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John

We encouragingly played like Champions-elect during the first half yesterday but failed to put enough of the chances that we created away and as was proved so often last season a one goal lead is not always enough for us.

That Cup of Traditions tournament was made for us, wasn’t it? Villa performances are all too often games of two halves during which Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde take turns in coming out in claret & blue shirts. Those pre-season games were of only 45-minutes in duration and they did not therefore allow us the opportunity to take our foot off the pedal for half of the game as we did yesterday.

Hull deserved their point. They had the better of the second half in much the same way that we had the best of the first 45 minutes. We fell into that nasty habit of thinking that we could hold onto a one goal lead again. We surrendered the initiative and dropped points from what was a winning position and we cannot continue to do these things if we are to achieve our promotion objective this season.

We need to start dominating games over the full 90 minutes rather than for the first 45 and belatedly the last 10 as we did yesterday. We need to score more goals on a regular basis and to finish teams off when we have the game in our hands to win.    

My player ratings from a game that cast some doubts upon our chances of significantly improving on last season’s points and goals tallies are:

Sam Johnstone – 7 – Nice to see him confidently claiming balls in the air. Dived to his left-hand post to gather a header back from Taylor who was under pressure from Bowen on 10 minutes. Made a good double save on 44 minutes from Frazier Campbell with his right leg as the striker tried to turn the ball past him having run inside the box and then punched clear an effort from Grosicki from the edge of the box. Had little to no chance with their equalizer which came from Bowen who had been left totally unmarked.         

Alan Hutton – 6 – Claimed an assist for our early goal.             

James Chester - 7 – Solid alongside JT.     

John Terry – 7 – MOTM - Confident and assured at the heart of our defence. Looked as disappointed as we were with the result.        

Neil Taylor – 6 – A steady enough performance. 

Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Had a decent first half but faded in the second half as did the team in general.

Henri Lansbury – 6 –Ran between two defenders to collect a long ball from inside his own half by Taylor, took the ball from the edge of the box into it before hitting the ball across the face of the goal and wide of the far post on the 2nd minute. Chested down a 30th minute ball into the box from Elmohamady before hitting a decent shot that was gathered by McGregor.

Glenn Whelan – 6 – A solid hard-working performance.

Leandro Bacuna – 4 – I really do struggle to understand why Leo started yesterday instead of Conor Hourihane who spent a frustrating evening sitting on the bench. Leo put in a shift at times during the first half but his impact on the game was not marked and had become minimal at very best well before his substitution. A deflected 70th minute cross from Taylor fell to him at the far post but his last kick of the game was hurried and flew well over the bar.   

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 6 – Had a gilt-edged opportunity to open the scoring on 6 minutes when a nice ball from Lansbury put him clear wide on the left he proceeded to run into the box but he was denied by McGregor’s outstretched hand as he attempted to place the ball past the advancing keeper. Made no mistake just a minute later when Elmohamady fed Hutton who was running to his right. His low cross hurried behind Hogan and in front of Lansbury before falling to Gabby who was unmarked on the edge of the 6-yard box at the far post whose crisp well-placed finish found the far corner of the net. Tired as the game wore on and became increasingly less effective.   

Scott Hogan – 6 – Made a good run down the left on 21 minutes before pulling the ball back for Lansbury on the edge of the box who did not manage to connect with the ball with his right foot and the ball instead hit his standing foot and was easily picked up by a defender. Dawson’s attempted 27th minute clearance hit Lansbury who found Scott who in turn beat 2 defenders before aiming to push the ball past McGregor only to see it strike his left leg before it was gratefully gathered by the keeper. Could not quite get enough contact on Elmohamady’s deflected 32nd minute cross to turn it in.        

Substitutes:

Andre Green – 6 – Replaced Bacuna on 70 minutes and gave us some energy. Missed a late chance which looked much harder to miss than to score from on 80 minutes. Taylor’s free kick fell to him a couple of feet out near the far post but his header was badly mistimed and went harmlessly across the face of the goal rather than into the net. He will get goals and win games for us this season.  

Josh Onomah – 6 - Replaced Hogan on 78 minutes and looked a pacey, promising addition to our squad.

Chris Samba – Replaced Lansbury on 90 minutes and was immediately pushed up front alongside Gabby. This desperate last toss of the dice did not lead to the late winner Steve Bruce was seeking but Chris put himself about in this unfamiliar role. He was not on long enough to gather a rating.      

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

limpid

Aston Villa have been installed as favourites to win promotion to the Premier League this season after bolstering their squad with some high-profile summer signings. Chief among them is former England captain John Terry, a real coup for the club as the Chelsea legend had plenty of offers from around the globe. Steve Bruce has also brought in Ahmed Elmohamady and Glenn Whelan and the Villans are looking strong going into the 2017/18 season. Newcastle Utd and Brighton secured automatic promotion last season by a comfortable margin, so what can Aston Villa learn from the success of those clubs last season?

Speculate to accumulate

This really should not be the extent of Villa’s summer signing as history shows that some shrewd summer acquisitions can catapult clubs into the Premier League. Newcastle splashed out £54 million last summer and built a title winning side featuring the likes of Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle and Mohamed Diame. They were something of an anomaly because they were able to raise a substantial war chest by selling stars like Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum and Andros Townsend, but promotion does not come cheap. Brighton bought Glenn Murray and Shane Duffy for around £7.5 million, and the previous summer they laid out more than £11 million on players like Anthony Knockaert and Jamie Murphy. Villa have thus far spent less than £2.5 million and may need to display greater ambition if they are to haul themselves back into the top flight.

Loan your way up

The riches that await clubs upon reaching the promised land that is the Premier League are bountiful, but is can be a challenge to raise funds while languishing in the Championship, so the loan system can be a life saver. A key feature of Newcastle’s title winning escapades was the marauding wide play of Christian Atsu, signed on loan from Chelsea. Brighton meanwhile loaned a few players to bolster their ranks, but best of all loaned Glenn Murray, whose goals fired them to promotion. He was such a success that they bought him outright in January, but those goals in the first half of the season really propelled Brighton to promotion.

Get the right blend of youth and experience

The average age of summer arrivals at both Newcastle and Brighton was 24. So far the average age of arrivals at Villa this summer is 29, and the club could do with recruiting a few younger players. You need experience – Newcastle had it in droves with the likes of Diame, Gayle, Ritchie and Daryl Murphy, while Brighton could count on Sidwell and Bruno – and Villa have that from Terry, Elmohamady, Mile Jedinak, Whelan and so on, but it is a long old season in the Championship and you need plenty of young and hungry players to see you through.

Turn Villa Park into a fortress

Brighton accumulated more points at home than any other club last season and that drove them to a top two finish. They lost just three home games out of 23 as they were buoyed on by passionate home support, and that was invaluable in their promotion bid. Newcastle only had the fourth best home record but made up for it by securing the best away record, but they still won 15 games at home. If Bruce can turn Villa Park into a fortress, the club will set the pace next season. It is the largest and most impressive stadium in the division, and Terry and co should make it an intimidating place to visit. If you want to get betting on football then the 2/1 on offer for Aston Villa to be promoted looks a great option.

Utilise a deadly striker

Goals ultimately win you the division, as Rafa Benitez acknowledged with the shrewd recruitment of Dwight Gayle. The forward enjoyed the best goals per minutes ratio in the division and finished with 23 goals. Murray at Brighton also netted 23 times, showing how important it is to have a striker that has proven Premier League quality leading your bid to climb up to that division. Villa do not have that luxury, but there is still time to sign a striker. However, they can call upon Jonathan Kodija, who banged in 19 goals last season, finishing fifth in the goal scoring charts. He seems to be improving all the time and he can be the 20-plus goal scorer Villa need to mount a title challenge, while Scott Hogan can also chip in with vital goals.

Aim to concede fewer than a goal per game

Three teams scored 85 goals last season: Newcastle, Fulham and Norwich. What set Newcastle  apart was that they conceded just 40 goals, to Fulham’s 57 and Norwich’s 69. Keeping things tight at the back and conceding fewer than a goal per game was crucial to them winning the Championship. With Terry at the heart of the defence there is every chance Villa can emulate that. Brighton were outscored by four teams last season, including 10th placed Brentford, but they too only conceded 40 goals. The Championship is an open league full of goals, so maintaining a tight ship at the back is the best way to stand out and rack up crucial points.

Author bio
Martin Green is an experienced sports writer and tipster. He has covered the Championship for many years

limpid

The Championship can be a cruel mistress, any fan of any club will tell you exactly that meaning that, regardless as to how much things can change over the course of the season, a quick start can do wonders for anyone’s campaign.

Villa fans know only too well what a poor start to the season can do for your fortunes across the following nine months-or-so after the debacle of last term.

A few wins early doors can do wonders for a side’s form and confidence and could be the difference when things get tough around the all-important Christmas run.

The pressure is now on Steve Bruce and his backroom staff to deliver in their first full season after a woeful 13th placed finish last season. After a summer in which most fans are still trying to get their head around the landing of Chelsea legend John Terry, fans have every right to look forward to the new campaign and with high expectations indeed.

If those expectations are to be met, however, a fast start is the order of the day. Last term, under Roberto di Matteo, the Villans managed just one win in their first 12 Championship games, a 3-0 win over Rotherham in their second league outing the only light in the darkest of runs.

A similar spell at any point this season will do away with any hopes of a Premier League return at the second time of asking, however, hit the same run of form in the opening weeks again and all morale will be shot to pieces from the word go.

That said, with the fixture list handing Bruce a tough start, it’s naïve to expect that every game will yield three points. Therefore we’ve picked out three early season games which could well shape their season.

Hull City (H)
It may seem obvious given that this is the season’s curtain raiser, however it offers much more than that.

Hull were relegated from the Premier League despite a late battle under Marco Silva last season, playing some exciting football at some times. If Bruce’s men can make a statement, which they are currently with odds of 11/10 to do, against one of the relegated sides so early in the new season it will serve as a huge lift to the squad and fans while also putting a foot in the right direction in what is a rough opening run.

The Tigers are under the guise of new manager Leonid Slutsky, a close friend of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, meaning they could well throw a few surprises on the hosts at Villa Park. However, should Terry & Co. manage to deal with such a side so early on, under the pressure of the home support, it could do wonders for the start of the season.

Reading (A)
Bruce’s side should have one aim and one aim only this season, a return to the top flight. If they are to reach such heights, much like with their opponents on the opening day, they are going to have to topple the best.

The Royals may have fallen in the play-offs last season, however, second only to promoted Brighton & Hove Albion they boasted the best home form in the league across the campaign, losing only twice (Chris Hughton’s side lost three).

Jaap Stam’s men pose a formidable challenge, however, meeting them so early in the season before they have had time to settle in to a run of form at the Madejski Stadium is an opportunity too good to turn down.

Should they pick up a result against the Tigers early on, and follow it up with a strong performance and result to match in Berkshire confidence should not be an issue for Bruce.

Bristol City (A)
Early last season the Villans paid a visit to a Bristol City side who would spend most of the season battling the drop, only to blow a 1-0 lead and be sent packing 3-1 with their tails between their legs.

Once again the two have been drawn against each other early in the season and, despite a change in management and a host of new players, there will undoubtedly be a desire to get one over on City.

Not only would such a win bring the precious three points but it would also bring with it another boost in confidence.

John

This game was very, very friendly and not a lot can be deduced from it. Before the game I expected our visitors to be battling to stay in their present division this season and for us to be striving for promotion preferably without recourse to the play-off lottery. I witnessed nothing to change that opinion yesterday as this game gave little clue concerning how successful each team may or may not be in achieving those objectives.  

It was fitting that the two football clubs that are most associated with the late Graham Taylor met in this tribute match. There was warm applause from the Hornets fans when the Holte End sang “Graham Taylor’s Claret & Blue Army” during the second half and both sets of fans showed their mutual respect for their former manager throughout. Graham would have liked that.     

My player ratings from what was a low-key warm-up game in which our new signings shined brightly are:

Jed Steer – 6 – I would anticipate that Jed will be our back-up keeper this season now that the injury that kept him out of first team contention is hopefully behind him. Jed looked confident when the ball was played back to him and his kicking was reliable and better than we have grown accustomed to seeing from our keepers of late. Kept out a close range 64th minute effort from substitute Isaac Success out with a little ball juggling and held a low shot on the 83rd minute.         

Alan Hutton – 6 – Brought down inside the box in the 53rd minute by Kaboul to give us our penalty. Alan had his usual solid no-nonsense game.             

James Chester - 7 – Looked solid at the back as he so often does.     

John Terry – 7 – JT looked very composed and found his man on all but one occasion when he had the ball at his feet. We look less likely to concede with him organising the defence and his partnership with Chester looks very promising.      

Neil Taylor – 6 – A solid enough display. 

Ahmed Elmohamady – 7 – MOTM – Looked sharp and trickier than I had anticipated he would be when making wide runs.

Henri Lansbury – 5 – Hit our 54th minute spot kick to the keeper’s left but Gomes guessed the right way and pulled off a save that kept the score level.       

Glenn Whelan – 6 – He likes a tackle, doesn’t he? Looks capable of adding the sort of solidity we missed when Jedinak was absent in games last season.

Jack Grealish – 5 – Left the field on 26 minutes having appeared to have taken a blow to the ribs.  

Andre Green – 5 – Made a couple of decent runs.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 5 – Kept himself busy enough in the first half but lacked support alongside him and faded prior to being substituted. Should have done better on the 2nd minute when he was put clear and only had Gomes to beat but he hit his shot straight at the keeper.       

Substitutes:

Leandro Bacuna – 5 – Replaced Grealish on 26 minutes. Leo is still waiting for that Champions League club to come in for him and this sort of performance will not have changed things on that score.   

Scott Hogan – 6 - Replaced Gabby on 54 minutes. Looked keen to make a positive impact and we will need goals from him in Kodjia’s absence.

Birkir Bjarnason – 5 - Replaced Green on 69 minutes. Needs to make a bigger impression in games than he did in this one to start matches for us.       

