Revenge is a dish best served cold, as the saying goes. Well, never could this be more appropriately applied than at St. James’ Park on August 22, a day which will live in the minds of Magpie supporters for a very long time. A day which marked the culmination of a 15 month-long anxious wait for retribution.
It all started back on 24 May 2009, another not-to-be-forgotten afternoon although for very different reasons. As Newcastle United were sent tumbling down to the Championship on the final day of the season thanks to a 1-0 defeat at Villa Park, the Toon Army were sickened by the taunting gestures which came their way from a home support which had previously never been viewed with any particular ill-feeling. Indeed, despite pleas from Chris Hughton, Sunday’s match was very much an occasion earmarked as a revenge mission. And, oh, how sweet it was for them.
Six – yes SIX – goals against a consistent European qualifier is no mean feat, and may just signal a different season to the one widely anticipated throughout pre-season. No-one is suggesting that the Mags are going to be aiming for the Europa League just yet, but if this performance is to go by then why does survival have to be considered the highest possible achievement?
Of course, it could have been very different. Nine minutes in, and Steve Harper’s rash challenge on Ashley Young earned Villa a penalty. Many will argue that the long-serving ‘keeper was lucky to remain on the field, but this was a day when lady luck shined on a sun-kissed St. James’ Park. Although it was far more than good fortune which saw them over the line so emphatically. Indeed, John Carew, who had never missed a penalty in eight years until very recently, seemed to be aiming for the Tyne Bridge rather than the Gallowgate goalmouth.
But this would prove to be the closest Villa would come to troubling Harper all afternoon, as there was no looking back for Hughton’s side from this point on. It was men against boys.
Within four minutes, none other than Joey Barton sharpened his razor blade as he took the first steps towards shaving off that ridiculous moustache. He collected the ball from 25 yards out, lifted his head up, and let fly. It span up, down, left, right , but it was only going in one direction and that was beyond Brad Friedel and his flapping arms. A great goal on Barton’s finest hour in a black and white shirt.
Now, if anyone expected Newcastle to shut up shop and hold on to this lead, then they were sorely mistaken. As the half hour struck, the usual suspects of last season’s promotion charge combined for a simple-yet-slick goal. Enrique crossed to the far post, Carroll nodded back for Nolan, who volleyed goalbound. Friedel blocked the initial strike but last season’s joint top scorer was never going to miss with the rebound. 2-0.
By this point the crowd were in full volume with St. James’ transformed into a raging bear pit, and Kevin Macdonald’s team looking every inch the nervous prey. Just three minutes later, Andy Carroll added his name to the scoresheet with a deft left foot strike after a terrible clearance from Richard Dunne. 3-0 up at half-time, the Geordies were in as much disbelief as the away fans.
United could have gone out with the same tempo hunting for blood, but instead they did the sensible thing and calmed the game down to the point where Villa never looked capable of mounting a comeback. By the 67th minute, it paid off ever so handsomely and they turned on the style once more, with Carroll again blasting home with that magic left peg. See, he’s not just all about the heading. The away fans descended for the exits and the home contingent were happy to wave them farewell. No doubt Macdonald’s team wished they could have followed them out.
St. James’ Park was in party mode by this point. ‘One Chris Hughton’ reverberated around the stadium, followed by huge ovations for Smith and Routledge, whose running caused problems for the Villa defence all game and looked the ideal foil for Carroll’s flick-ons. Sir Bobby Robson also got a mention, of course – how he would have enjoyed this game.
4-0 would have been a fantastic result to take away, but with the clock counting down it wasn’t enough for the Magpies. On 88 minutes, Nolan rubbed salt into deepening wounds by scrambling in from close range, but the best moment of the match was reserved for just about the last kick.
In his first home appearance in the No. 9 shirt, Andy Carroll looked to have missed his opportunity for a hat-trick just minutes previously after a blocked effort. But absolute delirium erupted as he held off the challenge of the hapless Clark to slot calmly past Friedel and sent the crowd wild. This was a moment to cherish for anyone with black and white blood flooding through their veins, as a new hero was born.
If there was anything positive that came out of that fateful day at Villa Park, if not a mental resistance it was the confidence which comes from ripping up some teams in the lower league. But Aston Villa could easily have been wearing the shirts of Barnsley, Cardiff or Coventry who all came away from St. James’ with utter pastings. There’s no doubt about it, this was a good day to be a Geordie, a bad day to be a Villan.
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