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John

This was not a great game or performance from us but the mark of sides that get promoted is that they are able to grind out results when not at their very best and this is what we managed to do this afternoon.

We now stand seventh in the table having won our fourth successive league game. We are unbeaten in our last eight games and are just a point behind the three clubs immediately above us that occupy three of the four play-off positions. We are also only 4 points off Wolves who occupy the second of the automatic promotion places and we visit them next.

Bolton fought hard for something from this game. They were uncompromising and took full advantage of the lenience the referee gave to their challenges on our two strikers. Once we went in front it could be argued that the game was won given our visitors had not scored in their last six games. Win it we did but it was a little too close for comfort towards the end of the match and the referee’s whistle was much more welcome than the referee himself was.

Having won this battle between two founder members of the football league we now face an international break that is unwelcome as we have built a momentum that would be nice to build upon without any delay. Both teams now face a testing battle during the rest of this season at different ends of the table.

Bolton have a bit of a mountain to climb to hold onto the Championship status they claimed back last season having had their worst start to a season in 115 years. Although we increasingly have the look of a thoroughbred moving up through the field as the winning post approaches this race is not a sprint and today’s game demonstrated that we should not start counting our chickens just yet.       

My player ratings from a game that continued our winning and unbeaten league runs are:

Sam Johnstone – 6 – Got down well at his left-hand post to keep out a shot from outside of the box from Ameobe on 9 minutes. Got down again in the first minute of first half stoppage time to keep out an Armstrong effort. He looks solid.  

Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – A decent all-round performance.                

James Chester - 7 – Solid once again.    

John Terry – 7 – He is a rock in our solid defence.       

Neil Taylor - 6 – Made a nice 90th minute run but was fouled as he was about to pull the trigger on the edge of the box by Henry who was yellow carded as a result. Was then given a straight red 4 minutes later when a yellow seemed more appropriate for what was admittedly a rash high challenge on Le Fondre. No doubt we will be appealing this decision.  

Robert Snodgrass – 7 – Had a very decent shot from just inside of the area well saved at his near post by Howard on 79 minutes. Worked tirelessly and will improve further with more games.           

Glenn Whelan - 6 – Worked hard. Lost possession a couple of times but this was a steady enough display.   

Conor Hourihane – 6 – Did his job effectively but I think he is more valuable to us when given the opportunity to get forward more often.

Albert Adomah – 6 – A very good first half.              

Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – MOTM – Hit our winner from the spot on 39 minutes when Howard went left and he coolly hit the ball right. Headed a Adomah cross over the bar in the 3rd minute of first half stoppage time. Should have done better on 37 minutes when a superb long ball from Elmohamady fell to him as he moved into the box but instead of squaring the ball for the waiting unmarked Adomah to tap it into the net he hit the ball wide of the far post. Made up for that when he was brought down by Beevers for the penalty that he himself converted.      

Keinan Davis – 6 – Held and manhandled at every available opportunity by the defenders he came up against as was Kodjia who was also given little to no protection from the match officials other than when he was brought down for the penalty.           

Substitutes:

Scott Hogan – 6 – Replaced Kodjia on 72 minutes. Made a nice run into the box on 78 minutes having picked up a ball from Whelan but his shot was blocked by a defender. Looked good in the time he had to do so.    

Josh Onomah – 6 - Replaced Adomah on 73 minutes and did his bit to help steady the ship at the end.

Chris Samba – Replaced Snodgrass on 89 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating but did play a loose ball back shortly after coming on that could have cost us the win and then bravely got his head in the way of an on-target shot from Madine in the 5th minute of stoppage time to secure our victory.     

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

A super well-placed Conor Hourihane free-kick gave Villa the win in yesterday’s game between the only two of the five English teams that have lifted the European Cup that currently play outside of the top flight. Forest won that trophy in 1979 and 1980. Villa continued the Midlands domination of that cup competition in 1982 to become the fifth consecutive winners from England with Liverpool also having won the trophy in 1977, 1978 and in 1981. These two Midland clubs have sadly fallen from grace and have a long way to go to become anything approaching the teams that they were back then.    

Villa played well in the first half following a strong start to the game from our visitors. Our team produced some entertaining football with Adomah and Snodgrass both making some nice positive runs down each flank. Forest played their part in what was one of the better 45 minutes of football played at Villa Park in recent seasons. We scored one but the nagging thought remained that at the end of the game we might regret having not put at least one of our other first-half opportunities away.

