Monday, 5 June 2017

A tribute to Cheick Tiote - Remembering his best moment in Black and White


Date: 5th February 2011
Competition: Premier League
Where: St. James’ Park
Score: 4 – 4
Manager: Alan Pardew
Attendance: 51,561

Arsenal aren’t Newcastle’s favourite opponents in the Premier League era although there have been some impressive victories for the Magpies over the years.  Newcastle had been in the Championship wilderness for a season after dropping meekly out of the Premier League in 2009.  Chris Hughton, who had been the stand-in, the caretaker and now the manager had, with dignity and poise, guided a team of misfits back up at the first attempt.  His additions to the squad pre-Premier League return were impressive.  Midfield destroyer Cheick Tiote arrived from FC Twente along with Hatem Ben Arfa from Marseille on loan.  The season started with an expected rout at the hands of Manchester United, 3-0.  Not the ideal opportunity to get off to a winning start back in the big time.  The next game against Aston Villa (one of the sides Newcastle usually take points off) provided the opportunity to get off the mark, and that they did, with a 6-0 victory.  A poor 2-0 defeat to Blackpool followed with an impressive 1-0 victory over Everton thanks to a lovely goal by Ben Arfa to balance the books.  Victory over Chelsea (4-3) in the League Cup was a nice surprise but the sequence of one win in the next four wasn’t.  Couple that with a 4-0 home demolition by Arsenal in the League Cup fourth round and things didn’t look great for the visit of Sunderland.  However, Hughton’s men dispatched the Mackems back off down the A1231 with a 5-1 defeat ringing in their ears.  A surprise victory at Arsenal cheered up the owner who was breathing down Hughton’s neck at this point but defeat at Blackburn (2-1), a goalless draw with Fulham, a 5-1 defeat at Bolton and a 1-1 stalemate with Chelsea made Ashley pull the trigger in the most disappointing dismissal of a manager in recent times.  Only Sir Bobby Robson, to my memory, has been mourned when given his P45 by the chairman and a lot of Newcastle fans had sympathy for Hughton who had done nothing short of a miraculous job considering the circumstances of the relegation season.

Up stepped Alan Pardew which baffled everyone who knew anything about football, except the owner.  His first job was to pick the team for the visit of Liverpool and inspiring the side sufficiently to grab a 3-1 win.  Defeats followed to Manchester City and Tottenham but Wigan were beaten 1-0 and West Ham sent back to London wondering how they managed to lose 5-1 and more importantly, how Leon Best had been allowed to score a hat trick!  Pardew’s knack for not winning cup games was painfully jump started when Newcastle lost 3-1 to their old foes Stevenage Borough.  Even Kenny Dalglish had managed to inspire an uninspired Magpie team to beat Stevenage.  Somehow, after a couple of 1-1 draws against Sunderland and Spurs, Newcastle sat in 7th place at the end of January.  The patchy form continued with a 1-0 defeat away to Fulham which set up the second visit of the season to St. James’ Park by Arsenal and they were hungry for goals.

The Match

Andy Carroll had left for Liverpool at the end of the January transfer window, allowing the club to bank £35m; an astonishing amount of money for a player who at best was as good as David Kelly (£250,000 from Leicester) but potentially as good as Duncan Ferguson (£7,000,000 from Everton).  It turned out to be one of the worst transfer deals of all time as far as Liverpool were concerned but it seemed to make good financial sense from those on the other side of the Pennines.  The squad however seemed to be suffering from the loss of an integral part of their makeup. Not quite the same as losing Andy Cole in January 1995, Carroll had been a shining light in the post-Shearer days and had been shown the door despite the manager telling everyone he would be going nowhere.  The hang over was clear for all to see when a simple through-ball baffled Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini to allow Theo Walcott to latch on to it, outpace the defence and slide the ball into the corner after 40 seconds.  Two minutes later, Danny Simpson pulled Cesc Fabregas to the floor and gave away a free kick ten yards outside the penalty area on Newcastle’s right hand side.  Andrey Arshavin floated an innocuous ball into the centre, no Newcastle player even jumped to challenge and Johan Djourou planted his header into the top left corner.  Three minutes gone, Newcastle 0 Arsenal 2.

Things settled down for the next six minutes until Kevin Nolan lost the ball on the edge of his own area and within seconds it was at the feet of Theo Walcott on the right hand side of the area.  He didn’t really have to do much to beat Jose Enrique and roll the ball to an unmarked Robin van Persie in the centre.  Williamson did his best to stop van Persie scoring by sticking out a leg and turning his back on the shot but the score line increased to 3-0 and there were barely ten minutes on the clock.  The fans feared worse to come and although it did, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  It took Arsenal and good sixteen minutes to find the net again.  Bacary Sagna pranced away down the Arsenal right and fired a perfect cross into the middle where Williamson and Coloccini stood acres apart; van Persie wandered into the massive gap and headed the ball unchallenged into the net.  Some Newcastle fans began to leave the stadium after that goal, it’s something they’d seen all too often and there wasn’t even a hint of what was to happen in the second half.


