Posts Tagged ‘Hughton’

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.

“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

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!

Several managers were linked with replacing Chris Hughton after the amiable Irishman was ridiculously sacked at the start of the week. However, despite the coincidental availability of Hughton’s ex-boss Martin Jol brought about by his resignation from Ajax just hours after Hughton’s departure on Monday and betting on Martin O’Neill and Jurgen Klinsmann bringing their odds down dramatically, in reality only one man was ever going to get the job. Thursday morning saw the club officially announce what had already become public knowledge some 24 hours previously. Former Reading, West Ham, Charlton and Southampton manager Alan Pardew was installed as NUFC’s new boss on an unheard of 5 and a half year contract.

Alan Pardew was appointed as NUFC manager on a 5 and a half year contract on Thursday

The silver fox – as he is affectionately known – had been out of work since the start of the season when he was, in similar circumstances to Hughton, unceremoniously relieved of his duties at The Saints despite winning their first silverware in over 30 years in the form of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Simultaneously, in the league, Southampton narrowly missed out on a play-off spot at the end of last season, despite being handicapped with a 10-point administration penalty. Southampton started the 2010/2011 season with a loss at home to newly relegated Plymouth but followed it up with a draw and an emphatic 4-0 win away to Bristol Rovers. Pardew was sacked just two days later however, with concern over staff morale given as the unofficial reason for his departure.

Just over a week before Pardew’s departure from the South coast club, Chris Hughton was enjoying his first home game as a permanent top-flight manager, watching his new number 9 and local hero Andy Carroll bag his first career hattrick in a 6-0 rout of managerless Aston Villa. Newcastle were back in the big time and all seemed well on the surface. However, with hindsight, we can now see that chairman Mike Ashley was unhappy with Hughton at the helm. However, with the win against Villa and the subsequent 5-1 drubbing of Sunderland combined with excellent away wins at Everton and Arsenal, he found it impossible to relieve Hughton of his duties when the club were sitting in 5th place at the start of November.

The 5-1 victory over Sunderland helped to delay Hughton's sacking.

With media pundits far and wide queuing up to tell Mike Ashley to reward the former Spurs man with a new deal, doubts about his backing from the boardroom surfaced firstly with the departure of Hughton’s number 2 and confidante Colin Calderwood in the middle of October. Calderwood chose to leave his position in order to take over at struggling SPL club Hibernian. Not a great surprise to most, but it was the search for Calderwood’s replacement that turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Nine days after Calderwood’s seemingly innocuous departure came the biggest hint from the boardroom that Hughton was surplus to requirements. After rumours about his job security saw betting suspended on him being the next Premier League boss to lose his job, the board released this bizarre statement:

“Chris is our manager and will remain our manager, and it is our intention to re-negotiate his contract at the end of the year.”

Official Club Statement: 27/10/2010

The statement, especially when viewed now, in hindsight, was a clear indication that Hughton was not wanted, despite a good start to the season and support from the vast majority of the Toon Army. Then, in the following weeks Hughton’s efforts to appoint a new assistant manager were met with contempt from above. Hughton wanted ex-Chelsea and West Ham man Steve Clarke but Ashley and his puppet (Silence of the) Llambias wanted to see Hughton appoint from within, with reserve coach Peter Beardsley their favoured option. Their motives behind such a move are now obvious, with them looking to dispose of Hughton as soon as possible and understandably reluctant to shell out wages and the inevitable compensation package that would follow when Hughton’s successor decided to bring in his own men. As a result, Hughton never got his number 2. He knew all along that he was living on borrowed time yet the way he conducted himself in the last few months is the mark of the man. In the face of such adversity and non-compliance from the board, he carried out his job with incredible dignity, the likes of which have not been seen since Sir Bobby Robson left under similar circumstances in 2004. Where other managers would have vented their feelings to the media and leaked to the papers the lack of boardroom support, he kept all problems in-house, well aware of the damage that can be done to the club via such channels.

Following Colin Calderwood's departure, Hughton was not permitted to choose his own No. 2.

