Lively Villa suggest Shepherd's Rooney logic is back to front

Aston Villa 4 - Newcastle United 2
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The Independent Football

If Freddy Shepherd was wondering why the reaction to his crusade to bring Wayne Rooney to Newcastle United had been lukewarm, he would have found out why at Villa Park.

If Freddy Shepherd was wondering why the reaction to his crusade to bring Wayne Rooney to Newcastle United had been lukewarm, he would have found out why at Villa Park.

Newcastle displayed plenty of attacking verve against Villa, coming from a goal behind to deservedly take a 2-1 lead at half-time. But their defensive frailties again let them down. Having allowed a two-goal advantage to disappear at home to Norwich City in midweek, they then saw David O'Leary's spirited, but limited, squad sweep them aside in 45 disastrous minutes.

The Newcastle chairman was not there to witness his side's capitulation, busy, as he was, trying to lure the golden boy of English football from the clutches of Manchester United.

There is no question Shepherd holds a genuine desire to bring the teenager to St James' Park, despite the initial feeling he was using the episode to distract from the controversial sale of Jonathan Woodgate to Real Madrid. Yet, while his £14m departure has funded the audacious bid to sign Rooney, a large proportion of Newcastle's supporters would rather have held on to their star centre-back.

Robson has toed the party line, insisting he would love to have Rooney, but the Premiership's most experienced manager is also all too aware of the fact that with a deadline for improvement of the start of the club's Uefa Cup campaign - which gives him six games - he desperately needs to strengthen other areas. One of his intended targets, the defender Bobo Balde, will remain at Celtic according to Robson's Parkhead counterpart Martin O'Neill yesterday.

In attack, Robson already has powerful firepower. Such is the strength that he decided the time was right to drop - or rest, as he preferred to call it - the club's talismanic captain, Alan Shearer, on Saturday. A controversial decision it may have been, but it was also a calculated one. Having not scored from open play since hitting a stunning winner against Chelsea on 25 April, the 34-year-old has struggled to make his usual impression so far this season. As a result, Patrick Kluivert was given a first start, alongside the tenacious Craig Bellamy, scored Newcastle's equaliser with a classy turn and finish and also had a hand in their second, his shot earning the corner from which Bellamy crossed for Andy O'Brien to glance in a header. But if the attacking gamble had worked, Newcastle's defensive display nullified the threat they contained going forward.

Olof Mellberg had given Villa the lead after just four minutes from Nolberto Solano's corner and only Shay Given's legs and the crossbar prevented, first, Darius Vassell and then Solano, from adding to their tally.

The visitors did not learn their lesson. With the second period just 10 minutes old, Lee Bowyer mis-controlled and lost possession to JLloyd Samuel. With the Newcastle defence out of position, the full-back advanced and crossed. Given saved Gareth Barry's initial strike, but Carlton Cole bundled in the rebound.

Minutes later, after Thomas Sorensen had handled outside the area and then superbly saved Laurent Robert's free-kick, Barry headed Villa back in front. The goal may have been scored while Newcastle's Kluivert and the full-back, Olivier Bernard, were injured, but Solano was given far too much time to pick him out. Juan Pablo Angel's fourth, deflecting off Andy O'Brien's shin, merely accentuated Magpie frustration.

"We were the better side and looked as though we were going to win comfortably," said Robson, having said his decision to leave Shearer out was due to the fact it would have been the veteran's third game in eight days.

"But we conceded some poor goals in the second half, the first when we lost possession in a dangerous area and, then, when we had two players injured. But I still believe we've deserved to win each of our four games. If their goalkeeper had been sent off, when he should have been for handball, it would have been very different."

Aston Villa's manager, David O'Leary, sidestepped whether he had been relieved to see Shearer on the bench. "We've got a big name, but a small squad at this football club. We've beaten one of the big five and that is a good result for us," he said.

Newcastle, meanwhile, must have wished they had someone similar to the commanding presence of Mellberg. The Swede was almost Woodgate-esque at the heart of the Villa defence.

Goals: Mellberg (4) 1-0; Kluivert (27) 1-1; O'Brien (37) 1-2; Cole (54) 2-2; Barry (71) 3-2; Angel (83) 4-2.

Aston Villa: (4-4-2) Sorensen; De La Cruz, Delaney, Mellberg, Samuel; Solano, Hitzlsperger (Hendrie, 60), McCann, Barry; Cole (Angel, 69), Vassell. Substitutes not used: Postma, Whittingham, Moore.

Newcastle United: (4-4-2) Given; Carr, Hughes, O'Brien, Bernard (Elliott, 72); Bowyer (Ameobi, 77), Jenas, Butt, Robert; Kluivert (Shearer, 77), Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Harper, Milner.

Booked: Aston Villa: Samuel, Sorensen, Hendrie. Newcastle: Given.

Referee: M Riley (Yorkshire).

Man of the match: Olof Mellberg.

Attendance: 36,305.

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