Cheick Tiote was quoted as saying that Pardew was more than a little angry at half-time.  Reminding the players how much money the people in the stands had spent to watch what they were watching. ‘Things’ were thrown, although it was not specified what.  Maybe just insults?

The second half kicked off and a quick change was made when goalscorer Djourou was replaced by Sebastien Squillaci.  Five minutes into the second half, Joey Barton and Abou Diaby contested a loose ball.  Barton got to the ball first one footed but his momentum took him into the Arsenal player.  Diaby, upset at the challenge, grabbed the back of Barton’s neck and then shoved him to the floor.  Barton held both arms out in an expression of disbelief then Kevin Nolan came over to break up any further altercation.  Diaby then pushed Nolan and the referee saw it all.  Arsenal were soon down to ten men with forty minutes left to play.  On went the game and Tiote somehow found himself out on the right with Clichy to beat.  He couldn’t do so but won the corner from which Barton found Nolan who headed down for Leon Best to control and try to shake off the attention of Laurent Koscielny.  The Arsenal defender grabbed both Best’s arms and then stuck a leg between the Newcastle strikers legs causing him to tumble to the earth.  Penalty!  Barton took two steps and fired the ball into the bottom left corner. Game on!

In the aftermath of the goal, Szczesny wouldn’t release the ball back to Nolan who grabbed the keeper round the neck and caused him to fall to the ground.  Amazingly, it was the ‘keeper who received a yellow card.  (Nolan was also booked in secret after the Newcastle midfielder had returned to his own half). 
Newcastle then put together a lovely move which ended with Best putting the ball in the net.  He was flagged offside but Tomas Rosicky was playing him onside; despite the Arsenal man standing not five yards away from the linesman, he still flagged.  With fifteen minutes left on the watch, Jose Enrique floated a ball into the middle and Best rose, nodded the ball down for himself then fired the ball into the net unchallenged.  Every time Newcastle had the ball, the crowd were roaring them on, willing them forward to the point Nile Ranger received the ball, took on two Arsenal players and rifled in a vicious shot which the keeper had to palm away. 

Theo Walcott had faded as Arsenal spent the last twenty five minutes on the back foot so he was replaced by Emmanuel Eboue who gave away a free kick and was yellow carded within two minutes of his introduction.  The resultant free kick was floated over to Williamson who was subsequently fouled by Rosicky.  Phil Dowd, the referee, didn’t see anything untoward but the linesman on the nearside flagged and the referee put the whistle to his lips and gave the penalty.  Barton again took two steps and rifled the ball into the roof of the net.  Szczesny released the ball immediately as both Barton and Nolan converged on him to get it which allowed Newcastle to kick off again 3-4 down, the crowd as loud as they’d ever been and seven minutes left to play.  Then came one of the moments you hope for when you pay your money to enter the ground.  One of those moments that no matter how many times you rewatch it, it still gives you Goosebumps.  One of those goals that gives you shivers just by thinking about it. 


The frankly awful Tomas Rosicky backed into Joey Barton and sent him sprawling.  He got up quickly, willed everyone forward and pinged the free kick into the area.  The ball met the head of an Arsenal defender who cleared it only as far as Cheick Tiote who swung his unflavoured left foot at it and caused it to fly faster than the human eye could see, past Szczesny, and into the bottom left-hand corner.  The ground erupted and Tiote scampered off screaming indecipherable expletives into the Newcastle night sky.  He ended up on his knees and then face down on the turf to be joined by most of his black and white clad colleagues who decided to pile on top of him.  Steve Harper lay down on the grass nearby in his own solo celebration of sorts.  Five minutes of added time was indicated by the fourth official holding aloft the electronic board.  Coloccini found Nolan in the centre circle who played it back to Enrique.  His floated ball forward found Nile Ranger who knocked it back to the onrushing Nolan to side-foot the ball goalwards.  Unfortunately, instead of ripping the roof off the stadium with a 5th and winning goal on the night, it trickled agonisingly wide.  It mattered not however, this game went down in Premier League history nonetheless.  For Newcastle, the point felt like a win and for Arsenal, their point must have felt like a crushing defeat.


Newcastle have had similar days to this but nothing quite as spectacular.  They turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 victory against Leicester City in 1997 and a 2-4 deficit against the same opposition into a 5-4 victory.  They were also 1-4 down to French club Troyes in 2001 in the Intertoto cup and came back to draw 4-4, sadly missing out on the UEFA Cup on away goals.  It will be a long time, if ever, when Newcastle emulate or beat this kind of result, especially against such illustrious opposition.
R.I.P. Cheick Tiote (1986-2017)

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Messier than Coloccini’s hair on a breezy day

It’s a mess isn’t it?

It’s messier than Coloccini’s hair on a breezy day.

