Newcastle United’s hopes of Premier League survival were dealt a major blow after they were held to a 0-0 draw at rock-bottom Aston Villa on Saturday.
Rafael Benitez’s side needed a victory to ensure their fate stayed in their own hands, with Norwich City and Sunderland below them having played a game fewer.
But despite a morale-boosting win over Crystal Palace last week, a nervy Newcastle offered a deeply uninspiring display against a Villa side playing their last home game in the Premier League before they drop into the Championship for next season.
Jack Colback and Aleksandar Mitrovic wasted good chances early in the second half, but Villa – who looked happy to keep possession without offering any real threat – kept the visitors at arm’s length for the majority.
Newcastle pushed for a winner in the closing stages as news of Sunderland’s impending victory over Chelsea began to filter through, with Mitrovic flashing a header narrowly wide, but Mark Bunn’s goal remained largely unthreatened.
Benitez’s side could now be sent into the second tier alongside Villa before their final game of the season at home to Tottenham next Sunday, with Sunderland and Norwich City – beaten by Manchester United earlier on Saturday – playing in midweek.
Newcastle controlled possession early on, but a desperate lack of inspiration in attack meant goalkeeper Bunn’s biggest involvement was to clear the inflatable footballs which had been hurled from the stands.
Papiss Cisse bounced a volley into Bunn’s hands, while Villa – who at least managed to turn some boos from the crowd into cries of encouragement with their sustained possession – could muster little better than a looping Alan Hutton cross in a poor first half.
Newcastle wasted a glorious chance to snatch the lead just after the break, however, when Jack Colback lashed over the crossbar from close range after Cisse had scuffed the ball into his path.
Benitez’s side looked the more dangerous and substitute Mitrovic spurned a second clear opening when he lifted the ball onto the roof of the net after finding himself with time and space in the area.
Villa Park began to grow louder as the defiant home fans tried to roar their side to only a third home league win all season, though Bunn was forced to save superbly to deny Georginio Wijnaldum an opening goal after Andros Townsend had teed up the Netherlands midfielder.
Mitrovic powered a header just wide from Colback’s deep cross before the game had to be halted with 14 minutes to play, as Villa fans littered the pitch with beach balls and scarves as part of their planned protest against owner Randy Lerner’s running of the club.
Benitez threw on Ayoze Perez in search of a winner, but Townsend sent an injury-time free-kick into Bunn’s grateful grasp to cap a miserable game for Newcastle, meaning they will be left an unassailable four points adrift of safety if Sunderland win their game in hand at home to Everton on Wednesday.
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