Sky Sports Vault
With both Newcastle United and Aston Villa struggling for form in the Premier League ahead of Super Sunday, ex-Villa man Lee Hendrie talks about an infamous game in April 2005 which included three goals and three red cards.
By David Bowers - @davidalexbowers
Last Updated: 21/02/14 4:02pm
With Aston Villa heading into Sunday's Premier League game at Newcastle on Sunday four points adrift of the relegation zone, their fans would undoubtedly greet with open arms a top-half finish and a similar result to their feisty win over the Magpies in 2005.
In 2003/04, manager David O'Leary had steered the Villans away from the drop and into a mightily impressive sixth-place finish. With seeds of expectation planted at Villa Park, the Irishman had to settle for 10th spot in the league the following season - disappointing for fans and players alike, considering their march up the table a year before.
A largely frustrating campaign saw two third-round knockouts in the Carling and FA Cups, whilst fierce rivals Birmingham claimed invaluable wins over Villa both home and away in the league. Despite a number of humbling defeats, a top-half position was secured - the bare minimum, according to former midfielder Lee Hendrie.
The Birmingham-born player was one of O'Leary's key men during the 04/05 term, with the one-cap England midfielder featuring heavily during his ninth Premier League season. After forming a formidable central partnership with close friend Gareth Barry, Hendrie has revealed his frustration at Villa not capitalising on their momentum and their ultimate failure to push for place in Europe.
"I thought we had some fantastic players in that squad at the time," he told Sky Sports this week.
"I thought we had a better chance to push on after finishing sixth, as the squad had moulded together. We didn't fulfil our dreams - it was disappointing, considering the quality we had in there."
O'Leary bolstered his side throughout the season, with players like Nantes' Mathieu Berson, AC Milan's Martin Laursen and Eric Djemba-Djemba arriving at Villa Park, meaning there were no fewer than 13 different nationalities in their side. With it often being difficult to merge a variety of internationals into one unit, Hendrie believes O'Leary's man-management skills shone through during a topsy-turvy season.
"I got on with him really well," added Hendrie. "The gaffer was a great man to work under, one of those that wants to be around the lads. We'd go on golf days and trips to Dubai - he liked the idea of us all being together.
"That's why he got the best out of us when he first came in. He was a player's manager who'd get onside with the lads which I think was key in a team of up and coming youngsters. Everyone loved having him around. He was a good guy and a great manager.
"He's got the knowledge, he's been in the game and his experience speaks for himself. There are a lot of foreign managers in the league, which isn't a bad thing, but it's nice to have guys who have actually played in the league and been a part of it. "
After a crushing 2-0 defeat at Birmingham in late March, next up for Hendrie was a trip to the North-East to face Newcastle. After dismissing Sir Bobby Robson earlier in the season, the decision to appoint Graeme Souness was greeted by a backlash from the fans - but chairman Freddy Shepherd's decision to axe the former England boss initially looked to be an inspired one.
After a 4-2 loss at Villa Park earlier in the season, Robson lost his job and Souness made an immediate impact - with the Magpies going on a 10-game unbeaten run under the Scot. After a disappointing winter period, the Magpies returned to their imperious best and headed into their game with the Villans on the back of a 12-game streak without defeat in all competitions, including a 7-1 aggregate victory over Olympiakos in the UEFA Cup.
Despite a few blips in the season, including Craig Bellamy's televised bust-up with Souness, the Geordie faithful flocked to St James' on Saturday 2 April 2005 in anticipation and celebration, with the news that talismanic captain Alan Shearer had agreed to sign on for another season. With Villa winning just two out of their 15 away games, a home win was a near-certainty.
Just five minutes into the game, Villa took a shock lead after Juan Pablo Angel capitalised on a poor piece of defending from Jermaine Jenas, who gifted the ball to the Colombian after a sloppy clearance from Steven Davis' tame cross. Angel's strike was only his third goal in 19 games in all competitions and after arriving with a hefty £9.5million price tag, Hendrie believes his lack of fortune in front of goal wasn't due to a lack of effort.
"He was a good player," insisted Hendrie. "At the time he came in, he was coming from a completely different environment. To come to a big club like Villa - the pressure was on. An awful amount was paid for him and he had to come and produce and when he came in, it didn't really happen for him.
"All he wanted to do was do well. He would stay out for an extra 45 minutes after training and practice his shooting and, unfortunately, it didn't really pay off. He scored goals eventually, but when he first came in, the fans were on his back. As a foreign player coming in to a completely different environment, they all say you have to give him time to settle. They're shipping their family over and they can't speak much English; patience is key if you want to succeed.
"He would push himself a lot. He would never say 'oh well, it's not really working for me' and leave. He would push himself to try and improve, and would always try and involve himself with the lads. It was a whole new change and fair play to him, he got to the other side and started scoring a few goals."
After Angel's opener, the Toon peppered Villa's goal but were greeted on many an occasion by their old foe Thomas Sorensen, the ex-Sunderland goalkeeper who famously saved a late penalty from Shearer in a 2-1 home defeat to the Black Cats in November 2000. The Dane continually thwarted Newcastle's advances, with Lee Bowyer, Kieron Dyer and Shearer all having powerful efforts palmed away by Villa's stopper.