Jordan Amavi – Replaced Lansbury on 74 minutes. Jordan was not on quite long enough to earn a rating but it was nice to see him still wearing our shirt and he hit a cross that fell to him on the 76th minute just wide of the post with his first touch.      

Conor Hourihane – Replaced Whelan on 74 minutes. Hit a firm 87th minute shot from outside of the box that Pantilimon kept out. Needs to start next week. 

Chris Samba – Replaced JT on 74 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating but it is good to have him available to add his physical presence off the bench in games.  

James Bree – Replaced Elmohamady on 74 minutes. Not on long enough to merit a rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

Aston Villa with nothing to play for save their pride and their fans played their part in defending the integrity of the EFL by not surrendering meekly to a team that needed a win as had Huddersfield last weekend for example.  

We were reduced to ten men in the 63rd minute when the referee decided the penalty they converted was not quite enough punishment for Baker so it then appeared Brighton were set for the win that they needed to clinch the title. However, their wild goal celebrations proved to be somewhat premature because 10-man Villa kept at it and Grealish hit a late equalizer that handed the trophy to Newcastle.

The sorrowful reaction of the Brighton players at the end showed how much the game had mattered to them. No doubt Newcastle fans will accept that we played a major role in bringing them the trophy they collected yesterday and will stop whingeing about our football club for a short time as a result?   

We finished the season with a plucky point but in the bottom half of the table, albeit top of that bottom half. We now face a vitally important summer during which Steve Bruce will need to make the changes necessary to gather the extra thirtysomething points we will need to secure automatic promotion next season.

What yesterday’s game did prove is that in games against Brighton this season there has not been a great deal to choose between the two teams (although it is arguable that we produced our two best performances of the season against them). Brighton who have been promoted have had the consistency that we have lacked and have not had the runs of bad results and poor performances that have blighted our season and cost us any hope we once had of joining them in the top flight next season.   

Respect is also due to the Seagulls fans who applauded at the right moments, showed appropriate respect and resisted any temptation there may have been to remind us of our under-achievement during this season. Enjoy your return to the top flight and I hope we will join you next season.     

The highlight of yesterday for me was the half-time appearance of Villa heroes’ Peter McParland and Nigel Sims 60 years on from their 1957 FA Cup win against the Busby Babes. I really hope that we can lift that trophy again for them soon as this is the longest time our club has gone without winning it by some distance.

On a personal note, I would like to take this opportunity to add my late friend Peter Wyper to the list of Villains that we have sadly lost during this season. Pete was a life-long Villa fan who was among those that cheered the 57 cup winners on their return to the city from Wembley. Pete passed away yesterday evening following a lengthy battle with illness. He will be much missed by his family and friends – HEITS.

My player ratings from our last game of this disappointing season are:

Sam Johnstone – 6 – Was sent the wrong way from the spot but had earlier did very well on the 58th minute to block a shot from Baldock with his legs after the forward had got the better of Baker. Sam also did well to keep out a 77th minute shot from Bruno. If that was to be his last game for us it was a decent one but will it prove to be given he has now found his confidence with us?        

James Bree – 6 – Was found on the edge of the box by Bacuna on 78 minutes and his shot was deflected just over the bar.             

James Chester - 7 – Solid enough at the back as usual and is becoming a threat up front.     

Nathan Baker – 5 – Given his marching orders a little too readily for me in the 63rd minute when he clipped the heel of Baldock as he was pulling the trigger having reacted slower to a header on than the forward had.      

Neil Taylor – 7 – A good solid overall performance that was his best for us to date for me. 

Albert Adomah – 4 – Did the best of what work he did when they had the ball. His impact up front was once again only minimal prior to his 61st minute substitution. He is capable of doing a lot more than he did yesterday and than he has done of late.

Henri Lansbury – 6 –  Hit a decent 13th minute shot from around 30 yards that Stockdale pushed wide for a corner low at his left-hand post. He really should have put us ahead 7 minutes later when Pocognoli chested a Taylor cross back across the face of the goal to him but he turned his header inches wide of the far post with the goal gaping before him. Nice to see both Henri and Hourihane getting forward more often than has recently been the case and they can become a very effective midfield pairing with a pre-season behind them.       

Conor Hourihane - 7 – MOTM - Bent a free-kick around the wall in the 2nd minute of first half stoppage time which Stockdale did well to turn around his post. Hit a 56th minute shot from outside of the box that Stockdale got down low at his left-hand post to keep out and 2 minutes later Davis played the ball back to him inside the box and his shot was again saved by the keeper low at the far post. Eventually took an 85th minute free-kick from the edge of the box following Bacuna’s shenanigans that forced a save from Stockdale.        

Leandro Bacuna – 5 – Showed the same lack of discipline that led to his recent suspension for getting in the face of a linesman again yesterday when twice forcibly demanding the ball at free-kicks from Hourihane. When did he last score from a free-kick and what leads him to think that he should be in line to take a free-kick ahead of Conor (who tends to force a save rather than prod the ball into the defensive wall)? His petulance was more striking for me than what impact he otherwise had on the game yesterday. Will his name still be found on the team sheet next season or will his long-awaited move to a Champions League team actually happen?     

Jordan Amavi – 6 – Did well enough playing once again in an advanced role. 

Scott Hogan – 5 – Pounced on a sloppy half-hit 34th minute back pass from Pocognoli hitting a shot from inside of the box that was deflected just wide by Stockdale’s outstretched leg. Worryingly limped off the field following a clumsy challenge by Sidwell that the referee chose not to show any card for.         

Substitutes:

Keinan Davis – 7 – Replaced Hogan in the 2nd minute of first half stoppage time and showed some promise for the future during the second half. Lansbury played a ball into the box for him to run onto on 50 minutes but penalty appeals were ignored by both the referee and his assistant when Dunk slid in to take Davis rather than the ball. He was not quite able to force the ball home near the goal line after Amavi had headed the resulting corner towards Chester at the far post who in turn had headed the ball goalward. Grealish hit a 69th minute cross and having turned nicely he hit a shot that forced a save from Stockdale. Had an opportunity to win the game when the ball fell to him off a defender with a minute of stoppage time remaining. Keinan ran to the edge of the box but his shot was a weak one and was easily held by a relieved Stockdale.      

Jack Grealish – 7 - Replaced Adomah on 61 minutes. Hit our late equalizer on the 89th minute. Taylor played the ball to him near the edge of the box and his curled shot went past a couple of defenders as well as remarkably keeper Stockdale who was left on his knees having failed to get anything on the ball as it went past him. This was a clear step up on some recent displays from Jack.      

Tommy Elphick – 5 - Replaced Amavi on 65 minutes. Half hit a 68th minute back pass that Murray ran onto before playing the ball unselfishly back to Baldock who saved Tommy’s blushes by making a hash of the scoring opportunity which left the ball being played clear after it hit Chester’s leg rather than the back of the net.  

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

This was a dire game. Our visitors from the dark side of the city showed exactly why they are in real danger of relegation and we showed why we were unable to sustain a promotion challenge this season. But sometimes winning is everything!   

Small Heath needed a win but they were not good enough to get one or a draw! We needed to put on a show for those 38,000 Villa fans that paid good money to witness this local derby but we lacked either the ability or the desire to put our opponents to the sword in the way that we had hoped we would. This was some way off being an end to end derby that will stick in our memories like some have in the past but the win will always be there on paper as will the impact it may ultimately have on the final league table.   

The game was drifting towards a goalless draw before the introduction of Small Heath’s nemesis Gabby with just 31 minutes remaining. His introduction enthused the Villa fans or was it the Villa fans that inspired him to produce a match-winning performance?

How our win and the fact that Gabby scored it with his first goal in 14 months must have rubbed salt into the wounds for our neighbours. They now need points from their two remaining games of the season or failing that favours from the teams that Blackburn (who are currently 2 points behind them) have left to play if they are to avoid the drop. Given we are Blackburn’s next opponents I’m sure that we will do everything we can to help them in their latest relegation battle. Should they sadly fail in that battle and we therefore lose the opportunity to play them next season I’m sure we will not take any pleasure whatsoever from that.   

This win takes us back into the top half of the table, takes us over 60 points, extends our unbeaten league run against Bloose to 7-games and secures our rightful position as the cream of Brum.  

My player ratings from a game before which we paid our respects to Ugo and after which the players celebrated a derby win with some gusto as did we are:

Sam Johnstone – 6 – Seldom had any cause for concern but will have been relieved when Adams hit the best opportunity of the first half well over. Kept a 64th minute on-target effort from inside the box from Davis out with an outstretched hand.        

Alan Hutton – 6 – Worked hard, wanted the win and once again demonstrated that he is comfortable at this level.             

James Chester - 7 – Has had busier days but he held the defence together when needed and made his usual timely interventions. Headed a 63rd minute Lansbury free-kick well over the bar and played a part in the goal as did Baker and Hogan.     

Nathan Baker – 7 – Commanding in the air today. His position is undoubtedly in the centre of the defence alongside Chester asking him to do anything else lessens his effectiveness markedly.      

Neil Taylor – 7 – We looked much more assured at the back on his return. 

Albert Adomah – 4 – This was another game that passed him by and we need to see so much more from him particularly in the final third of the field if he is to merit the starting place he was again given today.

Henri Lansbury – 6 – Worked hard to secure the win but we really do need to work at getting the goals from him that he was able to produce for fun at Forest by next season by giving him the freedom to get forward more.     

Mile Jedinak - 7 – So solid in the middle today. Made several strong challenges and won many a ball in the air with consummate ease.      

Leandro Bacuna – 4 – Astonishing to see him start with Hourihane left on the bench. I struggle to see what he brought to the team today that Conor would not have been able to.     

Jack Grealish – 5 – As a local lad I had expected much more from him today but he was given little space by the opposition and seemed reticent to make the sort of forward runs he is capable of prior to his substitution. 

Scott Hogan – 5 – Suffered from a lack of service but did little to worry the defenders he came up against and showed that he needs a striker alongside him. Headed a 15th minute Bacuna cross wide that he stretched for but was unable to get high enough to direct.         

Substitutes:

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 7 – MOTM - Replaced Grealish on 59 minutes. He really was up for this one and he made the difference with this brief reprise of the sort of performance he once produced for us. He ran after lost causes like the Duracell bunny, won balls in the air and scored our sweet winner and his 5th goal against Small Heath on 68 minutes. Baker won the ball from a Lansbury corner which was then headed on by Chester before Baker headed on a partial clearance and Hogan got a slight touch on it before it fell to Gabby who moving back onto it clipped the ball into the top corner of the net with aplomb.    

Gary Gardner – Replaced Adomah on 75 minutes. Not on quite long enough to earn a rating but showed a willingness to chase the ball down more than once.     

Conor Hourihane – Replaced Hogan on 83 minutes. He needs to start games and as is the case with Lansbury we need to get him to the level he was consistently performing at with his former club by the start of next season. Not on long enough to gather a rating.     

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

This was no way to celebrate 120 years of football at Villa Park. On Easter Saturday 1897 in our double winning season we played our first game at Villa Park beating Blackburn 3-0. On Easter Saturday 2017 at Villa Park, we lost 3-1 to promotion chasing Reading and face a second season outside of the top flight next season.    

Reading recorded their first ever win at Villa Park yesterday after 105 years of trying yesterday. They claimed a 3-1 win which was in stark contrast to the 7-1 defeat they had suffered at Norwich last weekend.

There was to be no sixth successive home win and clean sheet for Villa yesterday. We instead reprised several previous losing performances this season which had cost us the play-off place that yesterday’s win all but secured for our visitors.

Reading were not really that good yesterday but they did not need to be because we gifted them three goals and missed all but one of the chances that we created. They simply wanted it more than we did. Reading had something to play for and we did not and it showed. They were quicker, first to the ball, put in stronger challenges and took full advantage of some incredibly weak refereeing.  

For us the season is now effectively over and the unlikely dream of a late run for the play-offs has become a mathematical impossibility. Nevertheless, we need to finish this season strongly to build some impetus and confidence to bring into next season when automatic promotion will be the minimum requirement. Now is not time for us to throw in the towel. We have 4 games remaining, one of which is a ding-dong derby against our relegation threatened neighbours. A performance such as the one that we produced yesterday will not be acceptable in any of those games we have left to play and particularly when we return to Villa Park next weekend!

Villa had that end of season look upon them from the start yesterday. Our captain gave us an equalizer on 14 minutes that cancelled out their 6th minute opener but we didn’t really kick on from there. Any lingering hope of a late comeback were expunged when Bacuna was unhesitatingly adjudged to have brought down Kelly to concede a late penalty which gave them a 2-goal cushion.

Yesterday we lost a home game for the first time since we lost 2 in 4 days in mid-February and this was a sad return to the sort of performances that we had hoped we had put behind us. We gained only 1 point from our first 8 games of 2017 and yesterday we had the look of a team that could end the season in much the same dismal manner.  

The Villa Park screens regularly thanked those fans who have bought season tickets for next season already. Another win would have been a better way to have shown it! Our recent home wins have been hard won and hard fought. Visiting teams have tended to leave feeling they were unlucky to have come away with nothing. Yesterday we got what our display deserved and that was nothing. We leaked goals and again found it hard to convert our chances. Games are not won or drawn by doing that.

Our target should now be a place in the top 8. We have 4 points to make up in our remaining 4 games and it would be nice if the performances in those matches warranted an end of season “lap of appreciation” after a 4th successive league win or at the least a 2nd successive home win. Make it so Villa!              

My player ratings from a game that brought an end to our unbeaten six game home run and gave us our third home defeat of the season are:

Sam Johnstone – 6 – Got down well to save a 26th minute shot from outside of the box from Swift at his right-hand post. Did well to block a 57th minute Grabban effort at the near post but guessed the wrong way when diving to his right as the ball went in on the left for their third.        

Alan Hutton – 6 – Did most of what we have come to expect from him of late.             

James Chester - 7 – MOTM – Solid at the back, scored and nearly claimed a late second. Headed a 14th minute Hourihane corner into the corner of the net for our equalizer and was inches wide of the post when diving full length to get on the end of a nicely weighted 87th minute ball in from Hourihane.    