To misquote Haircut 100, as I often do in these situations…

‘Where do we go from here? Is it down to the Championship I fear?’

However, after staring at the Sunderland score last Saturday (beating Chelsea 3-2) in disbelief for twenty minutes, I started to think some happy thoughts.

Firstly, games like Villa happen (dour 0-0 draw with the worst team the Premier League has seen for many many years). When you’re top of the league and beating everyone, games like Villa happen.  I remember in Keegan’s pomp, we were winning games four and five nil for fun until Manchester City turned up at St. James Park in the League Cup and we couldn’t muster a shot on target and lost 2-0.  In the situation we’re in, yes, we should have gone out and won comfortably and there’s no comfort at all in saying ‘these things happen’ in the context of our situation, but, they do.

It’s not the players’ or the manager’s fault sometimes.  However, the previous 20-odd games under McClaren were not ‘one of those games’ and were mostly the manager’s fault.

I think some lessons might have finally been learned by those in power however. You don’t appoint a luminary such as Benitez unless you’ve got a stupid amount of money to give away in bonuses or you finally understand that a football manager is what is needed here, not a glorified coach or people person. A manager who understands that Shelvey is a luxury player and can’t be relied upon to get stuck in and do a specific job like Tiote has for the last few games. Having to rely on Cisse instead of someone who can play centre forward has been the biggest handicap for our talented manager.

I sat in silence through the embarrassment that was defeat by Sheffield Wednesday at home in the cup and relegation actually swept through my head as I watched nothing in particular happen on the pitch. Questions should have been asked after that game. It was abysmal. Apart from a few bright moments from Mbabu and the industry of the likeable Perez.

Anyway, here’s my happy thought.

When we were in the second tier under Jim Smith, we had Mick Quinn whose god-like presence gave us hope and we worshipped his feet (not underplaying the immense talent of his partner in crime, Mark McGhee, who was mesmerising at times).

He was then replaced by Andy Cole who looked like he was going to earn his statue outside the ground before the age of 23.

A few happy and sad Ferdinand, Shearer, Lee, Boumsong and Bramble filled years later we’re in the second tier again and who should emerge from the juniors? Andy Carroll; a player who (a bit like Gazza did) showed a lot of potential, did some very good things and was then sold because the people behind the scenes had no idea about football matters (see Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle et al).

The point I’m trying to make is that whatever tier of football you’re in, there’ll be a hero – more so in a division where you’re competitive.  We haven’t had a hero for so many years because we haven’t been competitive. The good things that Tim Krul, Janmaat and Colback do will never be considered legendary because they’re not ever going to lead to a fifth goal against Manchester United to put the club top of the league at Christmas. There’s nobody in the current squad you feel genuinely excited about when their name is read out over the tannoy before the game.

Demba Ba was probably the closest, Ben Arfa on his day along with Yohan Cabaye but in true Gordon McKeag tradition, money made the boardroom go round so Pardew (as much as I have a morbid dislike of the man, feel a few per cent sorry for him having to put up with the sometimes ridiculous transfer decisions made above him) was starved of any technically gifted players to help win a few matches, head-butts aside.

You never know, Rafa might be the next Jim Smith. Adam Armstrong might be the new David Kelly. Andros Townsend might stick around and be the new Scott Sellars. Yes, I’m being a little facetious, but those three ex-toon people I mentioned were well liked by the fans and gave all they could for the cause. We need more of those type of players because we either can’t afford or attract another Shearer and Ferdinand partnership, let alone a Mark Viduka/Michael Owen one – and we all know how that panned out.

Without sounding all ‘big club arrogant’, Newcastle United should have a long list of capable managers who could comfortably guide us back up, applying for the job in the summer should our Spanish incumbent decide to step off the leaking black and white boat.

So why is relegation such a bad thing for the fans? We’ve never looked like winning anything since 2004, we’ve had countless battles with relegation, umpteen embarrassing defeats to the bigger clubs, countless ejections from the FA cup at the hands of lower league opposition, a plethora of awful signings (some of which never ever kicked a football in a competitive match) and a feeling of emptiness most Saturday evenings.

I could go on but in the Championship we might get to see some heroes again. We might start to see the beginnings of some future club legends. What better way than to let a manager take the club up with his own signings and establish the team in the Premier League, be it Rafa or Joe Bloggs?

We’ll never see the Kevin Keegan phenomenon again but why can’t we go the way of say, Southampton? Building the club from the bottom. Trusting the young players? Bringing in some experience? Buying a capable striker? Winning some games of football for a change?

I know there’s a financial aspect to all of this but we’re football fans and all we care about is watching our team play football, winning some games and going home with a smile on our faces, whether it’s because we beat Barnsley 4-0 or grabbed a last minute equaliser against Arsenal after being outplayed for the entire game. Watching us lose every week and stressing about relegation for the last three years, can’t be as good as watching us winning most weeks and pushing for promotion can it?

