Archive for the ‘sports’ Category

Preston 0-1 Newcastle

November 23, 2009

Newcastle United produced yet another smash and grab away victory in a pretty dour win at Deepdale tonight, courtesy of Kevin Nolan.

 

Nolan narrowly leads to goal scoring competition between himself and Alan Smith this season

Just like Cardiff and Sheffield United, Newcastle defended well and produced very little, but somehow did just about enough to take away all three points. Fortunately, though, there was nothing like the Bramall Lane onslaught at the end of the game and it finished up quite comfortably.

Rather than waffle on, I’ll comment on each player tonight individually…

Harper – 7: Lots of those difficult little long range shots to contend with. You know the ones. The ones that bounce awkwardly and skid along the floor at pace. Harper dealt with each one supremely well. Very comfortable night. To suggest that he should be in the England squad is not all that ridiculous when you look at some of the other candidates.

Simpson – 7: Best player on the pitch in the first half along with Enrique. No idea why he went off in the 2nd half. Presumably injured, but didn’t look it. The more he plays the more I like him. Sign him up.

Taylor – 7: Best defender in the Championship by a mile. Switched to right back after Simpson’s exit. Had a pretty comfortable night ultimately. David Moyes was in the stands tonight. To see his old friend Irvine? Or to have a look at a few Newcastle players? Lets hope its not the latter, as Taylor will be getting scouted by plenty of Premier League teams in December. MOTM.

Coloccini – 7: Looks a different player to the liability we saw for the majority of last season, and much more like the defender who wowed us all at Old Trafford last August. Still had the odd moment of indecisive-ness. If this defence stays put all season, we’ll be guaranteed a finish near the top of the table, and Coloccini is a big part of that.

Enrique – 7: Another night of ease for Jose. The only worry is that he is going to switch off as a result of being so un-tested every week. Quicker, stronger and more talented than every player he has come up against in the Championship. Tonight was certainly no different.

Guthrie – 5: Not a winger. Jesus Christ, why does Hughton persist in selecting him there? He’s a good crosser but that does not mean he should be stuck out on the wing. Obviously, Ryan Taylor’s illness ‘forced’ him out there, but still. Why rush Pancrate’s signing through if you’re not going to put him in the team? Guthrie is a class player though and the sooner he’s in the middle the better. Preferably at the expense of this joker…

Smith – 4: The youngest captain in Newcastle United’s history. Assuming, that is, that he is 13 years old. Because that’s how he behaves. This isn’t playground football, where sliding around on your knees and getting holes in your trousers earns you your midfield stripes. We need a holding midfielder with intelligence. Someone who is going to read the game, win the ball and calmly play the ball out from the defence. Smith is none of those things. Another ridiculous booking before the 15 minute mark meant that he was on eggshells for the remainder of the match. Lucky to not receive a second yellow after a couple of ‘clumsy’ challenges. Still can’t pass for toffee. Had to be told to calm the fuck down by our manager – not what you want to see in a captain.

Nolan – 7: Had been quiet, but yet again, our saviour. Far, far too good for this division. You can’t help but think that, had Nolan been in this sort of form last season, we may not have gone down. Just one goal from him may have made all the difference. Oh well. He’s one of the few quality footballers that we have left in our side. Lets keep hold of him, yeah? We probably won’t get promoted without him.

Gutierrez – 3: Fuck sake man. What the hell? At one point, he absolutely skinned Billy Jones. Literally gained about 5 or 6 yards on him. He should be doing this every time. But his touch and his final ball is sometimes absolutely appalling. Piss poor. Worse than Conference standard. In the dying seconds, Lovenkrands laid on a chance for him – a golden chance. All it took was a calm side food into the far side of the net. But we all saw it coming. He ballooned it high into the stands. Pathetic. Get fucking rid. Someone will probably pay 4 or 5 million for him in January – take their hands off.

Carroll – 6: Poor game by his high standards. Should never have been taken off though…

Harewood – 5: I’d love to know what this bloke has on Chris Hughton, because he certainly isn’t earning his place in the side at the moment. Maybe its harsh to pin the blame on him (he was probably no worse than Carroll tonight) but Carroll at least has huge potential in abundance. Harewood is not going to improve any time soon. I won’t list his faults, we all know what they are. His presence in the side is a mystery. What I will say is that, unlike Heskey, he does not make up for his shortcomings with his work ethic.

Subs:

Ranger (Carroll 62) – 7: Its not a coincidence that we scored after Nile came on. Works his bloody arse off. Can we please, please give him and Carroll another go upfront together?

Kadar (Simpson 65) – 6: Looked very solid actually when he came on, as well as comfortable on the ball. Kadar continues to show huge promise.

Lovenkrands (Guthrie 90) – N/A: Not much time to make an impact, although he did lay on a golden chance for Jonas.

Manager watch:

A couple of baffling decisions, as always. Ryan Taylor threw a spanner into the works but surely Ranger would have been a better option upfront than Harewood? Or leave Nolan as the supporting striker and chuck Pancrate in on the right? Taking off Carroll was even more mystifying. But we won the game after that decision, to be fair to Hughton. His demeanour on the touch line is starting to look more manager-like every game, as exemplified by his word in the ear of Alan Smith to calm our ‘captain’ down.

Preston watch:

A woeful, woeful display. They had their chances but failed to trouble Harper. Mellor, the ‘new Steven Gerrard’, was probably their most threatening player. They were unlucky to lose Mawene at the break due to injury – he might have made the difference. Yet again this season, for the umpteenth time, I’ve not been impressed at all with the opposition. Preston had quite an intimidating record at Deepdale prior to tonight, but I saw absolutely no evidence as to why.

Advertisements

Newcastle United 3-1 Peterborough

November 16, 2009

NUFC Team: Harper, Simpson, S Taylor, Coloccini, Enrique, Guthrie, Smith, Nolan, Gutierrez (R Taylor 21), Carroll (Lovenkrands 78), Harewood (Ranger 77)

Apologies for the delay since my last effort. Since its so long since the Peterborough game, I’ll simply describe the win with a few lines for each player.

Harper: My mate reckons he’s worth a place in the England squad. Considering the lack of options around, its not the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. He’s not let us down once this season.

Simpson: First goal for Newcastle, and it was a fantastic finish on his weaker foot. I’m really starting to like Simpson. If we can get him on the cheap, we should sign him 100%. He’s a better full back than Ryan Taylor.

