Last night saw Villa return to St James’ Park to face Newcastle United, a historically unsuccessful fixture for us that fans were hoping would end a difficult run. The lineup remained without Jack Grealish, but Matty Cash and Anwar El Ghazi returned to the bench. With Newcastle missing several of their star players, including Callum Wilson and Allan-Saint Maximum, it was reasonable to expect Villa to secure all 3 points. For a brief period, it looked as if this were to be the case, until a last-minute set-piece snatched a draw for Newcastle and Steve Bruce at the death.
It became immediately clear in the opening moments of play that Joelinton was going to be Newcastle’s biggest threat going forward. His pace and physicality looked a challenge for Mings, and five minutes in our high defensive line looked to make us vulnerable. Both teams made early chances, but misplaced passes and inaccurate crosses led to nothing of value being produced.
At around the 20-minute mark, Villa were struck with yet another injury blow. Bertrand Traore’s run towards the goal was punished by defender Paul Dummett, who barged the Villa winger and saw him fly into the advertising board. The momentum with which he collided with the stand caused him significant pain, enough to receive medical attention and end his night early. Smith called upon Anwar El Ghazi to replace him.
The remainder of the first half followed the same story, despite an increase in pressure. Trezeguet with our best opportunity had his shot saved at the near post, after a link-up with Elmohamady. Newcastle faced similar issues, a free-kick followed by consecutive balls into the box were unable to land for any of their players. We entered half-time goalless, an accurate reflection of a clumsy first 45 minutes.
Villa looked the livelier of the two teams following the break, keeping Newcastle in their half for the reopening five minutes. Things looked slightly more promising for Villa, with a couple of chances created by Ramsey before his substitution for Morgan Sanson in the 58th minute. Things just weren’t quite happening for the team; Targett’s free-kick was headed away from goal by Konsa, soon followed by Jacob Ramsey’s forceful run ending in a poor pass that didn’t reach Watkins.
The closest anyone looked to scoring was when Matt Targett’s header back to Martinez forced him into a diving save – a close call. Barkley later replaced Trezeguet, meaning all three substitutions were made by Dean before the 70-minute mark, which is not a phenomenon Villa fans are used to seeing and was perhaps a testament to how poor our performance was. An injection of energy was needed, but more than anything both teams lacked accuracy in the final third.
Several more failed chances were finally broken by an Ollie Watkins header that took a heavy deflection from former Villa player Ciaran Clark. Moments after Jacob Murphy smashed the ball off the bar for Newcastle, Watkins looked in disbelief as it looked like Villa were to take all three points from the home side.
Despite having a lead to protect, Villa allowed Newcastle to press until the final moments. The very last play of the game was given to Newcastle as they earned a corner, setting up Jamaal Lascelles to hit a bullet header from short-range, catching out Martinez and leaving Villa players and fans stunned. With only a few remaining seconds to digest this turn of events, it was hard to believe that Villa had thrown away an arguably undeserved win in the closing moments by simply not clearing the danger.
A point on the road without two of our most influential players should always be considered a positive, but with the points shared in such a painful manner, it is difficult not to be disappointed. The statistics suggest that a draw fairly represents the performance; possession, attempts, fouls, and corners were somehow all equally matched. The only difference between the sides was Villa’s 6 shots on target compared to 3.
Villa left St James’ Park with a lot to think about. Last night’s match joins a growing list of unconvincing performances since the team were affected by Covid and we can only hope that our season’s early form will soon resume.
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