Lambert bemoans slow start
Under-fire Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert bemoaned his side's first-half performance as they slipped to a 2-1 defeat at home to Newcastle United.
Having been booed off at the interval, Villa improved enormously in the second half, scoring almost straightaway through a borderline Christian Benteke penalty and then laying siege to their opponents' area for long spells.
An equaliser eluded them, though, and their seventh defeat in 11 league and cup games leaves them back in the bottom three courtesy of Wigan Athletic's draw at Stoke City. Bottom club QPR also showed further signs of life with a draw at home to Manchester City.
There are few crumbs of comfort for Villa, except for their second-half revival as they now prepare for an apparently much tougher sequence of games against Everton, West Ham United, Arsenal and Manchester City.
"We never got going in the first half," Lambert said. "We never started. The first goal was disappointing. The second was a wonder strike you can't avoid and then we were facing an uphill battle.
"In the second half, I can't fault them. I'll never reveal what I say at half-time, that's always private, but it's the first time I've seen a standing ovation when we've got beat. That was an incredible thing."
Lambert made a double substitution at half-time with Darren Bent again among the fall guys. Joe Bennett was also replaced, with Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann thrown on, the latter after recovering from a virus.
Within three minutes, Newcastle's lead had been halved but the manager was unhappy that his side only woke up when the game was on the way to being lost.
"Sometimes it's easier when you are two down because nobody expects anything," he added. "The pressure is always on the home team to make the running, but you can't give anybody a two-goal start. We came out of the traps in the second half but we have to start like that."
Much to the alarm of supporters, it appears the only activity at the club in the January window is likely to be outward, with forgotten left-back Stephen Warnock lined up to join either West Ham or Leeds United.
Both Lambert and owner-chairman Randy Lerner, who backed his manager in a statement from America on Monday, say efforts at finding reinforcements have been made, as yet to no avail.
"If I have to go with this group, I have to go with it," he added. "That's the bottom line. Randy has been very supportive. It's always good to get support and I'm doing my best to try to turn it round. I have a good relationship with him. Money dictates a lot. You have to play with the hand you're dealt."
Most damningly, Villa have now scored only twice - including a disputed penalty here - in their last seven home League matches.
Alan Pardew praised the impact of his latest wave of French imports after Newcastle recorded their first Premier League away win of the season.
Midfielder Moussa Sissoko caught the eye in particular on his debut and, on a night when Yoan Gouffran also figured from the start, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa went on as a substitute in the second half and made a vital late block from Ciaran Clark near the line.
"When you are looking for players and trying to find the secret ingredient, it's not always easy for them to come through as well as they did in the first half," the manager said. "I was a bit surprised. Sissoko grabbed it by the horns. We worked hard to integrate the players. They aren't here to save us... they are here to help us.
"You sensed there was a good feeling among the lads in the hotel and it has been a terrific day because we were under a lot of pressure. We were a bit rash in the second half and lost some control. The Premier League is underestimated. We were in control and thought we were going to win it comfortably, yet, on another occasion Villa could have got a draw out of it.
"That's where the players have to learn quickly. I don't think we would have won that game had we not signed Sissoko. My vision is to play him where I can best utilise his energy and power. He has massive energy and power. I don't want to compare him to another player but he can play behind the front two or in the Steve Gerrard position or sit in front of the back four.
"He has learned a lot tonight because he's not going to have it all his own way."