Fresh from seeing his Cleveland Browns franchise squeeze past the Buffalo Bills 20-17 in a gridiron friendly on Saturday, Randy Lerner joined a vibrant Villa Park crowd yesterday to watch his latest sporting investment, Aston Villa, beat Newcastle United in an encounter that was never as closely contested.
Lerner, who is paying £63m to buy out Doug Ellis and the other major shareholders, had only just taken his seat to rapturous acclaim when Luke Moore fired past Shay Givens. Juan Pablo Angel soon added a second, and any hope Newcastle had of clawing their way back disappeared with Obafemi Martins as he departed on a stretcher shortly after the hour mark.
Villa, who thus won back-to-back Premiership fixtures for the first time since November, have amassed seven points from three matches under Martin O'Neill's management. The sequence represents their their best start since 1999 and puts them joint second behind Manchester United in the embryonic table.
Lerner had the youngest of his four children, who clutched a red toy helicopter and chewed on a dummy, perched on his lap. The Holte End sang the American billionaire's praises, which he later said gave him "a warm feeling". Ellis, who sat alongside him, doubtless assured him it was common for the chairman to be eulogised by the fans.
Adding to the sense of renewal sweeping through B6 was the news that the captain Gareth Barry, who provoked interest from Portsmouth and Tottenham this summer, had committed himself to Villa until 2010 after signing a new four-year contract. "Gareth has pledged himself to the club," O'Neill said after Barry gave a commanding performance. "He loves the club. If he'd gone, it would have been a massive loss."
Newcastle's disappointment was compounded by the sight of Martins, their £10m striker from Internazionale, being carried off. In the event, Glenn Roeder revealed the Nigerian had suffered nothing more than a "dead" leg.
"I think we've been very lucky," the Newcastle manager said. "I was very concerned it could be a nasty knee injury. Now I expect him to be fit for our next match." Martins arrived on Tyneside only 72 hours earlier, but the absence of Michael Owen and Shola Ameobi meant he had to be thrust into action when not match-fit. The impoverished service he received meant it was hard to judge him - he had scant opportunity to show his scorching pace - despite the fact that Newcastle enjoyed sustained possession.
Roeder was perturbed by the lack of defensive cover that characterised both goals. For the first, Newcastle failed to clear their lines in a congested penalty area, enabling Moore to size up a low shot from 16 yards.
Then, shortly before the break, the impressively quick Gabby Agbonlahor was allowed to run at a retreating rearguard before slipping a through-ball to Angel, who waltzed round Given before angling the ball into the net.
Facing 10 men after Martins' exit, Villa might have added to their lead through Steven Davis, whose shot was well saved by Given after Barry's exquisitely volleyed pass. Even in the final minute, Moore shook the angle of post and bar. O'Neill, however, was more than content, describing himself as "ecstatic".
"It's been a wonderful start," he said, "though we must remember that's all it is." With the closure of the transfer window looming on Thursday, he hopes to discuss funding and targets with Lerner before he returns to the United States.
In the meantime, the new owner had been into the dressing-room to introduce himself. The words, "Hi, I'm Randy", might once have had the players tittering. Yet in the week that sexy football returned to one of football's great traditional homes, they may just herald the start of something big for Villa.
Goals: L Moore (3) 1-0; Angel (38) 2-0.
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Sorensen; Hughes, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Whittingham; Davis, McCann, Barry; Agbonlahor, Angel, L Moore. Substitutes not used: Stuart Taylor (gk), Delaney, Laursen, Hendrie, Djemba-Djemba.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Givens; Carr, C Moore, Bramble, Babayaro (Luque, h-t); Solano (N'Zogbia, h-t), Parker, Emre (Butt, 55), Duff; Milner, Martins. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Steven Taylor.
Referee: H Webb (Yorkshire).
Booked: Aston Villa Barry, Agbonlahor; Newcastle Emre, Parker.
Man of the match: Barry.
Attendance: 35,141.Reuse content