Ashley’s sacking of Hughton was delayed only be the good form of the team on the pitch. He waited for the team to slip up and after shipping 8 goals on the road to Bolton (5-1) and West Brom (3-1), he wielded his much used axe. The announcement caused anger nationwide and for once, football fans seemed to sympathise with Newcastle fans as they realised that this was a decision taken solely by Ashley, with the Toon Army still – to borrow a Hughtonism – “very much” behind their manager. Anger was tempered slightly by the hope that the board would deliver on their reason for sacking Hughton:

Supporters still angry that Hughton had undeservedly lost his job and the club had lost its new-found stability hoped that Ashley had a plan. Out-of-work managers Martin O’Neill and Alans Curbishley and Pardew were the early front runners. Confirmation late on Monday of Martin Jol’s departure from Dutch giants Ajax seemed too well-timed to be a coincidence, yet that was all it was. The Toon Army’s hopes that Hughton’s replacement would indeed have significant top-flight experience were unfounded. The most unpopular of all realistic appointments, Pardew scored less than 2% of over 1000 votes in The Evening Chronicle’s ‘Next NUFC manager’ poll. On this site, he had only 1 vote prior to his appointment on Thursday, after which he garnered a further 2, taking his percentage to just under 3.5%. To say the Toon Army were underwhelmed would be an understatement. After yet another major blunder by Mike Ashley, he had a chance to go someway to rectifying the situation through the appointment of an experienced manager, as stated was required to ‘take the club forward’:
“If they are going to fire someone as good as Chris, they have to then bring in a big name, someone who has won trophies. And that doesn’t even mean he will necessarily be better. If they just bring in someone similar, it’s a joke.”

Jose Enrique
However, the hiring of Pardew (a joke according to Enrique), sacked by 3 of the 4 clubs he’s managed, was a slap in the face to the Newcastle fans and a kick in the balls to Chris Hughton who must wonder just what Pardew had done in his 74 Premier League games that Hughton had failed to in 16. One thing that Pardew does possess over Hughton is the blemish of a relegation on his CV, taking Charlton down in 2007, although to be fair, they already seemed doomed when he took the helm at the Addicks at the end of 2006. 

Alan Pardew took Charlton down to the Championship in 2007

Anger amongst the Toon Army further followed with BBC Sport claiming that Ashley knew Pardew as he had become one of his gambling buddies at Llambias’ London casino a few years back. Pardew claimed the first he heard of the possibility of getting the Newcastle job was when he received a call from his agent on Monday night, yet that begs the question why the bookmakers had him installed as the early favourite, amid rumours he met with Ashley the week before Hughton’s dismissal.

Whilst protests are planned at St James’ Park for before and during today’s game against Liverpool, it is highly unlikely that they will achieve anything but disruption on the pitch. There are echoes of the Hull game after Kevin Keegan’s acrimonious departure 2 years ago. On that day the Magpies lost 2-1 and 8 months later Newcastle United were relegated at Villa Park, finishing the season in 18th place, 1 point behind Hull City with a superior goal difference. Had Newcastle won that game, they would have survived with ease (on the basis that all other results stayed the same), finishing with 5 points more than Hull. It turned out to be a true relegation six-pointer… in September. 

Protests against the board in 2008 contributed towards the club's relegation. Repeat scenes today are not needed.

Therefore, if anyone was in any doubt as to the importance of the game against Liverpool, who arrive with a poor away record this season, they need only look back to that fateful day on the 13th of September 2008 to see that points need to be gained as soon as possible and protestations simply do not help on-field matters. Whilst many will not like the appointment of Pardew, and certainly not the sacking of Hughton, there is nothing we can do about it. At the end of the day, we are not fans of any individual. We support Newcastle United and the team needs us, both today and for the rest of the season. To Chris Hughton, thank you. To Alan Pardew, good luck.

Howay the Lads!!

On Monday, the Newcastle United Board released the following statement confirming Chris Hughton’s sacking as the club’s manager:

Newcastle United Football Club have today parted company with manager Chris Hughton. Goalkeeping coach Paul Barron also leaves the club today.

The board would like to place on record their thanks to Chris for his considerable efforts during the club’s transition from Championship to Premier League football.

Chris has shown exceptional character and commitment since being appointed manager in October 2009. The club wishes him well for the future.

Regrettably the board now feels that an individual with more managerial experience is needed to take the club forward.

The task of appointing a new manager now begins. An announcement will be made shortly regarding transitional arrangements pending the appointment of a successor.