Forest had a little too much of the ball for my liking in the first 45 minutes and that was even more the case in the second half. They were always going to get a chance or two given the amount of possession they were enjoying and they got the equaliser that many had feared they might on the 52nd minute. Fortunately, we bounced back with the goal that won it for us from our top goal scorer Hourihane on the hour and we managed to hang onto that lead until the close.   

The three points that we gained from yesterday’s win took us into the top half of the table. It gave us two consecutive league wins for the first time this season which took us just 2 points off the play-off places and within 7 points of the automatic promotion spots. We are still playing catch-up after our poor start to the season but we are at least in the process of catching up. Wins against Burton and Bolton next week that will put us on 4 wins from 4 games are now required to give us the momentum that we need.    

My player ratings from a game that we might well have drawn (which we did last season) are:

Sam Johnstone – 7 – Sealed our win when he showed his agility in pushing an 85th minute 30-yard Dowell free-kick that was played over our defensive wall and was heading for the top corner wide of the post with one hand. Had earlier been somewhat fortunate when he blocked a 55th minute Dowell shot with his right leg and it somehow deflected to safety past his left-hand post. Gathered a 57th minute Murphy header that went straight at him easily enough. Sam had the occasional wayward kick yesterday that led to a couple of throw-ins for the visitors but his confidence is there for all to see now and I hope we can make his loan into a permanent signing.

Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Forest targeted his wing as being a potential weak point for us from the start and had some element of success having done so.                

James Chester - 7 – Did well and again looked solid yesterday alongside JT.    

John Terry – 7 – Another composed and solid defensive performance. It was nice to see how much the win meant to him when the referee blew the final whistle.       

Neil Taylor - 7 – Comfortable at the back and looked good when moving forward. His best performance to date for us in my opinion.  

Robert Snodgrass – 7 – He gives us a lot and was a real threat on the wing but had understandably tired well before his 88th minute substitution due no doubt to his inactivity before joining us. Hit a nice cross on 33 minutes that Smith pushed out for a corner at the far post with Kodjia in close attention. 

Glenn Whelan - 4 – Started well enough but tired noticeably in the second half wanting to take too long on the ball at times and being caught or almost caught in possession on occasion. Claimed an unwanted assist for their equalizer when both he and Terry tried to take the ball off Murphy on the edge of the penalty area but his involuntary touch on the ball instead put the striker clear inside the box and his shot gave Johnstone no chance. Jedinak’s injury impacts on our ability to rotate Mile and Glenn as well as to bring one of them on when the other tires.   

Conor Hourihane – 8 – Hit our winner on the hour with a superb free kick that he bent around the wall and past Smith. A very good all-round midfield display throughout.

Albert Adomah – 8 – MOTM – Albert’s on fire, isn’t he? Hit our first goal after 15 minutes when he collected a splendidly measured ball played between two defenders into the box by Kodjia before rounding Smith and coolly slotting the ball home. Picked up a ball from Whelan just inside their half 3 minutes later and ran forward before cutting inside and hitting a shot from outside of the box that flew over the far post. Almost got on the end of a nice 56th minute ball into the box from Snodgrass that had just needed a touch at the near post. He was a constant problem to the visitors with his wide runs at their defenders.            

Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – Got a big assist for our opening goal with a perfect defence splitting pass that was reminiscent of the sort that Gordon Cowans used to hit at will. Hit a 36th minute shot that Smith gathered at the second attempt after Davis had found him inside of the box. We look so much more threatening with “Johnny Danger” back in the starting line-up.      

Keinan Davis – 7 – He holds the ball up and brings others into play so very well. Was found on the edge of the area by Snodgrass on 28 minutes and then showed some nice footwork before hitting a cross towards Kodjia that went wide of the far post.           

Substitutes:

Josh Onomah – 5 – Replaced Davis on 72 minutes. Found settling into this game and making an impression upon it a little more difficult than he would have hoped in the time he had available to do so.    

Scott Hogan – Replaced Kodjia on 79 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating.

Alan Hutton – Replaced Snodgrass on 88 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating but he did stiffen us up defensively as we looked to close the game out and made an early challenge that left no doubt whatsoever that he meant business.     

