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Magpies ease the pressure, as they heap more misery on Villa
Final Score: Aston Villa 1 Newcastle Utd 2
VIVE la difference. With four of their January signings involved, Newcastle United finally claimed their first away win of the season to move four points clear of the bottom three and hint at a sustained resurgence in the remainder of the campaign.
Bright and inventive as they established a two-goal lead before the break, the Magpies had to display considerable resilience as fellow strugglers Aston Villa staged a ferocious fightback in the second half.
That they stood firm after Christian Benteke had halved Villa's deficit with a 49th-minute penalty was arguably even more important than the quality of their first-half attacking display. Despite all the upheaval of the last two weeks, this is a side boasting spirit.
It is also a team with exciting attacking potential, and for all that Newcastle were indebted to goalkeeper Tim Krul for a string of crucial second-half saves, their attacking dominance in the opening 45 minutes will hopefully be a sign of things to come.
Papiss Cisse and Yohan Cabaye found the net as the Magpies poured forward before the break, and there was a swagger in the visitors' attacking play that had been impossible to detect in recent weeks.
That must surely have at least something to do with this month's signings, and having made four additions in the wake of the Reading defeat, Alan Pardew immediately installed two of them into his starting line-up. The impact was profound.
Moussa Sissoko caught the eye as the Magpies dominated before the interval, while fellow new boy Yoan Gouffran threatened sporadically from the flank.
With Cabaye and Mathieu Debuchy also involved, that meant Newcastle's French legion stood at four, a healthy contingent certainly, but hardly the wholesale takeover that might have been anticipated given some of the headlines this week. Nevertheless, the presence of three huge Tricolours in the Villa Park away end underlined the extent of the transformation that has taken place.
Sissoko might have been the last of Newcastle's five January signings to arrive, but he arguably boasts the loftiest reputation and his impact last night was both immediate and immense.
Stationed in an attacking midfield role, the rangy 23-year-old controlled things from the off, eating up the ground as he poured forward and prising the Aston Villa defence apart with a succession of incisive through balls.
Having signalled his attacking intent with a sixth-minute strike that sailed over the crossbar, he was the creator of Newcastle's opening goal 13 minutes later.
Picking up the ball in the space between Villa's midfield and defence, the midfielder slipped a superb ball into Cisse's path.
Newcastle's number nine has been shuffled here, there and everywhere to accommodate Demba Ba this season, but his primary strength remains his clinical composure in front of goal. Having taken two touches to nudge the ball out of his stride, he calmly stroked his third beyond Brad Guzan.
The goal had a profound effect on the mood of the Villa support, whose air of resignation is comparable to the mood that was apparent in the dying days of Newcastle's relegation season in 2008-09. Perhaps the Birmingham club's fate will also be identical come May.
It certainly looked that way for the opening 45 minutes of last night's game, although things might have been different had two key moments not gone the Magpies' way either side of Cisse's opener.
Referee Mike Dean failed to award a penalty when Benteke's 14th-minute cross appeared to strike Fabricio Coloccini on the arm as he slid to ground, while Charles N'Zogbia rattled the post with a scorching 22-yard drive that would have brought his side level had it been an inch or two to the left.
That was as close as Villa came to a goal before the break, with Coloccini showing no ill effects from his unsuccessful attempt to return to Argentina and Steven Taylor making a typically fully-blooded return to action following a two-month injury lay-off.
Despite the signing of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Taylor's presence could prove crucial in the final four months of the season, although on this evidence, the availability of Cabaye is of even more significance.
The former Lille midfielder was badly missed as he recovered from a groin problem, but having featured in the games against Norwich and Reading, this was the match when he properly clicked back into gear.
He was composed and authoritative in possession, and in the 31st-minute strike that doubled Newcastle's advantage, he served up one of the goals of the season.
Ron Vlaar headed Jonas Gutierrez's right-wing cross out of the area, and after cushioning the ball on his instep, Cabaye hammered a dipping half-volley into the corner of the net. It was a magnificent strike from a player who has scored more Premier League goals from outside the area than anyone else since August 2011.
At that stage, Newcastle appeared firmly in control, but their grip on the game was loosened significantly when Villa clawed a goal back four minutes after the break.
Krul was forced to make two smart saves within two minutes of the interval, first denying half-time substitute Gabriel Agbonlahor and then thwarting Benteke. However, the Dutchman was unable to prevent Benteke scoring from the spot after Debuchy had needlessly caught Agbonlahor as the pair tussled for a ball that was heading out of the area.
Suddenly, Newcastle were under the cosh, with N'Zogbia flashing a low drive into the side netting and Krul producing his third fine save of the second half as he got down low to parry Andreas Weimann's shot.
The 79th-minute introduction of Yanga-Mbiwa steadied the ship - the debutant made a crucial sliding tackle within seconds of leaving the bench - although Krul was still forced to deal with a succession of late crosses to safeguard a crucial win.
Goals: Cisse (19, 0-1), Cabaye (31, 0-2), Benteke (49, pen, 1-2)
Bookings: N'Zogbia (42, foul), Gutierrez (52, dissent), Benteke (61, foul), Baker (67, foul), Lowton (76, foul), Agbonlahor (78, dissent), Shola Ameobi (87, foul)
Referee: Mike Dean (The Wirral) 4
ASTON VILLA (5-3-2):
Guzan 5; Lowton 4, Vlaar 5, Clark 4, Baker 5, Bennett 4 (Weimann 46, 6); Westwood 6, Bannan 5, N'Zogbia 6; Bent 4 (Agbonlahor 46, 6), BENTEKE 7.
Subs (not used): Given (gk), Lichaj, Bowery, Ireland, Holman.
KRUL 8; Debuchy 6, S Taylor 7, Coloccini 7, Santon 5; Perch 5 (Shola Ameobi 69, 5), Cabaye 8; Gutierrez 6, Sissoko 7 (Yanga-Mbiwa 79), Gouffran 6 (Anita 76); Cisse 7.
Subs (not used): Harper (gk), Williamson, Bigirimana, Sammy Ameobi.
Man Of The Match: TIM Krul - The Newcastle goalkeeper made three crucial second-half saves and successfully gathered a barrage of late crosses.
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