THE best things come to those who wait. Joelinton had gone ten months without a Premier League goal before finally breaking his drought on Sunday, but the Brazilian’s barren spell was nothing compared to the one endured by his fellow Newcastle United forward Dwight Gayle. Not anymore.

Gayle scored his first top-flight goal since netting against Chelsea on the final day of the 2017-18 season within a minute of leaving the substitutes’ bench yesterday, neatly slotting home after his fellow replacement, Andy Carroll, rolled the ball into his path.

The 68th-minute strike looked like settling an otherwise low-key encounter, only for one of Steve Bruce’s favourite sons to return to haunt him with seven minutes left.

Bruce has signed Ahmed Elmohamady on three separate occasions during his career, taking him to Sunderland and Hull City before Villa Park. Elmohamady’s thanks? The dramatic late header that squeezed under Martin Dubravka to salvage Villa a point that could prove crucial in their battle against the drop.

It was the first league goal Newcastle had conceded in almost five matches, but while the timing might have been harsh, the final outcome felt about right.

Having been slick and clinical against Sheffield United at the weekend, this was a much more jaded performance from the Magpies, who were treading water before Bruce’s second-half substitutions stirred them into life.

Despite his side facing Manchester City in an FA Cup quarter-final on Sunday, Bruce opted to stick with the team that started on Sunday. A place in the FA Cup’s last four is now the primary target for the Magpies, so the failure to make even a single alteration suggested Bruce was keen to maintain the momentum his side generated against the Blades.

It did not really work. Newcastle only became enlivened when Gayle and Carroll came on to the field, and Bruce will have to shuffle his pack more astutely if he is to avoid similar flat spots in the remainder of the season.

Aston Villa could have been two goals ahead by the quarter-hour mark, such was the extent of their early superiority.

Newcastle were especially vulnerable down their left early on, with Allan Saint-Maximin’s reluctance to track back leaving Danny Rose exposed. Twice, Villa swung in dangerous early crosses from their right; twice, however, their finishing was found wanting.

The recalled Trezeguet should have opened the scoring in the sixth minute, but having ghosted in at the back post to meet full-back Ezri Konsa’s cross, the Egyptian midfielder could only stab a poor first-time effort over the crossbar.

Eight minutes later, and it was Anwar El Ghazi crossing from a pocket of space on the right, with Mbwana Samatta stealing between Jamaal Lascelles and Federico Fernandez to meet his centre. Villa’s January signing should really have scored from eight yards out, but his glanced header fizzed well wide of the back post.

At least the visitors were creating chances though. Whereas Villa were lively and industrious, Newcastle’s players appeared jaded and one-paced, a marked contrast to the incisive attacking display that carved Sheffield United apart in the second half of Sunday’s game.

With Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden having to devote most of their attention to curtailing the attacking ambitions of Jack Grealish and John McGinn, Newcastle spent most of the opening period on the back foot.

The lack of any kind of spark was all too apparent, although Saint-Maximin finally burst in life towards the end of the first half when he sprinted to the byline before drilling a dangerous ball across the face of the six-yard box. It was the kind of moment that might ordinarily have lifted a dormant crowd to life. In these spectator-free times, however, it was greeted with stony silence.

Aston Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland was finally called into action a minute before the break, parrying a fierce low effort from Matt Ritchie, before the first half ended in mildly controversial fashion with Lascelles claiming he had been headbutted by Douglas Luiz as the pair tussled in the Villa penalty area. A VAR check ruled out a possible red card, leaving Lascelles visibly frustrated.

The fact the incident was the most notable moment of the first half said everything, with the sweltering conditions only adding to the feeling of a pre-season friendly rather than a Premier League match with crucial points at stake.

With Newcastle playing at a pedestrian pace and their opponents lacking the smattering of class that might have enabled them to take advantage, the second half was initially every bit as uneventful as the first. In fact, it terms of clear goalmouth openings, it was even less exciting until Bruce’s substitutions bore fruit.

The exception to Newcastle’s initial lack of urgency was Saint-Maximin, whose occasional bursts of pace threatened to lift the game from it slumbers. The Frenchman began to flourish shortly before the lockdown, and his two performances since football’s resumption have more than justified his growing reputation as a Tyneside fans’ favourite.

He came close shortly before the hour mark last night, dancing his way through two tackles at the heart of the Villa half before drilling in a well-hit strike that whistled past the right-hand post.

He found himself playing alongside Carroll and Gayle in the closing stages, but even in his wildest dreams, Bruce cannot have imagined his two attacking substitutes combining so effectively.

They came onto the field four minutes apart, and within 60 seconds of Gayle’s introduction, they were linking to fashion a breakthrough.

Carroll rolled the ball infield from close to the right touchline, and having found a pocket of space in the box, Gayle expertly slotted a neat finish through Nyland’s legs. It was the striker’s first goal of any description since he scored against Villa for West Brom in last season’s Championship play-off semi-final.

It looked like being enough to settle things, but just as two Newcastle substitutes combined to score their side’s goal, so two Villa replacements got together to fashion an equaliser.

The goal owed much to an uncharacteristic error from Martin Dubravka though, with the Slovakian goalkeeper allowing Elmohamady’s glanced header to squirm beneath him after the Egyptian met Conor Hourihane’s corner.

That it was two former Sunderland players combining will merely have compounded Tyneside’s sense of frustration, although Dubravka will feel especially aggrieved that he was unable to keep the ball out.

Elmohamady’s header lacked pace, yet it still evaded the Newcastle goalkeeper to find the net. Dubravka has erred on a couple of occasions this season, but the overall standard of his performances means he remains in credit. Much like the rest of this Magpies team as they continue to edge towards the 40-point mark and a possible top-half finish.