By most measures, Aston Villa have actually had a better first half of the season than Newcastle United. Both faced ignominious exits in the FA cup, but at least Villa managed to delay that loss until the fourth round, whilst Newcastle fell at the first hurdle. Villa might want to forget about the Capital One Cup given that they ended up being knocked out by Bradford, but they had an impressive run up until that point, and a semi-final exit would normally be no disgrace.
Whilst they are behind Newcastle in the league, they did at least manage a creditable draw at West Brom in their last outing, whilst Newcastle lost at home to Reading.
Despite all this, a clear majority of football fans would likely suggest that of the two sides, it is Villa who are in far greater danger of getting relegated, and most would put Newcastle as favourites for tonight's match as well. The reasons for clearly have to be Newcastle's excellent work in the transfer market this month.
While Villa have floundered, Newcastle have bounced back well form the early loss of Demba Ba to Chelsea with a string of well-priced signings from Ligue 1. Moussa Sissoko, Massadio Haidara, Yoan Gouffran, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Mathieu Debuchy have all arrived for under £20 million, and Debuchy, Yanga-Mbiwa and Debuchy in particular could provide a huge boost to the side in the remaining months of the season.
Alan Pardew has confirmed that some of his new signings will feature at Villa Park, with Sissoko reportedly set to go straight into the starting eleven. This is a good move, as the impact of the new players would be clearly seen if Newcastle were to win such an important match on their debut.
Add in Yohan Cabaye returning to fitness, Hatem Ben Arfa inching closer to action, and Papiss Cisse hopefully ready to find his goal scoring touch playing through the centre of the attack, Newcastle can be rightly optimistic about their future, and the gap to Aston Villa is likely to only grow in the next few months.
image: © ell brown