If it was questionable whether Yohan Cabaye really was withdrawn two minutes from time because he was "tired" – the more popular theory was Alan Pardew wanted to give the travelling fans a chance to show the Frenchman he can regain a place in their hearts – there was no reason to suspect Newcastle United's manager was being anything other than sincere when he spoke about the playmaker's influence on the team. "He's just as important to us as Rooney is to Manchester United," Pardew said.
Making his first start of the season after going on strike last month in the wake of a proposed move to Arsenal falling through, Cabaye received a warm ovation from the Newcastle supporters when he departed towards the end of a game illuminated by the presence of another Frenchman, the brilliant Hatem Ben Arfa.
Although Pardew was quick to make the point that Cabaye was not at his best against Aston Villa and still has to earn the forgiveness of the 51,000 Geordies that will be inside St James' Park on Saturday, the manager has no doubt about the contribution the midfielder can make to a side that attacked with pace, penetration and imagination here.
"He's a player that I think carries the heartbeat of the team, and it's the rhythm of the game that he can dictate that wins Premier League games," Pardew said. "There's not that many players who can do that like he can. He didn't do it like he can [against Villa]. But he played a part. There were little moments he produced, but he'll get better, because he isn't 100% yet."
Bitterly disappointed with Cabaye's conduct when Arsenal were pursuing him, Pardew said the player has been on best behaviour since accepting he is staying at Newcastle. "I'm not saying he was perfect in what he did. But all I would say is that he's been perfect since the window shut, and I can't ask for more than that. It was nice that the fans gave him a good reception when he went off, he'll sleep better knowing that he has the backing of the team, the manager and a huge part of the fanbase."
Ben Arfa, though, was the real star of the show against Villa. He scored one, had a hand in Yoan Gouffran's winner after Christian Benteke had equalised, and threatened to make something happen whenever he got on the ball. For Pardew, it was exactly what he was looking for after being less than impressed with Ben Arfa against Fulham in the previous league match, when the Newcastle manager disagreed with the glowing praise the player received on Match of the Day.
"They only showed the edited clips; they didn't show the eight times he gave it away – and I reminded him all week about it," Pardew said. "But, trust me, there was no criticism I could throw at him against Villa, he was sublime. Holding on to the ball, holding off defenders, bursting [forward] and little moments that even [Luis] Suárez would have been proud of – he was terrific. If he's fit and well, he'll make a big difference to any team and certainly us."
How Villa could do with a player with Ben Arfa's craft and guile. Paul Lambert has brought in 15 players in 15 months at a combined cost of close to £40m, yet the club still lack an attacking midfielder who can score and create goals, which means there continues to be a huge reliance on Benteke.
They also remain an accident waiting to happen in defence; this was the 26th league game in succession without a clean sheet.
Incredibly patient and supportive during what was a difficult first year in charge for Lambert, the booing that greeted the final whistle suggested Villa supporters are not going to tolerate more of the same this season.
Man of the match Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle United)