Aston Villa (2) vs Newcastle (0) – Villa Get Back to Winning

For Villa fans still fuming about the refereeing decisions from the Manchester City game just three days prior, it was a relief to see the positive demeanor of the squad that ran onto Villa Park on Saturday as compared to the miserable expressions of Newcastle’s crew for this game and especially the scowl of manager Steve Bruce, a former Villa manager himself.

With the Magpies going in the wrong direction, a very unsettled line-up and ownership that seems only intent on the club’s balance and not its on-field performance. Villa fans, who lived through that, can now attest to, leadership from the top leads to success on the pitch!

While Newcastle had to shuffle the deck, the Villa starting eleven had only one change, and that imposed by accumulated cards, John McGinn had to sit this one out. As the team’s talisman, it was a relief that his looked like one of the few fixtures where McGinn’s energy and imagination might be missed but not disastrous.

What is to love about this Villa side is that they demonstrate quality from the get-go. Within thirty seconds, Barkley had laid the ball back to Mings to casually hit a 50-yard pass to Watkins on the right touchline well inside the Newcastle half, and the striker had risen comfortably above Lewis to head towards Traore, ahead and inside him. They were already on the front foot.

When Newcastle did get possession, they attempted to get Callum Wilson into the game but Konsa comfortably held-off the striker that Villa looked at before choosing to acquire Watkins (I suspect that was a head-fake to get Newcastle to jump on Wilson and away from bidding on Ollie).

A promising cross by Traore was rebuffed but the clearance only got as far as Targett, aggressively positioned just outside the area. The fullback was able to take his time and set himself for a meaty volley that would have caused goalie Darlow trouble if it had not bounced just in front of him.

Villa kept up the pressure and, with Grealish playing on the left, it created opportunities for Targett to overlap on his outside. The first foray saw him whip over a cross that Watkins met at the near post, but his attempt to deflect towards the far corner was off and it crossed in front of the goal and out of play. A minute or so later, Grealish again set-up Targett and, this time, Watkins took a central route. His marker, Fabian Schar was ahead of Watkins and knew he had to stop the cross reaching Watkins. His decision to slide turned out to be disastrous as it resulted in the ball ballooning over him and right into Watkins’ path. Darlow must have thought he had a chance to get there before the striker only to realize he was never going to make it. With the goalie stumbling in front of him, Watkins rose to meet the ball and gently nod it gently into the corner of the net. Only 13 minutes gone, and it was Villa 1, Newcastle 0.

It could have easily been 2-0, shortly after. Traore’s freekick from the left had all the whip necessary and, if Barkley had got the right amount of connection with his noggin, the ball would have been in the top right corner of the net. Instead, it sailed just wide with Barkley grimacing his disappointment (maybe next time, Ross!).

That could have been a significant miss if Lascelles had made the most of his powerful header from a corner. The Newcastle captain appeared to be on-target except that Mings was, yet again, in the way to head clear, adding to his considerable tally of blocked goal attempts.

Still, the scent of a goal energized Newcastle and they enjoyed their best period of the game. Andy Carrol was on the end of a fine cross with a dive near the penalty spot, but his header went harmlessly wide. Then, closer to goal, Carroll rose over the back of Cash for another header, but Villa’s fine fullback held his ground enough to prevent the big striker getting much purchase and the ball bounced harmlessly onto Mings thigh and into Martinez’s grateful arms.

Just two minutes later, Watkins had the ball in the back of the net again. With a give and go to Grealish, he took the outside route and, with only Darlow to beat, he lashed a low shot into the far corner of the net. Then the Assistant Referee raised his flag, close, but a good call.

Not to worry, there was more Jack-magic to come! From a Grealish corner, the goalie punched the ball clear but only to Nakamba who controlled and laid if off to Traore in the inside-left position and he turned in drawing attention. His captain had come back to an onside position and open, and the quick-thinking winger sprayed out a pass that Jack took and set himself for a cross through the 6-yard box. This move pulled fully seven defenders in towards their goal. When Grealish changed the plan and pulled the ball back, only one player was moving in the right direction, Traore. The Burkinabe international had anticipated the pass and was two yards inside the box when it arrived at his unfavored right foot. Still, the pace and location was perfect and the ball flew towards the top right hand corner of the net, hitting the underside of the crossbar and bouncing into the back of the net. A stunning side-footed shot that turned Darlow into a spectator. 42 minutes and Villa 2, Newcastle 0.

The Villans kept up the pressure, playing with understandable confidence and Luiz put a powerful shot just wide. The Claret and Blue players were still smiling as they left the field for half time. Undoubtedly, Steve Bruce would have given his all to encourage his players that getting the next goal would put them back in the game, but when they restarted, that goal should have been Villa’s third.

An excellently weighted pass from Barkley to Watkins on the right and, once again, the striker was able to get outside his defender and get off a low shot that was too close to the goalie’s foot allowing him to block. From the tussle to reach the rebound the ball landed at Luiz’s foot and he swept it towards the open goal only for it to drift wide to the left. Luiz shook his head in disbelief. Still no goals for the Brazilian so far this season.

Villa continued to press without exposing themselves to a counterattack and the Magpies failed to generate any serious threat of scoring. The only sniff of a chance came when Mings decided to dribble down the left wing and he lost possession. Good anticipation by Nakamba enabled him to intercede and snuff out the threat before it came to anything.

It was Villa again who next came close to scoring in the 68th minute. When another Traore cross was too deep and wide of the left post for Watkins to attempt to score he, instead, found an open Barkley. Unfortunately, Ross had overrun the play and was facing the wrong way. No problem, the Chelsea loanee attempted a very fancy-looking back-heel that was not that far away, sailing a yard over the bar.

It was Grealish’s turn a few minutes later as Villa broke from a Shelvey give-away only for his shot to be deflected over at the last second by the ex-Liverpool player making up for his error. With Newcastle looking incapable of mounting a threat, Trezeguet, Ramsey and El Ghazi were brought on for Traore, Grealish, and Barkley respectively. The fresh legs conjured up an excellent move that almost added a third goal.

Ramsey started the play in his own half carrying the ball away from striped shirts and spraying a beautiful pass to El Ghazi steaming up the left wing. His pull back found a Luiz racing into the area, only to be talked before he could get away a shot. The ball found an open Trezeguet on the penalty spot, and he smartly turned and stroked it towards the corner of the net, only for Darlow to dive acrobatically and turn the shot around the post. That induced yet another mini-drama as Trezeguet, on his knees, expressed bewilderment at his failure to score.

That was the last kick at the can. The final whistle blew and Villa had their ninth win and ninth shutout of the season, second only to Manchester City. With winnable games coming up, this Villa team could easily be in the top six within weeks. A heady thought for Villa fans everywhere..

ASTON VILLA (4-2-3-1): Emiliano Martinez; Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings, Matt Targett; Douglas Luiz, Marvelous Nakamba, Bertrand Traoré, Ross Barkley, Ollie Watkins, Jack Grealish (captain)

SUBS: Heaton, Elmohamady, Taylor, Engels, Trezeguet (s 80’), Guilbert, Davis, Ramsey (s 87′), Anwar El Ghazi (s 80’)

Newcastle (5, 3, 2): Karl Darlow, Javier Manquillo (s 87′), Jamaal Lascelles (captain), Isaac Hayden, Fabian Schar, Jamal Lewis, Jonjo Shelvey, Jeff Hendrick, Miguel Almiron, Andy Carroll, Callum Wilson

SUBS: Dubravka, Matthew Longstaff, Joelinton, Saint-Maximin (s 71′), Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle (s 80′), Emil Krafth, Ryan Fraser (s 71′)

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