Jenas' poor start to the game failed to subside and when presented with two glorious chances to level, he produced a poorly-executed effort from 15 yards out for the first before steering the second wide just before the half-time mark, after Dyer had superbly set up his team-mate. Both chances were either side of Barry's opportunity to double the lead, who watched his right-footed shot clatter off the inside of Shay Given's post and out of harm's way.
The second half began the same way the first ended, with Newcastle continuing to pile the pressure on O'Leary's men. Two strong penalty calls were waved away by referee Barry Knight, the first after Jlloyd Samuel appeared to handle the ball when dealing with a dangerous Laurent Robert cross. Samuel was involved in the other incident, after bundling over an onrushing Nicky Butt. Having already witnessed a goal, a number of clear-cut chances and two substantial penalty claims, the sold-out crowd had not witnessed any of the drama yet.
With just 15 minutes remaining, Butt was caught in possession by Darius Vassell who stormed through on goal with electric pace and skipped past Given, only to see his goal-bound shot hit the hand of Magpies substitute Steven Taylor. In a bizarre attempt to convince the referee that he hadn't handled the ball, Taylor dropped to the ground and clutched his chest in supposed agony. Bennett, like the rest of the 52,036 crowd, failed to get drawn in by Taylor's play-acting and immediately awarded a penalty before showing the teenager a red card.
"There were so many incidents in that game that I thought Jeremy Beadle was going to come on the pitch," Hendrie joked.
"It was almost comical - the incident with the penalty still makes me giggle. The way he tries to tell the referee he hasn't handballed it is brilliant. As a player, I would have done the same!"
Barry took the resulting penalty and scored with supreme confidence to make it 2-0. Hendrie insists that the midfielder - now 32 and on loan at Everton from Manchester City - is still class, and should be included in Roy Hodgson's squad for this summer's World Cup in Brazil.
"Sometimes you don't have to be quick; Gareth reads the game so well," said Hendrie. "He was playing centre-half when he first came into the team and he did ever so well, and moved into the midfield. His ability on the ball speaks for itself. I still think he's good enough for the England team. As a young kid, I knew Gareth was going to be something special because he worked so hard.
"Gareth will pick it up off the centre-half and look to play positively into the attacking midfielders and strikers. I think Gareth is strong, his ability on the ball is second to none, his passing is superb and he should definitely be in that England set-up."
With the Villans leading by two goals, Newcastle's discipline self-imploded. Vassell, once again, ran through the heart of the Magpies defence and was denied a goal after right-back Stephen Carr opted to push the England international as he approached the box. Replays suggested that the initial contact was outside the box, but Bennett awarded the penalty and Barry calmly slotted past the third and final goal of the afternoon.A miserable afternoon for Newcastle was compounded by one of the Premier League's most infamous moments. Nine minutes from time and trailing 3-0, Bowyer and Dyer were involved in a heated exchange of words on the half-way line, leading to an on-pitch brawl between the two Magpies midfielders. Rumours suggested that the cause of the fight ranged from a bet that Dyer placed in which he wouldn't pass to Bowyer, to a feud over the ex-Leeds man's girlfriend. Such claims were strenuously denied afterwards, but what was certain was that the league had never seen anything quite like it.
Both players were sent off, with a ripped-shirted Bowyer receiving an earful from Shearer, who must have been momentarily questioning his decision to stay on another year. With Dyer receiving a three-match ban, Bowyer was adjudged to have thrown the first punch and was subject to a hefty six-week fine and a four-match ban, whilst Northumbria Police also decided to take action with the one-time England international admitting a charge of using threatening behaviour.
Having a flutter on a 3-0 Villa win over eight Newcastle players would have returned a fortune, and Hendrie admits he was more than happy to see the Magpies self-destruct.
"Me and Gareth know the pair of them through the Under-21s and to see them having a scrap was completely bizarre," he recalls. "It was a comedy of errors. It's hard to go up to Newcastle and leave with something, but those two incidents made our job a bit easier.
"I remember Gareth trying to split them up because he was closest to them and to this day, I still have no idea what caused them to fight it. I'm away with Lee Bowyer next week in Dubai, I think I'll have to mention it when we're away and try and get an explanation!
"At the time when it happened, the players were in complete shock. I remember walking over to Gareth and just being shell-shocked, asking 'what on earth's gone on there?' It was full blooded and shirts were getting ripped off. After the match, you laugh about it but you could sense that the stadium was in shock. It was crazy."
With Newcastle on the back of three successive losses in the league and with Villa winning just one of their last seven, both sides will be keen to battle out a valuable three points this Sunday - with the latter side in particular aiming to avoid a relegation dogfight.
Thanks to Lee Hendrie, who predicts Villa will come away from Newcastle with a 2-1 victory on Sunday. Watch the game live on Sky Sports 1HD, with coverage underway from 12.30pm.