Belfast Telegraph

Lambert calm after frustrating loss

Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert claimed after his side's 2-1 home defeat to Newcastle that the contest had been "a bad one to lose" - but he is not about to get carried away over how things are shaping up at this early stage of the season.

The result means Villa have now lost three Barclays Premier League games in a row since beginning their top-flight campaign so impressively by winning 3-1 at Arsenal, with the other reverses coming at Chelsea and at home against Liverpool.

Lambert has no doubt the four fixtures have made for a tough start and it seems he may well have regarded Saturday's meeting with the Magpies at Villa Park as a particularly important opportunity to pick up points.

As it turned out, a 73rd-minute strike from substitute Yoan Gouffran ensured Newcastle took all three, the forward reacting after Brad Guzan had parried a shot from the impressive Hatem Ben Arfa, whose close-range 18th-minute opener had been cancelled out by Christian Benteke's 67th-minute headed equaliser.

Following the final whistle, Lambert - whose side are currently 16th in the table, two points better off than bottom-placed Sunderland - said: "The start we have had has been hard, but this was a bad one to lose.

"But if you look at all the results, there have been plenty of draws, and we are only four games into the season.

"There is a long, long way to go."

In their past 40 home league games, stretching back to 2011-12, Villa have won only nine times and some of the club's fans voiced their discontent from the stands with boos on Saturday.

Asked about that, Lambert, who took charge of the midlands outfit in the summer of 2012, stressed he would never be critical of the supporters after the backing they have given him, and also emphasised that his players need to be galvanised rather than inhibited by playing at home.

"I'm not one for excuses," said the Scot, who confirmed Villa defender Jores Okore had sustained what looked like a knee injury during the Newcastle game.

"You have to thrive on that crowd and playing in front of it - it is a great crowd to play in front of.

"You have to be able to handle it."

While it is a frustrating time for Villa, suddenly things do not seem so bad for Newcastle.

There has been plenty of talk about doom and gloom around the Tyneside club - who finished fifth in the Premier League in 2011-12 but 16th last term - after a summer in which the only new signing they made was Loic Remy, recruited on loan from QPR.

Former Newcastle players such as Alan Shearer, Robert Lee and Andy Cole had spoken out in the build-up to the Villa match about what they regarded as the Magpies' failings in the transfer market.

And among the visiting fans at Villa Park, a banner was visible which mocked Newcastle director of football Joe Kinnear, who was appointed over the summer.

But the win continued what has been a steady improvement for the team this season.

Newcastle began their league campaign with a 4-0 loss at Manchester City, but have since drawn with West Ham and then beaten Fulham and now Villa.

Afterwards, Pardew said he and his team had to accept the opinions of the club's ex-pros as they had earned the right to express them, adding that the best response was to win games.

He also singled out Ben Arfa for particular praise.

The France midfielder's goal was simple in comparison to his superb match-winning strike against Fulham last time out, but he was a constant thorn in Villa's side.

Pardew said: "Hatem got probably the simplest goal he is ever going to score.

"But he got in the box, something we have encouraged him to do, and he got his reward for that.

"In the first half I really felt we controlled the game - perhaps too well.

"At half-time it was difficult to get the team ready for the second half because you know it can't quite be the same.

"We came under pressure for 20 minutes and had to weather a little bit of a storm in that period."

Newcastle eventually emerged with a victory they deserved overall at the end of a contest in which several of their players had made notable contributions.

As well as Ben Arfa, that included striker Remy, making his first Newcastle start, and midfielder Yohan Cabaye, returning to the first XI after his proposed move to Arsenal failed to materialise.

Pardew said: "Both of those (Cabaye and Remy) were not really at 100%, but I wanted to put them in because I felt just their names, if nothing else, would affect the opposition."

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