Two defeats within a week have consigned us to a fourth season outside of the top flight. Fans bought half season tickets a couple of months ago in the hope of witnessing a strong second half of the season. They will now be resigning themselves to the fact that half of the games that they paid for have now become meaningless end of season fixtures for our football club.
We started well but we just don’t make good starts into goals and half time leads, do we? Instead we concede goals freely and find ourselves too often having to try to pull home games out of the fire in the second half. There was to be no stirring late comeback this time.
We had 63% of the possession, 11 shots to their 10, 9 corners to their 2 but they had the two goals and ran out comfortable winners. We probably shaded it before they scored, but the first goal was always going to be crucial in this game. When it came and was followed by another 4 minutes later, that effectively ended the game as a contest. Albion were content to hold onto what they had, and we were too easily beaten. Our primary second half ambition seemed to focus on damage limitation rather than on a concerted attempt to try and throttle those annoying Throstles. Even so, had we managed to put away one or two of the chances we made, we might have witnessed an unlikely comeback again.
We are 7 points behind Boro and Derby who are sixth and seventh. We play both of these sides at home in what is left of this season. On paper we could therefore draw within 4 points of each by winning those two home games but let’s face it we cannot buy a win. We have only won 6 of our 17 home league games to date and have one win from our last nine games.
Rodriguez’s hand stole 2 points from us in December and it was in that game that we had last looked like serious promotion contenders. This time it was his foot and a second goal just before half time that was deflected past Kalinic that prematurely ended our season. On both occasions the referees acted as Albion’s twelfth man.
My player ratings from a game before which we paid tribute to Gordon Banks, who was England’s best goalkeeper and to Ian Ross who was a rock-solid Villa defender and the captain of our 1975 League Cup winning team are:
Lovre Kalinic – 5 – Saved low to his left from Murphy on 23 minutes having earlier dropped and then gathered a routine 20th minute ball into the box at the second attempt. Stood no real chance with Robson-Kanu’s 41st minute header which looped over him from a Holgate cross after Green had allowed him too much space wide on the right. Beaten again 4 minutes later from the edge of the box by a Rodriguez shot that took a deflection off Elphick and went in off his left-hand post. He had been dazed by a 21st minute collision with Livermore that resulted in his substitution at half time.
Alan Hutton – 4 – What he provides going forward was not compensated by his defensive lapses yesterday. Murphy left him in his wake too often and too easily.
Tommy Elphick - 6 – Made an important 4th minute challenge on Holgate. Hourihane’s 48th minute corner found him at the far post and his header was deflected onto the top of the crossbar off Dawson.
Tyrone Mings – 7 – MOTM – Booked for strongly yet correctly pointing out to the referee that he had played the ball out of play, off Rodriguez so it should have been a goal kick rather than a corner after Hutton had allowed the forward to run clear of him. Solid and composed in the centre of our defence again. Might need some persuading to make his loan deal permanent in the summer but we should make that a priority.
Kortney Hause – 6 – Looked decent yesterday and will get better with the increased match fitness that more first team games will result in. Headed a 30th minute Hourihane free kick well over the crossbar.
Glenn Whelan – 5 – Glenn wasn’t our least effective midfield performer yesterday.
John McGinn – 6 – Picked up the booking that has always appeared inevitable that will result in a 2-game suspension for our most effective and consistent midfielder. Hit a 30 yard shot that Johnstone dived to his left to push away for a corner.
Conor Hourihane – 4 – Doesn’t contribute much other than his ability to hit a corner and a free-kick well. Stretched to reach the ball in the build up to their second but Rodriguez came away with it and then moved to Hutton’s left without the defender attempting to put in a challenge before hitting the ball past Kalinic.
Andre Green – 5 – Hit a 2nd minute shot wide of the post from the edge of the box but didn’t make much of an impact upon this game.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – Did well, particularly in the first half. Glanced a near post header from an 81st minute McGinn corner just wide of the far post.
Tammy Abraham – 6 – He was in the right place at the right time twice but this time he was unable to put his chances away. Even Tammy showed he can’t do it every time yesterday. Hause got a firm header on a Johnstone kick that Elmo controlled near the left-hand edge of the box before finding Tammy unmarked near the penalty spot. His touch was poor, and Johnstone smothered his side footed attempt on goal. Climbed well between 2 defenders to head an 84th minute Hause cross just wide of the far post
Jed Steer – 6 – Came on for the injured Kalanic at the beginning of the second half.
Jacob Ramsey - 5 – Replaced Hourihane on 61 minutes. It was asking a lot of this youngster to expect him to come on and make an impression in this game with the die already cast. Understandably took some time to settle into the game. McGinn played a nice ball that found him within the box on 94 minutes, but he attempted a cross which was blocked when he might have been better having a pot himself. Hit a shot wide of the post from the resulting McGinn corner.
