Newcastle United 1
Aston Villa 1
Before the match I thought Villa looked poor and were relegation candidates, now I’m sure of it! Sadly we didn’t deserve to beat them.
This was a massive reality check for everybody who is hoping for Newcastle to match or surpass last season, no need to panic but maybe it is just as well Alan Pardew has fifteen days, give or take the odd international call-up, to get his squad into shape for the visit to Goodison Park.
Newcastle started very flat and didn’t really pick up until Ben Arfa’s equaliser in the second half, even then the expected onslaught was sporadic and lacking cohesion.
Early on Villa looked like rabbits caught in the headlights waiting to be dealt the fatal blow but United huffed and puffed with the zip very much missing. Even at that pace though it looked as though it was only a question of time as Ben Arfa looked to have the beating of them down the right.
At the other end of the pitch the odd foray into our half was easily snuffed out in the first twenty minutes only for Darren Bent to serve up a couple of warnings which Krul did well to deal with.
Those warnings went unheeded and on 22 minutes Simpson was outnumbered when challenging for a low cross, Villa picking up the knockdown and crossing for Clark to head home unmarked six yards out.
Newcastle did respond and Ba teed Cisse up only for Villa’s keeper Brad Guzan to save with his feet. Santon was immaculate today, head and shoulders above his teammates, and should maybe have had a penalty as he raced into the box, while Cisse should definitely have had one when pushed to the ground.
Anita also put one just wide before we had an enforced substitution, Simpson leaving the field and Bigirimana joining the action, leading to things really going haywire in the tactical sense.
Anita moved to right-back in the absence of any automatic full-back cover.
In the second half it really became interesting as Newcastle basically went three up front with Ben Arfa moving in between Ba and Cisse, not sure whether Alan Pardew actually told Hatem never to come back but that was obviously his interpretation…
in the absence of any definable (working) tactics it was left to two pieces of pure genius to almost win the match.
Firstly, with an hour gone, Ben Arfa picked it up towards the left hand side of midfield and as defenders backed off from his weaker right foot he unleashed a magnificent strike into the top right from twenty five yards.
From asimilar distance, Yohan Cabaye almost repeated the trick to win the match with just about the last kick of the match. His stunning kick from a central position was perfectly placed, only for Guzan to somehow claw it away.
I think Pardew generally is excellent with tactics but today it was all over the palce, how much of that was down to him and how much the players, we’ll never know.
The lack of action in the transfer window hasn’t taken long to have an impact though as he was left with very restricted options in terms of changing his backfiring team.
As Newcastle became outnumbered in midfield, Jonas came into his own as his workrate was as always outstanding despite him struggling to create. Bigirimana battled manfully (boyfully??) and did a decent job as Tiote’s ‘mini me’ stand-in, while Cabaye did create in flashes despite being pushed out to an unfamiliar right hand role in the second half.
Alan Pardew had declared beforehand that he wanted more from his front two and I thought they did ok in terms of effort while not being particularly effective.Service was poor to non-existent though and it would hardly be the biggest surprise to see only one of them start against Everton with Ben Arfa having freedom to roam.
Last season’s powerful team machine was missing today with things not clicking for whatever reason, with raw talent digging us out of a hole and almost winning it in the final throes.
We’ll have to wait and see whether this team/squad has the talent and depth to overcome the summer failure.
It would be remiss of me not to give referee lee Probert a mention, Newcastle were really poor but he was on a par with the home team, that’s how bad he was!
Newcastle United: Krul, Danny Simpson (Bigirimana 38), Steven Taylor, Coloccini, Santon, Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Anita, Gutierrez (Marveaux 86), Ba (Obertan 86), Cisse
Subs not used: Harper, Williamson, Gosling, Amalfitano
Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Lichaj, El Ahamadi (N’Zogbia 73), Holman, Ireland, Bannan; Weimann (Agbonlahor 64), Bent
Referee: Lee Probert