However, with Thursday bringing confirmation of the arrival of failed League 1 manager Alan Pardew, perhaps the reason the board gave for relieving Hughton of his duties should have read:

Fortunately Chris’ reluctance to accept an assistant manager that was enforced upon him has led to his position becoming untenable. It is without regret that the board now feels an individual whom will above all respect the wishes of  Mike Ashley & Derek Llambias – regardless of performance – is needed to take the club forward.


Alan Partridge would have been a more popular appointment than Pardew

Forget Emmerdale, Neighbours, Hollyoaks and even Coronation Street. As soap opera’s go, nothing quite matches North-Eastenders for drama and unexpected plot twists. The popular Newcastle-based soap opera returned with a bang for its first episode of the 2009/2010 season after a significant absence of major storylines in the last 18 months.

The UK's most popular soap-opera returned with a bang on Monday

The major storyline that grabbed headlines on Monday was of course the sacking of Chris Hughton from his position as Newcastle United’s manager. After the 5 years of almost non-stop turmoil at the club that followed the late Sir Bobby Robson’s sacking in 2004, the club looked to have finally found a semblance of stability under the reserved Irishman. The club reached rock-bottom in the summer of 2009 following a season that saw the team relegated to the Coca-Cola Championship via 4 managers (2 of which were club legends), boardroom upheaval, heart-attacks, player sales and generally shambolic organisation both on and off the pitch. Newcastle United made Harchester United from the now-defunct Sky1 football drama “Dream Team” look incredibly well-run. Some of the stories that have come out of St James’ Park over the last decade would have probably been thrown out by Dream Team’s scriptwriters as too unrealistic. Who knows? Perhaps Sky took the decision to drop the programme in 2007  as they couldn’t keep up with their competitors?

Anyway, enough of the soap opera comparisons. Hughton is widely regarded as the main reason behind the revival in Newcastle’s fortunes that started some 16 months ago on a sunny August day at The Hawthorns. Working with a depleted version of the squad that was too weak to maintain their place in England’s elite division at Villa Park 3 months earlier, Hughton galvanised a threadbare squad and instilled a team spirit and determination that had been lacking since the Robson days. Hughton not only ended the rot, but transformed a bunch of individuals into a team, leading them emphatically back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, via a permanent contract and the Championship trophy, United’s first piece of silverware since Keegan achieved the same feat back in 1993.

Hughton turned 11 individuals into a team

Fantastic. Hughton must have earned himself a new, lucrative contract for his exceptional work you say? Not a chance. Not with Mike Ashley at the helm. The man who made his fortune by flogging gear that comes fresh out of the factory with 70% off stickers already attached was not about to reward a man he saw as incompetent. Ashley no doubt thought that by paying the Championship’s largest wage bill obviously warranted promotion regardless of the man in charge. To him, Hughton was a cheap, temporary ‘yes’ man. Good enough to steer the club back to the big time but nothing more. Yet Ashley was faced with a problem in the summer. After winning The Championship, registering 102 points and going unbeaten at home for the entire season, Hughton had made himself 50,000 fans in Newcastle and many more admirer’s across the country. Sacking him now would bring an enormous backlash from everyone, far and wide. The answer was simple; give him time and he’ll dig his own grave… surely.

Unfortunately from Ashley’s point of view, Hughton started his Premier League managerial career well. An encouraging defeat at Old Trafford on the opening weekend was followed up by a 6-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. Although some poor home performances followed against some of the ‘smaller’ teams, Newcastle picked up unexpected points away from home with good wins at Everton and West Ham as well as a 4-3 victory at Stamford Bridge in the Carling Cup. The home form was a concern but everyone agreed, Newcastle had surpassed the expectations of most and started the season well. The subsequent 5-1 mauling of local rivals 5under1and and excellent 1-0 win at The Emirates saw the Mags rise to the heady heights of 5th place in the league. Yet all the while, Mike Ashley was unscrupulously plotting Hughton’s demise. Despite pressure on Hughton from outside the club, not least from Tyneside’s unfavoured son Alan Oliver, the vast majority of the club’s fans remained thoroughly behind the former Spurs man. The wins against Sunderland and Arsenal turned the media bandwagon in Hughton’s favour, calling for him to be awarded a new contract. Before United’s defeat to Arsenal in the Carling Cup at the end of October, betting had been suspended on Hughton being the next Premier League manager to lose his job. Following the game, the board released this statement:

“Chris is our manager and will remain our manager, and it is our intention to re-negotiate his contract at the end of the year.”