Jonathan Kodjia - 4 - Came on for Green on 71 minutes and has looked keener to try to make an impact on games in the past when coming off the bench.
Up the Villa!
This was an unbelievable, outstanding, incredible, amazing, astonishing, sensational, surprising, unexpected, remarkable, dramatic and thrilling comeback!
With eight minutes of normal time remaining Sheffield United were temporarily on top of the league and were a seemingly comfortable three goals ahead. By the end of the game that lead had disappeared before their very eyes, their promotion hopes had been blunted, and they found themselves shell shocked and sitting back in third place where they had been at the start of this astounding game.
Our visitors bossed the first half on our own patch. They picked up where they had left off at Bramall Lane 5 months earlier and showed how much they wanted to finish the game in top spot by dominating the early stages of the game. We were caught on the back foot and had looked a very poor second best.
This extraordinary result was achieved despite the match officials showing that they could match Mr Magoo and Arsene Wenger by not seeing that Sharp was offside when Dowell hit the ball in the build up to their second goal before compounding that error by not noticing that he had gone on to kick the ball out of Kalinic’s hands. That goal had been allowed when we were threatening to get back into the game and looked to have extinguished our hopes as did later decisions to ignore late penalty appeals by Mings and McGinn, but we were determined not to be denied by inept officiating.
This exhilarating late, late show admittedly only earned us a point, but this outstanding comeback showed both resilience and character. We might yet look back on this night, on which we snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat as a turning point in our season. It could possibly have as positive an impact on our remaining games as it threatens to have a negative effect on our visitor’s promotion chances. Stranger things have happened, this comeback being just one example. We just need to play for the whole of each game like we did at the end of this one from now onwards!
My player ratings from a game that took us within one win off the final play-off spot are:
Lovre Kalinic – 5 – Dived to his left on 5 minutes to block a Baldock shot from the edge of the box. Could only parry Dowell’s 53rd minute shot from outside of the area onto Madine’s head. His header struck the far post and Sharp kicked the ball into the net and out of Lovre’s grasp for his second. Gathered a 77th minute McGoldrick shot from just inside the left edge of the box at the second attempt.
Alan Hutton – 5 – Picked up a loose attempted headed clearance just outside the box on 56 minutes but his shot went harmlessly over the bar. Sharp peeled off Hutton to head home a 62nd minute Dowell cross but sometimes a hat-trick is not quite enough!
Tommy Elphick - 6 – Made a good challenge on Madine as he looked to turn in a 51st minute Baldock cross. Solid alongside Tyrone.
Tyrone Mings – 8 – MOTM – Silenced his vocal critics from South Yorkshire with a towering performance and what had appeared to have been a late nicely headed consolation goal from an 82nd minute Hourihane corner. Pulled down by Basham as he made ground inside the box to reach the ball, but his penalty appeal was ignored by the referee. Comfortable on the ball and played the ball out of defence very well.
Neil Taylor – 4 – Made Baldock look like the Brazilian Cafu at times on a night for him to forget. Not a great exhibition of defending again.
Mile Jedinak – 4 – Unsurprisingly looked short of pace on his return to the starting line-up.
John McGinn – 6 – Screwed a shot wide from the edge of the area on 83 minutes. Held by Stevens on 93 minutes as he looked to reach a ball played into the box by Hourihane, but his penalty appeals fell on deaf ears. Worked hard as usual.
Conor Hourihane – 5 – Hit a 71st minute free kick from the edge of the box that Henderson parried away. Not contributing much other than his undoubted dead ball prowess.
Anwar El Ghazi – 5 – Nice to see him tracking back a bit. Still lacking the end product that he produced at WBA though.
Jonathan Kodjia – 5 – Some nice touches and looked keen to be involved at times prior to his substitution.
Tammy Abraham – 7 – He had drifted well behind the goal line as the corner came over for their first, so he was unable to prevent the ball going over the line when Sharp put in Madine’s far post header back across goal. Elphick hit a shot from the left of the area that Henderson didn’t hold and instead pushed into Tammy’s path at the far post with the inevitable consequences on 86 minutes (goal number 20!). Didn’t enjoy a lot of service but worked hard and his late goal sparked what had seemed fanciful hopes of a draw.
Andre Green - 6 – Replaced Kodjia on 65 minutes and completed our remarkable comeback with a sweet far post header from a McGinn cross on 94 minutes. Worth a start in my opinion.
Glenn Whelan – 6 - Came on for Jedinak on 66 minutes and made a difference to the game.
Up the Villa!
This should have been a more comfortable win. We had the chances to have put the game out of sight before our penalty gave us a two-goal cushion. As we all know a two-goal lead can more than occasionally not prove enough for us. This so nearly proved to be the case again yesterday.
Our visitors who had for 75 minutes looked like a team that were on the bottom of the table and destined to give us a rare routine victory were injected with belief by a goal out of nothing by Sears.
