Conor Hourihane

Bruce labels Newcastle performance ‘too passive’

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Steve Bruce was harsh but fair when discussing his team’s performance in the 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa on Monday.

Newcastle was battered and bruised throughout the match, out-shot in the game 17-11 and beaten on the xG count 2.44-1.04, with half their xG total coming on one saved shot just before halftime.

That left Bruce shaking his head after the match, criticizing his team’s ability to put the home side under pressure at Villa Park. “I think that was the disappointment,” Bruce said during his post-match media availability when discussing the first half. “I think we didn’t do enough with the ball or without it to cause Aston Villa any real threat.”

[ MORE: Recap, 3 things learned ]

“For a half-hour we were too passive, and that’s the frustrating thing,” Bruce said, “because Aston Villa weren’t that great either and the game’s hinged on the first goal.”

It wasn’t just the attacking mentality that Bruce said was missing. He also wanted more from his defenders, who allowed a pair of set-piece goals, both coming on deliveries from Conor Hourihane who scored the first and assisted the second.

“I think our defenders should be defending that better, too many stood and watched it,” Bruce said of the second goal scored by Anwar El Ghazi in front of net, “and unfortunately in two minutes in the Premier League the game’s gone.”

Bruce was asked if the international break put a stop to the team’s momentum, which he brushed off. “There’s no excuses really. In the first half we didn’t do enough, and we have to be honest enough to admit that.”

Aston Villa thumps Newcastle 2-0 to go seven clear of the drop

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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.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

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.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

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.

Watch Live: Man City v. Aston Villa

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Manchester City host Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Pep Guardiola‘s squad aiming to momentarily close the gap to Premier League leaders to three points.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

City’s injury-hit defense will face a stern test against an in-form Villa side who haven’t looked overawed back in the top-flight. Dean Smith‘s side will fancy their chances of causing an upset.

In team news Man City bring in John Stones to play alongside Fernandino at center back as Stones replaces the injured Rodri after returning from injury himself. Sergio Aguero is on the bench with Gabriel Jesus starting.

Aston Villa have brought in Douglas Luiz and Trezeguet who replace Conor Hourihane and Anwar El Ghazi.


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Analyzing a day of VAR drama in the Premier League

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VAR had its most eventful day in the Premier League, so far, as the new technology introduced for this season is still settling in.

My word, the VAR control center at Stockley Park close to Heathrow Airport was busy on Saturday.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Multiple PL games had game-changing moments reviewed by VAR, and there are plenty of players, managers and fans feeling aggrieved, or lucky, as they head home.

Below we take a look at the key moments which shaped the outcome of the Premier League action.


Wolverhampton Wanderers v. Southampton – RECAP

This clash at Molineux had the most VAR decisions of the day, as Raul Jimenez had two goals chalked off in the first half. Both of those decisions were correct, as the first was a handball by Jimenez and the second saw Patrick Cutrone in an offside position. So, VAR was working well. But after Southampton had gone 1-0 up a huge moment arrived and cost them three points. Matt Doherty danced into the box and as he was off balance trying to get his shot off, he fell over with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Maya Yoshida close by. A penalty kick was awarded by the referee on the pitch, Peter Bankes, but the decision then went to VAR with many expecting it to not be awarded. But it was and Jimenez scored to secure a 1-1 draw for Wolves. Southampton were not happy at all with the decision, and you can understand why.


Aston Villa v. Brighton – RECAP

In the end, Aston Villa beat 10-man Brighton 2-1 in stoppage time so this may be forgotten about quickly. But Dean Smith was livid after the game as Conor Hourihane‘s fine strike was ruled out in the first half. With Wesley challenging for the ball in front of the goal, Brighton’s goalkeeper Mat Ryan seemed to run into him when trying to catch the ball. Played went on and after Hourihane’s goal was scored and Villa Park had celebrated, VAR ruled that Wesley had fouled Ryan and the goal was chalked off. It was a baffling decision checked and checked again with a long delay. It was a huge shock that this goal wasn’t allowed to stand after being reviewed.