Hughton received the dreaded vote of confidence™ and although some saw it as a good sign that Hughton had the backing of the board, the statement stunk of Hughton remaining on a trial period. The reluctance of the board to offer him a new contract, either in the summer or after the Sunderland/Arsenal wins showed a complete lack of faith in Hughton’s credentials as a top-flight manager. The team’s performances and the board’s bizarre statement gifted Hughton breathing space, yet that was all it was. A home loss to Blackburn was followed up by a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Fulham. Subsequent heavy defeats away at Bolton and West Brom came either side of a spirited 1-1 draw at home to the champions Chelsea.  Suspensions and injuries played their part, with five of Hughton’s arguably strongest lineup missing from the defeat to West Brom (Harper, Coloccini, Williamson, Nolan & Barton), not to mention the long term absence of French whizz-kid Hatem Ben Arfa, cruelly struck down by Nigel de Jong at Eastlands.

The poor performance at West Brom on Sunday was without several first team players

The first half of the defeat at West Brom saw Newcastle play some of their poorest football since their 2008/09 relegation campaign, yet the fans still chanted Hughton’s name, confident that the new-found stability he had instilled would lead to safety come May. Mike Ashley saw it differently however. Taking 2 points from a possible 15 since the win at Arsenal signaled his best chance to dump Hughton. Whether or not he expected the Newcastle fans and football fans in general to agree with his decision is unclear. What is clear is that he couldn’t care less. It seems he could benefit from employing a PR agency (Even England’s 2018 bid team could do a better job) as he clearly has no understanding of the way his decisions impact upon the people that matter within the football club; the fans. Not to mention the players, whom are known to have been very close to Hughton. The question being asked now is how they will react to his sacking. Whether or not they will maintain the spirit that has seen them take a respectable 19 points from 16 games remains to be seen although the late kickoff against Liverpool on Saturday should reveal their levels of desire.

The overwhelming feeling amongst Newcastle fans yesterday was one of anger. Angry that a good man has undeservedly lost his job. Angry that when it finally seemed the club was headed in the right direction, Ashley has contrived to drag the clubs name though the dirt once more. Angry that we are once again the laughing stock of the country (Perhaps OXO should sponsor us after Northern Rock) and angry that the proposed replacements – Martin O’Neill and Alan’s Curbishley & Pardew – seem like sideways steps or in Pardew’s case, a backwards step. The late night announcement from Holland that ex-Spurs man Martin Jol had stepped down from his position at Ajax improved moods slightly, although it is thought that his resignation was coincidental and Pardew remains favourite with the bookies. The board have let it be known that they want Hughton’s successor in place by the end of this week. Quite who Mike Ashley will pick as his leading role for the next episode of North-Eastenders is unclear. It is however, sure to be yet another controversial decsion.

So for the man that effectively started his tenure with a dogged, determined draw at The Hawthorns in August 2009, it is ironic that his managerial term should also end at the same ground, some 16 months and 121 league points later. To the man who saved our club and restored dignity (albeit temporarily), we thank you.

 

SHOULD HUGHTON HAVE BEEN SACKED?

WHO DO YOU WANT TO BE THE NEXT NEWCASTLE UNITED MANAGER?

 

On the eve of Newcastle’s home game with notoriously poor travellers Fulham, it has been interesting to see that Chris Hughton has received some criticism about his substitutions, or more accurately, the lack of them. In the wake of this week’s  2-1 defeat to Blackburn some fans have criticised Hughton’s lack of substitutions or the lateness of them in matches where we have struggled to break down the opposition.