After that goal our insecurities and defensive frailties were exposed, and we were left clinging on to the win as our opponents suddenly realised a point might be there for the taking after all. Had it not been for the timely intervention of a post and the hand of Tommy, we might even have somehow managed to lose this one.
Nevertheless, win we did for the first time at Villa Park in two months. This win needs to be followed up by our signing of much needed reinforcements before the transfer window slams shut next week and by a win at Reading next weekend who like Ipswich also occupy one of the relegation places.
This timely win has moved us back into the top half of the table and above Small Heath who now occupy a more accustomed place in the bottom half themselves. We are also within four points of sixth place and another ticket to the play off lottery.
My player ratings from a game during which we rediscovered that winning feeling are:
Lovre Kalinic – 6 – The clean sheet that appeared likely for much of this game would have done a lot to boost Lovre’s confidence. Stood no realistic chance with their goal which was sweetly struck by Sears from 30 yards and flew past him at speed into the top corner of the net. Gathered a 45th minute Chalobah shot in the centre of his goal. Should have had that yellow card when he was booked for time wasting when waiting for a substitution to be made rescinded, but the referee is always right even when he’s wrong!
Alan Hutton – 6 – He again looked at his best when he was getting forward.
James Chester - 5 – Did well enough, given that he is carrying an injury.
Tommy Elphick – 6 – Quaner ran between Chester and Tommy before going past Kalinic and hitting a shot which Elphick blocked with his trailing arm as he fell with Chester behind him covering on the line on 73 minutes. He was the best of our defenders yesterday.
Neil Taylor – 5 – Will he still be our first choice when this transfer window has closed?
Glenn Whelan – 6 – Did what we have come to expect but was more effective than of late at doing it, he understandably tired in the second half.
John McGinn – 8 – Hit a shot wide of the post on 4 minutes after Abraham had found him inside of the box. Turned superbly leaving Skuse for dead before running towards the and hitting a 31st minute shot that was too hot for Bialkowski to hold but Adomah was ruled offside when he hit the spilled ball into the net. Turned inside the box on 33 minutes and hit a shot that was not firm enough to seriously trouble Bialkowski who made a comfortable save at his left-hand post.
Hit a 41st minute shot from outside of the box that Bialkowski was unable to hold onto but Collins was on hand to put the loose ball out for a corner. Hit a 53rd minute Hutton cross wide of the post and then hit a 64th minute Taylor cross over the bar. John was prevented by Judge from getting on the end of a Hourihane corner which resulted in the penalty that produced our second goal. On another day he could have scored a couple of goals himself. Importantly John continues to avoid the 10th yellow card that would bring him a 2-game suspension.
Conor Hourihane – 6 – Hit a 35th minute free kick from outside of the box that Bialkowski held at the second attempt as Abraham came in intent on adding a second. Hit another on 43 minutes that the keeper saved more routinely. His dead ball delivery was again impressive.
Albert Adomah – 5 – A marked improvement on last week’s display. Looked more interested, had an impact upon the game and could have gathered some much-needed confidence had his 31st minute finish not been ruled offside. Worked well with Hutton but can do better.
Anwar El Ghazi – 5 – Looked brighter than of late and more energetic but he is lacking an end product. He has shown that he can be more of a threat to defences than this.
Tammy Abraham – 8 – MOTM – Where would we be without his goals? Tammy weighed in with another brace yesterday. Hit our early 6th minute opener when he got in front of the visitor’s defence to be first to and to prod home Hourihane’s perfectly placed free kick. Coolly sent Bialkowski the wrong way from the penalty spot on 61 minutes, stroking the ball into the right-hand corner.
Forced a save from Bialkowski on 36 minutes with a header from a McGinn cross and another on 65 minutes when he tipped his shot over the crossbar. Had a tame effort saved on 85 minutes but almost added a late third on 88 minutes when his shot was blocked at close range by the busy Bialkowski at his left-hand post.
Ahmed Elmohamady - 4 – Replaced Adomah on 68 minutes and demonstrated why he is currently spending his time on the bench rather than starting when he came on.
Jonathan Kodjia - Came on for Whelan on 78 minutes. Looked busy and better than he has done of late in the time he had on the field, but he was not on long enough to gather a rating.
Mile Jedinak – Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Replaced El Ghazi on 85 minutes to stiffen our defensive resolve, so that we would hold on to what we had. Not on long enough to earn a rating.
Up the Villa!
We gained a point from a losing position rather than lost points from a winning one for a change yesterday.
We were nothing short of appalling in the first half and made it all too easy for Hull. Given our form of late, more than a few of us could see this one coming. Chester’s timely goal came just before half time and it gave us some grounds for hope where there had previously been none.
If there was anything positive to be taken from this game, it was that we awoke in the second half to come back from two goals down to claim a point. A point was not enough however, and Hull showed that they are not quite as good as their 6-game winning run might have suggested when they were belatedly put under some pressure yesterday. What they do have is the confidence that a good run of results brings in comparison to the lack of it and the anxiety that we currently suffer from due to our own ongoing dismal run.
