Aston Villa’s new assistant manager ensured there was no chance of him slipping into the shadows on his dugout debut at Villa Park when a water bottle thrown in frustration at a refereeing decision inadvertently caught manager Paul Lambert, protesting on the edge of his area, in the unmentionables.
“You try and tell him not to throw one,” grinned Lambert afterwards.
It was a rare moment to lighten the mood during 90 forgettable minutes.
Yet Villa should be among the Premier League clubs most satisfied with their starts. It might only be week two of the season but this point sent them top — even if it was just for two hours.
Nonetheless, the sight, however brief, of Villa perched at the summit of the Barclays Premier League is one few would have predicted on the back of a summer of upheaval and uncertainty at the up-for-sale midlands club.
Somehow, Lambert has still managed to assemble his strongest squad yet.
To his credit, he has wisely withdrawn from his previous policy of buying youth and instead elected for experience. Philippe Senderos and Aly Cissokho have added a more solid backbone to their back four — as has Alan Hutton who, along with Charles N’Zogbia and Darren Bent, is part of the previously frozen out ‘Bomb Squad’ who have been restored to the fold.
Then, of course, there is Keane, who has won the immediate respect of the dressing room and has been charged with building a tougher mentality in a squad which previously lacked leaders.
All of a sudden there is something of a feel-good factor around a club not so long ago deemed in crisis.
Randy Lerner too has played his part, sanctioning spends on Cissokho, the left-back, and Colombian World Cup midfielder Carlos Sanchez.
“He always has loved the football club,” said Lambert of the American, who added “there’s no pressure from me whatsoever” on starlet Jack Grealish, who was an unused substitute, over whether he commits his international future to Ireland or England.
“The situation is the club is up for sale and that is the same. But he has been great since we came back for pre-season. The feel-good factor is due a lot to him as well with what he is doing. Things are in a really good place at the minute.”
Further to that, last week Lerner lured the highly-rated Tom Fox from Arsenal, where he was chief marketing officer, to become Villa’s new chief executive. Is Lerner swaying towards a change of heart?
“I’m not so sure,” Lambert added. “It is a fabulous football club. There are a lot of expectancy levels and it has to be run right no matter who is in charge. The chairman has been excellent in that sense.”
There remains much work to be done.
The attendance of 30,267 was the lowest for Villa’s first home game of the season in 14 years — supporters have not forgotten their club record 10 home league losses last term.
They also failed to register a shot on target — but Christian Benteke is back in the near future.
Defensively, however, they have looked their most solid since the reign of Martin O’Neill.
“The back four are on top of their game at the minute,” Lambert added. “They are experienced lads who know the game. What is really pleasing is their will to win and not concede. That is a big factor.”
For Newcastle, at least, it was a first point on the board following their opening-weekend defeat to champions Manchester City.
Yet that positive was offset by the injury-time dismissal of defender Mike Williamson for two yellow cards. Both sides, as the scoreline suggests, were bereft of firepower. Villa, whose best chances fell to N’Zogbia early on, can at least look forward to the imminent return of Benteke, yet Emmanuel Riviere has done little, as yet, to suggest he can fill Loic Remy’s boots at Newcastle.
Right-back Daryl Janmaat was their biggest danger, twice threatening in the second half, while Villa had Brad Guzan, the goalkeeper, to thank when he stood up superbly to thwart Siem De Jong late on after he had been fed by fellow sub Ayoze Perez. Yet by full-time it was Alan Pardew’s team who were relieved to pocket a point, however, after Williamson, having picked up his first caution in the 86th minute, received his marching orders for a second following a cynical bodycheck on Fabian Delph as he drove forward.
ASTON VILLA (4-1-4-1) Guzan 7; Hutton 7, Senderos 7, Vlaar 7, Cissokho 7 (Baker 82); Westwood 6; N’Zogbia 6 (Sanchez 62, 6), Richardson 6 (Bent 76), Delph 7, Weimann 5; Agbonlahor 4.
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-2-3-1) Krul 6; Janmaat 7, Williamson 4, Coloccini 6, Dummett 6; Anita 6 (De Jong 70, 6), Colback 6; Gouffran 6, Sissoko 6, Cabella 4; Riviere 4 (Perez 77, Taylor 90).
Referee: Mike Dean (Cheshire).