St James' Park, Premier League, 02/Sept/12. KO 4pm Att: 48,245.
A slog in the sunshine saw us claim a point that we barely deserved thanks to a moment of genius from Hatem Ben Arfa that lit up an otherwise forgettable game. Anita continued to deputise for Tiote but we were otherwise at full strength against a Villa side that contained a collection of names I’d never heard of, other than a wig-fetishist and Beehive avoider.
The first half was dreadful with the visitors having the better of what passed as the football and with the centre of our midfield bypassed in favour of aimless balls down the channels, there was hardly a chance of note before we fell behind to a Clark header. Bannan put over a lovely cross that the centre half could scarcely miss from, similar to Milner’s one decent cross for United onto Luque’s head at Palermo and miss he didn’t. The amount of time that convicted drink driver and all round tosspot Bannan had to pick his spot, coupled with the awful marking were frightening though and we never looked comfortable all afternoon to the ball into the box.
Our day got worse when Simpson pulled up with what looked like a hamstring injury, exposing our folly in yet again not bringing in cover at full back after the injury of Raylor midweek. How many years have we been repeating this one? Anita slotted in at right back and in fairness, had an excellent game there whilst Bigirimana had a very tidy PL debut in the middle when brought into the fold.
The second half started in a similar pattern with us chasing shadows and long balls and Villa holding us fairly comfortably before Ben Arfa proved his class once more on the hour, bringing us level with a sublime strike. Picking the ball up on the corner of the 18 yard area, he cut inside and fired an unstoppable drive into the top corner and past Guzan (funny how your career has soared since leaving Newcastle, isn’t it Shay?). A great goal from a great player but you get the sense that in some games, both players and fans alike are looking to him to carry us or pull us out of the clarts. I’m glad we’ve got him.
We huffed and puffed after the equaliser without ever creating anything of note and if anything, Villa looked the more likely to nick it in the final minutes of the game as we looked tired and I got the feeling that the introduction of Obertan late on was an much defensive as it was an attempt to pinch the game. The otherwise anonymous Cabaye almost pinched it for us late on from a free kick that Guzan did well to claw away from the goal but a win would have flattered us and in the end, I think that most folk would have been happy with a point.
There weren’t many positives to take from the game but Bigirimana looks like he could develop into a good player, thankfully Anita looks accomplished at full back although it would be nice to see him slot in at left back and give Santon a spell on his stronger flank if Simpson’s injury does keep him out for a while and Ben Arfa is absolute quality, but we already know that. We’ve got over a fortnight before we play again and frankly we looked like we could do with the rest so hopefully we can get ourselves right for a tough game down at Goodison. Four points from the first three games? Hardly the end of the world is it?
Keep the Faith
Newcastle United – Krul 6, Simpson 6 (Bigirimana 7), S Taylor 5, Coloccini 6, Santon 6, BEN ARFA 8, Cabaye 4, Anita 7, Gutierrez 6 (Marveaux n/a), Cisse 5, Ba 5 (Obertan n/a)
Ref – Marriner – 5 – Shite and luckily had nothing controversial to call
Our Fans – 6 – Sunburnt