Upon their relegations from the Premier League, the season started with so much optimism for both Aston Villa and Newcastle United as they prepared to embark on exciting rebuilds after miserable periods for both clubs.
Over the course of the summer, the pair were largely linked with the same calibre of player and had both landed big-name European Cup-winning managers to guide them back to the proverbial Promised Land, though they yielded varying levels of success.
While the Toon’s campaign hasn’t been quite the walk in the park many expected it to be – it never works out that way on Tyneside – Rafa Benitez’s side look well placed to make an instant return. Villa, meanwhile, are closer to League One than they are the Premier League.
So, what has made the complexion of their campaigns such an incredible contrast? Perhaps the appointment of Roberto Di Matteo at Villa Park was a risk, though you’d have to be a brave man to suggest things could have ended up quite like this.
Much was made of Benitez’s lack of experience in the Championship before the season started, but the former Real Madrid and Liverpool coach bought well in the summer and his credentials in grinding out results are there for all to see. Still, it’s not as if those in the Midlands bought badly for life in the second tier.
In fact, both Di Matteo and his successor, Steve Bruce, both have experience in winning promotion into the top tier and many of the players drafted in during the summer and the January transfer windows are rather astute ones indeed.
To really pinpoint the problems so deeply rooted in the halls of the Holt End these days, looking back at the end of last season could be a good starting point. A dreadful campaign for Villa was the culmination of a miserable period for the club, with poor decisions from those in the boardroom dragging this proud powerhouse of English football down.
However, with their fate sealed rather early on in the season, their relegation should have been a turning point for everyone involved. Instead of using their dismal drop to unite them, they allowed the losing feeling to rot within every aspect of the club, a mentality that’s so hard to change.
Even the aforementioned Bruce, a man who comes with a wonderful record of taking teams up, is finding it extremely difficult to rectify something that has proved to be such a sewing motif of daily life on Trinity Road.
Interestingly enough, Newcastle’s relegation was all but sealed with a drab 0-0 draw at Villa Park back in April, a result that allowed North East rivals Sunderland to send the Magpies packing. Still, since that sorry stalemate, the whole club has been completely revitalised it seems.
Where Newcastle accepted their fate, Villa allowed themselves to be consumed by hate. That’s the difference.