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

We made 11 changes from the team that won 3-0 at Barnsley on Saturday and paid the penalty for that with a cup exit (our first ever League Cup defeat against yesterday’s opponents). Not that we are alone in making significant changes in this cup competition and resting first team players at the drop of a hat as Middlesbrough made 10 changes themselves.

The League Cup was a really important trophy for around 40 years from the mid 60’s but it’s importance has faded to the extent that only 11,197 supporters attended this game. This game reminded me of those old Central League games that were played between reserve sides comprising of players who were out of favour, coming back from injury or potential first team players of the future. Crowds did not particularly flock in to see those games either.

Clubs mostly play teams that are pretty much unrecognisable from their first-team line ups until the last eight of the League Cup at least. We no longer have replays so that players do not face too many games in a season but those players do not play in the League Cup now anyway! The name of the competition has now become anyone’s guess with the sponsors having changed with great regularity since 1982 when the League Cup became the Milk Cup before morphing into a trophy that no club really makes a priority at the start of each season. It is a pity to see its demise.    

This game turned on the 57th minute when we conceded a penalty and the first goal from the spot. We also lost Elphick who was given a second yellow which brought us down to ten men for the rest of the game (this referee was far less determined to even things up than the one had been last week). Up until then there had been little to choose between these two second string outfits neither of whom seemed desperate to want to win this game.

Both teams produced a lack lustre performance last night and it could be argued that we didn’t really play much at all. The game seemed to be drifting towards a tame goalless draw, extra time and penalties until the penalty was awarded. That gave Boro the impetus and the place in the next round on a day few Villa players did anything significant to advance their case for a first team call-up. We are now left free to concentrate on the league and to bring on the first team.  

My player ratings from a game that extended the number of years we have gone without a League Cup Final appearance and a League Cup Final win beyond 8 and 22 years respectively are:

Jed Steer – 5 – Could only watch with relief when Bamford’s 26th minute header from a cross struck the bar with Hutton standing statuesque alongside the striker. Saved well low at his right-hand post to keep out a 30-yard shot from Forshaw on 36 minutes. Went left and Bamford struck his 58th minute spot kick down the middle. Caught in no-man’s land for their second when Bamford headed home a Tavernier cross at the near post that Bjarnason seemed to be trying to avoid making any contact with.

Ritchie De Laet – 5 – Made a good late run from well inside this own half on 92 minutes but his finish was high, wide and not very handsome. Headed the ball off the line on 89 minutes from a Taverier header or was it already marginally over?               

Tommy Elphick - 4 – Started comfortably enough and headed in from a Lansbury free-kick but was flagged offside. Earned a second yellow card and cost us the game on 57 minutes when he rashly brought down Bamford inside the box and reduced us to 10 men.    

Chris Samba – 6 – Did the simple things well enough and plays to his strengths.       

Alan Hutton - 6 – Started very well.  

Henri Lansbury – 6 – Sent off against these same opponents last Tuesday but was available to play having had his red card correctly rescinded. Went off with an injury on 41 minutes and we missed his experience.           

Jake Doyle-Hayes - 6 – Not as effective as he was in his last cup outing but he was very, very good on that day.   

Josh Onomah – 5 – Not at his best last night but few were. Had a 44th minute effort kept out at the far post by Konstantopoulos.

Calum O’Hare – 6 – MOTM – Make another good impression last night. Chased down apparently lost causes such as in the 34th minute when he went after a Hutton cross that seemed destined to go out of play and turned it back towards goal to force Konstantopoulos to stretch out a hand to avert the danger. Worked hard throughout just needs to try to add a cutting edge to his game.         

Birkir Bjarnason – 4 – Another disappointing display and he is clearly no full back.     

Scott Hogan – 5 – Could not quite turn a ball into the box in from close range on the hour mark. More was expected from him but he did not get a lot of service. Looked understandably unhappy to be substituted as were we to see him go given the match situation.            

Substitutes:

Ross McCormack – 5 – Replaced Lansbury on 41 minutes. Showed a couple of nice touches and looked like he might have turned home a 65th minute Samba header from a corner. Is it time to re-think bringing him back in from the cold?

Jordan Lyden – 5 - Replaced Hogan on 60 minutes. Made no particularly noticeable impression on the game in the time he had available.

