Watkins and Traoré on target as Villa pile pressure on Bruce and Newcastle – The Guardian

Premier League

The pressure on Steve Bruce grew heavier with this emphatic defeat to his former club, who swaggered back into the top half of the table thanks to goals by Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Traoré. Newcastle have not won for 10 matches in all competitions and although they are seven points above 18th place, they are far from safe from relegation. Bruce’s position looks even more precarious.

Within moments of the final whistle at Villa Park, Newcastle fans vented their anger over 200 miles away, descending on St James Park with banners calling for Bruce to go.

“I’m disappointed to hear that,” said Bruce, who insisted, all the same, that he is “absolutely confident we’ll be OK”. He attributed that confidence to the returns to action of Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser, who were introduced from the bench with 20 minutes left against Villa.

“It’s the first time I’ve been able to play them in tandem this season and we saw glimpses of what they can do together.” At least Bruce’s ability to spot positives amid glum performances remains first rate. They never looked like gaining anything from this contest.


On and off the pitch, buoyant Villa stand as almost a perfect contrast to Newcastle.

That said, Dean Smith watched from the naughty step in the stands following his red card for protesting too stridently during Wednesday’s defeat at Manchester City. But there was no doubt that Bruce came into this game as the manager most in trouble. Especially after news broke that Rafa Benítez is available again after leaving his post in the Chinese Super League.

Newcastle actually started well against Villa. But they peaked in the fourth minute. Miguel Almirón fired off what turned out to be their only shot on target, a piffling effort from 20 yards that barely made Emi Martínez move enough to get warm.


Karl Darlow made an equally straightforward stop to foil Matt Targett two minutes later after a Villa corner came to the full-back at the edge of the area. Targett threatened in more familiar fashion in the 10th minute, when he ran on to a pass down the left wing and served a delicious cross that Watkins just failed to reach. Newcastle ignored the warning. Soon came the punishment.

Targett combined with Jack Grealish down the left before curling over another cross towards Watkins. Fabian Schär tried to intercept but succeeded only in looping the ball into air. Watkins reacted faster than Darlow, who seemed unsure whether he could use his hands to claim what might have been construed as a back pass. The striker had no doubt what to do and duly nodded into the net from close range for his seventh league goal of his first season in the top flight.

Newcastle remained slow-witted for the next few minutes and almost fell further behind when Ross Barkley sent a header just wide from a free-kick.

Andy Carroll briefly unsettled Villa after crosses from Javier Manquillo but Newcastle’s mini-uprising was soon put down. Traoré made it 2-0 before the break. After a corner by Grealish was half-cleared, Grealish regained possession and played a low pass into the path of Traoré, who ran onto it and guide a lovely shot in off the underside of the crossbar from 16 yards.

Villa, by now dominant, nearly added a third early in the second half, with Watkins denied by Darlow before Douglas Luiz shanked wide. Newcastle’s defenders were again conspicuous by their confusion. Going forward, Villa continued to radiate energy and invention, whereas Newcastle looked increasingly limited.


Fraser had a chance to make an instant impact moments after his introduction but the ever-reliable Ezri Konsa got back to block his shot.

Bruce may have been encouraged but Martínez did not have anything to do in the second period. Not so Darlow, who made a brilliant stop to thwart Trezeguet at the death. “We’ve been stuck on 19 points for a while,” said Bruce. “The quicker we get a win, the quicker the confidence will come back.”

Villa positively fizz with confidence and vim. “I’m really pleased with the effort and team spirit,’ said Smith. “When you’ve got the attitudes of the young men that we have, then you can do something special.

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