London (AFP) – A Yoann Gouffran strike and an Henri Lansbury own goal propelled Newcastle back to the top of the Championship and a step closer to an immediate return to the Premier League in a 2-0 win over Aston Villa on Monday.
Rafael Benitez’s Magpies are embroiled with Brighton in a thrilling ding dong battle for supremacy in the second tier Championship and victory over another of the sides that went down with them from the Premier League last season saw Newcastle move a point ahead of the ‘Seagulls’.
Defeat for Villa, though, left them dangerously close to the relegation places — just six points above the bottom three — not something Chinese owner Tony Xia had in mind when he bought the club and subsequently brought in the experienced Steve Bruce after Roberto di Matteo failed to galvanise them in the early stages of the season.
However, Villa’s situation is precarious as their form has fallen away completely, accruing just two points from a possible 27 in their last nine games.
Gouffran struck — in what was the two famous clubs first meeting at St James’ Park outside the top flight since 1938 — three minutes from the break after the Villa defence failed to clear Matt Ritchie’s ball into the penalty area.
The hosts doubled their advantage shortly before the hour mark when Villa midfielder Lansbury — a recent acquisition from Nottingham Forest — getting into all sorts of a tangle on his goalline and turning Jamaal Lascelles’s header into his own net.
Jonathan Kodjia went closest for Villa, his smart volley from 20 yards out just flying over the bar with 11 minutes remaining.
The only bad news for Benitez was the early departure of top scorer Dwight Gayle after just over half an hour.
The 27-year-old former Crystal Palace marksman — who has scored 20 goals in 22 appearances this season — was making his return to action having suffered an injury against Brentford in mid-January.