Corey Blackett-Taylor – Replaced Onomah on 81 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating.     

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

This was an improved performance on the one that we witnessed on Saturday but it would have been difficult to have been worse than that! The team selection was a little more positive as were the substitutions made at half time that gave us two strikers at long last albeit against a team who were down to ten men. We enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession and created several chances but were sadly unable to put any of them away.

Another goalless home draw makes it seem a long time since we hit 4 at Villa Park but we did exactly that in the two home games we played prior to last Saturday’s game. These draws have done nothing to lift us nearer to the top six than the bottom six or to ease the pressure on our manager. Boro’s defence rode their luck at times last night but they were organised and determined. We got forward a lot last night but our final balls were often wayward and we lacked the confidence along with the luck to hit the back of the net when scoring opportunities arose. Given that we deserved to have won this one. 

So, we are left with just one league win from 7 games and are unbeaten in our last 4 matches. We have kept a second successive clean sheet but have not scored in those two games either. We are one of 5 clubs with 7 points but are the last placed of these clubs because we only have 7 goals from our 7 games. We are 3 points clear of Small Heath who head the 3 clubs who are sitting in the relegation zone but are 5 points off the play off places and 9 off the automatic promotion places. Make of that what you wish but we need to start scoring goals and to start winning rather than drawing games. We need to start by winning at Barnsley, at home to Bolton and at Burton. 16 points from 10 games would sound a lot better than 7 from 7. To do that we will need to start putting our chances away and keep it tight at the back. We will also need to play for wins. Here’s hoping!            

My player ratings from a game that showed that there really is not that much between these two teams (currently 4 points) are:

Sam Johnstone – 6 – Not frequently called upon but did very well on 71 minutes to keep out a shot from the edge of the box from Assombalonga that he turned past the post and had earlier flown across his goal to keep out a 3rd minute Gibson header.

Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Got forward in the first half but we had other wide players available to do that last night. Did ok at the back when called upon to do so.                

James Chester - 6 – A sound defensive performance when tested.    

John Terry – 6 – Solid and composed.       

Neil Taylor – 6 – Another steady defensive performance. Got forward more often although having done so his final ball sometimes went astray.  

Robert Snodgrass – 8 – MOTM – Robert was a real threat last night. Tried to turn home a 25th minute ball played to him on the edge of the box from Davis who had picked up a loose ball but his shot was collected by Randolph. Headed downwards on 36 minutes but it bounced nicely into Randolph’s hands. Hit a nice 40th minute cross over the keeper which was headed wide by Davis. Hit a decent 45th minute free kick from the edge of the box that was gathered near the post at the second attempt by Randolph. Hit the bar on 50 minutes with a fierce shot (which was perhaps unnecessarily so) after Randolph was only able to parry an Adomah cross in his direction.  

Henri Lansbury – 6 – Looked to be trying to take one for the team when he brought down Johnson from behind on 64th minute. That gave the referee the opportunity he had been waiting an hour for and without any hesitation he evened things up by showing Henri a straight red. It was a yellow card offence and a professional foul. I can’t recall seeing anyone getting a straight red for one of these but I suspect it was interpreted as a kick at the opponent. Left clear by a splendid chip over the defence by Taylor but Randolph scrambled the ball away.          

Mile Jedinak - 6 – A welcome return following injury and the 45 minutes he had will have shaken off a few cobwebs. Made way for Hogan at half time to give us another striker as we attempted to press for a goal against a team we then had a man advantage over.   

Conor Hourihane – 7 – Conor was the victim of an unnecessary and wild scissor like challenge from Traore that led to the once occasional Villa Player getting his marching orders after 4 minutes. Hit a speculative shot from 30 yards on 27 minutes that flew a couple of feet over the bar. He was so unlucky that Hogan got in the way of his goal bound shot on the goal line on 76 minutes. He then had a late opportunity to win the game on 94 minutes when a Snodgrass corner fell to him but his shot was off target and went wide of the near post.        

Birkir Bjarnason – 4 – A disappointing display. Snodgrass was found by a nice ball from Terry and ran into the box before hitting a chipped 40th minute cross that flew over Randolph and Christie but Birkir’s far post header was poorly directed and looped wide of that post.     

Keinan Davis– 6 – Worked hard and does hold the ball up well hopefully he can add an increasing goal threat to his overall game.            

