Newcastle won for the third time in succession in the Premier League as they beat Aston Villa 1-0 at St. James’ Park on Sunday.
Kieran Trippier scored the only goal of the game as his free-kick deflected in off Emi Buendia to fly past Emi Martinez and into the back of the net.
The defence will get credit for keeping a clean sheet, but the attacking players put the pressure on Aston Villa early on to help the Magpies get in front. Ryan Fraser looked to test Lucas Digne quickly down the flank and never stopped running in the first half, whether that was in behind to make runs or defensively to close players down.
One player who was better than Fraser in attack, however, was striker Chris Wood. He may still be looking for his first goal in Newcastle colours but he certainly made his presence felt with an impressive performance against Steven Gerrard’s side.
The former Burnley man offered the Magpies a focal point at the top end of the pitch that they sometimes lack with Callum Wilson in the team. In the Premier League this season, the ex-Bournemouth striker has won 27 aerial battles, with a success rate of 38%, in 18 matches.
Wood, meanwhile, won 13 in just 90 minutes against Villa on Sunday. He won 13 of his 15 aerial duels – a success rate of 86.6% – and this shows how strong the machine is in the air, particularly given that he was up against 6ft 4 Tyrone Mings and Calum Chambers.
Fraser lost three of his four duels in total and only completed 50% of his attempted long passes and crosses, which shows that – whilst he was still key to the win – Wood had the edge on him in the front three.
The New Zealand international did lose his three ground duels, meaning that he won 72% of his battles in total, but his quality in the air made up for any deficiencies on the deck. As per SofaScore, he completed his one long pass attempt and registered a key pass, which shows that he was able to produce some quality in possession to go along with the physical prowess he provided the team with.
Therefore, he was Howe’s unsung hero in the match as he puts in the hard graft against the centre-backs to make himself a reliable outlet for the team. This was pivotal for Newcastle as they held on to their lead at the end of the game as it allowed them to play the ball long for him to alleviate pressure from constant Villa attacks, with his headers/flick-ons pushing the team up the pitch.