Newcastle United will be hoping to get their first points of the season under their belts when they take on Aston Villa on Sunday. There is certainly little love lost between the two clubs, as Newcastle’s defeat at Villa Park on the last day of the 2008-09 season confirmed their relegation from the top flight. Since that relegation, the Magpies have embarked on an unbeaten run of games at St James’ Park and it is a record they should look to hold onto for as long as possible – indeed, in an ideal world, they would stay unbeaten at home all this season. Opponents Aston Villa may have started the season impressively but they have no permanent manager in charge and have just lost their key player in former Magpie James Milner. There will no doubt be some disappointment within the club’s management that no future sell-on-fee clause was inserted when Milner left Newcastle after his £26 million switch to Manchester City.
One player in particular will be keen for Newcastle to get their first win of the season recorded as soon as possible. Midfielder Joey Barton has been sporting a moustache in recent weeks and has pledged to keep his ‘tache until his side win their first game. He is not the only player to be seen in black and white with facial hair with the likes of Alan Smith and Ryan Taylor all growing moustaches to help the cause. Barton explained: “It started out with about eight of us saying, ‘you couldn’t grow a beard’. One thing led to another and before I knew, I’d agreed to grow a moustache. It could be here for a while longer if we don’t get off to a good start – but hopefully it’ll be gone soon. It’s got a bit of flak and a few people have said it’s ridiculous.” While the players’ efforts have been in the name of fun, it does underline the strong team spirit that has been formed over the past 12 months – a spirit which, on the evidence of Monday night’s loss to Manchester United, will need to stay strong over the next ten.
New captain Kevin Nolan is backing his side to bounce back against Aston Villa after their one-sided defeat at Old Trafford. Nolan has been made the official club captain following the release of former custodian Nicky Butt at the end of last season, and he is one of many players in the squad with Premier League experience. While he didn’t have the best of games on Monday night – struggling constantly to make his presence felt against a red wave of attacks – Nolan wants his side to bounce back strongly in their first home game of the new season. He said: “We can’t get too carried away with what happened last year. We have to realise this is a whole new challenge. It is okay when you are winning every week as everything is hunky dory. All the players walk into work with a smile on their faces, but now comes the time when we have to fight.” He added: “We will get a few tonkings in this league because everyone does, even the best teams have their off days, but it is how you bounce back that counts.”
There will be no new faces in the Magpies squad to take on Aston Villa as manager Chris Hughton continues his search in the transfer market. With only 11 days left before the window closes, time is beginning to run out. The extent of Newcastle’s problems was shown against Manchester United, with teenage trio James Tavernier, Haris Vuckic, and Nile Ranger all named on the substitutes bench. The club’s prolonged attempts to sign Marseille’s Hatem Ben Arfa appear dead in the water with a host of Europe’s big names being linked with the Frenchman. This week Newcastle have been linked with the likes of former player Habib Beye, Manchester City’s Vladimir Weiss and FC Twente’s Cheick Tiote. With very limited transfer funds available Hughton effectively has one hand tied behind his back. He admitted his frustrations to the media this week. “We’re still working at it,” said Hughton. “It’s difficult at the moment and I must admit that it’s frustrating at the moment but that is the nature of the transfer window. I’m still hopeful that we’re going to be able to make those additions.” Even a couple of new signings would boost Hughton’s threadbare squad and give the fans a boost.