Wednesday evening brings a difficult challenge for Aston Villa, former manager Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United. The magpies come into the game in fine form after beating ten-man Sheffield United 3-0 at St James’ Park last time out.
Dean Smith’s men are in desperate need for some points after failing to pick any up against Chelsea, despite taking the lead. The next five matches after the magpies are against current top-half sides, so three points are a must on Tyneside.
The Villans are still without defenders Björn Engels and Frédéric Guilbert, but neither have been particularly missed with improved performances from Ezri Konsa and Kortney Hause in recent matches.
Dean Smith has a habit of being victorious against Steve Bruce sides, coming out on top several times as Brentford manager against us and who can forget the away victory at Hillsborough against Bruce’s Sheffield Wednesday side.
Smith also came out on top this season against Newcastle at Villa Park, with Conor Hourihane and Anwar El Ghazi scoring in a 2-0 victory. Villa fans will be hoping for something similar on Wednesday but the form-table seems to suggest otherwise.
The last time Villa played at St James’ Park was in 2017, where a Henri Lansbury own-goal sealed a 2-0 victory for the magpies.
View Across The Dugout:
Newcastle are surely safe now after a brilliant 3-0 win against Sheff Utd, how do you think this comfort will affect the drive of the team going into the remaining games?
It was a brilliant win against Sheffield Utd and a convincing performance. This is the first time since West Ham away that we’ve looked so fluent going forward and genuinely deserved a comfortable victory. Many things can be said about this team, however, one thing that can’t be doubted is their commitment and application. With a potential takeover looming, the manager and players are under the spotlight and will be looking to finish the season strongly. Drive shouldn’t be an issue and I expect us to continue giving our all in the remaining games.
Joelinton finally got on the scoresheet in your previous outing, do you think he can continue in this form?
Every Newcastle fan was delighted to see Joelinton find the net against Sheffield Utd. He missed a in the first half and it would’ve been very easy for him to go hiding. To his credit, he rolled his sleeves up and played a key part in the win, getting John Egan sent off before scoring and being a general nuisance throughout. In terms of continuing his form, in warm up games against Middlesbrough and Hull he found the net within the box and looks to be attacking the space between the goalposts, something he hadn’t done prior to the Premier League’s enforced delay. He has scored in 3 games in a row (albeit 2 of them were warm up games against lesser opposition) and should pose a greater threat now that the monkey’s off his back.
With news of a takeover, Steve Bruce will want to prove he’s the man for the job next season. How do you feel he’s done this season after a tough start?
Bruce has done an ok job. The football has been turgid and we have rode our luck on so many occasions. It’s quite hard to believe that we have amassed so many points when you correlate that to the displays on the pitch. The team have given their all and deserve credit for their work rate, but it really has been painful viewing. Bruce lacks tactical nous and rarely impacts a game with his substitutions or tactical changes. To his credit, we have switched to 4-4-2 lately and this has led to some much improved displays, in terms of results and general excitement. He is clearly a decent bloke and deserves some praise for the way he has conducted himself throughout the season. He cares about the club and has acted professionally throughout the takeover saga. Whether he should stay beyond the takeover? I don’t think so, however, I’m sure he will feel he deserves a shot and, with so many friends within the media, there will be loud cries for him to be given a chance under potential new owners. If I could grade Bruce for the season I’d give him a C+ so far, which is respectable all things considered.
Allan Saint-Maximin shone throughout the game against the Blades, is he your most important player?
He’s a maverick and an incredibly talented player. He’s our most naturally gifted talent since Hatem Ben Arfa and can do some truly magical things with the ball. We do have some key members of the team, so I’m not sure whether he would be nailed down as most important – but he’d certainly be in the discussion. Dubravka is pivotal for us, as well as Lascelles, Hayden and Almiron. Without ASM, we do lack spark and his pace and trickery frightens the life out of defenders. He’s now scored two in two games and if he can add consistent goals to his game he really will find another level entirely.
What do you see being the key matchup in the game? Grealish and Manquillo? Saint-Maximin and Targett?
We let Grealish completely dictate the game at Villa Park and didn’t lay a glove on him. As talented as he is (big fan, not least cos of his infamous goal against Brighton) we allowed him to cut us to ribbons. Whoever is tasked with marking Grealish holds the key to us dominating the game. Manquillo has won many fans over this season and has been a steady performer, I feel that a combination of full backs and sitting midfielder, likely Hayden, will have a big role to play. I haven’t seen many Premier League defenders nullify Allan Saint-Maximin this season, so Villa’s handling of him will also be a key factor in which way the game goes. We do have pace to burn with him and Almiron, so I feel that how Villa choose to combat that threat and who they task with doing that will be very important. I think it’s more of an overall tactical approach rather than an individual battle.
What’s your predicted lineup for the game against Villa?
I can’t see many changes from the team against Sheffield Utd. We do now have a great roster of centre backs, so Lejeune or Schär could be given an opportunity. Lazaro and Yedlin could also come into the fore. It really depends on how we choose to rotate. Bruce has mainly stuck with winning teams throughout the season, however, the jam-packed fixture schedule will likely force his hand sooner or later.
What’s your score prediction?
I’m predicting a 2-1 Newcastle win. We have looked more dangerous going forward of late and we’re generally solid at the back. Villa’s loss to Chelsea was a real hammer blow and they do look suspect in defence. I think we should certainly be looking to win the game and not be as passive as we were at Villa Park. If we let Grealish run the show, we’ll be in for a difficult evening. I wouldn’t be hugely surprised at a draw but do think we’ll have just enough to edge it.
I can see Dean Smith making some changes for this match after keeping the same starting XI for the previous outing. Although I see it making little difference, I think we may see Trézéguet from the start replacing a disappointing El Ghazi. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nakamba also, after Hourihane failed to lay a finger on a Chelsea player and our lack of possession left him surplus to requirements. The Irishman seems to have a greater impact on a game when coming on from the bench, West Brom in the play-offs and Norwich at home this season come to mind. My prediction is a score draw…1-1.