Monday, February 13, 2006

Champagne Charlie

Aston Villa 1 - 2 Newcastle

Last week it was Alan Shearer, but this week the toast of Tyneside was the other player to score as we cantered to victory against Pompey, Charles N'Zogbia. The young Frenchman's near-identical goal against Villa ultimately proved the matchwinner, bagging us all three points in a game from which most of us would have been happy with one.

Glenn Roeder kept faith with the same starting line-up and substitutes' bench that he had selected for his first game in temporary charge, which again meant no place in the sixteen for Luque. Again, though, his decisions were vindicated as we served up some superb football in an excellent first half.

Less than two minutes had elapsed when Solano's ball was expertly laid into the path of Ameobi by Shearer. The striker had time and space to slip his shot underneath Sorensen for his first goal since the Mackem match.

Villa's equaliser came against the run of play, as we were controlling the game and looking the more dangerous side. Luke Moore's near-post header underlined our continuing defensive frailities, though, Bramble having momentarily if customarily gone to sleep. Thereafter, it has to be said, he performed well.

Rather than looking dispirited at being pegged back, as we so often did under Souness, we carried on in determined fashion and got our reward just before the half-hour. Again Shearer and Solano were involved, the former lobbing a ball cleverly over Jlloyd Samuel to the Peruvian. Having been booed relentlessly by fans who seem to have forgotten he was their top scorer only last season, Solano would no doubt have loved to see the net bulge, but Sorensen beat out his firmly struck drive. Thankfully, despite the attentions of three Villa defenders N'Zogbia was on hand to prod the ball home.

The lead could and should have been more by the break, Shearer seeing his shot somehow backheeled off the line by Mark Delaney. By the time the players made their way off the pitch and a banner reading "You're not just a sheet metal worker's son from Gosforth, you're a legend" had been unfurled in the away end, Ameobi had missed another presentable chance.

If Solano had been our outstanding performer in the first half, in the second it was Given - though Emre too came into his own. We spent the vast majority of the half on the back foot, Villa at last showing something of the form that saw them draw with Chelsea and thrash Middlesbrough.

The turning point appeared to have come just after the hour mark. Substitute Milan Baros, running along the six yard line, was felled by a clumsy Babayaro challenge - a certain penalty, but a harsh red card, and one which the club is set to appeal. The Czech striker dusted himself down, stepped up and scuffed his spot-kick down the middle of the goal. Given, who had dived to his left, managed to divert the ball over the bar with his feet.

From the corner our superhuman custodian made a better save from Gareth Barry, and later tipped a vicious Juan Pablo Angel volley over the bar. Solano was the unlucky player withdrawn to allow Elliott to enter the fray, and as the clock ticked down, the attacks were incessant and the defending more desperate. Even Given could do nothing when Liam Ridgewell powered in a header from a corner, but mercifully it smashed against the bar and went behind.

Somehow we held out for the win our first half display possibly merited, Shearer and Parker playing a brilliant game of keep ball in the corner to run the clock down.

Our nerves may have been shot to pieces, but it was smiles all round. The pride, the passion, the spirit, the determination, the resilience - all back, present and correct. Four consecutive home games now, including next weekend's Cup match against Southampton, and we've got to approach them all as winnable.

Other reports: BBC, Observer


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