I know it would have been nice to stay up and have a couple of seasons under Rafa (doesn’t it feel good knowing there’s an actual football manager in charge for a change?) with an actual striker on the pitch.

However, that would have probably seen more dark days than light under the current regime and to be honest, we’ve just been pressing the snooze button on relegation for the last few years – sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, get out of bed and start doing something proactive.

Friday, 5 February 2016

You think it's bad under McClaren? - Wigan 1 Newcastle United 0 (30th November 2005)

Those of you who witnessed football under Graeme Souness in the 2005/2006 season, will know the true meaning of the words ennui and forlorn.  Indeed, football under Roeder, Allardyce, Gullit, Dalglish and Pardew was at times some of the worst football ever played by any Premier League team.  All you need to do to fully appreciate how bad the game against Wigan Athletic was, is to think about Newcastle United under the stewardship of John Carver when Alan Pardew left and multiply it by ten.  No invention, no organisation, no passion and no excitement.  

If you don’t remember the horror of Wigan away in 2005, then just think Leicester away on 2nd May 2015 - the eighth loss in a row under Carver - and multiply that by twenty.  Words don’t really describe how utterly shambolic and clueless Newcastle were that night but, here goes anyway.

Oh, I thought we we doing Karate. Sorry.
Newcastle started the season early in the Intertoto cup but despite grabbing an away goal to Deportivo de La Coruña in a 2-1 loss, contrived to lose the home leg 2-1 also.  If only that were the worst of it; on the back of this tie, Newcastle were somehow tricked into parting with nearly £10m for the decidedly average Albert Luque who was substituted by Deportivo on 61 minutes of the first leg having made no impact at all and was on the bench for the second leg.  

Not Rob Lee or Peter Beardsley
The season itself kicked off with 2-0 defeats to Arsenal, Bolton and Manchester United with a 0-0 at home to West Ham sandwiched in-between.  Two wins and two draws followed to add some respectability to the league position but then Newcastle visited Premier League newcomers Wigan for the first time that season.  Wigan had started the season on fire, being that season’s surprise package but this game was tainted by some awful refereeing decisions.  That and the fact Souness chose Ameobi to replace injured midfielder Lee Bowyer after half an hour instead of Lee Clark or Emre.  

Not Lee Clark or Emre
It only took three minutes for the new-look midfield to allow Wigan the chance to take the lead and this they did.  Couple that with the fact Newcastle hadn’t scored a first-half goal in eight of the last nine league games, 1-0 was an inevitable half-time scoreline.  Shearer had the ball in the net on 65 minutes despite a push on a defender but the linesman and referee saw neither (or didn’t see the foul and chose to ignore the goal).  Despite an improved performance in the second half, the game ended in defeat to a team who was now seven points Newcastle’s superior.  Pride was restored in the next game, a 3-2 victory over Sunderland, a 1-0 against Grimsby in the cup and a 3-0 demolition of West Bromwich Albion.  Seeing both Alan Shearer and Michael Owen on the scoresheet, arms around each other’s shoulders saluting the travelling support is one of those moments you never forget; mostly because that was what every Newcastle fan dreamt of the day Owen signed but, other than the 4-2 victory at West Ham later that season, I struggle to remember another occasion when both were on the scoresheet at the same time.

This should have happened more often
Despite a 1-0 victory over Birmingham City thanks to a late Emre goal, Newcastle were destroyed by Chelsea 3-0 and outplayed by Everton in a game which ended 1-0 to the Toffees.  All wonderful preparation for the game which will never leave the memories of all who witnessed it, for all the wrong reasons.

The Match

Newcastle (who fielded a full strength side) were outplayed by a Wigan team which contained seven reserves.  Back from a lengthy injury, the fans were able to see Albert Luque for what he was but despite that, the general lack of application spoke volumes about the players’ respect for their manager.  Souness however was nowhere to be seen during the game for some reason, leaving all of the shouting and gesticulation to Dean Saunders on the side-lines.  Nothing he shouted or signed was enacted however as Lee Bowyer wandered about the pitch looking completely uninterested in anything slightly ball shaped.  

This is because you didn't try hard enough against Wigan!
After the game Souness told the press that the best team won and should have won by a much bigger margin, and without naming names, called out some of his team for not giving one hundred per cent; the actions of a manger clinging to his job and credibility by one solitary fingernail.  It was the most comprehensive one-nil defeat of all time. Wigan dominated from start to finish having nineteen attempts at goal and had only Shay Given and themselves to blame for not putting the game out of reach before halftime.  When Michael Owen had signed and Alan Shearer agreed to stay on for one more year, having previously announced his retirement, Souness had made a rallying cry to say that Newcastle ‘had to win something’.  Tumbling meekly out of the Intertoto cup and then this defeat in the League Cup, made a mockery of those words. 