Coloccini: Played the full 90 minutes for Argentina at the weekend against Spain. Mental. It was good to see him and Taylor back against Peterborough – they are unarguably the best defensive partnership in the division. If they stay fit all year, and we don’t sell either in January, we will be promoted. I’d sell him in the summer though, no matter what.

S Taylor: Thank God he’s back. We’ve missed him – although credit to Kadar for stepping in to help us to victory over Doncaster and Sheff Utd. A Premier League team will bid for him in January.

Enrique: Best left back, not only in the Championship this season, but perhaps ever in the second tier of English football. Seriously. The ease with which he has dealt with every opponent this year has been frightening. We’ll struggle to hold onto him in January. In a good team with a proper manager, he could become a regular for Spain.

Guthrie: Back in the side and provided the cross for Carroll’s opener. Alongside Nolan, undoubtedly our best midfielder. However, Smith and Nolan works well as a partnership. If I see Guthrie on the bench with Butt starting again, I will punch myself in the head repeatedly.

Nolan: Aside from his goals, he’s been extremely quiet for most of the season. Peterborough is no exception. Goals are goals though, and he’s invaluable in this league.

Smith: Still loves an unnecessary slide tackle. Aggressive? Clumsy? Or stupid? I’m leaning towards the latter.

Gutierrez: Jonas’ shooting coach, Ade Akinbiyi, will have been delighted to see his student notch his first goal in England. Contender for Championship and Newcastle United goal of the season. Unlucky to have to go off injured so early, as it looked like he could have terrorised Peterborough’s defence all afternoon.

Carroll: Best striker in the Championship. MOTM.

Harewood: Not the best striker in the Championship.

Top of the league, but most importantly, 6 points clear of third.

 

ferguson

Sacked for losing to Newcastle. I know we're bad but come on

Darren Ferguson, the Peterborough manager, left the club after this game. A manager who has achieved two successive promotions, sacked because they are bottom of the table after a couple of months? And I thought our owner was bad. What the hell did he expect?! Automatic promotion to the Premier League? Its Peterborough! No doubt, had Ferguson left Peterborough hovering around the playoff places last season and not been promoted from League One, he would still be in a job. Yet again, a manager pays the price of too much success, too soon. Billy Davies at Derby is the most notable one. Phil Brown at Hull, another.

More to come on Ashley, Moat, Hughton and the NUST in the next few days…

Sheffield United 0-1 Newcastle United; Tw@ @ St James’ Park

November 5, 2009

NUFC Team: Harper, Simpson, Coloccini, Kadar, Enrique, R Taylor, Butt, Smith, Gutierrez, Nolan, Carroll.

It wasn’t pretty, or even deserved, but a great three points nonetheless. What we should not do though is think that we can carry this sort of performance into our next away game and expect the same result. Similarly to the Cardiff game, we defended well and rode our luck and came away with a narrow 1-0, but like we saw against Blackpool, Scunthorpe and Forest, these sort of tactics will see us lose more often than not. Had Sheffield United possessed one half decent striker, they probably would have been victorious.

The first half was diabolical stuff from Newcastle. Sheffield United should have been leading 2-0 by half time. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the game plan was. This seems to be a worrying trend (away from home in particular). First half – play like a bunch of strangers and hoof it up to Andy Carroll. Second half – start playing properly, outclass the opposition. Quite why we are unable to play well from the start is beyond me. But anyway, Newcastle came out the better side and it was in this spell that Ryan Taylor scored his deflected long range effort. Its good to see us trying our luck from distance more often this season, as I don’t recall one goal from outside the area in the Premier League last year (I may be wrong).

Ryan Taylor

Wonder goal

As the second half wore on, Newcastle began to sit back and invite pressure from Sheffield United. Again, why we always seem to do this, I don’t know. Sheffield United are an awful, awful side in the midst of a terrible run of form, and we shouldn’t have allowed them the opportunity to draw level. Even more strange is that this happened after Ranger and Harewood were introduced, to join Carroll in a front 3. Not sure what Hughton was thinking there. Good decision to bring on Ranger, but Harewood too? Baffling. Even more baffling was his decision to start Butt ahead of Guthrie. Either I am blind and Nicky Butt’s contribution to the team is invaluable, or Hughton is too spineless to drop Butt because of his ‘big name’ status. Well, I am pretty sure I am not blind. And I say ‘big name’ because the only thing big about Nicky Butt anymore is his wages. The man is finished. Two relegations on his CV since leaving Man Utd is not a coincidence. If Ashley is serious about trying to save his own money, he could have done well to get rid of Butt and Geremi in the summer and save himself £5m+ a year in wages. That they are still here is shocking. Yes, I know that there would barely have been a queue of clubs wanting to sign them, but I’m sure that someone (Hull) would have snapped up either on a free transfer. It is this sort of stupidity (sell Bassong on approx £5k a week and keep Geremi and Butt, both on £50k+ a week) that means I have no sympathy for Ashley whatsoever.

The good points: Harper, Coloccini, Kadar, Enrique and Carroll were all excellent. Carroll is fast looking a class player. Enrique is by far the best full back in this division. Kadar has looked very promising in his first two league starts this season, and Harper won us the game single handedly. At the start of the season I was calling for Harper to be replaced by Krul. I am happy to admit that I was wrong, Harper has been outstanding this season. Nolan did OK but he doesn’t look comfortable playing off the striker. He looks threatening when arriving late from midfield, when the defence are already concentrating on the two strikers. When playing as, effectively, the second striker, he becomes a little easier to mark. Saying that, he is still one of our biggest goal threats no matter where he is playing.

The bad: I’ve already mentioned Nicky Butt. Some people reckon he did well on Monday night, but only because he was slightly better than he has been in the past. He’s still slow. He’s still a liability. He still can’t pass. I’m not sure why we need two holding midfielders against Sheffield United. Not that the duo of Smith and Butt helped particularly. The only reason Sheffield United didn’t score was because they missed a host of chances, not because our midfield pairing was shutting them out. Marlon Harewood was dire when he came on. He only had 10 minutes or so, but by God, he looked bad. At one point he looked like he might be through on goal but his first touch seemed to take the ball backwards. Appalling. Knowing our luck, he’ll be signed permanently for £1m in January.

Player Ratings:

Harper – 9: Won us the game, simple as that. MOTM.

Simpson – 6: Did fairly well, unlucky to be withdrawn for Ranger.

