Newcastle United 1 – 1 Aston Villa
Inconsistent form has plagued Aston Villa in 2021. The attack hasn’t been clinical enough, and has been dragged through by the defence to pick up the points this year. However, if there was any team in the Premier League that could present this Villa side with the perfect opportunity to get their mojo back, it was Steve Bruce’s Newcastle. The Magpies had won one of their last six games, but had managed more goals than Villa in that span. Injuries had taken out key members of their squad to add to Bruce’s woes. Mercurial talent Allan Saint-Maximin, along with Callum Wilson and Miguel Almiron are currently on the treatment table instead of the pitch.
Dean Smith made one change to the starting XI. Jacob Ramsey came in to replace French midfielder Morgan Sanson. The bench at Smith’s disposal was looking a little stronger also, Matty Cash and Anwar El Ghazi regained their places after previously being ruled out due to injury. Smith would be hoping for better luck at St. James’s Park than other Villa managers in recent years. The Villans had not won on any of their last 12 trips to Newcastle.
There were three words to describe the first-half… dull, dull and dull. It looked like a game in which neither side wanted to win. Quality was nowhere to be seen, and if it hadn’t been Villa playing, then most Villans would have probably switched it off at the 25 minute mark.
The only moment of any note from the Villa came when Trezeguet took on his man and drilled a shot straight at Dubravka in the Newcastle net. Joelinton taking on Tyrone Mings provided the other vague source of entertainment for those watching. It wouldn’t take much for the second half to be an improvement on the first.
Ultimately, Villa threw away three points, in a second half that was fractionally an improvement on the first. The best chances all came to Newcastle. Matt Targett tried his best impression of Stephen Warnock and forced an athletic save from Emi Martinez. Then Jacob Murphy cleverly worked some space in the box, before striking the bar.
Villa would have a measure of luck though, as Targett’s cross was met by the head of Ollie Watkins. The ball pinged off ex-Villa man Ciaran Clark, wrong-footing Dubravka, and found the top corner. Villa had got their lead, undeservedly so.
Chances on the break for El Ghazi and McGinn were wasted, the latter due to the Scotsman playing a ball to an offside Ollie Watkins. These chances came back to bite Villa, as Villa continued to give the ball away and then with seconds left, a cross was played into the Villa box, and Jamal Lascelles thumped his header past Martinez to make it 1-1.
It can’t be said that Villa deserved a win, the performance served up by those wearing claret and blue was stale and unimaginative. If this match had come at the start of the season, there would have been worries about relegation from the fan base.
The exciting start to this term has well and truly been wasted, the midfield is being dominated each week, as it is filled with inconsistent performances and a lack of any rhythm. Come the summer and there’s certainly a good argument/need for more upgrades.
Emiliano Martinez – 6
There wasn’t much for Emi Martinez to do, other than pick the ball out of his net in the 94th minute. Matt Targett’s attempt on his own net had Villa’s number 26 diving to his right, and a Ryan Fraser shot provided little threat. The lack of action around either goal did give fans a chance to get out their ‘Martinez Bingo’ cards for the commentators. Mentioning the number of years he spent at Arsenal, what a good signing he has been, and that he left Arsenal because they couldn’t guarantee him game time, and the list goes on.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6
Ahmed Elmohamady did his job well enough at right-back. The experienced full-back made six interceptions as Newcastle attempted to play direct balls down the wing. He attempted to put in a few crosses into the Newcastle box, but none of them found their mark. Having Matty Cash back may help give Villa some more dynamism on the right going forward.
Ezri Konsa – 7
Ezri Konsa can come out of this match saying he genuinely couldn’t have done much more. The centre-half was on point to intercept passes, block shots and make clearances. Without Konsa coming in to help Tyrone Mings a couple of times in the first half, Newcastle could have created some very dangerous opportunities. A new contract should be on the table for the 23-year-old, as he has been fantastic all season, and to ward off any possible suitors in the summer.
Tyrone Mings © – 6
Joelinton really gave Tyrone Mings a hard time. The England international really struggled to deal with the Newcastle forward’s strength and pace, and found himself being shrugged off the ball and beaten. In the second half, Mings did improve, and made what seemed to be a three-points securing clearance in the dying moments of the game. Unfortunately for Mings, it was other poor clearances that aided Newcastle’s attempts to draw level.
Matt Targett – 6.5
Matt Targett was caught high up the pitch several times throughout the game. This gave Joelinton space to drive in behind the Villa defence, and give Tyrone Mings a torrid time. Targett did manage something that Villa fans haven’t seen a lot of in recent weeks, an accurate cross… that resulted in a goal. Miracles do happen.
