ST JAMES’ PARK — On the final whistle Jack Grealish collapsed to the turf at the Leazes End, Keinan Davis stood head down with his hands on his hips and everyone in claret shirts gave the general impression that they had just suffered a defeat with serious repercussions. It was a mournful scene in a silent stadium.
“It feels like two points dropped,” Aston Villa manager Dean Smith said. “We weren’t clinical enough.”
Yet Villa did not lose; the number of chances they created, however, turned what might yet be a valuable point at St James’ Park into a feeling of what might have been. Project Restart has been something of a false start for Smith’s squad.
The good news is that Egyptian Ahmed Elmohamady’s late equaliser brought a point which keeps Villa level with Bournemouth and West Ham.
But three games in eight days since football’s return have yielded two goals and two points and in their relegation situation, Villa need more than that.
Had Sheffield United not had a perfectly good goal unrecognised, then it would have been worse.
Villa were the better side here – marginally – but any consolation has to be set against dropped points and the fact their next three opponents are Wolves, Liverpool and Manchester United.
It is unlikely any of those defences will present Villa with the freedom Newcastle United allowed them, particularly in an opening 30 minutes when relatively simple passing and crosses produced an eight-yard volley for Trezeguet, a header for Mbwana Samatta from the same distance and then another close-range effort for John McGinn. None of them were even on target.
Villa’s defence has taken a fair amount of criticism this season, but the forwards owed them an explanation at half-time.
Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka departed the pitch then having not made a save and while that suggests comfort, Steve Bruce was not thrilled for it to take 44 minutes before Dubravka’s opposite number Orjan Nyland was forced to parry a Matt Ritchie shot. In keeping with much of re-started football, it was all low-key.
Newcastle, virtually safe after their victory over Sheffield United, and with an FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester City here on Sunday to consider, can be excused a lack of urgency, especially in the heat of the first half.
But Villa’s position is urgent, they have to chisel out points in order to climb. Talisman Grealish must feel the responsibility every time he plays, and would doubtless like some assistance, but after showing a few nice touches, he moved to the periphery of a vague contest.
Thankfully for Villa, as the second half wore on, Grealish became more prominent. He was needed as Dwight Gayle and Andy Carroll had left the Newcastle bench to combine to give the hosts a 69th minute lead.
It was a neat finish from Gayle but Villa reflected on the space both he and Carroll received. Smith mentioned “a lack of concentration from Ezri [Konsa]”, and called it “a silly goal.” It was a reminder that Villa have conceded more even than Norwich.
Trezeguet again, then Kortney Hause, could have put them ahead before Gayle struck. Instead it was a chase and Elmohamady got his head to a near-post corner from Conor Hourihane. There was some “kitchen sink” stuff after that, according to Smith.
But there was no cutting edge, certainly nothing as sharp as Bruce afterwards.
He has signed Elmohamady for Sunderland, Hull City and Villa.
“I should have left him in Egypt,” he joked.