Aston Villa (2) vs Newcastle United (0) – A Huge Improvement at Home

Game 1 (8/21/2021)

While it is easy to laud our Villans’ performance at home against Newcastle, there was not enough there to think about competing in Europe soon.  What was there were reasons to take a deep sigh of relief that our loss against Watford will not define us.

In fact, there was good, there was bad, and, thankfully, no ugly!  Even more encouraging than the good was that the bad was eminently explainable and, almost certainly, temporary.  So why not start this report with that.  Whilst playing a 5-3-2 formation, our opponents still managed to generate more offense (53% of possession), more corners (4 to 3) and should have had more shots on goal (Wilson shot wide when one-on-one with Martinez and the Magpies should have had a penalty based on the new, more offensive-oriented, VAR interpretation) – 3 shots compared to our paltry 2 shots on goal.

While we had one of the very best strikers in the Premier League, he was only provided one chance that he turned into a brilliant goal with a bicycle-kick.  The other two members of our front three (Buendia and El Ghazi) conjured up neither a shot on goal nor an assist for a shot on goal between them.  So, why is that NOT a crisis that requires an instant transferee to address?

The answer is simple, we have the talent, but it is either injured (Watkins, Traore, Bailey), not completely match fit (Buendia) or not fully seasoned (Chukwuemeka).  Meanwhile, our marvelous defenders are doing just about enough to create the chances that we need.  Against the Magpies, Tyrone Mings was assister-in-chief, flicking-on Matty Cash’s long throw-in for Ings to score just before halftime (Aston Villa 1, Newcastle 0) and getting his head to Ezri Konsa’s great header-assist that would have been a goal if not for Lascelles’ flailing arm preventing the ball entering the net.  El Ghazi took the post-VAR penalty and buried the ball into the side-netting while sending the poor goalie diving in the other direction (Aston Villa 2, Newcastle 0) in the 62nd minute.

Meanwhile, our new midfield trio of McGinn, Luiz, and Ramsey, were the reason that Newcastle could not convert possession into chances.  Each of these three stellar performers covered miles of territory at a torrid pace forcing their black and white counterparts backwards and sideways with passes that ate up the clock but barely threatened our back line, let alone our Argentinian international star goalkeeper.

When our back four were called into action, they were decisive and confident.  Considering the differing and substantial talents of Calum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin who toiled impressively from the opening kick-off until the final whistle, that was a great accomplishment.  Ashley Young showed all his experience never over-committing and limiting his infractions to a safe distance from goal.  Cash was equally effective primarily against Saint-Maximin though he was often assisted by a robust defensive performance by Emi Buendia.

With little penetration from the wings and great cover in front of them, Ezri and Tyrone had a relatively easy time of it though Mings caught a break when he failed to block Wilson early-on leading to the best opportunity of the game that Wilson muffed.  Tyrone made up for it by not letting anyone get by him except for the controversially ruled offside call.

It sounds strange to critique Emi’s performance in goal.  Still, the only real attempt on-goal he had to stop was a soft header that bounced in front of him and gently into his embrace at the end of the game.  Other than that, his most noticeable play was his racing to beat Wilson in the pouring rain.  That was ill-advised and he would have been facing a penalty-shot if VAR had not judged the striker offside.  If he had forced Wilson wide without touching him, the odds were that between Mings and Konsa they could have shut down the striker.

Fortunately, the referee, David Coote, judged that Wilson was offside though a more forward friendly interpretation could have been made.  If a penalty had been given and converted, the Villa would have been facing 15 minutes of intense pressure similar to what happened at James Park on March 12th when Lascelles tied the game in injury time with a powerful header.  That stress was not something that Villa fans were looking for.

In between, there were plenty of outstanding plays by our Villans that quelled danger and did so in a confident manner.  Certainly, the way that Matty Cash stepped in front of Wilson in the 6th minute to coolly intercept an excellent cross by Willock and then take-off up the field with Buendia on a counterattack.  Then, after landing heavily on his ankle, the way Cash quickly recovered, came back, and dominated in the air as he seized just about every clearance by Newcastle’s young keeper.   If that wasn’t enough, it was Cash who took the very effective long throw-ins without which we would not have witnessed Ings’s wonder-strike!

Similarly, when it appeared that the Magpies seemed to be getting control of the game, John McGinn on multiple occasions found that extra quickness to come away with the ball or get us a freekick.  Then, as the game progressed, it was Jacob Ramsey who appeared to raise his tempo and gain stature in front of our eyes as he glided (he had more positive runs than any other player on the field) and striking the ball just beyond the top corner as if to say, “maybe next time.”  That is one of the joys in watching players like Jack Grealish and Jacob Ramsey make that transition as we watch.

Of note, was that when Ramsey pressed Murphy in the 58th minute just outside the Newcastle penalty area, Buendia had enough confidence in his young teammate to join in and let Jacob pinch the ball.  The result was Murphy forced to foul and a freekick that John McGinn took (he had lots to take), but this was the one that was on the money to Konsa and then Mings and eventually led to the penalty that El Ghazi scored. 

As the team celebrated with the fans behind the Holte end, it was a testament to teamwork and the fans, evidently, felt that they had also contributed – which they had.

Aston Villa (4-3-3) Martinez, Konsa, Cash, Young, Mings, Douglas Luiz (Tuanzebe 88′), Ramsey, McGinn, Ings (Wesley 91′), El Ghazi, Buendía (Philogene-Bidace 86′)

Unused subs: Hause, Chukwuemeka, Hourihane, Targett, Steer, Nakamba

Newcastle (5-3-2): Woodman, Ritchie, Schär, Murphy, Lascelles, Fernández (Joelinton 78′), Willock (Fraser 90′), Almirón, Hayden (Sean Longstaff 45′), Saint-Maximin, Wilson

Unused subs: Hendrick, Gayle, Lewis, Clark, Krafth, Gillespie

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