Newcastle United 2 – 0 Aston Villa
Curse you, football supporter heart and brain. For a moment before kick-off, I’d talked myself into optimism, with my mind occupying the dreamy sun-kissed fields of footballing nirvana.
It carried on for a while into the first half last night at St James Park, until the inevitable Barcodes goal arrived just before the interval. Steve Bruce probably thought it can’t get any worse; it did. Scott Hogan stretchered off and Henri Lansbury doing, well, God knows what he was doing but defending the goal-line, it wasn’t.
Lascelles header was average at best until Lansbury kicked it against the post and his heel, before watching in horror as it trickled over the line. That killed the game off, Newcastle cruised through the remaining half-an-hour.
It might have been different. Karl Darlow tipped Jonathan Kodjia’s shot over the bar, helped by a deflection off Yedlin which took some of the shot’s pace away, but it was a first half where genuine chances were few and far between. And when the first one arrived, Newcastle took it.
Ritchie’s corner was poorly defended, with Mile Jedinak not clearing properly and the ball came loose for Gouffran to lash home. Steve Bruce’s face turned puce.
Sam Johnstone answered some of his critics in the match with some good saves in the second half. The problem for Villa is that on the road, we aren’t creating enough chances. And then came Lansbury’s killer blow. It’s bad enough seeing footballers with ‘man buns’ but when you were wear one, you need to play like Gareth Bale. Last night, he played like Gareth Hale and ‘The Management’ was not amused.
Steve Bruce showed us what was possible but there is a fundamental lack of confidence in the squad at the moment, not helped with the leading scoring cast to the wings. I’ve said for some time now that 3 – 5 – 2 is the way forward. We have the ability to play two wing-backs and the numbers to play three centre backs. It offers us flexibility to move to 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 but Kodjia and Hogan up front is the answer to getting most out of both players.
Kodjia is marginalised on the flanks while Hogan is left isolated. We don’t get midfield support into the box quickly enough to play with a loan striker but there’s little chance of Bruce changing at the moment.
Some bright spots emerged. Bjarnason had opportunities to make more of a game of it, and perhaps should have done, although credit is due to Darlow for quick reactions and his ‘star jump’ save. Nonetheless, the Icelandic international’s disappointment was shared by us all.
So it’s now 5 straight defeats, and 7 in the last 9 Championship games. It isn’t pretty reading; it’s fairly grizzly if we’re honest and more worryingly, shows little sign of ending soon. There are some big games coming up: 3 promotion contenders, 3 relegation candidates.
While Rotherham are bottom and losing there will be a gut-wrenching blow, defeats to Wigan and Bristol City would pull us into the mire. A second consecutive relegation? We need six points out of the next eighteen to stop that becoming a reality.
It’s not the failure, I can live with the failure. It’s the hope that kills me…