Henri Lansbury was on the receiving end of a harsh dose of footballing karma as Newcastle returned to the summit of the Championship and in the process finally remembered what it is like to savour victory on a Monday.
Cast in the role of pantomime St James’ Park villain, the former England Under-21 midfielder played an unwitting part in what home supporters revelled in as the ultimate payback thanks to a simply comedic own goal which helped to extend Aston Villa’s disastrous start to 2017, and at the same time strengthen Rafa Benitez’s bid to lead his side straight back into the Premier League.
Remorselessly booed by home fans on his every touch for his role in Newcastle earning two later rescinded red cards in defeat at the City Ground earlier this season, the former Nottingham Forest playmaker suffered the utter ignominy of inadvertently back-heeling home the decisive second goal when he ended up in a terrible tangle while attempting to clear a close-range Jamaal Lascelles effort from Jonjo Shelvey’s 55th minute corner.
The nightmare moment, heading for a soccer bloopers DVD near you soon, added to Yoan Gouffran’s effort just before half-time as the hosts stemmed an astonishing 11-game losing streak on Mondays to end Brighton’s 53-hour stay at the summit by moving a point clear at the head of affairs in the ever-changing situation at the sharp end of the second tier.
Newcastle scored with their first threat on the Villa goal, which arrived with just three minutes remaining of a first-half largely dominated by the visitors, who nevertheless went into the interval in arrears thanks to Yoan Gouffran’s seventh of the season. Despite having more than one opportunity to do so, no-one in a Claret shirt was able to apply a suitable clearance as Jamaal Lascelles headed Matt Ritchie’s short corner towards goal, and when Paul Dummett helped the ball on, there was Gouffran to shoot beyond Sam Johnstone from two yards.
In a contest of two sides at opposite ends of the current form table, Villa had taken just five minutes to carve out the first clear opening in an effort to improve their horrendous recent record. With the returning Mile Jedinak adding some much-needed solidity in front of the back four, Steve Bruce’s side were more than able to hold their own in the battle to dictate midfield, and from Scot Hogan’s looping header, the unmarked Birkir Bjarnason should have opened the scoring but failed to find the target with a horribly miscued volley from five yards.
The pattern continued for most of the half, Villa enjoying the bulk of the ball without their weight of possession being reflected in goalscoring opportunities, although a Jonathan Kodjia shot from a narrow angle forced Karl Darlow to tip the ball over the bar as it dropped towards the far corner after deflecting off DeAndre Yedlin.
Their hopes of turning the tide suffered a significant blown when shortly after the half hour Dwight Gayle, in his first start for more than a month, trudged off with what appeared to be a recurrence of the hamstring injury that had sidelined the 20-goal top scorer for six games, an unwanted sub-plot in what for the hosts was one of their most chastening halves of football this season until Gouffran’s goal papered over some alarming cracks.
Villa started the second half in equally bright fashion, but Lansbury’s moment to forget, the ball barely having sufficient power to cross the line after trickling off his heel, halted Villa’s momentum. Bjarnason almost atoned for his early miss when the midfielder was denied by Darlow’s block, but it was Newcastle who looked more likely to add to their advantage as Johnstone saved well to thwart Shelvey and Jack Colback as Steve Bruce’s side endured a ninth league game without a win on what proved to be a frustrating latest return to his native Tyneside.
The sight of Hogan being stretchered off late on as Villa played out stoppage time with 10 men having used all their substitutes will hardly have improved the manager’s no doubt sombre mood.
Villa remain a slender six points above the relegation zone as their post Christmas demise gathers pace, leaving Bruce to look for answers to ensure back-to-back relegations are avoided just a few months after his side were being talked of as play-off dark horses, a scenario which now almost appears laughable.
Newcastle (4-2-3-1): Darlow; Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett; Colback, Shelvey; Ritchie, Diame, Gouffran (Atsu 89); Gayle (Mitrovic 33).
Subs not used: Elliot, Hanley, Lazaar, Perez, Gamez.
Aston Villa (4-1-4-1): Johnstone; Hutton, Chester, Elphick, Taylor; Jedinak Adomah 71); Bjarnason (Gardner 83), Lansbury, Hourihane, Kodija (Bacuna 83); Hogan.
Subs not used: Bunn, Baker, Amavi, Grealish.
Referee: Peter Bankes (Merseyside)