The most impressive thing about Newcastle United as win over Aston Villa extends unbeaten run to five
The right-back’s second free-kick in as many games saw The Magpies claim a third successive Premier League win to move further clear of the relegation zone.
Dominic Scurr delivers his five takeaways from the game…
Newcastle spent much of the build-up to Sunday’s match sweating over the fitness of Kieran Trippier following a calf issue picked up during Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over Everton.
Fortunately the Magpies’ right-back not only kept his place in the starting line-up following a late fitness test, but he led the side out as captain in Jamaal Lascelles’ absence due to illness.
Dan Burn came into the side to make his Newcastle debut in place of the skipper.
With Matt Targett unable to play against his parent club, Javier Manquillo was brought in at left-back.
The rest of the starting line-up remained unchanged from the Everton game with Bruno Guimaraes remaining as a substitute. But there was a spot on the bench for 19-year-old Lucas de Bolle from the Under-23s side.
Leading by example
A fairly subdued first half was brought to life by another stunning Trippier free-kick. Referee Craig Pawson initially pointed to the penalty spot after Joe Willock was brought down on the edge of the area but VAR intervened and awarded Newcastle a free-kick instead.
But that didn’t make any difference to the stand-in captain as Trippier blasted a free-kick through the wall and into the back of the net via a deflection to give Newcastle the lead.
It was the third direct free-kick Newcastle had scored in as many Premier League matches and Trippier’s second of the season after scoring against Everton on Tuesday night. The England international may have only played four league games for The Magpies, but no Premier League player has scored more direct free-kicks in the top flight this season.
Newcastle were able to take a 1-0 lead into half-time, but Trippier’s afternoon wouldn’t last much longer as he was withdrawn after being stamped on just three minutes after the restart.
The defender was rushed to hospital for an x-ray and returned to St James’s Park on crutches and wearing a protective boot following the full-time whistle.
Both of Newcastle’s full-backs were withdrawn due to injury with Javier Manquillo also forced off. As a result, Newcastle's defensive line lost its shape slightly as Villa started to threaten.
Just after the hour mark, the visitors thought they had equalised as Ollie Watkins nodded the ball in from close range. But after a lengthy VAR check, the goal was disallowed for offside and Newcastle’s narrow lead remained intact.
It was a very tight call, one that took a few minutes to decide as the 52,207 in attendance at St James’s Park waited with bated breath.
Even though the goal wasn’t given, Villa boss Steven Gerrard had no complaints: “I think VAR have taken a long time to make a decision. That tells you it's extremely close.
"Sometimes you perform to a level away from home where you make your own luck but I don't think our level was anywhere near it today so we got what we deserved from this game. We have no complaints with the outcome.”
Only Liverpool had failed to score in fewer Premier League matches than Villa (3) this season so it was no surprise to see the visitors apply some pressure – but Newcastle held on with relative ease to secure the three points.
The Magpies have now beaten Villa more than any other side in the Premier League with 23 wins from 50 games.
The most impressive part
Although Newcastle never really looked like scoring again once they had taken the lead, perhaps the most impressive or at least most encouraging part of their now five game unbeaten run in the Premier League is the defensive soundness that has been on display.
Martin Dubravka has barely had a meaningful save to make as the defensive line in front of him has remained organised and resolute.
From font to back, Chris Wood included, Newcastle are playing on the front foot and applying pressure when not in possession to close space down. The midfield three of Joe Willock, Jonjo Shelvey and Joelinton are also playing a crucial role, but huge credit must go to the centre-backs.
Fabian Schar has really started to come into his own in recent weeks. Just as he was forming a good partnership with Lascelles, Burn came into the side and you would never think it was the pair’s first match together.
As far as defensive debuts go, Burn’s was near faultless as he let nothing past him. The boyhood Newcastle fan’s dominance in the air and on the ground was deservedly rewarded with a debut clean sheet.
It was the type of afternoon where Newcastle just didn't look like conceding – those have been few and far between in recent seasons!
Good results for Newcastle elsewhere on Saturday meant Sunday’s win takes them four points clear of the relegation zone with a game in hand on 18th placed Norwich City.
St James’s Park has become an enjoyable place to watch football again with Newcastle losing just one of eight home matches since Howe took charge.
Before the turn of the year, The Magpies were deep in relegation trouble and sat below Burnley in the table despite The Clarets having four games in hand. A month and a half on and United are now closer on points to Villa in 12th than they are Burnley, who now have just two games in hand.
There is now breathing room between Newcastle and the bottom three, but that's all it is at the moment – there is still a long way to go and it’s crucial the momentum keeps building.