Wednesday, January 30, 2013

La revolution starts here

Aston Villa 1 - 2 Newcastle Utd

At the 18th time of asking we finally registered our first away win of the campaign at Villa Park last night, thanks in no small part to our influx of new recruits.

Ahead of the game, the Silver Fox rang the changes, with new boys Moussa Sissoko and Goofy handed starts in a rejigged attack, which had Dreamboat and Perchinho anchoring the midfield with our two new boys joining Spidermag in a three behind Papiss Cisse. At the back, Sideshow Bob was partnered by the returning Saylor. Vurnon Anita dropped to the bench, presumably because it was felt Perchinho would provide a greater degree of protection, while Sylvain Marveaux was nowhere to be seen (presumably due to injury).

Unlike Newcastle, who enjoyed a ten day run up to the match since their last league game, Villa had been knocked out of both domestic cups by lower-league opponents and were a side badly in need of some good fortune.

With Paul Lambert's side also desperate for league points, it was pleasing to see that we began by far the brighter, on the front foot from the start, with Sissoko in particular starting like an express train.

It was our new number 7 who made the first telling contribution to the game, when he latched onto a loose ball, with referee Mike Dean playing advantage following a foul on Davide Santon, before slotting the ball through Villa's five-man defence for Cisse to run on to, and our number 9 promptly slid the ball through the keeper's legs.

As we celebrated, the home fans rose to their feet in applause, giving their regular tribute to Stiliyan Petrov as he battles cancer - a gesture echoed by the Toon fans and, for that matter, the Silver Fox.

Apart from a rasping shot by the Zog, which cannoned back off the woodwork, it was all Newcastle, and no surprise that we added a second after half an hour, when Spidermag's cross was headed away as far as Dreamboat and he cushioned the ball before cracking a stunning right-foot shot into the far corner of the net.

With Villa struggling it was a shame that half-time came as it prevented us from continuing to power on and allowed Villa a chance to regroup.

During the interval, Lambert withdrew two players (including ex-mackem Darren Bent) and shuffled his formation. Presumably he also stripped paint off the walls of the dressing room, because the Villa side which emerged after the interval flew off the mark and started forcing Newcastle back. Their reward for this renewed pressure came quickly, when Mathieu Debuchy conceded a soft penalty, with Gabby Agbonlahor moving away from goal before crumpling under the slightest of challenges. While it was debatable whether it should have been a penalty, Debuchy should really have known better than to give Agbonlahor the opportunity to fall over - hopefully a learning experience for our new right-back.

With Christian Benteke sending Krul the wrong way as he stroked home the penalty, the game suddenly teetered on a knife edge. Villa took heart and continued to press, while we pulled back, defending deeper and deeper and firing aimless punts upfield rather than seeking to keep control of the ball.

With nerves starting to fray, the Silver Fox withdrew Perchinho and brought on Big Lad, presumably in the hope that he'd hold the ball up and give Villa something to worry about. However, the change did nothing to stem the claret and blue tide.

Further changes saw Goofy replaced by Anita and the tiring Sissoko replaced by Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa for his debut (albeit in an unfamiliar defensive midfield position).

Still Villa poured forward, albeit their attacks continued to founder, with Tim Krul producing a number of fine saves. Spidermag too got in on the act, clearing one chance off the line, and new boy MYM also getting in one fine block.

With players throwing themselves in the way of everything, we managed to hold onto our slender advantage, even enduring five minutes of injury time thanks to the idiosyncrasies of Mike Dean who had a game to forget.

So, when the final whistle went, it was Newcastle left celebrating - as a team in a huge huddle. With team spirit apparent, both in terms of the performance and the celebration, the future looks slightly brighter.  Performances from Goofy, MYM and a storming display by Sissoko (at least in the first half) suggest that we've signed quality players and can cautiously start to look ahead with renewed optimism at what the remainder of the season may hold. We may still be in the shit and we still need to get points on the board as quickly as possible (which, with forthcoming fixtures against Chelsea and Spurs, won't be easy) but this game may prove to be a turning point in our season rather than another false dawn.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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