Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off saw a rampant Aston Villa comfortably overcome Newcastle United, denting the Magpies’ hope of securing a top-four finish. Nevertheless, Tottenham Hotspur’s shock defeat at home to struggling Bournemouth would put a silver lining on an otherwise disappointing day, ensuring Eddie Howe’s men maintained a three-point lead in the race for Champions League qualification.
Despite arriving at Villa Park on a run of five consecutive victories, Newcastle appeared off the pace from the get-go, and were unable to contain the attacking dynamism of the home side. Aston Villa have been a rejuvenated force following the appointment of Unai Emery, and now have European aspirations of their own; Saturday’s performance was yet another indicator of how far they have progressed under the experienced Spaniard.
The West Midlanders, aided by an inspired display from the in-form Ollie Watkins, set the tone early on. With the game only a matter of seconds old, Watkins clipped the outside of Nick Pope’s far post. Eleven minutes later, the Englishman – in front of an onlooking Gareth Southgate – assisted his side’s opening goal, intelligently heading the ball into the path of an on-rushing Jacob Ramsay, who steered a powerful drive beyond the former Burnley stopper to put Villa in front.
Watkins was then denied by the feet of Pope on two occasions either side of the interval, as Emery’s men went in search of a second. United also pressed forward, and would have at least levelled the scores had Emiliano Martínez not pulled off a string of quality saves early in the second half. However, Villa deservedly increased their lead just after the hour mark, when, after seeing his effort ruled out for offside a few minutes earlier, Watkins swivelled sharply to fire into the bottom corner from six yards. With Newcastle chasing the game, Watkins then completed his brace to secure a satisfactory afternoon’s work, stroking the ball past his international teammate to pile further agony on the travelling Toon support.
Manchester United’s win at Nottingham Forest on Sunday leaves the Geordies in fourth, three points ahead of fifth-placed Spurs – the North Londoners visit St. James Park next weekend in a perfectly-poised tie.