A Damien Duff disaster

Published : May 30, 2009 00:00 IST

Newcastle's expenditure puts them close to the Champions League representatives but performance left them among the rejects, writes Kevin McCarra.

Newcastle United's single impact lay in the emphatic proof that they no longer belong in the top flight. In the unlikely event that the sight of justice being done is any consolation, visiting fans would have headed for home with a clear appreciation that this outcome was fitting for a club that had been misdirected for too long.

Impassioned speeches about a rebirth ahead will be hindered by the realisation that crisis must continue unless financial affairs can somehow be addressed. The gap between aspiration and achievement is extreme. Newcastle's expenditure puts them close to the Champions League representatives but performance left them among the rejects. The owner, Mike Ashley, has costs and failed footballers that cannot be shed easily. Levels of anguish were topped up superfluously with a defeat inflicted by Damien Duff's freakish own-goal. All the same Newcastle seldom looked as if they could influence the result. There was a flurry at Villa Park but mere gestures have become the sole way in which this team expresses itself. Alan Shearer could not correct that. He deserves understanding since he could not address the basic need for new players. While the collapse should not be attributed to him, it is also true that he could not conjure up a remarkable result to redeem the club.

The single win in eight fixtures under Shearer was the victory over an even more fragile Middlesbrough. That merely established the order in which each would be relegated. Newcastle could not find the net in half-adozen of Shearer's games and that made it impossible to achieve any air of resurgence. There was pathos to the sterility, with Michael Owen, of whom so much was expected, unable to score at all in this period. He emerged solely as a substitute against Villa.

Curiously there was an initial edge to Newcastle but the opportunities were not quite taken. The forlorn tone was perfected in stoppage time with the dismissal of David Edgar for a second bookable offence. Villa were minor characters in the drama. Martin O'Neill's team has come sixth for a second consecutive campaign, with a small rise in their points total to 62 this season. They have been in the doldrums since the life went out of a bid to seize a Cham- pions League place.

This was only their second victory in 13 Premier League games. Villa were listless compared with Newcastle, who had a short-lived desire to attack. With 11 minutes gone, Obafemi Martins set up Steven Taylor but Newcastle were denied as Carlos Cuellar blocked the defender's shot.

There had been alarm before that, with Brad Friedel putting a deflected effort from Duff round the post. With the first quarter of an hour almost completed, Mark Viduka turned cleverly to feed Martins for a volley that flew over the bar. Villa were slow to think then of a reason for being on the pitch but ultimately developed purpose.

There were stirrings as Steve Harper reacted smartly to put a shot from Craig Gardner over the bar but the goal was grotesquely random. Gareth Barry let fly from 30 yards and utterly misdirected his effort. The left-back Duff stuck out a leg, however, and rerouted it into the net seven minutes from the interval.

The second-half saw the visitors looking tepid because Shearer had no means of correcting a deficit in pace and flair. Villa could have gone further ahead when Barry twisted inside Taylor in the 70th minute but then misdirected his attempt. Shearer may have brought on Owen but the poverty of the service was a greater issue than the identity of the strikers.

In a different context Villa might have been rebuked for the faltering of recent months. It is true that the knee injury to Martin Laursen, who was compelled to retire, had grave consequences but the manager must have supposed that his squad would cope better than it did throughout the campaign. Some younger members, including Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor, dwindled over the programme. They may be wiser and hardier next time around but the possible departure of Barry is a real trouble. If they are to get any significant money for him then he will need to be sold in the next transfer window.

It is unclear if liverpool are ready to match a price of perhaps �10m. Should term be agreed, on the other hand, it would be tough for O'Neill to come up with a replacement of such poise and knowledge. Villa, with Barry in control, were guilty of no more than leniency here. John Carew, for instance, miskicked from four yards after Gabriel Agbonlahor had picked him out in the 79th minute.

There has been no final mercy for floundering Newcastle.


May 24: Arsenal 4 (Beattie o.g.-10, Van Persie pen-16 & 41, Diaby 18) bt Stoke 1 (Fuller pen-31). Half-time: 4-1; Aston Villa 1 (Duff o.g.-38) bt Newcastle 0. Half-time: 1-0. Newcastle relegated; Blackburn 0 drew with West Brom 0; Fulham 0 lost to Everton 2 (Osman 45 & 88). Half-time: 0-1; Hull 0 lost to Manchester United 1 (Gibson 24). Half-time: 0-1; Liverpool 3 (Torres 31, Hutton o.g.-64, Benayoun 81) bt Tottenham 1 (Keane 77). Half-time: 1-0; Manchester City 1 (Caicedo 8) bt Bolton 0. Half-time: 1-0; Sunderland 2 (Richardson 53, Jones 90) lost to Chelsea 3 (Anelka 47, Kalou 74, A. Cole 86). Half-time: 0-0; West Ham 2 (Cole 33, Stanislas 58) bt Middlesbrough 1 (O’Neil 50). Half-time: 1-0. Middlesbrough relegated; Wigan 1 (Rodallega 26) bt Portsmouth 0. Half-time: 1-0.

May 18: Portsmouth 3 (Utaka 60, Bardsley o.g. 68, Traore 88) bt Sunderland 1 (Jones 59). Half-time: 0-0.

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