of a bargain now”    Joey Barton on Twitter

However, whilst the additions of Ben Arfa and Tiote last summer look to have been shrewd business, the amount of funds given to Chris Hughton were limited. The reasons for this became apparent in December when the Cockney-Irishman was relieved of his duties, making way for Alan Pardew who was given the length of contract and job security that Hughton could only dream of under Ashley. It soon became clear that Ashley did not trust Hughton to spend his money in the transfer market, no matter how little. The poor signings of James Perch from Nottingham Forest and the unattached Sol Campbell were apparently one of the final nails in Hughton’s managerial coffin.

Mike Ashley didn't trust Chris Hughton to spend his money

Whilst Pardew arrived with enough time to plan for the January transfer window and subsequently promised at least one arrival, it seemed that although several irons may have been in the metaphorical transfer market fire, the club refused to be held to ransom by the greedy agents of the average players that NUFC targeted. Among those players were rumoured to be the likes of Robbie Keane, David Bentley and Sebastian Larsson. Keane and Bentley both moved to clubs willing to cover their exuberant wages, whilst Larsson sat tight, arguably holding out for the lucrative payday that is now so commonly associated with players moving via the Bosman ruling. Newcastle’s lack of investment in January had much to do with the reluctance of its owner, Mike Ashley, to gamble on overpriced players in panic buys or loans when the club was still far from guaranteeing survival and another season in the top flight. Ironically, by not gambling on bringing in any players in January, Ashley in turn gambled the club’s safety on the abilities of Alan Pardew and the existing squad, minus the departing Wayne Routledge and Andy Carroll.

As many footballing experts will testify, the January transfer window is a seller’s market and so it proved to be for Newcastle. Many fans might argue that a replacement should have at least been found before Newcastle agreed to part with Carroll in return for £35m on the final day of the window. However, it’s easier said than done and if, as believed, the Liverpool interest came out of the blue, then finding a decent striker on the final day without being held to ransom by clubs and agents fully aware of the windfall the Mags had just received would be nigh on impossible. Any such replacement would likely have been overpriced and overpaid (see Luque, Xisco et al). Newcastle knew that come the summer, Carroll’s value would plummet. The reason Liverpool made the pony-tailed Geordie the 8th most expensive player in history was a direct knock-on effect of the ludicrous amount of cash they received from Chelsea for Torres. Had Newcastle spurned Liverpool’s advances, they would have taken their cash elsewhere. Like it or loathe it, the Carroll deal was good business from Newcastle’s financial point of view.

Agree with it or not - the Carroll sale was good business by the club.

Not signing a replacement may not have made footballing sense, as subsequent  injuries to Shola Ameobi and Leon Best showed, but the gamble paid off as Newcastle’s battling team spirit led them to a 12th place finish and another seaso in the Premier League. Mike Ashley’s doubters, of which there are many, now fully expect him to pocket the majority of the Carroll money, whilst again providing limited funds to his ‘yes man’, Alan Pardew for squad investment. There are those, however, who see this summer as Ashley’s last chance saloon. Armed with £35m and possibly more from other sales, Ashley can finally show his true intentions to the Toon Army, with a competent scouting network in place and a manager whom he trusts to spend his money (So far Allardyce, Keegan, Kinnear & Hughton haven’t).

For the first time in a long time, Newcastle finally look to have grabbed a transfer window by its throat, with Mike Ashley’s men actively scouring Europe for reinforcements to be paid for by the £35m bagged by Andy Carroll’s acrimonious sale to Liverpool on January 31st. Granted, Newcastle have money to spend and everyone knows as much but unlike many of the Toon’s top flight rivals, Newcastle are avoiding the inflated British market and instead choosing to concentrate their efforts on continental Europe where they feel Tiote-esque bargains are ready to be had. Graham Carr’s scouting network has had the best part of 5 months to compile their list of recommendations for Alan Pardew, in the knowledge that there is plenty of money to spend.

One player has already agreed to join the club. Lille’s French international midfielder Yohann Cabaye was in Newcastle today to put the finishing touches to his £4.3m move to St James’ Park. Valued in the region of £7-8m, Newcastle have pulled off something of a coup in triggering a little-known release clause that allows him to move for nearly half his supposed value.

Pardew has targeted pace and creativity as the main areas he wants to strengthen in his team, as well as adding at least one top striker capable of reaching double-figures in the league goals chart. Names linked include Kevin Gameiro of Lorient, Cheik Tiote’s silky compatriot Gervinho and former Toon star Charles N’Zogbia. Gameiro has consistently expressed his desire to play anywhere but England however, whilst Gervinho is courting interest from clubs with more to offer than Newcastle. N’Zogbia appears to be keen on returning to Tyneside but Wigan are reluctant to sell him to a club they see as relegation rivals for next season.

