Newcastle: French Revolution not as bright as first thought

This time last season, Newcastle were beating Chelsea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge to seal a fifth place finish to a superb season in the Premier League. Papiss Cisse, a £10 million January signing from Freiburg, scored both goals to move up to a total of 13 in his first 3 months in England, and all the adulation was heading towards Alan Pardew and his chief scout Graham Carr for overachieving with a sensible budget and an extensive scouting network. Cisse was a product of that, as was the likes of Yohann Cabaye, Cheick Tiote, Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa and Tim Krul, the group of players who formed the spine of the Magpies’ successful season.

Tyneside was shrouded in optimism heading into the summer having narrowly missed out on Champions League football with a vibrant and cohesive side. The summer would present Alan Pardew with a chance to add to a squad that was already well-equipped and Newcastle United, a club boasting one of the biggest supports in the land, would push on with the return to European competition an added attraction to promising talent. Or so read the script.

In the summer, it became apparent that all was not rosy at St James’ Park as Pardew, although he kept hold of his highly-rated stars, was restricted by owner Mike Ashley’s financial prudence. Vurnon Anita, signed from Ajax for £8 million, was the most significant move alongside the £1.1 million spent on Gael Bigirimana from Coventry and Curtis Good from Melbourne Heart for £400,000. They were not exactly stellar names and many observers were entitled to ask where the £35 million garnered for the sale of Andy Carroll had disappeared to whilst Pardew prepared for the new season with the same squad.

The folly of such off-season inactivity was exposed with a run of just 3 wins in the opening 14 games, a run that was coloured with the news that Ashley had decided to extend Pardew’s contract with a mammoth 8-year extension. Cabaye has made his public his struggles with the rigours of returning to domestic competition following playing for France at Euro 2012 and his campaign has been ruptured by injuries. The likes of Jonas Gutierrez and the fringe players such as Anita, Bigirimana, Gabriel Obertan and Romain Alfitano have all struggled badly for form.

The squad has also been hit by the long absences of Tiote, Krul, Ben Arfa and captain Fabriccio Coloccini, the players who provided the core to last season’s side, as well as Cisse and Gutierrez, have only been available to Pardew at the same time on just one occasion this season.

After that torrid start, Newcastle were immersed in the bottom half of the table and that is where they have remained despite Pardew’s desperate foray into the January transfer market. A dismal festive period saw a sequence of just one win in eight gave Ashley had no choice but to back his manager financially as the possibility of another relegation began to cast a nervous shadow over St James’ Park. Damagingly, Demba Ba, who had scored eleven goals in the first half of the season, headed to Chelsea following the initiation of his £8 million buy-out clause.

With the help of Carr and the money bought in from the sale of Ba, Pardew dipped into the French market to spend £20 million on Ligue 1 talent, bringing in Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran, Massaido Haidara, Mathieu Debuchy and Mapou Yanga-Mbwia. Although an immediate impact was seen with victories over Aston Villa, Chelsea, Stoke and Southampton, the desperate attempt to launch a French revolution has seemingly back-fired, with talk of discord and disunity within the squad dominating the fall-out of Saturday’s embarrassing 0-6 capitulation to Liverpool, Newcastle’s worst home defeat since 1925.

The French contingent of the squad have been accused of a lack of concern about the club’s troubles and it has reportedly resulted in a dressing room split. There are fears that Newcastle are slowly losing their soul and identity as Pardew has chosen to go multi-cultural. With as many French senior players as English at Newcastle, ten each in total, it is anathema to a club that has prided itself on a close community and togetherness.

Sissoko..... among those criticized.

Sissoko….. among those criticized.

Whilst concerns over squad harmony will occupy the manager in private, there will indeed be a huge worry about the lack of fight that epitomised their defeat to Liverpool, together with their 3-0 dismantling by Sunderland in the derby two week’s before. Effort was almost non-existent as Phillipe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge led the rout, whilst there was something telling about the way Gary Neville tore at Newcastle’s defending during his stint as Sky Sports pundit on Monday night, it resembled the insipid resistance of a club heading for the Championship.
With a gap of five points shielding Newcastle from Wigan and the last relegation spot with three games remaining, it is unlikely that Ashley’s regime would oversee its second relegation in four years. But there is no escaping that the businessman will have to green-light a more active summer than last year’s if he is to recover the club from another dip into mutiny. He may even be forced to renege on the generosity of his eight-year backing to his manager that has so far failed to build on a promising debut year enough to justify such support.

For a club that held such optimism just a year ago, they are now heading into darker times once again.

 

Written by Adam Gray

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Gael Bigirimana: More Than An Amazing Story

For someone who lived the first 11 years of his life in fear, Gaël Bigirimana has surprised many with his selfless attitude and optimism. Since arriving in England from war-torn Burundi, via Uganda, Bigirimana’s life story thus far has amazed all who’ve read about it. However, he is more than just a “fairytale-esque story of humble beginnings”.

