BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) – Aston Villa’s Conor Hourihane scored and set up another goal after a couple of clever free kicks that saw the hosts beat Newcastle United 2-0 in a dominant performance on Monday to create some breathing space above the Premier League drop zone.
Ireland midfielder Hourihane put Villa ahead in the 32nd minute, tapping a dead ball to Jack Grealish and then unleashing a thumping shot which flummoxed goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.
Villa soon earned another dangerous set piece and Hourihane again assumed responsibility, firing the ball into the heart of the penalty area where Anwar El Ghazi arrived to knock the ball into the roof of the net from close range in the 36th.
El Ghazi stuck the ball into the net again later in the half but his effort was ruled offside, while Newcastle’s only chance in an unambitious 45 minutes was a Federico Fernandez header which was well saved by Tom Heaton.
Newcastle showed a little more imagination after the interval but rarely looked like getting back into the game and it was an unhappy return to Villa Park for their coach Steve Bruce, who was sacked by the Birmingham side 13 months ago.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak in the league for Villa and took them up two places to 15th on 14 points from 13 games, four clear of the relegation zone. Newcastle are 14th on 15.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris)