Paul Lambert happy after solid start from defence
Aston Villa's goalless draw with Newcastle United was last game on the 50th anniversary Match of the Day on Saturday, but Paul Lambert could at least draw satisfaction from a second clean sheet for his new-look defence.
After two seasons in which rookies' simple mistakes were a recurring feature of Villa's defensive play, Lambert can now call on two experienced full-backs in newly recruited Aly Cissokho and the recalled Alan Hutton, together with Philippe Senderos, who has hit the ground running in his partnership with Ron Vlaar.
Plenty might have scoffed at the thought of free signing Senderos actually strengthening any team's defence.
A doomed Fulham offloaded him mid-season to Valencia last term while in his only appearance at the World Cup, Switzerland leaked five against France.
Yet Lambert is delighted. "He has been excellent," he said. "One thing about him is that he is an organiser. When I went to watch him train with Switzerland that was one of the things that stood out. He talked people through the game.
"The back four are on top of their game at the minute," Lambert said. "They are experienced lads who know the game. Senderos has been over the course – so have Vlaar, Cissokho and Alan. What is really pleasing is their will to win and not concede. That is a big factor."
Further upfield, however, both managers will have seen room for improvement, not least a Newcastle side yet to score this season.
After a quiet afternoon for his new French frontman Emmanuel Riviere, manager Alan Pardew reiterated his complaint about the high price of British forwards.
"It's such a shame," he said. "If we could have some realism around our own strikers, maybe they'd get more opportunities."
Pardew, who said he felt Newcastle had deserved to win, was caught on camera during the game performing an apparent dance to convey a message to France midfielder Cabella from the touchline, which involved the manager shifting from side to side and pulling an exaggerated smile.
Asked about that, Pardew said: "I just felt he was trying too hard. He had a lot of publicity last week (for his performance against City) and I just felt he was a bit tense.
"He had a couple of great situations for us where he didn't deliver and that is not like him. So I was just trying to get him to play with a smile."
As for Lambert, he is hopeful of the injured Christian Benteke returning before too long, but added: "We're not going to rush him but the (September) international break will probably come at the right time for him and for us," he said.