One advantage that Newcastle has over its rivals is Mike Ashley’s reluctance to pay for players in installments, as is the norm in footballing transactions. Already the club has stolen a march over others competing for the same players by offering cash up front – the fact that 85% of the Carroll money was received up front should help Newcastle to make significant progress in their endeavours this summer.

So whilst Newcastle struggle to attract their top targets to join them for now, the signs are there that the club is attempting to bring in players of a good pedigree and perhaps most significantly, that they are trying to do their business early in the summer, aware of the seller’s market that exists in late August. It remains to be seen just how successful Newcastle’s transfer dealings will be but the early signs are at least encouraging if nothing else, with one international player already through the door and several more likely to follow. One thing is for sure though – the days of Newcastle signing the likes of Albert Luque and Xisco appear to be very much in the past.

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

“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.

So with the usually unkind hectic festive-season, (becoming usual) FA Cup humiliation and Tyne/Wear derby away leg out of the way with decent league position (and local bragging rights) in tact, attention turns to latter half of the January transfer window, in which the majority of mid-season deals are completed. Before the window opened nearly three weeks ago, new Magpies boss Alan Pardew confirmed that he was looking to strengthen the squad with one or two additions, primarily of the offensive variety (That’s offensive in a tactical sense, not like El-Hadji Diouf):

We are looking at the market and hopefully can bring something in. You want a bit of quality, pace and directness and that is something we would like to add at some stage.

Alan Pardew speaking to Skysports

Striking reinforcements

At the start of the window it looked as though he may be interested in Spurs forgotten man Robbie Keane but a combination of the Irishman’s age, pricetag and excessive wage demands put an end to any interest. Last week saw newly-capped England and Cardiff striker Jay Bothroyd linked on the cheap, with the journeyman’s contract set to expire in six months time. However, both the player and then his club came out to state that he would be staying in Wales, at least until the end of his contract. Pardew’s original desire to add to the squad’s strikers seems to have waned though with the recent improved form of Leon Best and Shola Ameobi.

The Departed

Whilst also reiterating his desire to keep the majority of his squad, the former West Ham and Charlton manager has let it be known that he would be willing to allow some of the squad’s fringe players to leave. Such players rumoured to be in the ‘fringe’ category include the likes of Best, Perch, Campbell and Routledge. However, at the time of writing, only Routledge appears to be headed for the exits, with a loan deal lined up for him to return to the club he left a year ago, Queens Park Rangers. Whilst Routledge is undoubtedly a top-Championship player, he has failed to reproduce his excellent form from last season in the Premier League, adding more doubters and failed top-flight stints to an already lengthy list. A return to QPR would suit both player and club and with Routledge on board, it is very likely that we will see the R’s return to the Premier League in August following a 15-year absence, given their healthy position in the Championship table at present.

Wayne Routledge has failed to reproduce his Championship form in the Premier League

The delay in either club announcing Routledge’s impending transfer has sparked rumours that Newcastle are trying to negotiate a deal that will see former Spurs whizzkid Adel Taarabt coming in the opposite direction. It is, however, highly unlikely that QPR will let their top-scorer and star man leave with promotion within touching distance. The more likely scenario is that Newcastle are simply waiting to find a replacement for the little winger before rubber-stamping his departure.

Routledge Replacements

Confirmation has been forthcoming from a number of sources of our interest in a succession of right-sided wide-players. Firstly David Bentley, whose situation Pardew discussed with Redknapp following the Mags defeat at White Hart Lane in December, yet the former Arsenal trainee opted to move to Birmingham who supposedly agreed to his demand for guaranteed first-team football. Secondly, Seb Larsson, the right-sided midfielder whose contract expires in the summer and whose position is under threat from the aforementioned Bentley. However, Newcastle could not agree personal terms with the Swedish midfielder and have moved on to other targets. This week Shaun Wright-Phillips’ agent confirmed that Newcastle had enquired about the pacy Man City winger, although his wage demands may prove a stumbling block and Fulham appear to be in pole position to land the former Chelsea man. Leeds’ young Ivorian wideman Max Gradel has also been linked with a move to the Mags, but no confirmation has been forthcoming from any party about the reported interest.

The gossip columns have suggested that Pardew may infact opt to purchase a creative central midfielder, allowing Joey Barton to move permanently to the right flank on which he has operated so well this season. Names bandied about include Niko Kranjcar, Jamie O’Hara and Villa’s Stephen Ireland; all of which seem attainable at least.

