Conor Hourihane

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.

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: 


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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.

Pesky Burnley twice levels in draw at Aston Villa

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Chris Wood‘s late header gave Burnley its second equalizer in a 2-2 draw at Aston Villa on Saturday at Villa Park.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Villa outshot the Clarets, had 60 percent of the ball, and passed it well, too, but Burnley dealt with Dean Smith‘s tactics of sending 27 crosses into the fray.

Jay Rodriguez scored Burnley’s other goal, with Sean Dyche‘s club up to 10th with nine points, while John McGinn and Anwar El Ghazi struck as Villa collected a point to sit 18th with five points.


Three things we learned

1. Fine margins again for Villa: Dean Smith’s men have out-performed their meager point total, as Villa’s five points are still Bottom Three. While the late disappointment against Crystal Palace as not their fault, this one was self-inflicted as the Villans lost sight of giant Chris Wood, who might as well have “This is our tactical approach” pressed onto his name plate. Not okay.

2. Dyche’s men never quit: Okay, we knew this. Everyone knows this, but Sean Dyche’s men make you look foolish every time you’re ready to doom Burnley into a relegation race. You keep thinking their Fortune will run out, that graft won’t win the day, and then Wood somehow powers his way to a late equalizer. The Clarets won’t tempt a European place this season, but we’d be silly to think of them as anything other than safe. Sorry in advance for the jinx, Burnley faithful.

3. Burnley’s backs bail out everyone else: Besides Wood’s finish, which didn’t exactly cap an outstanding day, the Clarets again put their back line under the gun. Keeping James Tarkowski is proving to be an outstanding bit of non-business for Burnley, who also got good performances out of fullbacks Matt Lowton and Erik Pieters. Both had assists, including the ex-Villa man Lowton on Wood’s equalizer.

Man of the Match: John McGinn was denied the opening goal when Conor Hourihane was spotted offside by VAR, but the soon-to-be 25-year-old Scot wouldn’t stay off the score sheet in scooping up his third Premier League goal.


McGinn thought he had his third goal early, with Hourihane ruled offside by VAR, but Villa would find the lead when El Ghazi used a cute touch of a Frederic Guibert cross to make it 1-0.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Rodriguez found the equalizer off an Erik Pieters’ cross, getting his first goal in the Premier League for Burnley. It was his 34th goal in the top flight.

McGinn got his goal to restore Villa’s lead with a straight-forward finish, but Wood powered down a header off Matthew Lowton‘s finish to deliver 2-2.

League Cup: Norwich City, Palace bounced

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There were extremes in the fortunes of Premier League teams who opened their League Cup runs on Tuesday.

[ MORE: What we’ve learned from PL so far ]

Aston Villa rang up six goals and struggling Watford posted a 3-0 blowout win, while Norwich City was expelled from the tournament by a League Two side and was Crystal Palace in penalty kicks.

Brighton was taken to the brink as well, but an old friend saved the Seagulls.

Watford 3-0 Coventry City

Ismalia Sarr and Daryl Janmaat scored on either side of half time as the Hornets finally got in the win column following a 0-3 start to the PL season. Adalberto Peñarnda of Venezuela added the third goal.

Crawley Town 1-0 Norwich City

Congolese striker Bez Lubala scored the goal that knocked down the Canaries. Lubala has five goals in six matches for the League Two outfit and is enjoying a new lease on life after failing to make an impact with Birmingham City in the Championship.

The win was the first against top flight opposition in the club’s 120-plus years.

Lubala scores (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Newport County 0-2 West Ham United

Jack Wilshere scored right before the break and Pablo Fornais added one off a Felipe Anderson feed soon after halftime as the Irons overcame a stiff challenge from the side that knocked Leicester City out of the FA Cup last season en route to a fifth round exit.

Fulham 0-1 Southampton

Michael Obafemi‘s 57th minute goal was the difference as Saints were ready for the tricky test at Craven Cottage.

Crewe Alexandra 1-6 Aston Villa

The hosts were up to the challenge, but Villa quite clinical as Ezri Konza scored in the fourth minute and Conor Hourihane added two to give the Villans a three-goal halftime lead. Keinan Davis, Frederic Guilbert, and Jack Grealish scored late to heap misery on the hosts.

Sheffield United 2-1 Blackburn Rovers

Chris Wilder‘s top flight men only managed two shots in the first half, but put them both in the goal.

Bristol Rovers 1-2 Brighton and Hove Albion

The Seagulls had all of the ball and a first half lead through Aaron Connolly before allowing an equalizer in the second. Glenn Murray — who else? — scored in stoppage time to save Graham Potter‘s men the upset.

Crystal Palace 0-0 (4-5 pens) Colchester United

Roy Hodgson‘s men had a good crew on the pitch, but couldn’t manage much of anything in attack even after inserting Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew.

Penalties started poorly, with U’s goalkeeper Dean Gerken saving Andros Townsend, and the Eagles never recovered.

Oxford United 2-2 (4-2 pens) Millwall

Iceland national team winger Jón Daði Böðvarsson scored both of the visitors goals to put Oxford down 2-0, but Mark Sykes’ 87th minute marker joined James Henry’s stoppage time penalty to make for a remarkable comeback.

Plymouth Argyle 2-4 Reading

Posting this to show how far American striker Andrija Novakovich is from the plans of Reading, who is reportedly open to sanctioning another Eredivisie loan for him. PEC Zwolle is the clubhouse leader according to football-oranje.com.

Elsewhere
Southend United 1-4 MK Dons
Burton 4-0 Morecambe
Grimsby Town v. Macclesfield (abandoned)
Leeds United 2-2 (4-5 pens) Stoke City
Nottingham Forest 3-0 Derby County
Preston North End 2-2 (5-4 pens) Hull City
Rochdale 2-1 Carlisle
Cardiff City 0-3 Luton Town
Southend United 1-2 Coventry City