Two games down, two defeats, with more poor defending and a couple of frustrating VAR calls helping Aston Villa to a 2-0 win.
We were backed well as 3,000 Geordies made the trip down to the Midlands, however they were given little to shout about as our one and only shot on target arrived in the 96th minute.
After a bright opening half an hour that featured Callum Wilson putting a glorious chance wide after going clean through on goal, Villa took the lead with a stunning bicycle kick from Danny Ings.
It was some strike, but featured more statuesque marking as we failed to win the second ball and reacted too slow to the flick on that found Ings in too much space. He did the rest expertly, but it was avoidable and an awful time to concede right on the 45 minute mark.
Villa’s second was a different story, as a Lascelles hand ball and resultant penalty – via some help from VAR – saw El Ghazi score from the spot. His hand wasn’t in a natural position, but is it expected to be when a ball is smashed at him from two yards?
We made a feeble attempt to get back into the game and thought we had a penalty of our own when Wilson was seethed down by Martinez…only for the striker to be offside by a toenail in the build up. I thought these new rules were going to benefit strikers and tight calls like this? It seems not, with our no.9 penalised for having big feet!
Like last weekend’s defeat to West Ham, we started well, went to sleep in the middle section of the game and had no response after falling behind. A worrying trend and another clear signs that new recruits are needed – not FOUR goalkeepers as Bruce keeps debating.
The NUFC boss made three changes to the side that lost 4-2 against West Ham, as Jamaal Lascelles replaced Emil Krafth, Fabian Schar came in for Ciaran Clark and Jonjo Shelvey’s absence with a calf injury meant Joe Willock made his first start since sealing a £25m move from Arsenal.
STARTING 11: (5-3-2) – Woodman – Murphy, Schar, Lascelles, Fernandez, Ritchie – Hayden, Willock, Almiron – Saint-Maximin, Wilson.
SUBS: Gillespie, Clark, Krafth, Lewis, Hendrick, S Longstaff (45), Fraser (90), Joelinton (78), Gayle.
The first half started with us in the ascendency and we should’ve been ahead. Callum Wilson was too strong for Mings, got in behind and only had Martinez to beat, but he tried to be too cute and side footed a shot wide.
A huge chance missed, however we were comfortably the better side in the opening half an hour, with us causing problems on the break, breaking past Villa’s midfield with ease and almost tapping in as Willock fired a dangerous ball across the box moments later.
The game was being played at a good pace and the hosts looked off the pace. Schar’s long balls out of defence weren’t being dealt with, Saint-Maximin and Willock were getting some joy and both wing-backs were offering useful outlets on the overlap.
One of those, Jacob Murphy, was lucky not to be booked after going down way too easily after bursting past Ashley Young, but VAR had a look and were right to ignore any feeble calls for a penalty.
Aside from an Almiron cross that only just evaded Wilson at the back post, the final 15 minutes of the first half belonged to Villa – and they made the most of it just seconds before the break.
It looked like we’d just about weathered a late Villa storm, however some poor defending combined with some Danny Ings brilliance saw us go into the break 1-0 down.
We failed to win the first ball from a long throw and Tyrone Mings’ flick on was acrobatically smashed in by Ings. A stunning strike, but a bad goal to concede when he was the only one to react amongst a sea of black shirts.
The second half began and Isaac Hayden was forced off with a knee problem, meaning Sean Longstaff slotted into the middle of our three-man midfield.
It was a flat response to going 1-0 down just before the break. Villa looked comfortable and we were struggling to get our big hitters into the game.
Then, just before the hour mark, the home side were handed the chance to make it 2-0 from the spot.
Mings was causing havoc once again and his close range header struck Lascelles’ outstretched arm. Nothing was given initially but VAR asked the on-field referee to take another look and it was given.
Was his arm in an unnatural position? Yes. But I’m not sure how much he can do about it when there was barely two yards between Lascelles and Mings’ header!? Where else is he supposed to put his hand when he has milliseconds to react?
Anyway, El-Ghazi stepped up and sent Woodman the wrong way. 2-0 Aston Villa and it felt like game over unless we seriously bucked our ideas up.
‘Bruce, what’s the score?’ soon belted around Villa Park as we approached the 70th minute mark. It looked like we’d get a penalty of our own five minutes later as Emi Martinez clattered into Callum Wilson, but VAR found our no.9 to be offside in the build up.
Another VAR decision that went against us and a real blow given this looked to be the lifeline we so badly needed heading into the closing stages.
Bruce then threw on Joelinton in place of Fernandez, with Ryan Fraser also replacing Joe Willock on the 90th minute. The Scott had a decent chance in added time, but it was too little too late in yet another frustrating display as he blazed over.
Next up, Southampton at St James’ Park next Saturday.