Villa continue bad form with loss to Newcastle (30 Jan)
           Alan Shearer's first goal in more than 1,000 minutes of FA Carling Premiership football launched
           Newcastle United onto the victory trail against Aston Villa. 

           The £15million man headed home Stephen Glass' cross after just four minutes, and Temuri Ketsbaia made it two
           before the break as the visitors were totally outplayed. 

           Paul Merson pulled a goal back with a fine shot, but the 2-1 scoreline did not truly reflect Newcastle's

           Villa were strangely indifferent, especially at the back, and looked toothless up front until they sniffed the
           chance of a draw late on. 

           But Ruud Gullit's side created more than enough opportunities to win comfortably, only keeper Michael Oakes and 
           the crossbar preventing a bigger margin of victory. 

           Shearer led the way with a sterling display, and there were good performances too from Ketsbaia
           and Glass on a massively encouraging afternoon. 

           Gullit was hit yet again by his injury jinx, with defenders Laurent Charvet and Andy Griffin failing late
           fitness tests, Steve Howey and Warren Barton returning to the starting line-up, along with Glass,
           who replaced Garry Brady in midfield. 

           Second-placed Villa started with Merson and Julian Joachim in attack, but troubled striker Stan
           Collymore, as expected, did not figure in the squad. 

           Gullit insisted this week that things were starting to come right for his team, and the evidence of the
           first 45 minutes certainly bore that out. 

           United were rampant in attack and effective at the back, and Shearer's early strike did wonders for their confidence. 

           The England striker, skipper in the absence of the injured Rob Lee, powered home a fourth-minute
           header from Glass' cross to give his side the perfect start. 

           Ketsbaia, frustrated at his lack of opportunities under Gullit, continued to state his case with the sort
           of performance which excited the home supporters when he first arrived on Tyneside. 

           The Georgian went into referee Rob Harris' notebook for carrying on with his shot after Shearer
           was penalised for a 22nd-minute foul, but her was all smiles four minutes later. 

           Shearer's neat ball inside former Magpie Steve Watson was perfect for Glass, and when he slid his cross along the 
           six-yard line, Ketsbaia shot home unopposed. 

           And it could have been even better for the Magpies. 

           Shearer had already had an effort chalked off for pushing when Gary Speed found Nolberto Solano
           down the right with a fine reverse pass. 

           The Peruvian stepped inside Gareth Southgate and laid the ball back for Ketsbaia, but although he connected well 
           from the edge of the box, his effort was just too high. 

           Shellshocked Villa had little of any value to look back on, Joachim going wide with a clever volley
           and Merson shooting past the post on the whistle. 

           But more worrying was their frailty at the back with Shearer giving Southgate a torrid time. 

           And their problems were not helped when Ugo Ehiogu had to leave the field after getting a kick in
           the face as he challenged Shearer for a bouncing ball, Simon Grayson taking his place. 

           Newcastle continued in similar vein after the break, Oakes turning away Dietmar Hamann's
           blistering free-kick within seconds of the restart. 

           But Villa got themselves back into the game after 61 minutes with a superb strike from Merson. 

           Gareth Barry's ball was laid off by Joachim and the former Arsenal and Middlesbrough striker
           thumped a right foot shot past Given and into the top corner from 20 yards. 

           But United seemed undeterred, and went on to create a hatful of further chances. 

           Ketsbaia shot just over after Harris unwittingly deflected Speed's ball into the box, and Oakes produced a fine stop 
           to  keep out a Nikos Dabizas header from Glass' 63rd-minute corner. 

           Andreas Andersson, on for Ketsbaia, should have done better when he got away from Riccardo Scimeca but shot 
           wide, and Shearer was unfortunate to see his header come back off the crossbar after it looped over Oakes. 

           Andersson went high with a diving header from substitute Brady's 82nd minute cross, but Given had to be on his toes 
           four minutes later as Wright's spinning volley took a wicked bounce in front of him. 

           And the keeper was grateful too see a Merson volley fly just wide deep into injury-time as Villa gave it one last throw 
          of the dice. 

Martin Sivorn © 1999.E-Mail Me