Aston Villa 2 Newcastle 0: Watkins and Traore pile pressure on Toon chief Bruce as Villans go 8th with comfortable win
STEVE BRUCE’S Magpies continued their alarming tailspin as they crashed and burned to their latest defeat.
It is now 10 games without a win for the under-fire Geordie boss who will now come under even greater pressure from a Toon Army who never really liked him to begin with.
To cap a really bad day at the office – Rafa Benitez has made it known he has quit Chinese Super League side Dalian Pro and is heading back to Blighty.
The darling of the Gallowgate may not exactly be Bonnie Prince Charlie, returning from exile to lead his people – while Mike Ashley’s clammy grip continues to squeeze the life out of HIS club.
But it’s another headache Bruce could do without in these troubled times as Bonny Lad Rafa is sure to stir passions in his loyal followers.
Meanwhile, Villa continue to show what can be achieved with pro-active, ambitious owners with money to burn.
Morgan Sanson arrives from Marseille for £14million this week to join a club eighth place in the Premier League, five points behind fourth-placed Liverpool with two games in hand on last year’s champs.
The gulf in class was clear as Dean Smith sitting in an empty stand while below him his players swatted Newcastle aside.
Bruce did his best with his limited squad and went with twin strikers as he paired Andy Carroll up with Callum Wilson.
The plan was for Carroll to drop deep and win flick-ons, so Wilson could use his speed to pressurise Villa’s defence for second balls.
It wasn’t the most sophisticated gameplan but Bruce hasn’t been blessed with £225million to spend upgrading his squad as his opposite number Dean Smith has.
Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for Villa’s slicker, smarter players to start picking holes in Bruce’s A plan.
Matt Targett, operating more as a left-winger than a left back was first to test the Toon’s twitchy defence.
Isaac Hayden headed out Bertrand Traore’s cross and Targett chested the ball down before volleying a shot which had pace but lacked precision, allowing Darlow to comfortably gather.
The left-back threatened again after 10 minutes with a teasing cross which he whipped in just over Jack Grealish’s head into the flight path of Ollie Watkins.
But the Villa striker just failed to supply the finishing touch at full stretch as Newcastle survived another scare.
However the Magpies were way too slow on the uptake and when they allowed Targett the freedom to roam for a third time they paid a heavy price as Villa took the lead three minutes later.
Grealish rolled the ball into Targett’s path and when he centred Fabian Schar made a hash of his attempted clearance, stretching to knock the ball into the air.
Karl Darlow was sluggish in the extreme and poorly positioned, allowing Watkins the simplest of headers from four yards to punish such slipshod defending.
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Newcastle waited hopefully for VAR to rescue them but Watkins had just managed to stay onside so there was no reprieve and the goal stood.
It was the former Brentford man’s ninth goal in all competitions and it ended his nine goal drought, which was the last thing Newcastle needed – a confident Watkins!
He may not have the physique of Carroll but only Dominic Calvert-Lewin with four goals has scored more than Watkin’s three headed goals in the Prem.
Newcastle were grafting but couldn’t lay a glove on Villa. Lascelles leaped to win a Shelvey corner but his header was blocked by Mings.
Then Carroll threw himself at a Manquillo cross but his diving header flew wide before Mings blocked another headed attempt from his lanky adversary.
Moments earlier Schar picked up the first yellow card of the night for chopping down Watkins as the Mags attempted to flex their muscle.
But Villa were far too nimble for the visitors and Watkins had the ball in the net again, running on to a Grealish pass and drilling a superb low shot beyond Darlow.
This time the officials did rescue Newcastle as Watkins had strayed offside but the menace was real and Villa swiftly doubled their advantage three minutes before half-time with a stunning second.
Grealish's searching corner was punched clear under intense pressure by Darlow but Traore recycled the ball back to his skipper before continuing his run.
Grealish shaped to cross before brilliantly disguising a cutback to Traore, who stretched to fire the ball in off the underside of the crossbar!
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