Unfortunately, although there was plenty of time left after our equalizer to complete the recovery and to take all three points, we didn’t really look like doing so and the team seemed to lack the belief that they could go on to win the game. It seemed many of them, unlike the fans were perhaps a little too readily content with another “Desmond”.
What has happened to the Villa that won at Derby, Boro and deserved to win at the Albion? We have clearly missed both Jack and Axel but to take just 7 points from our last 7 games is simply not good enough.
We now find ourselves in the bottom half of the table and 7 points adrift of sixth place. Had we managed 14 points from our last 7 games (which didn’t seem quite so unlikely back then) we would have 46 points rather than 39 and would now be 6th rather than 13th. We would also be within touching distance of the top 2 rather than having all but written off any lingering hopes of making the play offs.
Let’s hope we can win another one of the games that appeared winnable a few short weeks ago next weekend. Hopefully we can use that to start the winning run that we need to start sooner rather than later, if not to start a late promotion run to give us some pride back. Not giving our visitors a 2-goal start would go some way to achieving that against bottom of the table Ipswich.
My player ratings from a game that left us top of the bottom half of the table once again are:
Lovre Kalinic – 5 – Beaten low at his left-hand post by Bowen’s first from the edge of the box on 27 minutes and he will be disappointed by that as were we. Had little chance with their second, with the unmarked Evandro’s well hit shot deflecting off Taylor on the line into the roof of the net. Blocked a 25th minute header from Burke at his near post. He then prevented us from surrendering all 3 points to the visitors on 90 minutes with a superb save from a point-blank Martin shot.
Alan Hutton – 5 – His cross produced our second goal.
James Chester - 6 – Gave us a lifeline when he got his head to Hourihane’s 45th minute free kick. Did incredibly well to hook Elphick’s deflection on a Grosicki shot off the line in the 8th minute after Hourihane had lost possession at the start of the move.
Tommy Elphick – 6 – Produced another steady enough performance in the centre of our brittle defence.
Neil Taylor – 5 – Produced an improved second half display. One strong second half challenge was rather memorable, and he did very well to get back to clear a dangerous cross from the 6-yard box on 73 minutes. He stuck out a leg in an attempt to poke the ball clear on the edge of the area, but it invitingly fell straight to Bowen a couple of yards to his left from where he hit their opener.
Birkir Bjarnason – 4 – He put himself about but has looked a pale imitation of the player he was earlier this season since his return from injury. Headed a 49th minute Hutton cross wide of the far post. A couple of times yesterday as he chased after and wrestled down opponents in the middle of the field, he looked more like a Keystone cop from the silent movie era rather than an international footballer. Might be worth another shot in the deeper role that Conor has been trying to fill. Substituted on 75 minutes.
John McGinn – 8 – MOTM – Ran the show and battled gamely on but others around him declined to follow his excellent example for far too long. Kept trying to move us forward, worked tirelessly and shone brightly throughout the game. Hit a 56th minute shot wide from an Abraham cross and hit a shot from outside of the box over 12 minutes later.
Conor Hourihane – 5 – Hit a perfectly placed free kick for our first but he clearly cannot fill the deep midfield role where he looks uncomfortable and a bit of a fish out of water. He works hard but lacks the pace of some opponents he comes up against and is unfamiliar with what is expected from him in this role. His place in the team should be in the opposition half, where he has been effective rather than in our own where he is not.
Albert Adomah – 3 – Only began to look partly interested in the second half after what I’m sure will have been a quiet word from the boss during the interval. He was substituted on 59 minutes as understandably Dean’s patience with him had been exhausted some time earlier. Made little to no contribution during the first half.
Yannick Bolasie – 3 – See Albert’s rating above. Yannick mirrored his none performance and I found myself checking half way through the first half that he was still on the field given the scarcity of his contribution to the game.
Tammy Abraham – 7 – This game should have been a celebration of Tammy’s decision to continue his loan spell with us but our sorry performance last week as well as in the first half yesterday unfortunately put paid to that. Suffered from a lack of service in the first half but always looked for the ball and hit our 64th minute equalizer when after having his first attempt at a low cross from Hutton blocked by a defender, he stepped over him to hit the ball past Marshall at the second attempt.
Anwar El Ghazi - 5 – Replaced Bolasie on 59 minutes. He was on the bench today having given a couple of the sort of performances that Albert and Yannick produced today since his terrific display at The Hawthorns last month. This was a somewhat brighter display.
Jonathan Kodjia - 5 – Came on for Adomah on 59 minutes and provided a little of the energy that we had been lacking.
Andre Green – 6 - Replaced Bjarnason on 75 minutes. Showed some pace and desire on his return from his loan at Portsmouth but he also hit an 86th minute cross over from close range when a winner looked his for the taking.
Up the Villa!