Coloccini – 7: Not a coincidence that in his first game back we kept a clean sheet. Along with Taylor he is invaluable to our promotion hopes.

Kadar – 7: Promising performance, again. Sheff Utd had a lot set pieces and on the whole, we dealt with them very well.

Enrique – 8: Rock solid at the back and always a threat going forward. An outside candidate for our player of the season.

Gutierrez – 5: Seemed to work fairly hard but… again, nothing. Mystifying.

Butt – 4: Not his worst performance ever. I’m aware that some may think I am making Butt a scapegoat – fair enough. But he’s been his 5 years now. This is no knee-jerk reaction. The man is utterly useless. Makelele was 10 times the player Butt ever was, but even he was dropped eventually by Chelsea when it became clear that his age was preventing him from doing his job properly. We owe Butt nothing. Making him captain and giving him first team football every week out of some mis-placed loyalty, or something, is a big mistake.

Smith – 5: Typical Smith performance. 5 is perhaps a tad harsh.

R Taylor – 7: Would be a 6, but for the goal. At the moment his biggest attribute is his set pieces (much improved this season), which he didn’t really get the opportunity to show off in the game. If everyone was fit, I’d have him as first choice on the right of midfield.

Nolan – 6: Not his best game but worked hard for the team and you can tell that he’s better than the vast majority of the players at this level.

Carroll – 7: Showed some wonderful touches in the second half, and did well to lead the line on his own in the first.

Subs:

Ranger – 5: Struggled a little to get into the game to be honest.

Harewood – 2: Not good enough for the Championship.

And now, on to the disgrace that is Mike Ashley. It didn’t take him long, did it? One week after announcing that the naming rights for St James park would be up for grabs next season, our stadium has been renamed for the next six months, ‘Sports Direct.com @ St.James’ Park’. Apparently this is to ‘show case’ the package to any would be sponsors. This man is shameless. How he has the nerve to pull this shit again and again is just criminal… Presumably, Newcastle United will receive no money over the next six months from Sports Direct for this ‘honour’. Six months free advertising for his shit hole of a company. Ashley is probably pissing himself.

St James Park

Mike Ashley is a c*** @ St James' Park

I have no doubts that this is what will happen…

If Newcastle get promoted, Ashley will try and sell the club for an increased amount in the summer. If he is successful, the new owners will probably abandon the naming rights idea, and Ashley would have had 6 months free advertising for Sports Direct.

If Newcastle are not promoted, Ashley will sell the naming rights to any crappy brand that will take them. Pampers, Mars Bar, Greggs, whoever. Probably for a fee as low as £1m a year. Greggs @ St James’ Park. Great.

If Newcastle get promoted, but Ashley is unable to sell the club, he will probably keep the name Sports Direct.com @ St James’ Park. Money will not be as vital, as we will be back in the Premier League, but he’ll keep the free advertising.

And anyway, aside from the fact that this whole situation is a disgrace, who the hell came up with the idea to call it Sports Direct.com @ St James’ Park? It really is the worst name ever. The whole @ thing is cringe inducing. Is it supposed to be cool? Why don’t we just call it Sports Direct.com @ $t J@m£z’ P@rk?

Sadly, its Mike Ashley in a nut shell. Tacky, shameless, clueless. We deserve better.

NUFC no longer for sale, Hughton given job permanently, Mike Ashley most wanted man in Newcastle

October 28, 2009

Nufc.com is describing it as ‘the final insult’. I wish I could be so confident, because knowing Mike Ashley there is probably still far worse to come.

ashley

Fat Cockney Bastard

Last night was a new low for me as a Newcastle United supporter. Admittedly, I am fortunate enough to have only grown up as a fan in the Premier League era, but you’d be hard pushed to find a more farcial, disgusting ownership of a football club in the history of football.

Where there used to be dissatisfaction, annoyance and then contempt, there is now all-out open hatred between the owner and the fans. Actual hatred – I am not using that word lightly. Make no mistake about it, he hates us too.

First of all, Chris Hughton. This man is not a manager. In footballing terms he is a nobody, and he probably can’t believe his fucking luck. He has Mike Ashley to thank for this opportunity. Look, he even said so himself yesterday:

“I thank Mike and Derek for their support and will be doing everything in my power to get the Club back into the Premier League at the first time of asking

If I was given a job that I was less than qualified to do, paying me more than 5 times the salary I should be on, would I fuck ever question my employer. I’d keep my head down and thank my lucky stars. This is what we can expect from Hughton. In January he will be told that there is no money for transfers and that he must raise transfer funds from selling players. He will sell a couple of our biggest assets (Nolan and Steven Taylor) but at the last minute he will be told that he will only be given a couple of million of the £12m received, which will be spent on absolute shite. Hughton will not question this, in the same way Joe Kinnear did not question it last January. Its all so very predictable.

hughton

Dunno what the fuck he's so happy about

From a footballing point of view, Hughton has not done enough to warrant being given the job. The football at times this year has been absolutely appalling. That he has been offered the job now, in the midst of this bad run, and not weeks ago after beating Ipswich 4-0, is typical of Mike Ashley. A man who does not know anything about football sees that we are top of the table and assumes everything must be rosy. I know that because I get countless bores (who know as little about football as Mike Ashley) in my local telling me that Hughton must be doing a good job because we’re top – as if that tells the whole story.

Cardiff and QPR are scoring for fun. West Brom are solid and Boro will be more of a threat now that Strachan is there. At best, we are 5th favourites now for an automatic spot – and that’s assuming that we don’t lose half the team in January. Like I said the other day, I am not being over the top when I say that our promotion hinges entirely on our ability to get Steven Taylor and Coloccini fit again for the rest of the season.

Ok, second of all, the club is off the market. Like we were ever on it! Newcastle United was never going to be sold for £100m, not a chance. No one else is as stupid as Mike Ashley. In 2006, Aston Villa were sold to Randy Lerner for approximately £60m. That’s a solid, well run Premier League club with no debt and a stable wage bill. What on Earth made Ashley think he could get £100m for a Championship club with an unsustainable wage bill and an untalented squad? Quite simply, Ashley knew the club would not be sold. Most people suspected it all along, but now it is undeniable. If he really wanted a quick sale, as he said, he would have lowered the asking price until a buyer was found. That he did not budge says everything. The ‘sale’ of the club was the smokescreen that allowed him to sell anyone he could, not buy any replacements and leave Alan Shearer in limbo. His intention all along was to see if we could achieve promotion without a penny of investment. Somehow, he may still achieve that goal. He certainly does not deserve it.

