Another action packed game at St James’, goals, flair, excitment.......... In case you needed telling, im stretching the truth by a country mile.
This was another Bruce masterclass of how to not bother taking the 3 points and instead being happy to take the one. Aston Villa came into the game with, like us, injuries, but it never felt like a better time to play them. With one win, two draws and two losses in the last five for Dean Smiths men, which included a loss to bottom of the table Sheffield United, from the outside it did look like a game that if we pulled our socks up, we could take the points and start the push away from the bottom three, especially after Fulham's win over Liverpool added more pressure to the mix of Brighton, Newcastle United and at the time Burnley, whoafter a great result against Everton look to be clear and sat with breathing space in 15th. If we take something from this game, it would put the pressure back on Fulham who had Manchester city later in the day.
As has become a normality for Newcastle in recent weeks, we started on the front foot, passing the ball well and pushing Villa back into their own third, which was something Villa seemed happy for us to do, our front three moving between themselves as Gayle stared on the left, Joelinton on the right and Fraser in a false nine role in the middle. As the clock ticked on the game evened out and we looked starved of ideas. Inside 20 mins, Dummett in for lewis on the left side of the back 4, put Traore through the advertising boards in a strong shoulder to shoulder, resulting in a early sub for the away team, El Ghazi coming on to replace him. Five shots, one on target with one corner and 50% possession for the home team at the half way mark, with the same numbers for Villa despite having the extra shot on target really shows how little either team had of the ball in the areas that matter.
Second half seemed to show a little more urgency, but unfortunately this was mirrored by Villa, who's early sub seemed to add a extra threat to the away team. Villa bossed the stats on the attacking front, having 53% possesion, ten shots of which four were on target and a counter attack that resulted in a shot. El Ghazi topping the shots board with an impressive six shots in the 70mins he was on the pitch followed at the way side by McGinn with three. Newcastle on the other hand had a group of five players all having two shots each, one of which was goalscorer Lascelles, not the first time in recent weeks that one of our defenders has been in the mix with the attacking options.
The game went back and forth in midfield and a 0-0 draw seemed inevitable until the final ten minutes, some subs from both sides to try and add a spark, and that spark came in the 83rd min when Murphy, on for Fraser, took a pass fromm Dummett into the box, jinxed onto his right foot putting two Villa defenders on their backs before curling an effort onto the bar. The game then burst into life as in the 85th min Targett advanced down the Newcastle right and allowed too much time to put a low cross into the area, a diving watkins getting his head to the ball and getting a lucky deflection off the shin of Clark which put the ball into the roof of the net. That seemed to be game over, Newcastle, although too late already, started throwing everything including the kitchen sink, a goal line scramble in the dying mins before a cross from Murphy found the head of Lascelles who fought off his marker to give the home side a share of the points.
Newcastle came away again with stats that showed some level of an attempt to do something in the game and not just be a defending drill for 90 mins, 27 total crosses only 8 completed (30%), 69 long balls with 30 completed (43%) and 282 accurate passes from 392 attempted (72%).
Neither side were expected to score from the attempts put on the board with Newcastle having an xG of 0.87 and Villa having 0.75, and the expected draw from the numbers continues with 6.79 for the home side and 7.52 from Villa in the form of passes allowed per defensive action in opposition half (PPDA) and passes completed within an estimated 20yrds of goal, not including crosses (DEEP) with both teams having 5 a piece.
Newcastle now travel to Brighton on Saturday at 8pm (GMT) to face a team (at time of writing) two points below them in 17th and really fighting for survival. Things need to be sharpened up at the business end of the pitch, and the opportunities made need to be taken. With the easier run of games coming to an end and with Newcastle still awaiting the return of the dynamic front three, Newcastle need to hope that three points from three winnable games is enough to keep the wheels turning as we enter the last ten games of the season.