Substitutes:

Albert Adomah – 7 – Replaced Bjarnason at half time and made a positive impression.

Scott Hogan – 6 - Replaced Jedinak at half time. Headed the ball onto the roof of the net on 68 minutes. Needs to start games no doubt he will have to wait a week for that.  

Jonathan Kodjia – 7 - Replaced Davis on 70 minutes. Nice to see him back in a Villa shirt and hopefully he can provide the goals we have recently been so short of. Got on the end of a teasing cross from Snodgrass and his far post header was helped onto the bar by Randolph before falling to Hourihane whose shot was cleared off the line by our own player. Headed a Hourihane free kick just over on 80 minutes.      

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

Despite selling players like there is no tomorrow in the last two transfer windows and being second from bottom of the table both before and after this game our visitors have not tasted defeat in their last three games against us.

The Bees drew at Villa Park last season and did the same yesterday. This result has put as huge a dent in our confidence and has placed similar doubts upon our promotion prospects as had our 1-1 home draw against Brentford last September. 

We need to approach home games with a view to winning them rather than to not losing them. The onus is on us to crate chances and to put those chances away. Playing two forwards up front would be a good place to start. We were poor in the first half and were even worse in the second.

Whilst our overall performance yesterday was unacceptable the result was no less than our visitors deserved and they were clearly the better team. We were fortunate to end the game with a point. They may still be in the bottom three but they were very well organised, looked by some way the most likely of the two teams to break the deadlock and comfortably handled a team that are only three points and five places above them.

Brentford dictated the course of the game all too easily. They bossed the midfield, dealt comfortably with what little threat we produced up front and unlike us produced good scoring opportunities aplenty. They had a plan and we didn’t. They were well organised where we were not. We have the better squad on paper but it did not look like it on Saturday!

Steve Bruce admitted in his post-game interview with BBC Radio WM that we “didn’t play with the energy or the spark that was required”. He also admitted that he “should have done better and freshened us up”. He went on to add that “at 3 – 4 o’clock yesterday (Davis, Green and Onomah) weren’t going to play but wanted to play this morning, unfortunately all three of them have come off injured and looked jaded and tired”. I would have hoped that Hogan, Snodgrass and Lansbury had also wanted to play having had a less arduous week. He added looking forward to our next game, “We’ll be better than what we were today”. We will need to be!   

We dropped too many points at home last season and have now dropped 4 points from our first 3 home games of this new season. We gave ourselves too much ground to make up on the teams that ended up battling for promotion last season due to our early run of disappointing results. We are now 10 points behind leaders Cardiff, 8 points behind Leeds, 7 points behind Wolves and 4 points behind 6th placed Middlesbrough who we play next Tuesday. We are currently 18th in the league and have only 6 points from our first 6 games of the season. Our previous manager left when the club occupied 19th place having taken 10 points from the first 11 league games of last season and having been 10 points off the play-off places. Say no more!

The 2 points that we dropped yesterday need to be made up sooner rather than later. We cannot afford to be cut adrift as we were last season with too much ground to make up on the promotion contenders. The visit of Boro provides us with an early opportunity to make some amends. They won 3-0 at Bolton yesterday to take themselves into the last of the play-off positions. Given that, a draw might have just been acceptable before we drew our second home game of the season yesterday although we do really need to win home games against the clubs that we hope to be competing with for a promotion place at the end of this season. We now cannot afford to drop further home points against Boro. A defeat on Tuesday would take the gap between the two clubs up to 7 points after only 7 games but if we perform anything like we did yesterday it is hard to see us making up any ground on them.        

My player ratings from a game that gave us a stark and unpleasant reminder of how we fared last season are:

Sam Johnstone – 8 – MOTM – Quite simply we would have lost this game without him. Did very well to block a 57th minute Clarke shot with his right leg after the player had run into the box having been put clear. Parried and then held a Barbet free kick from the edge of the box on the hour mark. Did well to turn a 72nd minute Watkins shot past the far post and pushed a 76th minute shot from the edge of the box from the same player past his left-hand post.

James Bree – 6 – Did well enough at the back.               

James Chester - 6 – Wanted too long to bring an 85th minute Snodgrass cross that had flown above Hogan to him under control which allowed Bentley the chance to smother his eventual effort.    

