NEVER the easy way. Not Newcastle United.
The 2,000 or so boisterous travelling fans tucked into one corner of Villa Park were put through the mill last night.
They were wrung out by two contrasting halves.
But they left the Midlands feeling a lot happier about their beloved club’s plight.
Manager Alan Pardew led his players to the away end after the final whistle. French Tricolors were raised – as well as arms and clenched fists.
There was a sense that this game, this result, would prove a turning point in a previously desperate season.
Aston Villa looked down and out at the break, out-played, out-fought and out-thought on their own turf by a side seemingly reinvigorated by a fully-fit Yohan Cabaye and new signing Moussa Sissoko.
But United spent the next 45 minutes with their backs pressed firmly against the wall.
This team doesn’t do comfortable victories.
But a win’s a win, and eight months after two goals from Papiss Demba Cisse gave Newcastle a memorable victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the relegation-threatened club finally claimed another three points on its travels in the Premier League.
And boy did Pardew’s side earn them.
Pardew handed debuts to Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran.
Speaking ahead of the game, Pardew said Sissoko, arguably the club’s most significant transfer-window signing, was keen to put the club’s situation right “on his own”.
And the midfielder’s first decisive act in a black and white shirt was to set up Cisse in the 19th minute with a well-placed through ball which set the striker free.
Cisse had earlier put the ball high into the Holte End, the effort summing up his season so far.
But the shot was more like the Cisse of old, the instinctive finisher who couldn’t stop scoring in the second half of last season.
With a coolness of touch, Cisse, under pressure from Nathan Baker, simply rolled the ball past the advancing Brad Guzan and into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Earlier, captain Fabricio Coloccini had been fortunate not to give away a penalty when a cross from Christian Benteke appeared to strike his arm as he slid in to make a block.
Former Newcastle winger Charles N’Zogbia also struck the post, but just past the half-hour mark, Newcastle took control of the game.
Jonas Gutierrez swung in a cross which was headed as far as Cabaye – about the last player Villa would have wanted it to fall for – by Ron Vlaar.
Cabaye, stood outside the box, took the ball down with one touch, then volleyed it beyond a helpless Guzan.
It was a stunning, stunning goal, but then again, Cabaye – whose influence on the field was missed during his time in the treatment room – rarely scores tap-ins.
United, with Cabaye and James Perch protecting the back four, were industrious without the ball, and intelligent in possession.
And Cabaye, as ever, was the beating heart of the team.
Villa manager Paul Lambert, chided by the home supporters as he headed for the dressing room at the break, brought on Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann for the second half.
And Agbonlahor, on for Darren Bent, made an immediate impact.
The forward was bundled over in the box by Mathieu Debuchy, and Benteke tucked away the resulting penalty.
The goal lifted Villa Park, and Newcastle, so dominant before the break, were struggled to find their composure. Villa, so shambolic in the first-half, took the game to them.
And Krul, advancing off his line, bravely saved from Weimann during one spell of pressure.
Pardew tried to relieve some of the pressure by sending on striker Shola Ameobi in place of Perch to give his team another outlet up front.
Vurnon Anita followed Ameobi on to the pitch, with United needing some more composure in midfield as tempers, notably that of Gutierrez, became frayed.
Defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa came on for his debut late in the game as ball after ball rained in on Newcastle’s defence.
Time and again it was booted away.
And the stoicism that was shown in those dying minutes will have buoyed Pardew as much as the football he saw before the break.
There were half a dozen nationalities on the field, but this team was United in more than just name.
And that bodes well for the coming months.