As fans returned to Villa Park for the first full capacity game since February 2020, Villa hoped to get off the mark with three points at home to Newcastle United. Steve Bruce’s return to B6 was once again filled with disappointment as his former club came out on top with a 2-0 victory.
Here’s how we lined up:
Watkins remained absent with a knee injury, while Traoré and Bailey both dropped out of the matchday squad with respective hamstring injuries.
The home side received a warm welcome from returning fans, and for many players it was their first taste of a full capacity Villa Park behind them. The first half was stale, with barely a shot registered and neither goalkeeper tested. Other than an early chance for Callum Wilson, which was a result of a foul in the build-up, Newcastle remained subdued and Villa failed to capitalise. It was a scrappy affair, with fouls and long-winded set pieces constantly disrupting play.
The first glimpse of quality came in the dying moments of the first-half. A long Matty Cash throw, flicked on by Tyrone Mings, landed perfectly for the awaiting Danny Ings. He found himself in space and completed a stunning overhead kick, once again netting at Villa Park – this time, for the side in claret and blue. His title of “natural finisher” was once again confirmed, as he ran passionately to the touchline with his team mates in tow, applauded by 40,000 exhilarated Villans.
The half-time whistle blew, and Villa were ahead despite a lacklustre attacking display in the first 45. There were no changes for the home side at the break, and only one for the Magpies in the form of Longstaff for carded Hayden. The second-half was a noisier one, and more positive for Villa as they managed to work better on the ball. A handball by Lascelles from a close-range Mings header won Villa a penalty in front of the Holte End. El Ghazi scooped up the ball confidently and struck it into the bottom left corner to make it six out of six from the penalty spot. A two goal advantage seemed to seal the deal for Villa as they progressively grew into the game.
After 70 minutes there did appear to be some tired legs, but the likes of John McGinn and youngster Jacob Ramsey ran with conviction until the very end. An assertive run from Martinez to clear the ball from his area led to a clumsy collision with Wilson and referee Coote initially awarded what appeared to be an obvious penalty. The VAR gods struck again for Dean Smith as the penalty was overruled due to an offside, meaning Martinez could settle for just the booking.
The game was pretty easily maintained thereafter for Villa. Late substitutions came in the way of Philogene Bidace, returning Tuanzebe and Wesley, replacing Buendia, Luiz and Ings. The whistle blew after six added minutes and the sound of Sweet Caroline echoed from the speakers once more, signalling the real start to Villa’s 21/22 campaign.
With Barrow midweek and Brentford next Saturday, there are plenty of opportunities on the horizon for the team to get more wins behind them. Villa are yet to see the likes of Watkins and Bailey this season, and hopefully a fitter and fuller squad in the coming weeks will equal even better performances.
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