Though injury precluded John Barnes from front-line duty, Ian Rush became the oldest Newcastle debutant for 68 years, two months short of his 36th birthday. It was a member of the home guard who fired the winning shot, however, John Beresford's third goal of the season also blasting the veteran full-back ahead of Asprilla as Newcastle's leading scorer. Starved of a goal for two-and-a-half years, the brace the 30-year-old bagged against Croatia Zagreb 11 days ago clearly failed to satisfy his long-denied appetite. He pounced in the 12th minute yesterday, crashing in a 20-yarder off the underside of the crossbar.
It was a victory for which Beresford and his colleagues were obliged to dig. They were left fighting against superior numbers for 37 minutes after David Batty allowed his natural Yorkshire terrier instincts to tug him off the leash twice too often for referee Gary Willard's liking. The snappy midfielder has been sent off twice in eight months now. Dalglish was on his feet in a flash, but panic was again absent from his revised strategy.
Sending on Warren Barton, at the expense of Rush's withdrawn attacking supporter Temuri Ketsbaia, provided the protection the Newcastle back line required to survive the Villa onslaught. Only once, when Shay Given dived full length to deflect wide a Dwight Yorke shot, did the visitors threaten to convert their numerical advantage into tangible reward. "The players we had left gave more than could have been asked of them," Dalglish said, acknowledging an obduracy his team will need on Wednesday when they take a 2-1 lead into the return leg of their Champions' League qualifier against Croatia Zagreb.
Brian Little, a Newcastle fan when the Magpies last conquered Europe, in the Fairs Cup 28 years ago, was left with concerns closer to home. His Villa side remain bottom of the Premiership, without a goal, let alone a point, from three matches. Yorke was the Villain of the piece yesterday, misfiring from point-blank range. So from precisely the same position, did Rush. Fortunately for the veteran new boy, Dalglish's Dad's Army happened to have a sure-shot in their ranks.