The news that had spread around Villa Park before yesterday’s game that Abraham may well have played his last game for Aston Villa deflated our spirits and the game that followed did nothing to lift the gloom.
Dean Smith tasted his second defeat at Villa Park yesterday. Swansea recorded their first ever cup win against us. We produced the sort of shambolic performance that was reminiscent of those that we had grown accustomed to witnessing during our relegation season. We were knocked out of this competition in the 3rd Round for a third consecutive year.
Abraham was the perfect fit for us up front as were we the perfect football club for him. If it turns out that he has played his last game for us, then we will not only have a defence and a midfield to worry about but also a forward line that has been neutered.
The depth and quality of our squad had already been found wanting by the absence through injury of Jack and Axel. It was further put to the test by leaving James Chester, Conor Hourihane, Yannick Bolasie and Jonathan Kodjia out of the starting line-up. Who was to know that among those that were selected there were several players that would choose to take the afternoon off as well?
Our defence once again conceded goals for fun yesterday and our midfield did little to halt the progress of their opponents through it or to create much themselves in and around the penalty box. What was different was the absence of any threat up front from us. With Abraham in the team there is an expectation that we will score goals as freely as we concede them. Without him, that would be highly unlikely to be the case and yesterday was a worrying sign of things that may be to come. Sadly, the strikers we had on the pitch yesterday did nothing to suggest they would be able to score goals with any sort of regularity should Abraham make a move to a football club in the Black County that is suffering from chronic delusions of grandeur.
This sorry capitulation was very hard to endure. We gift wrapped Swansea (who failed to make a similar number of changes to their team in order to try to even things up) a place in the 4th Round and they must have had to pinch themselves to believe how easy we made it for them to score 3 goals without reply yesterday.
We are now free to concentrate on the league and this abject performance, which led to merited boos at the final whistle will also give our players a weekend’s break from the rigours of football on 4th Round weekend!
My player ratings from a game that extended our FA Cup years of hurt into a 62nd year are:
Lovre Kalanic – 6 – Let’s give him a little more than 90 minutes to prove his true worth to us. Peter Shilton would have struggled behind this defence (although he is getting on in years now)! Lovre conceded his first goal 2 minutes into his debut when he blocked a low cross but unluckily the ball rebounded into Baker-Richardson and was deflected in off his shin. Turned a 32nd minute shot from outside of the box from Roberts past the post for a corner. Beaten low to his right for their second and third goals. Made decent saves on 76 and 83 minutes to prevent the score looking even more humiliating.
James Bree – 5 – Will have and has had better games than this one.
Alan Hutton - 4 – He’s not a left back and he’s certainly not a central defender either. Playing him in this position lost us the forward runs that he makes from wide positions and it did nothing to make our already suspect defence look any more solid. Fer ran for and crossed a loose ball following a challenge with him to Fulton to score their third as Alan stood statuesque in the centre of the penalty area.
Tommy Elphick – 6 – Headed a 74th minute Lansbury corner wide of the far post.
Neil Taylor – 4 – Looked far from comfortable on his return to the first team.
Glenn Whelan – 4 – I would have anticipated that Glenn rather than Bjarnason would have been rested for this one.
John McGinn – 7 – MOTM – It was surprising that John played the full 90 minutes yesterday (he was the only player to really do so). He is another player that I think would have benefited from a rest, Dean said post game that he would get one when his next booking presents him with a 2-game suspension and therefore an enforced rest! Showed his usual tenacity and work ethic along with his understandable frustration on 92 minutes when Lansbury played a free kick to him and he blasted it over the bar.
Albert Adomah – 4 – A couple of times early on, I thought that he might just produce something of his old self yesterday, but this ended up being another disappointing afternoon. Curled a 54th minute shot over the bar and Mulder kept out an 80th minute attempt by him.
Callum O’Hare – 6 – Taken out of the firing line on 55 minutes. Like Doyle-Hayes, I think we have a player here, but they both need games and experience. This was an experience that Callum will have been able to take little good from. Showed promise at times along with his inexperience on other occasions. Would benefit from a loan in much the same way that Jack once did in my opinion.
Anwar El Ghazi – 4 – He looked like he really didn’t want to be there most of the time yesterday. Can do and needs to do better than this on a consistent basis. Was ball watching and failed to pick up Dyer who ran behind him onto Fer’s nice through ball before slotting the ball past Kalanic.
Scott Hogan - 5 – Lacking in the confidence that scoring goals would give him, but he is not looking likely to go on a scoring run any time soon, so it is a bit of a Catch 22 situation. Lost possession on the edge of the box which led to their opener. Turned a 1st minute El Ghazi cross wide of the near post and 5 minutes later hit an Adomah cross goalward which hit Mulder on the line rather than the back of the net. Kodjia touched the ball back to him on 62 minutes but his attempt was blocked at the near post by a defender. Had one of these gone in it might have shaken us out of our lethargy.
