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Hello and welcome to another issue of your match-day newsletter, The Special ahead of today's game with Stoke. We've all been on a massive low-one all week but its to be hoped the players are ready to snap out of the misery and get out on the park today and into Stoke City. 

We desperately need 3 points today because if we don't on the back of another derby set-back and only one win in the first eleven matches the pressure is only going to get worse. 

For me, I reckon we need 20 points on the board by 1/Jan/16 and flashes of half decent play here and there have to be translated into a big improvement to our league position. 

Anyway, if you missed it, here is Alex Hurst's match preview of the game on the main site. Click here.

We'll have the brand new issue of true faith (tf122)for you this Sunday night and it will be ready to be downloaded from the true faith website. And it's 100% FREE. Wallop. Don't mention it. 

Pre-match prediction: Newcastle United 2 Stoke City 1. 

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Stoke (h)

SWOT analysis - Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats

Stoke didn’t start the season well and it took them seven games to record their first win in the Premiership. They then reeled off three in a row including 1-0 wins at Villa and Swansea before suffering a 2-0 defeat at home to Watford last Saturday. Mark Hughes sent out this side at the Britannia:

As a result they currently stand in 14th place with 12 points from 10 games, 6 more than us. However, they bounced back on Tuesday night with an extra time and penalties victory over the rent boys fielding the following side:

Peter Crouch was an unused sub in both games. I would imagine that if he is anywhere near fit, Mark Hughes will consider using him at some stage as we have shown over seasons past that we are unable to cope with him in the air. The return of Ryan Shawcross is also bad news, as he undoubtedly makes a big difference for them at the back. The fact that we would welcome such a limited centre back with open arms to SJP is a damning indictment of Charnley’s failure in the summer transfer window. Bardsley will be unavailable following his two yellow cards against Chelsea but I would expect Johnson to come back into the team in any event. Apart from that Hughes has some interesting decisions to make following a disappointing home defeat against Watford (been there, done that) and a much better performance midweek. I would expect Shaqiri to come back in and Mame Diouf to start up front. Diouf is currently their top scorer in the Prem with 3 goals. Previous ever present Geoff Cameron was taken off injured against Watford and, although Marc Wilson replaced him on Saturday, Shawcross should be a straight replacement.  Marc Muniesa damaged a hamstring against Chelsea and will be out for three to four weeks but Erik Pieters was always likely to be recalled for the league game.

Jon Walters also gives Hughes options. By all accounts he was the Potters best player against Chelsea, scoring their goal and offering a hard working, physical presence breaking from midfield. He may lack pace but he is technically better than he is given credit for and will offer a threat either as a starter or a sub.He is their top scorer overall with 4 goals, 2 of which have come in the League Cup. I certainly expect him to be involved at some stage.

The Potters’ away record is better than at home as they have won 2, drawn 2 and lost only one of their five away fixtures to date. At the same time, they have only scored 5 goals and conceded 5 away from home a bit of a surprise considering the creative players Hughes has brought into the team as he has gradually moved away from the anti-football practiced by Tony Pulis during his time in charge. They are now very much a Mark Hughes team - physical, well disciplined and working hard to close players down before trying to hit teams on the break. Charlie Adams is in many ways the fulcrum of the side, leaving his mark but capable of playing when he has the ball. 

Stoke don’t play the high line which allowed Sissoko and Wijnaldum such freedom against Norwich. If we go hell for leather against them today we may play into their hands. We need to combine their aggression and work rate with some game intelligence and work for opportunities. If Diouf plays upfront he is very quick on the break but I would expect Mbemba to be tasked with marking him. If he is isolated with Colocinni there will only be one winner in a footrace. 

Prediction: With the return of Shawcross,the  combative presence of Adams and maybe Walters and Crouch, Stoke will be physically stronger than us with enough creativity from midfield to cause us problems. I am concerned that, after the the disappointment of the derby, we might over-commit and Stoke catch us on the break. 