So what about Alan Shearer? As if we didn’t already know, we can now be certain that this was another lie from Derek Llambias:

“We want him to be the manager 110%

He’s very good at what he does and he’s a straight-talking guy – we like that. He’d be the perfect appointment.”

Mike Ashley and Alan Shearer had a meeting in the immediate aftermath of our relegation, and Mike Ashley did not like what he heard. Alan Shearer obviously set out a plan and, presumably, it was going to cost Ashley too much money. Alan Shearer wanted what was best for Newcastle United but Ashley couldn’t have that. Alan Shearer wanted to keep Bassong and Beye, but Ashley knew he would be able to sell the pair of them for 13-14m. Alan Shearer had a list of targets that he thought would be able to do a good job for us in the Championship, but again, it would have cost Ashley more money. The whole excuse that they didn’t want to appoint him, incase a new owner wants someone else in the job was utter bullshit. To be fair, most Newcastle fans realised this. My hope now is that Alan Shearer reveals all about Mike Ashley. He’s been keeping tight-lipped all Summer – not wanting to jeopardise the possibility of him getting the job – but now that he has been ignored for the last time, there is no need for it. He owes it to the fans. Unfortunately, very little is actually known about the inner-workings of Mike Ashley. The Kevin Keegan court case was fascinating, in that it confirmed everything we thought about the dealings of the man. Now, Shearer needs to stand up and be counted.

On the issue of this ‘£20m’ investment that we can expect. Never have I heard such utter tripe in all my life. I’ll only believe it when I see it on the fucking football pitch in the form of new signings. What bullshit. The nerve of the man, the fucking nerve. How he dare inform the press of his intention to invest £20m as if to say he is some sort of hero, is beyond me. He owns the football club, its what owners are supposed to do. You don’t get other football club owners declaring to the media exactly how much they are putting in. What’s even worse is that certain cocks at Sky are falling for it hook, like and sinker.

Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about David Craig. North-East football correspondent? Fuck me. Mike Ashley propaganda minister more like. I had the displeasure of seeing this slimy little rat on Sky Sports News this morning, launching an all-out defence of Mike Ashley. I couldn’t believe my fucking ears. Apparently we should be grateful that he has invested £20m. Yeah, thanks Mike Ashley. My fucking hero. Apparently he and Llambias spent time at the training ground this week and the one thing that the players and fans wanted was ‘stability’, and he’s delivered that. Yet another thing to be grateful for eh?! Fuck me. When the Sky Sports News presenter came back at him by saying that nufc.com and the emails from supporters they’ve been getting suggest that Newcastle fans are livid and see this as the final straw, Craig responded by saying ‘well there’s 47,000 different opinions and the one thing that all Newcastle fans want is Premier League football so I am sure they will get back behind the team’. Fuck off. I can assure him that there is 47,000+ people that would not piss on Mike Ashley if he were on fire. For far too long, companies like Sky (and David Craig in particular) have been in the pocket of Mike Ashley. Sky have even employed Dennis Wise as a pundit recently, giving him a platform to spew his bullshit. What a joke organisation.

And finally, the naming rights to St.James’ Park… Well, what can be said? If Mike Ashley thinks that he can re-name our stadium then he needs to wake up. We will not allow it. Would I fuck pay to go and see Newcastle United play in the Sports Direct Arena, the Greggs Stadium or fucking Pizza Hut Park. I hope I would not be alone in those sentiments. I hope that at Bramall Lane on Monday night the Newcastle fans in attendance let that fat fuck have it.

Newcastle United 2 – 1 Doncaster Rovers

October 26, 2009

NUFC TEAM: Harper, R Taylor, Kadar, Khizanishvilli, Enrique, Guthrie, Butt, Nolan, Gutierrez (Tozer 87), Harewood (Ranger 60), Carroll

They say that winning whilst playing badly is the sign of a good team – well we must be fucking brilliant. Somehow – and I mean somehow – we scraped to a 2-1 victory over Doncaster on Saturday and Newcastle United must be the worst team to be leading their league in the whole of Europe at the moment… along with Rangers.

Does fuck all for 90 minutes and then that. Like a lesser Arshavin.

Does fuck all for 90 minutes and then that. Like a lesser Arshavin.

Just a quick note. Boro were one point behind us when they sacked Gareth Southgate. Yet at that same time we were on the verge of giving our manager the job permanently. Are expectations at the two clubs that far apart? Really? Boro were in a decent position – promotion was certainly still a possibility – but Steve Gibson is a fairly smart man and he recognises that Boro’s performances have not been good enough, and a swift managerial change could be all it takes to guarantee that they are in the Premier League again next season. Then look at our fat, dribbling moron of an owner. Hughton is cheap and will do what Ashley says. It’s a no-brainer. Ashley is so stupid, that he isn’t even contemplating not going up this year. If he had, he would see that he won’t even be able to give the club away next Summer if we don’t go up. Our promotion is far from secure, and that’s not even taking into consideration the likelihood that anyone that can be sold in January, will be sold by Ashley.

Anyway, back to the game. Yet more injuries to the defence (this time Simpson) meant that Kadar was given a first league start in the middle with Khizanishvilli, whilst Smith’s suspension gave a start to Nicky Butt. Simpson’s injury was arguably a blessing in disguise, as he is clearly not a centre back. However, I’m not sure whether he is better or worse in that position than Khizanishvilli. Either way, Kadar is probably a better option than the both of them, despite him being at fault for the Doncaster goal, scored by Shiels after 18 minutes. But how do you pick a preferred pairing out of Kadar, Simpson and Khizanishvilli? All three are appalling. To point out the obvious, we need Taylor and Coloccini back asap. Its not going too far to say that our promotion hinges on it.

One item of controversy from Saturday is the booing that accompanied Marlon Harewood when substituted in the 60th minute. It is generally accepted that booing your own players is low, right? What about players on loan? No, still unacceptable, so I’m not going to blindly defend the Newcastle fans. But, Harewood was pretty fucking atrocious by all accounts. But that on its own is not enough to boo a player. He certainly isn’t the first player to put in a disappointing performance this season. However, the problem with Harewood is what his loan signing represents. It represents the complete lack of investment on the part of our beloved owner. Harewood is a bit of a laughing stock. Its unfortunate for the bloke. He’s been tagged as a poor man’s Heskey – not helped by actually being Heskey’s un-used understudy at Villa. The sad truth is that he just isn’t a very good player. He had a couple of good years at Forest and West Ham – but that was a while ago now. He went on loan to Wolves last season in the Championship and was pitiful. Villa and Wolves fans can’t stand the bloke. But one thing that you would think you would always get from him is a strong work ethic – but apparently not based on the evidence of Saturday.

