Villa beat Newcastle 2-0 in the English Premier League on Monday, in a match between teams who might be battling to avoid relegation this season. On this evidence, Newcastle — in its first season under Bruce — is more likely to go down than Villa, which was two goals ahead by the 36th minute and could have scored more in the second half.
Conor Hourihane whipped a direct free kick inside the near post to put Villa ahead in the 32nd minute, before the midfielder curled in another free kick that Anwar El Ghazi couldn’t fail to convert from inside the six-yard box.
Villa moved up two spots to 15th in the 20-team league, a point and a place behind Newcastle after 13 rounds. “We were too passive in the first half,” Bruce said. "There was nothing in it until half an hour — with the standards we have set in the last couple of weeks, we were not there. We have been done by two set-pieces.”
It was Bruce’s first time back at Villa Park since being fired by Villa in October last year, a day after a fan threw the cabbage at him as he walked along the touchline before a 3-3 draw at home to last-placed Preston in the second-tier League Championship.
Bruce called it “one of the most unsavory times of my career.” Dean Smith, Villa’s current manager, replaced Bruce as manager and drastically improved the team’s fortunes, leading Villa to promotion barely six months later.
Villa captain Jack Grealish, fit again after four weeks out with a calf injury, stood out against Newcastle with his quick feet and vision playing on the left of a front three rather than in central midfield. He nearly capped his display with a brilliant team goal but after exchanging passes with El Ghazi, he curled a shot just over in the second half.
Grealish could be close to a call-up by England if he continues his strong form. “I like playing as a No. 8 — I feel more involved but it is a team game and will play wherever the manager asks,” Grealish said. “When I am on the left, I want to play more like the Liverpool front three (of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah).”
Villa left back Matt Targett vomited by the side of the field midway through the first half, but played on after drinking some water and finished the game.
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