Hatem Ben Arfa’s superb strike spared Newcastle’s blushes yesterday afternoon, but the overall viewing wasn’t pretty.
The good news is that we managed to avoid defeat, but that was one positive on an afternoon of negatives as far as I saw things.
An injury to Danny Simpson, hot on the heels of the midweek injury to Ryan Taylor, highlighted further the weakness in our squad, as did the abject performances of our striking duo Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba. Neither of them are exactly on fire at the moment, but with little competition for places there is little scope to change things round as things stand.
Paul Lambert’s side came into the game having lost their first two league fixtures, and in the opening exchanges it looked like Newcastle may pile on more misery as they started off brightly without really testing Brad Guzan, replacing former Magpie Shay Given, in the Villa goal.
Indeed it was the visitors who had the first attempt at goal with 19 minutes on the clock, Tim Krul having to turn away an effort from Darren Bent. However it wasn’t long before Villa took their chance through Ciaran Clark who headed Barry Bannan’s pinpoint cross into the back of the Gallowgate net with very little sign of any Newcastle defender offering a challenge.
This seemed to wake the hosts up a little bit and eventually they ground into life. Chances for Steven Taylor, Papiss Cisse, Vurnon Anota and Demba Ba followed but none of them were converted and the visitors took their lead into the half-time interval.
Fresh from a rollicking from Alan Pardew the home side started off the second half brightly, or at least I thought that is what would happen, but it didn’t. In fact it wasn’t until the hour mark when Hatem Ben Arfa unleashed an unstoppable shot from 25 yards out that left Brad Guzan with no chance that things started to go our way. It was going to take something magical to level the scores and once again our mercurial Frenchman provided it.
However both sides had chances to win the match. Andy Weimann tested Tim Krul with a shot on the turn before Demba Ba headed a Gael Bigirimana cross onto the roof of the net. Stephen Ireland skewed a shot miles wide when it looked easier to score and Bigirimana was on hand to deny Darren Bent with a last ditch block before Yohan Cabaye forced a fine save from Guzan in the Villa goal with a fine free-kick right at the death.
In the end neither side could find the winner and the score remained 1-1.
There were both negatives and positives to take from the game yesterday. On the positive side I thought Davide Santon was excellent, Gael Bigirimana was great when he came on, and Vurnon Anita played well at right-back after the injury to Danny Simpson.
However there were also negatives. We started off slowly again and too many players were below par. For me Yohan Cabaye, Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba and Jonas Gutierrez just weren’t good enough yesterday and the rest of the side isn’t good enough to carry that amount of players. This 4-4-2 doesn’t work either, or at least it doesn’t seem to work with the strikers we have. Ba and Cisse have real problems playing together seemingly and they just don’t bring the best out of each other when playing as a front pair. I sincerely hope this shift in formation isn’t to accommodate Demba Ba and to stop him having a little huff again?
Now we have a two week international break to contend with so hopefully a few of these issues can be resolved. There is no transfer window to worry about now, so I suggest those players who have, in Pardew’s words, “had their heads turned” quickly shape up if they are harbouring desires of moving away. If they keep playing like that then the clubs they wish to move to will be unlikely to come calling anyway!
Howay the lads!
Newcastle: Time Krul, Danny Simpson, Steven Taylor, Fabricio Coloccini, Davide Santon, Hatem Ben Arfa, Vurnon Anita, Yohan Cabaye, Jonas Gutierrez, Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba
Subs: Steve Harper, Mike Williamson, Dan Gosling, Gael Bigirimana, Sylvain Marveaux, Romain Amalfitano, Gabriel Obertan
Aston Villa: Brad Guzan, Matt Lowton, Ron Vlaar, Ciaran Clark, Eric Lichaj, Brett Holman, Karim El Ahmadi, Stephen Ireland, Barry Bannan, Andreas Weimann, Darren Bent
Subs: Shay Given, Nathan Baker, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Charles N’Zogbia, Graham Burke, Jordan Bowery, Derrick Williams