Full-time: Newcastle United 1 Aston Villa 0
THEY say the best things come to those who wait. Newcastle United supporters will concur, but no doubt hope they do not have to wait quite as long in the future.
Loic Remy's stoppage-time winner ended a run of more than seven-and-a-half hours without a Premier League goal and lifted at least some of the anxiety and angst that was beginning to envelop St James' Park.
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With just seconds remaining at the end of a game that had meandered along aimlessly for long periods, Remy twisted past Ron Vlaar in the penalty area before rifling a clinical shot into the net.
The Frenchman wheeled away in triumph, and on the touchline, his manager, Alan Pardew, punched the air in delight. The Newcastle boss might have bridled at suggestions that he was one game away from being dismissed, but another 90 minutes without a goal would have piled even more pressure on his shoulders.
As it is, the Magpies have reached the 40-point mark, are back in the top eight and could still have a squeak of qualifying for Europe, especially if the two cup competitions are won by teams in the top five. It would be wrong to suggest everything in the garden is rosy, but it is certainly less bereft of colour and brightness that it was looking as the clock ticked past the 90-minute mark.
Newcastle's performance was far from convincing for most of the game, with a lack of fluency reflecting the effects of a run that has sapped confidence and energy from a group of players whose motivation cannot be taken for granted given the lack of anything tangible to play for in the final two-and-a-half months of the season.
Yet with the return of Fabricio Coloccini and Cheik Tiote helping to provide the kind of stability and defensive security that was lacking in the recent home games against Sunderland and Spurs, the hosts kept on plugging away to merit their success.
Papiss Cisse should have scored at the end of the first half, only to side-foot wastefully over the crossbar, and while Brad Guzan was hardly over-worked in the Villa goal, Newcastle gradually generated a momentum and drive that saw them dominate the closing stages.
Their best chance of a winner looked to have gone when Remy side-footed against the base of the post with three minutes left, but when another opportunity presented itself in the second minute of stoppage time, the Frenchman, who was returning from a three-match ban, was not found wanting.
Luuk de Jong's deflected shot looped into his path, and after deftly twisting past Vlaar, Remy drilled past Guzan. It was a rare moment of class on an afternoon when nervousness and hesitancy often meant that inspiration was at a premium.
From Newcastle's point of view, a certain degree of circumspection was understandable after a run of four successive home defeats, each of which was more emphatic and painful than the last.
Pardew's team selection smacked of a search for solidity, with Sylvain Marveaux, Hatem Ben Arfa and Sammy Ameobi jettisoned and Tiote restored alongside Vurnon Anita, Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran in a 4-4-2 formation.
The Ivorian's refusal to stray too far from his own back four ensured Aston Villa's threat on the counter-attack was limited, with Coloccini's return even more influential in terms of negating the attacking capabilities of a visiting side who have been better away from Villa Park this season.
With Mike Williamson rediscovering the fine form he was displaying at the turn of the year, Tim Krul did not really have a save of note to make all afternoon.
Villa had a couple of bright moments before the interval, most notably when Gabriel Agbonlahor drilled a 20th-minute shot too close to Newcastle's goalkeeper and hammered a dipping 25-yarder narrowly over the crossbar, but they rarely looked like getting behind their opponents' defence.
Loic Remy turns Aston Villa defender Ron Vlaar in the box before scoring the winner in yesterday’s game on Tyneside
Newcastle's first-half attacking was no more threatening, indeed there were long periods before the break when the hosts struggled to retain possession in the Villa half, but they would still have been ahead at the interval had Cisse's lack of composure in front of goal not reared its head again.
Having been released down the left-hand side, Remy produced a perfect cut back for the Senegal international, but despite being no more than eight yards out, Cisse directed a hasty side-footed shot miles over the crossbar. As an illustration of Newcastle's uncertainty in front of goal, it could hardly have been more fitting.
Gouffran snatched at an opportunity of his own at the start of the second half, dragging a low effort across the face of goal after deft build-up play between Sissoko and Cisse, and while the Frenchman failed to find the target with another effort after Remy laid the ball off into his path, the hosts' dominance in terms of possession and territory became increasingly marked as the second half wore on.
De Jong's introduction from the substitutes' bench was an attempt to instil some more attacking urgency into proceedings, and the ploy worked as Newcastle enjoyed their best spell of the game in the final ten minutes.
That said, however, they might well have suffered yet another home defeat had Williamson not produced a magnificent tackle to prevent Christian Benteke slipping the ball through to Agbonlahor when Villa created a three-on-two break in the 79th minute.
There was a stifled penalty appeal at the other end shortly after – the ball appeared to brush Leandro Bacuna's hand after Coloccini flicked it up in the area, only for referee Martin Atkinson to wave play on – and Newcastle's victory hopes looked to have vanished when Remy side-footed against the post with three minutes left.
To their credit, though, the Magpies kept on pushing forward, and when a final opportunity presented itself in stoppage time, Remy displayed impressive composure to claim his 12th goal of the season.
His absence in the last three matches has been keenly felt, and while he might not be displaying the kind of sharpness he exhibited at the start of the season, he remains Newcastle's key attacker. Provided he stays fit and suspension-free in the final 11 matches, he should ensure his side do not go as long without a goal again.