A year after having a cabbage hurled at him by a disgruntled Aston Villa fan in the final days as their manager, Steve Bruce returned to his old club and had another uncomfortable experience this time in charge of Newcastle United.
Villa on Monday beat Newcastle 2-0 in the English Premier League in a match between teams who might be battling to avoid relegation.
On this evidence, Newcastle — in their first season under Bruce — are more likely to go down than Villa, who were two ahead by the 36th minute and could have scored more in the second half.
Conor Hourihane whipped a direct free-kick inside the near post to put Villa ahead in the 32nd minute, before the midfielder curled in another free-kick that Anwar El Ghazi could not fail to convert from inside the six-yard box.
Villa moved up two spots to 15th, a point and a place behind Newcastle after 13 matches.
“We were too passive in the first half,” Bruce said. “There was nothing in it until half an hour — with the standards we have set in the last couple of weeks, we were not there. We have been done by two set-pieces.”
It was Bruce’s first time back at Villa Park since being fired by the hosts in October last year, a day after a fan threw the cabbage at him as he walked along the touchline before a 3-3 draw at home to then-last-placed Preston North End in the second-tier Championship.
Bruce called it “one of the most unsavory times of my career.”
Dean Smith replaced Bruce as Villa manager and drastically improved the team’s fortunes, leading them to promotion barely six months later.
Villa captain Jack Grealish, fit again after four weeks out with a calf injury, stood out against Newcastle with his quick feet and vision playing on the left of a front three rather than in central midfield.
He nearly capped his display with a brilliant team goal, but after exchanging passes with El Ghazi, he curled a shot just over the bar.
Grealish could be close to a call-up by England if he continues his strong form.
“I like playing as a No. 8 — I feel more involved, but it is a team game and will play wherever the manager asks,” Grealish said. “When I am on the left, I want to play more like the Liverpool front three [of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah].”
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