The Jarra Cat was most upset that I predicted a 3-0 United victory last Sunday as he regards it as the kiss of death. I had dismissed this as arrant superstition but now I’m not so sure. Just to be on the safe side I am going for Newcastle United 1 Stoke City 2.

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Fanzine crack

As has become our habit we caught up with Bunny, editor of the really quite canny Stoke City fanzine, Duck. We chewed the fat for a bit and this is the result. 

TF:  How's the season been so far for you? 

Bunny, Duck Magazine: A mixed bag, to be fair. Last season we were outstanding, and after sending Stevie G off to The States with a 6-1 hammering in his Vuitton hand luggage, many felt we’d be the team to have a crack at the top 7 this season. Not this glass-half-full harbinger of doom, though!

I have the Andrex Touch, and whilst some see me as supremely pessimistic, four decades of watching Stoke has ensured I never get too carried away when things are going well. 

We now look far more dangerous on the road than we do at home, and the amazing spirit showed against Chelsea the other night should set us up for an exciting pre-Xmas run of games. 

TF:  Are you still in love with Mark Hughes?  

Bunny, Duck Magazine: Two 9th placed finishes, superb football at times, changed the whole style of play, Bojan/Shaqiri/Arnautovic as attacking midfielders…. after watching the likes of O’Neil Donaldson on a roofless terrace at Oxford as the sixth goal goes in our net and the rain pours down, how could you do anything but admire the job he’s done?

TF: What would you say the strengths and weaknesses of this Stoke team?

Bunny, Duck Magazine: Gone are the days when we were easy to work out. Every game is a mystery. When the aforementioned 3 players click, then we can tear anyone apart, but it hasn’t quite happened yet. Our keeper is as good as any in the league, but with the wealth of attacking talent at our disposal, we should be creating more chances. Defensively we have missed Ryan SHawcross massively, and although an uber-mard, N’Zonzi was one of the best central midfielders in the country last season 

TF: Are you still stuffed with ex-Mackems? 

Bunny, Duck Magazine: The ones that they helped us to win an FA Cup Semi Final 5-0 at Wembley, have an ace season in Europe, and be a stable Premier League club? Those ex-Mackems? 

TF: Tell us something about the people who run Stoke - do the supporters like them and what's the relationship between Stokies and them?

Bunny, Duck Magazine: Peter Coates: Stokie, owns Bet365, minted, loves football, free away travel, no price rises since 2008, talks sense, lets the manager manage……have a wild guess! 

TF: Britannia or the Victoria Ground? 

Bunny, Duck Magazine: Both. It’s who is in a ground that makes it a great football ground. Take The Emirates: a great stadium but a garbage football ground. I hate the logistics of The Brit – you have to plan a game with military precision – but when it rocks, it rocks. Not many do hatred or siege mentalities better than us. Thing is, we have some class players now, and so it’s harder to be vile to teams you’re expected to beat! The Vic was your archetypal UK ground: pubs everywhere; terraced streets; great standing areas…..it had that ace smell you get at night matches, too, and the glow of the floodlights…. But taking the rose-tinteds off, it could also be like a morgue, too.

TF: What's your take on "the Newcastle United situation"? 

Bunny, Duck Magazine: Part stomach-churning, occasionally funny, always head-wobbling…..in fairness - and this sounds horrible – I’m just glad it’s not my club. I don’t mean that as a slight or a dig. It‘s a great city, great people, and I do feel for you lot but I just thank god we have stability and common sense in abundance at Stoke. Your club doesn’t deserve its fans.

TF: Do you think its worth persevering with Steve McClaren? 

Bunny, Duck Magazine: Yes. He deserves at least a year – as does everyone in any form of employment. Anyway, worst case scenario? Ace awaydays in The Championship at £25 a ticket and you might just get your Newcastle United back gain.  

One great thing is the reciprocal £20 ticketing policy between our clubs. That’s ace, and should see around 2,500 Stokies at St James today

TF: Is football shit now really?

