By Timothy Abraham BBC Sport
FABIAN Schar scored twice as Newcastle ended a run of four consecutive Premier League defeats with a tenacious victory at Aston Villa.
Switzerland defender Schar finished well from close range for both goals as Villa stuttered to their first home league defeat of the season.
An own goal from Alex Moreno gave Newcastle a three-goal cushion before Ollie Watkins pulled a goal back.
Watkins had the ball in the net for a second time but was flagged offside.
Villa were left to rue the chance to make up ground on Premier League leaders Liverpool and remain in fourth spot – five points behind the Reds having played a game more.
Newcastle climbed up to seventh in the table but are still 11 points adrift of Villa in the battle to secure a place in next season’s Champions League.
Schar’s spirit reignites Howe’s side
The Magpies played with the greater panache against a Villa side who had collected 28 points out of a possible 30 on home turf before this encounter, and were deserved victors.
Anthony Gordon, in particular, spearheaded their attacking play with a guile and flair as he frequently outfoxed the Villa defence with his movement and tricky.
Equally, Alexander Isak looked a threat in attack before his premature withdrawal in the first half through injury.
But Eddie Howe will have been especially pleased with the substance to his side, as well as the eye-catching moments of style, en route to only their second away win of the season.
Schar was the embodiment of that: disciplined, gritty and organised in his defensive work, never shirking a block or challenge.
“It was mixed emotions for me because that team is an elite team,” Howe told TNT Sports.
“The mixed part is that we haven’t seen that for a number of weeks. We looked much like ourselves and we have players coming back.”
At the other end of the pitch, Schar was clinical. He gave Ezri Konsa the slip to strike the ball home and open the scoring as Villa’s defending was punished when they allowed Kieran Trippier’s corner to drop into the six-yard box.
Newcastle’s second was pure opportunism from Schar. He stayed in the box following a corner and stabbed the ball home after Gordon saw his deflected effort bounce out off the underside of the crossbar with Emiliano Martinez already committed.
“We know what we are capable of but we haven’t shown it enough,” Schar told BBC Match of the Day.
“Today we know we were going to have to be at our best. This should give us a lot of confidence and hopefully we can build on these last two results.”
The game was effectively over as a contest seven minutes after half-time when Moreno could not prevent himself sliding Jacob Murphy’s low finish into the net.
Newcastle showed renewed energy and intensity after a dip. If the green shoots of recovery came in an FA Cup fourth-round win over Fulham last weekend, now there is further cause for optimism.
Villa title challenge hits buffers
Unai Emery never quite managed to break the La Liga stranglehold of Barcelona and Real Madrid in his homeland.
Three third-placed finishes with Valencia between 2009 and 2012 were the best he managed as he came up short when faced with Spanish football’s behemoths.
Emery’s Villa side had looked in contention to make it four-horse race with Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool in the Premier League this season.
Before this encounter they had 13 wins and 43 points – their best record after 21 top-flight fixtures of a season for 125 years – and were unbeaten at Villa Park.
However, the landscape looks a little different after a defeat in which their players looked tired.
“It is a little frustrating. The first 60 minutes, they were better,” Emery told Match of the Day.
“We couldn’t take chances to draw but we have to accept and remind the players everything we did here was not perfect. We then have to correct what we did here.
“We have to be demanding that we can improve. We have to react tactically.”
Emery’s side have now dropped points in four of their past five games and a title tilt which always looked unlikely appears to be firmly on the wane.
Villa’s players appeared jaded and flat-footed here. Emery’s reluctance to rotate – either through choice or design – suggests they have not got the depth to go the distance, either.
The upside is that at least Watkins has ended a run of six appearances without a goal with a smart finish for his 50th in the Premier League. He was a whisker away from a second, too.
A place in the top four should still be within Villa’s grasp, as well a shot at either the Europa League or the FA Cup. There is still plenty to play for.
-January 31, 2024 @ 7:00 GMT|Tags: Fabian Schar