NEWCASTLE: If anyone in the Premier League remained in any doubt after last week, Newcastle United underlined to their rivals that they are very much part of the top flight party.
For far too long the Magpies have been passengers in the Premier League — present but not a threat to anyone, and all too happy to just exist.
But with the Public Investment Fund now at the helm, and Eddie Howe at the wheel, those days are long gone.
And it is becoming every bit more obvious by the week just why the established, so-called “big six,” and others with aspirations, fought so hard to make sure that the PIF did not get their hands on Newcastle.
Their wings were once clipped, but now the Magpies are flying high — and doing so with real purpose.
This was a rampant win, one done at a canter — and one that left many Newcastle fans flooding the city center on Saturday evening asking “is this what it feels like to actually be good?”
Callum Wilson netted twice against the Villains, who were 4-0 winners themselves last weekend, and Miguel Almiron made it seven for the season, with Joelinton getting a well-deserved first, as Newcastle made it five wins in six.
But for a narrow Spurs win over Bournemouth, the Magpies would be sitting in third place. As it stands, though, they had to settle for fourth — a remarkable statement in itself, given recent footballing history on Tyneside.
With England and Brazil bosses Gareth Southgate and Tite watching on from the stands — a first for St. James’ Park — Howe picked an unchanged team from the XI who beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 last weekend.
And in usual style, the Magpies started the game very much on the front foot.
After just three minutes, Newcastle swarmed down the right as Almiron found skipper Kieran Trippier, making his 300th English league appearance. The right-back chipped on to the head of Wilson, who peeled away from his man, but the effort went over. It was an early warning shot that the visitors did not heed.
It took Howe’s men until the 45th minute, plus five added minutes, to break the deadlock after a rather disjointed half of football, punctuated in the most part by injuries to Emi Martinez and Emi Buendia.
United threatened first with a sweeping move down the right as Trippier found Almiron, and Robin Olsen, on for Martinez minutes earlier, saved well with his outstretched leg.
Just minutes later, a similar move, with Newcastle clearly targeting left-back Ashley Young, broke down the stubborn Villa defense as Almiron was again teed up and his curling effort, bound for the far corner, was stopped by the outstretched arm of Young.
Wilson made no mistake, putting his penalty straight down the middle, giving Olsen no chance. Southgate take note.
Wilson had the ball in the net again moments later, this time rounding Olsen, but the offside flag denied him.
He was not to be denied for too much longer, though.
Just after the break a Trippier corner was taken short to Almiron, who produced a sumptuous back flick to the England right-back, whose chip was nodded in via the post from Wilson, who is proving to everyone this season that he is one of the best English strikers in the Premier League.
Like a swarm of bees, Newcastle hunted in packs — and you could tell that they smelled blood. Villa did their best to roll over under the pressure, too.
Joelinton made it 3-0 when he tucked in on the break after Wilson’s shot was saved by Olsen, before the most improved player in the top flight this season, Almiron, curled in what is becoming a trademark goal with his left, cutting in from the right for 4-0.
Instead of taking their foot off the gas, the relentless Magpies continued their assault on the Villa goal with a bar preventing Wilson getting a first Newcastle hat-trick and a post denying the impressive Jacob Murphy a goal off the bench.
The relentless assault on the established elites on and off the field is sustained, targeted and conducted with real purpose — a far cry from the Newcastle who used to just exist alongside the top flight.
And the biggest fear for those in their ivory towers in English football is that Newcastle United is only just getting started. The ceiling, as Jurgen Klopp referenced recently, is a long, long way from being reached.