Toon lift the gloom

Posted by Marc Duffy

Yoan Gouffran is mobbed by fans and team-mates after restoring Newcastle's lead.PA PhotosYoan Gouffran is mobbed by fans and team-mates after restoring Newcastle's lead.

The city of Newcastle has been under a cloud this past two weeks. Newcastle United's failure to make a permanent signing in the transfer window has again left supporters questioning the motives of owner Mike Ashley and protests have been arranged.

But what better way to lift the spirits of these fans than a 2-1 win at Villa Park -- the scene of the club's relegation in 2009?

Newcastle supporters and one or two players within the club will never forget the gloating of the Villa supporters as Newcastle sunk to the Championship, so to win there in the Premier League for the second time in 2013 adds a little bit of extra sweetness.

Coming into the game, Aston Villa had failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their previous 25 league outings -- although Toon boss Alan Pardew still insisted that they were "a tough nut to crack".

Villa's opening day win against Arsenal at the Emirates left many pundits believing they had turned a corner, progressing from last year's miserable season, despite subsequent defeats against Chelsea and Liverpool. If anything, Newcastle's win this time around was more comfortable than their 2-1 win back in January.

For the first time in months Pardew was able to pick from his strongest group of players. He opted to include Yohan Cabaye and Loic Remy in the starting XI with Sylvain Marveaux and Shola Ameobi dropping out of the side that beat Fulham in their last fixture. Steven Taylor, Cheick Tiote and Jonas Gutierrez were also back from suspension and injuries but, quite rightly, had to make do with substitute spots.

The thing that really stood out at Villa Park was how much better Newcastle are when Pardew is not hammering square pegs into round holes. Without players playing in unfamiliar positions Newcastle looked balanced, especially when Villa had the ball.

Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa is getting better each and every week alongside Fabricio Coloccini in defence. The two of them comfortably dealt with most of what Villa had to throw at them. The inclusion of Moussa Sissoko in a central role helps out the back four immensely too. Sissoko is an incredible athlete -- he picks off play when he's deep and then drives the team forward -- he was still doing this as the game went into stoppage time.

Once again though, it was Hatem Ben Arfa who stole the show. He was class. He scored the game’s opening goal on 21 minutes when Remy wormed his way down the left-hand side of the penalty area and pulled the ball back. Despite Villa having a box full of defenders, it was Hatem who was on hand to stab the ball home.

Villa looked terrified of him. Time and time again he ran at them virtually unopposed.

The Villa supporters booed their side off at half-time but were soon back on side when Villa had Newcastle pinned back early in the second half.

Christian Benteke equalised for Villa on 67 minutes -- he headed home from a corner totally unchallenged and at that point most gambling men would have backed a home win.

Newcastle reacted brilliantly. Ben Arfa ran unchallenged again and his shot stung the hands of Brad Guzan, who parried the ball out to Gouffran and the substitute gave his side the lead.

From that point on Newcastle began to dictate play and they saw the win home with little difficulty.

That's seven points from four games now -- at least things are going pretty well on the pitch.

Player ratings

Tim Krul 6 - Shaky on crosses

Matthieu Debuchy 8 - Probably his best away performance to date

Davide Santon 7 - Worked hard to get forward but not be exposed too often

Fabricio Coloccini 7 - Doing wonders for his partner at centre-back

Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa 8 - Gets better each and every week

Vurnon Anita 6 - Quiet display but did nothing wrong

Moussa Sissoko 8 - What an athlete

Yohan Cabaye 7 - Ran himself into the ground on his return to the team

Loic Remy 7 - Worked hard and got the assist bit looked rusty in his decision making

Hatem Ben Arfa 9 - Another brilliant showing

Papiss Cisse 5 - Looks like he's never played football before! Needs a lucky break


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