The majority of Newcastle fans are not stupid. We know that there is no money being made available to Chris Hughton, but was Harewood really the best he could do? He’s not good enough for Newcastle United, even in this division. What was so infuriating though about his performance on Saturday was that there was an infinitely better player on the bench (Ranger). Fortunately he came on after an hour and we subsequently scored 2 goals. It wasn’t a coincidence. So is it bad to boo a player in a Black and White shirt? Yes, of course. But if that booing has the desired effect on the management and Ranger is given a start alongside Carroll in the next game then so be it. The fans have been ignored for far too long at this club now and things are at breaking point. We have a despised owner who has yet again failed abysmally to sell the club (to the point that it seems obvious that he never had any intention of selling in the first place) and a lame duck is on the verge of being appointed permanent manager. I’m certainly not going to begrudge any Newcastle fan who lets their frustration boil over in the form of booing a player that clearly does not want to be at our club, especially when you consider that there are far more dedicated, hard working youngsters on the bench.

What about the good points? Well, Nolan scored again and Carroll scored a bloody brilliant goal. Yes, he missed a sitter on Saturday but his all round performance is ever-improving. Astonishingly, I have seen a couple of people on various messageboards voice their concerns about the ability of Carroll and more notably, Ranger. Mental. These players are just kids. The job we are asking of them is an unfair one. Young players should be brought through gradually in a stable environment. Carroll should not be asked to lead the line at his age, but he’s doing it happily and he’s doing it well. I fear that they’ll be a few teams sniffing around him in January.

Talking of strikers, what is going on with Lovenkrands? He is one of the few players we have left that are good enough to play in the Premier League, yet he’s being criminally wasted. Our treatment of him over the Summer was nothing short of a disgrace, and it gives me no pleasure to see that things aren’t any better for the bloke this year. I’ve said before that he’s a striker, not a winger. And I stand by that. But he’s a better winger than Gutierrez, of that I’m certain. I honestly think that I am sometimes living on another planet when I see Jonas Gutierrez starting for Argentina in a must-win World Cup qualifier alongside players like Messi and Higuain, with the likes of Tevez on the bench. Mental. He is fucking garbage. Drop him from the first team and then we’ll see just how desperate he is to get into that Argentina World Cup squad next summer. Because whilst Maradona might be happy to pick him so long as he’s starting every week in the Championsip, he sure as hell won’t pick him if he’s on our bench. Put him on the bench and he’ll be off like a shot in January – along with his extortionate wages. Along with Butt and Geremi, he is one of the three players that I wouldn’t mind clearing off. Our squad is threadbare and I still want rid of him. If we don’t have any wingers coming through the academy with a little bit of pace and the ability to cross a ball or shoot on target, then we might as well close the fucking place. Of course, we probably do have someone like that but what we do not have is a manager brave enough to select them.

Finally, will someone please tell Chris Hughton that Danny Guthrie is not a fucking winger. I am sick to death of seeing him out there. He is probably our most creative player and he should be first choice reserve central midfielder behind Smith and Nolan. Geremi and Butt have no business playing in the centre of our midfield – they are woeful.

MOTM: God. I doubted his existence but I have seen the light. There is no fucking way that we would have ever won that game without some form of divine intervention.

Scunthorpe 2-1 Newcastle United – What Next?

October 20, 2009

NUFC Team: Harper, R Taylor, Simpson, Khizanishvilli, Enrique, Geremi, Guthrie, Smith, Gutierrez, Nolan, Carroll

Where next for Newcastle United? The more cynical fans among us have been predicting this collapse for a while. Make no mistake – we are fucked.

Scunthorpe?! Fuck me

Scunthorpe?! Fuck me

We have an owner who genuinely despises both the club and the fans. Great start. He has a bit of money – certainly enough to build a side good enough to achieve promotion – but he has no intention of ever putting another pound into Newcastle United. Out of spite, he would probably rather see the club rot and plummet down the divisions than sell us for anything less than what he perceives to be a reasonable amount. He was asking for £100m. Ludicrous. No one was going to pay that – we all knew it. And you have to wonder whether he did too. A proven liar. A proven fool. He holds nothing but contempt for everything Newcastle. Knowing he was never going to get £100m, selling up in the summer was never on the cards. Appointing Alan Shearer was never on the cards. Appointing David O’Leary or Terry Venables was on the cards. It was only ever going to be Hughton or Kinnear – two poor, bargain basement managers that could tell Ashley his bum didn’t look big when he wanted to hear it.

Which brings me on to Hughton. He’s not a manager, and he never will be. I don’t feel sorry for him. He must know he’s not up to the job, but he’s going to take it anyway – of course he is. Just like Ricky Sbragia at Sunderland last season. Just like Glenn Roeder a few years ago. These men are plucked from obscurity and given the opportunity of a lifetime – a caretaker position. They probably can’t believe their fucking luck. They get a few results – usually more to do with the players pulling together than anything else – and the owners get carried away. ‘Fuck me, we’ve unearthed a gem of a manager here, like’. Except you haven’t, have you? It’s the same shit every time. Give the caretaker manager the job and watch the arsehole of the team fall out. This time, Ashley was even fortunate enough to see the performances go to shit before offering Hughton the job, but clearly it was not plain enough for Ashley to see (this is a 7 year old in a fat man’s body, remember).

Injuries to Taylor and Colo? Fuck off. Any team that does not even have one centre half as cover has only themselves to blame if injuries strike. Hughton should have signed one – and no, Simpson and Khizanishville do not count.

Two and a half years ago, Sir Bobby was told by his good friend Jose Mourinho that Geremi possessed the knees of an old man. Sir Bobby kindly relayed this information to Newcastle manager at the time, Sam Allardyce, but he did not listen. After 2 years of nothing but disgustingly bad performances, he is still getting a game for us. Oh yeah and he’s on £50k+ a week. Useless tosser. But then its not him that selects himself is it? If Hughton is looking at Geremi and thinking that he is good enough to play for Newcastle United, then on that basis alone he is not fit to manage a Football League club in my opinion.

