VINCE BLISSETT (@Vince_RFC) will be covering live Championship games for WLB, starting Monday's mouthwatering match-up between Newcastle and Aston Villa.
Newcastle v Aston Villa | Monday 20:00 | Sky Sports 1
Aston Villa make the trip north-west to St James Park on Monday night with it still not completely inconceivable that they could be making a trip south-west to St James Park next season.
For a long time Newcastle v Aston Villa was a staple Premier League fixture and a top half clash at that too. Now in the division below, two similar clubs, both spending unheard of amounts of money for this level bringing in players yet are finding themselves going in opposite directions.
Newcastle have been able to attract Premier League quality players and look to be making a swift return to the top table, though are making much harder work of it than necessary.
Simply the best
For me, Toon are the best team in the league by a bigger margin that the table suggests. The Magpies boast the division’s best striker and top scorer in Dwight Gayle and the best defence in the league, conceding just 25 goals to go along with 13 clean sheets.
But it’s the midfield where their quality really shines through. Against Norwich last time out they fielded a quartet of Yoan Gouffran, Jonjo Shelvey, Jack Colback and Matt Ritchie with Mo Diame and Isaac Hayden on the bench – that’s the midfield of a mid-table Premier League team.
Shelvey especially brings something special to the team that possibly no one else in the Championship can.
Aston Villa on the other hand have gone out and spent a lot of money mainly on Championship players that have starred for smaller clubs and are finding out first hand how tough a league it is. The games come thick and fast and without a solid base to build on, coupled with a bad start, things can quickly get away from you and so it’s proved.
They’re better than the table suggests but for whatever reason Roberto Di Matteo and now Steve Bruce haven’t been able to find that small something that’s missing. They’ve drawn 12 games this season – more than anyone else in the league – indicating they’re close.
One thing they could do with is a Shelvey type in midfield, something it looks like Bruce identified by bringing Conor Hourihane and Henri Lansbury to Villa Park in January. He’ll be hopeful than one of if not both can make a difference which both have the ability to do.
Villa have been on poor form for far too long and the current form reads W0-D1-L7 in the league since the turn of the year. Away from home Steve Bruce’s men have won just twice all season scoring only eight goals in the process.
Magpies should fly high
A trip to the league leaders and the best defence is unlikely to see any of those statistics improve. Mile Jedinak and Neil Taylor could be back in contention for the visitors whilst for Newcastle the big news is that Gayle looks set for a return to the starting line-up.
Newcastle should be able to win this and reclaim top spot with a bit to spare. Somehow they’ve contrived to lose four times at home this season, three of them ‘to nil’ so they have a few bad results in them from time to time.
Ignoring those games though the St James Park faithful have seen 10 wins and a single draw with their team scoring at least twice in all but one, against Derby last time out when they could easily have gotten a few more.
As already mentioned Villa are on a bad run of form and don’t score many away from home either. To their credit they haven’t been conceding too many, 1-0 losses and 1-1 results are common scorelines over the course of the season so far.
But I can’t see Newcastle dropping points here and neither can the bookies, having priced them up at 13/20 to pick up three points. There is a value way of getting the Magpies onside though, Paddy Power have priced up Newcastle to win and Over 1.5 goals at 5/4, which seems generous to me.
The only worry in my mind is the 1-0 correct score but at those odds and Newcastle’s goalscoring record, I’m happy to take that chance.
Newcastle v Aston Villa – Newcastle to win and Over 1.5 Goals (5/4 Paddy Power)