THE pressure continues to mount on Steve Bruce after Newcastle United’s desperate form continued with a 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa.

Bruce’s side have now gone ten games without a win in all competitions, and if anything, their performances are becoming worse rather than better.

Their failure to score at Villa Park means they have now managed just one goal in their last 744 minutes of football, a desperate record that has inevitably raised fears of just how this season will end.

The Magpies remain seven points clear of the relegation zone, but their rivals in the bottom half of the table are showing signs of life while they continue to flatline.

Bruce’s position will inevitably be called into question once again, with Rafael Benitez’s departure from Chinese side Dalian earlier today adding further intrigue to the current situation.

Mike Ashley will not be reappointing Benitez given the acrimonious manner in which the Spaniard’s Tyneside tenure ended a year-and-a-half ago, but how much longer can he continue to stand by Bruce? On this evidence, Ashley could well find himself trying to sell a Championship club rather than a Premier League one come May.

Bruce’s pledge to start doing things ‘his way’ has not had the desired effect, so does this squad need new direction from a different man at the top?

Bruce reverted to a five-man backline for the trip to Villa Park, but his team selection provided far more questions than answers.

Why on earth is Jeff Hendrick holding on to a place in midfield? What is Jonjo Shelvey supposed to offer, apart from wandering around with his hands on his hips? And why play five at the back when it means Isaac Hayden has to be shuffled around to fill one of the centre-half spots?

Newcastle were outplayed from start to finish, and proved incapable of dealing with the skill and creativity of Aston Villa’s midfielders.

They fell behind in the 13th minute, and while Ollie Watkins might have looked marginally offside when he headed home – bizarrely, there was no VAR check on the incident – a catalogue of self-inflicted defensive errors led to the striker being able to break the deadlock.

Fabian Schar’s attempt to cut out Matt Targett’s low cross was desperate, with the Swiss defender only succeeding in ballooning the ball into the air. Karl Darlow could have come to punch clear, but instead stood motionless as Watkins headed home.

Ross Barkley headed just past the post as Villa quickly threatened to double their lead, and while Newcastle at least committed men forward as they looked to claw back their deficit, they never really threatened to ask serious questions of Emiliano Martinez in the Villa goal.

Jamaal Lascelles saw Tyrone Mings block his header from a corner, Andy Carroll directed a diving header wide of the far post and also saw a back-post headed effort saved by Martinez.

The Villa backline was never seriously tested though, and after Watkins had an effort chalked off for offside, the hosts succeeded in doubling their lead three minutes before the break.

Newcastle’s defenders failed to deal with a corner, enabling Jack Grealish to pick up possession on the left-hand side. He rolled the ball into Bertrand Traore’s path, and the Frenchman stroked home a first-time finish via the underside of the crossbar.

Watkins came close to adding a third at the start of the second half – his low shot was saved by Darlow before Douglas Luiz stabbed the rebound wide – and as the game wore on, so Villa’s dominance of possession became more and more pronounced.

Bruce tried to change things by introducing Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser with 20 minutes left, and the latter threatened immediately with a prodded effort that was blocked by Ezri Konsa.