Aston Villa and Newcastle came into the match at Villa Park just a point apart in the Premier League table, but on the day the gulf in ability was on full display.
A comprehensive 2-0 home victory saw Villa go seven points clear of the relegation zone, with first-half goals from Conor Hourihane and Anwar El Ghazi, both on set-pieces. Needing some form of attacking mentality in the second half, Newcastle offered nothing going forward, and Steve Bruce will have plenty to ponder after a night when nothing went right.
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Martin Dubravka was on hand to make sure the scoreline wasn’t worse, but the Magpies were soundly beaten on the road. Jack Grealish pulled the strings for the home side, providing a silky attacking display and delighting the Villa Park fans.
Three things we learned
1) Newcastle’s desire questionable against Villa onslaught
Aston Villa came out firing on all cylinders from the opening whistle to halftime, bringing into question Newcastle’s desire in such a critical match. Sure, Newcastle was playing on the road, but to concede so much attacking pressure to a fellow relegation candidate was problematic. It all came to a head on the half-hour mark when DeAndre Yedlin‘s foul of Jack Grealish on the edge of the penalty area led to a stunning free-kick by Conor Hourihane that delivered the game’s first goal.
It continued after the opening goal, with another set-piece situation doubling the Aston Villa lead. Newcastle had mental lapses all over the penalty area, with Paul Dummett just completely switching off, allowing a free-kick to reach Anwar El-Ghazi.
Seriously, what was the Newcastle defense doing? And goalkeeper Martin Dubravka hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory there either, putting forth a measly effort to stop that ball.
After the home side was 2-0 up and the Steve Bruce absorption plan was shot, they had very little to offer up front. Bruce threw on Andy Carroll – who hasn’t scored since April of last year – with a half-hour to go, but it had little effect on the game despite changing to a 4-4-2 formation. The Magpies had absolutely nothing when it mattered most, and that’s exceptionally worrying for a team fighting for its Premier League lives.
2) Aston Villa’s fight should keep them afloat
What Newcastle doesn’t have, Aston Villa does. Look, this isn’t the best team in the league, not by a long shot. They make mistakes and they have glaring weaknesses. But they have a fight which will earn the Claret & Blue enough points to stay afloat. Dean Smith should be proud of the way he prepares his team to play matches, milking just about as much effort from this squad as he can. It’s hard to see them going down when they play at this level during such important matches.
3) Jack Grealish continues to be Villa’s talisman
It’s been clear from the start of the season who Aston Villa’s best player is, and who will save them from the drop. Jack Grealish was fantastic again, distributing around the penalty area and pulling all the attacking strings. He completed 48 of his 56 pass attempts, including 25-of-31 in the attacking third, picking up four chances created and assisting the opening goal (to be fair, it was the cheapest assist of all time, simply there to tap the free-kick to Hourihane which opened the Newcastle wall). The 24-year-old ran the show at Villa Park and will surely be the one to lead the squad to safety this season, and he embodies the aforementioned fight that possessed the squad tonight.
Man of the Match: Jack Grealish
Aston Villa was clearly the better side throughout the first half, holding 75% possession through the first half-hour. They went ahead on a pair of set-pieces, with Newcastle committing two fouls right on the edge of the penalty area. DeAndre Yedlin and Federico Fernandez were the guilty parties, and the defending was miserable on both goals.
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Newcastle had a chance to pull one back, but a Fernandez header was saved by Tom Heaton was up to the task, keeping the effort out. That was by far their best opportunity, and put forth just one other shot on target the rest of the half.
El Ghazi nearly had a second before halftime on the counter but an excellently timed step by Jetro Willems played the Dutch international offside and the flag went up as the ball found the back of the net.
Newcastle came out inspired after the half, but the burst of energy barely lasted 10 minutes as Villa nearly scored a third on 52 minutes, requiring a great Dubravka save on Ezri Ngoyo’s header. Again Dubravka was on point in the 74th minute when Wesley poked on frame from short range with the goal gaping. He picked up a third big save on an 85th minute free-kick by Jack Grealish who was aiming for the far post with an attacker waiting to pounce.