1. January Sale
Firstly, a Happy New Year to you all.
Its that time when the excesses of Christmas are carried over into the New Year as people scour the markets for bargains and late additions to recently engorged troves, and football is no different.
This must also rank as one of the easiest periods for sports journalists who are able to link most any player with any club so long as their fantasies are prefixed by either ‘according to sources…’ or ‘Sky Sports understands…’
West Ham have featured prominently in such articles for a while now and for the wrong reasons. Rumours persist and will do right up ‘til 1st February (before tales of a summer exodus emerge), but they may have been allayed a little by the recent sale of Matty Etherington to Stoke and the proposed move of Calum Davenport to Bolton.
Lee Bowyer has been seen at Birmingham City who are attempting to buy him for the second time after their first approach was shouted down by principled Blues fans - they initially voiced their disapproval of Bowyer’s character, just before they embraced Jermaine Pennant’s arrival fresh from prison, complete with electronic ankle tag.
There’s even talk of Luis Boa Morte upping sticks and heading for Hull, a town with more than one Barratts and a couple of Freeman Hardy Willis, so LBM will certainly need to up his dosage of mind-bending drugs in order to satisfy his accurately chronicled alarming taste in footwear.
These are obviously moves to cut the wage bill whilst getting some funds in without having to sell any of what the press have chosen to term our ‘aces’ – Bellamy, Upson, Parker, Green or Ashton.
After the capture of left-back Wayne Bridge, Mark Hughes has admitted recently employing his substantial kitty with an offer for Bellamy and Parker:
"We made initial enquiries about Parker and Bellamy, made a double bid, but that was rejected. We haven't gone back to the table on that one but we may well do”.
More peripheral players may follow Etherington out the door and like many of us, post-Yuletide binge, the squad would benefit from a leaner look.
Captain Lucas Neill decided to take in an AC Milan training session in Dubai whilst recovering from injury, which lead to a few indolent hacks linking him with a move to the Rossoneri. That Lucas Neill could be considered a full-back replacement for the imperious Paolo Maldini or the tireless Cafu is as laughable as a Jermaine Defoe loyalty bonus.
Saturday afternoon provides us with a trip to Newcastle and a not inconceivable opportunity to record our third successive Premiership win.
The previously laughed at but partially validated installation of Joe Kinnear as caretaker manager has soothed the post-Keegan maelstrom. The eminently likeable Kinnear has added 18 points to the meagre tally of 4 that Newcastle had accrued by the time he took charge in early October and has also given us the greatest press conference of all time.
After a brief period of revival, Newcastle have reverted to type in recent weeks and found themselves on the wrong end of a few defeats. Having established some momentum following victories away to Portsmouth and at home to tottenham, they then conspired to lose to Wigan and be on the wrong end of a thumping from the League leaders.
They have themselves been the subject of unwanted transfer rumour with a few of their top names being linked with moves away from St James’s.
Michael Owen has quelled speculation of a move before the summer until inevitably leaving on a free for a massive signing on fee while peroxide waste of potential Alan Smith has also been linked with a few teams wishing to add some steel to their side and yellow cards to their disciplinary record.
The most damaging aspect of the transfer window from Newcastle’s perspective has been Shay Given’s declaration (or rather that of his lawyer) that he wants to move on after 11 years service.
Given has arguably won more points for Newcastle than the any other player bar Alan Shearer during his time with club and their questionable defence would be all the more porous without Given between the sticks. If they lose him before February, they could be in trouble.
Currently, the opposition treatment room is doing a great impression of ours last year. Obafemi Martins has a hernia, Shola Ameobi ankle trouble, Mark Viduka a groin injury, Alan Smith an ankle problem and Joey Barton an attitude problem. Nicky Butt also serves a suspension this weekend.
3. Roll Up, Roll Up
After a dearth of serious interest, Newcastle supremo Mike Ashley has recently taken the club off the market amid a notable lack of protest from the Geordie faithful.
Ashley’s move is emblematic of the difficulty many clubs face in finding potential buyers. Portsmouth have publicly stated they are for sale, Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright has made no secret of his openness to offers and our own situation is as confidential as every single facet of Jordan’s OK Magazine!-funded life.
A few short years ago the uber-rich were queuing up to get their gold-plated hands on a Premiership outfit, but no more. Our own position is marked by a significant time-constraint as Chairman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson’s holding company Hansa is due in court on 6th March to satisfy creditors or risk insolvency.
Should Hansa be declared insolvent, West Ham risk a 9-point deduction from the Premier League and potential consignment to the Championship, followed by freefall a’la Leeds United.
Last season’s corresponding fixture saw us go down 3-1, a flattering if unsurprising scoreline for Newcastle given our Curbsite sense of adventure at the time.
We had the tactical discipline to concede after two minutes and to relinquish Dean Ashton’s volleyed equaliser 10 minutes after it hit the back of the net. Viduka ended the day with a brace and to add insult to injury, we allowed a man with such a name as Charles N’Zogbia to claim a third.
At the time this was Allardyce vs Curbishley, the tactical equivalent of narcolepsy. Tomorrow’s strategic architects stand a much better chance of providing us a shot in the arm.
In our Premiership history, we are on the losing side overall having won 8 drawn 8 and lost 12. You will have to cast your mind back to 1998 for our last win at St James’s Park (3-0, Wright (2) and Sinclair) and Newcastle have won four of the subsequent seven meetings.
5. Groundhog Day
Another year, another inquiry into Tevezgate.
Now I’m no Perry Mason (bar my post-Christmas girth), but I can see no sense when adherence with an initial ruling, a successful rebuttal of two appeals to the Premier League followed by a further successful defence in the highest court in the land all stand for nothing when faced with a shadily assembled kangaroo court, trial by media and the stubborn refusal of a plaintiff to acknowledge their own obvious shortcomings.
The crux of this latest attempt to decry our club is that all initial rulings went through the Premier League whereas Sheffield United found a sympathetic ear with the FA. Both bodies will now get together to decide whether we having committed the greatest atrocity of the 21st century or whether Sheffield United’s indisputable incompetence can not possibly be negated by a single man.
Even Barrymore wasn’t hounded like this and he battered a man to death with a dildo. (Of course he didn’t, the man simply drowned in suspicious circumstances in Barrymore’s pool whilst chock-full of alcohol, cocaine and ecstasy, having suffered “serious anal injuries”. There was no question of impropriety on the part of the popular entertainer.)
6. Indian Summer
Something strange has happened to us recently in that we have all managed to witness a string of three consecutive victories without delving into Luis Boa Morte’s big bag of hallucinogens.
Our recent spurt of momentum has the opportunity to become a full-blown winning run in light of our next three fixtures: Newcastle (a), Fulham (h), and Hull City (h).
These are of course exactly the kinds of matches we will lose, but on the off chance we manage to take five points or more, this period could prove the critical part of our season.
Following that, its Arsenal at The Emirates and Man United at Upton Park – four points minimum there, particularly if I learn from my mistakes and manage to do a better job on Ronaldo’s brake fluid.