A Newcastle United player with a trophy, honest. (This is not photoshopped)
Still 0-0 at halftime despite the worst performance of all time, a drab, spiritless, inept and lethargic performance followed, during which Wigan seemed to feel sorry for their opponents.  Missing the target, placing the ball within Given’s reach and being generally unable to really look like they could score, Newcastle held on until the very dying minutes of the game somehow.  Wigan clocked up eleven corners to Newcastle’s none at one stage but the nearest the away side came to grabbing anything was when Emre hit the post.  It was clear to the thousands of travelling fans that to ‘inspire’ a performance like that from international class players, takes a truly gifted manager.  Souness hadn’t just lost the dressing room by this point, he’d had to send out a search party for it.

It almost doesn’t matter that Wigan won the game via a penalty awarded in the 88th minute; if Newcastle had lost the game twenty-nil, there could have been no complaints about the scoreline.

Never managed another club after Newcastle United. Wonder why.
Something had to change after this game.  It seems amazing now looking back that Newcastle managed two wins and a draw in the next three games having witnessed just how poor they’d been against Wigan.  Normal service resumed however with 2-0 losses to Liverpool and Spurs, a scrappy late draw against Middlesbrough which was followed by three league defeats to Fulham, Blackburn and the then-not-so-mighty Manchester City which spelled the end of Souness ‘reign’ as manager.

In the wake of Souness’ departure, Glenn Roeder allowed the fug of oppression to lift from the dressing room, permitted players to play in their preferred positions, watched as Alan Shearer finally broke Jackie Milburn’s goal scoring record for the club and dragged Newcastle miraculously up into 7th place and another Intertoto cup adventure.  However, 2005/2006 was the last time Newcastle United enjoyed a top-half Premier League finish for six long years.

Happier times during awful times

Read more of Newcaste United's greatest (and worst) games in the book 'Newcastle United's greatest ever games' available to buy here

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Rob Lee's European Masterclass - Antwerp vs Newcastle United

Royal Antwerp 0 Newcastle United 5 (13th September 1994 – UEFA Cup 1st Round)

Newcastle's return to European competition after many years in the domestic wilderness couldn't have been more emphatic.  The game had kicked off with plenty of energy and after just one minute Newcastle took a quick throw-in on the left and set Ruel Fox away into the Antwerp half.  He knocked a ball square to Beardsley who in turn rolled it into the path of the encroaching Barry Venison.  Beresford then took up the running down the left and with Scott Sellars ahead of him, took the Antwerp defence by surprise and crossed for Rob Lee who had made a run just inside the area and headed it across goal into the far corner.  

Pavel Srnicek then did well to keep the Belgians out at the other end with a finger-tip save from the Antwerp number nine, Severeyns.  Normal service was resumed however after nine minutes when Rob Lee collected the ball in midfield and sprayed it wide right to Ruel Fox.  Lee never stopped running and by the time Fox had returned the ball into the six-yard box, Lee was there to nod it past the goalkeeper.  In his eagerness to get into the area, Lee almost headed team-mate Andy Cole into the net too.  

Back came Antwerp again with a corner from the right which Australian international George Kulcsar headed towards goal.  A combination of Marc Hottiger’s right foot and the post prevented it going in to start some kind of comeback.  Things quietened down until six minutes from the end of the first half when Beardsley set Fox away down the right and his cross found Cole in the box via a defenders head.  He controlled it and looked to shoot but noticed Scott Sellars standing all alone three yards to his right so he knocked it sideways and Sellars did the rest, stroking it into the bottom corner for 3-0.  

There was still time in the first half for Peter Beardsley to do that thing where it looks like he’s dislocated his right leg and then suddenly dances past a defender.  He left a defender clutching at the grass with his teeth and scampered into the Antwerp penalty area.  His fierce shot cleared the corner of post and bar by inches.

Any hopes of an Antwerp recovery were squashed five minutes after the restart.  The trademark of the fourth goal was the willingness of Lee and Beardsley to run at the opposition.  Whenever either had the ball, their only ambition was to get the attack moving forwards quickly and incisively.  Antwerp didn’t have an answer to Beardsley’s wise sideways pass to Lee; his direct running which, although thwarted by a fullback, ricocheted to Marc Hottiger and his cross was dispatched with skill into the corner of the net via Lee’s head.  Rob Lee’s hat-trick of headers made it 4-0 (his eighth goal in six games) and matched the average number of goals per game Newcastle had scored thus far that season.  They’d put five past Southampton, four past Chelsea and Coventry (Leicester and West Ham both picked the ball out of their net three times each).  

Srnicek rescued Newcastle a couple of times before the fifth goal went in, stopping a low drive from Severeyns and then plucking a pile driver out of the top corner from Godfroid.  Steve Watson’s seventy eighth minute goal was a short insight into what he was all about.  He picked up on a rebound on the edge of the area, took on and beat the first defender, rode the next tackle by knocking the ball through the defender’s legs and baffled the third defender into running the wrong way.  That left him clear on goal with just the ‘keeper to beat.  Instead of knocking the ball either side, he took on the ‘keeper too, dancing away to the right and sliding the ball into the net from an angle, narrowly beating a defender on the line.  

