Poyet’s incredible Sunderland revival continues with 3-0 win at Newcastle

SAFC Fans

SAFC Fans

Sunderland beat Newcastle 3-0 for the second time in nine months in a pulsating Tyne-Wear derby at St James’ Park.

The victory means Gus Poyet has won 11 from 23 games with a club who were bottom of the league and without a win in seven matches when he took charge.

A first half penalty from Fabio Borini and a close-range effort from Adam Johnson gave Sunderland a half-time lead, while Jack Colback scored late in the second half.

A frantic first half was dominated in the early stages by the away side, who were better in possession and played with an urgency that Newcastle failed to deal with.

Newcastle did have opportunities wasted in good areas – both through Davide Santon – and they gifted Sunderland an opening on 18 minutes. A clumsy tackle from Vernon Anita on Phil Bardsley gave Borini the chance to put Sunderland in the lead, and the Italian duly smashed home.

The well-taken penalty into Tim Krul’s top right was Borini’s second goal in a Tyne-Wear derby since joining Sunderland on loan in September.

With St James’ Park agitated, Sunderland continued to push and probe and, within five minutes of Borini’s opener, had doubled their lead. Krul parried Colback’s shot across goal into the path of Johnson, who finished from four yards for his sixth goal in his last five games.

Jozy Altidore played a key role in the build-up to Sunderland’s second, perfectly executing a flick into the path of the on-running Colback, and the American was outstanding for Sunderland in the first half – holding up play, frustrating and bustling his way through a Newcastle defence that could not handle him.

Conversely, Sunderland dealt with the minimal threat of Shola Ameobi with ease. The home side were largely limited to shots from range, and even then they were not given the time or space for pot-shots. Hatem Ben Arfa tried and failed, repeatedly, to wriggle his way through a stubborn Sunderland defence, while Sammy Ameobi was the least effective player on the pitch.

The big openings that Newcastle had in the first half came after some rare patient build-up across the penalty area. Shola Ameobi’s attempted turn and shot was eventually mopped up by Bardsley while, with half-time looming, Ben Arfa had the chance to place the ball across but chose to smash it out for a throw-in instead.

Sunderland were better in every position in the opening 45 so it was hardly surprising when Alan Pardew made a change at half-time. Loan signing Luuk De Jong even had the first chance after the break, shooting tamely straight at Vito Mannone.

Sunderland continued to have the upper hand on their biggest rivals but actually seemed able to take the foot off the gas a little.

Phil Bardsley, particularly, starred for Sunderland, containing Ben Arfa again and again. Johnson was also a stand-out player, and at one point the Wearside-born winger jinked his way around three Newcastle defenders and fired a fierce shot against the post. Johnson is, surely, now firmly in the thoughts of England manager Roy Hodgson.

Chieck Tiote did go close for Newcastle but his shot was acrobatically saved by Mannone. And it was Sunderland academy product Colback who completed the scoring and topped off a fine afternoon for the midfielder, brilliantly placing the ball into the top corner from 10 yards.

Sunderland closed the game out with ease, with Newcastle offering little, but the Wearside team were outstanding from the first whistle. The changes that Poyet has brought in have been resoundingly successful, making further mockery of Paolo Di Canio’s disparaging remarks about the club and certain players earlier this week.

Difficult characters have, seemingly, been turned around, while players like Johnson and Ki-Sun Yeung are thriving. In Colback, Ki and new signing Liam Bridcutt – who was brilliant on his debut in such a testing fixture – Sunderland have a midfield packed with creativity, poise and hard work.

They play with a similar urgency and directness as they always have but there’s now an added precision and zip in their play. To simply get the results that Poyet has gained as Sunderland boss would be remarkable but do it in such style shows a much more shrewd approach to management than the previous manager.

While Newcastle look like enduring a tough last four months to the season with a beleaguered and tepid squad, Sunderland are now mid-table and, currently, look like a side capable of rising higher still.

Is Joey Barton right to tweet his angst?

It’s fair to say that the comments of one Joseph Barton have created quite a stir in the last few weeks, prompting many to question whether footballers should be allowed to have personal Twitter accounts.
There are a few clubs who have already banned their players from using the social networking site and it is thought that club managers, PR managers and maybe even agents will become so fed up with ‘tweeting’ that, before too long, footballers will be banished from Twitter forever.
The thinking is simple: a footballer might not think before he posts something on the site and this could lead to big problems for the club, for fear of ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ or , at the very least, tongues wagging for the wrong reasons. So, ban them from it completely.