Bunny, Duck Magazine: Yes and no. My city now has a generation of kids who identify Stoke with success. Stoke-on-Trent has always been knocked and laughed at. Add on a failing football club, and you got any number socially inadequates walking round in the tops of whoever are champions.

Not any more.

I went to watch my lad’s football training the other day. He’s only 6. Out of 25 tops, 22 were Stoke ones. Unheard of, even just half a decade ago. If some of the rubbish that goes with Modern Football is the price we have to pay for this city’s kids loving Stoke City, then so be it.

Also, our players are absolutely mint with the fans. The squad is full of sound blokes who appreciate the support. As it should be.

TF: How do you think today's game will go? 

Bunny, Duck Magazine: Depends if Martin Atkinson is reffing. The Chelsea cup game took so much physically and emotionally out of the squad that I fear a bit about today. We have several knocks and bumps, but we do have some quality in depth now, the god-like El Petit Geni (Bojan) is back, and massively for us, so is Ryan Shawcross. A criminally underrated footballer, and one who we’ll be building statues of in the future. 

TF:  Result prediction. 

Bunny, Duck Magazine: 1-1, then a late winner. Dunno for who. 

Many thanks to Bunny for all of his time

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Derby afters

As many have seen we like some others raised questions about Adam Johnson’s goal celebrations following his penalty. That has been put to bed now but for reasons of clarification although we spoke to Sunderland’s Media people we were not threatened with legal action by them and that was never ever a subject for debate. 

On more mundane matters following the derby – a few observations: 

  • Who were those two old blokes (Mackems) outside the away end with the unreadable hand-written paper poster? Had they wandered out unescorted from a nearby old people’s home in a bewildered state? 
  • Sunderland fans beside themselves with unrestrained glee at the sight of Jack Colback with what looked like a serious injury and not a word of censure from the football press. Of course, they have previous for this – see Alan Shearer, 2006. 
  • Special mention to the lump in the onesie who hung around outside of the away end after the match for ages and then proceeded to have the piss torn out of him by Mags departing the SoS who he had cheered up no end. 
  • We can confirm there were Mackems raising six fingers in triumph after the game – but only using one hand. 
  • Chieck Tiote has now become an unplayable liability. 
  • Florain Thauvin is the very definition of French fancy and cheese eating surrender monkey. How on earth Graeme Carr can look at him and think yup £13m, who do I make the cheque payable to? 
  • How did the entire Sunderland team get through 90 minutes of a derby without getting a single player booked? 
  • And especially Lee Cattermole? 

Bah! 

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Scots wahey

Yours truly had a Scottish journalist on the phone this week asking questions about Mike Ashley, Sports Direct and all of that shizzle. Here’s the article that was published.

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NORTHERN THREADS - MID SEASON SALE HERE

A homage to Murcia

Last week I also caught up with one of our most popular writers and absolutely top notch laddie, Tony Higgins. Jarra Lad Tony now lives in Spain and is something of a massive convert to the Spanish game and his adopted country’s way of life but particularly its football. Not for Tony, however the glamour of Messi and Ronaldo but what interests your fellow Mag is the under-growth of Spanish football. Anyway, Tony has a new book out – A HOMAGE TO MURCIA and you can get at it here.

To get you in the mood for the book though, you can have a listen-in to the TF Pod-Father, Alex Hurst and me cracking onto Tony in this week’s Podcast. Just clickhere to get at that.

Get the book on Amazon now
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Perfect ten?

Steve McClaren asked for ten games until he was judged. He’s had ten games and won one PL fixture. His team put in one of the most woeful displays witnessed (quite a field to pick from) in recent memory in the League Cup defeat to Sheffield Wednesday Reserves at SJP. He now wants a whole season. Hmm. 

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Missing Pt.1

Whatever happened to the artist formally known as Rolando Aarons? 
 

