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Toon regain top spot and edge ever closer to Premier return


Cool finish: Yoan Gouffran opens the scoring for Newcastle

Cool finish: Yoan Gouffran opens the scoring for Newcastle


Cool finish: Yoan Gouffran opens the scoring for Newcastle

Newcastle United reclaimed top spot in the Championship following a hard-earned 2-0 win over struggling Aston Villa at St James' Park.

The Villans' wait for a league win in 2017 continued as Yoan Gouffran's seventh goal of the season three minutes before half-time was followed by a nightmare own goal from Henri Lansbury just before the hour.

Lansbury, the former Nottingham Forest midfielder signed in January, was left humiliated as he helped in Jamaal Lascelles' effort that hit the post, leaving the Magpies fans to taunt him.

Newcastle supporters remembered how Lansbury was at the centre of the red cards issued to Jonjo Shelvey and Paul Dummett during Forest's 2-1 win at the City Ground earlier in the season - only for both dismissals to be rescinded afterwards.

The home side, who lost striker Dwight Gayle in the first half through injury, are a point clear of second-placed Brighton again and they sit eight clear of Huddersfield in third with 14 matches remaining in the race for promotion to the Premier League.

Twenty-goal Gayle returned to the Toon side for the first time since pulling his hamstring in the middle of January, with boss Rafael Benitez desperate for the £10m man's goals to lift them.

History suggested their chances of doing so were favourable as Villa had not beaten their opponents since April 2011.

The visitors, now winless in nine league games dating back to Boxing Day, started well and had the first decent chance when Birkir Bjarnason side-footed wide when Scott Hogan's looping header fell his way.

Newcastle struggled to gain a foothold. Shelvey was not afforded the freedom he usually finds, while Gayle cut an isolated figure.

And - shortly before Gayle made his way down the tunnel after 33 minutes nursing another injury - Villa came closer still. This time, Toon keeper Karl Darlow had to make a stunning one-handed save to turn over a drive from striker Jonathan Kodjia which took a wicked deflection off DeAndre Yedlin.

Yet for all of Newcastle's first-half problems, they still took the lead before the interval. Substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic's effort was blocked and fell invitingly for Gouffran to poke over the line to earn Newcastle an advantage that few inside St James' Park could have seen coming.

Newcastle were not convincing after the restart either, until Lansbury's moment to forget effectively wrapped things up.

Shelvey's corner was turned goalwards by Lascelles. The defender's effort hit the foot of the post before Lansbury made a mistake with the ball rebounding off the midfielder and rolling in.

Villa keeper Sam Johnstone prevented further goals by making two excellent stops to deny Matt Ritchie and Jack Colback. The points, though, had already been secured.

NEWCASTLE: Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Colback, Gouffran (Atsu, 89 mins), Diame, Gayle (Mitrovic, 33 mins). Unused subs: Hanley, Lazaar, Perez, Elliot, Jesus Gamez.

ASTON VILLA: Johnstone, Hutton, Elphick, Chester, Taylor, Jedinak (Adomah, 71 mins), Bjarnason (Gardner, 82 mins), Hourihane, Lansbury, Hogan, Kodjia (Bacuna, 83 mins). Unused subs: Baker, Amavi, Bunn, Grealish.

Belfast Telegraph