Football: Hendrie on target as Newcastle fire blanks

Aston Villa 1 Newcastle United 0
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The Independent Online
RUUD GULLIT pledged to restore "sexy football" to Newcastle, but their display in his second match in charge, against Aston Villa last night, was so lacking in potency that they would have needed a lorry load of Viagra to fulfil his promise.

Villa's victory, secured by Lee Hendrie's penalty just after the hour, maintained their exalted position and ended Newcastle's 10-game unbeaten run against them. They have now won 12 and lost only twice in 15 Premiership fixtures under John Gregory.

Harsh as the decisive award may have been, Gullit raised eyebrows afterwards when he pronounced himself "happy" with Newcastle's performance. In fact Villa would not have been flattered if a volley by their Geordie exile, Alan Thompson, had gone in rather than clipping the crossbar in the later stages.

Gullit's first team selection as Newcastle manager saw the French World Cup winner, Stephane Guivarc'h, dropped despite his scoring debut against Liverpool. Carl Serrant was the only defender left out, perhaps surprisingly given the way Michael Owen ran amok, while the back three became a four.

The change of system could not cover up some alarming deficiencies, with Julian Joachim's darting runs exposing Newcastle's squareness much as Owen had done. The only difference was that whereas the Anfield prodigy was ruthlessness personified, Villa squandered a hat-trick of openings in the space of seven minutes early on.

Villa were without both of their most expensive captures, the injured Stan Collymore and the ineligible Paul Merson. The latter, of course, is a self-confessed gambling addict who reportedly cited The Racing Post in his acrimonious divorce from Middlesbrough. So it was ironic to find him quoted at 5-1 to score the first goal by the stadium bookmakers.

That distinction should have gone to Riccardo Scimeca, the centre back deputising for Collymore. In the 11th minute, Joachim left Philippe Albert trailing in pursuit of Thompson's long pass down the left. Instead of squaring the ball to Scimeca, Joachim tried to round Shay Given and was dispossessed.

Almost immediately, Gary Charles' low cross found Scimeca again mysteriously unmarked. He shot into the side-netting when it appeared easier to score, but before Newcastle could regroup Joachim failed to convert Thompson's 18th-minute centre when practically standing by the far post.

Alan Shearer - now without a goal in nine League outings - became more involved after half time. But his partner, Andreas Andersson, a shadow of the striker who tormented England, had evidently not impressed Gullit and was substituted.

Villa finally made their superiority tell after 63 minutes. Mark Draper's pass caught Newcastle hopelessly flat once more, inviting Joachim to sprint into the space behind them. Stuart Pearce, recovering his ground, felled him with a challenge which was more clumsy than malicious. Hendrie's confidently struck penalty, however, brooked no such arguments.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Southgate, Barry; Charles, Hendrie, Draper (Taylor, 67), Thompson (Grayson, 81), Wright; Scimeca (Vassell, 87), Joachim. Substitutes not used: Grayson, Ferraresi, Oakes (gk).

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Watson, Charvet, Albert, Pearce; Solano (Guivarc'h, 70), Lee, Glass, Speed; Shearer, Andersson (Ketsbaia, 59). Substitutes not used: Barton, Pistone, Perez (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tring).