By David W Bateman
In their first home game at St. James Park since returning to the Premier League, Newcastle sent out a clear message with a 6-0 thrashing of Aston Villa: they are back, and they won’t be going away easily.
Last season, Newcastle didn’t lose at St. James Park on their way to the Championship title. To survive their return to the top division, they knew another good record at home would be vital. If they continue to perform like this, that shouldn’t be an issue.
It was a complete role-reversal from last week for the sides. Newcastle had been beaten 3-0 by Manchester United; whereas Villa had won 3-0 at home to West Ham.
The first indicator that things would be different, was in the battle between Newcastle’s left-back Jose Enrique, and Villa’s midfielder Marc Albrighton, who had been so impressive and instrumental in Villa’s victory the week before. Enrique dealt easily with Albrighton’s pace, comfortably taking the ball from him on several occasions.
Then came another indicator that it would not be Villa’s day. Ashley Young won a penalty by drawing a foul from Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper, only for John Carew to smash the ball over the bar.
Then came the startling opener from Joey Barton. The much-maligned midfielder rattled the ball into the top corner from 25 yards, after being given merely a few yards of space and a split-second of time.
Kevin Nolan made it 2-0 when he scored a diving header at the second time of asking, surging forward from midfield to get on the end of an Andy Carroll knock-down. Nolan was key to the Newcastle victory, scoring two goals and causing the Villa defence much trouble with his breaks forward from midfield.
He would have been the man-of-the-match, where it not for Andy Carroll, the chief tormentor of Aston Villa. The third, fourth and sixth goals were all his, as he tore apart the Villa defence. In my report from last week’s Newcastle game against Manchester United, I mentioned he would be effective against teams with a lesser defence than the Red Devils. That much was proved today, as the rangy striker scored a hat-trick, with his third being a particularly delightful goal where the Villa defence was sliced open with such ease it looked like Newcastle were playing a group of schoolboys.
It is difficult to pin-point where it all went so wrong for Aston Villa. They appeared to be having success exploiting Newcastle’s high defensive line with balls over the top, but that soon became the only option they took.
The real issue, though, lay in their own defence. It was ruthlessly picked apart by Newcastle, but with relative ease, both in the air and along the ground. Goals were scored from long-range, from corners, and from lovely passing moves. Ultimately, everything went wrong in the defence. The youngster Ciaran Clark will not want to remember this game, and while Stephen Warnock and Luke Young are good going forward, their title is defender, and both struggled with that primary objective.
Then there is the midfield. Ironically, in James Milner’s first game away from Villa, they met the club they purchased him from. His presence was sorely missed. Although many have speculated his £18 million plus Stephen Ireland price tag is excessive, based on this game perhaps not so. Ireland looked a fantastic player at Manchester City, but has clearly failed to advance his game since then. He was non-existent, as the battling Newcastle midfield trio of Barton, Nolan and Smith won the midfield war.
But, the real focus of the day should be on Newcastle. They may be the best team to be promoted in many years, but few would have expected a result like this. Their side is far from the finished article, but there is much to be pleased about- especially the midfield and strikeforce, which looked particularly impressive. The direct running from wingers Jonas Gutierrez and former Aston Villa player Wayne Routledge is the perfect foil to the gritty central midfield three. When they are given time to run at defenders and get crosses into the box, Andy Carroll is more than capable of scoring goals and generally causing problems.
Newcastle should quite rightly be delighted with this win. Not only is it an outstanding victory for a newly-promoted club, it means Newcastle’s moustache-ridden players, of which Joey Barton is the ringleader, will finally be able to shave.