Newcastle send Aston Villa into dreaded drop zone
Aston Villa 1 Newcastle United 2: A rousing second half and a eulogy from the opposition manager still tastes like mud when the points leave on the away bus and a place in the drop zone has your name on it. Paul Lambert can talk up all he likes an occasion that pulsed with all that is good about the Premier League but the table shows that Aston Villa have taken just two points from seven games, including four straight defeats at home.
Impressions were clearly coloured by a stirring recovery, which saw Villa strike early in the second half and force the visitors into a desperate rearguard heave. Before that Newcastle, the preferred foreign region for aspiring Frenchman, ripped Villa apart in an opening 45 minutes that according to manager Alan Pardew bettered anything produced this season. It was hard to argue on the basis of a superbly crafted opening goal, fashioned by debutant Moussa Sissoko and finished by Papiss Cissé, and a breathtaking strike from Yohan Cabaye that was all his own work.
Lambert at least has the backing of the owner, Randy Lerner, who appears four square behind his man, even if that means risking Premier League survival. After Wigan's draw at Stoke took them above Villa in the table, that possibility acquired serious weight.
“We never got going in the first half,” said Lambert. “Couldn't fault them in the second. I can't remember a standing ovation like that when we have been beaten. Sometimes it's easier to play when you are 2-0 down. No-one expects anything. The lads got an early goal, the crowd got behind them and that gave them a lift. It was night and day. But we can't keep starting matches like that.”
Lambert's view, that in the event of a barren window he still has enough to keep Villa in the Premier League, was echoed by Pardew. “He's under pressure. But he's a good manager. I think Villa are going to be more than good enough to get out of the situation they are in,” the Newcastle manager said. “The crowd showed their appreciation in the second half and that was good to see. They are lacking a bit of confidence and you could see that, but they have a lot of good players and on another night they might have got a draw out of us.”
Pardew could afford to be generous. Villa were a bag of shelled peas for 45 minutes, flicked about their own manor not just by a better team but a side playing a different game. Bolstered by two of last week's four French signings, Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran, and the rehabilitation at the back of Steven Taylor and Fabrico Coloccini, Newcastle justified the club's £17 million outlay on five players in the January window. Villa did all their spending, £21m, in the summer, and for too long were a side less than the sum of its parts.
Newcastle went ahead in the 19th minute. Sissoko was the architect, splitting the Villa defence with a superbly-weighted pass. Cissé galloped on a pace and slotted expertly beneath the advancing Brad Guzan.
Charles N'Zogbia flashed a defiant effort against a post, but there was nothing systematic about the engineering of the chance. Villa were crying out for shape and leadership. Newcastle had both in abundance, typified by the boundless exertion of Jonas Gutierrez at the heart of midfield and the calm authority of captain Coloccini behind him. About them the French additions revelled in a licence to play.
It was an older French hand, Cabaye, who doubled Newcastle's advantage, a snorter of a volley from 25 yards that had Guzan beaten before he moved. There was a hint of fortune perhaps in the creation, the defensive header from the high cross of Gutierrez might have landed anywhere. Providence directed it to the willing right boot of Cabaye. Once that cannon is loaded no keeper is safe.
Villa were fortunate to escape the half only two down and perhaps even more so to nick a goal back three minutes into the second. Half-time substitute Gabriel Agbonlahor went down, but it was not clear either that Mathieu Debuchy was the cause of his tumble, or whether any infringement took place in the box. Referee Mike Dean was emphatic in his award of a penalty as was Christian Benteke in the dispatch.
N'Zogbia went close a second time. Andreas Weimann, a second half replacement for full-back Joe Bennett, forced Tim Krul into a sharp reaction save. Villa were once again the team that won at Liverpool and gave Manchester United the hurry-up. Nathan Baker thought he had levelled with eight minutes remaining when his header got the better of everybody but the remarkable Gutierrez, who flung his torso full length to keep the lead alive.
As the game moved into added time so the crosses rained down on Krul, a keeper who could have done The Independent crossword in the opening half. Newcastle had this game in the bag but were hanging on and when the fourth official revealed five minutes of extra time, Pardew's greying hair turned an even whiter shade of pale. The whistle freed him from his torment.
He paid his French additions the handsome compliment of crediting the win to them, particularly Sissoko. Asked if there would be any more, Pardew smiled: “No. I think we will have a rest now. I'm looking forward to my bed tonight.”
Man of the match Gutierrez.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee M Dean (Wirral).