 

Humble Beginnings

Gaël Bigirimana left his homeland (Burundi) as a refugee during a civil war, with the Burundi Government fighting against the rebel forces. Gaël’s mother fled first, making her way to Coventry, England, where the Bigirimana family would be reunited 4 years later.

Walking to the supermarket with his brother, Gaël spotted Coventry City’s youth academy. The determined youngster, then aged 11, went over the next day to ask for a trial. Though Coventry scouts were forced to turn him down, they were so impressed with the turn of pace he showed as he left the training facility that they made sure they gave him a chance.

In Gaël Bigirimana’s own words (in an interview with BBC Sport):

“They asked if I had all the equipment, boots, shin pads and stuff like that. I said ‘yes’ but I did not. They said they saw me running fast but to tell you the truth I was jogging. The next day they gave me a trial. It was near the end of the season but they took me on for the following campaign. It must have been a miracle.”

 

Coming good at Coventry City

After signing youth forms at Coventry City in 2005, Bigirimana developed so well that, aged 16, he was named on the 1st team’s bench for a League Cup tie against Morecambe. In that same 2010/11 season, he again made the bench – this time in a Championship fixture away to eventually-promoted Norwich City.

With such progress, he naturally signed a professional contract in the summer of 2011. After being involved in the 1st team’s pre-season preparations ahead of the 2011/12 season, Bigirimana made his debut on the 8th of August 2011, playing every minute of a 0-1 home defeat to Leicester City.

Bigirimana – who made an impressive total of 28 appearances that season – proceeded to play at such a level that he was named the Championship’s “2012 Apprentice of the Year”, beating off competition from other highly-rated youngsters – most prominently Jonathan Williams (of Crystal Palace) and Jordan Obita (of Reading).

In his 2011/12 debut season at Coventry, the Sky Blues were relegated from the League One, finishing 2nd from bottom. Considering that Coventry had been involved in relegation fights for the previous few campaigns, the fact that then manager Andy Thorn was willing to place his faith in an 18-year-old Bigirimana speaks volumes of the Burundi youngster’s maturity.

After all, the Championship has been referred to as “the hardest league to get out of and the hardest league to stay in”. It is most definitely not a league where just about any raw youngster can be thrown into and expected to survive, let alone shine.

 

Big step up

After such an impressive debut season, it was of no surprise that Coventry were not able to keep hold of Bigirimana, especially after their relegation. Newcastle United snapped him up for a relative bargain fee – rumoured to be between £500k and £1 million.

“Bigi has done really well. He has impressed us. He has come in from Coventry with a season of first-team football under his belt at 18. He is exactly the type of player we should be bringing to Newcastle United. And he will get better here – 100%. Oh, and he gets Bigi as a nickname being as he’s 5ft 4in! He has looked really fine in training with guys who are at a higher level than he’s been used to. Bigi has looked really good and that’s great credit to him.”

- Newcastle boss Alan Pardew on Gaël Bigirimana after Newcastle’s pre-season preparations.

 

Despite low expectations of Bigirimana’s 1st season on Tyneside, in the sense that he wouldn’t be a 1st team regular, he has gone on to make 23 1st team Premier League appearances at the time of writing. ‘Bigi’ has held his own over the course of this 2012/13 campaign, be it in the UEFA Europa League or in the English Premier League, scoring 1 goal – a brilliant strike from outside the box against Wigan Athletic – in the process.

Want an example of Bigirimana at his current best? That came in a pulsating fixture – A 4-3 loss at Old Trafford, where he held his own in central midfield before being replaced in the 65th minute. The fact that his direct opponents that day were Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick simply makes it all the more impressive.

 

Overview

(2012/13 stats from WhoScored, accurate till the time of writing)

Bigirimana is not afraid to put in a shift defensively and “get stuck in”, with per game averages of 1.3 tackles, 0.9 interceptions and 1 clearance. Additionally, ‘Bigi’ has, per game, blocked 0.3 shots and has been dribbled past just 0.6 times. Though he might not be the biggest of players, he has won an average of 0.4 aerial duels per game. Qualitatively, the Burundi youngster has the pace, aggression and tenacity needed to survive and, possibly, thrive in the Premier League.

Offensively, ‘Bigi’ has shown his talent. This season alone, he has averaged (per game) 0.9 key passes. Though he has shown his inexperience at times, such as losing the ball 0.5-0.6 times per game, that should improve with experience.

An overall passing accuracy of 87.7%, is a startling statistic for a young debutant in the English top flight.

Holistically, Gaël Bigirimana has shown that he has the potential to be a good box-to-box central midfielder – what with his high energy levels, tenacity, work ethic and willingness to get forward et al.

 

Look to the future

Where his future at International level is concerned, Bigirimana could play for England, Rwanda or Burundi. Currently without any international caps to his name, not even at youth level, perhaps England should call him up at U21 level to take a good look at his current ability and potential. Though he might end up playing for Rwanda or Burundi, it’d be a win-win situation for both England and Gaël Bigirimana as they’d possibly gain a future senior international while he’d gain more valuable experience regardless.