Jonathan Kodjia - 5 – Replaced O’Hare on 55 minutes and didn’t live up to his nickname in the time he had on the pitch.
Henri Lansbury - 6 – Came on for Whelan on 60 minutes and appeared to want to take the opportunity he was offered to show that he could do a job for us in the future. Hit a 64th minute shot from outside of the box that flew wide of the left post. Did well enough on a day that too many of those around him did not.
Keinan Davis – Replaced Hogan on 72 minutes. Held the ball up well again but he won’t score with the regularity that we need someone to and needs to play alongside another striker. Not on quite long enough to gather a rating.
Up the Villa!
There were flames and a pre-match firework display yesterday but we missed the spark of invention around the box that Jack had until his injury at WBA been providing us with, during the game itself.
Dean Smith indicated after the match that he anticipated being without Jack for the rest of this month. His two-month absence will deal a potentially lethal body blow to our promotion hopes. It has already badly dented them, with us having taken only 6 points from a possible 15 from the games he has already missed.
We have taken rapid steps to remedy our goalkeeping and central defensive issues already during this transfer window. I feel we now need to do the same in finding someone who can give us some sort of midfield creativity when Jack is absent.
This was to be a sorry start to the New Year for us with another two points dropped at Villa Park. The number of games played during the festive season has clearly taken its toll on our team which has also suffered from injuries that have had a noticeably adverse effect on our performance level. We started well yesterday but couldn’t put the game out of the reach of our visitors and we once again dropped points after being in front. Had we not done this quite so often, our promotion prospects would be looking considerably rosier now.
We have 3 draws and a defeat to show from our last 4 home games. That is not promotion form. Tammy’s goals have kept us in touch with the play off places, but we have not closed in on sixth place and are instead treading water 5 points off it. We have failed to take advantage of the recent slip ups of Leeds and Norwich and it is Sheffield United and WBA who are now within reach of these two clubs in the battle for automatic promotion. Whilst we look on now focusing on 6th rather than 2nd place.
We started well against an anti-football, cynical, time wasting QPR side who were aided and abetted by an inept refereeing display and who after this fixture remain above us having taken 4 points off us this season. Having drawn level on 75 minutes with 11 minutes of stoppage time still to be played once 90 minutes had been reached, QPR might have anticipated their goal being put under constant siege as we pressed for a late winner, but they got the point they came for all too easily without undue cause for concern.
My player ratings from a game that produced goals but not the three points that we needed are:
Jed Steer – 6 – Held a 69th minute shot from Freeman at his near post and made a good stop with his legs on 86 minutes from an Eze shot. Offered us some level of assurance between the sticks on his recall from Charlton. Had no chance with their first and their second flew past him into the top corner so on a day of only 4 on target shots 50% of them produced goals for the visitors.
James Bree – 6 – Did well enough in his natural position.
James Chester - 6 – Clipped the ball over their bar on 5 minutes. Played with a tad more confidence alongside Tommy.
Tommy Elphick – 6 – Welcome back! Tommy will offer us some reasonable cover in the second half of the season. His Hull loan seems to have helped him to get back on track and he looked better than he had last time around yesterday.
Alan Hutton – 4 – Looked good enough coming forward again and he always gives 100% but his primary job is to defend, and he wasn’t up to scratch in that area yesterday. Lost an aerial challenge for the ball during the build up to their equalizer and left oceans of room on his flank too often. A glaring example of that was when he ambled back into a central position and Wszolek was allowed to run unchallenged and cross for Eze to hit their second past Steer and into the top corner of the net.
Birkir Bjarnason – 5 – Still in need of game time to build up his match fitness following his injury. Hit a 60th minute shot over from the edge of the box. Seemed to know what needed doing but often did not quite have the legs to do it.
John McGinn – 7 – A Bjarnason cross was deflected off a defender to John whose 20th minute shot from the edge of the box rattled the crossbar. His accurate cross a minute later produced our first goal. On hand in his own box to head a 33rd minute cross out for a corner. Had a shot saved at the keeper’s left post in stoppage time
Conor Hourihane – 5 – Failed twice to get any challenge in during the build up to their second goal. Hit an 81st minute free kick onto the roof of the net.
Albert Adomah – 5 – Can do better than this.
Jonathan Kodjia – 5 – Hit a shot wide of the near post from inside of the box on 44 minutes but demonstrated again that he is not a natural wide player.
Tammy Abraham – 8 – MOTM – How many goals does he need to score to be on the winning team? Scored his first on 21 minutes when he nodded in a perfectly placed cross from McGinn and added a second on 75 minutes when he touched home another splendidly inviting cross this time from El Ghazi. Ran onto a sweet ball played through from McGinn on 23 minutes and hit his shot over the bar. Also had a 9th minute shot blocked at the near post by Lumley after Adomah had found him well.
Anwar El Ghazi - 6 – Replaced Kodjia on 61 minutes. Hit a perfect cross which Tammy turned in for our 75th minute equalizer.