Missing Pt.2

Whatever happened to the man who would play such a large part in Newcastle United’s renaissance last season? I am talking about Siem De Jong? 

Shut it

Word reaches us that Steve McClaren has been told to stop giving his opinion on the profile of player he thinks United should be signing in January. He will have to cope with what he gets given.  

Do we ever learn?

Good luck to Mike Williamson now departed for a month on loan to Wolves where I think he could maybe do a decent job for them. Good luck to him. By common consent however we should have signed another centre-half in the summer and we have (sighs) Steven Taylor injured yet again. Paul Dummett is being used at left-back. Coloccini is looking his age. Not really a great time to be depleting the first team squad of central defenders with two months and the Christmas/New Year fixture card to come is it?  See also January 2015 and the departures of Mbwia, Santon and HBA without replacements. 

Ironopolis

What is happening to me? I let out a squeal of delight when I’d heard Boro had put Man Utd out of the League Cup and am genuinely pleased for them. I’m going soft I think. 

Separated at birth

Speaking of Boro, is it just me who thinks today’s opponents Stoke are as close an approximation to the Tees-siders as it’s possible to get? Just think – flat pack stadium, appalling away support, scenery out of Blade-runner and humpty backed fans. What’s to like? 

The King

We’ve all been waiting for it to happen haven’t we? Alan Pardew’s relentless march to the Real Madrid hot-seat knocked off course by the cramping limitations of his tactical nous and the subsequent dark tunnel of defeats, hidings and excuses. Palace, don’t say you weren’t warned. 

In the end

Nile Ranger would love a new club and claims the penny has dropped. Or the pennies are running out maybe? 

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Stoke quiz

Don't get excited, its just for fun, no prizes or anything. Answers at the foot of the page.

  1. What was the name of the Stoke City ground before they moved to The Britannia? 
  2. What was the name of the Stoke player who played for England when they won the World Cup in 1966? 
  3. Newcastle United signed Andy Griffin from Stoke City - True or False. 
  4. Who are Stoke's nearest local rivals? 
  5. What was Stoke City's original name before changing to their current name? 
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As It Was When It Was

Stoke, Home, 16th April 1990

Following a disastrous run of only 1 win in 9 games, following a 1-4 home defeat to Wolves on New Year’s Day, Newcastle United sat 7th in this, their first season back in the Second Division.

However the signing of Scotland Captain Roy Aitken from Celtic reinvigorated United’s pursuit for promotion back to the Top Flight losing only 2 of the following 17 games.

Mick Quinn and Mark McGhee had both scored 11 goals each in a run that had helped The Mag’s up to 3rd place and only 3 points off the top 2.

Rock bottom Stoke City would come to St James Park on Easter Monday trying to stop United’s run of 5 successive wins.

For The Record:

This would be United’s 8th home win in succession that returned 21 goals scored and 4 against.

With Leeds beating Sheffield United 4-0 at Elland Road in the ‘battle of the top 2’, United would overtake The Blades in 2nd place meaning automatic promotion was in their own hands.

The result would relegate Stoke.

With boycotts and demonstrations against the board still affecting attendances, the 26,179 present would be the 4th highest league gate at St James Park that season.

Winning only 1 of the remaining 4 games meant The Mags would finish 5 points off the pace in 3rd and end up in the dreaded Play Offs.

Madonna claimed a 7th UK Number 1 with ‘Vogue’.

