The first Premier League fixture since the beginning of 'Project Restart' has fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic.
Newcastle United were scheduled to make the trip to Villa Park to face up against Dean Smith's Aston Villa on Friday evening, but an outbreak of the virus at The Magpies training centre has forced the game to be postponed.
A postponement was inevitable
It was confirmed that Newcastle players did not train on Monday as a result of the outbreak, with four players and a staff member testing positive for the virus.
Unfortunately, it was reported this afternoon that the situation had grown far more severe than the initial five cases reported; meaning Newcastle were unlikely to be able to field a full team on Friday night.
Newcastle officials spent the afternoon in talks with the Premier League in hope of having the game postponed - talks that eventually proved successful.
Newcastle United statement
Newcastle United said:
"Several Newcastle United players and staff members are now self-isolating at home after returning positive test results in recent days and the club's Training Centre site has been temporarily closed in order to contain the spread of the virus.
With the Magpies' first team currently unable to prepare for the match as a group, Newcastle United lodged a request with the Premier League to postpone the fixture at Villa Park, which has been approved by the Premier League Board.
The match, which was set to kick off at 8pm (GMT) on Friday evening, will now be rescheduled and a new date and time will be confirmed in due course. Newcastle United would like to thank Aston Villa Football Club for its understanding.
Newcastle United was one of the first clubs in the country to close its training ground prior to the first national lockdown in March and the club introduced comprehensive Covid-19 protocols in line with Premier League and government guidance to protect its players and staff ahead of Project Restart.
While the club has continued to ensure strict adherence to these protocols, and despite previously experiencing only a very small number of isolated Covid-19 cases, positive test results have risen sharply in recent days.
Accordingly, the club is now is working with Public Health England North East (PHE), local health authorities and the Premier League in line with Covid-19 protocols to identify the source of the outbreak and to ensure the risk of further transmission continues to be minimised.
All players and training ground staff will be re-tested this week and a meeting between the club, Premier League and PHE will take place to assess the test results.
The club will not be naming individuals who have contracted Covid-19 and asks that their privacy is respected."
The statement from the Premier League
After the cancellation of the game was announced, the Premier League said in an official statement:
"Following a Premier League Board meeting today, Newcastle United’s fixture at Aston Villa, due to be played at 20:00 GMT, Friday 4 December, has been postponed.
Newcastle lodged a request with the Premier League to rearrange the game following a significant increase in COVID-19 cases at the club, which resulted in Public Health England North East (PHE) advising that their training facilities remain closed.
The Premier League Board agreed, as a consequence, that the club are unable to train and adequately and safely prepare for their match on Friday.
The decision has been taken in consultation with Newcastle United and Aston Villa, and following extensive consultation with PHE and Premier League medical advisors, with the health of players and staff the priority.
Newcastle correctly notified PHE regarding a number of positive COVID-19 test results, which is standard practice under Government and Premier League guidelines.
PHE convened a meeting with Newcastle and the Premier League yesterday to assess the situation and advised the club’s training ground should remain closed and no group training would be permitted between players until Friday at the earliest.
All players and training ground staff will be re-tested this week and another meeting between the club, PHE and the Premier League will take place to assess the test results.
The Premier League wishes those with COVID-19 a safe and speedy recovery and will rearrange the postponed fixture against Aston Villa in due course."
It is comforting to see that this situation has been dealt with the seriousness with which it demanded; this crisis could have easily caused a serious outbreak throughout the entire Premier League, with devastating consequences.