Running a football club is not fucking rocket science. If you are not a business expert, or you are not a football expert, employ people that are. I hate to say it, but look at Sunderland. At the moment, and I repeat – I hate to say it – they are everything a well run football club should be. Niall Quinn is a tremendous chairman. Rightly or wrongly, he stuck by his man Roy Keane. He backed him fully and unquestionably. Keane walked out, Sbragia happened, they barely stayed up and then in the summer he had a lot of work to do. Remember, we could quite easily have escaped by the skin of our teeth, the same way Sunderland did. Does anyone think that we would have addressed our problems as efficiently and as professionally? Of course not. Steve Bruce was rapidly appointed. A very good, improving Premier League manager. A North-East man. A manager with a great record in the transfer market. Targets were identified. Not all of them came off – Peter Crouch notably – as he suffered from the same problems as us over the years, namely, attracting players to the North-East. But they stuck at it. Look at some of the players Bruce was able to bring in – Bent, Cana, Cattermole, Turner. It makes you sick, doesn’t it? Niall Quinn is not an expert in business. But he knows his football. And he knows that the most important think to do as a football chairman is to get the right manager in. Do that, and everything else takes care of itself. It has now been over a year now since Newcastle United have had a proper manager. For some reason, Mike Ashley doesn’t think its important. I’m just exhausted thinking about it.

Where now for Newcastle United? Fuck knows. I’m sick of it. The club don’t deserve its support. They have had the unwavering loyalty of the Newcastle United fans for years and years. They have squandered it. In hindsight, there should have been a boycott. It was perhaps the only way Ashley would ever have gotten out in the Summer. As it is, the Newcastle fans’ loyalty has persuaded him that there might just be a way out. I’m disappointed to see Newcastle fans in the yellow away shirt, sure. But I’m not surprised and I can’t hold it against them. But I can’t help but feel that Ashley has gotten away with it. Criminal.

Oh yeah, and Martyn Woolford scored both the goals for Scunthorpe, either side of a Kevin Nolan goal. Big whoop. I’ve never even heard of him. But at least I won some money on Lyon tonight. No consolation but at least I can put the money towards some rope to hang myself.

MOTM: Woolford, who else?

Ipswich Town 0-4 Newcastle United, Kevin Nolan Hat-trick!

September 29, 2009

NUFC Team: Harper, Khizanishvilli, S Taylor, Coloccini, Enrique, Smith, Butt, R Taylor, Nolan, Ranger, Carroll 

First Shola Ameobi, now Kevin Nolan? Madness. I think it is safe to say that the gap between the Premier League and the Championship can now be classified as ‘bloody massive’.

Saturday evening saw a brilliant performance by Newcastle United but severe questions should be asked of Ipswich, who looked like relegation fodder. God knows what has happened at Portman Road this summer, but many people thought that with Roy Keane at the helm, they were going to be promotion contenders. I am well aware that I could be alone amongst Mags here, but part of me actually likes Roy Keane. He always seems to be talking sense and I couldn’t help but admire him as a player. However, what the hell has he done to Ipswich? 

We won’t have an easier game all season. That’s not to say though that our players didn’t work their arses off and earn their win. Carroll and Ranger were brilliant upfront. At this rate, they are arguably ahead of both Ameobi and Harewood in the pecking order. The only disappointment is that Ranger didn’t get the goal he deserved. 

At the back, there is very little to talk about. Ipswich offered nothing. Save for a couple of dodgy moments from Enrique (presumably complacency), there was nothing to worry about. One quick word for Khizanishvili (or Zurab, for the purposes of this blog) – he was excellent throughout. His distribution was perhaps a little poor, but defensively he was spot on and he surprised me with the number of runs he made down the right flank. Far more convincing than Danny Simpson anyway (although again, it was only Ipswich). He reminds me a little of, dare I say it, Habib Beye. 

The Championship version of Steven Gerrard

The Championship version of Steven Gerrard

But lets not forget our hat trick hero, Kevin Nolan. Has he worked hard and improved? Or is this division so bad that even he looks good? I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt and say it is the former, although his second goal did make me chuckle – just how slow is that Ipswich defender, Balkestein? Nolan’s first two goals were excellent. The first a powerful header from a terrific Ryan Taylor free kick, and for the second two minutes later he out-sprinted the sluggish Balkestein and cut inside him, before calmly slotting in beneath the helpless Richard Wright (just how far has he fallen from his heady days at Arsenal by the way?).

Ryan Taylor scored a belter of a free kick yet another couple of minutes later and we were coasting. Were it not for the Bobby Robson memorial service, you get the impression that the Ipswich fans were ready to viciously turn on their team – but they were rather subdued. The second half was just as comfortable as the first and Kevin Nolan completed his hat trick after nodding in a knock down by Ranger, after a ‘rampaging’ run and cross from Zurab. Easy.

A couple of words for Ipswich Town’s tribute to Sir Bobby. What a proper club they are. Maybe it was the couple of beers I’d had but I could have sworn I felt a little tear in my eye whilst Laura Wright sang My Way. The whole arrangement was a lovely gesture and it looked like Lady Elsie was extremely touched. 

Player Ratings:

Harper – 7: Had nothing to do but did it well

Zurab – 7: The new Beye? Not yet anyway but he did look pretty good

S Taylor – 7: As easy an afternoon as he’ll get all season

Coloccini – 7: Ditto

Enrique – 6: Excellent aside from a couple of sloppy back passes. Against a better side it may have cost us

Smith – 8: One of his best performances of the season. Dominated the lightweight Ipswich midfield

Butt – 3: Thought I would save the anger for this part. Utterly woeful. This man is finished. He’s knackered. His passing is nothing short of a disgrace. His pass completion rate must be less than 50%. Pathetic. Get this old man out of the team now

R Taylor – 8: Assist and a goal. Fast becoming undroppable. Who woulda thought it?

Nolan – 10: Nothing else to say. MOTM

Carroll – 7: Great, hard working performance. Seems like he wins 100% of the aerial balls that come his way

Ranger – 8: Sadly didn’t get the goal he deserved. It’ll come against QPR – I have a feeling 

Subs: 

Harewood – 6: Did pretty well actually. 6 is maybe harsh but he was only on for the last 25 mins. If he keeps up that level of performance he’ll be a good acquisition. Had a great shot saved by Richard Wright

Lovenkrands – 5: Meh. When are we going to see him at his best?