Joey Barton has been portrayed as one of the success stories of footballers joining Twitter – many admit that their opinions of the midfielder have changed since he started talking about classic rock music, quoting George Orwell and asking followers to name his sickeningly-adorable new puppy.
There are still a few who cannot forgive Barton for some of the things he has done in the past (and possibly rightly so), and there are some who are beginning to find themselves ‘bored with Barton’ – he’s playing up to the image a little now, exploiting the fact that he’s got people on his side.
They always say that honesty is the best policy but, in this context, that’s debateable. It’s great to see a player speak out about something that he doesn’t like, especially when fans of Newcastle are very unhappy – to say the least – with how the club is being run, so to have an ‘inside voice’ for once is rather interesting.
And let’s be fair – Barton’s tweets (particularly in the last couple of weeks) have been much more interesting than the frankly mundane Michael Owen, the brand-expanding Rio Ferdinand and the painfully-ignorant-to-his-own-shortcomings Robbie Savage. I’d rather have a player speak his own mind, providing interesting information about himself and his club rather than some PR-pedalled, image-enhancing bullshit.
But then, I’m not a Newcastle fan, nor am I a shareholder in the club and I’m certainly not Mike Ashley. Barton has put himself in an incredibly difficult position: yes, he’s honest and he clearly cares about the club, and that should be applauded; but it’s hardly surprising that a) some fans take exception to their club being dragged through the mud time and time again, and b) those at the top of the Toon hierarchy are unhappy with the comments and are focusing on the criticism rather than the reasons for the criticism.
The fact is, if there weren’t problems at Newcastle, Barton wouldn’t have anything to complain about. It’s all well and good saying that Barton is disrespecting the club, disrespecting the owners etc., but they really are focusing on the wrong issue. As far as I’m concerned, Barton is bringing the fans’ concerns to the fore; why should he just sit there and watch as his club gets pissed about with by people the fans clearly aren’t happy with?
In the long run, fans will probably be grateful to Barton for at least standing up to Ashley and co., and speaking out – something that happens far too little in this sport resulting little change occurring (when a lot of changes clearly need to be made).
Barton’s future in Geordieland now looks incredibly uncertain with some reports suggesting that he has a whole host of top clubs after his signature, while others say that he might just stay at Newcastle.
The midfielder has been in brilliant form for the last two seasons – he was undoubtedly one of the best players in the Premier League last season – so it will be interesting to see where Barton plys his trade this term. While fans and journalists all across the country might commend Barton’s honesty, clubs might not see it that way.
Despite being available on a free transfer many top sides will wonder whether it is really worth bringing a ‘disrupting’ influence (according to some) into the team, mainly because of relations within the team and throughout the club but also from the PR perspective mentioned earlier.
No one knows for sure what is going through Barton’s head; is he really looking out for the club and the fans, or is he personally fed up with the ownership of the club. Both of those would be acceptable stances to take. Or, maybe he’s just trying to engineer a move in a weird and wonderful way.
Either way, let’s be honest – it’s much more interesting than hearing about the never-ending narrative of Cesc Fabregas’ pilgrimage to Camp Nou.

Can Chris Hughton handle Hatem Ben Arfa?

Hatem Ben Arfa has always caused controversy in football. His childish spats and lack of any loyalty have resulted in departures from Lyon and Marseille, two of the biggest teams in France. The twenty-three-year-old has now joined newly promoted side Newcastle United as they look to add some creative flair to their side. And the French forward certainly has that in his locker.

 

Ben Arfa is the son of a Tunisian father and a French mother. He has been hailed as the next big star for France, coming up through the ranks with such players as Karim Benzema, currently of Real Madrid, and Arsenal’s Abou Diaby. The forward possesses fine skill and great footwork, whilst also having a good eye for goal. The French international has scored sixteen goals in 127 appearances for Marseille and Lyon collectively, although most of those appearances were from the substitute bench.

Since the age of fifteen Ben Arfa, who plays mainly on the wing, has been labelled a prodigy by French football fans. The 5ft. 10in. forward has scored two goals in eight appearances for the French national side, but Ben Arfa has yet to really set the world alight. With all the hype around the player, who was born in the south-western suburb of Clamart in France, the Premier League can expect tricks and creative genius from Ben Arfa. Unfortunately, Ben Arfa has another, darker side to his career.
The winger has had his fair share of controversy over the years. After some difficult seasons at giants Lyon Ben Arfa decided that he wanted to leave the club and, after a training session scuffle with Sebastien Squillaci, who recently joined Arsenal, the player’s departure was soon made. After some disagreements over the transfer fee Ben Arfa said that his former club were not a great team, stating that they lacked class. Marseille paid €11 million for the player in the summer of 2008, but his reputation for causing problems continued.
Ben Arfa fell out with another teammate, Modeste M’bami, during a warm-up session ahead of the club’s Champions League match against Liverpool a couple of seasons ago, with the two players having to be separated by Ronald Zubar.
Yet more problems followed after Marseille were thumped 4-2 by Paris Saint Germain. Manager Eric Gerets was irked somewhat after Ben Arfa refused to leave the bench to warm up for the game against Marseille’s rivals and, although Ben Arfa later said that he was injured, he did apologise to the media and to Gerets himself.
Even more controversy arose in 2009 when Ben Arfa was fined €10,000 by his club for missing a training session. The player stated that he was visiting family and there was a problem with his flight back to the country, but the relationship between club and player was clearly soured. Only a month later, Ben Arfa had a heated argument with manager Didier Deschamps in a training session, for which he later apologised.
The player has now joined Newcastle on a season-long loan after the North East club and Marseille agreed terms. When rumours of Ben Arfa’s departure surfaced, the player, much like in his original move to Marseille, announced to the media that he would not be returning to Marseille in order to push the Premier League deal through; the debate of player power still rumbles on.
Ben Arfa skipped training sessions in order to make the move to Newcastle more likely and, after missing the first two league games, his number ten shirt at Marseille was given to Andre-Pierre Gignac. It is believed that Newcastle have agreed to pay Marseille £2 million for the loan, while Ben Arfa has been given the number thirty-seven shirt for the St. James’ Park outfit.
The winger will join Joey Barton in the Toon squad; Barton is infamously hostile and, with Alan Smith and Kevin Nolan in the middle for Newcastle, Chris Hughton has a strong and feisty midfield. Hughton has done well to cope with Barton after his past-troubles but the former Manchester City midfielder has himself admitted that he wants to turn his life around while Ben Arfa, on the other hand, seems to be another example of a kid that is given too much too soon.
If Ben Arfa can hack it in the Premier League, with the strength, power and speed of the game, then he could be a great player for Newcastle. His creativity and quality on the ball will be a huge asset to the side, while his final ball could be improved as the season goes on. If Hughton can keep a lid on the players’ ego and controversial ways, which would be very difficult for any manager never mind a manager that has little experience, then Newcastle have themselves a great loan deal. 