The forgotten men

Amid all the speculation it is easy to forget that Newcastle have already made one permanent transfer in the current transfer window. The second week of January saw loanee Hatem Ben Arfa complete his permanent transfer to the Mags from Marseille, for a fee reported to be in the region of £6 million. The deal was renegotiated following the player’s leg break in September which meant he would be unable to fulfill the 25-appearance clause that would turn turn the season-long loan deal into a permanent transfer. The talented French whizzkid is on course to return to first team action in February to help Newcastle cement their place in the Premier League. Aside from Ben Arfa, the Mags also have another new player in the squad, despite the fact he signed for the club over 6 months ago.

Hatem Ben Arfa is Newcastle's sole permanent transfer in the transfer window so far.

Dan Gosling signed on a free transfer from Everton last summer following a contract-wrangle with his then-club Everton. However, he has been nursing a cruciate ligament injury since joining the club in July and only recently returned to full training. The box-to-box midfielder made his debut in the closing stages of last week’s Tyne/Wear derby and his return could not have been better timed with the absence of Cheik Tiote through suspension and the loss of Alan Smith for what could be the remainder of the season with an ankle injury.

Summary

It seems that Alan Pardew has rethought his original plan to bolster the striking ranks at the club and has instead focused on midfield and the right-wing in particular. The impending departure of Wayne Routledge will leave us incredibly short of cover for the not-natural right midfielder Joey Barton on the right flank. That is, of course, unless you value either Ryan Taylor or Danny Guthrie as suitable replacements. I don’t. The delay in announcing the Routledge deal hopefully signals that Newcastle have a superior replacement lined up for the right side of midfield, allowing Barton to occupy a more central role from which himself and Ivorian battler Tiote can dictate games. I would like to see us bring in a pacy winger that can take on opposing defenders, beat their man AND put in a decent cross on a consistent basis. These are all attributes that Routledge possesses, yet he cannot seem to implement them either together or consistently.

We have the basis of a good team yet our squad remains poor, as evidenced by our humiliating giant-killing at the hands of League 2 ‘minnows’ Stevenage. In the short term, a good right winger is a must and should be enough to see us through to the end of the season with Premier League status secured. In the longer term, it is imperative that both Joey Barton and Jose Enrique are tied down to the same sort of long-term contracts that have recently been given to the likes of Carroll, Steven Taylor, Williamson and Ranger.

Jose Enrique & Joey Barton are irreplaceable on current form

On current form, it would be incredibly hard, if not impossible to replace either the Scouse schemer or the Spanish Bull. Rumours of clubs wanting both players have surfaced and while Barton’s sentiments of wanting to stay at the club for the remainder of his career seem genuine, it’s hard to see Enrique staying should the rumoured interest from Bayern Munich or Manchester United actually turn out to be true. Enrique’s absence was felt at White Hart Lane in December when he missed the game through injury and deputy James Perch was at fault for Spurs opening goal. Cover for left back is therefore also a priority, although Shane Ferguson and Tamas Kadar may have something to say about that.

At the end of the season, should we survive, we can re-evaluate the situation and move forward. Up front, as good as the recent form of Best and Ameobi has been, it seems that for the club to truly progress, a new partner for Carroll will be needed. Whether that partner can be Nile Ranger remains to be seen.

Mike Ashley hasn’t changed

For the more optimistic among us, we had hoped that promotion back to the Premier League in the summer might finally stop Mike Ashley from making his seemingly tri-annual massive blunders that shake the club’s foundations and anger the supporters. Relegation (stadium naming-rights aside) seemed to have settled him down a bit, giving Hughton the job on a full-time basis followed by backing the manager in the January transfer window and again in the summer, without breaking the bank in doing so. The new, non-meddling, money efficient chairman had been slowly improving his public image. That was, until he angered not just the Newcastle fans, but the wider footballing world by relieving Hughton from his duties at the start of December, only to replace him with a man sacked by a League 1 outfit in August. For a man who supposedly shies away from the public spotlight, Ashley certainly doesn’t mind being Public Enemy Number One on Tyneside. For Toon fans, it seems the best advice with regards to Ashley is ‘expect the unexpected’.

