NEWCASTLE United’s French revolution is up and running – but it needed Dutch determination and Tyneside tenacity to finish the job against ailing Aston Villa.
When Mike Ashley sanctioned his cross-Channel trolley dash through Ligue 1’s bargain basement, this was the combination the Newcastle owner and his transfer team were angling for.
Gallic genius was what underscored a triumphant first half from the visitors, but it would have all been in vain without the fight that United dredged up during a second half spent entirely on the back foot.
It was that kind of evening for Alan Pardew as his new arrivals got a crash course in the vagaries of the English Premier League.
The United boss had welcomed his crop of French imports with a stark warning about “penalties” if they failed to integrate quickly.
Last night they duly passed the first of 15 practical examinations but it was a seriously close shave at times during a second half that was spent clinging on.
So while Moussa Sissoko will swipe the headlines for the kind of first-half performance that justifies the hype surrounding his January switch, it is the more familiar form of Tim Krul that shepherded Newcastle towards their first away win of a worrying campaign.
In the opening seconds of the second half Krul made two brilliant saves to deny Villa’s nascent resistance – and he was commanding and brave to the last as Newcastle repelled the reborn home side.
The locals claimed it was one of Villa’s best performances of the season as they raked over the ashes of another defeat that sends them closer to the abyss. For Newcastle, the same was true in a first half to set Tyneside hearts fluttering.
For 45 minutes the Gallic genius of Moussa Sissoko rose above Villa’s mediocre midfield like a colossus – and Newcastle’s French revolution looked well set to roll over a humdrum home side. Goals from a revitalised Papiss Cissé and class act Yohan Cabaye appeared to have teed up United for the first act of a triumph of relegation resistance.
Half-time proved a watershed, though, and the new-look Magpies were forced to exhibit a completely different side to their game in the second half.
Step forward the old faithfuls, with Krul magnificent in front of the Holte End and Fabricio Coloccini reverting to the Captain Fantastic role that had banked him so much credit with the Newcastle support before the January crisis that took him to the brink of a Tyneside exit.
Perhaps that fight – as much as anything they did in the first half – will give Newcastle hope of pushing forward away from the drop zone.