Tasmin Archer - Sleeping Satellite
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Iron Mike on his Way

So Mike Williamson's on his way out of the club. He's signed on loan for Wolves, who play in the Championship. It's a quick downturn in his fortunes here. Last season he was one of our first-choice pairing at centre-half, now he appears to have dropped if not off the radar completely then certainly down the pecking order. Not only is he not a first-choice, neither is he even next in the list to replace one of those who are. Just 18 months ago, our fans only half-jokingly campaigned to #GetMikeOnThePlane, the plane in question being that taking the England squad to the Brazil 2014 World Cup. Now it's more likely we'll #GetMikeOnTheMegabus, all the way to Wolverhampton. In the continued and continual absence of Steven Taylor this leaves us with Jamaal Lascelles as our next replacement at centre-back. Lascelles is young and unproven at this level and it's not right that we should rely on him, though the return of Paul Dummett from injury means he can fill in there too if necessary. For all Williamson's well-documented faults, even if he did want to leave for first-team football, I find it astonishing that we are reducing our already-thin defensive options. If we were going to ship him out, the time to do it was the summer, when we could have replaced him. This is nothing less than short-term, short-sighted incompetence by our transfer team.

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Rats in a Sack

Sepp Blatter has come out fighting this week and attacked Michel Platini, saying that Platini began the whole FIFA crisis merely to unseat Blatter. He also let slip that the decision to award the 2018 tournament to Russia had already been made before it was voted upon, implying that the entire voting process was merely a PR exercise, a sham. In his enthusiasm to smear others he doesn't seem to have noticed that he is digging himself an ever-bigger hole. None of this makes him look any better certainly yet he lashes out anyway. Apparently he considers himself still FIFA President and astonishingly will attempt to carry on as such if there isn't a clear winner of the Presidential elections in February, even though he is currently suspended from all football-related activity by the organisation he claims to lead. How on earth did we ever let these people run our game?

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On a Run

You may have noticed Derby storming up the Championship recently, they are currently the form team of the division with 6 wins and 2 draws in their last 8 league games, and are poised in the playoff positions to push on. Their manager Paul Clement has turned them around from the awful run they suffered under Steve McClaren at the end of last season to miss out on the playoffs on the final day. Contrast that with McClaren's so far unsuccessful attempts to alter the relegation form we've been in since before last Christmas. 

Of course it's not as simple as that. Prior to their bad run Derby were top until as late as the end of February. They were never a bad side so changing their fortunes wasn't as difficult a task as doing the same to us, who've been flirting with the drop for years now. Derby's form at the end of last season was out of character but ours wasn't. I read a story this week about Alex Ferguson phoning Paul Sturrock when he was struggling and telling him he should "get rid of under-performing players instead of trying to change their mentality". We may need to employ a similar tactic sooner rather than later.

The top of the Championship makes interesting reading for those interested in Newcastle. Top are Brighton, managed by Chris Hughton, proving his credentials again. Next come Burnley and Hull, newly relegated and enjoying their financial superiority over their competitors, a situation we could feasibly find ourselves in again next season. After that come Derby, their problems under McClaren apparently solved now by Clement, and finally Birmingham who perhaps even more impressively than at Derby have been reborn under Gary Rowett after they dispensed with the services of ex-Mag Lee Clark.

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Points mean Prizes

People tell me there's a silver lining to our defeat down the road last Sunday, that being our performance in dominating the game even with 10 men and losing only to the vagaries of a whistler's whims. It's certainly better than the flat drifts to defeat we've suffered so often recently in that fixture. However we are 10 games into our league season now, over a quarter of the way in and we are at the point where encouraging performances are of scant use. We need points and fast. I appreciate that in the long term better football will serve us well but we are in a fight now and there's only one way to get out of it: win and keep winning.

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Blackpool turn back away fans

A group of Crewe Alexandra fans, who showed their support for Blackpool fans protesting against current owner Karl Oyston, have claimed they were denied entry to the match because of their actions. Crewe Alex fans offered to ditch the banner, but stewards at Bloomfield Road said: "Oyston's seen it and you're not coming in." The club has denied the supporters' claims.
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The Newcastle Fans Brand - available here

What the papers say

An all too familiar feeling of disappointment filled Newcastle on Sunday, as yet another Tyne/Wear derby went Sunderland’s way. A positive performance despite the score line and poor refereeing which saw Captain Colo harshly dismissed before the interval. Here is what the papers have been saying over the last seven days. 

