On Monday night, in-form Newcastle United face up against their fierce rivals Aston Villa in a crucial game for both teams. The battle will take place under the lights at St James’ Park in front of a packed out crowd of 52,000.
A win would take United back up to their rightful position – top place. A win for Villa could send them into 15th position. The last three meetings between the two sides have ended in draws. Newcastle will be favourites coming into this game but I wouldn’t rule Villa out of this game; they always turn up against us.
Newcastle’s number nine will be back in contention for a starting place. Gayle will be wanting to win his place back up top which has been occupied by Murphy and Mitrovic who have done well and scored some crucial goals during his absence.
Villa are in woeful form as of late. They haven’t won a game in eight matches, losing seven and drawing one. That stat is poor for any team never mind Aston Villa, former European champions.
This week I asked Matt Cutler a few questions about the game. Matt is a journalist who specialises in sport and is the founder and host of SB Weekly, the most popular specialist podcast for the sports industry. He lives in London but grew up in Birmingham, and has been supporting Aston Villa his whole life.
Hi Matt. Who is the man that Newcastle should be looking to keep quiet on Monday night? Who is the player that offers the most threat for you?
It doesn’t need me to tell the world Villa aren’t at their best at the moment, but Jonathan Kodjia is the only player getting goals for us at the moment. We missed him for a few weeks when he was at the Africa Cup of Nations and he’s scored a few since he’s been back. Saying that, he’s also wasting several chances a match, but keeping him quiet should be a priority.
Even though we lost against Barnsley in midweek, Albert Adomah was one of the few bright sparks, and he looked dangerous attacking the full-backs and whipping in crosses. Plus, having spent a decent amount of time at Boro maybe he’s used to the conditions up in the North East!
2. In the January transfer window, did you lose any key player that you are sad about losing?
Jordan Ayew was a loss – a great player who, when interested, was certainly one of the best attacking threats in England at the moment. Genuinely. You Geordies will know that first hand from this fixture at St. James last year.
The problem is he wasn’t interested being in a losing side at the best of times in the Premier League, so it wasn’t going to happen in the Championship.
He’ll do well at Swansea. But him leaving basically means we have lost a key attacking option.
3. Explain what has gone wrong. Why are Villa sitting in 16th place?
In my opinion and in no particular order, it’s a mixture of bad luck, an unsettled team, and wasting the first few months of the season with the wrong manager.
Villa have spent so much money – surely a Championship record – but that means we’ve got a lot of players who are still settling into the club – both on and off the pitch. A load of players left/came in across the summer, and then almost an entirely new team came in this January. It’s tough to string together a decent run of form with different players playing each week.
It’s tough to string together a decent run of form with different players playing each week. Bruce also doesn’t seem to be 100% committed to one starting eleven or even formation so I think we will hit a run of form towards the end of the season, but no doubt it’ll be too late for us to get into the playoffs.
4. What’s your opinion on Steve Bruce? Is he the man to take you back to the Premier League? Has he given Villa a lift since he arrived?
If Steve Bruce isn’t the man, who is? He’s certainly got the pedigree and experience to take Villa back to the Premier League. There’s a lot of very unhappy Villa fans out there at the moment, and many calling for his head.
But I’m of the opinion we need to keep faith in him – he’ll hopefully settle on the team and the formation he wants to play week in, week out. I think he is the right man but we need to be looking at next season, not this season when it comes to a promotion push.
5. What is your opinion on your owner, Dr. Tony Xia? Is he a problem moving forward?
He’s certainly been prepared to spend money so you can’t complain about that, and the two managers he hired had pedigree for getting clubs out of the Championship, so you can’t complain about that either.
The only criticism I have is how vocal he is in the media and specifically on social media; when he came in he was spouting a load of nonsense about making Villa into a Champions League-winning club sooner rather than later. Us football fans are deluded at the best of times but even that was too far-fetched.
6. What’s your opinion on Newcastle United? Can we be champions?
Definitely. I can’t see past Newcastle or Brighton for the title, and though I think it will be tight, you’ll pip it. Newcastle are a good example of what Villa have gotten wrong – Benitez made a few tweaks and additions to the Premier League squad in the pre-season and has kept faith in the players he has across this season.
7. Who do you think are the players that Villa should be looking out for? Who are our best players?
We’ve really struggled in the defensive midfield this season, and recently it’s because Jedinak has been out injured, so no doubt Jonjo Shelvey poses a real danger if he plays well. I’ve always rated Gayle highly, too – so if he plays I’m fairly surely he’ll get a few decent chances.
8. Are you surprised with Ciaran Clark’s recent performances? He’s been fantastic for us!
No, not really. I was a bit surprised when he moved, to be fair, and I wouldn’t say either of the defenders we have brought in over the last 12 months (Chester and Elphick) are any better than him.
He’s always been very good in the air and pretty reliable. He didn’t have the best of seasons the year we went down but then again, who did? I think perhaps the collective awfulness of the team reflected badly on him so it was a pretty shrewd signing by Benitez.
9. How would you rate your season so far out of ten?
2/10 – there is no way a team the size of Villa should be in the Championship, let alone towards the bottom end of it!
10. Predicted AVFC starting eleven?
4-4-2: Johnstone – Amavi, Baker, Chester, Elphick – Lansbury, Hourihane, Bacuna, Adomah – Kodjia, Hogan
11. Score Prediction?
Newcastle 1-0 Villa – Matt Ritchie to score.