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Ah, the enduring lure of the Premier League. Welcoming Newcastle should have been the home banker to end all home bankers for an Aston Villa side with nine wins and one draw from 10 Villa Park league matches, again a team with a seemingly incurable bout of hodophobia, out to avoid a fifth successive league defeat – a run they have not endured in over four years.
Very quickly, however, the script was torn apart by a battle-weary Newcastle fully deserving of a first league victory on the road since September, as Villa slipped to a first home league loss in just under a year. Only in the Barclays.
This was a hotly-anticipated battle of the two sides tipped to be the main threat to the Premier League establishment. Both are huge clubs in their own right, but the riches and global appeal of the “Big Six” have made it almost impossible to win a seat at the top table.
A substantial amount of money has been spent, and spent well, by both, ensuring they, especially Villa, are ahead of schedule in their bid to challenge the Premier League elite.
They have come a long, long way from their mauling at the hands of Newcastle on the opening day of the season to mount a surprise title tilt. Victory over Newcastle would have put Unai Emery’s side within two point of leaders Liverpool.
This season, however, Eddie Howe’s men have Emery’s upstarts’ number. And some.
There was only one team in it from the off at an expectant Villa Park. A superb pass over the top from Jacob Murphy 20 minutes in set Antony Gordon away, he cut inside, twice, only for Emiliano Martinez to spreads himself, a la that match-winning stop in the World Cup final, to make a superb block.
Several more Newcastle openings came and went before the deserved opener found the net – a half-volley on the six-yard line for Fabian Schar. Criminal defending from Ezri Konsa and Douglas Luiz to let the Swiss defender go.
Like London buses, having waited 18 months for a league goal, Schar had two inside four minutes, prodding home after Gordon’s deflected strike that had come out off the crossbar.
Villa didn’t have a dog in the fight and needed the break to regroup. Whatever was said at the interval did little to turn the tide in the hosts’ favour, however, as substitute Miguel Almiron’s low cross was turned into his own net by Alex Moreno to make it three for the stunned Magpies seven minutes into the second half.
The centurions remembered how to defend the fortress from that point on as Villa finally got going, Ollie Watkin’s 50th Premier League goal – becoming only the third Villa player to reach such a mark – getting his side back in it with 19 minutes to go.
The travelling Geordies were fearing another away-day debacle as the Villa hitman had the ball in the net again moments later, only for the linesman’s flag to deny the England international his second of the game.
Drained Newcastle, dealt another injury blow in the first half as Alexander Isak, not for the first time in black and white, limped off, tired more as each minute ticked by. There was still time to piece the pre-match script back together for Villa, with Newcastle having conceded over 60 per cent of their league goals after the hour mark of matches, but not this year, against the team.
They need bodies back, fast, but with three very winnable games against Luton, Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth up next, with week breaks in between fixtures, Newcastle’s season, after being given new life in the most surprising of settings, can still have a happy ending yet.