Aston Villa 1 Newcastle United 2: Steve Brown's match verdict

Newcastle United are eighth in the table and a win over Hull City could leave them with 10 points from their first five games, who saw that coming?

Newcastle United's Hatem Ben Arfa scores the Magpies' opening goal against Aston Villa
Newcastle United's Hatem Ben Arfa scores the Magpies' opening goal against Aston Villa

So what do the legends know? Why all that whining? Mike Ashley knows what he’s doing, Joe Kinnear too.

Premier League title, here we come. Champions League, who’s having a laugh?

OK, enough. To paraphrase Winston Wolf, let’s not all start patting each other’s backs.

Newcastle United got a victory at Aston Villa excellent for all sorts of reasons.

They are eighth in the table and a home win over Hull City on Saturday could leave them with 10 points from their first five league games of the season.

Who, honestly, saw all that coming?

Not the Toon heroes who lined up last week to berate the club’s hierarchy for failing to spend big while the transfer window gaped.

Not the Toon Army.

Nor, probably, Ashley or Kinnear.

Alan Pardew? Hard to tell. A shrewd operator who gives away only what he chooses, he has nonetheless played a blinder this past two weeks.

Between owner and overlord, star man and ex-stars, the cards have been stacked against the Newcastle manager.

However, he has deftly played the hand dealt him while all the while conveying a subtle yet clear message he has had little alternative in the matter.

The result? Seven points from four games, level-pegging with Manchesters United and City and Chelsea.

Not that, canny-minded as he is, Pardew is getting carried away. Nor should anyone.

Yes, Villa beat Arsenal.

However, they had lost twice – albeit admittedly to Chelsea and Liverpool – since then, last kept a Premier League clean sheet in December 2012 and, robust and promising as they are, are very much a work in progress.

It is also, needless to say, a long, old season.

Of course, come 3pm on a Saturday all any team can do is consign what is done to the past and try and beat whosoever stand before them.

Pardew said as much post-match, in the same breath accepting the legends’ earned right to have their say (and it is not as if they weren’t pressed for an opinion) and insistent once again United simply cannot compete with the financial muscle of the top flight’s big boys.

In that context, and in the context of the summer, credit where credit’s due: Pardew is delivering.

He would, no doubt, prefer more armoury at his disposal.

Yet while Papiss Cisse continues to draw a blank, the recruitment of Loic Remy, the renaissance of Hatem Ben Arfa and the first few steps in the rehabilitation of Yohan Cabaye – who got a canny ovation on his 88th-minute withdrawal – injected Newcastle with their most potent attacking abandon since the departure of Demba Ba.

Thus equipped and strung out across a fluid formation that veered between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, Newcastle United are a strong XI and proved as much as early as the 18th minute.

Hassling Karim El Ahmadi out of possession in the opposition’s right-back territory, Vurnon Anita fed Remy, who cut inside Matthew Lowton and crossed low.

Cisse prodded on, Ben Arfa prodded in.

Without utterly dominating the occasion, Newcastle were controlling it. “Too well,” said Pardew, thereupon engaging a tricky half-time team talk.

People talk of 2-0 as a problematic scoreline. What to do, press on or shut up shop?

Well, unless you are Barcelona or Bayern Munich, if your team is a tad fragile, not firing on full confidence or, conversely, over-confident, so too 1-0.

As if on cue, back came Villa.

Ten minutes into the second half, Gabriel Agbonlahor missed a sitter but 13 minutes later Christian Benteke – shackled, otherwise, by Moussa Sissoko – headed in Ashley Westwood’s corner and herein came fear.

Here came the ‘here we go agains’.

Oh ye of fractured, if enduring, faith.

Five minutes later, Ben Arfa stepped inside from the right for about the 800th time all day. Brad Guzan saved his left-foot shot, but palmed it straight to Yoan Gouffran, who side-footed the winner.

That showed character some thought absent.

It showed belief in adversity, against a team on a roll.

The Newcastle we have come to know during 2013 might well have lost or, at best, drawn that game.

Yet backed by solid foundation and fronted with renewed verve and virtuosity, United went for it and United got it.

It was what they deserved, what Pardew – if not Ashley and Kinnear – deserved. It is what the Toon Army crave, time and again.

Because this alone will not make the club’s season, just as defeat or a draw could not have broken it.

There are sterner tests to come. Better opponents, for sure (though not, surely, a superior cheese board). The rigours of a long Premier League season on a good team but a poorer squad.

That is why no one is getting carried away, why the garden isn’t suddenly rosy. That is why Ashley ought still to have spent, overdraft or not.

See, I told you the legends were right.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer