CHRIS Kavanagh has been confirmed as the referee for Saturday’s crunch SkyBet Championship clash between Aston Villa and Newcastle United.
The Select Group 2 official will take charge at Villa Park for the televised evening kick-off between two sides relegated from the Premier League last season (KO 17:30 BST, live on Sky Sports).
It’s viewed by many as one of the key games of the season so far, with both teams expected to be challenging for automatic promotion.
Kavanagh will be assisted in the west Midlands by two Select Group 2 assistants Nick Greenhalgh and James Mainwaring, both from Lancashire, with Simon Hooper (Wiltshire) acting as fourth official.
Hooper hit the headlines earlier this month, when the referee himself at Villa Park, for sending off Nottingham Forest midfielder Hildeberto Pereira for a second yellow card for celebrating their late equaliser in the 2-2 draw too vociferously.
He also turned down two strong penalty appeals for handball for Newcastle in their 1-0 defeat at Fulham in the first Football League match of the season last month.
Meanwhile, Kavanagh will oversee his 10th game of the season – and sixth in the Championship, with the other four occurring in the EFL Cup.
Unusually, the Manchester-based whistler officiated two first-round matches after standing in for the injured Mark Haywood in Carlisle’s 2-1 win over Port Vale before handling Bristol Rovers’ surprise 1-0 victory against Cardiff two nights later – his only other TV appearance this term.
The 30-year-old, who is being considered for Premier League promotion, was fourth official for Bournemouth’s 1-0 top-flight win over West Brom earlier this month.
It’s already been a busy start to the campaign for Lancashire-born Kavanagh, who lives in Ashton-under-Lyne.
This will be his 13th appointment as referee or fourth official of the season and his second trip to Villa Park after being on electronic board duties for their 3-0 win over Rotherham on August 13.
Kavanagh has brandished an average of three yellow cards per game so far but is yet to send off a player, and awarded his first penalty of the campaign last weekend in Norwich’s 2-1 win at Nottingham Forest.
Half of his 36 games came in the Championship last season, during a year in which he proved his ability to earn a place among the 18-strong group of professional officials primarily officiating in the second-tier.
In doing so, he left his day job as Manchester County FA’s Referee Development Manager – a role he had fulfilled for two and a half years.
It could be a challenging contest to control for Kavanagh, who was only promoted to the Football League in 2014 but has been to Wembley as fourth official for the 2015 FA Vase Final.
His only other encounters with both sides were in last season’s League Cup – Newcastle’s 1-0 defeat at home to Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa’s 5-3 win after extra time against Notts County, whose angry boss Ricardo Moniz branded him ‘arrogant’ afterwards.
Kavanagh will also be in the Second City next midweek as fourth official for Birmingham’s match with Preston North End at St Andrew’s on Tuesday night.
There will also be a rare and exciting occurrence as two managers who have won the Champions League pit their wits against one another in the Championship – Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez won it with Liverpool in 2005 and Villa’s Roberto di Matteo clinched the trophy at Chelsea in 2o12.
Title favourites Newcastle’s run of five straight league wins was abruptly ended by last Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat by Wolves, while Villa sit 18th with one win, five draws and two losses from eight games so far.
Oliver Langford will be in the middle for Friday night’s Lancashire derby between Preston North End and Wigan Athletic at Deepdale (KO 19:45 BST, live on Sky Sports).
The 36-year-old, from the West Midlands, will take charge of his sixth game of the season in all competitions – and fourth in the Championship.
He will be assisted by James Wilson (Cheshire) and Christopher Akers (south Yorkshire), with Stephen Martin (Staffordshire) on fourth official duties.
Select Group 2 referee Langford, who has been in the Football League since 2009, will also handle Brentford against Reading at Griffin Park next Tuesday in the second-tier.
Langford’s only other live TV match this term was on the opening weekend, when he awarded a second-half penalty to QPR in their 3-0 victory over Leeds at Loftus Road.
It was one of four spotkicks he has awarded so far while he has averaged three yellow cards per game but is yet to send a player off.
Langford only encountered Preston twice last term – in their goalless draw at Derby in February and 1-0 defeat at Middlesbrough in April, but was only in charge of Wigan’s 3-2 win at Peterborough in League One a year ago.
You can view a full list of SkyBet Football League match official appointments here.