I’m sure we were all licking our chops at the prospect of turning it up for what has become a grudge match in recent years, with the added presence of pantomime villain Henri Lansbury adding to the deliciousness of the prospect.
On some level, though we might not like to admit it, this is also a match that screams ‘big game’ against a consistent Premier League opponent fielding a team of players you’ve heard of, in what you may have assumed at one point would be a promotion six-pointer.
However, to call this what it actually was, would be to say it was the league leaders at home against a floundering 17th placed opponent and nothing less than a functional home win would do.
The outstanding work of Gallowgate flags went a long way towards creating a winning atmosphere as the massed variety of banners in that stand looked magnificent even before the introduction of the piece de resistance, the huge new surfer flag. This hit me with a wave of bizarre nostalgia, as it unlocked memories of seeing the Keegan era versions travel overhead as a wide-eyed kid.
I got a particular flashback to how often the flags would veer off on a 90 degree angle and end up sideways on, when this occurred on a brief sojourn into the East Stand. There’s no established way of alerting people to this from across the ground, but no one really minded by this point anyway, the statement had been made.
Some people might question devoting an entire paragraph to flags in a match report but those people clearly didn’t see the game. The first half was a miserable non-event as Villa executed their game plan of everyone standing on their opposite man’s toes and doing everything in their power to prevent a game of football breaking out. With Shelvey sitting deep and the returning Gayle looking isolated and rusty, United offered little in the way of attack.
In fact Villa probably went the closest as the offside Hogan flicked a goalbound header that Bjarnason elected to blooter miles off target from a near impossible angle. Yes, that was the closest anyone went for most of the first half.
On the half hour, disaster struck as Gayle succumbed to the dreaded recurrence that is typical of a hamstring injury. This could be costly ahead of the coming tricky away games, as our number 9 has do often broken away and scored winners in otherwise tight matches. In the context of tonight though, he hadn’t had a kick and the introduction of the lively Mitrovic revitalised the team. Get well though Dwight, we’re gonna need you.
When United earned their first corner on 43 minutes, I have to confess to having little hope as Villa would surely just stick to their basics of anti-football and man-mark this away. Turns out there’s a reason Villa are 17th in the league as they gave an abject display in how to defend like giant daft lads trying to catch a chicken at the annual daft lad Grand Prix.
Ritchie and Shelvey took a short corner and this was all the cunning required to create bedlam and ballistics amongst the catatonic visiting defence. Ritchie’s cross was headed goalwards by Lascelles and Jedinak alone had several opportunities to clear – but behaved like he was trying to kick a titanium cannonball wearing novelty slippers. Mitrovic and Clark both had touches before Gouffran stepped in to stop all the nonsense by blasting into the roof of the net. Despite the pedestrian first half we had the lead and it seemed unlikely it would be surrendered.
With their plan A of “stifle a 0-0 draw” out the window, Villa had no option but to revert to their back-up, which seems to be “try to play a proper game but expose that we’re totally crap”. United had the absolute run of the second half and if I’m being hyper-critical, should have put on a bigger winning margin. Two was always going to be enough though and when the second did arrive it was bleeding delicious.
For the record, I blame the cock-eyed incompetence of the world’s worst referee for our scandalous defeat at Nottingham Forest, far more than the graceless underhanded disgusting antics of nasty cheating bastard Henri Lansbury. However, Lansbury genuinely invites hatred by his very appearance, with his pointy beard and strangely evil eyes giving him the look of an intergalactic baddie from some crap 70’s sci-fi movie. I’m surprised he hasn’t taken to adorning his Villa kit with a gigantic pointy collar, or an ominous red amulet from which he gains his evil powers. Luckily, those powers deserted him tonight.
When an earlier free kick rebounded to Shelvey, he missed a glorious opportunity to pan the ball directly into Horrible Henri’s satanic face. I was hoping he’d correct this from a dead ball on the hour mark, but let him off as his choice of fizzing a wicked shot at goal was probably more conducive to our hopes of winning. Johnstone shoved the effort round the post but Jonjo wasn’t being denied, whipping in a dangerous front post delivery from the flag kick. Of course the Villa defence were again perfecting their standing about doing nowt routine, idling around like discarded sausages the day after a rowdy barbecue, all covered in dew and some a bit nibbled by the dog. Lascelles nipped in to send the ball into the net, or so he thought.
Lansbury had one job to do: stand on the post and ensure a goal doesn’t go in there, on that exact spot. As Lascelles shot moved on the exact trajectory he had been assigned to look out for, I can only assume Lansbury had an epiphany that he is basically a bit of a lower level Championship player and this is probably the biggest ground he’ll ever play in but for the grace of a generous FA Cup draw or a Wembley venture in the league 1 play offs.
He’ll make a canny living out of it, yes, but his profile will not be enough to sustain a future outside of football and what he earns in the game will have been largely frittered on man bun coiffure and glowing evil amulets, thus making life after 35 an unfulfilling and extremely unhappy struggle.
Anyway, while he was thinking all this it put him off to the extent that he could only knock the ball off the post, then back onto himself, then in for an own goal that brought the house down when it was announced. Lansbury sought solace in the post, which he seemed to embrace lovingly in what could be interpreted as a public display of perverted activity (some people do get bonk-ons for inanimate objects, I’ve seen documentaries).
A fine burst into the box by Colback almost brought a third and Darlow was sharp off his line to block a Bjarnason effort but this result was never in danger. There was still more misery for Villa though, as a Lansbury corner was easily gathered by Darlow, who promptly booted the ball straight out. I actually assumed this was a massive over-reaction, as Darlow, Yedlin and various surrounding Newcastle players attended to the prone Hogan while his Villa team mates nonchalantly ambled to the halfway line for a nice drink. Hogan departed on a stretcher with a crushed ankle and probably feeling a bit unloved.
A steady performance second half and the necessary result. As I’ve said before, it’s time to put this vendetta with Villa to bed, and focus on ensuring we don’t play them next season.
This was fun though.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 2 Aston Villa 0
Newcastle: Gouffran 42, Lansbury OG 59
Possession was Villa 45% Newcastle 55%
Total shots were Villa 8 Newcastle 14
Shots on target were Villa 1 Newcastle 6
Corners were Villa 4 Newcastle 6
Referee: Peter Bankes
Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Ritchie, Colback, Shelvey, Gouffran (Atsu 89), Diame, Gayle (Mitrovic 33)
Elliot, Hanley, Gamez, Perez, Lazaar
Crowd: 50,024 (Villa 1,707)