Douglas Luiz – 6
Douglas Luiz didn’t play too badly, in fact he didn’t do much wrong. The Brazilian screened the defence well, made tackles, intercepted poor passes, and filled in at the back when Konsa or Mings was dragged out of position. Once or twice his passing did let him down though, as he overhit them or missed his intended target.
John McGinn – 5
There were parts of John McGinn’s performance that were up to the standard Villa fans want to see. The energetice midfielder played a lovely lofted pass to Matt Targett before the Villa goal, and he often did well to intercept passes in the centre of the park. However, there were times when McGinn drifted out of the game, and Newcastle, and Jonjo Shelvey in particular were able to play their game in midfield. He also gave the ball away far too often, as he was dispossessed four times.
Jacob Ramsey – 5
Jacob Ramsey’s inexperience really showed, as he failed to make any kind of impact in a game that really needed some creativity. The attacking midfielder was tidy with his passing, but in key moments his deliveries were a little on the lazy side, lacking in intention. This was summed up just before he was taken off, as he didn’t make the most of a good opportunity to create a chance on the break.
Bertrand Traore – 6
Bertrand Traore showed a little willingness to take on his man and run at the opposition. It was this readiness to run at the opposition that ultimately cost the winger his place on the pitch. His darting run to the byline resulted in a nasty clash between his ribs and the advertising board. Hopefully it wasn’t anything more than a bad bruise.
Ollie Watkins – 6
Ollie Watkins got some sort of reward for his hard work, as his near post header deflected into the top corner. So often the ball was punted up to Villa’s record signing, and so often there was no support for him. This was highlighted by him being dispossessed five times and having six unsuccessful touches, as he had no one to release the ball to. Having another striker to come on in his place would give Villa a second option on the attack and give Watkins a much needed rest. Can big man be back sooner?
Trezeguet – 5
There was a lot of running from Trezeguet. Unfortunately for the Egyptian, he could run all day, but still produce very few moments of quality. His one spark came as he took on a defender and drove into the box. He was then back to his usual antics and drove the ball straight at the Newcastle keeper. Knowing that the 26-year-old is capable of finishing chances, like at the end of last season, make him even more frustrating to watch.
Off the Bench
Anwar El Ghazi (20) – 5
Anwar El Ghazi did put in one near post cross that Ollie Watkins almost connected with. Apart from that, the former Ajax man was predictable and lacking ideas. Cutting in a shooting is all well and good, but only if the shot makes it past the defender directly in front, and isn’t straight at the keeper. All of El Ghazi’s six attempts were one of these two scenarios. The worst missed chance came late on as Villa had a chance to seal the three points, and his shot was tame and easily saved.
Morgan Sanson (58) – 4
Whilst being tidy on the ball is admirable, Villa needed some drive and creativity in midfield. Morgan Sanson came on and didn’t do anything particularly special. With Villa 1-0 up and on the break to potentially make it 2-0, Sanson elected to jog and observe Barkley and Watkins break, when he should have spirited unmarked alongside Barkley to be in position for a lay-off to make it 2-0. He left the field with a disappointing 17 touches in 36 minutes of action, and without a key pass, shot or tackle to his name.
Ross Barkley (67) – 4
What has happened to Ross Barkley? His first three actions after coming on were having the ball taken off his feet, giving the ball away with a poor pass, and losing the ball on the counter attack. His lack of effort after losing the ball was mind blowing also. As Newcastle tried to counter, Barkley was the third man back for Villa, making it a three-on-three situation. Barkley neither pressured the ball carrier, or cut off his passing lane, and pointed to Konsa to look after the man that he should have been covering.
Dean Smith – 5
This was the performance of a team that is either on the beach, or completely lacking any confidence, or maybe both. How Villa have gone from the scintillating attacking performances of the first half of the season, to this, is quite incredible.
Is there much more Dean Smith can do with the players he has?
Deano can only put the players he has out there, and it’s the players that are performing so poorly. With all the parts in place, with Jack Grealish, Matty Cash and Bertrand Traore (and maybe even a big man off the bench), this team is capable of playing teams off the pitch. The Covid break, Super Jack and Cash getting injured, and a general lack of squad depth, have meant this season has no doubt been an opportunity wasted.
Smith has a task on his hands to turn this form around and get the team firing again before the end of the season, so that any poor form doesn’t carry over into next season. With a tough fixture list to end the season, it won’t be an easy task.