Angel pushes Robson towards the precipice

Aston Villa 4 - Newcastle United 2
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The Independent Football

Should Wayne Rooney go against the grain and choose Newcastle United ahead of Manchester United, he will arrive at a club capable of playing some thrilling attacking football, but with a defence which appears utterly incapable of holding on to a lead.

The Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd, was locked in negotiations with Everton and Rooney's representatives yesterday, but whether Newcastle actually need him is highly debatable.

After four Premiership games without a win and nine goals conceded, it is defensive reinforcements which are needed. The £23m would, it seems, be better used bringing Jonathan Woodgate back from Real Madrid.

Already struggling to make four strikers go into two, Sir Bobby Robson made a controversial decision to drop Alan Shearer yesterday, with Patrick Kluivert stepping up from the bench.

With his side 2-1 up at half-time and with Kluivert on the scoresheet, Robson looked to have been vindicated. But two goals, one scored and one made by Gareth Barry, and another from the substitute Juan Pablo Angel extended the Magpies' troubled start to the season.

Quite what this means to the relationship between manager and captain remains to be seen. It was the first time Shearer had been dropped for a Premiership match since Ruud Gullit left him on the bench for a derby defeat to Sunderland five years ago. It was his final act as manager.

Robson will feel the pressure this morning. The two have already had their differences, born out of Robson's assertion that the 34-year-old can no longer cope with playing every game.

Robson said: "He wasn't dropped, he was rested and he took it like a professional. He likes to play every game, I don't argue with that. But he played 90 minutes on Saturday and 90 minutes on Wednesday. At 34, he cannot play in every game and he looked a little tired against Norwich. We've got four strikers here and I thought Patrick did very well and scored a very good goal. We had Alan on the bench to come on when he tired."

It was a brave decision to drop the club's figurehead, but it looked a foolish one when Villa took the lead after four minutes, as Nolberto Solano's corner met with a firm header from Olof Mellberg.

Having fallen behind, Newcastle enjoyed more possession. Jermaine Jenas, back in the side at the expense of Kieron Dyer - who did not even make the bench - should have equalised after 19 minutes but headed over, while a Nicky Butt half-volley was comfortable for Thomas Sorensen in goal.

Villa nearly extended their lead midway through the half when Darius Vassell forced a good reaction save from Shay Given. But Kluivert turned Mark Delaney and scored from just inside the area.

Minutes later, Kluivert nearly made it two when his snap shot was tipped over by Sorensen. From the resulting corner Newcastle took the lead, Andy O'Brien heading in Craig Bellamy's cross.

Villa almost grabbed an equaliser before half-time when Solano's volley crashed against the bar, and they were level 10 minutes after the restart. Lee Bowyer lost possession and the ball was worked to Barry. His shot was saved, but Carlton Cole bundled the rebound in.

Barry then scored with a far-post header. Newcastle complained, as both Kluivert and Olivier Bernard were down injured, but the marking was shocking, allowing Solano to pick out his man.

Robson, who felt Sorensen should have been sent off for handling outside his area, responded by throwing on Shearer and Shola Ameobi, but Angel's shot, which took a massive deflection off O'Brien, looped over Given's head and made the game safe for David O'Leary's men.

The Irishman said: "We were down at half-time, but I still felt confident we could get back into it. They were two attack-minded sides out there. We ran out worthy winners in the end."

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