Ashley returned to his old ways with the sacking of Chris Hughton


Andy Carroll is the future of our club

Not many could have predicted the rise of Andy Carroll from raw, lanky teenager two years ago, to Newcastle and England’s number 9, as he is today. In our relegation season I saw enough of him to know that he could head the ball and had decent chest control, but not much other than that. It turns out that relegation was a blessing in disguise for the club in many ways, but perhaps none more so than for the chance it gave Carroll to gain first team experience. Had we stayed up in 2009, it is probable that the likes of Owen, Viduka and Martins would have stayed on under Shearer’s management, leaving Carroll to either warm the bench or go out on loan to a Championship team unable to offer him the service that he thrived on last term. With Ameobi often injured, Carroll led the line alongside Peter Lovenkrands, scoring an impressive 19 goals (17 league) on his way to being named in the Championship Team of The Season. His value to the team has become even more important since returning to the top flight. Handed the prestigious number 9 shirt by Chris Hughton in the summer, Carroll has flourished, scoring 11 goals and assisting 6 more on his way to becoming one of the most coveted players in World football. With a price tag in the region of £20 million, the Gateshead born striker has many admirers, yet his sale would be a disaster for the football club. At the age of 21, he has the potential and time to become Newcastle’s greatest ever goalscorer. He is the future of the club.


We CAN win away in the top flight

One of the most pleasing aspects of Newcastle’s change in fortunes since they last (dis)graced the Premier League has been their much improved away form. In the 2008/09 season, we registered just 2 wins away from St James’ Park all season. Compare that to half way through this season where we have already picked up wins at Arsenal, Everton and West Ham. Perhaps the main reason for this upturn in away performances is down to attitude. For far too long Newcastle have been poor on the road, with players seemingly content to only ‘try’ at home. That changed after relegation. If Newcastle wanted promotion, they simply HAD to start picking up points away from home; and they did. This mentality has carried through into the Premier League and, combined with the extra defensive cover that Tiote provides, has seen us a lot more solid on the road.

Newcastle's away form has been the best for almost a decade so far this season

Joey Barton has a helluva cross on him

Since Barton signed for the club under Sam Allardyce in 2007, its fair to say he contributed almost nothing on the pitch; until this season that is. Continuing to enhance his growing badboy reputation, the Scouse midfielder was jailed in 2008 and when he hasn’t been behind bars or suspended for reckless lunges (Xabi Alonso) or needless punches (Morten Gamst Pedersen), he has invariably been injured. Broken metatarsals and cruciate ligament injuries had seen him play only 47 times in his first 3 seasons at the club. When he did play, he didn’t appear to offer much. However, after Chris Hughton stuck by him through another injury hit season last year Barton has already played in 17 games so far this season and has become the team’s most creative player, excelling from dead-ball situations and in delivering crosses from the right wing. His presence was sorely missed when he served a 3-match ban for his punch on Blackburn’s Pedersen and he showed how valuable he was when he returned for the Liverpool game and set up Nolan’s opener (with the help of Carroll) before prodding home the Mags second in a 3-1 victory. Often deployed in an unnatural right-wing role this season, he has benefited from a prolonged run of games in the team, making him one of the first names on the teamsheet.


Routledge is NOT a Premier League player

Wayne Routledge arrived 12 months ago in the January transfer window of 2010 and helped to propel us back into the top flight. In the Championship, the little winger confidently beat his marker before launching crosses onto the heads of Andy Carroll and Peter Lovenkrands. However, the wee man has found life tough since returning to the Premier League for the first time since playing a solitary league game for Villa in the 2008/09 season. Routledge’s top flight credentials have been questioned before, simply by the fact that he has earned the ‘journeyman’ tag, having played for no fewer than 7 clubs since leaving Crystal Palace in 2005. It seems that clubs have signed him, having seen his potential, but unable to coax consistency out of him, have shipped him on to another team that believes they can get the best out of him. He showed last season with QPR and then the Mags that he is undoubtedly an excellent Championship player. However, this season his delivery has let him down, not to mention the fact that he possesses neither the pace nor trickery to beat his marker. His main weakness though, is exactly that. He is physically weak and often muscled off the ball. He may be a decent squad player, but Premier League starter he is not.

Wayne Routledge has failed to deliver in the top flight so far

Cheik Tiote is sensational

Drawing comparisons from former manager Chris Hughton with Chelsea’s Ghanaian midfield engine Michael Essien may have drawn howls of derision from football fans up and down the country, but not from those of a black and white persuasion. Ever since his first start for the club at Goodison Park in September, the diminutive anchorman has far exceeded the fairly low expectations of him, as he arrived for the paltry fee of £3.5m from Dutch champions FC Twente, formerly managed by Schteve McLaren. At halfway in the season, others are starting to see what the Newcastle fans have seen all season; a tough tackling midfielder that rarely loses the ball and barely misplaces a pass. His energetic and committed approach also has its downsides however, with the Ivorian leading the way in the League’s yellow card count. The anchorman has added much needed steel and consistency to United’s midfield and become a firm favourite with the Toon Army in the process.