Yannick Bolasie - 6 – Came on for Adomah on 61 minutes. Hit the ball across the face of the goal on 78 minutes and headed an El Ghazi cross onto the roof of the net in stoppage time. Had earlier headed a Hourihane corner towards goal that was scrambled away from the goalmouth.
Glenn Whelan – Replaced Hourihane on 91 minutes. He was not on long enough to earn any rating and it was a surprising decision to see him coming on rather than Hogan or Davis with a winner being surely our objective in the last 10 minutes of the game.
Up the Villa!
Leeds stretched their lead over us to 15 points with their late, late winner yesterday. I can’t really see us closing that gap during the second half of the season. That would leave us with just one automatic promotion place to aim for namely the one currently occupied by Norwich who are currently 14 points ahead of us. To claim that place we must rely on Norwich not being this season’s Cardiff and, on our ability, to overtake them along with the likes of WBA and Derby. It might just come down to a winner takes all clash with Norwich at Villa Park on the final day of the season.
We currently stand 11th in the league table and that doesn’t make great reading does it? We are also just 5 points away from a play off place and with half of the season left to be played I still expect us to finish sixth or better.
Neither team really deserved to win this one, but we did lose it and that can be attributed to our porous defence which was a weakness to begin with and is now even more so due to injuries. Leeds won for the first time at Villa Park since 2002 yesterday and they did so having been two goals down after just 17 minutes. The lead was never a comfortable one though was it? There always lingers a doubt that we can claim a clean sheet and the third goal always looked like it might be crucial. So, it proved. Although we started the second half well and had the visitors on the back foot for the first 10 minutes of it, they claimed the third goal of the game and had drawn level 5 minutes later. It was more than cruel for their late winner to be scored in the 5th minute of stoppage time though. Had the referee decided that we would play on until they score when the 90 minutes were up?
Our 7-game unbeaten run came to a sorry end yesterday and our new boss tasted defeat for the first time at Villa Park. We must now bounce back on Boxing Day in our middle of the table clash with Swansea so that we don’t give ourselves and our hopefully reinforced defence too much ground to make up in the New Year. Given we have now gone 3 home games without a win, perhaps it is to our advantage that this one will be away?
My player ratings from a game that did little to lift our festive spirits and instead had us reaching for them are:
Orjan Nyland – 6 – Did well to help a 22nd minute Chester back header over the bar when it might otherwise have produced a fortuitous goal for the visitors. Left too much space between his left-hand post and himself on 37 minutes and was relieved to see the free kick from Hernandez fly just wide. Did well to tip a 63rd minute Klich shot from the right-hand edge of the box over the crossbar. His poor clearance from a 67th minute Chester back pass fell dangerously to an opponent around 30 yards out. Parried a 79th minute Alioski shot away.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 4 – Gift wrapped them their late winner with a tame back header that played an Alioski cross straight to a delighted Roofe inside of the box in the 95th minute who proceeded to hit the ball into the corner of the net. He had earlier made an 8th minute challenge on Harrison that prevented him making contact with a Roofe cross at close range.
James Chester - 6 – The best of our defenders yesterday which is not saying a great deal. Nobody went with Jannson as he headed in his 61st minute equalizer having ran in between James and Hutton to glance the ball in.
James Bree – 5 – Needed to try to make a move towards Clarke as he ran all too easily past Elmo inside the box before hitting their first into the far corner of the net. Playing out of position through necessity. Must be worth a shot starting in his natural position.
Alan Hutton – 5 – He really isn’t a left back, is he?
Glenn Whelan – 6 – Started well enough.
John McGinn – 8 – Had another impressive game and gave everything he had. Why does he get booked so often when opponents who do the same or worse to him escape punishment so often by the way? We need to get up this season to keep him.
Conor Hourihane – 7 – Hit our 17th minute second with a sweetly placed left foot shot from outside of the box after Kodjia had done so well to make room for himself on the edge of the box before playing the ball inside to him.
Yannick Bolasie – 6 – a nice back heel by Whelan led to the ball cannoning off Kodjia and running on to him on the edge of the box but Jansson’s 47th minute challenge averted the danger just as he was about to pull the trigger. Produced one superb piece of Cruyff-like skill out wide on 51 minutes that left 2 defenders bamboozled.
Jonathan Kodjia – 6 – Headed a 13th minute Hourihane corner wide of the far post. Won the ball on the edge of the area and flashed a shot just over on 48 minutes.
Tammy Abraham – 8 – MOTM – Tammy really didn’t deserve to end up on the losing side yesterday. He back heeled the ball to Hourihane on the edge of the box who in turn played it inside of the box for McGinn the loose ball was behind Tammy but he stretched his leg to make good contact with it and hit home his 9th goal in 8 matches on the 5th minute. Worked very hard throughout.
Anwar El Ghazi - 5 – Replaced Kodjia on 62 minutes and made no positive impression on the game.
