Newcastle need to arrest their slide towards the bottom three of the Premier League when they host Aston Villa at St James’ Park (8pm Friday; TV: Live on BT Sport).
Steve Bruce’s side were eight points clear of the relegation places in mid-December. They are now just a single point clear following a run of just two wins in their last 16 matches, including a 0-0 draw at second-from-bottom West Bromwich Albion last weekend.
It was a pretty dire performance. Newcastle created almost nothing of note against the team with by far the worst defensive record in the Premier League. Bruce tried to put a positive spin on things, emphasising that at least his side hadn’t lost and falling back on their injury problems in attack, but the truth is that it was another concerning performance.
Newcastle made a very solid start to the season, taking 17 points from their first 11 matches to find themselves comfortably in mid-table but they have struggled for points since. Over the last 16 matches, no side have picked up as few points per match as Newcastle’s 0.625. Their metrics have also dipped to those of a bottom-three quality team.
It is worth noting that Newcastle do still have a game in hand on Fulham in 18th, but the momentum is not on their side. They also have a significantly worse goal difference than either Fulham or 17th-placed Brighton, also just a point behind Newcastle.
Bruce needs to find solutions, stopgap or not, sooner rather than later. Seven of his team’s remaining 11 matches are against teams currently inside the top 10, including a trip to runaway leaders Manchester City, and Friday’s visit of Aston Villa.
Villa were in a very similar position to Newcastle at this stage of last season, even worse in fact. They were in the bottom three and would remain in the relegation scrap right until the final day of the campaign, surviving by just a single point.
Things are very different for them this time around. Relegation certainly isn’t a concern. They are up in the top half of the table and have already taken more points than they did in the entirety of last season. Once all games in hand shake out, they could be as high as eighth in the table, very much within distance of the European places.
This turnaround is built on solid foundations. Not only have Villa accumulated points at the rate of a top 10 team but they also have the metrics of such a team – the eighth-best in the division, in fact. Both their attacking and defensive output have improved significantly season-on-season.
They have, though, stuttered a little over the last month or so, winning just one of their last five matches, four of which were played without their talismanic midfielder Jack Grealish due to injury. The most recent was a 0-0 draw at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the West Midlands derby last weekend.
Villa struggled to create much of real note against solidly constructed opponents who then created a couple of very good chances themselves in the second half that could have seen them take all three points. It was the second match in a row in which Villa had failed to score, following their unexpected midweek defeat to Sheffield United.
More globally, Dean Smith’s side have begun to have a few more issues in front of goal over the last six or seven weeks, failing to score more than once in any of their last eight matches.
They do, though, remain a very decent team who would be very much enlivened if Grealish was able to return for Friday’s trip north. Even if he doesn’t, they should have enough to see off a poor Newcastle team in what is truthfully unlikely to be a particularly thrilling encounter. A narrow Villa victory in a match of few goals seems the most likely outcome. So our Newcastle United vs Aston Villa betting tips verdict for this preview is:
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