4 Winners and 4 Losers from Newcastle's Victory over Aston Villa
Goals by Papiss Cisse and Yohan Cabaye highlighted a brilliant first half by Newcastle, and an attempted comeback by Paul Lambert's men never reached it's full potential.
Inconsistencies in performance were present in the play of both teams, but there were a few key men on the pitch who ultimately personified the positives and negatives of their respective sides.
Winner: Fabricio Coloccini
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A week ago today, many believed Newcastle captain Fabricio Coloccini had skippered his last game Tyneside, as he was rumored to be in serious talks with club representatives on a move to Argentinian side San Lorenzo due to personal issues.
While the centre-back is revered by the Toon army for his dedication to the club, the month of January has been tough on his image, with fans and silly sportswriters alike questioning whether or not he deserves to retain the armband.
He has since proved me dead wrong.
In an interview with the Evening Chronicle, his first contact with the media since the beginning of the transfer window, Coloccini has vehemently reaffirmed his dedication to the Magpies and his determination to keep the club in the Premier League.
He put those words into action against Aston Villa.
With Steven Taylor back in the first XI again, the Magpies at last possessed their ideal back four, and Coloccini was a calm, collected commander.
His brightest moment came in the 16th minute when he slid to cut out a quality Christian Benteke cross. It was the kind of ball a fan could easily imagine Mike Williamson knocking straight into the net, but as always, captain Colo made it look easy.
Other than a poor Mathieu Debuchy penalty, the defense performed well under the heavy pressure brought on by Paul Lambert's second-half substitutions, and a back line beset by injuries and poor form all season is finally a positive for the Magpies.
Coloccini's captaincy has taken on new purpose, and the Argentinian international's fight to keep his club in the Premier League looks to be winnable.
Loser: Darren Bent
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For the first time since September, Darren Bent and Christian Benteke formed a strike partnership in Paul Lambert's first XI.
For all of its 45 minutes, it failed to live up to expectations.
For a man frustrated by his lack of first-team chances in the 2012-13 campaign, Bent can't be too pleased with his effort Tuesday. Unable to even take a shot, his most notable appearance in the match was a sixth minute possession in the box that he failed to control.
In fact, the offense worked much better without Bent on the pitch. After being substituted at halftime, the Villa attack immediately sprung to life, making what looked to be an easy win for Newcastle a nail-biter.
As much of a target as he may be this transfer window, his stock clearly isn't going up.
Winner: Moussa Sissoko
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Of all the French players Alan Pardew picked up over the January transfer window, Moussa Sissoko was the man he was most excited about.
Now he is the man all of Newcastle is most excited about.
Playing as an attacking midfielder, Sissoko's energy and power were instrumental to the Magpies' lively first half, culminating in a moment of genuine brilliance.
In the 19th minute, Sissoko slid a beautiful pass through Aston Villa's central defense right in the wheelhouse of a just-barely-onside Papiss Cisse, who knocked the ball in to give Newcastle the lead.
Alan Pardew had this to say about Sissoko's performance (via BBC Sport):
I don't think we would have won that game if we hadn't signed Sissoko. That is how important that signing was... I thought he was magnificent and will be a superb player for us. We were superb in the first half, as good as we have been all year, and he played a big part in that.
Pardew is clearly smitten with the French international, and if he continues to play as he did against Villa, so will the Newcastle faithful.
Loser: Joe Bennett/Matthew Lowton
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One weakness of the 3-4-1-2 that was exhibited by Aston Villa in the first half was the inability of their wing-backs, Joe Bennett and Matthew Lowton, to play offensively.
In order for Darren Bent and Christian Benteke to receive adequate help in attack, they needed service from Charles N'Zogbia up the middle and Bennett/Lowton out wide.
But as Newcastle pressed forward throughout the first half, Bennett and Lowton fell back, rendering the Villa offense stagnant and making N'Zogbia's job much more difficult.
The width created by the halftime switch to 4-3-3 opened up the offense, and the vast offensive improvement was obvious.
If Bennett and Lowton had been able to move up the pitch and create chances for their teammates, Villa would have enjoyed a full 90 minutes of offensive productivity.
But it was clearly not to be.
Winner: Papiss Cisse
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If Papiss Cisse's goal in the 19th minute seemed important for Newcastle, it was even more important for Papiss Cisse.
Coming into Tuesday's match, Cisse had only scored four goals all year. He was a player lacking a great deal of confidence, far overshadowed by the presence of Demba Ba and frequently making mental errors resulting in bad misses or offside flags.
Hopefully for Cisse, he has found his goal-scoring swagger again.
Moussa Sissoko's beautiful 19th-minute pass needed only a quality finish, and Cisse was up to the task, sliding the ball past Aston Villa keeper Brad Guzan.
With Yoan Gouffran the only striking option signed by Newcastle this transfer window, it is clear Alan Pardew is counting on Cisse to be his goal scorer. His ability (or inability) to put the ball in the back of the net will play a huge part in determining Newcastle's fate.
Though, with Sissoko passing him the ball, that may not be too difficult.
Loser: Randy Lerner
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So far, Aston Villa have been particularly quiet this transfer window, having blown nearly their entire budget over the summer.
This strategy seems to have failed Randy Lerner.
The commitment of Aston Villa's owner has been called into question before, and with no apparent signings imminent, it appears his commitment may be questioned again.
Villa supporters are looking for something to cheer for in a down year, but Lerner has trusted Paul Lambert's assertions that the current team can stay up.
If the situation is to be judged by the Newcastle match, that might not be the case.
In fact, almost all recent events seem to point to the contrary, and Villa's lack of additions to the squad will loom very heavily over Lerner's head if something isn't done about it.
Biggest Winner: Mike Ashley
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The pressure is off Newcastle's owner, at least for the time being.
Mike Ashley has made himself very few friends over the course of his ownership, and going into the January transfer window, hatred of Ashley and his managing director Derek Llambias was at an all-time high. Most fans questioned whether anything would be done at all.
Five Ligue 1 stars later, Ashley had lifted the spirits of the Toon army, and belief sprouted again Tyneside.
It would all be for nought, however, if the team still wasn't winning.
None of Newcastle's new signings had Premier League experience, and there was doubt as to whether they would be up for a relegation battle.
One road victory later, Ashley can rest easy that his job is mostly done.
Both Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffron proved capable of handling football at the Premier League level, and at the moment it seems as if Ashley has spent his money well.
The pressure now is on Alan Pardew. If Newcastle are unable to remain in England's top flight, fingers will be pointed at the manager, rather than the owner.
Ashley has always found a way to bother the Geordie fanbase, but for the time being, he's off the hook.
Biggest Loser: Paul Lambert
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Paul Lambert is a fine manager. He proved as much many times over in his three years at Norwich City.
Now he must prove it all over again.
Tuesday's match was a rough result in a week, month and season full of rough results.
Lambert's 3-4-1-2 formation failed miserably, and he was forced to tuck his tail between his legs and change formation with multiple substitutions at halftime.
It would be easy to say Lambert could take heart in the performance of his squad in the second half, but this late in the season, there are no moral victories.
Now officially in the relegation zone and without any new transfers, Lambert needs to find a spark already on Villa's sideline that can salvage the season.
But with each passing match, that chance looks less and less likely.