Newcastle United 2 Aston Villa 0
Newcastle United FC
- Peter Bankes
Newcastle United top the Sky Bet Championship once again after seeing off out-of-form Aston Villa at St. James’ Park.
The Magpies were slow to come out of the traps, and were a touch fortunate to lead at the break, Yoan Gouffran breaking the deadlock after a scramble inside the Villa area.
The home side were better in the second half, however, and pulled further ahead as ex-Nottingham Forest captain Henri Lansbury – the villain of the piece when United travelled to the City Ground in December – skewed into his own net in bizarre fashion.
Though the visitors exhibited signs of promise early on, they looked flattened after shipping a second, Newcastle coasting over the line to re-open their one-point lead at the top of the table.
But, five minutes in, it was Villa who had created the first opportunity of note. Mile Jedinak flicked Neil Taylor’s set-piece towards Scott Hogan, who – with more time than he realised – looped a header off-target. Still, the ball almost dropped for Birkir Bjarnason at the back post, but the Icelandic international failed to connect properly.
United struggled to get a foothold early on, opponents Villa belying their lowly position in the standings with an encouraging start. Just after the half-hour mark, Jonathan Kodjia’s looping cross almost dropped in at the back post, but Karl Darlow managed to tip the ball over.
Going forward, the Magpies offered little for much of the opening half. Their cause was not helped by an injury to Dwight Gayle, whose first appearance at St. James’ Park in more than a month ended early.
And yet, Rafa Benitez’s side still managed to head into the break in front.
With 42 minutes on the clock, Matt Ritchie’s cross from the right was met by Lascelles, whose header across goal caused panic in the visitors’ defence. Eventually, the loose ball bobbled up for Gouffran, who found the net from just a couple of yards out.
The closing moments of the first half were by far United’s best. Ritchie almost added a second before the interval, lashing wide of Darlow’s near post after a driving run.
The second period was less than five minutes old when the Magpies threatened again, Lascelles flicking high of the target from Jack Colback’s ball in.
But, just before the hour-mark, they added to their lead in bizarre fashion.
Shelvey’s corner from the left barely got off the ground, but Lascelles was still able to make a connection after getting across his marker. The skipper’s hopeful attempt ought to have brought a simple clearance out of Lansbury, but the former Arsenal midfielder somehow allowed the ball to get caught between his feet and trickle over the line.
Villa should soon have halved the deficit, though. Newcastle switched off at the back, with Bjarnason allowed to gather Jedinak’s floated ball over the top. However, Darlow was quick off his line to deny the midfielder.
A string of opportunities then came and went at the other end. Ritchie was first to go close, bringing a fine save out of the visitors’ Sam Johnstone after a neat team move.
The Scot then crossed for Gayle’s replacement, Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose rising header was gathered by Johnstone.
With 20 minutes remaining, Colback embarked on a marauding run into the penalty area before seeing a low drive pushed wide by the Villa stopper.
Though Kodjia twice took aim in the closing stages, Steve Bruce’s side never really looked like setting up a grandstand finale.
Almost two months in, Villa are still to record a win in 2017, in sharp contrast to Newcastle – who now sit eight points clear of third-placed Huddersfield Town.