Steve Bruce’s return to Villa Park ended in further misery for the Magpies as they fell to a 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa.

A cool, calm and collected Villa display saw Ollie Watkins return to the scoresheet after a prolonged drought, as well as Bertrand Traoré with a lovely right-footed strike from the edge of the box.

The missing John McGinn was replaced by the Zimbabwean, Marvellous Nakamba, who put on an assured performance on his second appearance of the season.

Dean Smith was seen sitting in the stands due to a one-match touchline ban, imposed following his red card during Villa’s trip to the Etihad earlier in the week. This allowed him a more aerial view of the game, in which he would likely have seen plenty of good play, as well as sloppiness at times.

The first half was a brilliant home display from Villa, with plentiful possession and opportunities. The two goal lead at half time gave Villa a comfortable goal cushion, but the feeling that their opposition were open to conceding more goals.

Newcastle failed in their duties to create, only drawing one very easy save from Martinez throughout the entire 90 minutes. They also looked underwhelming defensively, with the 5-4-1 or 4-5-1 failing to utilise their defensive structure, instead backing off Villa’s attack. Unable to close Villa down, Newcastle became bystanders to the home side’s game.

The second half was slightly anti-climactic. It almost appeared that Villa were comfortable in second gear, and did not fully commit to attacking Newcastle’s vulnerabilities. However, there were chances aplenty and Villa just lacked sharpness in the final movement or pass to really punish their opposition. It was painfully easy for those in Claret and Blue to play out from the back, and on another night, Bruce could have been leaving his old ground even more wounded.

A real marker of improvement for Villa was their ability to close down Newcastle quickly and win back balls after being dispossessed. At no point during the night did any of the Villa players look troubled, nor did they struggle to bounce back from brief periods out of possession.

Konsa and Targett continued to impress with their confident performances at the back. Watkins caused Newcastle real problems not only up top, but down the wings as well. The entire Villa team were comfortable and consistent, but did not capitalise on chances to take the game to the next level – something that Smith noted himself in his post-match interviews.

Three points and a clean sheet mean Villa are up to eighth in the league table, while Newcastle stay on 19 points without a win in 10 in all competitions. Villa players and staff will likely be disappointed that they did not do more on the night, but a steady victory after consecutive losses is a good result.

Burnley (A) in mid-week will be another test for Villa against a strong unit, who have hit better form since their visit to Villa Park a couple of months ago. With John McGinn and Dean Smith back from suspension, as well as the return of Barkley and Trezeguet, Villa now have their best squad available. Hopefully this can trigger a chain reaction of good results and further Premier League success.

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