Newcastle off bottom as Martins double downs Villa
Newcastle 2 Aston Villa 0
Published 04/11/2008 | 00:18
With a burst of noise that could be heard 12 miles away on Wearside, Newcastle United last night booted themselves loudly off bottom place in the Premier League and up to 14th.
Joe Kinnear contributed so much to the rising volume that he lost his voice and could not speak afterwards. The win means Newcastle are above Sunderland on goal difference, and while leaving the relegation zone was hardly a detail, the sense of pleasure on Tyneside at local superiority was audible.
There was relief, too. Had Aston Villa converted first-half chances, Newcastle could have been chasing a point at best. Had referee Steve Bennett seen Joey Barton's jabbed finger in the face of Gabriel Agbonlahor in the 20th minute, moreover, there might have been a yellow card or even a red shown. The Football Association will be expected to study footage of the incident and if it is deemed violent conduct then Barton's six-game suspended punishment could be activated.
Former referee Graham Poll weighed in from a television studio and said: "He [Barton] actually does strike the opponent. He tries to do him. That is striking an opponent. That is a red card and if the referee had seen it – Steve Bennett is a stickler for law – and if he had seen it he would have sent him off without a doubt."
Barton did collect a booking in the second half, for a studs-up challenge on Luke Young, and Chris Hughton, standing in for Kinnear, said: "Any incident with Joey is going to be blown up twice as much because it's him. He has to be careful."
Villa manager Martin O'Neill played Barton's antics down – "Gabi said something happened but that's up to the referee" – and Newcastle will wish to concentrate on what Barton did correctly. He maintained positional discipline and delivered the pass from which Obafemi Martins scored the night-altering opening goal on the hour. Martins had a lot of work to do when the received possession 25 yards out with his back to goal and with Martin Laursen and Nicky Shorey in attendance. The Nigerian had hitherto been enthusiastic, if erratic, but he manoeuvred the ball onto his favoured left foot, advanced at pace and scalped a shot into the bottom corner. Brad Friedel may reflect that his dive was a fraction slow.
The effect on Villa was greater than could have been anticipated. Having been, in O'Neill's description, "dominant", the visitors were surprisingly tame. O'Neill was nonplussed at the absence of attacking activity after Martins' strike and while he said Newcastle were "very sturdy", it did not fully explain how a side that could have gone third in the table failed to respond. "We are trying to mix it with the big teams and we had an opportunity to close the gap and much more," O'Neill added. "But if we're thinking of joining an elite group then we have got a lot of things to consider. This is a major setback."
With James Milner making a return to the ground he left for £12m so recently and so controversially – the August transfer was part of the reason why Kevin Keegan left and why Kinnear is here – Villa set out to show why they had scored 19 goals in 10 games.
Laursen struck an upright on 11 minutes with a header from a corner from Gareth Barry and with Agbonlahor, John Carew and Ashley Young roaming with dangerous intent, on 22 minutes Milner slid a cute pass to Agbonlahor as he raced into the Newcastle area. The forward was in between two black and white shirts, seven yards out, but somehow made no contact with the ball.
Newcastle battled back. Barton and Martins both had useful efforts but on 36 minutes Villa created another opening when Ashley Young received Agbonlahor's pass and swivelled away from Habib Beye. One-on-one with Shay Given, Young struck his shot truly but it hit the Irishman and ricocheted over the bar. Presumably O'Neill's instruction was "same again" for the second half. Villa began in that mode but then came Martins's first goal and the night changed. The lowest crowd for a league game at St James' Park since the stadium was expanded cranked up the noise.
Newcastle were assertive. Nicky Butt clipped the woodwork with a 67th minute free-kick and then with Villa trying to push forward, Jonas Gutierrez broke away down the left and found Martins charging in two yards out.
Newcastle had their victory. Given, in his 450th appearance, had a clean sheet. There was even the late return of Michael Owen.
Goals: Martins (60) 1-0; Martins (83) 2-0.
Newcastle United (4-4-2) Given; Beye, Taylor, Coloccini, Enrique; Gutierrez, Butt, Barton, Duff; Ameobi (Owen, 90), Martins (Cacapa, 88). Substitutes not used: Harper, Bassong, Guthrie, N'Zogbia, Geremi.
Aston Villa (4-4-2) Friedel; L Young, Laursen, Cuellar, Shorey (Sidwell, 72); Milner, Reo-Coker (Harewood, 85), Barry, A Young; Agbonlahor, Carew. Substitutes not used: Guzan, Knight, Salifou, Davies, Gardner.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: Newcastle Beye, Martins, Ameobi; Aston Villa Barry, L Young, Sidwell.
Man of the match: Martins.