Before we start can I just say: Wow, Fabian Schar. What a player.
Any concerns of lack of energy coming from the far-from-convincing cup win at Fulham were put to bed as Newcastle’s intensity was once again on display, with a fluid and dominant victory against European rivals Aston Villa.
A sensational brace from centre half Schar had Newcastle 2-0 up before half-time. An own goal from Moreno provided a third for Eddie’s Mags, sending the away end into dreamland.
Watkins’ goal 20 minutes from time gave Villa hope of a comeback, but nothing came of it amid a sturdy defensive performance from the Toon.
14 points separated the two teams before kick-off with Eddie Howe defiant in his claims that the Mags were still in a fight for a place in the top four despite the difference.
The opening period of the game felt almost like a throwback to the style of football that came to symbolise Howe’s side last season. High intensity. Searching balls from flank to flank. Willing runners from midfield. It was energetic, a characteristic which has been lacking in recent performances.
But it was a set piece that broke the deadlock after a wicked delivery from an outswinging Trippier corner was met by Schar who volleyed neatly into the net to put Newcastle 1-0 up after half an hour.
Three minutes later and Schar had a brace after Gordon’s low driven shot from outside the box was deflected onto the crossbar and the follow-up fell to Schar who bounced the ball underneath Martinez.
Two in four minutes for Newcastle and again it's Fabian Schär! 🤯
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) January 30, 2024
With the performance back to levels Howe will recognise from last season, surely nothing could go wrong?
But bad luck has been our shadow this season and Isak came off injured before the break. This means we are left without a fit senior striker and 48 hours to bring in reinforcements through the transfer window. Even then, FFP and PSR rules mean that we have to sell before we can buy.
Isak had looked bright as usual, but a newfound dynamic of rotation with Gordon on the left looked to be causing a few issues. Fingers crossed it won’t keep him out for long.
With Almiron back from illness, a swap to play Gordon through the middle in Isak’s absence was made. Almiron was playing in an unfamiliar role on the left when he was perfectly slipped through beyond Cash. A brilliantly weighted ball across left Murphy to tap in, but his shot was turned in by Moreno for an own goal.
Villa remained a threat when they could get the ball down and moving in the final third. Watkins was sent through a couple of times but was more often met by the palms of Dubravka who had another brilliant game, especially after taking a hefty knock midway through the second-half.
One ball beyond Burn found its way to Watkins after 70 mins and he smashed it past Dubravka to put Villa back on the hunt for a result.
A few moments later and he was in again, but his run was just a bit too quick off the mark and VAR crosshairs denied the England international a second – and made a sigh of relief from the heel of Dan Burn.
Two wins in four days gives a dash of optimism to a month which saw little to enjoy in the league. An injection of hope that, even without a January signing, the season is not a write off.
The victory sees Newcastle jump to seventh in the Premier League and eight points off the top five, with our big win coming as Brighton were battered 4-0 at Luton. Two wins from Wembley in the FA Cup and European hopes rekindled after a staggered start to the year.
This team do have a habit of proving doubters wrong!
NUFC XI: Dubravka – Trippier, Schar, Botman, Burn – Longstaff, Bruno, Miley – J Murphy, Isak, Gordon.
SUBS: Karius, Dummett, Ritchie, Krafth, Hall, Livramento, Almiron, White, Hernes.