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Enough pre-amble, so take it away Ben...
What can I tell you about your opponents this coming Saturday? Nothing much that you won’t already know from glancing at the back pages of the tabloids.
Ours is a club in turmoil.
On the pitch we’ve largely eradicated our defensive sloppiness (so long our Achilles’ heel) only to suffer from a chronic inability to score goals. Damien Duff in particular can’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo at the moment. More worryingly still, during last weekend’s abysmal home defeat by Sheffield Utd we couldn’t even fashion any chances and looked creatively bankrupt. Bereft of belief and commitment we were easy pickings even for a side which hadn’t previously scored an away goal, let alone picked up three points on their travels.
Glenn Roeder can justifiably point to another horrendous injury list, which has decimated our squad and limited our options up front in particular, but I’m getting more than a little concerned that whatever knack he had of rejuvenating and firing up a team which had been playing poorly and without passion under Souness appears to have deserted him.
And then there’s that fat waste of space Freddy Shepherd chuntering on about "the Geordie nation" and reiterating his resolve to stay at the helm when we’d all much rather he buggered off and saved us all from yet another embarrassing public statement.
Things aren’t going too much better at the City of Manchester Stadium. Hard to beat (if a bit dull) at home, which should give us more cause for concern, but a very soft touch away. The only player to mirror Stuart Pearce’s enthusiasm and commitment on a regular basis is Joey Barton, and you’re far too reliant on him for drive and goals.
A large part of the problem, as I see it, is up front. Whereas early last term Andrew Cole and Darius Vassell were scoring goals for fun, no-one seems to be finding the back of the net often enough this time around. Georgios Samaras has definite talent but needs to make his mark more frequently, whereas Bernardo Corradi has been largely anonymous and ineffective and Vassell has had injuries. As for Paul Dickov – well, let’s just say that there’s no place for sentimentality in transfer dealings.
With Dietmar Hamann and Hatem Trabelsi returning to full fitness, though, it’s a major positive that you’ll at last get to see your two best summer signings in competitive action. To my mind Trabelsi was a particularly good addition to the squad – it wasn’t long ago that the big boys across Europe were after him, and his versatility will come in very handy. Hamann too will be useful, though, if only because he’ll allow Barton more of a licence to get forwards. He can contribute the odd goal himself, mind, being the possessor of a potent right boot – one 25 yard goal at Forest during his one year spell with us sticks in the memory because it nearly bust the net and took my head off…
Talking of old boys, I ought really to mention Antoine Sibierski. The Frenchman’s arrival on Tyneside was hardly greeted with whoops of joy and street parties (not least on Black & White & Read All Over), and he’s been solid rather than spectacular so far. That said, he’s contributed three important goals (albeit all in the cups) and has shown an admirable willingness to roll his sleeves up for the cause (even when getting buffeted about by uncompromising central defenders who, like Roeder, have mistaken him for a target man) – which is more than can be said about many others in black and white.
A prediction then? With our defeat on Saturday, what was a very troubling situation became a full-blown crisis, and City’s players may justifiably be licking their lips at the very real prospect of sealing the fate of a second Newcastle manager in the space of nine months. We seem incapable of carrying our good cup form into the league, so we’d have to regard a draw as a decent result – I won’t hold my breath, though.