Monday, August 28, 2006


Aston Villa 2 - 0 Newcastle Utd

A limp away defeat without scoring or even seriously threatening the opposition's goal - sound familiar? Because it should - we made it something of a habit last season. And old habits die hard.

Obafemi Martins - the man brought in to score the goals in the absence of Messrs Shearer, Owen and Ameobi - endured a particularly miserable debut. He tried hard and showed some good link-up play, but didn't have even a sniff of a chance before succumbing to injury in a second period during which we all but gave up.

Martins had taken his place in the side along with Shay Given, Craig Moore and Nobby Solano, all returning after Thursday night. Albert Luque, Steve Harper, Steven Taylor and Charles N'Zogbia dropped to the bench - the latter can justifiably feel especially aggrieved about that decision.

Just 48 minutes after the Newcastle team bus arrived at the ground, Villa were ahead, Luke Moore firing home from just inside the area to the delight of a beaming Randy Lerner. We then wrested back control of the game and dominated possession for long periods, James Milner and Damien Duff both trying their luck, but never looked genuinely dangerous.

It wasn't particularly surprising when, in the 38th minute, the Brummies doubled their lead. Lively youngster Gabriel Agbonlahor, who was crucifying Celestine Babayaro every time he got the ball, slipped it to Juan Pablo Angel, and the goalshy Colombian striker managed to round Given and finish.

Glenn Roeder took drastic action at the break, removing Babayaro as well as Solano, anonymous against his former employers. N'Zogbia came in at left back, while Luque mooched on up front and turned in a performance that was lethargic and uninspired even by his own low standards. Gareth Barry and former Mackem Gavin McCann had dominated our £10m central midfield pairing of Scott Parker and Emre, and so barely ten minutes after the restart Roeder withdrew the Turk for Nicky Butt. And then, bang on cue, Martins fell awkwardly and was stretchered off, leaving us to play out the remaining half hour with ten men and two goals down.

With the odds against us, we might have been expected to go for broke - but instead there was only weary resignation to our fate, our twelve game unbeaten run coming to an end with barely a whimper. No zest, no spark, no commitment. Most bafflingly, we suddenly started playing the balls over the top that the pacy Martins thrives on - but only after he'd left the pitch...

Villa - an average if well-organised side under Martin O'Neill - seemed to take pity on us, declining to press home their advantage, but only the width of the crossbar denied Luke Moore from claiming his second of the game in injury time. By that point we could have been reduced to nine, Craig Moore lucky to get away with an off-the-ball trip on Agbonlahor.

Fortunately it has since transpired that Martins only suffered a dead leg, and should be fine to line up against Fulham in a fortnight's time. All in all, though, an afternoon that all of a black and white persuasion will be eager to forget.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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