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 on the line 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and Paul Dummett during Forest’s 2-1 win at the City Ground earlier in the season – only for both dismissals to be rescinded afterwards.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 to win promotion to the Premier League.
Twenty-goal Gayle returned to the Newcastle side for the first time since pulling his hamstring in the middle of January, with manager Rafael Benitez desperate for the £10million man’s goals to lift them back to the top of the pile.
History suggested their chances of doing so were favourable as Villa had not beaten their opponents since April 2011 in a run stretching back 10 matches.
The visitors, now winless in nine league games dating back to Boxing Day, started well and had the first decent opportunity when Birkir Bjarnason side-footed wide at the back post when Scott Hogan’s looping header fell his way.
Newcastle struggled to gain a foothold on proceedings. Shelvey was not afforded the freedom he usually finds in the middle, while Gayle cut an isolated figure at the top of the home side’s system.
And – shortly before Gayle made his way down the tunnel after 33 minutes nursing another injury – Villa came closer still. This time goalkeeper 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 en route to make the save even greater.
Yet for all of Newcastle’s first-half problems, they still took the lead before the interval – and it was substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic’s effort through a crowded box that led to it.
The Serbian’s effort was blocked and fell invitingly for Gouffran to poke the finish over the line to earn Newcastle an advantage that few inside St James’ Park could have seen coming.
Newcastle were not convincing initially after the restart either, until Lansbury’s moment to forget effectively wrapped things up and gave the home side the room to relax.
Shelvey’s corner was turned goalwards by Lascelles. The defender’s effort hit the foot of the post before Lansbury made a mistake on the line with the ball rebounding off the midfielder and rolling in.
Villa goalkeeper Sam Johnstone prevented further goals by making two excellent low stops to turn away efforts from Matt Ritchie and Jack Colback. The points, though, had already been secured.