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.
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!