After missed chances, a total lack of conviction in the final third and a cruel own goal from Ciaran Clark in the 86th minute, Jamaal Lascelles headed home to rescue us a point with 30 seconds on the clock.
It may seem like a good draw when equalising so late, but I’m sure I join many Mags out there in feeling like that’s a huge chance missed to get that elusive win we’re desperate for.
After all, Villa were way below their best tonight, without their star man and there to be beaten. You could argue that neither side did enough to take all three points, however we could’ve easily edged it had we not picked the wrong pass when big openings came our way.
The result takes us onto 28 points, meaning we are now two clear of Brighton (17th) and Fulham (18th), with the latter facing Southampton on Sunday after Man Cit’s trip to Craven Cottage tomorrow night.
Bruce made just the one change for this one, taking out Jeff Hendrick and bringing in Dwight Gayle for only his second Premier League start of the season.
It wasn’t clear if we’d moved to a 4-3-3 or would be sticking with a 4-3-1-2, but one thing that didn’t add up was Bruce’s call to keep Emil Krafth in the side when Javier Manquillo – the club’s best right-back – was fit again.
The game kicked off and it was immediately clear that we had stuck with a 4-3-1-2, with Fraser in the ‘Almiron role’, Gayle operating as a left-sided forward and Joelinton down the right.
It was a cagey start. Fraser had a well struck shot gathered comfortably by Martinez after a ball in behind by Joelinton and lay off from Gayle, but Villa started to control possession after the five minute mark – enjoying 70% of the ball and pinning us in our own half.
It felt like the first goal in this one was going to be key, with BT Sport pointing out that neither side had won a game this season when conceding first.
Joelinton then burst into life down the right hand side, beating Mings for pace and shrugging off the England international after cutting inside. A few black and white shirts were breaking into the box, but he got a shot away that was well blocked by Konsa. It wasn’t as good a chance as his opening at West Brom last weekend and perhaps a sign that he’s been told to be more greedy in and around the box. Either way, it was a case of promising approach play and poor final ball from the big man.
We took some confidence from that opening and got ourselves on the front foot over the next few minutes without ever really threatening.
The dangerous Traore was forced off with a rib injury after colliding with the hoardings and replaced by the El-Ghazi – who had a decent shot well held by Dubravka soon after his introduction.
The Slovakian soon had another save to make, with Trezeguet bursting in between Dummett and Hayden before lashing a powerful strike that stung Dubravka’s finger tips.
After surviving that scare, we then got back on the front foot with 64% of the ball between the 25th and 30th minute mark. We’d upped the intensity and put plenty inviting balls into the box, but it was too often a Villa head that was meeting Dummett and Fraser’s deliveries. I was against him starting, but Carroll would’ve been sat on the bench licking his lips at this point.
The lack of pace or cutting edge in our side was a concern without our absent attacking trio, yet it was clear this game was one we could win as we approached half time. We had to get better service into Gayle and look after the ball a bit better in midfield – Shelvey’s passes were ‘mixed’ to put it mildly – however it was promising to see how much Mings was struggling to cope with Joelinton’s power whenever the Brazilian got at him. The issue was his final ball nearly always let him down, giving this one a similar feel to last Sunday’s stalemate.
Another worry was the lack of fluidity between the front three and our failure to move the ball quickly when breaking. If it wasn’t Gayle looking lost on the left or Fraser being ignored in a good position it was Joelinton’s slow and sloppy decision making that let us down, making you wish Wilson, Almiron and Saint-Maximin were fit that bit more!
The whistle went and it was 0-0 at the break. Another poor game and one that that was there for us to win if we could up our game in the final third. The problem was, that felt like a big IF when Gayle looked lost on the left, Fraser was struggling to stamp his authority on the game and Joelinton’s final ball often let him down.
Onto the second half and it began with a cheap yellow card for Krafth – one that left him walking on egg shells just when the game was threatening to open up.
We were defending well via a host of blocked shots and keeping Watkins quiet – he was their main outlet but nothing was sticking – however it was the same old theme. Patches of promising play but as soon as we got into the final third we never looked likely, with Villa often dealing with any hopeful balls into the box and our front three looking exactly what they were – a forward line who’d never played together in a system that didn’t really suit them!
60 minutes in and the game was screaming out for someone like Jacob Murphy. Ok, he’s no Allan Saint-Maximin, but his pace and directness could hurt Villa. Something needed to change or Bruce were sleepwalking towards another 0-0 in a game that was there to be won.
It was Dean Smith who made changes, however, bringing on Sanson and Barkley before Lascelles was booked for a blatant handball to stop a Villa counter.
A few more promising situation then opened up when we burst forward on the break, but one under hit pass from Willock and another over hit from Hayden 30 seconds later left Newcastle fans up and down the country with their hands on their heads!
Another opening then arrived after Willock slipped Joelinton in behind. The Brazilian burst into the box down the right, had Martinez to beat and Gayle hoping for a tap in, however he once again picked the wrong ball – opting for a hopeful cut-back to a player surrounded by Villa shirts in Fraser. Painful to watch.
15 minutes remained and it really did feel like the writing was on the wall if we failed to find a winner against an Aston Villa side who’d never looked so beatable all season. Thankfully, Bruce saw sense and brought on Jacob Murphy – but was it a case of too little too late as the clock hit 80?
With 82 minutes on the clock, our big chance arrived. Dummett fired a good ball into Murphy and he sat two Villa men down, cut in and saw his right footed shot fly past Martinez and crash back off the bar. It was a decent effort – which is more than can be said about some of our play in the final third tonight – but it was ANOTHER opening that ended without a goal.
A draw would’ve felt like two massive points dropped, yet disaster struck with five minutes remaining. Targett was given too much space to cross and his ball was met by Watkins. His header was going wide but ended up going in off the bar via a cruel deflection off Clark – the former Villa man who hadn’t put a foot wrong all night.
A bitter pill to swallow and a goal that sent a sinking feeling through just about everyone on Tyneside – but that’s what you get what you show such a lack of conviction in the final third!
88 minutes in and Bruce turned to Andy Carroll. He’d scored just once in over 18 months back at the club, but we needed him to bag another here if we were to avoid a devastating defeat.
After surviving a quite ridiculous 3 vs 1 counter attack – spoilt by a stunning Dubravka save and Watkins offside – we had one last chance to get the ball into the box.
Carroll missed his header and the ball was retrieved by Murphy, whose swinging cross was met brilliantly by Jamaal Lascelles. His header flew past Martinez and the full-time whistle went straight after the restart.
A huge point for Newcastle United or an even bigger missed chance to take all three against a Villa side way below their best?
Who knows. A frustrating night on Tyneside filled with zero quality in the final third, but Lascelles’ last-gap equaliser at least saved us from a disastrous defeat.
Next up, Brighton next weekend – a must-win match that Jacob Murphy must start after another bright cameo!