Newcastle (5), Aston Villa (1) – Our Villans caught napping and collapse

Saturday, August 12

It was always going to be difficult to hold a strong, and improving, Newcastle club in their park, but Villa’s failure to gain control of the game early made the result well nigh inevitable.  It was if the team was in a pre-Emery flashback.   The confident passing from the back, starting with the goalie, was gone.

Martinez’s sloppy passes repeatedly put his defenders under duress when a long clearance would have given Watkins and Diaby an opportunity to demonstrate their superior speed.  Instead, defensive jitters led to our Villans conceding freekicks in their own half, much to the delight of Kieran Trippier, the Geordie set-piece master.

They had already survived one scare when a slick move on the right gave Bruno Guimarães time, and room, to lace a shot to Emi Martinez’s right.  That was a relatively easy save for our worldclass goalie, but his parry stayed in-play in the corner and Anthony Gordon gathered before combining with Joelinton.  As usual, Leon Bailey started the game slowly and was a little sluggish in covering.

The cross from young Gordon was perfect, arcing over the heads of Konza and Mings before arriving close to the penalty spot.  Newcastle’s new-boy, Sandro Tonali, showed his pedigree by arriving with a slide and a right leg raised to rifle the cross past our scrambling Emi.  Less that 6 minutes gone, and our Villa were in shock, 1-0 in arrears.

Within two minutes, our Villa defense was caught flat-footed again and only a great save kept Tonali from doubling his tally.  Though the Geordies retained the edge in play, our Villans eventually settled into the game and showed their crisp passing ability.  Kamara and Luiz started to get ascendancy in the middle and Diaby’s pace impressed.

Then, from nothing, our Villans tied the game.  A good move on the left was rebuffed but Konza was first to the clearance.  He calmly transferred to Luiz who had found a little space in the inside-left channel.  Our Brazilian noticed Lucas Digne breaking down the left wing with nobody tracking and caressed an inviting pass.

Digne picked out Ollie Watkins 20-yards away in the penalty area for what would have been a difficult angle to get much purchase on a header.  A slight deflection off Trippier’s side reduced the pace and changed the angle and Ollie, adjusting, smartly headed-on.

Once again, there was a new signing ready to announce his presence by being “Johnny-on-the-spot”.  This was Moussa Diaby’s turn.  With Villa fans wondering if he was worth the club-record £51.9m, he calmly side-footed his shot into the top right corner of the net on the half-volley.  Goalie Nick Pope was transfixed to his line.  In the 11th minute Villa had tied the game at 1-1.

That should have settled Villa’s nerves but five minutes later they conceded another unnecessary freekick.  Notably, on the weekend only newly promoted Sheffield United exceeded Villa’s total of 17 freekicks.  This time Trippier recognized that the angle did not suit his team and he calmly squared the ball to Tonali in the inside-right position.

The likely recipients of the cross were Dan Burn and Sven Botman and both lined up just outside the area on the left with the much shorter and lighter McGinn, Cash and Kamara marking.  While Cash managed to impede Burn’s progress, neither McGinn nor Kamara could prevent Botman from breaking clear and meeting Tonali’s cross then squaring the ball back across the goal for an easy tap-in by Alexander Isak.

The fact that the Newcastle striker was left unmarked suggests that the defense was relying on executing the offside trap.  In fact, they were almost successful.  Unfortunately, Cash, in his tussle with Burn was goal side of Burn (and Botman) at the moment Tonali passed the ball and played both Magpies onside (as picked up by VAR).  Our Villans played that dangerous strategy last year and, most times, got the call in their favor.   This time they did not, and Newcastle had the lead again, 2-1 in the 16th minute.

Soon after two incidents within less than two minutes changed the game inexorably.  In the 25th minute, Diaby broke towards the Newcastle goal faced with three Magpie defenders.  Despite being outnumbered, his speed and directness fully occupied them.  As he entered the box, he laid off a perfect pass for the arriving Ollie Watkins to his left.  While Ollie was being tracked by another Magpie, he was clear with only Pope to beat. 

Our England international received the pass around the penalty spot and immediately aimed his shot towards Pope’s right where there was three feet of open net.  Unfortunately, he dragged the ball just wide of the post.  With our Villans still ruing the miss, Newcastle responded with a quick break to Isak on the right wing with only Mings back and the two tussled for control.  It was strength against strength with Villa fans confident that Tyrone would prevail but, suddenly, Mings legs buckled as his knee gave.  With our defensive star down Konsa and others arrived, and the danger was cleared.  Unfortunately, at a huge price.  It was evident from everyone’s reaction that a serious injury had occurred.

The coincidence of potentially losing two star players (Buendia, now Mings) in the same week left most Villa fans in a daze.  When Mings was carried off on a stretcher, a cloud descended on the game.  Even Newcastle fans stood and applauded our fallen hero.

Pau Torres replaced Tyrone and did so admirably.  Villa managed to regain their composure and created a good opportunity to tie the game, but Diaby tried to beat Pope on the short side as he closed in on goal from the right, only to find the side netting and not the goal.

Halftime arrived and Villa were only down by one goal, with still a lot to play for.  From the second half kickoff, Villa seemed more committed than their hosts.  Luiz was particularly effective finding Digne open on the left only for Scharr to clear the dangerous cross.

Then, another lapse in concentration ended any hope of Villa making a game of it.  A long speculative ball was well covered by Konsa with Isak close on his heels.  Who knows if Mings might have yelled at his teammate to clear it?

Instead, Konsa tried to fake his marker only he lost possession in the process.  Isak, despite being surrounded by Martinez and Torres, as well as Konsa, found a way to chip an exquisite shot from an angle that settled into the far corner of the net.  At 3-1 in the 58th minute and the team demoralized from a give-away; Villa’s goose was cooked.

When Emery replaced captain, John McGinn, with central defender Diego Carlos in the 64th minute, it appeared that he was trying to limit the damage.  More Newcastle goals could cause a longer-term impact on the team’s confidence.  Ironically, Villa almost immediately scored.  A neat through-pass from Diaby sent Watkins one-on-one with Scharr.  Our most reliable goal-scorer showed his best side by driving the defender back and lashing a shot that Pope could only push into the path of Matty Cash in his new wingback position.  With a gaping net to hit, Cash ballooned the ball over the bar.

The Newcastle manager substituted Callum Wilson and newly acquired Harvey Barnes (for Isak and Gordon) and matters got worse for our Villans.  The fresh legs ran our weary warriors ragged and added a 4th goal in the 77th minute (Wilson) and a 5th in injury time (Barnes).

A sad end to a season opening game as one is likely to see.  This will be a stern test for Unai Emery and his squad over the next few weeks to make sure that they do not lose too much ground at home and abroad.  Newcastle 5, Aston Villa 1.

Newcastle: Pope, Trippier, Schär, Botman, Burn, Tonali (Anderson, 90+2’), Guimarães (Longstaff, 85’), Joelinton, Almiron (Murphy, 86’), Isak (Wilson, 68’), Gordon (Barnes, 68’)

Unused Subs: Martin Dúbravka, Jamaal Lascelles, Matt Targett, Valentino Livramento 

Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash (Philogene, 87’), Konsa, Mings (Torres, 31’), Digne, Luiz, McGinn (Carlos, 64’), Kamara, Bailey (Tielemans, 46′), Watkins, Diaby (Coutinho, 87’)

Unused Subs: Calum Chambers, Cameron Archer, Omari Kellyman, Robin Olsen

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