Analysis: Matz Sels not to blame at Aston Villa – and Twitter abuse is mindless and pathetic

Newcastle United players celebrate after Aston Villa's Tommy Elphick scored an own goal
Newcastle United players celebrate after Aston Villa's Tommy Elphick scored an own goal

Long after the final whistle at a gloomy Villa Park, Rafa Benitez lent against a wall in a corridor.

Benitez spoke calmly to a small huddle of reporters about what he had seen earlier that evening.

He hadn’t got carried away Newcastle United’s 6-0 win over Queens Park Rangers earlier in the month.

And he wasn’t going to go too far the other way after a draw against Aston Villa, albeit one which felt like a loss for his players and the club’s 2,800 travelling fans.

Benitez knew. He knew it wasn’t one late corner, headed home at the far post by Aaron Tshibola, that cost his team.

This game should have been all but over before the break.

Newcastle, after a scrappy start, had taken control of Saturday night’s game. They had pressed, tackled and passed better than their opponents.

Jonjo Shelvey, Matt Ritchie, Mohamed Diame and Dwight Gayle all had chances.

Yet the only player to beat Pierluigi Gollini in the Villa goal was Tommy Elphick, Roberto Di Matteo’s captain.

Elphick, under pressure from Gayle, diverted a cross from DeAndre Yedlin past Gollini in the 28th minute.

United, driven on by Shelvey, had imposed themselves on the home side and forced a series of errors.

Yet they couldn’t make those mistakes count.

It wasn’t Matz Sels who was to blame for this defeat.

Newcastle’s goalkeeper was singled out for abuse on Twitter after the game, and within hours he had deleted his social media account. The abuse was pathetic and mindless.

Sels’ adjustment to English football is hard enough without confidence-sapping trolling.

And the blame at Villa Park lay as much with United’s midfield and attack for spuring those first-half opportunities.

United will win as a team and lose as a team. They must be united.

There were boos at the break from Villa’s fans. They had seen a dominant performance from Newcastle, who had seemingly built themselves a platform to win the game.

The only problem was that they needed a second goal.

And it didn’t look like coming after the break

Shelvey tested Gollini with a dipping shot, and Diame should have hit the target with another opportunity, but the mometum was soon with Villa, who had a goal from Mile Yedinak disallowed for offside.

That decision seemed the catalyst for what was to follow.

Villa Park came to life in the wake of the decision and Jordan Ayew struck the post from distance.

Tshibola went down in the box under a challenge from United substitute Cheick Tiote. No foul, according to referee Christopher Kavanagh, who booked the Villa player for diving.

Benitez also sent on Aleksandar Mitrovic in an attempt to give his team an option to play it long and relieve the pressure, but the tactic didn’t work.

Time and again the ball came back at them.

Benitez revealed that he had named Grant Hanley on the bench ahead of Chancel Mbemba because he felt he might need some extra height late in the match, but he opted against sending him on so as not to invite more pressure on his back four.

Hanley, however, might just have helped Newcastle see out the game.

And the expression on Benitez’s face as he addressed supporters suggested that decision was niggling away at him.

As it was, Tshibola rose about his marker to beat Sels at the far post when Ayew swung in a corner in front of the Holte End.

United had shown a lot of resilience in a challenge last period, but not enough.

They also survived a nervy six minutes of added time to claim what could yet prove to be an important point.

Benitez also pointed to the “positives” in his post-match Press conference.

“The positives for our team were in the first half, and the negatives were in the second as we allowed them to stay in the game,” he said.

“We shouldn’t have given them so many half-chances. It’s a problem for us, because we had to defend throw-ins and corners. There were too many situations where the ball was around our box and not theirs.”

Newcastle will learn from what happened.

And United – who look more suited to playing a counter-attacking game away from home – will face a different test in midweek.

Championship leaders Norwich City are at St James’s Park.

The chances are they will sit back and frustrate Benitez’s team.

Villa Park was frustrating, but this league is relentless.

There’s no time to dwell on mistakes.

Newcastle will make more mistakes this season, but they’re capable of forcing many more errors from their opponents.