Newcastle then went on to win the second leg 5-2 and set up a second round tie against Athletic Bilbao.  

Read more of Newcaste United's greatest (and worst) games in the book 'Newcastle United's greatest ever games' available to buy here

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Newcastle United 4 Manchester United 3 (15th September 2001)

It was seventh versus second when the unbeaten Manchester United rocked up in Toon.  Imagine before kick-off hearing the Red Devil’s team sheet being read out over the tannoy...

Beckham, Keane, Giggs, Cole, van Nistelrooy, Scholes

...and then hearing names like Barthez (likely to do something weird), the 36 year old Laurent Blanc whose pace had completely evaporated, Wes Brown (see his Sunderland career for reference), Ronny Johnsen (see his Newcastle career for reference).

No, you have it. I insist.

In the summer Sir Bob had recruited Bellamy and Robert which turned the team into one which could realistically challenge the top six having not even finished in the top ten for the last five years since Dalglish took over from Kevin Keegan.  There had been a steady start, avoiding defeat at Stamford Bridge in the season opener thanks to a Clarence Acuña equaliser which cancelled out a Boudewijn Zenden opener.  An even Tyne-Wear derby followed the 4-4 epic against Troyes in the Intertoto cup, Bellamy saving Newcastle from a 1-0 defeat against Sunderland with an equaliser before half-time.  Alan Shearer returned from injury in the next game away to Middlesbrough and almost took the net off its hinges with his 76th minute strike which made it 4-1 to the Geordies (See below) and the season was well underway.

Newcastle had wonderful balance in their team that day with Solano on one wing, Robert on the other, Rob Lee and Clarence Acuña in the middle with Shearer and Bellamy up front.  52,056 packed into the ground to watch one of the greatest games St. James’ had seen in its history and it started perfectly with a goal after just five minutes.  Laurent Blanc learned quickly that when Shearer has the ball with his back to goal, you don’t try and take it off him otherwise, a free kick will ensue.  Shearer had the ball with his back to goal and… Blanc brought him down for the free kick.  Solano and Robert stood over the ball with Solano taking the steps backwards before Robert took two steps and curled the ball into the top right corner leaving Barthez clutching at thin air.  

What happens next?
It wasn’t long before Sir Alex Ferguson, clad in a woolen trench coat, was up off the bench celebrating like a Geography teacher who wasn’t sure which team he should be supporting.  Phil Neville found himself central, twenty yards from the Newcastle box and oddly floated an angled ball out to the left.  It didn’t find its intended target but Andy Cole got up in the area to nod it down for strike partner van Nistelrooy who controlled the pass perfectly, turned his marker and stroked it into the bottom corner. 1-1, 29 minutes gone.

Bellamy was then fouled in the area but the referee turned his back and the boos rang out around the ground for a good five minutes, time enough for Newcastle to mount another attack which led to Robert firing just over from the edge of the area.  Just after the half-hour, an interception on the edge of the Manchester United area bounced out towards Rob Lee who was loitering in midfield.  His first touch took him around Verón, his second and third touches took him into the gap between Verón and the back four.  Finding himself on the edge of the ‘D’, Lee thought, ‘why not?’ and toe poked the ball goalwards.  It rolled towards goal where Barthez was crouched; it hit his knee, bounced up and ended up in the net.  The comedy Frenchman had struck again.  Lee was unperturbed as he’d just scored his first Newcastle goal for a year and a half.  His last goal had come in the FA Cup Semi-final against Chelsea in April 2000.  It had also been around three years since he last scored in the Premier League.

That went in? Seriously?
2-1 at half-time and all looked rosy for once against the mighty Red Devils.

Six minutes after the restart, a corner from the right was cleared to Laurent Robert.  He punted the ball forward towards goal but it hit a Manchester United defender and landed at the startled Nikos Dabizas’ feet.  He took one touch and lashed his foot at the ball with more venom than he’d ever put into a tackle whilst in Black and White.  Barthez didn’t even see it and was soon picking the ball out of the net having gone 3-1 down.  

I'm rather chuffed with that!
The fans were in dreamland and quite rightly expected a victory given the balance of play.  However, you never write the Mancunians off and back they came when on 62 minutes, a cross from the right hand side found Ryan Giggs completely unmarked on the edge of the area.  He swept the ball past Shay Given without much effort to reduce the deficit.  Whenever a Newcastle two-goal lead is cut to just one, the inevitable always seems to happen.  A Newcastle clearance found Juan Sebastián Verón on the edge of the area and he volleyed the ball past Given to level the scores.  Twenty six minutes remained and even the most optimistic Geordie had written this off as a 5-3 defeat.  However, with just seven minutes left on the clock, Craig Bellamy picked up the ball and took it on unchallenged into the Manchester half of the field.  He played a perfect ball through to Solano but his shot was powder puff at best and Barthez managed to get it clear.  Cue the big man; Shearer thundered in and directed the ball towards the far corner only for Wes Brown to stick out a leg and deflect an already goal-bound shot into the net to claim an OG and deprive Shearer of another strike in pursuit of Jackie Milburn’s record.

