With Dean Smith sat in the director's box in the Trinity Road tonight communicating with his coaching team over the phone, many questioned whether Aston Villa would bounce back from their two successive Premier League defeats and manage to pick up their first win since Boxing Day against Crystal Palace.
Points on the board are more important than games in hand, Villa had the former heading into this game, with their opponents Newcastle in dire need of the latter.
Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United entered the game tonight on a nine-match winless run, having only scored four goals during that run of games - Bruce opted to play both Andy Caroll and Callum Wilson up front in the hopes the pair would change the away side’s fortunes.
Two goals in the first half were enough to see Villa leave tonight with three points and a clean sheet. Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Traore's efforts edged out Newcastle as their winless run extends to ten games now.
Story of the game
It only took Villa 12 minutes to break down the Magpies as Ollie Watkins managed to break his goalless streak which dates back to November 8th against Arsenal.
A cross delivered into the box by Matt Targett is met by the boot of Fabian Schar, who attempts to clear the danger but ends up scuffing his cross, which loops between Watkins and Karl Darlow. Darlow fails to make himself big enough in the air and Watkins capitalised with a headed effort that rustled the back of the net early doors to give the hosts the lead.
Despite Newcastle's best efforts, which mainly came in the form of a deep cross from Javier Manquillo to find Caroll at the back post - they failed to get themselves back into the game.
On one occasion Caroll managed to cushion the ball across the six-yard box, only for Emi Martinez to comfortably pounce on the ball and nullify the threat.
Watkins had the ball in the back of the net on the thirty-minute, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside. Though, it didn't take Villa too much longer to double their lead.
After Darlow failed to deal with a corner effectively on the 40th minute, Villa doubled their lead. Traore was quick to recycle the ball following a corner and plays a one-two with Jack Grealish, Bertrand arrives into the box and unleashes a powerful shot with his right foot to double Villa’s lead.
Newcastle failed to contain the threat. Darlow’s sloppy punch out allowed Villa a second bite of the cherry and it paid off. After the goal Newcastle sunk very deep with eight men behind the ball until the half-time whistle was blown.
During the second half, Villa were more than happy to play the game in their own half and look to tire Newcastle's forwards by playing the ball around the back.
Choosing their attacks carefully in the second half, Villa nearly further extended their lead as Douglas Luiz's shot from six yards went wide and a counter-attack finished with a Grealish shot was deflected wide for a corner.
Newcastle didn't pressurize Villa too often but managed to dispossess Konsa and Mings on occasion as the second half progressed. Despite their best efforts, Villa's recovery tackles prevailed more often than not.
Bruce turned to his bench for inspiration and brought on Allan Saint-Maximin on the 70-minute mark, the Frenchman managed to deliver a handful of crosses into the box but failed to pick out a black and white shirt.
Dwight Gayle also made an appearance off the bench but failed to haunt Villa as he has done in the past for both Crystal Palace and West Brom. A bicycle kick in the 91st minute from Gayle faired wide as Villa cruised to another three points and a clean sheet this evening.
Takeaways from the game
Newcastle's substitutes failed to make an impact on the game. Saint-Maximin has been struggling with the side-effects of long COVID, his cameo today will do both him and Newcastle good as he looks to gain match sharpness.
A fit Saint-Maximin causes any side in the Premier League trouble for 90 minutes without breaking a sweat, rehabilitating him will be key for Newcastle as they look to beat the drop.
Steve Bruce failed to get a response from his side, who were more than happy to concede possession throughout the game and sink deep which mostly played into Villa's hands.
As for Villa, tonight proved the importance of having a squad you can rely upon. Marvelous Nakamba lived up to the name as he stepped in for the suspended McGinn and nullified most danger with relative ease, he even outjumped Carol on multiple occasions too.
Playing Nakamba allowed Luiz to play without the shackles he usually has operating in the '6' role. Luiz was fluid in transition and helped bring Villa forward with such elegance.
Early on Villa sensed there would be space to penetrate down their left side as Manquillo often found himself in advanced positions. Targett, Grealish, and Watkins looked threatening when attacking this space.
Villa attacked the game late on with the same intent as they did early doors, with substitute Trezeguet shooting from close range and forcing a save from Darlow in the 94th minute.
Man of the match
Ollie Watkins: Watkins sets the tone for how Villa play, leading the line with bundles of energy by pressurizing defenders and forcing mistakes - he's vital to Smith's Villa side.
Scoring his first goal since November to put his side ahead and leading the line in an effective manner is why he's my MOTM.
Watkins and Villa will look to extend this performance to their next game as they travel to Lancashire to face Burnley at Turf Moor.