John Terry – 6 – Made a 19th minute mistake that presented the ball to an opponent on the edge of the box but his blushes were spared when Whelan cleared the danger.       

Neil Taylor – 6 – Another steady defensive display.  

Ahmed Elmohamady – 4 – Did not make enough of an impression on the game. Headed a cross from Green well over on 52 minutes and had 79th minute appeal for a penalty rejected when Dalsgaard took the ball before he went down.

Josh Onomah – 6 – The best of our midfield by some distance yesterday before he left the field on the hour due to injury. Snatched at a nice 9th minute Green cross hitting the ball wide of the post.         

Glenn Whelan – 4 – Needed to try playing the ball forward instead of behind him more often.  

Conor Hourihane – 5 – Did not get forward often enough and would have benefited from having Lansbury alongside him in my opinion.        

Andre Green – 6 – Substituted on the hour due to a hamstring injury and he will be missed. Dropped too deep at times but he was not alone in that and he did play a couple of decent balls into the box.     

Keinan Davis– 6 – Held the ball up well when he had the opportunity to do so but he was left very isolated up front, short of service and played with no support alongside him. Hit a 21st minute shot from the edge of the box that went just wide of the post. Onomah found him well inside the box on 26 minutes but he sliced the ball into the side netting.            

Substitutes:

Robert Snodgrass – 6 – Replaced Green on 60 minutes and showed signs of good things to come from him in the future.   

Scott Hogan – 5 - Replaced Davis on 60 minutes. Made a good run inside the box and was found by a ball from Onomah on 67 minutes but his attempt to square the ball from close range but a tight angle was intercepted by Bentley’s left hand at the near post. He needs to start and to have another striker playing alongside him.   

Gabby Agbonlahor – 4 - Replaced the injured Onomah on 71 minutes. I could not help but think that the creativity of Lansbury or the running of Bjarnason would have been a better option. He made no noticeable positive impact upon the game.       

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

Villa scored four goals at home for the second time in four days yesterday despite making 11 changes from the team that defeated Norwich on Saturday.

Our League 1 table-topping visitors also made the same number of changes. It seems clear from this that both clubs are prioritising promotion rather than cup glory this season although a visit to Wembley might yet be needed to secure promotion for both teams via the play-offs.

This was a much better game than I had anticipated it would be and it was free for season ticket holders! It has often been said that “you don’t get anything for nothing” this phrase was recently used by the new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for example but we season ticket holders did get something for nothing last night we got to witness another goal fest at B6 for free!

Scoring four goals in consecutive games for the first time since 2008 (when we scored 4, 6 & 5 goals in 3 successive games the first and last of which were home games) could well lead to Villa Park soon becoming known once again as fortress Villa Park. Make it so Villa!

It was nice to see youth getting a chance in the first team again last night and it paid off once again. Most players that would be expected to be called upon on Friday for the visit to Bristol City got a game off. The young players that replaced them impressed and that can only be good for both them and for our football club.

We might not win this cup or go much further in this competition but we have not yet embarrassed ourselves with the sort of inept performances we have produced in losing to lower league opponents in the recent past. For a second time within a week we performed well for 90 minutes and scored goals for fun. A third win on Friday might suggest that we really have turned the corner after what was an unexpectedly poor start to this season.

My player ratings from a game that took us into the last 16 of the League Cup that we last won way back in 1996 are:

Jed Steer – 6 – Looks an able deputy for Johnstone. Was fortunate late on when an 89th minute effort from Hunt struck his legs rather than the back of the net.        

James Bree – 6 – My primary concern with James being selected tonight as well as De Laet is that this suggests Hutton might be being saved to start on Friday night for some reason that is beyond me! James looked confident and competent last night both at full back in the first half and then when switched to the centre of our defence in the second.               

Ritchie De Laet - 6 – Looked as adaptable as Bree did when he changed position with him from playing as a central defender alongside Elphick in the first half to playing as a full back in the second during which he made a couple of decent runs forward. Was beaten a little too easily by Colclough who then ran on to slot the ball into the corner of the net past Steer for their 43rd minute goal but he then claimed a big assist for our fourth goal.    

Tommy Elphick – 6 – Gave a steady and solid enough central defensive performance working alongside two defenders who would not be expected to feature too often in the centre of our defence. Hit a speculative 30 yard shot on 58 minutes that went wide of the post.       