Same old Shearer
There was a little bit of drama at the end of the game when Alan Shearer cheekily stopped the opposition taking a quick throw-in to slow the game down with just one minute left on the clock.  Keane then threw the ball off Shearer’s head only for the Geordie talisman to have a few words with Keane and cause the Irishman’s face to kind of fold in on itself with rage.  He swung a fist at Shearer who just stood calmly, smirking slightly as several Manchester United players held Keane back and probably helped prevent a lengthy prison sentence.  Keane tried several times to grab at the Newcastle captain but Shearer just stood looking sternly at him as the referee brandished the red card and ordered the tantrum-having Keane from the field.  A good day all round then!

Would you like to come round to mine for tea and scones old chap?

Read more of Newcastle United's greatest (and worst) ever games in the book 'Newcastle United's greatest ever games' here.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

The birth of a legend : Mick Quinn

It was 1989.  Newcastle United had said goodbye to the top tier of league football for the time being, having flirted with relegation a few times since Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and Terry McDermott guided them into the Promised Land just five years previous.  The already relegated side that took to the field for the final top-flight game away at Manchester United was unrecognisable from the one that ran out at St. James’ Park three months later.  

There was no John Anderson, Kenny Sansom, David McCreery, Glenn Roeder or Michael O’Neill.  Sunderland born Kevin Dillon had joined from Portsmouth, John Gallacher took up the right wing spot with Wayne Fereday on the left.  

Most importantly of all however, was the introduction of two now club legends up front.  Mark McGhee had returned to Newcastle having been sold after his first spell to Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen, winning several leagues, Scottish cups and the European Cup Winners’ Cup; part of the side that defeated Real Madrid 2-1 in the final.  He’d also won the European Super Cup, scoring against Hamburg in the second leg.  Lesser known to the fans at the time was Mick Quinn.  He’d recently helped Portsmouth back into the top flight for the first time since the 1950’s.  Pompey were relegated again after one season and were almost relegated again but for Quinn’s 20 goals helping them to a safe 20th position.  Newcastle manager Jim Smith thankfully saw a lot more in Mick Quinn than he did in Frank Pingel and signed him for £680,000.

What’s interesting about this first game of the new season is how many of the Leeds United team were big name players.  Chris Fairclough had top division pedigree, a young David Batty and Gary Speed were just finding their feet with Vinnie Jones and Gordon Strachan alongside to assist.  Leeds had signed John Hendrie from the Magpies to play alongside another ex-Newcastle player, Imre Varadi.  Lee Chapman added to the ‘combative’ edge that Howard Wilkinson was trying to imbue in his team but sadly for the The Whites, it was Newcastle who managed to make an explosive start to the season.

The mood on the terraces was a gloomy one after the fans had watched their side slip meekly out of the First Division amidst chants of ‘sack the board’.  Any discontent soon turned to encouragement as Newcastle flew out of the blocks, attacking from the first minute.  Newcastle hit the bar within the first ten minutes and a few minutes later, a long ball set John Gallacher away down the Newcastle right.  He completely outpaced Jim Beglin and forced the former Liverpool full-back to bring the speedy Scot down in the box for a penalty.  Within seconds of the offence, Mick Quinn was standing on the penalty spot gesturing for the ball.  Once the ball was placed, Quinn made his way to the edge of the box, faced his own goal and then suddenly turned, ran up to the ball and fired it into Mervyn Day’s bottom right-hand corner.  Away he ran to the Gallowgate end to celebrate with sixteen fans jumping up and down with lots of space on the terrace behind them.  One fan just stood there, hands in pockets, looking on for a moment before turning his back on proceedings and wandering back up the terrace, decidedly unimpressed.  Meanwhile, the Strawberry corner was a bouncing sea of delirious Geordies who were about to witness more goals from their team in one game than they’d witnessed in the last nine games of the previous season. 

Leeds hit back two minutes later with Gordon Strachan slicing through the Newcastle midfield with ease and releasing Baird who crossed for Bobby Davidson to fire into an empty net.  Parity then turned to disaster when a long free-kick was headed on to Ian Baird who notched one of his seventeen goals in seventy seven games for Leeds United to make it 2-1 after twenty nine minutes.  Fans and players alike thought their team was level when a corner from the right was headed goalwards by Kevin Scott.  The final touch by McGhee sent it past the Goalkeeper but the offside flag denied him.  Jim Smith’s half-time words had their desired effect and the comeback started with a corner from the left.  Two minutes after the re-start, Fereday floated the ball over and as McGhee flicked it on at the near post, the Leeds defence seemed to completely lose track of it.  Quinn read it perfectly however and nodded the ball into the net for 2-2. 

