Relegated Newcastle down with a whimper

Aston Villa 1 Newcastle United 0: One last limp display, devoid of cohesion and inspiration, consigns Alan Shearer's wretched side to the Championship next season
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The Independent Online

The Toon are doon. And no amount of weeping chubby Geordies or stony-faced stoicism from Alan Shearer can deflect from the fact that in their final, crucial hour yesterday Newcastle United were utterly, inexcusably, hopeless.

It was as if all the ineptitude of the Mike Ashley regime, all the terrible decisions, all the awful signings combined to produced one last supremely rubbish performance. You might have thought Newcastle would at least go down fighting, perhaps summoning some hitherto unknown reserve to get the single goal that would have preserved their Premier League status. But instead they were as bad as we always feared they were.

With his tie loosened, Shearer desperately tried to suppress an expression of rising panic. But then from his players even panic would have been an improvement. Instead, Newcastle played for their Premier League status with all the enthusiasm of a teenager forced to re-sit an exam on a sunny day. David Edgar was dismissed for his second yellow card in the dying seconds and could not get down the tunnel quick enough.

The winning goal was suitably pathetic, a Gareth Barry shot deflected in off Damien Duff, and for most of the game Aston Villa looked in a different league to Newcastle, which of course they now are. The Championship awaits and next season when those Geordies "gan doon" the Scotswood Road, or any other road for that matter, it will be the likes of Peterborough United and Scunthorpe who will be waiting for them.

Afterwards, Shearer heaped the blame upon himself, his managerial predecessors, his players, even the owner Ashley. He talked about his fear that, figuratively speaking, for every day the club procrastinated in making changes "another room burned". That is Newcastle United for you, a shabby old stately home slowly being engulfed by flames while the befuddled aristocrat in charge pours another drink.

As has been the case throughout most of his reign, apart from his one victory over Middlesbrough, Shearer looked out of his depth and, given the player he once was, strangely lacking in assurance. At the final whistle he made as if to go towards the Newcastle fans and then hesitated in the middle of the pitch. In the end it was an undignified bolt for the tunnel from the men in black and white.

As 16 years of Premier League status was brought to a pathetic end at a club that finished third just six years ago, so you could tick off the ruined careers of those who had been part of the decline. Michael Owen, Nicky Butt, Mark Viduka, Duff and Alan Smith – who did not even make it off the bench – were all once bonafide Premier League stars, although never during their time at Newcastle. And all of them must shoulder part of the blame.

It is Owen's career which has been incinerated in the most spectacular fashion by his contact with Newcastle, four years to transform him from one of the best strikers in Europe into a free transfer who will be lucky to get a top-10 club this summer. He came on yesterday with 24 minutes remaining and did not manage a shot on goal. The way in which he was brushed off the ball by Curtis Davies in one challenge demonstrated bluntly Owen's new-found mediocrity.

The truth is that Aston Villa, finishing a very creditable sixth in the Premier League, did not play well. They did not have to. Apart from a brief flurry at the start of the game during which Peter Lovenkrands' effort was kicked off the line by Carlos Cuellar and Obafemi Martins volleyed a shot over there was nothing of any note in their attack. Martins headed wide before half-time and that was it.

"Whose your new Messiah: Ant or Dec?" asked a banner on the Holte End at the start of the match. "Sob on the Tyne" was the one they unfurled at full-time. The Newcastle fans had already beaten them to it, blubbering away in front of the cameras long before then. The aftermath of relegation is likely to be even more mind-boggling with at least 15 first-team players thought to be on £50,000-a-week or more contracts with no provision for a cut in the event of relegation.

The only good news for Newcastle fans is at least Owen did not sign what would have been a financially-crippling second contract for the club when he was offered it last year. Newcastle will get more than £30m in Premier League prize money for this season but if the "overhaul" that Shearer demanded does not take place then there will be no guarantee of them coming straight back up.

Fabricio Coloccini was predictably desperate in defence and the first warning to Newcastle was a shot smashed in by Craig Gardner that Steve Harper did well to tip over. In fact it was a much better attempt than the shot from which Villa eventually scored in the 38th minute, a tame hit by Barry that took an outrageous deflection off Duff and past Harper.

It was pitiful end for Newcastle, the ebbing of a Premier League existence without any real conviction. Butt presented Barry with the ball on 70 minutes and he could only put his shot wide. Later Gabriel Agbonlahor put a cross at John Carew's feet just a few yards out and he contrived to miss. Did Villa feel sorry for them?

If they did feel sympathy then it was undeserved. Save that for the supporters of the club who no-one would blame if they decided to be more selective about their attendance next season. For a moment, put aside the pity for a big club in a region of England that had had more than its fair share of bad luck. This was just a bad Newcastle team which, with 34 points, deserved to go down.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Gardner (Heskey, 75), Davies, Cuellar, Shorey; Milner, Petrov (Reo-Coker, 85), Barry, A Young; Agbonlahor, Carew (Sidwell, 89). Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Delfouneso, Knight, Albrighton.

Newcastle United (4-1-3-2): Harper; Edgar, S Taylor, Coloccini, Duff; Butt; Guthrie, Nolan (Owen, 66), Lovenkrands (Enrique, 57); Martins, Viduka (Ameobi, 75). Substitutes not used: Krul (gk), R Taylor, Smith, Gutierrez.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside)

Booked: Newcastle S Taylor, Edgar.

Sent off: Newcastle Edgar (90).

Man of the match: Petrov.

Attendance: 42,585

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