Mitchell Clark – 6 – Did well on his debut looking solid and comfortable in his role throughout. Hit a 10th minute shot from the edge of the box after an Adomah corner had been partially cleared that Jones pushed out for a corner at his right-hand post.  

Albert Adomah – 7 – Performed at a level above what we have seen from him of late and sustained a good performance throughout the game rather than for say 45 minutes or less as has sometimes been the case previously. Hit our second goal on 36 minutes when he connected sweetly and first time with a cross from Bjarnason to send it rocketing into the roof of the net.

Gary Gardner – 5 – Below his best last night as he has been for a while now. This may well be the last that we see of him in our shirt. Injury problems have hindered his development as I think has the holding midfield role he has often been asked to play as was the case last night. Gary looked to have a bright future with us showing an early ability to pick a pass (as he did last night in the build up to our first goal) and to find the back of the net himself but he is now looking to move on to play first team football more regularly. I hope this will soon see him performing at the sort of level he did when on loan at Forest for example (but not against us).          

Jake Doyle-Hayes – 8 – MOTM – We might well have witnessed the emergence of a second significant young talent within less than a week yesterday. Jake did the simple things well, made some good strong challenges, has the happy habit of finding one of his own players more often than not and pretty much dominated the midfield until his 78th minute substitution. A very impressive performance that will surely see him start our next cup tie and challenge for a place on the bench in future league games in the same way as O’Hare has.  

Birkir Bjarnason – 7 – Looked a lot more up for this game than he had done in recent appearances. Needs to get as involved in future games as he was in this one on a consistent basis in order to challenge for a starting place. Might have added a third on the 42nd minute when Hogan found him inside the box but he took a touch which enabled Jones to claim the ball. Scored our fourth on 74 minutes. De Laet made a good run from within his own half before hitting a cross that hurried behind Hogan but Bikir made a determined run that put him in front of a defender and he hit the ball home well. He also had a decent header kept out by Jones 10 minutes later.        

Callum O’Hare – 7 – Showed signs of promise as he did in his previous appearance in this cup competition. Worked tirelessly and showed some nice touches. Got down where it hurts on the 40th minute when trying to get the ball in after a De Laet header from a corner. Hit a good cross on 45 minutes that Hogan was not quite able to stretch enough to be able to turn it into the net.     

Scott Hogan – 8 – O’Hare played a ball to Scott on 8 minutes that he took into the box before wrong footing a defender and seeing his shot blocked by Jones at the near post. Gardner headed a 12th minute corner forward that Scott headed onto the crossbar. Opened the scoring on 19 minutes when a nicely weighted ball from Gardner found Adomah whose low cross into the box was turned in with his outstretched right foot. Scored his second and our third of the night on 44 minutes to restore our 2-goal cushion when he picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box turned and lashed the ball into the corner of the net. Headed a ball into the box from Adomah straight at Jones on 65 minutes. Scott was substituted on 81 minutes to put an end to his search for a third goal.           

Substitutes:

Ross McCormack – 6 – Replaced O’Hare on 73 minutes for a very rare Villa appearance. Was he in the shop window? Most likely but if so he did himself no harm showing he retains the ability to bring others into play in the final third as well as an awareness of the need to find space for himself in the box.   

Jordan Lyden – Replaced Doyle-Hayes on 78 minutes. A welcome return to first team action but he was not on quite long enough to gather a rating.

Easah Suliman – Replaced Hogan on 81 minutes and bravely blocked a fierce Burgess shot on 94 minutes. Our England U-19 UEFA European Championship winner was not on long enough to earn a rating.      

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

John

We scored four goals at Villa Park for the first time in three years yesterday. Conor Hourihane scored our first hat-trick for two years and his own first. This our first win of the season took us from the bottom of the table up to 16th place. We also left the ground with smiles on our faces rather than frowns after this goal fest.  

We conceded two goals and at times looked too shaky for comfort at the back. That is enough of negativity which was far outweighed by the positives yesterday. We scored four, could easily had another two and we played positive, flowing, attacking football. Each time they scored and threatened to peg us back we responded with a goal of our own to ease our fraying nerves.  

Let us hope that this result marks a turning point in our season. An away win at Bristol City on Friday looks far less unlikely than it did on Saturday morning and that would take us into the top half of the table and within reach of the top six. Make it so Villa!