The statistics show that in the four league games since Fabricio Coloccini’s last-gasp equaliser against Wigan at St James’ on the 16th of October, Hughton has made 4 changes out of a possible 12. In the two away wins in the capital, only one sub was used; Nile Ranger coming on for a tiring Ameobi with 8 minutes left at The Emirates. The lack of substitutions in these games is completely understandable however, as few fans, surely, would call for Hughton to make unnecessary changes in tight, tense affairs such as the two trips to London. It is not in these games that Hughton’s use of subs has been called in to question however. In the four home games that would have been targeted by the Toon Army as winnable when the fixture-list was released (Blackpool, Stoke, Wigan & Blackburn), United have taken only 1 point against a Wigan side that – with a 2-0 lead – really should have made it 0 points from a possible 12 for Newcastle. The team’s failure to break down the resolute defences of the latter three, as well as the heroics of Matt ‘Clark Kent’ Gilks in Blackpool’s goal have resulted in some insipid performances from a Magpie’s side used to regularly putting three and four past their opponents in their 2009/10 Championship winning season.

Newcastle played well against Blackpool but were denied by a formidable Matt Gilks performance

The lack of midfield creativity in the United squad has been exposed in these matches, where the opposition has parked their metaphorical team bus on the St James’ Park turf. That the vast majority of goals in recent weeks have come from corners and set pieces is no surprise. Newcastle have failed to break teams down by keeping the ball on the floor and have instead resorted to lofting balls into the box, feeding the clinical heading ability of Andy Carroll and poaching instincts of skipper Kevin Nolan to good affect. That Joey Barton has 3 assists and played a major part in 3 more of Newcastle’s last 9 league goals shows that he will be sorely missed in the next three games after the FA took retrospective action due to his punch on Blackburn’s Morten Gamst-Pedersen on Wednesday night. The absence of Barton should see a return to the starting lineup for wideman Wayne Routledge, eager to prove to his doubters – which may include the travelling Fulham fans – that he is a Premier League player.

Whilst most fans were not unhappy to see Routledge enter the fray against Blackburn on Wednesday, it was the timing of his introduction that drew criticism from some quarters. The diminutive winger entered the field of play six minutes after United fell behind to a Jason Roberts strike, and only two minutes before the end of the regulation 90 minutes. It was, for many, the right substitution at the wrong time. The other substitution in the match was an enforced one, with Nile Ranger replacing the injured Ameobi at the interval. Whilst Hughton has undoubtedly done an incredible job since becoming Newcastle United’s permanent manager just over a year ago some murmurs are starting to arise about his tactical prowess in utilising his bench players. This month’s edition of Four-Four-Two magazine carries an interesting article on ‘The art of substitutions’; arguing the importance of tactical substitutions in changing games. So far this season, my memory brings to mind only one occasion on which a Hughton substitution has really changed a game in our favour; Ameobi’s introduction on the hour mark against Wigan, with the score at 0-2. Ameobi went on to halve the deficit before we grabbed a 2-2 draw at the death.

In my mind at least, it has been a long time since we effectively used the substitutes bench to turn games in our favour. Long gone are the days of Sir Bobby’s triple changes mid-way through the second half of games when we were chasing an equaliser or winning goal. It has also been a while since we have possessed anything close to a super-sub. Again, I find myself thinking back to the Robson days and Lomana Lua-Lua being the closest we had to a player who would regularly produce as a substitute. 67 of Lua-Lua’s  88 appearances for the Mags came from the bench.

As far as memorable Newcastle substitutions go, two immediately come to my mind. Firstly, the late debut introduction of Colombian livewire Tino Asprilla at The Riverside in February 1996. With Newcastle 1-0 down to Middlesbrough and 23 minutes left on the clock, Asprilla entered the fray for his first Magpies appearance. Six minutes later he turned Boro defender Steve Vickers inside out before crossing for Steve Watson to equalise. The game ended 2-1 to to Newcastle and Asprilla had well and truly announced his arrival in English football.

Asprilla came off the bench on his debut to turn a defeat into a win, via some silky skills

My second most memorable Toon substitution is of course that of Michael Chopra, who replaced Lee Clark on the hour at the Stadium of Light in 2006, with the mackems leading 1-0. Fifteen seconds after coming on, Chopra netted the equaliser in front of a delirious away end after latching on to a Titus Bramble long ball. The rest, as they say, is history. United went on to win 4-1 in what turned out to be Alan Shearer’s last appearance as a professional footballer.

What are your most memorable Newcastle substitutions, past and present?

Who is your all-time favourite Newcastle supersub and is there a supersub among our current squad, waiting to be unleashed by Hughton?