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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Some pride, at last

TDH was disappointed to see a team with five Yanks lose at the weekend, even if it gave our Toon lads a much-needed three points. The names on the scoresheet were the right ones, at last, and one can only hope that it will continue. Keegle seems to have found a working formula, even if there's a huge hole in midfield. If it works with a couple more scrub teams, we're safe. Just.

But what pleased TDH even more - because let's face it, with the Magpies any pleasure is always bittersweet - was how those same Yanks bounced back in Poland on Wednesday. Okay, Poland is not one of Europe's greatest teams, even if they are going to Euro 2008. Still, taking them apart 3-0 in their own house has to mean something. It wasn't even an all-European team for us, just a decent XI assembled from a combination of our top division stars and a few standouts from MLS.

That success, combined with the good turnaround by the A-Team in the Olympic qualifiers, was enough to make TDH dream about the future. Who's the A-Team? Why, Adu and Altidore, of course!


There were quite a few other tasty friendlies, though the only one that made it to TDH's screen was France v England. (It was shocking, really, that TDH couldn't watch Italy v Spain in a country that's about 60 percent of Italian and Spanish ancestry.) So, once again, TDH tuned in with interest to see what Fabs would conjure.

This time, it was disappointment. With Becks and James in the side, it could have been a match from two or even four years ago - but for the tireless Gareth Barry (he's the white Ledley King!). At least Bentley got a run-out in the second half, though his crosses were pitifully low for a guy with fresh legs. Downing did a lot of running and ended up nowhere - TDH is still disappointed, after he raised expectations so high in that Premier League match a few years ago against, um, us.

All in all, it was the standard idea-less England performance to which we've become so accustomed. Mix it up, Fabs!


TDH also took in Egypt v Argentina, a fighting performance by the African champs that only came undone thanks to the native talent of a certain ex-Independiente player who goes by the best three-letter nickname since El Cid. The kid is on fire. Did anyone see what he did to Sevilla at the weekend? A monster. Soon we will all forget about Messi, at least that's what TDH's Kun-krazy Spanish neighbor says.

And there may be something to it. Messi is so direct, storming towards the goal like a basketball forward charging through the lane. But Aguero improvises like Charlie Parker, spinning off long runs in unpredictable directions, different every time. Either way, Argentina has some weapons. Too bad Basile's overall setup was a total mess. Embarrassing, really. He has to go. Soon. TDH hears Pedro Troglio is available....


Yes, Troglio is gone and TDH is praying for Russo as his replacement. If Passarella gets the job, TDH might follow a friend's example and become a fan of Ferro Carril Oeste. Good old Ferro. It's a club on the tail end of two decades of decline, but a day out at the stadium - pitifully empty these days but with a vociferous and loyal tribuna popular - sure is a pleasure. They have cool jackets, too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Is this what you call a comfort zone?

First things first: We should have won today at Birmingham. We owned them in the second half, until Mauro Zarate came on to liven things up for the Blues. We were just plain better.

That we maintained an advantage on the pitch in the second half of an away match would be quite an achievement, if it weren't against one of the worst teams in the league. Then again, we're also one of the worst teams in the league, so it meant something.

And Alan Smith didn't play. Hallelujah.

But TDH, naturally, has some quibbles. First, why was Martins taken off instead of Viduka? Martins could have slotted into Viduka's spot when Zog came on. And the big man really was huffing and puffing. He's still not fit. It's March.

Also, can we please have two hours of passing practice every day until the next fixture? TDH hasn't seen so many heavy balls since... the last time TDH went to a bowling alley. (What did you think TDH was going to say?) Our passing was poor, and that's why we didn't win.

That, and the fact that we still lack creativity on the ball. Down here, Christian Bassedas (remember him?) was doing the color commentary, and for once he hit the target: We just didn't have the ability to surprise the opposition. The players who give us that are Milner, Zog and Emre. He also pointed out that all of our defenders hang out in the 18-yard box, instead of spreading out to defuse the danger earlier. Good point.

That said, TDH was intrigued by the Smith-less formation. Of course, TDH would like to suggest a couple of alterations. Take off Butt, who compensates for slowness with so many clumsy tackles that it's no surprise he leads the league in yellow cards. Slide Barton into his place, and bring back one of our true wingers. Then you can still play with Owen and Viduka up front, and Martins behind in the slot.

And one more alteration: Make Geremi captain again. Okay, TDH has no idea what he's like in the locker room. But he holds us together on the pitch. He's a brilliant sweeper, he almost never loses the ball, he tackles cleanly, he settles the offense, and his dead balls are of a consistently high quality. He's a role model for chuckleheads like Barton. The man deserves some recognition.

There are six teams below us garnering an average of less than a point a game. TDH thinks we need nine points from the eight remaining matches to stay up. Keep playing like we did today, and we might just get them. A win against Fulham at home (though TDH will be oh-so-compromised, especially after McBride's dream goal at the weekend) is the only acceptable next step.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Tragedy by the numbers

For those of you who are confident that the Magpies will turn it around this season and procure what has bizarrely become a respectable mid-table finish, here are some sobering statistics. We're actually worse than our current position in the table.

Start with the team statistics. Our goal difference is as bad as Reading's and Fulham's - two of the three teams currently in the relegation zone. That means, if anything, that we've been lucky so far this season. Our position in the table is actually exaggerated to the upside. And our form is currently the worst in the league, with two points from the past six matches. That's right, we're rock bottom.

Now go to the player statistics. We don't have a single player in the top 100 of the Actim index. Not one. Only two other teams can claim the same distinction: Scumderland and Derby County, both relegation candidates. Plus, our top scorer (Martins) hasn't played for ages, and he's tied in the goal rankings with such well-known forwards as Jol Lescott.

And the focal point of all of TDH's ire is, of course, Alan Smith. What is he good for? Fouls, apparently - he leads the league with 73 of them. He's also tied for second in the discipline standings, after card-happy Nigel Reo-Coker. With whom is he tied, you ask? Why, with our very own Nicky Butt! We can't keep up with the opposition's midfielders, so we foul them instead. That's how bad we are.

TDH hates to say it, but the only comforting thought is that there may be three teams worse than we are. On paper, our lineup looks strong. We have name players, even though they're almost all on the downslope of their careers. And indeed, one player has recently said that things are looking up in the dressing room, the squad is together and they've got faith in Keegle. But who was that player, to whom the manager has given plenty of time on the pitch? A certain Alan Smith.