Donaldson – 6: Did ok in the time he was given. Not going to judge him yet though, obviously

Peterborough 2-0 Newcastle United, Marlon Harewood & Administration

September 24, 2009

NUFC Team: Krul, Tavernier, S Taylor, Tozer, R Taylor, LuaLua, Guthrie, Donaldson, Lovenkrands, Ranger, Vuckic

So our kids were easily beaten on Tuesday by a good Peterborough side – not disastrous by any means (although I must say that I was not one of the unlucky 2,361 souls that were unfortunate enough to travel to London Road).

I had been hoping that some of the youngsters would get a run out and, whilst I was surprised by how many were selected, it was a pretty sensible lineup chosen by Hughton in my opinion. Of course, just how sensible will be proven on Saturday evening when we play Roy Keane’s Ipswich Town. Three points at Portman Road will fully justify Hughton’s gamble, whereas a third successive defeat on the road (in all competitions) will raise further questions about Hughton’s ability to steer us towards the Premier League.

Peterborough were, by all accounts, by far the better side on the night. One or two of our kids apparently had a bit of a nightmare, but lets not read too much into it. I am sure that the experience was an invaluable one, even if a little traumatising.

It pains me to say it, but I’m genuinely not at all bothered by the loss. It’s a sad sign of how far this club has fallen – I’ve never previously been one for belittling the Carling Cup – but we’re not strong enough to compete on more than one front at the moment. The ‘top 4’ teams can get away with it, but shame on the rest of those Premiership teams that now deem the Carling Cup to be below them – I’m thinking about the likes of Hull and Fulham who fielded what can only be described as piss poor teams.

The fact that we are so weak only makes Hughton’s decision to introduce Nolan, Geremi and Smith even more bewildering. Either you want to protect them for Saturday or you don’t. What you do not do is start without them and then bring them on with half an hour to go when you are losing 2-0 and down to 10 men. It is decisions such as this (as well as the decision to play Geremi at all) that make me seriously doubt the basic intelligence of Chris Hughton. Its not rocket science, as some football managers would have you believe.

Marlon Harewood is apparently very close to signing for us on loan. This strikes me as little more than an excuse for Hughton to maintain his favoured long-ball tactics. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but Harewood is a real beast of a player – and not in a good way. I’m not looking forward to the prospect of our defenders hoofing endless long ball up to a pairing of Carroll and Harewood – which is what will probably happen. He hasn’t played all season and he’s just recovered from an injury, so one would think that he won’t be in the team for Saturday – so hopefully Ranger and Carroll will get another opportunity to work together. Sadly, knowing Hughton, he likes a little 4-5-1 formation and I expect the same again.

Finally, I read some more utter rubbish today about the possibility of NUFC being forced into administration if Kevin Keegan is successful in his case against Mike Ashley. Come on! As if. Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias have pulled some shit in their time, but this would take the biscuit. It makes absolutely no sense. None. Ashley would gain nothing from this. This administration rumour reeks of Ashley and Llambias trying to turn the fans against Keegan. Sorry lads, but whilst some of us may well be a little cheesed off with Keegan’s behaviour last season, there’s not a chance that we would ever take your side over his. Of course, he could have stayed and worked through the problems, but he didn’t and you two have only yourselves to blame. Here’s hoping KK is victorious and we finally hear some details about what actually happened. I imagine that it isn’t going to make very pleasant reading for Ashley & Co when we get to see what really went on.

Until the weekend!

Newcastle United 3-1 Plymouth Argyle

September 21, 2009

NUFC Team: Harper, Simpson (Ryan Taylor 30), Enrique, Smith, Steven Taylor, Coloccini, Barton (Guthrie 59), Geremi, Carroll, Nolan, Lovenkrands (Ranger 59).

So three more points and back to winning ways – although to be honest anything less than a win would have been completely unacceptable given the opposition. For some inexplicable reason, I have a bit of a soft spot for Plymouth, so there genuinely is no malice intended when I say that they are woeful. As easy a three points as we can expect to receive this season. As it happens, we made a bit of a meal out of it but ultimately the team pulled through.

An early Steven Taylor goal looked to set us on our way but what followed was a pretty dreadful half. But what do you expect? Yet again, we fielded four central midfielders – Geremi, Barton, Smith and Nolan. This is becoming a bit of a problem now – it simply isn’t working. We might be grinding out results but that is all we are doing – grinding them out. There are going to be plenty of games in the division where that is all that is necessary – against the likes of Cardiff, West Brom and Boro – but Plymouth at home? Is Hughton sticking with his central midfielders because he has no alternatives? Or because he isn’t brave enough to drop them? Because Geremi and Barton are certainly not worth their places in the team at the moment.

I’ve said it before, but Smith, Nolan and Guthrie are clearly our three best midfielders. By miles. There is no need to field Barton and Geremi. Ryan Taylor and Lovenkrands on the wings, and two of Smith, Nolan and Guthrie in the middle. That is obviously the best lineup at the moment (until Gutierrez returns). To waste Nolan or Guthrie ‘upfront’ in support of a lone striker is criminal – especially when we have a decent striker (Ranger) on the bench, presumably raring to go after a couple of excellent performances.

Hughton has built up a huge amount of good will from Newcastle fans in recent weeks. He really has earned it, for his hard work in such dire circumstances, but it would be a shame for him to squander it all. Is he seeing something that we’re not in Geremi and Barton? Or, as I suspect, is he simply reluctant to leave two players on £50k+ a week on the bench? That is not something that a strong manager would do (by the way, I am aware that he had the ‘strength’ to leave Butt on the bench on Saturday, but it is slightly easier to leave a 34 year old on the bench than a 27 year old Barton and a ’30 year old’ Geremi).

Back to the game, and the introduction of Guthrie and Ranger on the hour mark helped turn the tide in our favour (on for Barton and Lovenkrands). Nolan reverted to his preferred midfield role and scored moments later. Carroll then scored his second goal in two games late on to seal the victory. I know I’m not alone in having a huge amount of time for this kid. He might not work as hard as Ranger – or at least he might not appear to – but he looks like he could become a really good player for us. I’m reluctant to build up youth players too much in the wake of the Michael Chopra fiasco – I specifically recall saying to one of my friends once that he was going to be the new Alan Shearer – but, unlike Ameobi, Carroll can lead the line for us for years to come, even in the Premier League. Like Steven Taylor, you can just tell how much it means to him to score for us.

