At the end of November, Newcastle United were sat in 19th spot in the league having won just two of their 14 top flight matches and taken just 10 points from a possible 42. The Toon Army had just been thumped 5-1 by Crystal Palace and with every passing week it looked like Mike Ashley was going to pull the trigger, and Steve McClaren would be required to give up the hotseat, return his Sports Direct Discount Card, and head to the warm bosom of football punditry.
But the man with the strangest hair in football was not about to be usurped so easily. While we enter the Christmas season and the birth of baby Jesus, Steve McClaren was working some miracles of his own, guiding a hopeless Newcastle side to back-to-back wins against a resurgent Liverpool and unbeaten Tottenham Hotspur.
There’s every reason to think he can keep the Magpies’ run going against Aston Villa on Saturday night.
Aston Villa go into the match eight points adrift of safety and guaranteed to be bottom of the table when Santa does his rounds next week. There is a looming inevitability that, after recent finishes of 17-15-15-16, this will finally be the year Aston Villa drop into the second tier of English football. A sad sight for a side that has played 28 consecutive seasons in the top flight (and 105 in total), but a completely understandable one if you’d had to witness any of their woeful performances over the last few years.
Any side that has treated their fans to just 24 wins in 100 league games is destined to be in trouble – Arsenal are on target to win the same amount of games in 2015 alone.
Newcastle meanwhile have turned a corner thanks to some miraculous, if slightly fortunate, work from Steve McClaren. A 2-0 victory over Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool aided by yet another Martin Skrtel own goal, was followed by a comeback against Tottenham inspired by two McClaren substitutes. That’s three wins in six games for Newcastle – a run that, quite incredibly, puts them ninth in the top flight’s form table.
The Magpies should go into the game with Aston Villa with plenty of confidence though and punters should be quick to keep them onside at . Newcastle have won six and drawn three of the last 10 matches against Villa and haven’t lost at home to the Midlands side in 10 years. There’ll be no festive spirit on show, with Newcastle aiming to put even more distance between themselves and the drop zone.
You’d be forgiven for struggling to get too excited about backing Newcastle at odds-on. Recent history tells us they’re as predictable as a circus ran by chimps, so if you’re looking for a bit more bang for your buck take the that they’ll win by exactly one. They’ve won this fixture by one goal in five of the last seven meetings so there’s some solid trends to go on, while it’s that they win 1-0 and that they win 2-1.
Whatever happens, just remember it has been more than 130 days since Aston Villa last won a league game.