Nathan Baker – 6 – Did not seem quite as composed as he has looked of late but still gave a pretty steady central defensive display.     

Jordan Amavi – 4 – Presented the ball to Grabban when attempting to play the ball back to either Hourihane or Baker which led to their 6th minute opener. Didn’t stay on Grabban who was therefore allowed space behind him that Baker was unable to close-down for their second. He is a much better player than he showed us yesterday on his return to a deeper role in our line-up.  

Albert Adomah – 4 – This game passed him by.

Henri Lansbury – 6 – Got a foot to an attempted 3rd minute clearance from Al Habsi that landed near the far post and was then cleared much to the keeper’s relief. Got a touch on a 13th minute Jedinak shot from the edge of the box that needed a good reaction save from Al Habsi to keep it out.     

Mile Jedinak - 5 – Not quite at his best yesterday but he was not alone in that.       

Leandro Bacuna – 3 – Hit an attempted 45th minute clearance when unbalanced straight to Grabban on the edge of the box but fortunately he hit his shot straight at Johnstone as Amavi put in a challenge. Conceded the 78th minute penalty that put the game beyond us when his left arm connected with Lyden who went down like he had been hit by a sniper. This was a long way off the sort of performance that he would have needed to have produced to retain his starting place for me.    

Conor Hourihane – 6 – Hit a decent 29th minute shot from around 25 yards that flew just over the bar and hit another from the edge of the box on 83 minutes that did the same.   

Jonathan Kodjia – 6 – Given no protection whatsoever by the referee who given he hails from Newcastle surprisingly gave defenders the freedom to hold him whenever he might otherwise have had an opportunity to strike. Found inside the box by a long 6th minute ball from Amavi and hit a shot that Al Habsi got down low to save at the near post. Hit a first-time effort from a Hutton cross wide of the post on 9 minutes. Got up well but then headed a 54th minute Hourihane corner over the bar. Stretched a foot to reach a nice ball to the far post from Hourihane that he was unable to turn in and that might have been better left for Adomah who was lurking behind him. Had a 77th minute shot deflected wide. Jonathan cannot score every week and when he doesn’t our chances of winning are drastically reduced.         

Substitutes:

Scott Hogan – 5 - Replaced Amavi on 62 minutes. Jedinak turned the ball back to him inside the box on 68 minutes but he skied the ball over when an equalizer had looked on.       

Jack Grealish – Replaced Baker on 76 minutes. Made little impression on the game. Curled an attempt high and wide of the far post on 93 minutes. Jack was not on long enough to merit a rating.     

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

Aston Villa have the look of a thoroughbred racehorse that is moving up swiftly and unnoticed on the rails as the tiring horses in front labour and stumble towards the finishing post. Their jockeys are casting worried glances behind them at the fast finishing claret and blue clad horse that had been written off as a no hoper too soon continues to make an increasingly strong finish and move through the field. Do you want to bet against us?

A fourth consecutive home win and clean sheet last night brought Villa another point closer to a sixth-place finish. The gap between us and the final play-off place continues to shrink and is now down to single figures with six games remaining. The improbable dream continues to become less unlikely with each win that we achieve.

This is the first time since 1983 that we have won 4 consecutive home games without conceding a goal. Kodjia’s winner was his 7th goal in 7 games for us and it takes him to 18 goals for the season. We have taken 21 points from our last 8 games. Our target which looks more realistic each week is now another 6 wins. That would bring us to 75 points and hopefully to sixth position which would give us a crack at the play-offs.

Hitting the post and opening the scoring in the first 5 minutes often suggests there will be further goals to come but that was not to be last night and instead our visitors enjoyed more than their fair share of the possession. They looked a decent side last night other than when they reached the final third of the field where they posed us little threat.

There always remained a worry that they might create a clear goal scoring opportunity before the end of the game and at times we were defending with our backs to the wall but their clear chance never quite came. Instead we kept another clean sheet and in truth looked the more likely team to score on those occasions that we got forward. At the end of the day Villa go marching on and add QPR to the list of teams who have left Villa Park feeling aggrieved at not coming away with at least a point.  

We have the means to win games like this one. It is not always pretty to watch but we can see out games and claim the points as we did last night so it is effective and battling performances such as this might just see us make a late run for promotion.              

My player ratings from a game that left our current promotion odds ranging from 66/1 to 200/1 today are:

Sam Johnstone – 6 – Punched away a couple of balls that he might have been better catching but still looked confident and played his part in securing another clean sheet. Got down at his post in the 83rd minute to deny Luongo.         

Alan Hutton – 6 – Got forward more often than he could do at the weekend and was solid enough at the back. Made a terrific 81st minute run but his cross was misplaced just behind Hogan at the far post.             

James Chester - 7 – Another solid performance alongside Baker. These two are indispensable and are the central pillars on which our clean sheets are built.    

Nathan Baker – 7 – Tidy no nonsense defending again last night. Had a 56th minute effort that ran to him from a Lansbury corner deflected wide for a corner.     

Neil Taylor – 6 – Solid enough at the back but his 22nd minute attempted back pass was too risky and Johnstone did well to reach the ball first and put it out for a corner. 

Albert Adomah – 6 – Unlucky to see his 3rd minute shot from near the edge of the box strike the base of the post after he had picked up the ball from a Lansbury header. Hit a 51st minute effort well wide of the post having been found by a nice ball from Lansbury.

Henri Lansbury – 7 – Had an 84th minute from outside of the box deflected just over the bar and worked ceaselessly.

Mile Jedinak - 7 – Another solid display.       

Leandro Bacuna – 6 – An unexpectedly early return to first team action. He produced positives along with some negatives last night. Hit a low shot on the 39th minute that Smithies gathered at his near post having claimed an assist for the winner.     

Jordan Amavi – 6 – Not quite as effective as he was on Saturday but he looked good when going forward and gave us another defender when we were under pressure at the back. Was off target with an ambitious effort from wide of the goal when a cross might have been more likely to produce a better result on 81 minutes. Made a nice run on 71 minutes but his cross failed to reach the waiting Kodjia in the middle of the box.    

Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – MOTM – Hit our winner on the 5th minute. Exchanged passes with Bacuna before running into the area, leaving the defenders in his wake and hitting the ball sweetly past Smithies and into the centre of the net. His goals are vital for us.       

Substitutes:

Scott Hogan – Replaced Adomah on 77 minutes. Nice to see him back so soon after leaving the field with a knock at the weekend. Scott was not on quite long enough to earn a rating.       

Andre Green – Replaced Amavi on 85 minutes. Made a run into the box on 89 minutes but his effort was blocked and ran out for a corner.      

Tommy Elphick – Replaced Kodjia on the 91st minute to strengthen our defence in the last couple of minutes but he was not on long enough to gather any rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

Our third consecutive home win against the Canaries brought us potentially just 7 more wins away from making it into the play off’s. This had seemed an impossible dream only six games ago, it has now become an improbable one but with each win we get it becomes a little more possible.

We have 7 games left before the final reckoning. We probably need 21 points from these 7 games or 19 at the very minimum. We have taken 18 points from our last 7 games.

Fulham will need to get another 12 points from their last 7 games to make what we manage to get academic but we face them in what could be a 6-pointer on Easter Monday and they have taken 6 points less than we have from their last 7 games. Sheffield Wednesday slipped out of the top 6 yesterday having managed only 5 points from their last 7 games. The other 3 teams that are currently 2, 3 & 4 points respectively above us have managed 8, 6 & 10 points from their last 7 games. As Steve Bruce said after the win “We’re making a fist of it”.      

Our visitors will be unhappy to come away with nothing to show for their contribution to yesterday’s game. They pushed us back too often and for too long for my liking particularly in the second half and enjoyed 69% of the possession. As we dropped deeper a goal seemed increasingly likely but it was Villa that scored it in the 87th minute to calm our nerves.

We have found the means to win games like this one. We now have goals in us and the ability to see out games where in the past we had thrown points away in the closing minutes. This is our third consecutive win and clean sheet. We have conceded 1 goal and scored 11 in our last 7 games. That is promotion form!             

My player ratings from a game that took us up to eleventh in the table and took us 3 points behind our visitors who finished 17 points clear of us last season are:

Sam Johnstone – 7 – Looking increasingly confident and will no doubt claim an assist for our second. Jerome was found by the impressive Pritchard on the edge of the box on the 11th minute who then ran into the box pushing the ball wide of challenges from Baker and then Chester before hitting a weak shot that deflected wide of the post off Johnstone. Came off his line well to deny Jerome on 35 minutes and then got in the way of the follow up shot.         

Alan Hutton – 6 – Did a decent job at the back.             

James Chester - 7 – He is so reliable and marshalled the defence very well yesterday.    

Nathan Baker – 7 – Looked very solid and did the simple things that needed doing at the back well and without any fuss.     

Neil Taylor – 6 – A steady performance after what has been a difficult time for him. 

Albert Adomah – 6 – Made some good runs especially in the first quarter of the game but his final ball went astray too often. Hit a cross for Hogan on 7 minutes but his header was well wide. Hit another on the 70th minute but Kodjia touched the ball inches wide of the far post.

Henri Lansbury – 7 – Worked tirelessly in our midfield yesterday.

Mile Jedinak - 7 – Solid when we were under pressure and popped up at each end of the field to ensure our hard-earned victory. This was demonstrated on 79 minutes when he managed to get a foot to the ball just as an opponent was about to pull the trigger.       

Conor Hourihane – 6 – Hit the top of the bar with a 60th minute header after Bennett had found him with an attempted clearance near the line from a Baker header.    

Scott Hogan – 7 – Looked good yesterday before injury forced him off the pitch on 37 minutes.  Scott showed signs of forming a decent partnership with Kodja prior to that and set him up for our opening goal. Hourihane hit a 33rd minute cross which found him in the middle of the box. Scott turned nicely before hitting a crisp low shot that McGovern saved at the foot of his post. Let’s hope he is back for QPR.   

Jonathan Kodjia – 8 – MOTM – Scored the two goals that separated the two teams yesterday. Hogan found him with a nicely weighted ball to his right on 25 minutes. Jonathan ran into the box with it and hit the ball sweetly with his left foot into the top corner of the net past the keeper and Pinto who was on the line. He played a one-two with Adomah on 64 minutes and then unselfishly tried to find Albert again inside the box when for once a shot may have been the better option. Scored our second on 87 minutes to clinch the win. Johnstone hit the ball from his own box to the edge of the other one where Kodjia ran onto it squeezing between Bennett and McGovern to prod the ball past the keeper for his 17th goal of the season.      

Substitutes:

Jordan Amavi – 7 – Replaced Hogan on 37 minutes and did very well. His pace caused our visitors some real problems in the second half not least on 80 minutes when he was brought down by Pinto having gone past the player who earned a second yellow as a result.      

Gary Gardner – 4 - Replaced Hourihane on 69 minutes and disappointingly made little to no positive impression on the game.      

Andre Green – Replaced Lansbury on the 87th minute making a welcome albeit a brief return from injury. He was not on long enough to gather a rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

This turned out to be something other than the result that our visitors had hoped for when arriving at Villa Park yesterday. They lost 2-0 to dent their promotion hopes and had both a player and their manager sent off.

We claimed a third successive home win yesterday and by doing so moved into the top half of the table. We were informed “you can only win by cheating” on exiting the ground by a couple of unhappy visiting fans who must have mistaken us for the match officials. We must have been cheating on a regular basis of late given we have now won 4 of our last 5 games!    

This win has brought Sheffield Wednesday’s advantage over us down to 14 points with 9 games left to play and with a maximum of 27 points achievable for us. They will now begin to look increasingly anxiously over their shoulders at Fulham if not quite far enough down the table to us as the race for the play-off places goes down to the wire.       

There was not a lot between the teams yesterday and given we had lost Lansbury in the warm-up and Baker on 25 minutes due to injury that was quite an achievement for our injury hit side. Things changed when Sasso deservedly took an early bath after a wild 48th minute lunging challenge in the middle of the field on Hourihane in which he left his foot dangerously high. There was no cause for complaint at his dismissal although Carlos Carvalhal found plenty and his histrionics earned him a place in the stands rather than the place on our bench that he had tried to occupy before he made his increasingly amusing exit.

Kodjia put the result beyond any reasonable doubt with his second goal in the 79th minute. We had again dropped too deep and invited 10-man Wednesday to make a late comeback either side of that decisive goal. Nevertheless, our defence stood firm to achieve another welcome clean sheet and we may yet find ourselves finishing surprisingly close to sixth place at the end of this season.                

My player ratings from a game during which Barry Bannan gave a solid performance before warmly applauding the Holte End at the end of it are:

Sam Johnstone – 6 – Not too busy an afternoon for Sam who got down well to hold an 89th minute shot from Hunt having earlier done well to block a 17th minute effort from Winnall following a rare Chester error.       

James Bree – 6 – Took a few minutes to fully appreciate what his role was on Hutton’s introduction but soon looked comfortable. He looked very promising yesterday. Got on the end of a 27th minute cross from Amavi hitting the side netting at the far post.             

James Chester - 7 – Inexplicably passed the ball directly to Reach who ran on gratefully before feeding Winnall inside the box whose 17th minute shot was kept out well by the outstretched right leg of Johnstone. Other than that, his defending was impeccable as usual.    

Nathan Baker – 6 – Substituted on 25 minutes following a clash of heads after being all too readily booked by referee Lee Probert in the 4th minute.     

Neil Taylor – 7 – Got forward more than he has done in a Villa shirt so far and this was his best performance for us to date. 

Albert Adomah – 7 – Made a nice run into the box on 51 minutes before finding Hutton who hit the ball wide of the post applying a defender’s finish when a goal had looked on. His good run gave him an assist for our second.  

Gary Gardner – 5 – Got an unexpected start when Lansbury picked up an injury during the warm-up. Kept busy but was unable to put his stamp on the game in a midfield supplemented by full backs.

Conor Hourihane - 7 – Held the makeshift midfield together as well as could be hoped for from his central role. Placed a ball that had run on to him inside of the box just wide of the post on 69 minutes. Claimed an assist for our opener with his well hit cross.     

Mile Jedinak – 8 – MOTM – Mile had strong claims to being our best midfield player as well as our best defender yesterday. Adapted very well in central defence when we lost Baker mid-way through the first half and looked both comfortable as well as untroubled. Got on the end of a ball into the box from Hourihane on 19 minutes but his header flew over the bar. Won everything in the air and kept Rhodes in check. Narrowly beat two goal hero Kodjia to the MOTM award in my opinion.    

Jordan Amavi – 6 – For me Jordan possesses the ability to play further up front than in his more familiar full or wing back roles but he does not quite seem to appreciate that himself at the moment. Hunt went down very easily inside the box claiming a penalty having felt Amavi’s arm on his shoulder but fortunately the referee gave the decision our way. Did a decent job.  

Jonathan Kodjia – 8 – Scored the two goals that gave us our welcome win and held the ball up well at times. Tried to turn in a bouncing ball from wide of the goal but his effort was gathered by Westwood on the 17th minute. Failed to quite get a touch to the ball on the 65th minute when a shooting opportunity would have been there for the taking had he been able to do so as had also been the case some minutes earlier. Jonathan made no mistake on the 34th minute when Hourihane played a one-two with Bree from a corner before hitting a pinpoint cross that Johnathan climbed above Hunt and headed sweetly past Westwood into the net to finish a move that came from the training ground at either Barnsley or Bodymoor Heath. Scored his second after Adomah had found him nicely following a good run into the box on 79 minutes. Jonathan took the ball past Westwood and hit the ball into the net for his 15th goal of the season job done.    

Substitutes:

Alan Hutton – 7 – Surprisingly Alan was the player chosen to replace Baker on 25 minutes rather than central defender Elphick. Gave a very solid performance. Alan spent a fair bit of time waving that he was free for a pass that might give him a goal-scoring opportunity but having had such an opportunity and having screwed the ball wide on 51 minutes it was perhaps not unsurprising that players mostly looked for other options. Did very well in an unfamiliar role yesterday and could yet land another contract for next season given his present form, determination and work rate.          

Tommy Elphick – Replaced Adomah on 82 minutes and was not on long enough to earn a rating.      

Keinan Davis – Replaced match-winner Kodjia on the 86th minute so he was also not on long enough to gather a rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

We had not won since Boxing Day until we did so at Villa Park on Saturday. We added a second home win to that one yesterday. We have taken 6 points from 2 games now having only managed 2 from our previous 9. Our second win of 2017 has taken us up to 15th place and we are now 9 points clear of the drop zone. A third successive win on Saturday at Rotherham would give us 45 points and this would all but secure our safety.   

The first half was as grim as was the weather yesterday. Our visitors had the better of the start of the game and hit the bar after 15 minutes. They were uncompromising at the back and in the middle. The ball spent a lot of time in the air during most of the first half and that suited our visitors more than it did us as all the high balls played towards Kodjia were easily won by their no-nonsense defenders. This increasingly had the look of a game between two struggling Championship teams who were busy slugging it out and I guess that is exactly what it was.

A goalless draw had seemed to be the most likely result at the break. Happily, the second half was a different story. I guess Steve Bruce had suggested we try playing a bit of football in the second half (with or without the help of an odd flying tea cup) and we did just that during a purple patch that we scored two goals in. We also kept a second clean sheet and no doubt the visitors will point to having twice hit the woodwork but we did that as well so I think the best team won on the day by belatedly showing the quality they possess.      

Our visitors are going through a bad patch that has left them with only 1 win to show from their last 15 league games so like Derby on Saturday they were not exactly an in-form team. But the same could have been said about us until we emerged with 6 points from 2 home games yesterday. Another win is now required against bottom of the table Rotherham who looked doomed and are now 25 points behind us for a third win on the bounce. That would be the first time this season that we have put a three-game winning run together.              

My player ratings from a game that I endured during the first half but rather enjoyed in the second are:

Sam Johnstone – 5 – Does not ooze assurance when attempting to claim high balls and his kicking lacked accuracy last night on occasion. Sam did do well to tip an O’Dowda header onto the bar with an outstretched hand on 55 minutes when our lead was a slender one and kept out an 89th minute shot at his right-hand post.       

Alan Hutton – 7 – He really seems to be reacting to the competition for his starting place. Did very well at the back, got forward and even surprisingly got himself into a couple of shooting positions which less surprisingly he did not score from. Unlucky to be booked for a 42nd minute challenge given he had taken the ball.             

James Chester - 7 – Another instance of our captain leading by his own example.   

Nathan Baker – 7 – Very solid and commanding at the back last night.     

Neil Taylor – 6 – Moved forward more often in the second half and was steady enough at the back. 

Albert Adomah – 5 – Worked hard but we need to see more positivity from him in the final third of the field. Scuffed a shot after Kodjia had won the ball out wide and run into the box before pulling it back to him on 59 minutes but fortunately the ball ran onto Hourihane to hit the ball home for our second goal and to spare his blushes. Crossed for our opening goal.  

Gary Gardner – 6 – Took a knock in the first minute and was substituted on the 38th minute due to injury. Gary earned our penalty when he chased a poor intended back pass to their keeper into the area and was felled by Giefer on the 20th minute.

Henri Lansbury - 7 – Had a good second half and was as good as almost anyone else had been in the first. Showed clear signs that he will soon run things for us alongside Hourihane in the middle.   

Mile Jedinak – 8 – MOTM – Won a lot of ball and showed that he can play twice in 4 days after all. His display gave Hourihane and Lansbury the freedom to get forward and play where they are most dangerous in the second half.   

Andre Green – 7 – Hit the side netting on 14 minutes after he had turned and hit a shot from an Adomah cross that fell into his path just past the far post. Other than this he had a quiet first half but who didn’t? Andre was so unlucky to hit the woodwork for a second time in two games on 56 minutes when he hit a lovely shot from outside of the box between 2 defenders that curled and dipped before striking the crossbar. His 82nd minute booking looked debatable the referee’s decision not to show a second yellow to Giefer was even more so given his assault upon him. Andre really has a lot of promise and is rightfully getting a run of games it would be a pity if the injury that led to his late substitution halts his run of starts.

Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – Proved he was not “a waste of money” after all to the visiting fans when he headed home our crucial first goal on 54 minutes. Jonathan had earlier hit the centre of the bar from the spot on 20 minutes with Giefer having dived to his left. He then headed a ball into the box over the bar on 50 minutes before applying a lovely glancing header to a cross from Adomah 4 minutes later. Took some rough treatment as a lone striker and was the primary target for opposition defenders who like their supporters seem to have very little to no time for him now he has moved on but his goal demonstrated why we paid them so much money for him namely because he is worth it!   

Substitutes:

Conor Hourihane – 8 – Replaced Gardner on 38 minutes. Made a real difference and sealed the win with our second and his first Villa goal on 59 minutes. He needed that goal and was in the right place at the right time to hit the ball home. His confidence will be on a real high after this. Conor pinged some nice passes and hit a decent left footed shot that Giefer gathered on 94 minutes.       

James Bree – Replaced Adomah on 77 minutes and was not on quite long enough to earn a rating.      

Birkir Bjarnason – Replaced Green on the 86th minute. He was also not on long enough to gather any rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

We have played better this season and lost. We have played better this season and drawn. I cannot recall us playing any worse for a very, very long time and winning. We may have won ugly at the end of what was a scrappy game but we did win it and that belatedly gave us our first win of 2017.  

We now face what is a 6-pointer with Bristol City at Villa Park on Tuesday before travelling to bottom club Rotherham next weekend. These two clubs are now 6 and 22 points behind us respectively. Two more wins against these two clubs would give us three consecutive wins for the first time this season as well as take us to 45 points and that has been good enough to stay up in all but one of the last 6 seasons.    

It wasn’t pretty yesterday. We had only 29% of the possession and only 2 shots on target. Steve McClaren (who could have made very good use of his trademark umbrella yesterday) said “I don’t know how we lost the game”. They lost it because they managed only one shot on target and because as we know to our own cost you don’t win games without scoring goals.      

Derby are on the crest of their usual slump in results that appears to happen on or around this time of each season and which ruins their promotion hopes. Our season has been one long slump that was shortly interrupted by a new manager bounce.

We never really got going yesterday and when we went ahead we seemed to spend the rest of the game trying to hold on grimly to our slender one goal lead. We managed to do so and claimed a rare clean sheet in the process although we were holding on desperately in the last 15 minutes to the extent that we looked like the away side. We defended too deep in the second half and surrendered the initiative to the visitors all too readily. Having said that, I said before the game that a dour 1-0 win would do nicely and that is just what we got!           

My player ratings from a game that brought back that winning feeling to Villa Park after a dire run of 7 defeats from our previous 8 games are:

Sam Johnstone – 6 – Although our visitors had a lot of the ball Sam was only really tested once. He came through that test well touching a good Bent header over the bar on 75 minutes. This clean sheet cannot do any harm to his confidence.       

Alan Hutton – 6 – A solid defensive performance. Someone other than Alan might have scored on 59 minutes when the ball dropped to him inside the box but he took far too much time before pulling the trigger and his eventual shot was blocked.         

James Chester - 7 – MOTM – Solid as usual at the back. James had a 7th minute header from a Lansbury free-kick into the box touched over the bar by Carson after Jedinak had headed the ball on to him. He then went on to score what turned out to be our winner on 24 minutes. Kodjia got a touch to a Lansbury corner that took the ball into Chester’s path. The ball flicked up off our captain’s left thigh for him to then head in from close range.   

Nathan Baker – 6 – Solid alongside Chester but was fortunate not to concede a 34th minute penalty when he brought down Bent inside the box.     

Neil Taylor – 5 – Looks to be more comfortable when defending rather than when trying to get forward. Needs more games under his belt to show his best but he needs to show more than this to keep Amavi out of the first team reckoning by his performances alone.  

Albert Adomah – 5 – Some way off his best yesterday and made only a limited impact up front.

Leandro Bacuna – 4 – Surprisingly found himself playing up front as a loan striker after Kodjia was substituted on 88 minutes and was then walking off the pitch 4 minutes into stoppage time having deservedly been sent off. Might have settled things on 89 minutes when Carson’s attempted clearance when under pressure from Gardner found him near the edge of the box but his first-time effort was high, wide and far from handsome. He then reacted wildly to what looked a very poor decision by a linesman to give a throw in against him by going forehead to forehead with the official. Once he did this having lost control of himself we were left playing out the rest of this game and no doubt at least the next three games without him. Any positives he might have otherwise taken from this game were therefore undone by one moment of madness.            

Henri Lansbury - 6 – Looked good particularly in the first half.    

Mile Jedinak – 6 – Played a major role in trying to hold us together in the middle yesterday when we were under pressure as we often were. We miss him badly when he is out of the side.  

Andre Green – 6 – Very quiet during the first third of the game but then made a couple of decent first half runs. Andre was very unlucky not to give us a second goal on 47 minutes when he stretched to get a diving header to a Bacuna cross that struck the post.

Jonathan Kodjia – 5 – Lacked service and although he held up the ball well on occasions, worked hard and will claim an assist for our winner the lone striker role did not look well suited to him.

Substitutes:

Jordan Amavi – 5 – Replaced Adomah on 72 minutes. Jordan continues to look a shadow of the player he was before he was involved in transfer speculation. I assume his reaction to this speculation led Bruce to sign another full back who is currently starting games instead of him.       

Birkir Bjarnason – 4 - Replaced Green on 74 minutes and made little if any impact on the game.      

Gary Gardner – Replaced Kodjia on the 88th minute. Put himself about and looked lively in the very limited time he had available to do so which was not quite long enough to gather a rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

Two home defeats in four days has been very, very hard to watch. The season is in tatters and all we have left for is to secure our safety. We currently have a 7-point cushion between the bottom three and ourselves but that gap will not last forever if our results do not start improving.

Barnsley now have as many wins away from home this season as we have wins at home and away. Yesterday’s visitors are also thirteen points above us. They play as a team. We play as a bunch of individuals. They wanted to prove something to the players they recently sold to us in the same way that Brentford and Forest did.   

Our visitors started strongly but we then started to create chances and look the better team before referee Eltringham intervened by awarding a dubious penalty. As a team that is short of confidence and belief that was the last thing we needed. Having conceded another, we then pulled a goal back just before half time. That should have provided us with a platform and a momentum to seek a win or at the very least a draw from this game in the second half. Sadly, we gave an inept second half performance and it was the visitors who got the crucial next goal that sealed the game for them with over half an hour of the match left. Had we pulled another goal back we could have pressed for a late equalizer but we instead surrendered meekly.      

Steve Bruce went back to four at the back for this one but our problems go beyond that. We do not play for each other as a team. Our new signings like other signings before them appear to have been swallowed up by the growing malaise that our club has been subject to over recent years. Players that have impressed and scored goals for fun at the clubs they were bought from see their form drop and their goals dry up when they join us.

The boss has a much bigger job than he and we thought that he had when we went on that early “new manager bounce”. He has to turn this club around by the end of the season and install a positivity in the players we have that can make next season markedly different to this and the last one. We need to make a strong promotion challenge next season but that currently looks to be beyond us.     

My player ratings from a game that was frankly nothing other than an embarrassment are:

Sam Johnstone – 5 – Guessed the right way but Armstrong’s firmly hit 25th minute penalty beat him. Bradshaw turned a 43rd minute cross just past his outstretched hand and into the corner of the net for their second. Got down to hold a 78th minute Moncur shot near the post.       

Alan Hutton – 5 – The last of a host of defenders to try to clear the ball out of the area on 58 minutes but only succeeded in finding Bradshaw who hit his second of the night. Headed a 67th minute Lansbury cross wide.        

James Chester - 6 – Solid enough.  

Nathan Baker – 6 – Our return to a back four was a return to his central pairing with Chester which is one of the few positives we have seen this season. Did well enough.     