We’re sorted for goalkeepers

We started the season with the reliable Steve Harper, the Dutch under-21 captain (Tim Krul) and the reigning Norwich City players Player of the Season (Fraser Forster) on our books as our three main goalkeepers. The fact that our third choice keeper is on loan at and first choice for SPL giants Glasgow Celtic is proof that in the goalkeeping department, we have strength in depth. Those who doubted Krul’s credentials have seen him slot in seamlessly since number 1, Steve Harper was injured at Goodison in September. Although his kicking could be improved along with his decision making, as his gaffe against Man City shows, he has proved himself as a good shot-stopper and is confident in coming for crosses. As Harper returns from injury it will be interesting to see how the battle for the number 1 slot pans out, let alone what happens to Forster if and when he returns from his so-far successful spell at Celtic Park.


Kevin Nolan is an enigma

Although our prolific attacking midfielder seems to divide opinion among the Toon Army surely noone can criticise either the effort he puts in on the field, or the job he has done as club captain off it. Nolan divides opinion however, not because of his work rate, but more because of certain attributes he lacks. The Scouser is occasionally found wanting for both pace and awareness in the middle of the park, often guilty of surrendering possession too easily when dwelling on the ball. However, what he lacks in these departments he more than makes up for in the opposition’s 18-yard box. I found myself in the rare position of actually agreeing with Sam Allardyce a few months back. In the Sky studios as a pundit for the mackems game, he described Nolan as an average player in the middle of the park who comes to life in the penalty area. I couldn’t agree more with his assessment. I’m not sure how he does it, but sure enough if the ball falls loose in the box, the odds are he will be there to -more often than not- prod the ball home, either with neat sidefoots (West Ham & Liverpool) or the spectacular (Sheffield United & the mackems overhead kicks). Whilst his contribution in the middle of the park will always spark debate, it is hard to argue with his goal-scoring record, whether you view him as a midfielder or a forward. Long may it continue.

Captain Nolan cannot be faulted for his work-rate nor his prowess in the box

We have a good team, but a poor squad

Highlighted since the 5-1 loss to Bolton in November, Newcastle’s squad has been shown to be lacking strength in depth. Until the Bolton game, Newcastle coped admirably with their Premier League opposition when most outside the North East predicted a season of struggle. The fact that Hatem Ben Arfa and Steve Harper aside, the team had virtually no injuries or suspensions until November showed that the starting XI is capable of mixing and matching it with the best in the league. However, with the suspensions of Barton, Coloccini, Williamson and Tiote all coming in the last two months for one reason or another, we have seen the side struggle to replace them. In particular, the absences of Barton and Tiote for 3 and 1 game(s) respectively showed up the lack of strength in depth in United’s midfield. The loss of Jose Enrique through injury for the recent reverse at White Hart Lane also showed up our lack of cover at left back whilst the injury to Andy Carroll that sees him miss this week’s crunch ties at Wigan and home to West Ham is a real concern. Whether Alan Pardew will add sufficient strength to the squad in the upcoming January transfer window remains to be seen.


Mentality is everything

Despite what many people outside of Newcastle think, we were not relegated because our players were ‘not good enough’. We sank without a trace at Villa Park in May 2009 because throughout the season there was managerial upheaval, creating a loss of confidence in a playing squad that by and large couldn’t give a shit what division the club would be in the following season. This, and the lack of team spirit that now seems evident in the current Man City squad plagued the club on and off the field. Relegation turned out to be a blessing for us as Chris Hughton and the senior players pulled the club together, instilling a fantastic togetherness not seen at Gallowgate for years. In August, the predictable call from pundits was that we would be relegated as our playing squad was the same, if not weaker, than the one that took us down a year previous. However, they had discounted the effect of mentality upon a teams performance. The much talked about team spirit that now exists within the Newcastle squad has been vital in securing the mid-table position that the club presently occupies. Our relegation just goes to show that money doesn’t guarantee success and whilst it builds a squad, it doesn’t make a team. Manchester City beware.

 

What else have we learnt about the club at the halfway point of the season?

 

Happy New Year from Toon Barmy!

Andy Carroll’s Top 10 Goals

Posted: December 24, 2010 in Blogs
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Newcastle’s new number 9’s ten finest goals for the club so far…

Merry Christmas!