This match said much more about Aston Villa, a team likely headed for relegation, than it ever could about Newcastle United.
This quote from Robert's instant reaction post could perhaps give one to pause and wonder if the assessment is a little harsh. In fact, given time and a second watching of the match, it stands 100% true. That is not to say that there wasn't room for some perceptions based on the live viewing of the match to shift (if not change).
First and foremost, this was not a pretty match by any measure. The goal was weird and borderline flukey. Aston Villa ended up with two players carded for dissent. Newcastle continued to pump failed crosses into the box – although on the day they would connect with a rather robust 25% – allowed Villa to do exactly what they wanted to do. Long diagonals were the order of the day, meant to take advantage of the Newcastle fullbacks' propensity to bomb forward providing width in the attack. Special for Villa, however, Working Class John Carver™ took the "risky" step to play a 4-4-2 that featured players in their actual positions and playing the club's leading goal scorer from the start. In the end, the leading scorer thing would work out pretty well while the 4-4-2 wouldn't end up changing too much in the actual execution of Newcastle's offense or the defense for that matter.
The opening exchanges of the match set up one of the odd but recurring themes of the match: the very odd interactions between Newcastle's fullbacks and outside midfielders (or "wingers" if you're John Carver). In the third minute, Sammy Ameobi was tracked back (one of the rare times that either outside midfielder was ever in a fully defensive role). He lost an aerial battle to Christian Benteke who – for the first of many, many times – flicked a header back to a teammate. Instead of tracking with Benteke (who had released toward the corner) as he was in the outside position, Sammy and Haidara both closed on the ball, leaving Benteke to whip in a cross through the Newcastle 6-yard box. Gabriel Agbonlahor had (stop me if you've heard this one before) split Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson who despite all of their time as a CB pairing can't figure out who should take a player at any particular point in time. Williamson tried to defend Agbonlahor through his back which we ended up getting away with as he missed the cross by inches. Fortunately Daryl Janmaat was with Scott Sinclair at the back post and played the ball out for a corner kick.
The interplay between Sammy and Massadio would display itself again later in the half as they had an opportunity to get the ball in a threatening position for at least a cross. Haidara held the ball a beat longer than he probably should have which got Sammy wrong-footed so when the ball was played it was to empty space. On their side of the field Sammy really provided the attacking impetus while on the opposite side, it was really Daryl Janmaat who was providing the most consistent threat. Sammy would end up with 13 crosses for the match and a lower amount of non-cross passes while Daryl put in 2 crosses (both successful) with one of them leading to Cissé's goal. Gabriel Obertan would end up tucking in more toward the center – which is where he has enjoyed his best play during his time with Newcastle – while providing effective link play between Janmaat and Cissé.
Aston Villa had a good deal of success creating dangerous situations through long diagonal balls to Benteke who was a massive 15/21 in aerial duels. The problem at the end of the day is that Newcastle are bad enough defensively that nearly each of those wins/flicks turned into a decent opportunity to advance toward goal, so you have Benteke who is probably their most accomplished finisher being taken out of the play by definition. He did have a number of opportunities, most prominently a spectacular bicycle effort off of an assist from Mike Williamson's headed half-clearance, but largely watched as teammates were stopped by Tim Krul (on a few occasions) or failed to provide a finishing touch (in most cases).
If all of defending was heading the ball 25 yards out from goal, Mike Williamson would be world class
-Here's a fun note I made when watching back through the match today
On the defensive end while we were powerless to stop the "Benteke as aerial playmaker" tactic, it almost gave reminiscences of the 2011-12 season. It wasn't always 100% technically sound defending but there were players throwing their bodies in front of shots and crosses and succeeding in the most unsustainable of ways. It was at that point that Robert's instant reaction statement came in to play. The result was 1-0 largely because we had Papiss Cisse and they did not. The match was in fact more about Villa and their inability to finish than it was about anything in particular that Newcastle were doing effectively. Ultimately, Newcastle didn't look as abject as it felt like they did (for instance, they did lead possession at halftime by 54%-46%) but as was the case in John Carver's other win as Newcastle boss against Hull City, the result was much more about what the opponent wasn't able to do.
Some additional bullet points:
- Newcastle only conceded 6 fouls in the match
- Sammy Ameobi should have had an assist from a corner in this match. In the 17th minute he hit a corner that Emmanuel Riviere should have attacked more strongly as he was unmarked and likely would have scored. In the 42nd minute, they tried the exact same corner. This time Riviere attacked it strongly but the corner was just inches behind him and so he wasn't able to get it on frame. Opportunity missed.
- Haidara and Sammy's communication issues didn't apply across to other players. Midway through the second half, Colo and Haidara managed to switch positions effectively as Colo followed a Villa player into the corner to close down a cross while Sadio dropped back into the center and ultimately provided the clearing header.
- After his free kick that he sent over and around the wall, there was an audible "Ryan Taylor over the wall" chant.
- 6 minutes of stoppage time LOL
- Fabricio Coloccini's first real noticeable mistake could have led to the most cruel of 7th-minute-of-stoppage equalizer type thing. A poor clearance landed at Charles N'Zogbia's feet - but he blasted well over the goal.