Jordan Amavi – 5 – Made a welcome return to the first team. Started very well but he was unable to maintain that high level of performance throughout the game. Harshly adjudged to have brought down Watkins inside the area to concede the penalty that gave them their opener and needed to try to get closer to Yiadom when he crossed for their second.

Albert Adomah – 5 – His fierce 15th minute shot from outside of the box was tipped over the bar by Davies. Lifted an 84th minute shot well over the bar.

Conor Hourihane – 5 – Headed the ball into the arms of Davies on 32 minutes from around 8 yards. This was still some way below the form and influence on games that he had shown when he was with the visitors.      

Henri Lansbury - 6 – Had an 11th minute shot from inside the box saved by Davies and picked up the ball and hit a 21st minute shot that took a deflection before being gathered by Davies.    

Jack Grealish – 5 – Showed a couple of glimpses of the ability that he has but not for the first time this season let this game pass him by without looking unduly concerned that it was doing so.   

Jonathan Kodjia – 6 – MOTM – Hit a 26th minute shot from the edge of the box that went just wide of the far post before turning in Adomah’s 44th minute cross for our only goal. He then hit a 55th minute shot from the edge of the box a couple of feet wide of the post and made a decent run into the box 10 minutes later but his attempted cross was blocked and put out for a corner off Davies’ leg. Looked likely to give us a late consolation goal on the 90th minute but he lifted the ball onto the top of the net. Needs to look up for colleagues when making runs and to work on his relationship with Hogan.

Scott Hogan – 5 – Headed a 13th minute Amavi cross a couple of feet wide of the far post. He makes some promising runs but was again starved of service.       

Substitutes:

Birkir Bjarnason – 5 – Replaced Hutton on 73 minutes. Failed to make any impact following his introduction.       

Andre Green – 6 - Replaced Lansbury on 73 minutes and looked lively unlike others around him.      

Leandro Bacuna – Replaced Grealish on the 76th minute and was not on long enough and did not do enough to gather any rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

We still await our first win in 2017. Any lingering promotion hopes that might still have persisted in the most optimistic of Villa fans minds (my own included) were extinguished along with our unbeaten home record yesterday.

This was a game that we had hoped to win albeit not with any great confidence but it was one we had not expected to lose. It was the first of four home games in our next five matches that could have begun a run of home wins. Ipswich were in as miserable a run as we were when they arrived at Villa Park but as Forest found last weekend Villa are currently the team to play when you are a football club on the crest of a slump and looking for a rare win. 

We started the game brightly but had nothing to show for that at half-time and if you fail to find the net when you are on top as we were in the first half then the thought persists that you may well have missed the boat. The second half was a different story. We were not so dominant as we had been in the first half and did not create chances or half chances in the same way as we had during the first 45 minutes. One stumble gave Ipswich an opportunity to win a game and it was a chance that they took to win a game that up until then neither team had really looked like winning.

The visitors scored with their only on target shot during the whole game. We seem to have rediscovered the habit of losing games in the last few minutes having done so against Forest and now Ipswich. We are also crying out for goals because you need them to win matches. We have an average of under a goal a game from our 30 league games to date and have lost 2 more games than we have won.

We are now 16 points off sixth spot but only 7 points clear of the bottom 3 so it is now sadly clear where a focus needs to be. We were unfortunate that one mistake cost us so dearly yesterday but you don’t always get the rub of the green when you are losing games as often as we are at present. This team may well look better when they have had chance to dwell but as I recall we were saying the same thing at the start of this season!

For me this three at the back system is not working for us and it was not the way to go yesterday given the team we were facing had very limited ambitions outside of their own half. Four at the back would surely have been enough. Hutton is no attacking wing back and Taylor looks more of a defensive back than a wing back that will run at people. By bringing Elphick back we are also disrupting a central defensive pairing that had been working well. The onus was on us to bring the game to them, to make chances (which we did) and to put one or more of them away (which we did not). We already have a changed team that are short of confidence so are we asking a bit too much of them to also ask them to adapt to a different way of playing?    

My player ratings from a game which we resigned ourselves to another season in the Championship are:

Sam Johnstone – 6 – Held onto a near post shot from Ward on the 48th minute, had no real chance with their winner and that was about it for him on an otherwise untroubled afternoon.      

Alan Hutton – 5 – A surprisingly rapid return to the starting line-up. Performed in the manner we have come to expect from him. He did hit one of his best crosses in a Villa shirt on 36 minutes that was just above Hogan and that Kodjia was not quite able to get on target despite an acrobatic attempt to do so.        

James Chester - 6 – Solid, assured and seldom put under pressure by the visitors. Ran alongside McGoldrick and did not get a challenge in on him before he squared the ball through Baker’s legs and past Hourihane for Huws to steal the game for the Tractor Boys from close range on 83 minutes.  

Tommy Elphick – 5 – Slipped, lost his footing and was left floundering on the ground like a fish out of water as McGoldrick collected the loose ball in the build up to their late winner.     

Nathan Baker – 6 – Nathan has been playing so very well alongside Chester but is less comfortable on the left of three central defenders although he gets on with it and did even make the odd foray down the flank yesterday. Failed to get a header on target from a nice 79th minute Hourihane free-kick and had a header blocked a minute later.

Neil Taylor – 6 – Looked quietly competent on his debut but I could not help thinking that if we are looking to play wing backs we had one who looks ideally suited to that role left sitting on the bench.

Conor Hourihane – 6 – Conor has not settled into the team quite as quickly and as seamlessly as we had hoped but there are some positive signs of what could grow into a good long term productive partnership with Lansbury taking shape. Hit a solid low shot from the edge of the box which produced a good one handed save at the post from Bialkowski on the 9th minute. Hits a nice dead ball and let us hope he finds the back of the net against his old club on Tuesday which could prove the making of him as a Villa player.       

Henri Lansbury - 7 – MOTM – Our most effective player by some distance yesterday. He makes us tick on those occasions that we do so. Hit an 8th minute shot that Bialkowski pushed past the post for a corner.    

Birkir Bjarnason – 6 – Hit a rasping shot that thudded against the crossbar on 21 minutes after Hourihane had found him unmarked just inside the box in a central position with a free-kick from the left edge of the area. Worked hard and this was his best performance for me to date in our shirt.   

Jonathan Kodjia – 6 – Was the go to guy who was fed the ball and expected to run at defenders yesterday and he did that well enough on occasions. Worked himself into a shooting position inside the box on the 42nd minute but Bialkowski got down well to save his attempt. Found by Adomah just inside the box in the last minute of stoppage time but his shot was gathered at his near post by Bialkowski. Needs to look up for others who may be in a better position more often and play alongside his new strike partner rather than behind him.   

Scott Hogan – 6 – Placed a shot just wide of the post on 32 minutes. Did not get a lot of service and I had expected to see him look more of a threat than this but it is very early days for him.      

Substitutes:

Albert Adomah – 5 – Replaced Hutton on 67 minutes. Failed to make the impact we had hoped for yesterday in a game that I would have started him in to give him more time to do so.     

Andre Green – Replaced Taylor on 77 minutes. Not on quite long enough to gather a rating.      

Leandro Bacuna – Replaced Elphick on the 89th minute and was also not on long enough to get any sort of rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

This was a game of two halves. We scored twice in the first half, might have put the game beyond doubt and were a constant threat to the visitors who appeared to be there for the taking but we then snatched a draw from the jaws of victory. I suspect that our players thought that they would be able to comfortably coast through the second half but Simon Grayson’s half-time words stung Preston into second half action and they dominated the second half as much as we had controlled the first.

They got into our faces and scored the vital third goal of the match on 64 minutes which led to our players showing the anxieties and frailties that they are still prone to. Our visitors ran the show in the second half and were level on 76 minutes with their second goal in 12 minutes. We were fortunate that they did not push too hard for a winner that would have shattered our unbeaten home record. 

Each game we play seems to put a play-off place further away from us. We are now 9 points off sixth place. Defeats for the fourth, fifth and sixth placed clubs gave us an opportunity to close the gap on them further but we squandered that chance yesterday. We need to go on a run of wins now to make up the gap between us and sixth spot and to leapfrog the teams (including yesterday’s visitors) that stand between the top six and us. Sadly, we draw too many home games and lose too many games away to make us going on such a run look a realistic prospect.     

Before the game, I along with others were left wondering why on earth Gabby was in the starting line-up yet again. We now know. He was in the team because Ross McCormack has in recent weeks developed the sort of fitness and attitude issues that he had himself displayed over recent years. It is almost amusing that the recent behaviour of McCormack which mirrors that of Gabby over a longer period has ensured Gabby’s extended run in the side at a time when we had hoped McCormack might take the opportunity that the absence of Kodjia and Ayew on international duties offered him to show he could get goals for us as regularly as he has for others in the past. 

We now have some time available to reinforce further the team that will travel to Brentford with new signings and players potentially returning from international calls. That time will also offer McCormack an opportunity to begin to change his attitude and to try to seek the forgiveness for his misdemeanours that Gabby has been granted for his by Steve Bruce.    

My player ratings from a game before and during which we remembered Graham Taylor are:

Sam Johnstone – 6 – Had the quietest of first halves. He appears to like to take the option of punching rather than trying to catch the ball when he has the choice doesn’t he? Given that, he needs to try to get some more distance on those punches on a more consistent basis if they are to become a reliable safe option. Grabbed an 82nd minute header near the goal line and has a level of confidence about him.     

Alan Hutton – 7 – Made some decent forward runs particularly early on and this must go down as one of his better games for us.     

James Chester - 7 – Won everything in the air. Was left flat footed on the edge of the box as Hugill took the ball to his right and hit their opener before Amavi could get a challenge in.      

Nathan Baker – 7 – Another competent performance by what is our most improved player this season. He certainly learnt some good things during his loan to Bristol City last season and has now become one of the first names on our team sheet.

Jordan Amavi – 5 – Lost possession more often than he would be expected to and disappointingly looked less effective as the game wore on prior to his late substitution.

Albert Adomah – 7 – MOTM – Albert scored a brace of goals which should have been enough to secure the win. His first was a tap in from around a yard when unmarked but he was in the right place at the right time to put us ahead on 22 minutes and the referee let it stand despite vociferous appeals from the visitors for a foul by Gabby on the keeper. Sent Maxwell the wrong way from the spot after 36 minutes for his second. He had been found on the edge of the box by Amavi and ran on only for McGeady to win the ball but bring him and concede a penalty that incensed the visitors. Had an 88th minute shot kept out by Maxwell at his near post.     

Henri Lansbury - 7 – Pinged a couple of excellent passes and looked comfortable on the ball. He also takes a good corner which makes a pleasant change to what we have grown accustomed to. His lack of recent games started to tell in the second half as Preston took control of the midfield and he was substituted on 77 minutes. He will get even better with games and with another new midfield maestro alongside him shortly.    

Ashley Westwood – 6 – Started well and looked to be enjoying playing alongside Lansbury but faded somewhat as the game wore on and the opposition found him less of a barrier to their progress through the middle than they would have the injured Jedinak. Hit the ball just over on 32 minutes after Lansbury had played a terrific ball to find Adomah.    

Jack Grealish – 6 – Needs to try to impose himself more on games than he did yesterday and to remember as he had started to do up until yesterday that he has a role to play when the opposition have the ball as well as when we do. Given little protection from some rough treatment from opponents by a referee who appeared unconcerned that they were using this tactic to nullify his undoubted but too rarely seen talent. Hit a stoppage time cross behind Gabby when a late winner had for a fleeting moment looked possible. Might have won this one for us at times but didn’t quite produce the final touch to do so.

Andre Green – 6 – Missed a good opportunity to open the scoring on 12 minutes when he headed Gabby’s cross wide when he really should have at least been on target. He clearly has potential and the ability to take on and beat defenders. He needs games and the increased confidence that a run of first team appearances should give him.    

Gabby Agbonlahor – 6 – Gabby’s starting place is now unlikely to come under any serious threat until Kodjia or Ayew or both return from international duty or we sign another striker. Gabby did well enough yesterday and worked very hard. It was asking a lot of him to play as a lone striker but he did win a couple of balls in the air and pressed defenders. He does not have the pace he once had and what goal threat that he once possessed has now almost entirely been extinguished but he will no doubt claim an assist for our opening goal. Grealish chipped a ball over a defender for Gabby to run onto inside the box but his attempt to chest the ball down only led to the ball bouncing out of his reach. He tried to get his foot to the ball as he collided with the keeper and the ball ran loose to be tapped home by the unmarked Adomah near the line for our first. The ball ended up in the side netting on 33 minutes when he looked to have an opportunity to add a second. His best display for us in a long, long time but that is not saying that much, is it?    

Substitutes:

Leandro Bacuna – 6 – Replaced Henri on 72 minutes. Hit an 83rd minute shot from the edge of the box that Maxwell held easily enough.    

Gary Gardner – Replaced Amavi on 89 minutes. Not on long enough to merit a rating.      

Keinan Davis – Replaced Grealish on the 93rd minute and was also not on long enough to get any sort of rating. Perhaps he should have been given a chance earlier?

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

Our 5-game winning home run came to an end last night but we remain the only team in our division not to be beaten at home. We can thank the linesman who pointed out the hand ball from Liam Cooper that referee Roger East had missed or ignored in much the same way as had the Leeds defence and their manager for that. But justice was done when we scored our now familiar late goal to take a point.

We refreshingly started this game by pressing our visitors during the opening minutes. We shaded the first half but Leeds then bossed the second half. The first goal always looked as though it might be crucial and it was our visitors that claimed on the 54th minute only to be pegged back by a late equalizer.   

We needed a better performance than this one against a Leeds side that are currently on a terrific run but we failed to produce it. What we did show was resilience and the ability to get something from a game in the last few minutes of it. Leeds will claim with some justification that they were worth a win. They had looked likely to get it for most of the game but it was Villa that ended up the more likely side to find a late winner.        

My player ratings from a game we needed to win but could not afford to lose are:

Mark Bunn – 5 – I have always felt that he has an error in him waiting to come out and so it proved in the 54th minute when Jansson was left unmarked and unchallenged to put Leeds ahead. Bunn with Roofe’s outstretched leg nearby allowed the header to squirm through his hands and over the goal line. Was relieved to see the scorer’s shot rattle against the bar a couple of minutes later after a Chester header had fallen to him unmarked inside of the box. Did well to come out and block Sacko’s effort with his legs on the 77th minute.     