My player ratings from a game that demonstrated that you can win games with kids are:

Sam Johnstone – 6 – Had hearts in mouths when he raced outside of his box on the 38th minute when attempting to intercept a ball that had gone past our defenders but narrowed the angle well on the 50th minute when Naismith’s near post shot hit the side netting. Had little chance with both of their goals.         

Alan Hutton – 4 – Given a tough afternoon particularly in the minutes prior to his 64th minute substitution by the lively and pacey Murphy. Hutton allowed him to get goal side of him for their first on the hour mark and was beaten easily 2 minutes later by the same player whose cross led to a goalmouth melee that was settled by a clearance from Johnstone. Difficult to see a reason for him to continue to start games instead of either Bree or De Laet given his current form.             

James Chester - 6 – Really should have been on target with an unchallenged diving header from a 55th minute Hourihane free kick that flew harmlessly over the bar.     

John Terry – 6 – Neither he nor Taylor picked up Oliveira in the 79th minute when the forward was left unmarked to hit their second.        

Neil Taylor – 6 – A solid enough defensive display and he also got forward well at times. 

Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – Hit the bar in the 4th minute of stoppage time after Bree had switched the ball back to him inside of the box.

Josh Onomah – 6 – Substituted on the half hour having sustained an injury.          

Glenn Whelan – 7 – Much more involved yesterday and this played a part in Conor and Henri having the opportunity to move forward more often than they had been doing previously. Hit an on-target effort from the edge of the box on 37 minutes which was inadvertently blocked by Davis.

Conor Hourihane – 9 – MOTM – As the late Bruce Forsyth often said, “Didn’t he do well?” It is not often that a midfield player gets a hat-trick but Conor did so yesterday producing the sort of performance he regularly gave for Barnsley which led us to sign him. He needs to have licence to get forward where he can be so dangerous from now onwards. Davis threaded the ball between 2 defenders on the 19th minute to Conor but he hit his shot across the face of goal and inches wide. Onomah then won the ball near the half way line before hitting a nice ball for Davis to run onto. Keinan proceeded to hit a low cross that went between the goalkeeper and a defender before reaching Conor near the far post who hit home our 22nd minute opener with assurance. Lansbury fed Conor from a Taylor free-kick and his 68th minute 30-yard shot took a deflection off a defender on its way past the keeper and into the corner of the net. He completed his hat-trick on the 85th minute when Elmohamady found him in a central position a couple of yards outside of the box and he struck the ball low into the right-hand corner of the net. Almost turned home a fourth goal on 89 minutes but that effort was blocked.      

Andre Green – 8 – Lansbury found him on the edge of the box on the 42nd minute and he then picked his spot curling the ball around a defender and into the top right-hand corner of the net to give us our second goal of the afternoon. He will do well to score a better goal than this one for us! Hit a 70th minute shot from the edge of the box just wide of the post and should have had a second goal to his name on the 94th minute when Elmohamady’s shot bounced to him off the bar only for his header to find Gunn’s hands rather than the back of the net.     

Keinan Davis – 9 – Looked very, very promising yesterday. Held the ball up and led the line very well. Refused to be knocked off the ball and utilised his strength and determination throughout to give the central defenders he was up against a very difficult afternoon. Won the ball from Zimmermann on the 2nd minute and ran inside the box before hitting a shot which was blocked by the advancing Gunn’s legs. Taylor then found Green on the edge of the box whose inch perfect 16th minute cross was met by Davis but Gunn did well to get a hand to his header to keep it out. Ran onto a strong 24th minute header from inside his own half by Whelan and having got the better of a defender hit an effort from the edge of the box that struck the top of the crossbar. Denied by Gunn on the 64th minute when he ran onto a ball from Lansbury but could not turn the ball past the keeper.           

Substitutes:

Henri Lansbury – 6 – Replaced Onomah on 30 minutes. Was not quite able to slide in to make contact with a good 35th minute Hourihane cross into the box. Looked to be belatedly in the process of forming a decent partnership alongside Conor today and he has surely done enough to start games from now on? 

James Bree – 6 - Replaced Hutton on 64 minutes and we looked more secure after that.

Chris Samba – Replaced Davis on 87 minutes. Was not on long enough to earn a rating.      

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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



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