Having looked at his career thus far, I’d say that ‘Bigi’ could develop into a consistent Europa League-standard midfielder. With the plan at Newcastle United being consistent qualification for at least the Europa League, and having looked at the Newcastle squad, Bigirimana could eventually become a stalwart player in the Toon’s central midfield. My expectation is that his peak years will be spent plying his trade on the hallowed turf of St James’ Park.

Then again, I could be wrong and Bigirimana goes on to feature regularly in the UEFA Champions League, be it for Newcastle or a bigger club.

Considering all that he’s been through thus far in his fledgling football career and, more importantly, his life, anything is possible for this Burundi Footballer.

As has been seen, this God-fearing (young) man will face all challenges head-on, with a ‘Bigi’ smile on his face.

 

Written by Mark Ooi

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Nile Ranger: Good Riddane to Bad Rubbish

Just over a week ago, Newcastle united mutually parted company with 21-year-old forward Nile Ranger.  Ranger made 51 appearances for Newcastle all be it many from the bench. Sadly the youngster, who previously netted six goals in ten games for England U19, left Newcastle with only 2 goals to his name.

Ranger who had been at Newcastle since 2009 was not one to be called “a good boy”. In fact,  he was quite the opposite. Ranger was dubbed by the Newcastle fans as a “wanna-be gangster”, which, to tell the truth, was spot on.

In 2007, at the age of 15, he was sentenced to 11 weeks in a young offenders institute after being convicted of participating in a street robbery in Muswell Hill, London.

On 27 August 2011 he was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a man in Newcastle City Centre leaving the victim unconscious in the street, but was found not guilty of this in his trial on October 2012.

In October 2011 he was charged with being drunk and disorderly in Newcastle. In March 2012 he was convicted of being drunk and disorderly and was given a six-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £135 costs. Prior to this, in May 2011 Ranger was questioned by Newcastle after posing with a replica gun in a photograph.

In March 2012, the FA fined him for making homophobic comments on Twitter. He was arrested again that month, this time for breaching terms of his bail whilst awaiting trial on four assault charges. In the early hours of 23 September 2012, police were called to a house in North London after reports of disturbance. The front door of the property was badly damaged and Ranger was arrested at the scene and later charged with domestic violence.

The charge against Ranger was dropped in November 2012 after the court accepted his explanation that he had damaged the door after fearing his girlfriend was being kidnapped. On 25 January 2013, Ranger was arrested on suspicion of rape in a Newcastle hotel room.

It was never in question whether Ranger had the potential to succeed in the game. But the attitude since his days with Southampton has always been the issue.  Compare him, for example, with arguably Newcastle’s hottest prospect Adam Campbell.

Campbell made his competitive debut against Atromitos in the UEFA Europa League on 23 August 2012, becoming the youngest player to play for Newcastle in European competitions. Campbell is full of fight and ambition which has earned him a place in the Premier League squad on various occasions. He is said to be first to training and even when he was not selected for a Premier League game a few weeks back, he travelled with the fans and was seen in the away stand at Spurs.

In contrast manager Alan Pardew had previously commented on Ranger’s lack of professionalism in the Evening Chronicle, saying: “I think I’ve been fair with him. This guy is late so often, it is unbelievable. He’s still at this football club and we’re still trying to do something with him.”

His contract was mutually terminated on March 1st. This was a relief to many fans who were fed up with the Ranger antics. Ranger then tweeted “I’m happy” just minutes after the news of his departure had reached the press and fans. This riled some fans although the context was unclear.

In my humble opinion I think it’s a shame that he lacked the motivation that could have made him into a decent first team option for the club. However, in light of his recent behavior both in and outside of football, I think it is good riddance to bad rubbish.

 

Written by Charlie Swinburn

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Special Feature: The Top 10 Best Premier League Matches Ever

Over the last 20 years, we have been privileged to see so many brilliant players and wonderful goals illuminate the Premier League, leading to a plethora of breathtaking football matches. But which of these games stand-out, leaving an ever-lasting imprint on our memories?

The following is a list of my top 10 games of the Premier League era. As with previous lists, there were a mixture of commodities to determine the rankings, such as how defining the game was in relation to the season, for one or both teams, the shock factor, the dramatic element and, of course, the goal-laden excitement.

 
10. West Ham 5-4 Bradford City: February 12, 2000

A memorable game that saw the talented, but controversial Paolo di Canio play the leading role.

The drama started after just 5 minutes, when the Hammers ‘keeper Shaka Hislop was stretchered off with a broken leg. He was replaced by third choice custodian, Stephen Bywater, who was making his Premier League debut. He went on to have a nightmare afternoon.

Bradford arrived at Upton Park deep in the relegation mire, but their attacking efforts were rewarded after 30 minutes, when Dean Windass headed home from a Peter Beagrie corner, with the young Bywater left rooted to the spot. Trevor Sinclair and John Moncur quickly reversed the scoreline, before the somersaulting Beagrie levelled it up for the Bantams on the stroke of half-time.

