Aston Villa 1-1 Newcastle: Sunday Mirror match report
Published 22:00 17/09/11 By Ralph Ellis
As a Newcastle centre forward, Leon Best ticks none of the boxes that turn on the Toon Army – except possibly the most important one of all.
He’s not a Geordie, like Alan Shearer or Andy Carroll. He’s not been brought up wearing black and white stripes.
He didn’t command a massive transfer fee, like famous centre forwards of the distant past like Malcolm Macdonald.
And – as far as we know – he’s not one of the boys who loves a pint or a dozen down the Bigg Market on a Saturday night.
But what the bargain-buy former Coventry striker does have is arguably the most important quality of the lot – he scores goals.
Best, 25 tomorrow, helped himself to an early birthday present – his third goal in as many Premier League games to earn Newcastle a point they more than deserved.
That, following on from six in nine starts in the top flight last season, suggests the Toon might just have the replacement they need for Carroll already on their staff.
While he might not have the glamour of the long-haired local lad who went to Liverpool for £35million, who knows?
If he goes on getting goals he might just grow enough on the Toon Army to end up wearing the iconic No.9 shirt that is currently left vacant.
Certainly manager Alan Pardew appreciates Best’s qualities.
He said: “This is a guy who has been around a long time and not had the opportunities at Premier League level that he feels he deserves, and that is very important for a striker.
“He has great belief in himself, and if he gets a shirt and he gets a goal then he keeps the shirt, it is as simple as that. He will go in next week when we play Blackburn and I hope he will score again.”
Best’s goal came in the 57th minute, just when it seemed that Newcastle’s superb display would be denied by another of the heroes they could not keep – goalkeeper Shay Given.
The Magpies’ unbeaten record had been threatened from the 12th minute when Gabby Agbonlahor pulled down a brilliant pass by Barry Bannan and slid the ball under Tim Krul.
With the diminutive Bannan – all 5ft 7ins of him – producing a delicious range of passing it seemed as if Villa might take the game over.
He almost beat Krul himself with a clever long range lob, and then Darren Bent missed from a few yards after Stiliyan Petrov had set him up.
Pardew’s team might be short of star names – Joey Barton being the last obvious hero to depart – but they do not lack character and once French midfielder Yohan Cabaye began to take a hold of midfield the game changed.
Villa were hanging on to protect their lead up until the interval, with Given saving a powerful Steven Taylor volley at a corner and Jonas Gutierrez scooping a good chance over the bar.
It was not much different after the break as Given was at his best again, with Alex McLeish’s side completely unable to hold on to the ball.
Given had some luck when Cabaye’s 56th minute volley hit the bar, but he could do nothing as the ball was pumped back in by Cheick Tiote and Best climbed above Richard Dunne.
Even then his header was kept out by the Villa keeper, but he kept his composure to push in the rebound.
Newcastle would have won, but Given saved his greatest save for last, flinging himself full length to beat out a 20-yarder from Cabaye that seemed a certain goal.
McLeish said: “Shay was outstanding, but then that’s what you pay the goalkeeper for. And anybody who has watched him will know how good he is.
“We started so well and it was unfortunate that Darren Bent missed his chance, which to be fair is unlike him.”
VERDICT: Brilliant Shay Given gave Newcastle fans a reminder of another one of the stars they couldn’t keep as he denied them the win. The Villa goalkeeper's late save form Yohan Cabaye was of the highest order.
THE BIG ISSUE: Did Villa do enough in the transfer window to challenge for Europe?
Alex McLeish bought one and borrowed two – which after losing Ashley Young and Stewart Downing left Villa fans frustrated and wondering what will happen with the £25million profit.
The Scot’s gamble is trying to turn half the team he inherited into virtual new signings.
He has brought Richard Dunne and James Collins back to their best, raised Stephen Warnock to something near the form that saw him picked for a World Cup squad and put fire in Stiliyan Petrov.
Best of all is Gabby Agbonlahor changing from forlorn side-figure to dangerous centre forward – he was so sharp to snap up his third goal of the season yesterday.
But the lack of quality of Young and Downing’s calibre will tell unless Villa go back in the market in January.