Aston Villa came into today's tilt with Newcastle looking to build on the momentum of an opening weekend win at Stoke. In the first half, we actually saw a bit more of what we did last weekend: a competent (if not stellar) Villa team who looked more confident than at almost any point last season. Possession continued to be a bit of a bugbear, but by and large when Villa settled in they made some coherent opportunities.
Charles N'Zogbia and Ashley Westwood, in particular, had some impressive offensive spells in the half. But what really marked the team was some excellent crossing that was actually really stupid. How can good crosses be bad, you ask? By being sent in to players who can't win them! If a healthy Christian Benteke were around, Villa could have very easily gone into the half up by a handful of goals. But as frustrating as watching those balls sail in to nowhere was, it's nice to see that there is some creative acumen in a side that could not have had less last season.
Also worth noting from the first half: Alan Hutton was 1) everywhere and 2) actually good at being everywhere. I'm already starting to forget the old Alan Hutton.
The second half saw Villa start to break down a little bit. One of my biggest complaints about Paul Lambert continues to be his usage of substitutions. Gabby Agbonlahor and Andi Weimann were both great candidates to come off at the half, but things got even worse after N'Zogbia picked up a yellow and entered rage mode. Nevertheless, the trio played on and Newcastle were allowed a long stretch of domination that produced a few good chances.
But finally, by the 63rd minute, even Paul Lambert could no longer ignore the problem at hand, and Carlos Sánchez was allowed to make his Villa debut by replacing N'Zogbia. And within a minute, Sanchez made a beautiful 20-yard pass from the center to the right to open up an attack. It came to nothing, but the pass was an amazing way to announce himself to the Premier League.
Around the 80th minute or so, Aly Cissokho got some sort of injury that saw him replaced by Nathan Baker. Cissokho walked off, but it's still worrying to see our new (and effective) LB come off. At that point, Lambert had no subs left and Villa were left to work with what they had on the pitch. And what they had on the pitch was not enough to get the win, despite a late push in stoppage time.
So we're left with a 0-0 draw that had some positives and a few negatives. Villa never managed a shot on target in their home opener and the attack couldn't finish the chances they were given. But still: four points from six and a lossless start to the season. It could certainly be worse.