Trippier’s free-kick against Aston Villa earns third straight win for Newcastle

As Eddie Howe ran out of Newcastle players to embrace and, wreathed in smiles, finally walked off the pitch, he looked up towards the directors’ box and blew his wife a kiss.

If she had not already realised it, this was surely the day when Vicki Howe fully understood precisely why her husband wanted to be the manager of one of English football’s doziest sleeping giants.

Three consecutive wins have not merely lifted an apparently doomed side four points clear of the relegation zone but breathed new life into a club transformed under their controversial Saudi Arabian-led ownership.

Played out against an electric, highly evocative, backdrop of vigorously waved black and white flags and a soundtrack of “Eddie Howe’s black and white army”, this was an afternoon when, despite the chill rain, anything seemed possible.

Admittedly Newcastle rode their luck a little in the second half but with the debutant Dan Burn outstanding in central defence and Kieran Trippier around to score the winning goal, midtable beckons.

“We’re in a good place at the moment,” said Howe, who smiled broadly when asked whether a top-10 finish was feasible, but he is sweating on the fitness of Trippier, who went off with a foot injury early in the second half. The defender went for an X-ray and returned from a short hospital visit on crutches. “There’s still a heck of a long way to go and things to improve. But it was the sort of tight game which, in weeks gone by, we wouldn’t have won. We defended heroically at times.”

Newcastle paid Atlético Madrid £12m for Trippier as much for the England right-back’s crossing and dead-ball acumen as his defensive attributes and when Howe’s team won a free-kick fractionally outside the area there was only one man for the job.

That set piece was awarded after a VAR review had overruled Craig Pawson’s decision to point to the penalty spot after Calum Chambers – a less than reassuring, slightly clumsy central defensive presence throughout – sent the accelerating Joe Willock tumbling.

Trippier promptly ensured Villa’s reprieve would prove temporary by powering his kick through the wall and, courtesy of a slight deflection off Emiliano Buendía, on past a wrong-footed Emiliano Martínez.

Until then Villa had largely succeeded in frustrating Howe’s team. Pressing high and hard, Steven Gerrard’s players refused to allow Jonjo Shelvey and company time on the ball in midfield, and the assiduously marked Allan Saint-Maximin was initially allowed precious little room for manoeuvre, no matter where he wandered .

Yet hard as John McGinn hassled and harried and as successful as Villa proved in forcing Newcastle to resort to sending Chris Wood chasing long balls and lost causes, they created very few chances.

A big part of that was down to Burn’s positional excellence. The Northumberland-born £13m recruit from Brighton replaced an unwell Jamaal Lascelles and, on this assured evidence, Howe’s captain may struggle to reclaim his place.

Indeed with Philippe Coutinho not so much tamed as rendered anonymous by Trippier’s shadowing, Martin Dubravka was rarely called to goalkeeping arms and Villa’s collective attacking talent remained dormant until a potential watershed was reached two minutes into the second half.

When, to collective groans, that foot injury forced Trippier off, Coutinho finally sensed opportunity. Emil Krafth had barely stepped off the bench before the former Liverpool and Barcelona creator was dancing, teasingly, away from him.

Within seconds Coutinho unleashed a defence-bisecting through-ball and although Ollie Watkins could not quite make the most of it, Howe and his assistant, Jason Tindall, exchanged anxious glances.

Such nervousness swiftly looked well founded. Inspired by an apparently reborn Coutinho Gerrard’s attack finally stretched Burn to the limit and when Watkins headed the fallout from Lucas Digne’s low cross and Coutinho’s deflected shot beyond Dubravka it appeared Newcastle’s worst fears had been realised.

In the event VAR came to the rescue, its review detecting the most fractional of offsides against Watkins. If there is such a thing as a “toenail decision” this was it.

Villa have not won here since April 2005 – the day Newcastle’s Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer engaged in an on-pitch fist fight – and their improvement in a second half briefly interrupted by a medical emergency high in the Gallowgate End was never sufficient to change that narrative.

“I’ve got no complaints with the result,” said a downbeat Gerrard, declining invitations to complain about Watkins’s disallowed header. “I believe you make your own luck and I expect more from this team, collectively and individually. Newcastle didn’t have to play incredibly well to win. I feel frustrated and disappointed.”

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