Alan Hutton – 6 – Alan was steady at the back but he was the closest player to Jansson when he scored their goal without being challenged. Likes a cross as much as Count Dracula does.     

James Chester - 7 – Headed a nice ball into the box from Amavi just wide of the post in the 32nd minute.      

Nathan Baker – 7 – Another solid display.

Jordan Amavi – 5 – Was fortunate not to pay a heavy price when he lost possession inside the box when trying to let the ball go out for a goal kick on the 40th minute. Was also relieved to see Sacko’s 88th minute shot hit the bar after losing possession and being brushed aside by the striker who was a constant thorn in his side.

Jordan Ayew – 4 – Hit a shot wide on the 74th minute. Had a couple of fleeting moments but this was a noticeable drop on the performance he gave and the energy he produced when appearing as a substitute in our last game.     

Ashley Westwood - 6 – Had a decent game particularly in the first half.

Mile Jedinak – 6 – A solid enough midfield performance and won more than his fair share of headers. Tired prior to his substitution and hit his usual share of stray passes.   

Leandro Bacuna – 5 – Did not reach anything near the level he produced in his last outing.

Jack Grealish – 6 – Substituted on 49 minutes having been unable to run off a first half knock. Leeds became increasingly dominant in his absence.   

Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – MOTM - Took the ball off Phillips in the middle of their half and then beat the same player before hitting a 30-yard shot that took a deflection off a defender before Green parried the ball away to his left. Three minutes earlier he was found on the edge of the box by a poor attempted pass from Phillips but Jansson did well to get across to block his effort that deflected wide of the post. Got in a cross in first half stoppage time that was too firm for anyone to get on the end of after some good work on the edge of the box. Had a 67th minute shot pushed away by Green.  

He was as cool as a cucumber on the 86th minute when he sent Green the wrong way from the spot for our equalizer and the ball thudded into the right-hand corner of the net. He might have gone on to win it for us in the 91st minute when the ball ran to him on the edge of the box after an aerial challenge between Gestede and a defender but his shot deflected off Green’s shoulder to safety. Jonathan might have considered the alternative of playing the ball to the unmarked McCormack who was in a great position to tap it in on his left. Will be much missed during his coming absence on international duty.        

Substitutes:

Ross McCormack – 6 – Replaced Jack on 49 minutes. Played his part in the build up to our penalty award.    

Rudy Gestede – 5 - Replaced Jedinak on 78 minutes in what may prove his last appearance for us. It was his head that Cooper decided to push the ball away from with his hand to concede a late penalty after McCormack had played the ball over his head for both players to challenge for.     

Albert Adomah – 7 - Replaced Ayew on the 78th minute and gave us pace and a threat down the flank that we had been previously missing.

Up the Villa & A Happy Promotion New Year to all readers!

John Lewis

John

This was our first Boxing Day win since 2005 and the first time we have won 5 successive home league games since season 1992-93 when we won 7 on the trot and Villa Park was a fortress, as it now threatens to become again.

Burton arrived for the first ever game between the two teams to face an all but full Villa Park. We opened the scoring after 15 minutes but instead of pressing for a decisive second goal we then surrendered too much space in the midfield to our visitors.

Burton came increasingly into the game and scored a spectacular equalizer 16 minutes after we had gone ahead. For much of the rest of the game they had looked the more likely of the two sides to get a winner and they were perhaps unlucky to leave Villa Park with nothing to show for their efforts. But our first two substitutions made a real impact on this game and rather than concede as the end of a game neared we continued with our new-found habit of clinching a late winner.      

This was not the sort of game that will have the extra visitors to Villa Park wanting to rush back to see more of the same but it again demonstrated that under Steve Bruce we have found the happy habit of winning games when we are below par. That gets teams promoted but we may need more than that later this week to win a sixth successive home game against high flying Leeds United. We owe them one after our recent defeat at Elland Road and we need to cut the gap between us and them sooner rather than later.        

My player ratings from a Boxing Day game that 41,337 fans attended and which took us above the club that dwell on the dark side of the city are:

Mark Bunn – 7 – Reacted very well to get a hand to a Brayford header in the fourth minute of stoppage time having got down low to save a shot from the edge of the box from the same player on 25 minutes. Had no chance with Ward’s 31st minute equalizer from a Brayford cross but although the finish was sublime he was allowed too much space with both Hutton and Gardner staying static some way off him. Mark was relieved to see Dyer’s shot hit the post on 73 minutes when beaten. Made decent saves from Ward on 35 minutes and from O’Grady on 77 minutes.    

Alan Hutton – 5 – Not the easiest of afternoons for Alan and he found some difficulty in coping with Dyer at times.   

James Chester - 6 – Solid when he needed to be.      

Nathan Baker – 7 – A rock in our defence who did the simple things right without any unnecessary frills.

Jordan Amavi – 6 – Seemed to have his mind elsewhere early on but got more into the game as it wore on.

Albert Adomah – 6 – Hit the ball harmlessly over on 62 minutes after a Bacuna cross had fallen to him after Kodjia had failed to connect with it.    

Gary Gardner - 5 – Substituted at half time having picked up a knock on 43 minutes.

Mile Jedinak – 6 – Solid as a barrier in front of our defence which is what he is there for but he cannot be expected to do the whole of our midfield’s job on his own.  

Leandro Bacuna – 7 –  MOTM - A good hard working all round display if still a little bit below the Champions League standard that he set for himself last year! Scored our opener on 15 minutes. He started and finished the move playing the ball out wide to Adomah who hit an inviting cross into the box which Leo headed home powerfully having run on into the box. Hit an effort just wide of the post 4 minutes earlier after the keeper had pushed out a Hutton cross to him inside of the box and McCormack had not got a touch to help the ball in as it sailed past him.

Ross McCormack – 6 – Hit our late winner on 78 minutes. Adomah fed Ayew on the right who hit a nice low cross that evaded both McLaughlin and Brayford before Ross controlled the ball at the far post with his left foot and hit it home with his right. I hope he will take confidence from this goal as we will need him to have his shooting boots on next month.  

Jonathan Kodjia – 5 – Hit a fierce shot from the left on the 80th minute that was off target. Some way off his excellent penetrative best yesterday.        

Substitutes:

Jack Grealish – 7 – Replaced Gardner at half time and brought us some needed creativity. Played a one-two with McCormack before jinking into the box and hitting the ball with his left foot which deflected off McLaughlin into the path of Kodjia who tapped the ball in on the 52nd minute only to be adjudged to have been offside.    

Jordan Ayew – 7 - Replaced Jedinak on 75 minutes and looked keen to make a positive impression in the short time that he had available to do so. Claimed an assist with the low cross that produced our winner and proved a significant threat to Burton following his introduction. An impressive few minutes and a marked improvement on what he had produced in recent games that he has started.      

Gabriel Agbonlahor – Replaced Kodjia on the 86th minute and showed some energy by chasing down opponents but was not on long enough to gather a rating.

Up the Villa & A Happy Promotion New Year to all readers!

John Lewis

John

This forgettable game was settled by an unforgettable winning goal from Jack Grealish in the 88th minute.

Wigan came to Villa Park with limited ambition. They came to frustrate and to claim a point as will other teams as we climb further up the table this season. We started the game well and finished it even better but for over an hour this match appeared to have goalless draw written all over it until Jack struck with his stunning late goal. It is so nice to be scoring late goals rather than conceding them now!   

We lacked movement up front from forwards who were starved of service by a midfield that lacked creativity. Wigan worked hard, got men behind the ball and on those occasions when this did not prove sufficient resorted to making strong/illegal challenges particularly on Jack Grealish and Jonathan Kodjia in an attempt to keep them both quiet. That worked pretty effectively for them during the first 87 minutes until we went ahead and claimed our fourth successive home win to move just 3 points off the play-off places.       

We bounced back from defeat at Leeds as we so needed to do yesterday. We did not win with a swagger but successful teams win games when they are some way off their very best and this we did. I hope we also began another lengthy unbeaten or dare we hope a winning run yesterday? That will be put to the test at Norwich in midweek and at QPR next weekend.  

My player ratings from a game that we collected only our second home win in nine league games against yesterday’s visitors are:

Pierluigi Gollini – 6 – A very, very quiet day at the office. Could have sat on a deck chair in the goalmouth for most of this game but it was not really the weather for that.     

Alan Hutton – 6 – Worked hard and looked solid at the back if something less than a threat when moving into the Wigan half.   

James Chester - 6 – Another solid and composed performance on a day when our defence was seldom tested.       

Tommy Elphick – 6 – Tommy eased through this game with little cause for concern being provided by the visitors. That might not have been the case had Wigan been a little more adventurous and started the game with or introduced late substitute Will Grigg earlier than they did.

Jordan Amavi – 7 – Another encouraging display. He looks so confident and effective defensively of late and poses a threat when getting forward as he has always done. Clipped an effort just past the post on 7 minutes from inside of the box and Jaaskelainen dived low to his right to gather a shot from outside of the box 4 minutes later after he had picked up a loose ball from a corner.

Albert Adomah – 5 – Failed to make the same sort of positive impression on this game that he has done in others lately.    

Gary Gardner - 5 – Put in a shift as he always does prior to his substitution but he has it in him to impose himself more upon opponents.

Mile Jedinak – 6 – Another solid midfield display. Opponents must feel like they have run into a brick wall when they are challenged by Mile. Hit a shot from the edge of the box on 72 minutes straight at Jaaskelainen who gathered the ball easily enough.  

Jack Grealish – 7 – MOTM – Hit a spectacular winner to claim all three points for us in the 88th minute. A McCormack cross was headed out by a defender and picked up by Jack just outside the box. He then hit an unstoppable shot past Jaaskelainen and into the top right hand corner of the net.

Jordan Ayew – 4 – Jordan was disappointingly quiet again yesterday and needs to make a bigger impact on games like this. Lost the ball more than once and noticeably a couple of times near the end when we particularly needed to keep possession.

Jonathan Kodjia – 5 – Might have opened the scoring for us in the 14th minute when Adomah found him nicely inside the box but his attempted chip over Jaaskelainen was kept out by the keeper’s outstretched arm.        

Substitutes:

Ross McCormack – 6 – Replaced Gardner on the hour and introduced a bit of much needed energy.  

Rudy Gestede – 4 - Replaced Adomah on 73 minutes. Rudy provided no threat up front and made little if any positive impression after coming off the bench.      

Leandro Bacuna – Replaced Jack in the 4th minute of stoppage time so he was not on long enough to gather any rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

Yesterday’s third successive home win extended Steve Bruce’s unbeaten run to seven games. It also lifted us into the top half of the table and put us within touching distance of a place in the top six.

Cardiff have not won at Villa Park since 1954 but they started strongly and reacted well to going a goal down after 24 minutes by drawing level 4 minutes later. Our visitors gave the sort of determined no-nonsense display that is expected from any team managed by Neil Warnock. It’s not pretty to watch but it is effective and it will be likely to be enough to keep our visitors up this season. On this occasion, another goal from Kodjia and a late penalty secured the points for us.  

We will see much more entertaining games at Villa Park this season but these are the sort of games that teams who go on to win promotion emerge from with the points. It is such a relief to see us winning games again at what is fast becoming fortress Villa Park again. It is also a bonus to see us score three goals when we have otherwise not played particularly well.  

My player ratings from a game that we scored three goals in for the first time since our opening home game of the season are:

Pierluigi Gollini – 6 – Got down well to hold a 46th minute header from Hoilett.     

Alan Hutton – 5 – Cardiff found it easier than it should have been to make some decent runs down his side in the first half and Alan needed to show a little more alertness when he was slow in trying to get back to cover the unmarked Lambert on the edge of the box for their equalizer.   

James Chester - 8 – MOTM – Did not put a foot wrong at the back.       

Nathan Baker – 6 – Looked solid prior to his half time substitution due to injury.

Jordan Amavi – 8 – Continues to look better with every game and claimed a big assist for our first goal. Hit a left footed shot from the edge of the box on 33 minutes that was blocked by a defender.

Albert Adomah – 7 – Scored our opener on 24 minutes. Amavi made a nice run before hitting a low cross to the far post where Albert took a touch before coolly slotting the ball past Amos.    

Ashley Westwood – 6 – Lost a challenge that he had started favourite to win in the build up to their equalizer but put in a decent enough shift other than that.

Mile Jedinak – 7 – Another very strong midfield performance. 

Jack Grealish – 7 – Earned us a late penalty when he was brought down inside the box by Morrison after Kodjia had played a nice ball for him to run onto. Our visitors had found Jack too tricky to handle when he had the ball at his feet and resorted to stopping him in the only reliable manner they could think of namely by bringing him down. They eventually paid the price for that tactic having Peltier sent off on 84 minutes and conceding the late penalty that clinched our win.     

Jordan Ayew – 4 – Very, very quiet yesterday. Lost the ball a little too often and did not seem to be looking too hard to impose himself upon the game

Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – Got on the end of a ball that Baker had played from well inside his own half on 11 minutes and made space for a shot that took a slight deflection off Peltier before flying just wide of the far post. Had a decent goal scoring opportunity on 85 minutes but hit the ball wide of the post. Scored our second on 39 minutes. Adomah was given a second opportunity to put a cross in and hit the bouncing ball to the far post where Jonathan climbed well above a statuesque defender to plant his header past the keeper.        

Substitutes:

Tommy Elphick – 6 – Started the second half as Baker’s replacement and looked solid.        

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 6 - Replaced Ayew on 62 minutes. Grealish put him clear with a lovely ball on 79 minutes but Amos came out to block his shot and he then scuffed an attempted cross from the rebound. Booked shortly after coming on for his reaction to a decent penalty appeal that he had played a big part in being denied.      

