Aston Villa 1 Newcastle United 2
Paul Lambert looked for positives from his players' performances after struggling Aston Villa dropped into the English Premier League relegation zone for the third time this season.
A second-half penalty from Christian Benteke was not enough to prevent Lambert's side from slipping to another defeat, with Newcastle's first away win of the season lifting them four points clear of the drop zone.
And afterwards the Villa Park manager admitted his team's first half performances this season have not been good enough.
"We paid the price for starting too slowly," he said after the game.
"We just never got going in the first half. The second half, that's the way to play football.
"The first goal was really disappointing; the second goal, you sometimes can't stop them - it was a terrific strike - and then you are facing an uphill battle.
"But I couldn't fault them for the way they played in the second half. It is the first time I've seen a standing ovation when you've been beaten, especially at home.
"I just said to the players 'you can't play like that in the first half and turn that performance in during the second half'.
"It is sometimes easier to play when you are 2-0 down because no one expects anything then. You've got to start like that - and we never started."
Lambert confirmed central defender Richard Dunne has suffered another setback to his groin after already undergoing three operations.
Alan Pardew handed debuts to Newcastle's new French signings Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran and the former, also a target for Villa this month, set up the opening goal for Pappis Cisse after 19 minutes.
Sissoko supplied the telling pass which was seized onto by Cisse, who kept his composure and drilled a low shot past Brad Guzan into the corner of the net.
Newcastle doubled their lead after 31 minutes with a stunning strike from Yohan Cabaye.
Ron Vlaar's headed clearance from a Jonas Gutierrez centre fell straight to the midfielder whose volley from just outside past the box flew past the despairing dive of Guzan.
Villa began the second period with more impetus and Tim Krul was twice tested in quick succession, beating out Andy Weimann's shot on the turn and then parrying Benteke's fierce drive.
The home side were given a lifeline after 48 minutes when Mathieu Debuchy conceded a penalty after a clumsy challenge on Agbonlahor when going away from goal
Up stepped Benteke to send Krul the wrong way from the spot for his 12th goal of the campaign.
But despite Villa's pressure in the second half they could not capitalise on their possession to get an equaliser.
Afterwards Pardew hailed a match-winning contribution from new signing Sissoko.
"When you are looking for players and trying to find the secret ingredient for your team, it's not always easy for players to come and fit in as they did in the first half," he said.
"I was a little bit surprised myself if I'm honest. I don't think we would have won the game without Sissoko. That's how important I think that signing was.
"Sissoko really grabbed the game by the horns and that's what we needed.
"With Demba Ba departing from a team that hasn't been winning, it was a big blow for us and we really needed him for this game.
"It has been a terrific day for us because we were under a lot of pressure tonight.
"We lost such an important game against Reading that we couldn't afford to lose tonight. We couldn't afford to draw after going 2-0 up.
"That showed second half when we were a bit rash, lost control, and the French boys certainly felt the difference between the Premier League and Ligue 1."
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Published: January 30, 2013 04:00 AM