Aston Villa boss Dean Smith believes his side can “do something special” after they beat Newcastle to increase the pressure on manager Steve Bruce.
Villa moved above Chelsea and Southampton into eighth and are now just five points behind fourth-placed Liverpool with two games in hand.
Despite playing a more positive 5-3-2 formation, the visitors were undone by a Villa team whose manager watched from the stands following his touchline ban.
Smith’s impressive outfit still showed the quick attacking interplay which has been a feature of their season as Ollie Watkins ended a run of nine league games without a goal when he headed in the opener following Fabian Schar’s mistake.
Smith, who would not be drawn on his side’s European aspirations, said: “I’m really pleased with the team spirit and attitude, we can do something special but we have to keep working game by game.
“I am really pleased for Ollie Watkins, it always weighs on forward’s minds [not scoring for a while] and it was nice to get an early goal for himself. Really pleased, solid performance at 2-0 and another clean sheet at home.”
Newcastle, who have scored only once in their past eight games, lacked the sort of confidence in front of goal that Villa showed in doubling their lead.
Bertrand Traore played a one-two with Jack Grealish before cannoning a shot in off the crossbar.
There were first-half opportunities for Bruce’s side, who introduced Allan Saint-Maximin – after a long coronavirus absence – and Ryan Fraser for the final 19 minutes.
But after their only shot on target in the fourth minute, they did not overly trouble a Villa team who have at least one game in hand on all the teams above them except Everton.
Defeat for Newcastle means they are winless in 10 games and slip to 16th, seven points above the relegation zone.
Newcastle offer better balance but same result
Newcastle fans, who have been critical of Bruce’s style, might point to Villa as a team who can play positive attacking football with similar resources.
The fact Villa have enjoyed an upward curve since Bruce left the club in 2018 will not be lost on them, and even though the Newcastle manager was right to say prior to this game that Smith has enjoyed the benefits of last summer’s investment in players, Villa have been a joy to watch this season.
In contrast, Newcastle, who started the season positively, have been in a rut. Debate about Bruce’s formations have been rife on Tyneside and his position came under further discussion on Saturday after former Magpies manager Rafael Benitez left his job in China.
But in picking a 5-3-2 formation, it did seem to offer a better balance. Jonjo Shelvey, Miguel Almiron and the deeper Jeff Hendrick made up the midfield, allowing Andy Carroll to support Callum Wilson up front.
For much of the first half it looked promising. But when getting into good positions, Newcastle were let down by poor crossing or finishing, with Carroll wasting two good opportunities.
Their dwindling confidence was not helped by Schar’s error when he failed to clear Matt Targett’s first-time cross, allowing Watkins to nod past a flapping Karl Darlow.
Traore’s finish put a comfortable distance between the two sides and Newcastle never looked like breaking through.
There was a brief lift once Saint-Maximin and Fraser came on with the latter almost getting on the end of Almiron’s through ball, but it was another dismal night for Bruce, who has plenty to ponder as he attempts to arrest a worrying slide towards the bottom three.
Villa hotting up for European chase
In losing three of their past four games, Villa have been on their worst run of the season.
Yet this performance, plus the fact that a draw and two defeats in the league came against Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City, showed that Smith’s team are still on the right track, especially after recovering from a coronavirus outbreak in their squad.
By moving above Chelsea and within touching distance of the top four, European ambitions must still feature in Smith’s plans.
Despite sitting in the stands on a freezing night after criticising the officials in the midweek defeat by Manchester City, his side will have provided fans with much optimism for the rest of the season with another efficient attacking display.
They might have been fortunate for the first goal, although Targett’s cross was excellent, but Traore’s fifth goal of the season three minutes before half-time typified their approach despite Newcastle claiming Darlow was fouled beforehand.
There could have been more for Villa, with the impressive Grealish curling one effort wide. The effervescent Watkins, who had a first-half strike ruled out for offside, could also have added to his nine goals this season.
But with their defence well-marshalled by the vocal Tyrone Mings, and Douglas Luiz providing cover in midfield, Villa ran out comfortable winners.
‘I know we are capable’ – manager reaction
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce: When you’re in the bottom half of the Premier League, you are always looking over your shoulder and what you need to erase it all is to win a couple of games.
I know this group of players are capable, we’ve done it before. We’ve had a particularly tough time in terms of illness and injuries and let’s hope we can stay fit and healthy, because if we can do that then I’m convinced we will be OK.
Ashley is a patient man – analysis
Former Newcastle winger Chris Waddle on BBC Radio 5 Live: If the fans had their way, I’m sure they would say they want Steve Bruce out now. But Mike Ashley is a patient man and as long as he sees a future in the Premier League, and there’s no risk to that, I don’t think Steve Bruce has got a problem.
It’s about results. If you play well, it’s entertaining and you get results that’s the best thing in the world, but Steve Bruce needs a couple of wins quickly. That would give him a gap to the bottom three but he needs to find a [winning] formula.
Grealish the assist king
- Jack Grealish has provided eight assists in 17 Premier League appearances for Aston Villa this season, more than he had in his first four seasons in the competition combined (seven in 70 games).
- Aston Villa have kept a clean sheet in nine of their 17 Premier League games this season, with only Manchester City (10) recording a shutout more often.
- Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins scored his third headed goal in the Premier League this season, with only Dominic Calvert-Lewin having scored more so far this term (four).
Villa travel to face Burnley on Wednesday in the Premier League before a trip to Southampton the following Saturday.
Newcastle host Leeds on Tuesday in the Premier League before travelling to Everton next Saturday.
- 6Douglas Luiz
- 15TraoréSubstituted forTrézéguetat 80′minutes
- 20BarkleySubstituted forEl Ghaziat 80′minutes
- 10GrealishSubstituted forRamseyat 88′minutes
- 21El Ghazi
- 27El Mohamady
- 19ManquilloSubstituted forSaint-Maximinat 71′minutes
- 6LascellesBooked at 57mins
- 5SchärBooked at 26mins
- 24AlmirónSubstituted forGayleat 81′minutes
- 7CarrollBooked at 54minsSubstituted forFraserat 71′minutes
- 4M Longstaff
- Simon Hooper
Match ends, Aston Villa 2, Newcastle United 0.
Second Half ends, Aston Villa 2, Newcastle United 0.
Corner, Aston Villa. Conceded by Karl Darlow.
Attempt saved. Trézéguet (Aston Villa) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom left corner.
Attempt missed. Dwight Gayle (Newcastle United) right footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Jeff Hendrick following a corner.
Attempt missed. Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle United) right footed shot from the right side of the box misses to the left following a corner.
Corner, Newcastle United. Conceded by Tyrone Mings.
Foul by Trézéguet (Aston Villa).
Jamal Lewis (Newcastle United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Trézéguet (Aston Villa).
Fabian Schär (Newcastle United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jacob Ramsey (Aston Villa).
Isaac Hayden (Newcastle United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Aston Villa. Jacob Ramsey replaces Jack Grealish.
Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Fabian Schär (Newcastle United).
Attempt missed. Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Jack Grealish with a cross following a set piece situation.
Trézéguet (Aston Villa) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Allan Saint-Maximin (Newcastle United).
Substitution, Newcastle United. Dwight Gayle replaces Miguel Almirón.