The previous five encounters, Big Sam’s first game and the sheer fact we just simply can’t buy a derby victory these days are all factors that make me wonder why I was so surprised Newcastle were beaten on Sunday. Yes, the referee’s decision hampered us hugely, but that doesn’t change the fact that only Aston Villa now separate NUFC from the bottom of the table. There were encouraging signs, however. Mitrovic kept his cool, Sissoko had a good game and we outplayed the opposition in every area of the pitch, despite being a man down. These factors are probably the reason Dutchman, Daryl Janmaat, believes Newcastle will not be getting relegated this season. This is exactly the type of response we need and it must be mirrored by other squad members. 

Another positive is the fact that Coloccini’s red card has been revoked and he will be available against Stoke. The FA believed the ‘challenge’ on Steven Fletcher was not a clear goal-scoring opportunity. On his day he can be a fantastic leader and despite fans being critical of his form over the last few seasons, there is no questioning our current team is a lot worse off without him in the side. It is also key to keep all available defenders fit as this week we saw another defensive departure in the form of irreplaceable, Mike Williamson. It’s been a long time coming for poor Willo, whose performances over the years have attracted criticism from the NUFC faithful. He joins Wolves on a month-long loan but it appears his permanent future will lie away from SJP.

The man who broke the deadlock on Sunday is no stranger to controversy this year and he was embroiled in even more after the full time whistle. Adam Johnson, who ran the whole length of the pitch to goad travelling NUFC fans with his celebration, has been accused of mocking the tragic MH17 flight with his aeroplane-like celebration. The Daily Telegraph initially reported the speculation after a number of people took to Twitter to complain. It is a claim that cannot be proved as nobody knows apart from Johnson whether he meant it or not, but The Telegraph issued the winger with a public apology and removed the article. The 28-year-old spent Sunday night celebrating the victory on Newcastle’s Quayside. The cheek of it...

Finally, it seems the men and women behind the scenes at the club also had a bad day last Sunday. Just as we thought the Mackems had enough to gloat about, Newcastle kit men embarrassingly got Chancel Mbemba’s name wrong on the back of his shirt. I know Chancel Mbemba is a new player and his name isn’t the easiest to say or spell but for a Premier League club to make that kind of mistake is amateur stuff! Somebody’s clearing their desk this week... 

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Baggies keeping it tight

Oh, West Brom, how you confuse me. Every time I see them they seem to have a shocker, yet there they sit, comfortably in tenth, ahead of the likes of Everton, who have come in for praise this season. 

Yet Pulis' team plough on and four clean sheets out of the last six could prove tricky to breach,   even for the free-scoring Leicester and Jamie Vardy, this weekend. 

The question is, how long will Leicester continue to tear it up and how long can West Brom stay under the radar?

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Howe now, Bournemouth?

Bournemouth have hit a brick wall of late and the similarities between their current predicament and that of opponents Southampton in 2012-2013, are striking. 

The Saints had flown up from League One too and found themselves just above the drop zone, before sacking Nigel Adkins. The rest is history. That is not to say Eddie Howe should get the boot, but there are bound to be a few around the club who may start touting the idea over the coming months. Whatever happens though, they must steer clear of the spectre at the feast. The Redknapp bandwagon must not be allowed into town.

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Klopp Happy

It was refreshing to see Klopp go down the ‘it’s not a disaster, conceding a goal’ after Southampton’s equaliser last week.  Football is all drama and hyperbole these days.  I remember NUFC getting beat 3 0 by West Ham at home under Guillit – St James’ didn’t go into open revolt.  We weren’t happy, but United played okay and there wasn’t wide spread booing or tears on social media.

Klopp’s attitude seems to be – it’s football – enjoy it.  

He’s right.

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Stoke quiz answers: 1. The Victoria Ground. 2. Gordon Banks. 3. True. 4. Port Vale. 5. Stoke Ramblers. 

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