In a dramatic second half, the error-strewn Bywater gifted Jamie Lawrence two goals to give Bradford a 4-2 lead, but it was then that Di Canio stole the show. He was denied three penalties (and to be fair to him, he would have won all 3 on any other day) in the space of just a few minutes. After the third had been turned down, the Italian made his way over to the dugout in a petulant demand to be substituted by manager Harry Redknapp.

A few minutes later, West Ham were finally awarded a spot-kick, after a foul on sub Paul Kitson. Di Canio, who had now returned to the action, then engaged in a comical tussling match with a young Frank Lampard, who had the ball ready to take the penalty. After a minute or so of jostling, the reluctant Lampard stepped aside and Di Canio converted from the spot.

The promising Joe Cole made it 4-4 on 70 with his first ever Premier League goal, and Di Canio made amends to Lampard in the final minute by setting him up for the winning goal to cap an eventful day’s play!

Despite the defeat, Bradford went on to survive relegation (for one more season at least!) following their last day win over Liverpool.

 
9. Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City: October 23, 2011

City’s title-winning credentials were emphatically displayed as arch-rivals United were crushed in their own back-yard. And, like the previous game on this list, the mood was set by an enigmatic Italian.

City had started the campaign with a more attack minded mindset, and took the game to United. Mario Balotelli started the fireworks (not literally, thankfully, this time!) by opening the scoring on 22 minutes, before famously revealing his ‘Why Always Me?’ t-shirt.

Jonny Evans was sent off just after half-time for bringing down Balotelli 20 yards from goal, and City took advantage. Super Mario and Sergio Aguero both netted from close range following fine work from the brilliant David Silva, and although Darren Fletcher pulled a goal back for United, sub Edin Dzeko added a 4th, before City notched twice on the break in stoppage time; Silva and Dzeko completing the rout.

It was a significant statement of intent from City, who duly went on to win the title. The defeat was United’s joint worst in Premier League history.

 
8. Tottenham 3-5 Manchester United: September 29, 2001

In one of the best comebacks in Prem history, United stunned Tottenham with 5 second-half goals on a scintillating afternoon at White Hart Lane.

Spurs started strongly, and the late Dean Richards marked his debut in fine style with an early goal, before Les Ferdinand made it 2 with a clinical finish, following a fine through ball from Gus Poyet. Just before half-time, Christian Ziege headed home from close range, after being left unmarked at the far post by everybody’s favourite Sky Sports pundit, Gary Neville.

United were transformed in the second half, though. Andy Cole reduced the arrears with a header, before Laurent Blanc met a beauty of a David Beckham corner to score his first United goal. The visitors were rampant, and it was no surprise when goal machine Ruud van Nistlerooy made it 3-3, again with a header.

Spurs were stunned, even more so when United completed the turnaround; Juan Sebastian Veron, with probably his finest moment for the club, smashing home from inside the box following good link-up play with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The icing on the cake came with 3 minutes left, as Beckham made it 5 with a stunning strike from 25 yards.

 
7. Liverpool 4-4 Arsenal: 21 April, 2009

Fernando Torres (when he was good) was the catalyst for the home side, netting twice in a game that see-sawed like none other seen in the Premier League.

Andrei Arshavin, who also used to be quite good, outshone him with a 4 goal blast that was still somehow not enough to seal the 3 points for Arsenal. It was the Russian who put the Gunners ahead on 36 minutes, side-footing home a cut-back from Cesc Fabregas, though Torres levelled matters with a fine header just after half-time.

Yossi Benayoun scrambled Liverpool into the lead on 56 minutes, though Arshavin feasted on their defensive ineptitude with a quick-fire double (67,70). With one of his best ever Prem goals, Torres made it 3-3, superbly controlling a cross before twisting to hit a 25 yard strike past Lukasz Fabianksi, but Arsenal retook the lead in stoppage time, Arshavin combining with Theo Walcott on the counter attack to score his 4th.

That still wasn’t the end of the drama, though, as Benayoun hit goal number 8 of an eventful night just seconds later.

The draw did put Liverpool momentarily back on top of the table, but any realistic ambitions of winning the title had gone.

 
6. Man City 2-3 Fulham: 26 April, 2008

Fulham were mathematically relegated at half-time of this fixture, but a superb second-half comeback was the catalyst for a remarkable great escape.

City were yet to establish themselves as a force at the top of the table, but still had a bunch of talented players. Stephen Ireland opened the scoring with a fine 25-yard curler, and Benjani (remember him?), doubled their lead following a sumptuous through ball from Elano on 21 minutes.

Half-time scores elsewhere were not looking good, and with a woeful away record, the Cottagers looked doomed. But they continued to attack, and were rewarded when Diomansy Kamara scored from close range, past a fresh-faced Joe Hart on 70 minutes. Fulham were then awarded a penalty nine minutes later, following a shove on sub Erik Nevland, and Danny Murphy stepped up to score at the second attempt after Hart had saved his initial effort.

After Fulham ‘keeper Kasey Keller had miraculously denied Martin Petrov, the visitors came forward looking for a winner. In dramatic fashion, it arrived in the last minute, Murphy playing the perfect through ball to Kamara, whose rifled finish sent the away fans into delirium.

The win gave fresh belief to Fulham, who survived the drop with a last day win at Portsmouth. It was a fine achievement by Roy Hodgson’s men, who built on their escape to qualify for Europe the following season.

 
5. Wigan Athletic 3-2 West Ham: May 15, 2011

Wigan came from 2 goals down to relegate West Ham in this crucial relegation dogfight at the DW Stadium.

Going into the game, the Hammers’ survival prospects looked slim, but not insurmountable. Failure to win would be fatal, but Wigan themselves needed the points to keep their hopes of staying in the division alive.

It was the visitors who made the better start, Demba Ba glancing home a free-kick on 12 minutes. He doubled the lead on 26, notching on the goal-line after Thomas Hitzlberger’s free-kick has been headed towards goal by James Tomkins.

With Birmingham losing, West Ham fans began to believe, but their hopes were dashed after a second half-collapse. Charles N-Zogbia halved the deficit for Wigan with a wonderfully pinpoint free-kick, before substitute Conor Salmon equalized on 68 minutes.

With a point no good for either side, the finale was end-to-end, and it was Wigan who nicked the crucial 5th goal on 94 minutes, N-Zogbia cutting inside onto his left foot before firing underneath the body of Robert Green, to the delight of Roberto Martinez and the Wigan fans.

Wigan went on to secure survival on a dramatic final day with a win at Stoke. West Ham, at least, bounced straight back by winning the Championship play-off final the following season.

 
4. Arsenal 4-4 Tottenham: October 29, 2008

Two stoppage time goals gave Harry Redknapp’s Spurs a share of the spoils in this thrilling North London derby at the Emirates Stadium.

It was Redknapp’s first game in charge since leaving Portsmouth, and his new charges were off to a great start when David Bentley opened the scoring with a sensational 40 yard volley. Arsenal were level on 37 minutes, though; Mikael Silvestre heading home a Robin Van Persie corner, with the erratic Heurelho Gomes caught in no man’s land.

Arsenal took the lead a minute after half-time through skipper William Gallas, and Emmanuel Adebayor poked home on 64 minutes to increase the lead. Darren Bent capitalized on a Manuel Almunia error to make it 3-2, but the two goal margin was quickly restored through Van Persie.

The real drama came in stoppage time. With the Spurs fans flocking to the exits, Jermaine Jenas scored what looked so likely to be just a consolation with a fine left footed strike. But, unbelievably, just seconds later, a looping 30 yard volley from Luka Modric cannoned off the post, and Aaron Lennon was first to the rebound to send the home crowd into stunned silence.

 
3. Newcastle United 4-4 Arsenal: February 5, 2011

Newcastle became the first side in Premier League history to come back from a 4-0 deficit with a sensational second-half comeback against Arsenal.

The Toon were blitzed in the opening 10 minutes, with goals from Theo Walcott, Johan Djourou and Robin Van Persie, and the Dutchman netted his second on 26 minutes to put the Gunners in total control.

But the balance of play changed in an astonishing second period. Abou Diaby was sent off on 48 minutes, following a clash with the lovable Joey Barton, and it was he who scored from the penalty spot to give Newcastle a consolation on 68 minutes. After seeing a close-range strike wrongly ruled out for offside, Leon Best finally got on the score-sheet on 75.

The unthinkable became possible when Barton converted his second penalty, following a questionable Laurent Koscielny foul on Mike Williamson, with 7 minutes remaining to make it 4-3, and the unthinkable fight-back was complete with a stunning first time volley from 25 yards by Cheick Tiote with just 3 minutes remaining.

 
2. Manchester City 3-2 QPR: 13 May, 2012

“An amazing, amazing day, the like of which we’ve never seen!” – so said an understandably excited BBC commentator on the most dramatic afternoon of football in Premier League history.

Both Man City and QPR went into the game at the Etihad with something to play for. QPR needed a draw to cement their place in the Premier League, whilst City needed the three points to cap a remarkable turnaround in fortunes to win the title.

In a game of such magnitude, despite it looking, on paper, to be a home banker, no City fan was expecting it to be easy. But surely no-one could have predicted the eventual conclusion would play out as it did!

There was little goal-mouth action to speak of, until ‘keeper Paddy Kenny spilled a Pablo Zabaleta strike into his net 5 minutes before half-time.

To QPR’s credit, they started the second half well, and Djibril Cisse equalized following an error from Joleon Lescott. Despite going down to 10 men, when Joey Barton was sent off for a kick at Sergio Aguero, QPR moved into a shock lead on 66 through Jamie Mackie.

City continued to attack, but Kenny was equal to everything. It seemed destined that the title was going to elude them, as Man United were winning at Sunderland, but a headed goal from sub Edin Dzeko and a calm finish from Aguero, both in stoppage time, won the title and sparked mass hysteria on a truly unforgettable day!

 
1. Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle United: 3 April, 1996

This surely has to be the greatest game in Premier League history. Matches the City-QPR game for drama, and the quality of the two sides was of the highest standard.

Both teams went into the game with title aspirations. Newcastle had slipped from the summit after holding a large advantage for the majority of the season, but still had games in hand over Manchester United. Liverpool, meanwhile, were outsiders for the trophy but would increase the pressure on the top two with victory.

Liverpool struck first. Stan Collymore received the ball on the left wing, before crossing superbly for Robbie Fowler to head home at the far post for goal number 27 of his extraordinary season.

The lead was short lived, however, as Les Ferdinand equalized on 10 minutes. Faustino Asprilla waltzed into the box and squared the ball to Ferdinand, whose shot on the turn had enough power to beat David James in the Liverpool goal.

The visitors expertly hit Liverpool on the counter attack for their second goal just 4 minutes later. Upon receiving the ball in the middle of the park, Ferdinand sent David Ginola away with a superbly clipped through ball, and the Frenchman outpaced Jason McAteer to clinically convert past James, to the delight of Kevin Keegan in the opposing dugout.

Three goals came in quick succession in the second half. Liverpool equalized through a Fowler rocket after a cross from Steve McManaman, but Newcastle were soon back in front, Asprilla netting with a beautiful chip after James decided to rush 30 yards from goal. Liverpool were undeterred, and Collymore levelled an absorbing contest at 3-3, netting from close quarters following a teasing ball from McAteer.

Both teams chased a winner, and it was Liverpool who got it in the final minute. After a period of interplay between John Barnes and Ian Rush, the ball was laid off to Collymore, who smacked it past Pavel Srnicek to send the Kop into ecstasy, and leave Keegan slumped in despair.

The defeat had huge ramifications at the top of the table. Newcastle’s form suffered and Man United went on to reclaim the Premier League title.
Games that just missed out

There was a long list of games to choose from, meaning that some classic encounters have missed the cut. Man United’s dramatic 4-3 win over rivals City, their goal-filled 8-2 thrashing of Arsenal and their last gasp 4-3 win over Everton in 2004 were close omissions. Staying with United, their back-to-back defeats against Newcastle and Southampton in 1996 were considered, whilst Arsenal’s 9 goal North London thriller with Spurs, their 3-3 draw with Leicester and the Kanu-inspired 3-2 win over Chelsea were not far away.

Other close calls included Wolves’ dramatic comeback against Leicester in 2003, the 11 goal bonanza between Portsmouth and Reading, Spurs’ 4-3 win at West Ham in 2007 and the 4-4 between Norwich and Middlesbrough in 2005.

 

Written by Nick Wolf

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Newcastle: Marveaux finally starting to shine

It’s been very stop-start for Sylvain Marveaux in his Newcastle United career. Injuries have hampered the Frenchman’s first team chances, but recently he has begun to pick up some impressive form.

Having made a total of 14 appearances so far this season, four more than last season, thatin itself shows the progress he is making. Ordinarily used as an impact substitute, Marveaux has recently seen an upturn in fortune and has begun to start.

He has featured in all of Newcastle’s Europa League matches and started just recently against Wigan, producing a mesmerising attacking performance and one that did his reputation with the St James’ faithful no harm.

There is no hiding away from the fact Marveaux has found it difficult to settle into life under his articulate manager Alan Pardrew. The fans haven’t had the chance to really see what the dynamic attacker is made of or the sort of stuff he’s capable of.

In late November 2011, he was announced out for a lengthy period with a severe hip injury and was out of action until the summer. Signed from Rennes of France – a club in which he made over 100 appearances for – perhaps Marveaux is yet to really adjust to the physicality and intensity of the Premier League.

For a small player, strength is by no means his strongest attribute and possibly this is a reason behind his injury issues. But, those issues look to be forgotten now and the 26-year-old is beginning to show Newcastle what he is all about.

Versatile, tentative and a hard grafter – Marveaux does indeed possess all the necessary qualities to succeed in the English top-flight. In recent matches he has come alive.

But am I looking too much into this? Newcastle supporters will certainly hope not. It’s important that these small signs of progression are built upon; the midfielder clearly has talent.

After all, Newcastle had to beat away Liverpool – who then were under the leadership of Kenny Dalglish – as they were allegedly very keen.

He needs a solid run of games, though, as this will act as a springboard for potential future success. With matches comes confidence, something every footballer needs to play at the top of their game.

Newcastle’s affection for dipping into the French market appears to be continuing – the club are reportedly set to sign Lille defender Mathieu Debuchy in January – and this surely can only have a positive influence on Marveaux’s settlement.

Granted, if you’re a Newcastle fan you may well be struggling to fathom just why he has been such a disappointment (taking the injuries into account), but going on recent displays the end to Sylvain Marveaux’s conundrum beckons.

 

Written by Nathan Carr

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The Tyne-Wear Derby: Match Report

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Sunderland vs Newcastle: a game where Geordies and Mackems clash to support their beloved teams in a fiery encounter.

The game started off much that way too, Newcastle beginning the game at a fast pace in search of an early goal. And that’s what they got! A sloppy Danny Rose pass was picked up by Gutierrez who drove at the Sunderland defence, rolled through a ball towards Ba, who’s shot was pushed out by Mignolet into the path of Cabaye who applied a tidy finish.

This goal set the scene for the game, as fast paced enthralling football was by both sides. Just over 10 minutes later, controversy struck as Tiote was sent off for a studs-showing kick into Fletcher’s leg. The tackle had Twitter debating on whether the challenge was red-card-worthy. Atmosphere stepped up a level from Sunderland fans who tried to rally their team.

However it seemed Sunderland didn’t realise they had a man advantage who weren’t pushing forward in numbers. Sunderland did produce a few opportunities; a curling effort by Johnson sailed over the bar and Gardner’s chipped shot forcing a corner from Krul.

Newcastle came close too – a clever corner set-up shot by Cabaye, flicked up to Demba Ba who chested the ball and attempted a spectacular overhead kick, unfortunately for him, the shot fizzed over Mignolet’s goal.

Moving on to the second half, Sunderland came out and really pressed for an equaliser. James McClean and Seb Larsson coming into the game more as Sunderland tried many efforts at Krul’s goal. The main factor of Sunderland playing better was moving Gardner from right back into the midfield. The former Birmingham City player caused problems throughout the match.

The Black Cats also attempted to bolster there attack by bringing on Louis Saha and David Vaughan whilst The Magpies brought on Ryan Taylor to help his team out at the back. With 5 minutes remaining, Sunderland equalised, an excellently weighted free kick by Larsson took a nick off O’Shea and on to the head of the unaware Demba Ba and looped into the net. The stadium erupted with joy with the team celebrating.

A late attempt at a winner proved to be in vain as the game ended.

Sunderland 1 (Ba o.g) Newcastle 1 (Cabaye)

Player Ratings:

Sunderland: Mignolet – 6  Colback – 5  Cuellar – 6  O’Shea – 7  Rose – 5  McClean – 6 Larsson – 7  Gardner – 8  Johnson – 5  Fletcher – 6  Sessegnon – 5

Subs: Saha – 7  Vaughan – 6

 

Newcastle: Krul – 6  Simpson – 7  Williamson – 6  Coloccini – 8  Santon – 7  Gutierrez – 6 Cabaye – 7  Tiote – 4  Ben Arfa – 5  Ameobi – 5 Ba – 7

Subs: Perch – 6  Taylor – 6  Obertan – 5

 

Tactics-

Sunderland lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Sessegnon playing just behind Fletcher. Martin O’Neill’s aim was to utilise the wings with McClean and Johnson and feed many crosses to Fletcher with Sessegnon picking up the scraps.

 

Did it work?

Not really, both Santon and Simpson had excellent games and McClean and especially Johnson failed to find much space to whip the crosses in. This limited the amount of time Fletcher and Sessegnon had the ball.

 

What did work?

Moving Craig Gardner into midfield, he relished the amount of space he had due to Tiote’s sending off.

 

Newcastle lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. Pardew wanted Cabaye to push forward and assist Ba, Ameobi and Ben Arfa, and Tiote to sit back and defend. However due to Tiote’s red card it meant Perch had to come on and Newcastle had to play one up front.

 

Did it work?

At times, yes. Cabaye picked out Ba a lot, and could have scored more.

 

What didn’t work?

Ben Arfa’s play. He had a bad game, and made it harder to attack for Newcastle.

 

Changes:

 

Sunderland: I’d take out Adam Johnson, move Larsson on to the right flank, Gardner into centre midfield and bring on Bardsley at right back. Also, I’d start Saha over Sessegnon.

 

Newcastle: I’d remove Ben Arfa and bring in Cisse and remove Ameobi and bring in Anita. I’d change the formation to a 4-3-3 – Tiote, Cabaye and Anita in the midfield and Ba, Cisse, Gutierrez as the attacking trio.

 

Written by Cain O’Bennett

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Alan Pardew: What Is An Eight Year Contract Worth?

Alan Pardew

It was hugely surprising to learn of the recent Premier League news last week that Alan Pardew had been handed an eight year deal to stay on as Newcastle manager until 2020.

Now in this day and age, we all know just how volatile a managerial hot-seat is – Opta index and their latest football magazine say that since the start of the Premier League in 1992 the average tenure of a Premier League manager is 701 days. That amounts to just under two years. If you take the likes of Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and even David Moyes out of that equation that figure would be even less.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that Alan Pardew doesn’t deserve such a contract. He has done very well since he was appointed in 2010 and exceeded expectations last season, but while Newcastle directors have said that they want stability at the club in order to emulate the continuity and success at Arsenal and Manchester United, I’m not sure if handing our such a lengthy contract is the answer.

It is refreshing to see a club have such a trust in a manager in this day and age. Far too many good managers have been sacked without having the time and resources to make an impact that they would be capable of. But is this a realistic contract?

If Newcastle begin to lose their next 15 games in a row, will the board and the fans still have the same level of commitment and backing towards Pardew? Or will they look to terminate that contract like so many other clubs do? I’m not so sure.

It makes you question the make up of the contract. We don’t know the details but I am sure there will be points which will allow Newcastle to release Pardew if performances aren’t being produced, or equally I’m sure Pardew will be allowed to leave should England come calling.

It is because of points like these that you can’t help but think what difference an eight-year contract makes to a 4 or 5 year contract, because at the end of the day, if he is not performing he will be treated the same way as any other manager in the business.

On the positive side, it is a signal of intent from Newcastle which is good and they are looking to build on the work of Pardew and the stability he has already brought to the club. Long may it continue and it will be very interesting to see where Newcastle and Pardew will be in eight years time.

 

Also, please take the time to join Dafabet’s El Clasico/Milan derby competition for a chance to win a free $100 bet on our Facebook page. Join, before it’s too late!

 

Written by Luke Malcher

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Newcastle vs Norwich- Match Report

Demba Ba vs Norwich

Norwich City was hoping to secure their first win since the opening day of the Barclays Premier League, while manager Chris Hughton highlighted (ahead of this match) what his team would need to do in order to put up a notable performance. Hughton supposed that his men need to show more guile and more quality in front of goal.

Russell Martin replaced Grant Holt and wore the captain’s arm-band in the starting eleven. Demba Ba scored the opening goal of the match in the 19’, leaving a stunned Norwich City defence eyeing the referee’s assistant for the off-side flag. Norwich met opportunities to equalize with Wes Hoolahan being influential during moments since the start of the match. However, Newcastle would attack as well as they would defend, much to Norwich City’s dismay.

Steven Taylor and Mike Williamson were impressive in their defending.

On the other end, at 38’ on the clock, Ben Arfa had a promising run and show of skill, before he supplied Demba Ba with a beautiful pass on the attack. Ba was unlucky ultimately not to have done much with the ball meant for him. That may have had the appearance of a clear second goal for Newcastle; but not so much so as the penalty kick they were awarded with. Cisse failed to score the penalty during the opening half’s injury time – as drama directed at the referee as to why he had given the penalty decision in the first place continued.

Goalkeeper Steve Harper was tested early in the second half but denied Andrew Surman yet another chance to equalize. Newcastle held their nerve until the bitter end. They were consistent considering their effort and emerged victorious with a clean sheet.

Demba Ba’s goal in the opening half secured the team’s 3 points.

 

Written by Lebo Poen

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Cheick Tioté – Is he right for Arsenal?

Newcastle's Cheick Tiote celebrating his late equalizer against the Gunners.

Cheick Tioté has been heavily linked with a move to the Emirates, since anchor man Alex Song traded life in North London for Barcelona in a deal believed to be worth £15 million. Tioté will always be remembered for his stunning left footed volley for Newcastle against the Gunners in their 4-4 draw, which saw Arsenal let a 4 goal lead slip, in February 2011. There is much, much more though to the defensive midfielder’s game.

Last season, we all know that the Arsenal defence was shaky and vulnerable, constantly making comedy errors. Alex Song helped protect the ever changing Arsenal back four last season, which helped them to a majestic 3rd place finish after a somewhat patchy start.

Arsenal need to replace Song, as he was an influential figure for the Gunners and is extremely underrated, if they don’t, then they could really struggle defensively. Before the 2012/13 season. Many pundits labeled Song as the key man if they were to succeed, as Song was the player who broke up play, but contributed in attacks, too. Tioté is a similar player to Song, in the respect of a tough tacking brand of midfielder.

However, Arsene Wenger will have to realise that, due to Tioté’s position, Cheick will be suspended now and again. Tioté has a proven track record of getting booked once every two games since joining the Toons, but I don’t think Wenger will tolerate this, so he will have to be extremely careful when and if playing for Arsenal. It is believed that Arsenal will place a bid of around £15 million within the next week, and that is an incredibly cheap deal for someone of Titoé’s quality- I wouldn’t be surprised if Newcastle boss Alan Pardew rejected the bid.

Tioté is one of those players where he could fit into virtually any side, and he will be perfect protection for the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou, Thomas Vermaelen and Kieran Gibbs, not to forget the error stricken and somewhat unreliable Wojciech Szczęsny.

Speculation has also been going all through the summer regarding Rennes defensive midfielder Yann M’Villa, who is an alternative to Tioté, at a much lower price, rumoured to be £10 million.

I feel, however, Tioté will work wonders at Arsenal, as their midfield is a bit weak with Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey, although they have just signed Santi Cazorla with Jack Wilshere making a return late October. Arsenal need to replace Song to keep up with their rivals.

 

Written by Adam May

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