Rudy Gestede – 6 - Replaced Adomah on 74 minutes. Sent Amos the wrong way and hit the ball into the left corner of the net from the spot in the 90th minute to extinguish any hopes our visitors may have entertained of claiming a stoppage time equalizer. I must admit that I was more than a little worried when he was the one that stepped up to take it though.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

I think that we are all growing a little more accustomed to that winning feeling that has been absent from Villa Park for far too long. We have now gone five league games unbeaten since the arrival of Steve Bruce and have gathered 11 points from a possible 15 which is promotion form.

Brucie has got us organised and appears to have stamped out that habit of conceding late goals that had cost us so dear earlier this season. Our new boss gets the best out of the players that are available to him and has done this since his arrival as he did with his previous clubs. Steve Bruce might have been pleasantly surprised to hear his name being sung with such gusto by the Holte End yesterday but I think this could well become a very regular occurrence.   

This was a game that looked on paper as a likely home win. So, it proved but only after we had gone a goal behind due to a well taken headed goal from the free-scoring Gallagher who is on loan from Southampton. We at best matched our visitors in the first half and there was little to choose between the two teams until two clinical finishes from Kodjia gave us a second successive home win for the first time since May 2015.   

My player ratings from a game that cemented our position as the only team in our division not to have tasted a home league defeat this season are:

Pierluigi Gollini – 6 – Did well to keep a 20th minute header from Gallagher out at the post and helped a Marshall free-kick from the edge of the box over the bar 5 minutes later. Was left flat footed by Gallagher’s goal which found the corner of the net.     

Alan Hutton – 5 – His final ball was again found wanting.   

James Chester - 7 – A very calm and assured display.       

Nathan Baker – 7 – Faced a difficult opponent in Gallagher who only once got the better of him when he climbed above him to put them ahead.

Jordan Amavi – 7 – He is looking better with every game.

Albert Adomah – 7 – Provides a wide option for us. Played in some nice crosses and made some decent runs forward yesterday.    

Gary Gardner – 6 – Miscued on the third minute when an Adomah corner unexpectedly found its way to him past the group of players that lined up in front of him. Hit a powerful shot from outside of the box on the 61st minute that Steele turned around the post. Brings something to our midfield that we had been missing and looks like he is beginning to feel increasingly comfortable in our starting line-up.

Mile Jedinak – 7 – Mile is now looking like the player we had expected to see from the start of this season. Produced another solid encouraging display yesterday.  

Jack Grealish – 6 – Earned us a penalty that led to our equalizer with a nice run into the box on 57 minutes that was only ended when he was brought down by Greer.    

Jonathan Kodjia – 8 – MOTM – Had a 23rd minute effort punched away by Steele and hit an Adomah corner that fell to him over the bar on 35 minutes. Stepped up with confidence to hit a powerful well struck spot kick into the corner of the net which evaded the reach of Steele on 57 minutes. Hit our winner on 70 minutes but took a knock in doing so that led to his substitution. Jedinak found him wide and he ran towards the near post where he did so well to thread the ball past Lowe and Steele inside the far post with the inside of his right foot.

Ross McCormack – 5 – Had a 42nd minute header at the far post from an Adomah cross saved by Steele. Was flagged offside on the hour when he somehow contrived to hit the ball wide from very close range. Turned well and hit an effort that beat Steele on 64 minutes but hit the side netting.         

Substitutes:

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 6 – Was our first substitution when he replaced McCormack on the 68th minute. This represents a surprising rapid return to the fold. The player might not have anticipated this or the warm reception he was given by supporters upon taking the field. Did as well as could be expected considering his need for game time and match fitness.       

Ashley Westwood – 5 - Replaced Kodjia on 74 minutes to solidify our midfield with the points ours to hold onto.   

Tommy Elphick – Replaced Grealish on 90 minutes to help shore up our defence in stoppage time but was not on long enough to gather a rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

What a difference two wins can make. Having won away for the first time in 437 days on Tuesday night we went on to win our second home game of the season yesterday and pulled five points clear of the bottom three.   

But enough talk of the bottom three we can now look at the top six that we are within six points of. We are coming to get those clubs that currently make up the top six as well as the knuckle draggers from the dark side of the city next weekend.

There was to be no late goal conceded by us this time and for a second time within a week it was us that claimed the three points with a late winner. We might have added another two before the final whistle was blown as we finished the game very strongly. Two more wins that would take our winning run to 4 games could well see us in the top half of the table and who would have thought that likely three weeks ago?

This was not our best performance although we threatened to run away with the game after taking the lead. It is not a game that will live long in the memory unlike the goal that won it for us which was so well taken. I do however wonder whether it might just be a second win that proves to be a turning point in our season?  

My player ratings from a game that brought Brucie his 7th point from his first 3 matches and our visitors their first away defeat are:

Pierluigi Gollini – 6 – Made a decent save at his near post from Aluko on 44 minutes and tipped a cross over for a corner in the third minute of stoppage time.      

Alan Hutton – 5 – Did a decent enough job.   

James Chester - 7 – Looked very good alongside Baker and appeared to have enjoyed wearing the captain’s armband.       

Nathan Baker – 7 – A solid display and Elphick may not find it too easy to displace him when he recovers from injury.

Jordan Amavi – 7 – His best game for us since his return from injury. Looked solid enough at the back and good when coming forward.

Leandro Bacuna – 5 – Did a job for us in the middle but I suspect Tshibola might be able to do a better one.    

Gary Gardner – 6 – Has made a difference to our midfield which had been struggling badly before his introduction.

Mile Jedinak – 5 – Played today with players alongside him that have the pace to help him see games out albeit not through to their conclusion.

Jordan Ayew – 6 – Forced a one-handed stop from Button on 27 minutes and had a 65th minute free-kick from the edge of the box tipped over the bar by Button. Should have put the result beyond doubt on the 82nd minute when he was put clear by a nice ball from McCormack only to steer the ball wide of the post.    

Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – MOTM - Hutton found him inside the box and his 10th minute shot from a tight angle was well kept out at the near post by Button. Scored our 80th minute winner after Button’s clearance from outside of his box went straight to Adomah who rather than have a shot himself as the keeper struggled to get back crossed for Jonathan to volley the ball at waist height into the corner of the net. What a great finish that was and it was one that was worthy of winning any game! Headed the ball just wide of the post late in injury time after Button had pushed Adomah’s shot towards him. 

Rudy Gestede – 4 – Given another start but did little to warrant a further one next weekend for me and I think his place will now come under increased pressure from McCormack.     

Substitutes:

Albert Adomah – 7 – Came on for Gestede on the 55th minute and his introduction played a big part in our improved performance. Made our winner and made a nice run into the box in injury time before getting into a shooting position and forcing a save at his near post from Button. His direct approach and running at defenders makes him a player that can win games for us.       

Ross McCormack – 6 - Replaced Jedinak on 73 minutes and looked lively.  

Ashley Westwood – Replaced Ayew on 86 minutes and was not therefore on long enough to gather any rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

This was a point gained rather than a point lost because Wolves were by far the better side on the day and had the chances to have run out clear winners had they taken them. They just seemed to want it more than we did.

We had hoped for a win, an early new manager “bounce” and for the players to want to pull out all of the stops to impress the new boss but old habits are hard to break. Although there have been significant changes in our starting line-up since last season this season’s displays have also impacted upon this team’s confidence and belief. On the plus side at least we didn’t concede yet another goal in the last 5 minutes and will hopefully have Ayew starting the next game.

Villa started well enough in a local derby that both teams gave as good as they got before we took the lead after 15 minutes. At times we looked as if we might add a second goal in the first half but there was only one team that posed a goal threat in the second half and it was certainly not us. Not for the first time this season having gone one ahead we then gradually dropped back rather than pressed for a second. We were lucky on yesterday’s dismal second half performance to have held onto our unbeaten home record and to have hung onto a point against our Black Country visitors who dominated the second half all too easily as we ran out of gas alarmingly.            

Steve Bruce can be in no doubt after this game of the tough task he faces in turning this Villa side who have won only once this season into a winning team. He has much work to do but he has the ability to organise us and to turn things around. That will take him more than a couple of days as this game proved but we need to start winning games sooner rather than later and a win at Reading would be most welcome.              

My player ratings from a game that we started in the bottom 3 and ended needing a minimum of 3 points to get out of the bottom 6 as well as 9 points away from the top 6 are:

Pierluigi Gollini – 6 – MOTM - Stood no chance with Costa’s 33rd minute penalty that was hit past him into the top right hand corner of the net. Kept us level on 73 minutes with a fine one handed save from a near post Edward’s header from a corner that would otherwise have been pounced upon by Dicko.      

Micah Richards – 5 – Micah was re-introduced into our starting line-up by our new boss and did as well as could be expected considering his recent inactivity. He was fortunate not to concede a penalty on 52 minutes when he did well to run back into position as Costa squared the ball for Bodvarsson who had looked likely to give them the lead before Micah clattered into his back.   

James Chester - 5 – Might have expected to collect a second yellow when he brought down Costa near the centre circle as he ran past him.       

Tommy Elphick – 5 – Our captain was still some way off the assured sort of performances we had been looking for from him prior to his substitution due to injury.

Aly Cissokho – 5 – Surprisingly started instead of Amavi. Dived in an attempt to try to block a 33rd minute shot from the edge of the box from the unmarked Costa but the ball hit his raised arm and the penalty that brought Wolves level was given.

Albert Adomah – 6 – Made some good runs and did well to clear the 73rd minute corner that Gollini had got a hand to at the far post before Bodvarsson could look to force it in.    

Aaron Tshibola – 4 – Not near his performances for us to date in a game that appeared to pass him by.

Mile Jedinak – 5 – Showed more pace at times then he has done previously which was encouraging prior to his being substituted inside the hour having run out of steam understandably enough following his long distance international duty.

Jack Grealish – 6 – Played a nice one-two with McCormack after Chester had found him on the 15th minute and his heel was clipped inside the box by Iorfa to bring us the penalty that Kodjia converted to give us an early lead. Jack was as lucky that a petulant stud to leg movement on Coady having been brought down by the same player was apparently not seen by any of the officials so it did not result in his receiving a card as was Coady lucky to see just a yellow for his reaction. Will Jack now face retrospective punishment?     

Ross McCormack– 6 – Ross showed good movement throughout despite not getting the sort of service he would thrive upon. Might well have given us the lead again on the 44th minute had Kodjia fed him when he was unmarked and in a clear shooting position. Unfortunately, Kodjia having been found near the penalty spot by Adomah instead tried to score himself when his chances of finding the net were significantly less likely.    

Jonathan Kodjia – 6 – Hit his 15th minute penalty confidently past Ikeme into the lower right hand corner of the net. Might have had another on 36 minutes when a headed clearance from the edge of the box fell to him and he hit a sweet shot that Ikeme did very well to turn past the post at full stretch. Faded noticeably in the second half.     

Substitutes:

Ashley Westwood – 5 – Came on for Jedinak on the 55th minute and made little positive impression in the time he had. His introduction fully demonstrated the lack of midfield options currently available to Brucie.     

Alan Hutton – 5 - Replaced Richards due to injury on 66 minutes. Missed his kick on 83 minutes and the ball having previously taken a touch off Edwards therefore ran onto the unmarked Cavaleiro whose shot from near the penalty spot had just evaded the advancing Gollini. Thankfully the goal bound shot was blocked by Alan who had kept on running to cover his keeper and he made full amends for his own error.  

Nathan Baker – Replaced Elphick who had taken a knock on 77 minutes.  Nathan was not on quite long enough to earn a rating but played his part in holding the fort as the minutes ticked by at the end.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

We have grown frustratingly accustomed to conceding goals and dropping valuable points during the last 5 minutes of games this season but this time we scored rather than conceded one late in a game. 

We were really abysmal in the first half. Playing three central defenders did not work for us and our defence was shaky at best in the first 45 minutes. Our midfield was none existent and we posed a minimal threat up front. Newcastle will have been disappointed to have only been one up at the break having dominated the game and brushed us aside all too easily. Am I alone in thinking that our target was a 0-0 draw until they scored?     

The second half was a different story. We dispensed with the formation we had started with and went to a back four replacing Baker with Tshibola. We looked better at the start of the second half although it would have been very difficult to have looked any worse. We were more competitive and positive. Newcastle thought they already had the points in the bag and took their foot off the pedal. When Diame missed a great opportunity on 64 minutes to give the visitors a two-goal cushion our belief grew and we increasingly took the game to them. In the 88th minute having hit a post, having had a goal disallowed for offside and a penalty appeal turned down we got the goal that our spirited second half comeback deserved.            

This was our first league meeting with Newcastle outside of the top flight since 1938. It was the first time two Champions League winning managers had met outside of the top flight. Our equalizer was also our first goal from a corner since the first game of last season. This hard earned point showed Newcastle it can prove more difficult than might be anticipated to see a game out, it took us out of the bottom six and it stopped our visitors from extending the points difference between the two clubs from 7 to 10.   

It was a positive that RDM changed things at half time but equally it was a negative that his initial choices made that necessary It was nice to see another team impatiently waiting for the final whistle at the end rather than us and this encouraging battling second half performance needs to be used as a springboard to an upturn in both our results and confidence.      

My player ratings from a game that produced boos at the end of the first half and applause at the end of the second in what was a real game of two halves are:

Pierluigi Gollini – 7 – He is beginning to look like he could prove to be a bargain buy. Looking increasingly steady and growing in confidence he did well on 25 minutes when Elphick’s attempted headed clearance instead fell to Ritchie just inside the box who went past Baker all too easily before Pierluigi blocked his effort. Had no chance with the own goal and spared Elphick’s blushes with a good stop from Gayle on 36 minutes. Pushed a solid shot from Shelvey from outside of the box to his left where Amavi was at hand to clear on 53 minutes.      

Albert Adomah – 6 – Inexplicably played at wing back rather than in the more forward role for which he was bought and that was occupied by Bacuna yesterday. Did a surprisingly decent job at the back but was far more effective when he got further forward. Needs to start ahead of Bacuna.   

James Chester - 6 – The most effective of our three central defenders yesterday.       

