Soccer

Aston Villa win 2 – 0… As Nakamba is benched

Villa now have a tough run of fixtures, with two successive away games - at Manchester United on Sunday and then Chelsea on Wednesday, 4 December - before a home game against second-placed Leicester City.

Aston Villa ended a run of three successive Premier League defeats with a 2 – 0 win as they beat Newcastle United to ruin Steve Bruce’s return to Villa Park.

Highly-rated Zimbabwe international Marvelous Nakamba was benched for the match, sparking speculation that manager Dean Smith intend to throw the 25-year-old into the deep end as Villa now have a tough run of fixtures, with two successive away games – at Manchester United on Sunday and then Chelsea on Wednesday, 4 December – before a home game against second-placed Leicester City.

Conor Hourihane’s curled free-kick gave Villa the lead before his enticing set-piece set up Anwar El Ghazi to finish from close range four minutes later.

Bruce, sacked as Villa boss in October 2018, saw his side denied by goalkeeper Tom Heaton, who saved from Federico Fernandez and Allan Saint-Maximin.

The win takes Villa up to 15th place.

Newcastle would have moved up to ninth with a win, but the defeat keeps them 14th, one point ahead of Villa.

Newcastle paid the price for some defensive indiscipline as they conceded twice from needless free-kicks just after the half-hour mark.

A two-handed push right on the edge of the penalty area from DeAndre Yedlin on Jack Grealish, who had got the wrong side of the Newcastle right-back, led to the opener.

Hourihane nudged the stationary ball to Grealish, who stopped it and, from the better angle, the Republic of Ireland midfielder curled the ball around the wall and into the net.

The lively Grealish, back after missing three games with a calf injury, saw a fine run crudely ended when he was brought down by a clumsy Federico Fernandez challenge, again just outside the 18-yard box.

This time Hourihane – back in the Villa side after being an unused substitute in the loss to Wolves – was the provider as his excellent delivery was steered in by El Ghazi.

The Netherlands winger thought he had scored Villa’s third before half-time, but he slightly mis-timed his run onto a John McGinn pass and was adjudged offside after putting the ball into the net.

Grealish was a constant threat with his dribbling ability and came close to getting the goal he deserved but curled over from 15 yards after neat link-up play with El Ghazi.

Wesley should have added a third in the 77th minute but failed to beat Martin Dubravka from close range but Villa, who had been beaten in successive Premier League matches by Manchester City, Liverpool and Wolves, suffered no late scares and collected three points.

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith, speaking to Sky Sports, said: “This is a really tough league and we have just gone through a period of playing Manchester City and Liverpool, which were games I thought we actually played well in.

“The table is so tight but you need to put a run together, be tough to beat and keep a clean sheet. I’m really pleased with the clean sheet as we haven’t had too many of those this season.

“Our form has been good; we knew it would be hard, but I think we’ve been competitive. It takes time to gel defensively but we achieved that against Newcastle.”

On goalscorer Conor Hourihane, Smith added: “I explained to Conor why I left him out against Manchester City [on 26 October]. He has scored goals in every league he’s played in and I always had him earmarked to come back in and he showed us what he was about.”

Villa now have a tough run of fixtures, with two successive away games – at Manchester United on Sunday and then Chelsea on Wednesday, 4 December – before a home game against second-placed Leicester City.

Newcastle entertain reigning champions Manchester City on Saturday, before an away match at Sheffield United on Thursday, 5 December.

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