We knew before the game that this one was another must win. After clawing our way back into a position where Premier League safety would be a real possibility again, an away fixture to a side who’d lost their last 11 games and with nothing left but pride to play for offered a real opportunity to put even more pressure on that lot from down the road even if our fight against relegation was still in their hands.
Couple that with our recent form and the fact that Sunderland had the toughest of their remaining fixtures kicking off at the same time, a home game against Chelsea, this was an opportunity we simply must take.
Rafa stuck to his recent principles with a familiar looking lineup. A line up that, give or take, had taken Newcastle United to a record of ‘unbeaten in four’ for the first time this season. There was hope!
STARTING XI: Darlow, Anita, Mbemba, Lascelles, Dummett, Colback (de Jong), Tiote (Perez), Wijnaldum, Sissoko, Townsend, Cisse (Mitrovic)
With only two away wins all season the optimistic mood of many before the game should, perhaps rightly, have been tempered with some scepticism. What transpired could not have been much worse for Newcastle United on all fronts.
Newcastle would shade a first half of few chances with Rafa sticking to the formula that had worked so well in recent weeks. Compact, well drilled and creating ‘some’ chances on the break is the ploy, but with 45 minutes of stalemate he would be forced to push more men forward in the second half.
In the second half we would push on. An early chance for Colback would be followed by a few decent chances for the travelling Mags. Most notably Mitrovic, heading one glorious chance just wide and missing another, would prove the frustrating story of the game. Chances for Wijnaldum and Townsend would also go begging as Newcastle just could not force their way past Bunn in the Villa goal.
In the end Newcastle would squander 9 attempts at goal with Villa managing only 2. And whilst players fans and management team alike will wonder quite how one of those was not converted there could also be a case made that Newcastle should have created much more.
Wijnaldum in particular maintained his customary away form, and at times looked less than interested. Although others, in Mitrovic and Townsend continued to show the passion that, had we seen more and sooner, would have surely meant we’d not be in this mess at all.
For Rafa it is two wins and three draws in five games. Easily Newcastle’s best run of results this season, proving that whilst some will talk about ‘how did we not beat Villa’, the real damage happened a long time ago.
Just 2 points is now required from an in form Sunderland in their upcoming games against Everton at home on Wednesday and Watford away in their next two game to condemn us to the SkyBet Championship next season.
4 weeks ago we all thought we were down, since then Rafa has given us hope that we may just get out of this mess. Today is the stark realisation that, outside of an absolute miracle, we are down. IT’S THE HOPE THAT KILLS YOU!
Graphic by WhoScored.com