Tottenham Hotspur v. Watford – RECAP

Okay, this was wildddddddd. In the first half, with Watford 1-0 up, Gerard Deulofeu dribbled into the box and with Jan Vertonghen sliding in, the Spurs defender clearly made contact with Deulofeu. No penalty was awarded by referee Chris Kavanagh but VAR reviewed the supposed foul and gave nothing. How was that not a “clear and obvious error” as contact was clearly made? Spurs got away with another VAR call late on too, as Dele Alli looked to have handled in the box before scoring the equalizer. VAR reviewed the goal and although the referee signalled the goal was fine to stand, which in itself was shocking as the replays showed the ball hitting the top of Alli’s arm, on the big screens at Spurs’ stadium a “No Goal” signal flashed up. It has since been stated that it was a mistake in the system for the screen to show that message, but there was so much confusion and Watford’s players and manager Quique Sanchez Flores were upset the goal stood. Dele Alli was sheepish when asked about the goal after the game, as VAR got two out of two huge goals incorrect in Spurs’ draw with Watford.


Leicester City v. Burnley – RECAP

Now, describing Sean Dyche as being apoplectic with rage is something we do quite often during a PL season. But he and his staff were beyond that as Burnley’s late goal was ruled out at Leicester. Chris Wood thought he had made it 2-2 after bundling home his second of the game, but VAR ruled out the goal for a slight touch on Johnny Evans by Wood. It was a faint clip and coming together between the Burnley striker and Leicester defender with the ball already going in, and the Foxes knew they had got away with one. Dyche was trying to be as diplomatic as he could be after the game but this was a harsh call against Burnley who should have grabbed a point.

Aston Villa smashes Norwich City in 5-star win

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Aston Villa climbed out of the bottom three and sank Norwich City into it during a 5-1 defeat of the Canaries at Carrow Road on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Wesley scored a pair of first half goals, and Jack Grealish, Conor Hourihane, and Douglas Luiz also got on the sheet in the big win.

Josip Drmic‘s stoppage time goal ruined Tom Heaton‘s clean sheet in a game with 44 total shots (22 to Villa).

Norwich has six points and sits 18th. Villa has eight and is up to 14th.


Three things we learned

1. The Villans will feel richly rewarded. Will they roll on? Perhaps no side has been less rewarded for performance this season than Smith’s men, including the remarkably silly officials’ decision at the end of the Crystal Palace match. The only shame is that Villa Park was unable to appreciate the moment.

Now can the Villa team feel a little unshackled, with their points meeting their performance for just a second time this season?

2. Mings the man early: Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings has consistently delivered for the newly-promoted side this season, beginning on Opening Day when he blocked every shot on Earth. He didn’t have a great second half at Carrow Road, but don’t sleep on what he did when the game was still in the balance.

Known before his time at Villa for being a big money buy with as many shocking tackles and injuries as good moments, Dean Smith has turned the center back into an England regular. And he is delivering, making an amazing recovery to stop a deflected effort from leveling the score at 1 shortly after Wesley put Villa in front, and then stopping Buendia’s rip in the 28th.

3. Shades of Benteke from Villa’s new big man: Remember for a moment that the Christian Benteke we saw at Aston Villa was unplayable at at times. Now a big Brazilian is conjuring up memories of the powerful yet deft Belgian, as Wesley scored his third and fourth goals of his Premier League career. The second was nothing special, just a center forward in the right place for a cutback, but the first showed the patience to not launch into a low header.

Man of the Match: 


[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Stiepermann’s long dribble looked set for a lay-off to Teemu Pukki, who started the move, but the former Borussia Dortmund man took a shot which deflected onto goal.

He’d take another chance off a corner kick, and end up with three attempts when the sequence ended without a goal. Aston Villa had taken the first three shots, Stiepermann the next three.

Wesley’s chest trap and clever finish of a cross onto the doorstep was a deserved opener for the Brazilian big man, who is recalling the early days of former Villa man Christian Benteke.

In-form Tyrone Mings that made a terrific goal line clearances to keep it 1-0 as Norwich threatened the goal.

Anwar El Ghazi missed a clean bid to make it a two-goal lead with a header off the bar, and John McGinn curled a beauty just wide of the far post after fine work in the 27th minute.

Kenny McLean then caught Conor Hourihane’s run into the box to set up Wesley for a hat trick bid, but McGovern made a pair of saves after a slow run-up from the Brazilian.

The floodgates still opened after that, and Villa rightly deserved the three points.