Aston Villa ease to a 2-0 victory over Newcastle United at Villa Park to pile more misery on former boss Steve Bruce.
Goals from Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Traore condemned United to their third league defeat in a row as Villa’s European charge picks up as they find themselves four points off fifth place.
Following his dismissal in Wednesday night’s defeat away at Manchester City, Dean Smith was sat in the stands as he was forced into making one change to his starting 11. Marvelous Nakamba was brought in for only his second league start of the season in place of the suspended John McGinn.
Villa started the better of the two sides with Matt Targett heavily involved down the left hand side. The left back registered the game’s first goal attempt with a volley which was straight at Karl Darlow, before his cross was inches above the head of Ollie Watkins in the middle.
The hosts continued to attack down the left hand side and opened the scoring down that channel after only 12 minutes. With the help of a deflection from Fabian Schar, Targett’s cross was met by Watkins who beat Darlow in the air to head in.
The goal wipes out a nine game goal drought for Watkins who takes his tally in the Premier League to seven.
Villa were in total dominance and almost doubled their lead through Barkley less than five minutes later. A free kick was glanced on by the midfielder at the near post who only saw his header go narrowly wide of the right post.
Steve Bruce’s side looked to cause threat to the Villa defence via crosses with Andy Carroll lurking dangerously each time in the middle. Matty Cash did well to prevent the Toon striker connecting with a cross back post which bounced down into the grateful grasp of Emiliano Martinez.
Villa and Watkins had the ball in the net once again just after the half hour mark but were met by the raising of the offside flag correctly. A surging run from Mings started the move which was finished with Jack Grealish playing in Watkins who fired with his left footed strike across Darlow into the bottom corner.
A second was scored before the break after a corner was fantastically recycled and finished off by Bertrand Traore. Darlow half-dealt with the corner by punching to Traore on the edge of the box who played a one-two with Grealish, before guiding his shot to the top corner via the cross bar.
The Burkina Faso winger’s goal is his fourth in six games for the club with his provider, Grealish, registering his eighth assist of the season- the third highest in the league.
Villa started the second half exactly where they left of and should have had a third within the opening two minutes. Barkley played a through ball to Watkins who forced a save from Darlow who could only spill to the ball to Douglaz Luiz who dragged his shot wide from the penalty spot.
As the game approached the final 20 minutes, the visitors had shown little sign of finding a way back into the game with Martinez acting more as a bystander. Villa could have wrapped the game up when Traore ball picked out Watkins back post whose header back into the middle found Barkley, however his flicked effort with the outside of his boot lopped over the bar.
The chances continued to fall Villa’s way but again another one was wasted. Jonjo Shelvey was disposed on halfway allowing Barkley to drive forward with the ball on the counter, with plenty of claret and blue shirts in support. He opted to slide in his international teammate, Grealish who cut in but saw his shot deflected behind for a corner.
Despite not much happening on the pitch inside the final 10 minutes, with Villa comfortable seeing the win out, one welcomed sight for the Villans was the return of Trezeguet. The winger replaced Traore to make his first appearance since the defeat to West Ham at the end of November after being side-lined with a hamstring injury.
His return was almost marked with a goal in the remaining seconds, but a strong right hand from Darlow tipped his effort around the post. `
As Simon Hooper blew the final whistle, Smith’s side complete the job once again to keep their European hopes well and truly alive, especially with their two games in hand. Villa earn their ninth league clean sheet of the season, two more already than what they managed last season.
Next up is a trip to Lancashire to face Burnley on Wednesday night where Villa will hope to pick up another three points.