The Soccer Desk

Newcastle Rises to the Occasion

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Newcastle United rose to the occasion with a 2-1 road victory against Aston Villa on Saturday.  Goals by Hatem Ben Arfa (18’) and Yoan Gouffran (73’) secured an impressive win that turned the fear of relegation into hopes of a top ten finish for the Toon faithful.

Hatem Ben Arfa sparked the offense once again, or as Toon boss Alan Pardew said, “He was on fire,” in the Magpie’s second straight victory.  While last match Ben Arfa provided fancy footwork to set up his own goal, it was Loic Remy, in his first start wearing the black and white, who made some dazzling maneuvers before making a pass from the endline to a well-placed Ben Arfa who tapped the ball into the net to give Newcastle a 1-0 lead.

Newcastle allowed its first goal after recording clean sheets against West Ham, Fulham and Moracombe in the 67th minute.  Ashley Westwood placed a corner in front of the net.  Toon keeper Tim Krul found himself on the outside of the action and was in no position to defend as Christian Benteke headed the ball in to equalize.  Fortunately for Newcastle, their offense wasn’t finished.  Pardew replaced Loic Remy with Yoan Gouffran in the 63rd minute.  Ten minutes later, Gouffran found himself in the right place in front of the net and buried a rebound from an attempt by Ben Arfa into the back of the net.

Besides giving Newcastle the victory, Gouffran’s goal gave the Black and White Army hope on two other fronts.  While Krul and the defense have been Newcastle’s better half thus far this campaign, they can rest assured now that they do not have to be perfect and that a Newcastle victory does not need to coincide with a clean sheet.  Secondly, after Gouffran’s seemingly impossible miss from three yards out against West Ham and then a similar, though more difficult, miss against Fulham, this goal should restore some confidence both in Gouffran and in the Magpie’s offense.

Pardew must have had confidence in his offense going into the match as he used a 4-3-3 formation, with Ben Arfa, Remy and Papiss Cisse at the front, for the first time this season.  After the result he said, “We just looked like a team that was carrying an offensive threat.  I have been saying all along, it makes a heck of a difference to a team when it thinks it can score goals.  This team can score goals now.  We have Remy, Papiss, Gouffran, Sammy Ameobi, (Sylvain) Marveaux and (Yohan) Cabaye.”

Indeed, Newcastle does have Cabaye who started Saturday for the first time this campaign after missing the first two league matches while being wooed by Arsenal.  Cabaye tried to make amends to the Toon faithful, saying, “If the fans were, or still are, mad at me for what happened then I understand and I apologize to them,”  He also acknowledged the fans passion, stating, “For Newcastle fans, football is their life and I want to say that I am going to give everything, as I have from my first day here, from today until the end of the season.”

Their big win on the road should do much to ease the strain between Cabaye, who is hoping that by giving everything he may be rewarded with a World Cup spot on the French squad, and the fans.  For Pardew and company, they go from lions to tigers with a home match against newly promoted Hull City this Saturday.  A victory would mean three wins in a row for the Magpies.  Hull will enter Saint James’ Park with a win against Norwich and a draw against Cardiff in addition to losses against Chelsea and Manchester City.  Newcastle needs to keep their momentum going as they follow their matchup against Hull with a trip to Goodison Park to face the currently undefeated Everton F.C. who are coming off a home victory against Chelsea and would love to send the merry Magpies out of Liverpool singing the blues.

(Photos courtesy of Getty Images.)