Peterborough away tomorrow night, and whilst I would be lying if I said that I’m desperate for us to progress in this year’s Carling Cup, it is no bad thing to maintain the good form. A solid away win would stand us in good stead for a vital away game on Saturday evening against Ipswich. Its been well publicised that Ipswich have yet to win a game this season, and it would be sod’s law if they were to break that dunk against us. The Roy Keane thing will be talked up – the Sunderland connection and his feud with Geordie ‘messiah’ Alan Shearer – so this game has upset written all over it (assuming that you consider Ipswich the underdogs, of course). Some things in football are inevitable, and I greatly fear that Keane getting his first win of the season over us is one of those things.

On the signings front, it appears that Marlon Harewood is signing a three month loan deal with us. Underwhelming is an understatement. From what I’ve read, both Villa and Wolves fans have nothing but bad things to say about him. However, I don’t like to criticise a player before he’s even pulled on a shirt, so I will of course give him a clean slate. And if nothing else, I would much rather him upfront than Nolan or Guthrie – who have looked extremely uncomfortable when put into that position.

A quick comment on Michael Owen and Craig Bellamy. Some of you may have noticed that in the biggest game of the season so far, there were three ex-Mags amongst the ranks. Shay Given pulled off some blinding saves whilst Bellamy notched a brace and Owen scored the winner. How sad is it to see so many good players performing to such a high standard for other teams? Bellamy was a little pr!ck but we’ve arguably not had as good a striker since we sold him (for non-footballing reasons). Given is the best goalkeeper in the Premier League and we sold him for pennies, whilst Owen may have been shocking for us but if he is good enough to play for Man Utd then he’s certainly good enough to play for us. I have to say though, the little b*stard looked happier when he scored his goal on Sunday than he did in his entire four year spell at St James’ Park. He clearly didn’t want to be here, so he should have just left (or not joined us in the first place).

With the likes of Milner, N’Zogbia, Woodgate and Parker also playing well for their respective clubs (well, Woodgate is injured at the moment but has been largely excellent for two years at Spurs), it is extremely gutting to see such an array of great players that have all moved on for various reasons in recent years – to our detriment.

Blackpool 2-1 Newcastle United

September 17, 2009

NUFC Team: Harper, Simpson, Coloccini, Steven Taylor, Jose Enrique, Guthrie (Lovenkrands 66), Barton (Ranger 83), Butt, Ryan Taylor (Geremi 66), Nolan, Carroll.

It was always going to happen eventually. Newcastle United finally came unstuck last night in a richly deserved defeat at Ian Holloway’s Blackpool.

In seven Championship games now, we have only scored more than one goal on two occasions (against Reading and Palace). That’s fine when you’re keeping clean sheets every week, but even a good defence has to concede at some point. Both goals last night were scrappy and poor goals to give away, but they were coming. In previous games, we have had to rely on a combination of excellent defending, good goalkeeping and good luck – three things that weren’t enough to save us last night.

There’s no need to get carried away with the result yesterday. We’re still third in the league and Blackpool are a decent side. However, that does not mean that we should not look seriously at the reasons for the loss.

 

Carl Cort makes it 2-1

Carl Cort makes it 2-1

Firstly, Butt started his first league game of the season which turned out to be our first loss of the season. The other game he started was the League Cup tie against Huddersfield and he was withdrawn at half time – when we were 2-1 down. We went on to win 4-3 without him. Coincidence? I think not. When will people see that this guy is finished, and has been for years? As a holding midfielder he is absolutely woeful. His passing is pathetic and his tackling is terrible. The amount of free kicks that he gives away is criminal. He realises that he is there to win the ball yes? Anyone – and I include myself in this – can just run around fouling and hacking players that have gotten away from them. And its not because he’s dirty – he isn’t – its because he’s too damn old and too damn slow to do anything about it. Regarding his passing, he seems to have spent a few too many years at Old Trafford ogling Mr Beckham, if Butt’s attempts to emulate him are anything to go by. One thing though – Nicky Butt does not possess one hundredth of the talent that David Beckham does. Why he insists on attempting the same range of passing is beyond me – it makes me cringe. Butt is a midfield clogger. He always has been and he certainly isn’t going to change now. If he accepted this fate and adapted his game accordingly – like say, Phil Neville and Lee Carsley have done – then maybe he’d have a use. But until then, he’s about as useless as Joey Barton at a quiz night.

Worryingly, Chris Hughton is showing signs of something that many feared – Being unable to drop the ‘big names’. Obviously, we have far too many central midfielders (Guthrie, Butt, Barton, Smith, Nolan, Geremi) – but Hughton seems intent on playing all of them regardless. Barton is not worth his place in the team at the moment – its simple. It is clear that our three best central options are Smith, Nolan and Guthrie. Smith was obviously suspended last night, which meant that a partnership of Guthrie and Nolan would have been fine. Chuck Ryan Taylor on the right and Lovenkrands on the left and we’ve got a pretty good midfield there. Carroll was back so he could have partnered Ranger upfront – taking some pressure off the youngster who worked his arse off so much on Sunday. But instead we get some higgledy-piggledy formation with players playing in their unnatural positions. No width, as usual, and Carroll left on his own upfront – what’s the point in that?! Carroll is never going to be as good a lone front man as Ranger was on Sunday – that’s not his game. And if Geremi is our solution when a goal behind and looking for an equaliser – then we really are f***ed.

Like I said earlier though, we needn’t get too carried away just yet (although I probably just did). If we beat Plymouth on Saturday we’ll be right back on track. It’s just so frustrating that, despite the fact our squad is horrendously lightweight; there are still better solutions within that squad than the ones we are being presented with at the moment.

Dear God, we really do need a few more players though. Diomansy Kamara would be a good shout – much rather him than Cousin or Folan of Hull (both dreadful). If Ameobi is going to be out then we definitely need a striker, as well as a wide player and some cover for the defence. To be fair, Hughton knows that we need a few more bodies in – he’s not stupid. And I’m sure that he has identified the same positions as I just have (hopefully we’re not after another central midfielder…), but as we all know the questions is whether Ashley is going to give him the green light or not. In that respect, last night could turn out to be a blessing in disguise – there’s no hiding behind the unbeaten start and defensive record anymore (as Ashley would have no doubt been doing).