Newcastle United 1-1 Aston Villa
Five games into the season, five slow, sluggish performances (well maybe 4 1/2 - we looked OK v Spurs for a while). This was far from a classic. In the first half Villa looked like the only team to have a gameplan - they sat quite deep looking to catch us out with the pace of Bent and comfortably dealt with our slow, aimless attacks. Again we were bossed in the middle of the field in the absence of Tiote
Villa took the lead on 22 through a Clark header. The ball was delivered from the Villa left by Bannan only moments after he took some abuse from the Gallowgate end and he was absolutely delighted. Quite obviously the chants aimed in his direction really hit home! The goal was far too simple. Another goal conceded with the build up coming from our right hand side.
Danny Simpson pulled up with a hamstring injury later on in the half. He couldn't continue so Pardew shuffled the pack - Bigirimana came on (more about him later) and Vurnon Anita dropped into right back. None of us wish an injury on anyone, especially with a squad like ours, but the way Vurnon adapted his game when marauding down the right makes me think that this might be a blessing in disguise! He was one of our top performers for the remainder of the game.
Villa started positively right from the off in the second half, but it was Newcastle who grabbed a goal. Hatem Ben Arfa, regularly on the fringes of the game, picked the ball up on the left, sent the defender one way whilst cutting back on to his supposedly weaker right foot and lashed the ball right into the far top corner of the Gallowgate End net. Probably the only moment of genuine class in the whole game (59 minutes).
We hoped that this would spur us on to some late domination, but it didn't really. We enjoyed a spell of 20 minutes or so when we were on top but Guzan wasn't too troubled. Even when the momentum was going our way we kept on aimlessly hoofing the ball in the direction of Cisse. There was an awful moment when Tim Krul collected the ball late on and the crowd willed him to throw the ball out wide to Santon. Instead he launched yet another up and under into the Villa half and yet again the away team dealt with it comfortably and turned defence into attack. When 48,000+ people could all see that Santon wanted the ball I can only assume this is a direct tactical instruction from the sidelines. And to think that one of the most common arguments against the possible re-signing of Andy Carroll was "we don't play that type of football anymore". Anyone who really believes that doesn't pay close attention. Don't laugh, but we missed Shola. He showed last season that he is a great player to throw on at home in the final ten minutes.
Cisse was anonymous again, but I don't blame him. He is a goal scorer and goal scorers of his type require service. Since Pardew bizarrely opted to change the successful 4-3-3 form the second-half of last season into a 4-4-2 we have barely offered Papiss a sniff of the ball, other than via the earlier mentioned long hoofs. We started to drift back into that 4-3-3 as the game went on but it did not have the fluency that it did in April/ May. Tiote is a critical factor in that way of playing.
The referee. Oh dear. Pedantic Probert would have been a school prefect, I'm certain. Twice in the second half with play stopped he took the ball off Guzan. The first time he dropped the ball onto the floor making Guzan pick it up to restart the game and the second time he took it off him then handed it straight back to restart. Pathetic. They are just two examples of how this fella struggles in the common sense department.
A Cabaye free kick in stoppage time almost won us the game but the draw was a fair result. The pick of the Villa side was Ron Vlaar - he had an excellent game.
The main positives for us were the performances of Anita when he dropped into full back and at only 18 years of age, Gael Bigirimana was outstanding. His passing range is impressive and his late block was vital. Well done young fella - I can't remember the last time I saw a player that young play so well for us at this level. He has a lot to learn, but what a foundation to build on.
The attendance of 48,245 was down on the Spurs game, but the Villa following really was pathetic. It was about 1/3 of the number that Ipswich Town would have brought when they were in the Premier League.
Krul, Simpson (Bigirimana 38), Coloccini, S.Taylor, Santon, Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Anita, Gutierrez (Marveaux 86), Ba (Obertan 87), Cisse.
Unused Subs: Harper, Williamson, Gosling, Amalfitano.
Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Lichaj, Bannan, El Ahmadi (N'Zogbia 72), Ireland, Weimann (Agbonlahor 64), Holman, Bent.
Unused Subs: Given, Bowery, Baker, Burke, Williams.
Next up we head to Goodison for a tough game against Everton but that is not until a week on Monday because of the Brazil 2014 international qualifiers.
Let me know your thoughts below or give me a shout on Twitter @MarcSDuffy
Oh, and however long we spend each week in training on set pieces - can we treble it please? Terrible.
Newcastle United 1-1 Aston Villa