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Premier League Preview: Newcastle United

My Premier League previews continue with last season’s Championship champions now the team to focus on. After Chris Hughton steered them back to the top flight after only one season in the second tier of English football, can he now guide them to Premier League safety?



After 2008/09’s tragic relegation for Newcastle the Magpies are back with a decent squad that includes some good young players. Newcastle are yet to really splash the cash this summer with James Perch the only acquisition to hold a transfer fee. A £1.5 million buy from Nottingham Forest is a good piece of dealing by the Newcastle manager, though, as Perch is a solid defender who should cope with the pace of the Premier League. Dan Gosling and Sol Campbell have also joined the club after being snapped up by Newcastle after they were made available for free transfers. Campbell brings some experience to the Magpie’s back line while Gosling is a young, exciting prospect. The former Everton midfielder chose to move to Newcastle with the idea of getting more first team football; at the age of 20 he may well be looking towards the England squad already. The promotion-winning side has remained, though, with no notable departures from the squad. 
           
In defence Newcastle look relatively strong with some big ex-Premier League players still on their books after the 2009 relegation. Ryan Taylor and Jose Enrique are both quality defenders and should have no problem re-adapting to the top flight again. Taylor is also a free kick specialist which will come in handy for Newcastle this season. They also have Danny Simpson and the former Manchester United right back will be looking to play a lot of first team football this season after leaving Old Trafford in 2009. The wealth of experience that is available through the centre backs, though, is quite impressive. Between them, Steven Taylor, Fabrico Collocini and Campbell have made a total of 925 club appearances across their respective careers. In 2009 the Magpies looked weak at the back with Collocini out-of-depth and lacking any pace, but the defender seems to has got his act together while in the Championship and shouldn’t be of burden to his side this term.
           
The midfield of Newcastle is littered with Premier League talent and knowledge. Alan Smith has matured immensely since his conversion from striker to central midfielder and the former Manchester United and Leeds man now wears the captain’s armband with pride. Kevin Nolan was a star for Bolton before his move to Newcastle in their relegation season and so many would have expected him to move again in order to stay in the top flight. The midfielder, though, chose to battle it out in the Championship and starred in their promotion push, scoring seventeen goals. Danny Guthrie is a solid young player who could make a name for himself this season. The former Liverpool midfielder has a good passing range and is confident on the ball; something that Newcastle will definitely want if they intend to keep the ball. The always-controversial Joey Barton makes a return to the Premier League after he battled back from injury last season. The former Manchester City midfielder is sure to ruffle a few feathers this season and a partnership with Smith could make the central midfield of Newcastle very feisty.
           
The wings of Newcastle could do with a little more pace with Jonas Gutierrez, who played at right back for Argentina in the 2010 World Cup, Peter Lovenkrands, who at the age of 30 may find himself out-of-place in the Premier League as the ex-Rangers midfielder is nowhere near as quick as he used to be, and Wayne Routledge are all wingers on the Magpie squad list. Newcastle could do with a play that has blistering pace to help them unlock defences and to give them a new dimension; Shaun Wright-Phillips could be looking to leave Manchester City as his first team chances could be limited and the England midfielder would be a great buy for Newcastle.
           
The Magpies also look rather weak when it comes to strikers. Andy Carroll and Shola Ameobi the are the only players that stand out from the squad; Carroll is yet to show if he is Premier League quality while Ameobi has always shown that he isn’t. Newcastle have been linked with French international Hatem Ben Arfa recently which would be a good buy, but they could do with a striker that has Premier League experience and is a born goal scorer. Without goals, Newcastle are going to find Premier League life a lot more difficult.
Where will they finish?: 17th
Official relegation odds: 11/4 (Bet365)
Star man: Alan Smith
Main weakness: They have little pace on the wings and barely any goal scoring prowess up front