Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Double Dembas vanquish Villa

Newcastle Utd 2 - 1 Aston Villa

Our Senegalese strikeforce combined for what was hopefully the first of many times to overcome a spirited Aston Villa side at St James’ Park on Sunday.

Opting to leave our new number nine Papiss Demba Cisse on the bench, the Silver Fox was quick to bring top scorer Demba Ba back into the starting line-up which had struggled against Blackburn last Wednesday.  Also earning a starting berth was James Perch, slotting into a central midfield role alongside Danny Guthrie, as we returned to a more conventional 4-4-2 formation, with Big Lad and HBA the players to give way.

Initially the game started in quite a cagey fashion, the Silver Fox was forced to turn to his bench early on as Leon O’Best was left on the floor following a tackle with Villa left-back Stephen Warnock.  While both Big Lad and Cisse warmed up, it was clear that there was only ever really one candidate to replace the Irishman, and St James’ stood to welcome our new striker on for his debut.

Pleasingly, the Senegalese striker looked at home from the off, always looking to link well with Ba and keen to latch on to any ball which came his way.  However, not to be upstaged, it was Ba who had the first sniff of a goal, controlling Raylor’s pass and swivelling to knock the ball home inside the area to give us an early lead.  Unfortunately for Raylor, in laying the ball off to Ba he was the recipient of a wild crunching challenge from Warnock which should have seen the Villain at least booked, if not given a straight red card.  Referee Mark Halsey was presumably too preoccupied with our goal to then go back and reprimand Warnock, while Raylor departed on a stretcher to be replaced by Obertan Kenobi.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to compound our lead with a further goal, and while Ba and Cisse looked to work together, the flicks weren’t quite falling for them.  At the other end, old boys Stephen Ireland and the Zog both had chances to level the scores only to see their efforts go high and wide.  However, with six minutes of injury time to play at the end of the first half, it was the visitors who took advantage with Robbie Keane feeding the ball out to the Zog on the left before continuing his run into the box.  The French winger then did enough to create space before firing a return ball across the edge of the six-yard box, leaving Krul helpless on the near post for the onrushing Keane to slot home and give Villa a deserved equaliser.

The second half saw Newcastle exert a far greater control on the match, with Ba and Cisse unlucky not to score immediately after the re-start when a goal mouth scramble saw Villa desperately clearing their lines.  With Guthrie, ably assisted by Perch, taking control of the midfield, our passing game clicked and we dominated possession and started to create chances for the front two.  Cisse was perhaps guilty of missing a gilt-edged chance, heading a great cross from Spidermag over when unmarked in the area.  If that miss had people worrying that we might have signed a dud, the fear was soon assuaged as the new number nine controlled a second Spidermag cross on his chest minutes later before smashing it in to the top corner of the Gallowgate goal with his left foot.  Unlike the last striker to score for us on debut (the Xisco Kid) this was a goal that will live long in the memory of everyone who saw it and is an incredibly promising start to Cisse’s Tyneside career.

Villa tried to get back into it, flinging on lumbering carthorse Emile Heskey, and they almost snatched a point for themselves at the end, only to be denied by a fine double save from Tim Krul.  However, given our dominance in the second half, a Villa draw would have been undeserved.

With Chelski drawing with Man Utd later in the day, the result leaves us one point shy of the Champions League places, and with the prospect of Ba and Cisse now having a chance to develop a partnership, it will be interesting to gauge how far we’ve come when we play Droopy’s Spurs team next weekend.

A Villa fan's perspective: The Villa Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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