We've always known that Newcastle United have an excellent prospect in the shape of Northern Ireland international Shane Ferguson.

The only problem has been ensuring the 21-year-old gets enough game time on a first team stage.

It was all going so well for the lad from Derry in the early part of the season with Ferguson building up his experience with a cameo roles in the Premier League and his fair share of action in the Europa League - and there was evidence of the damage he can score with that sweet left foot.

Hatem Ben Arfa is regarded as one of the best players of his generation in France, of that there is no doubt.

At times in his career he's been hot-headed and at times he's been difficult to manage for the likes of Didier Deschamps and Laurent Blanc.

Throughout his career he's had bust-ups with Abou Diaby, Sébastien Squillaci and Djibril Cissé too.

He's endured injury problems and taken a few whacks from defenders living in fear along the way.

But given his sublime skill levels and ability to turn a dull game into three points all by himself, there's no doubt, he's worth the trouble and worth the perseverance.

Newcastle United will go into Saturday's away day at Manchester City with massive odds of 12/1 to win hanging over their heads.

The bookies rarely get it wrong but there is belief in the Toon camp that this could not be a better time to play the fallen champions.

Once Man City began trailing their bitter rivals Manchester United, I thought that we'd see the wounded animal come out in the Citizens and try to claw back some pride.

When John Beresford won a call-up to the England squad to face Turkey in 1993 the recognition was hailed by Kevin Keegan as a reflection of the whole club at the time.

Of course, Newcastle were flying high at the top of the old First Division and knocking on the door of the recently formed Premier League - but nevertheless Beresford's recognition for the Three Lions at that time was a novelty for the Magpies.

Yes in the days of the Second Division talk of an England call-up at Newcastle would have been dismissed as a sick joke, unless Mike Bassett had have been appointed of course.

DEREK LLAMBIAS has questioned Wigan supremo Dave Whelan after his comments surrounding Callum McManama's tackle on Massadio Haidara.

The Toon managing director was stunned when Whelan used the national media to insist the tackle was "as clean as a whistle".

In statement released after McManaman escaped an FA ban, Llambias said: "I have the greatest respect for Dave, who has been in the game for a long time as a professional footballer and now owner. I am also aware that Dave's career was cut short due to injury.

CALLUM MCMANAMAN will NOT be charged for his two footed lunge on Massadio Haidara.

The FA have confirmed that no retrospective action can be taken because the incident was spotted by a linesman during the 2-1 defeat who opted not to take any action during the game.

Ref Mark Halsey did miss the incident but Wigan player McManaman will not be handed a three game ban.

It said on the ticket that Wigan v Newcastle United was meant to be a Premier League football match.

But when you think about the Premier League you think of the best players in the world trying to showcase their skill and entertain a crowd who pay hundreds to see their heroes week in, week out.

You'd like to think for your money - and let's be honest it's far from cheap for punters these days away from home - you will see a game officiated professionally and fairly to the best of the ability of the referee and his team of officials.

Sadly from the moment that Callum McManaman launched into a horror lunge what unfolded was anything but a game of football.

Steven Taylor may have had his critics down the years and an injury record that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy - but when it comes to the Whitley Bay lad's performance against Anzhi Makhachkala you have to say it was a case of the cream rising to the top.

For me his performance was as good as you'll see from a Newcastle United defender - it was up there with Jonathan Woodgate's defensive masterclass against Didier Drogba in 2004 when Marseille came to Tyneside and it ended 0-0.

Back then, Woodgate missed the second leg in France and guess what?

Drogba grabbed two goals to send United out of the competition after a 2-0 defeat at the Velodrome.

There are only eight teams left that can win the Europa League - and Newcastle United are one of them.

Sounds good doesn't it?

But if you wanted to sum up the crazy world of following Newcastle into a split second, then perhaps Papiss Cisse's last gasp goal is about as on the money as you can get.

After a fraught and eagerly contested battle with Anzhi Makhachkala, not for the first time the black and whites put us through the emotions on a night of jitters at St James' Park.

Papiss Cisse hardly had a kick all game against Stoke City - but the moment the quality of service was stepped up the number 9 did what we all know he does best and burst the net to bag three valuable points for Newcastle United.

It goes without saying that Newcastle still have not found the perfect recipe to ensure that Cisse's predatory style of play is maximised.

Certainly at times this season the contributions of United's wingers have not served up the required amout of quality final balls into the final third for the frontline to feed from.


Lee Ryder

Lee Ryder - Proudly born and bred on Tyneside, the Chronicle's chief sports writer has followed the fortunes of the club over the last three decades as a Toon fan and football writer.

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