Twenty minutes later, Tommy Wright launched the ball upfield where Quinn headed it into the back of Mark McGhee who then turned and mesmerised a Leeds defender, leaving him scrabbling on the floor before releasing John Gallacher down the right.  His first-time cross found Quinn in the six yard box who claimed his hat-trick via Mervyn Day’s hand and Mel Sterland’s leg before scampering off, pointing at the sky and punching the air.  Delight turned to ecstasy with four minutes left when a throw down Newcastle’s left found McGhee who performed a hopeful punt over his head.  Peter Haddock had no idea where he was and his delicate knockback in the direction of his own goal found John Gallacher lurking behind.  The winger teased Jim Beglin with a few touches, taking the ball closer and closer to the centre of the goal before firing in an angled shot into the bottom corner leaving the Goalkeeper helpless.  During the goal celebration, Wayne Fereday paid Gallacher particular attention, speaking to him at length.  He was probably asking if Gallacher could show him how to kick the ball in the general direction of the opposition goal in training on Monday.  However, this is just a rumour.

The fifth glorious goal came just one minute later when Kevin Scott stuck out a leg to thwart a rare Leeds attack and the resultant interception set Mick Quinn through with a clear run on goal.  He took a couple of touches and fired the ball goalwards from thirty yards, surprising the ‘keeper who grasped at thin-air and could only watch as Newcastle went nap.

The success story that had started on the opening day continued throughout the season with Quinn scoring in each of the opening five games and going on to score fifteen league goals in fourteen games.  McGhee weighed in with his fair share of goals and they ended the season with fifty one goals between them.  Unfortunately, neither could find the net in the crucial final three games.  The 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough which consigned Newcastle the Play-offs and the two Play-off games against Sunderland when Newcastle failed to find the net at all.  However, for those who were there for Mick Quinn’s debut, they knew that day that a new Number Nine legend had been born.

Watch the highlights here

Monday, 14 December 2015

Newcastle United 5 Sunderland 1 (31st October 2010)

There’s a man associated with Newcastle United whose ownership has been lamentable at best.  He was plotting the removal of fans’ favourite Chris Hughton from his role as manager despite going fifth in the table after a victory away to Arsenal and this emphatic victory over local rivals Sunderland.  

He then sanctioned the sale of Andy Carroll for £35m which on paper looked good business but in reality, underlined his lack of ambition for the club as the money was not reinvested.  Despite that backdrop, Halloween 2010 was one of the greatest days in any Newcastle fan’s life.  Secret Agent Steve Bruce pretended to be Sunderland manager for a few years and, to try and convince the Sunderland fans that he was on their side, even sported a red face and white hair in tribute to the famous Sunderland club colours.

There was very little doubt about the destination of the points when after 26 minutes, almost complete Magpie dominance was rewarded when Kevin Nolan hooked the ball over his head into the Sunderland net from six yards.  

This was followed by every Newcastle outfield player lying on top of the scorer and creating a Kevin Nolan shaped indentation in the pitch.  Eight minutes later Jonás Gutiérrez took a shot which was blocked by a Sunderland foot but skipped up nicely for Andy Carroll to knock across the box for the unmarked Kevin Nolan.  After chesting the ball down and stroking the ball past Simon Mignolet, the crowd erupted in ecstasy whilst watching their current favourite scouser trot away doing a chicken impression (for some reason).  

Roll on another ten minutes and the enthusiasm of Gutiérrez paid more dividends.  At first he tried to release Nolan with a through ball which was cut out.  Nolan did manage to latch onto the rebound however, took on three defenders and was then mercilessly hacked to the floor inside the box by Nedum Onuoha.  Despite Nolan being on a hat-trick, designated penalty taker Shola Ameobi stepped up confidently and placed a perfect penalty inside the left-hand post.  Half time, three nil, game over.

Time for some comedy in the interlude between goals; enter the master of footballing mishaps, Titus Bramble.  Gutierrez knocked a ball on towards the Sunderland penalty area for Andy Carroll to run after. Over came Bramble to wipe Carroll out then get to his feet not only to see the referee waving a red card at him but all of the Newcastle fans waving their hands at him too.  

Twenty minutes to go and Danny Simpson whipped a cross to the back post which Carroll thumped against the bar with a header.  The ball then rebounded out to Ameobi on the penalty spot and he smashed it into the top corner for four – nil.  If that wasn’t enough to send the fans into dreamland, Joey Barton swung a corner in, onto the head of Ameobi whose flick-on found Nolan a yard from goal and he couldn’t do anything else but direct it into the net.  Another chicken dance accompanied the aftermath of the first hat-trick against Sunderland since 1985.  

Sunderland did nick one near the end but it didn’t dampen the spirits (remember, it was Halloween) of the fans.  On the day the clocks went back, this result gave rise to the inevitable punch line to the joke, ‘What time is it?’, ‘It’s five past Sunderland’.

Read more of 'Newcastle United's Greatest Ever Games' here.