Hatem Ben Arfa once again made the difference for Newcastle United on Saturday, scoring one goal and creating another as the Magpies won 2-1 at Aston Villa. The mercurial French winger, who netted with a brilliant individual effort to give Newcastle all three points against Fulham in their last outing before the international break, swept home from close range in the 18th minute to put the visitors in front.
Christian Benteke equalized midway through the second half but Newcastle were back in front just six minutes later when Brad Guzan pushed out a Ben Arfa shot and substitute Yoan Gouffran buried the loose ball.
Alan Pardew's side have now taken seven points from a possible nine but this was a third successive defeat for Villa since their opening-day win at Arsenal. However, Paul Lambert's side could have been forgiven for being a little rusty having not played in the Premier League since their 1-0 home loss to Liverpool three weeks ago.
The home manager left deadline day signing Libor Kozak on the bench at kick-off, while Pardew handed a recall to Yohan Cabaye, after his hoped-for move away from the club over the summer failed to materialise, and gave another Frenchman, Loic Remy, his first start for the club.
Remy it was who created the opening goal in the 18th minute. Papiss Cisse could not connect properly with Remy's cutback from the left but Ben Arfa was in the right place at the right time to convert from close range.
Villa lost defender Jores Okore to a knee injury soon after and went more than 40 minutes without creating anything until Ciaran Clark fired into the side-netting and Andreas Weimann shot well wide after finding himself through on goal.
The half-time whistle was met by a chorus of boos by the home support, who then saw Gabriel Agbonlahor somehow fail to find the target after being set up by a low Weimann cross from the right soon after the restart.
The excellent Ben Arfa had a curling effort saved by Guzan but Villa did draw level in the 67th minute thanks to their star man Benteke.
The powerful Belgian centre-forward rose highest to head home at a corner in front of the Holte End for his fifth goal in as many games this season, and his 19th goal in his last 21 games for the club.
However, Newcastle struck again to clinch a deserved victory just five minutes later when Ben Arfa cut in from the right flank and unleashed a shot that Guzan could only lay on a plate for the grateful Gouffran, a second-half substitute for Remy.
The way Chris Hughton was relieved of his duties at Newcastle left a sour taste of sorts in the mouth. Alan Pardew had to succeed quickly in order to win over the impassioned fans from England’s north-east. He did though. And he wooed his own boss and went on to secure an unusually long 8-year deal.
There was a sense of rashness about the deal. At odds with the tight, successful running Mike Ashley has at Sports Direct International Plc. Holding well over half of the now publicly traded company, Ashley has made the model the UK’s largest sporting retailer.
Eight years could only tempt fate. It could have been clause heavy. One thing though a contract can’t do is make someone walk. Whether that’s the intention though of the latest development at the club is unclear. But today Joe Kinnear brought Mick Harford to the club. And with that speculation swirls.
What’s been the most consistent problem this summer at Newcastle, more then anything, is the lack of clarity. Harford’s role is unclear. Does Kinnear really need help in signing players, which is one of his primary roles apparently. Maybe he does, Newcastle are the only Premier League side yet to sign a senior player. Will Harford improve that situation?
Newcastle need to act quickly. They need to clarify Harford’s role. Make it clear he’s not there to undermine Pardew.