ASTON VILLA’S FORTUNES continued to plunge on Tuesday as they sank into the Premier League’s bottom three following a 2-1 loss at home to relegation rivals Newcastle United.
Goals from Papiss Cisse and Yohan Cabaye put the visitors 2-0 up after 31 minutes and despite a valiant fightback sparked by a Christian Benteke penalty, Villa saw their run of league games without a win extended to seven.
Defeat further complicated life for Villa coach Paul Lambert, who had seen his side eliminated from both the League Cup and the FA Cup by lower-league opposition in the last week.
Newcastle, meanwhile, ended a run of five matches without victory as Alan Pardew’s side climbed to 15th in the table.
Villa signalled their intent by deploying Darren Bent alongside top scorer Benteke in attack, while Newcastle handed debuts to new French signings Moussa Sissoko and Gouffran.
Newcastle started strongly and Jonas Gutierrez saw a shot blocked after Villa defender Ron Vlaar inadvertently slammed a clearance into one of his own team-mates.
Villa had a penalty appeal for handball against Fabricio Coloccini waved away before Newcastle resumed their assault on the hosts’ goal, with Davide Santon drawing a good save from goalkeeper Brad Guzan from 25 yards out.
The breakthrough arrived four minutes later and it stemmed from the boot of debutant Sissoko.
The former Toulouse man held off a challenge in midfield and threaded a fine through-ball into the path of Cisse, who took a couple of touches before finishing between the legs of Guzan.
One of few bright sparks amid the recent Villa Park gloom, Charles N’Zogbia came within inches of equalising when he thumped a volley against the post from 25 yards.
It was to prove a false dawn, however, as Cabaye made it 2-0 in the 31st minute, collecting a clearance from Vlaar and launching a sumptuous half-volley over Guzan from just outside the penalty area.
Whatever Villa manager Paul Lambert said at half-time, it had an instant effect, as the home side raced out of the blocks to chop Newcastle’s lead in half in the 49th minute.
Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor were both introduced at the interval and after the former had forced Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul into action with a sharp shot, the latter won a penalty after being impeded by Mathieu Debuchy.
Benteke duly converted from the spot, taking his tally for the season to eight league goals.
The complexion of the game had changed and Weimann drew another save from Krul after being teed up by the marauding Benteke.
Benteke then spurned a glaring opening by shooting wide from barely seven yards, only for his blushes to be spared by the assistant referee’s flag.
Gutierrez cleared off the line from Nathan Baker but despite sustained pressure from Villa, Newcastle clung on to victory.
In one tonight’s other games, Wigan battled back from a two-goal deficit to snatch a 2-2 draw with Stoke and move out of the English Premier League relegation zone on Tuesday.
The Latics moved up to 17th in the table with 20 points, ahead of Aston Villa on points difference and one point ahead of Reading, who host Chelsea on Wednesday.
The draw saw Stoke, who have only won one of their last nine matches, stay in 10th spot on 30 points.
Ryan Shawcross opened the scoring for the home side, scrambling a goal in from a messy free-kick in the 23rd minute of a quiet, scrappy opening to the match.
Stoke increased their lead through the towering figure of Peter Crouch, the England striker finding the net in the 48th minute after a counter-attack and shot by Charlie Adam rebounds off Wigan’s Omani ‘keeper Ali al-Habsi.
But Wigan pulled one back under two minutes later in a great response, James McArthur curling in a shot from close range after he was played through.
And Franco Di Santo brought the score level with 20 minutes to play.
With Wigan rampant, Roger Espinoza sent up a cross which was headed back across goal by James McArthur, and Di Santo powered home a volley for the Latics.
The home side were on the backfoot but managed to hold out for the draw against Roberto Martinez’s men.