Tommy Elphick – 4 – This was some way off being a confident and assured performance. Tommy looked jittery more than once and turned in Yedlin’s 28th minute cross with his right foot under pressure from Gayle for their goal. At times it pays to clear the ball first time rather than to try to play it out of defence when under pressure. That time came in the 36th minute when our captain wanted too long on the ball after Jedinak had played it back to him in the middle of his own half and Gayle took it off him ran clear and was only denied by Gollini’s left leg when in a one against one situation. Headed an Ayew corner wide on 85 minutes when unmarked.

Nathan Baker – 5 – Substituted at half time. Did well to win the ball from Gayle who had cut past Elphick when a second goal had looked on.

Jordan Amavi – 7 – Made some very good forward runs. Hit a nice cross on 31 minutes that was just too high for Adomah to get his head to and hit another to the same player who stretched to reach it but was unable to manage to turn it towards goal.    

Leandro Bacuna – 5 – Won a 9th minute challenge in the centre circle but having ran to the edge of the box delayed pulling the trigger and Gouffran got back to steal the ball away from him. If he is to play it should be at full back if he is deemed to be a better choice there than is Hutton or even Richards who unlike Leo remains persona non grata at the club.

Ashley Westwood – 5 – Substituted on 85 minutes he continues to be a long way off his best of a couple of seasons ago.

Mile Jedinak – 5 – Marginally offside when he headed a 68th minute Ayew free kick past the keeper and into the net. Hit some misplaced passes and struggled for pace at times in a midfield that did not really get going until the last half hour or so of the game.      

Jordan Ayew – 7 – Far too quiet in the first half but he did suffer from a lack of service. Burst into life in the second half and did a lot to make our comeback happen. He hit a number of accurate corners and free-kicks that put the visitor’s defence under increasing pressure and made some threatening runs. So unlucky on 72 minutes when he ran from a wide position to the edge of the box before curling a shot that hit the far post with the keeper beaten. Took the ball off Shelvey as he attempted to move the ball further away from his own penalty area before running into the area and playing a ball into the 6-yard box that Kodjia was so near to getting a foot to at the near post before the relieved Sels gathered it on 91 minutes.    

Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – Like Jordan he was starved of service but he kept looking for the ball and looking to make runs at defenders. Adomah played a good ball down the line to him in the 4th minute but having run into the box he delayed taking a shot which allowed Clark to get into position to make a block. Flagged offside on 43 minutes after Jedinak had played a fine ball to him from just inside the visitor’s half and his shot from near the penalty spot was saved by Sels.   

Substitutes:

Aaron Tshibola – 8 – MOTM - Replaced Baker for the second half and his introduction did much to change the course of this match. Played a nice one-two with Ayew on the edge of the box on 79 minutes and was booked for hitting the deck rather than awarded a penalty after a defender had made contact with him without making any serious attempt to win the ball inside of the box. Headed in our equalizer on 88 minutes at the far post which went past the keeper and in off the post. He shows a lot of promise, was our best midfield player by some distance and we can only hope he can now stay injury free.     

Rudy Gestede – 5 - Replaced Adomah on 63 minutes. Headed wide from an Ayew cross on 70 minutes and had an effort from just outside of the area pushed around the post for a 92nd minute corner by Sels.

Rushian Hepburn-Murphy – Came on for Westwood on 85 minutes and did not look out of place. Rushian was not on quite long enough to earn a rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

 

John

A Villa team that seem incapable of seeing out even the last 5 minutes of a game seemed to decide last night to try to see out the entire second half. We left it to the visitors to take the game to us rather than take the game to them in the second half having gone ahead on 19 minutes. As we know a one goal advantage is not enough for us and so it proved again last night.

We have now dropped seven points due to conceding goals during the last 5 minutes of games this season. Had we seen these games out rather than conceded goals in the 85th minute against Sheffield Wednesday, in the 86th minute against Huddersfield, in the 87th minute against Forest and now in the 88th minute we would now have had 14 points rather than 7 and would have been in 4th rather than 17th place.  

After failing to win for a fifth successive time we are left with seven points from seven games. We now face an away game at Ipswich who for some reason still have a problem with us that dates back to season 1980-81 and in-form Newcastle at Villa Park who also have a problem or two with us of a more recent nature. So getting points on the board from these two games will if anything be harder on paper than was our last three games.         

This was our first league meeting with Brentford since season 1946/47 when we won 5-2 at home and followed that up with a 2-0 win at Griffin Park. Since then we have met in the FA Cup in 1953 when we drew 0-0 at Villa Park before winning the replay 2-1. I think we will need to win there again to make up for the points we dropped last night if we are to sustain a promotion challenge this season as well as at a few other grounds including our own more often than not!

To be honest Brentford deserved at least a point. They had more possession, corners, shots and shots on target. We gave a first half performance that was some way below the one we gave against Forest and were fortunate to have a one goal lead to show for it. In the second half we needed to go for a second to give us the cushion that we currently need to seal a win. Instead we dropped back, surrendered the initiative and hoped for a rare clean sheet that would see us hang on for a win. It was surprising that our visitors failed to score earlier but an equalizer looked increasingly likely and it inevitably arrived during the last five minutes of the game. Someone betting on our opponents scoring at that sort of time in games would currently have a very healthy profit for doing so by now!     

We had injuries both before and during the game to cope with but we were unable to do so and it seemed each substitution made it less likely that we would win this one.      

My player ratings from a game that led to a return to the boos at the final whistle with which we grew so accustomed last season and in which our home attendance fell below 30,000 for the first time this season are:

Pierluigi Gollini – 7 – Held a 44th minute Hogan shot after the striker had an opening following an Elphick error and deflected another shot from the same player into the side netting on 48 minutes after he had picked up a loose ball from an Elphick back header. A good steady performance.   

Ritchie De Laet – 5 – Substituted on 67 minutes having sustained an injury. Needs to show a bit more than he has done to date for me.  

Tommy Elphick - 6 – I’m not sure Egan’s 88th minute effort was going in before Tommy appeared to get the slightest of touches on it only inches from the goal line but if he had not done so Hogan was waiting unmarked to tap it in on the line in any case. Kaikai had got his cross in all too easily although both Bacuna and Gardner were on him, the ball evaded both Cissokho and the player he was marking before it fell to an unmarked Egan on the far post. Gollini moved quickly towards the striker who hit the ball across the goal towards our captain and Gardner who had left Hogan to try to keep out Egan’s cross/shot. He organises well but his own game was not quite error free today.       

James Chester – 6 – Gave a decent overall display.  

Aly Cissokho – 6 – Took a first half knock which had seemed likely to lead to Amavi taking his place. Solid enough at the back.   

Ashley Westwood – 5 – A much better first half performance and he seemed to relish playing in front of the bearded one. His second half display was not near to being as effective. He along with others dropped back in the second half allowing the visitors to dictate the rest of the game and the midfield area in particular.

Mile Jedinak – 6 – Looked the steadying influence that we need in our midfield particularly in the first half but he also dropped back in the second half and was playing just in front of the back four for much of that half which allowed the visitors too much room to play unhindered in the centre of the field.       

Jordan Ayew – 6 – His performance was some way off the excellent one he had produced against Forest but he lacked service and the ball did not quite run for him last night. Hit a nice cross towards Kodjia on the 74th minute that he was unable to quite get on the end of and then hit a shot well over a minute later.

Rudy Gestede – 5 – He really looks a lot better coming off the bench than he does when starting a game. De Laet found him on 21 minutes but his shot was held by Bentley. Rudy was then just wide with a 37th minute header from a nice McCormack cross. Did little else of significance.       

Ross McCormack – 6 – Substituted at half time having picked up a knock and his presence was much missed.    

Jonathan Kodjia – 8 – MOTM – The one bright light on a pretty dim night for us. Looked a significant threat to our visitor’s goal every time that he had the ball. Found by Gestede on the 5th minute but his near post shot was pushed out for a corner by Bentley. Picked up the ball near the line having been found by Jedinak just outside of the box. Jonathan than cut inside the box making an angle to shoot and not giving Bjelland an opportunity to get a challenge in before hitting an unstoppable 19th minute shot past Bentley’s outstretched hand into the top corner of the net. Made a good run across the edge of the box on 80 minutes before he forced a save from Bentley.

Substitutes:

Jordan Amavi –  5 - Replaced McCormack for the second half and was obviously uncomfortable playing in a role he seemed unaccustomed to playing. 

Leandro Bacuna – 4 - Replaced De Laet on 67 minutes. Failed to get into the game and this was a sad return to the sort of level of performance that he gave us all too often last season.

Gary Gardner – Came on for Gestede on 82 minutes so was not on quite long enough to make a sufficiently positive or negative impression to gather a rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

Aston Villa have now dropped five points due to conceding goals during the last 5 minutes of games this season. Had we seen these games out rather than conceded goals in the 85th minute against Sheffield Wednesday, in the 86th minute against Huddersfield and now in the 87th minute against Forest we would now have had 11 points rather than 6 and would have been in 5th rather than 17th place.  

We are currently just 2 points clear of the relegation places and 10 points behind the early league leaders. Our next game against Brentford has begun to have the look of a “must win” game about it.

With such a large number of new signings and a lingering hangover from the pitiful relegation season that we had to go through last season it was perhaps asking a lot for us to hit the ground running from day one. Six points from six games is nevertheless just not good enough. A point a game over the course of this season would put us in a relegation battle for a second year. I am confident that the players we have are too good for that and will prove it as they become more familiar with playing with each other but last season demonstrated that a none winning habit can be hard to break and with each point we drop our confidence takes another hit.       

This first meeting between European Cup winners outside of the top flight ended all square. We had the best of the first half and this was even more the case in the second. The woodwork twice denied us but we did the hard work by coming back from a one goal deficit to lead with only 16 minutes to go only to concede a late equalizer and drop another 2 home points. Forest will be happy with their point but we really needed all three. Our two goals in 2 second half minutes came from our 26 attempts on goal where Forest scored with all but one of their goal attempts. On another day we could have had five and once again the rub of the green went against us. But we need to start making our own luck. The two we did get came from McCormack and Gestede who have now scored seven goals in their last seven games against yesterday’s opponents. How they must be looking forward to the return trip to Nottingham.   

We clearly need to start seeing games out when we have only 5 minutes of normal time remaining. At the moment we seem to need a two goal cushion to be able to win a game. We seem to have it in us to concede a late goal that undoes all of the good work that has gone before it in each game. We need to start winning games at home and away if we are to get out of the bottom half of the table and then challenge for a play-off place but preferably a top two finish. One win in our first six games was what we got last season we need to get the winning habit and the confidence that brings sooner rather than later.      

My player ratings from a game that exposed our fragility near the end of games, a lack of midfield creativity and our present need to score 3 goals to win a game are:

Pierluigi Gollini – 6 – Substituted at half time due to an injury he sustained on 28 minutes when bravely diving at full length to punch the ball beyond the reach of Lansbury.   

Ritchie De Laet – 6 – Showed he has an Icelandic-like long throw and looked decent on those occasions he did venture forward. 

Tommy Elphick - 6 – Solid enough.    

James Chester – 6 – Beaten too easily on the edge of the box for their equalizer.  

Aly Cissokho – 6 – Hit a couple of decent crosses and had a shot deflected over the bar off a defender when an 89th minute ball from McCormack dropped to him near the far post. Was a touch fortunate that the card he was shown on 85 minutes was yellow when a rush of blood between Lithaj and himself left both of their heads all but touching.  

Ashley Westwood – 5 – Failed to show the sort of creativity we were looking for yesterday and I would guess that his starting place will be under serious threat after this from Jedinak. Hit a long range shot on 40 minutes that was gathered easily enough by Stojkovic.

Gary Gardner – 5 –  Did not make the sort of impression he would have hoped for against the team that he has spent a lot of time playing for on loan. I would anticipate Tshibola assuming he is fit to play by Wednesday like Jedinak above may well re-claim his starting place for the Brentford game. Clipped a shot over the bar after being found by Grealish near the edge of the box on 51 minutes.       

Jack Grealish – 7 – Jack had us on the edge of the seat when he moved the ball forward with some purpose. Jack did not anticipate an 84th minute McCormack free kick dropping into his path but turned the ball towards goal which Stojkovic gathered comfortably underneath the bar.  

Jordan Ayew – 8 – MOTM – Claimed assists for both of our goals. Westwood played a sweet ball to him in the 4th minute but he failed to get a shot in on goal, he then deflected a 34th minute Cissokho cross just wide of the post off his body before running into the box and shooting wide of the near post on 42 minutes. Jordan rattled the crossbar with a powerful shot from the edge of the box in the 59th minute and hit a bouncing shot wide of the post on 69 minutes.       

Ross McCormack – 7 – Hit the post from very close range on 33 minutes when he had looked likely to turn the ball in. Ayew had run to the edge of the box before playing the ball wide to Kodjia who then played the ball across the goal for Ross to meet at the far post. Ross was later found by Grealish on 46 minutes and curled a shot from the edge of the box that flew just wide of the post. He climbed well at the far post to get his head to a nicely weighted cross from Ayew on the 71st minute which Stojkovic luckily kept out with his left hand. Ross then scored our equalizer on 72 minutes hitting his measured shot through the despairing Mancienne and past Stojkovic after Ayew had fed the ball to him just inside of the box.    

Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – Powered a far post header from a 43rd minute Ayew cross that Stojkovic struggled to prevent going over the line which goal line technology was not available to clarify yesterday. He then got on the end of a 63rd minute McCormack free kick which Stojkovic dived to his left to keep out. Jonathan climbed well at the far post on 78 minutes heading a Cissokho cross just over and was very unlucky on 91 minutes to see his header from a Grealish corner deflect inches over the bar off Mancienne. Once he gets one he will get more.

Substitutes:

Mark Bunn –  5 - Replaced Gollini for the second half. Will Steer get the odd game on our bench at some point?  

Rudy Gestede – 7 - Came on for Gardner on 65 minutes and hit our second on 74 minutes which should really have been our winning goal. He got a foot to Ayew’s cross and with his second touch hooked the bouncing ball down and into the net. This was a well taken goal.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis