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Newcastle United View: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Tyne’d



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The tallest and fastest roller coaster on Earth is said to be located at a Six Flags amusement park in Jackson Township, New Jersey. Obviously, none of the thrill-seekers who have survived a ride on the Kingda Ka have ever strapped themselves into a seat for 90 minutes at St. James Park. Or, for that matter, at The Madejski Stadium this past Saturday.

In this, the loudly trumpeted season of revival and renewed vigor on Tyneside, a soundingly resolute performance from Steve Coppell’s charges provided another early wake-up call for Sam Allardyce and his small battalion of coaches and trainers. Ever the portrait of staunch pragmatism in English football, the man with the daunting task of hauling silverware into the empty arms of the Geordie faithful has declared on more than one occasion how arduous and stressful he expects his task to be. Indeed, overcoats and pinstripes aside, Fat Sam seems to have lost a visible amount of weight since he took over. When discussing reasons why, few, I’d imagine, would point to a treadmill.

Supporting Newcastle this year has been like any other, only with a slightly more valid renewed sense of optimism. At times, they have left me more excited than Chris Kamara watching a prostitute undress. Most days, however, you just feel like the prostitute. Realistic campaign goals have long evaded the hearts minds of Newcastle management, so Allardyce’s humbly honest predictions for our season appeared a healthy dose of rationality.

But to play out the final 14 minutes of a match away at Reading grasping desperately onto a single point gifted to us through a bewildering own goal, in vain no less, surely came as a shock to even him. Still riding the wave of a rather flattering scoreline against Tottenham last week, his bolstered squad’s ultimate lack of absolute confidence resurfaced once more against the Royals, and suddenly an abysmal showing at Derby County isn’t an isolated incident. I’ve always believed that Allardyce is the right man for the job, and still whole-heartedly do, but every now and then he can mystify.

Goalkeepers: I’m starting to believe Given and Harper got drunk one night in the off-season watching Face-Off and decided to travel to South America to replicate the surgery. They’re both playing exactly like the other. It’s incredible.

Defence: News that Shay Given thought Caçapa spoke Spanish only hints at the lack of understanding still present that only time can fully absolve. Steady for sporadic 15-minute intervals at at time, judging from some of their league performances so far, it would seem that, like a lingering fart, Titus Bramble has left an impact more lasting on the club than the venerable manager who signed him. That being said, I really like the defensive unit Sam has put together. By the new year, I expect them to be communicating well and tightening up. The only true liabilities, Babayaro and Carr, have about as much chance of playing as Santiago Munez from Goal!.

Midfield: As the good people at Actim will tell you, Charles N’Zogbia has easily been our best player this season. Not a believer in the Index? Ask any Premiership fantasy football manager. With Jose Enrique finally settled and starting to look the part, supporters were anxious for another sighting of Charles unleashed back into his natural position as a left-sided midfielder.

Facing a Reading defence that had allowed 23 goals in their first ten league matches, albeit most of them away from home, Sam decided to leave him healthy on the bench, opting instead to field four players who are most comfortable right in the center of the pitch, with only Emre possibly able to convince someone he’s a winger this Halloween. The result was a midfield as inspiring as Dick Cheney, confining a £26 million strike force to an endless game of tag with Reading’s back four.

Geremi and Butt negate each other, and together combine to stagnate the direct passing a 4-4-2 formation needs to produce attacking football. Sam spent all summer renovating our back line, constantly reminding us they need time to gel. Insisting on playing two defensive-minded midfielders, to the obvious detriment of the offense, should do nothing for their collective confidence.

Geremi is a calming personality, a wise choice for captain, but to solidify his presence he needs to command the space between the ball and his defenders himself, straying back even further than he does now with Butt, the perfect substitute for both his position and armband, as cover. Joey Barton’s first competitive start for us proved to be nothing more than a somewhat premature reward for all his commendable hard work and commitment to recovering from his metatarsal injury; in truth, he looked at least a month away from top form. Emre didn’t fare much better, but he’s always been the type of player who thrives on close interactive play with other quick passers.

There has been talk a plenty throughout the Newcastle blogosphere about the pressing need for a “creative” midfielder, but it’s far too early for me to agree. I’m still curious to see Allardyce tinker with some of the combinations at his disposal. The potential is there. For argument’s sake though, as soon as I buy FM 08, I’m sending an inquiry to Porto about Quaresma. As much as it pains me to say it, Milner just doesn’t look like he can ever evolve into a world class player.

When I have a son, I want him to be just like James Milner. But when I want a right winger starting for a club with (long-term) Champions League ambitions, I don’t. He keeps his head down too often to ever sharpen his sense of vision around the pitch and appears to pull back to his favored foot after three feints before offering up the exact same cross every time he makes a run. He was probably our most consistent player last season on effort alone, but he needs to improve all facets of his game to remain a starter.

Strikers: So rare was a venture into Reading’s penalty box, one could have been led to assume that Marcus Hahnemann had contracted SARS on his way to the stadium. Mostly not their fault, but someone forgot to tell Owen that being a hair taller than Martins doesn’t mean he needs to play like a big man.

Speaking of things forgotten, it might be said that it never was going to be a good day for Newcastle’s squad. It looked like a team assistant couldn’t remember to pack a full matching kit for everyone assigned a uniform on Saturday. Instead, the players emerged from the tunnel wearing an unfortunate combination of our home shirt and third kit shorts and socks. But hey, a win against the Mackems away in two weeks and all of this may very well disappear, promptly deleted from my memory for a week forever.

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