Looking to surpass the all-important 40-point threshold that all but guarantees top-flight safety, Newcastle United seek the three points needed to clear that benchmark Wednesday when they host relegation-threatened Aston Villa at St James’ Park.
The Magpies (10-8-12) consolidated their status as a mid-table side with a 3-0 romp over 10-man Sheffield United on Sunday, proving themselves as the bogey team of the overachieving promoted side by completing the double.
Newcastle made the most of their man advantage over the final 40 minutes as Allan Saint-Maximin, Matt Ritchie, and Joelinton all scored second-half goals. For the 23-year-old Joelinton, his strike in the 78th minute atoned for a first-half fluffing of his lines on a clear goal-scoring opportunity and also marked his first league goal since Boxing Day versus Manchester United.
«I was really happy for him. He worked very hard,» Saint-Maximin said of Joelinton to the Chronicle Live. «Sometimes it is very difficult and strikers have difficult times. I hope this goal can help him score against Aston Villa.»
Magpies boss Steve Bruce echoed those thoughts at his Tuesday press conference, adding, «He’s got to get a bit more selfish…Let’s hope we can calm him down a bit and let him enjoy the next eight games and slowly he’ll get used to the Premier League.»
Newcastle, who have recorded three clean sheets bridging the COVID-19 pandemic, have not reeled off three straight league victories since Nov. 3-26, 2018. The Toons have not posted four consecutive shutouts in the top flight since April 1-21, 2012.
Off the pitch, the potential sale of the club from embattled owner Mike Ashley to a Saudi Arabian-led consortium that also includes Amanda Staveley for a reported £300 million got a boost over the weekend when the kingdom announced a crackdown versus platforms illegally streaming sporting events.
The piracy, reportedly promoted by what the World Trade Organization labeled «prominent Saudi nationals» had been a sticking point among attorneys for the league.
Aston Villa (7-5-18) again are looking for any type of boost to escape the bottom three and avoid a return trip to the Championship. The Midlands side are second-bottom on 26 points but also only two points from 16th place heading into this contest.
They have taken one point from their two matches following Project Restart, but their winless spell was extended to six (0-1-5) on Sunday after squandering a lead in a 2-1 defeat at home versus Chelsea. Kortney Hause staked the Villans to a lead right before intermission, but Dean Smith’s team shipped the tying and go-ahead goals in a two-minute span of the second half.
The result was especially painful considering Watford were the only club among the bottom five to pick up a point over the weekend.
«We feel, despite the result on Sunday, that we’re in a decent place,» Smith said at his Tuesday press conference. «The squad all believe that we’ve still got a great opportunity and we’ve been given that during the pause and ‘Project Restart’.
«We all know that the next two are big games for us and are pivotal in what we do.»
Playmaker Jack Grealish leads Villa with seven goals and six assists in league play but has only one of each spanning his last nine matches and has not been on the scoresheet in either category in the last four. Grealish is far and way the Premier League leader with 141 fouls suffered – Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha is a distant second with 97 and has played two more matches than the 24-year-old England international.
Villa are seeking their first Premier League double over Newcastle since 2004-05, having snapped a 12-match winless streak in all competitions in the reverse fixture with a 2-0 victory in November as Conor Hourihane scored a goal and set up one for Anwar El Ghazi four minutes apart in the first half.
The Villans are winless in their last 11 visits (0-4-7) to St James’ Park since a 3-0 romp in 2005 and have just two wins in 22 Premier League matches there (2-6-14).