Birkir Bjarnason - 6 – Came on for Whelan on 73 minutes. A welcome return following his injury lay off. His 85th minute corner almost produced a third, but a fine reflex stop by Peacock-Farrell spared Forshaw conceding an own goal. Will need a couple of outings to build full match fitness.
Scott Hogan – Replaced Bolasie on 83 minutes. Not on long enough to earn any rating.
Up the Villa and Happy Christmas & 2019 to all Villa Talkers!
We extended our unbeaten run to 7 games yesterday and Stoke’s own unbeaten run now stands at 9.
The deluge in which the game was played was not conducive to flowing football and both teams cancelled each other out in the first half. The goals like the weather were not going to dry up though and the second half rained goals.
I had feared that the visitors might extend their run of victories at Villa Park to 4 each time they went ahead but we are made of sterner stuff than we once were, now aren’t we? A draw was a fair result on a day that we were not able to reproduce the level of performances that we have been producing of late, in a game during which we so clearly missed Jack’s invention in and around the visitor’s box.
The visitors started strongly, were well organised, gave us little space and were allowed to make several uncompromising challenges in order to break up our forward movement. They came to stifle us and to get a point. They might have taken all three had we not battled back twice from a goal behind. This was a point that may well prove crucial when the season reaches its conclusion against a team that unlike us currently, have both a solid goalkeeper and a solid defence.
We now face a second tough home game against the current league leaders on Sunday. They are currently 12 points ahead of us and we could do with a win to bring that gap down to single figures and to leave us with realistic ambitions of finishing the season above them in one of the automatic places.
My player ratings from a game that kept us two points ahead of our fellow promotion chasers from the Potteries are:
Orjan Nyland – 6 – Saved well from Allen low at his left-hand post on 6 minutes. Parried away an 11th minute shot from McLean from a Martina cross and Chester hooked the resultant loose ball clear. For some reason dropped a knee when Allen put Stoke ahead on 47 minutes and the ball flew over his outstretched arm into the net. Went the right way for Afobe’s well hit 78th minute penalty but the ball was destined for the left-hand corner of his net.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Allowed McLean to run inside him and then unnecessarily brought him down inside the box with Kodjia covering the run ahead of the forward.
James Chester - 6 – Solid enough and looked nearer to his reliable best.
Axel Tuanzebe – 6 – Becoming more familiar with and showing signs of growing into the role alongside Chester.
Alan Hutton – 6 – Lost possession on the edge of the box to McLean whose cross was hit home by Allen for the visitor’s first. Looked better when moving forward than when under pressure at the back from Ince. He’s got to start on the right whenever possible.
Glenn Whelan – 6 – Did all that can be expected of him. He is not a like for like replacement for Jack, but he did put in a shift.
Anwar El Ghazi – 4 – So disappointing following his display last week. Had little of the ball and did little with it on those rare occasions that he did have it. Was unable to force home a Hutton cross on 55 minutes from close range that Butland gathered gratefully.
Conor Hourihane – 6 – Butland helped Conor’s 24th minute free-kick from just outside of the area over the bar.
John McGinn – 7 – Got stuck in and was our stand out player until the arrival of Jonny Danger. Missed the space that opponent’s double teaming and focus on Jack normally provides as did others.
Yannick Bolasie – 6 – Blasted the ball harmlessly over the bar on 80 minutes when a cross seemed a much better option. Hit a shot wide of the post on 61 minutes from inside of the box. Claimed an assist with a nice cross for our second and it was nice to see him playing a full game.
Tammy Abraham – 7 – Had a 55th minute shot from the edge of the area saved low by Butland at a post. Was made to wait a long time to take our 73rd minute penalty but he coolly slotted it home sending Butland the wrong way in the process.
Jonathan Kodjia – 8 – MOTM - Replaced El Ghazi on 65 minutes and what a difference he made! Was pulled back inside the box by Pieters as he moved to Elmo’s ball to him which resulted in our penalty. Headed home our second equalizer on 84 minutes when he headed a Bolasie cross pat Butland and into the left-hand corner of his net.
Scott Hogan – Replaced Whelan on 85 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating.
Up the Villa & A Merry Christmas to all Villa Talkers!
What a game that was! It’s not very often that Villa draw a game 5-5. The last time we did so was way back in 1966 when we came back from 5-1 down to draw 5-5 at White Hart Lane. Tony Hateley scored 4 of our goals against Spurs on that day. On this occasion it was Tammy Abraham that did the same.
When the dust has settled, we can reflect on the positives and negatives to be taken from this game. We scored 5 goals but conceded 5 as well. We pulled goals back to equalize on three occasions but couldn’t hold onto a lead against 10 men when we had eventually got one. We are unbeaten over the last 4 games, but our winning run came to an end last night. Our attack was impressive, but our defence was shambolic. Tammy Abraham claimed the match ball but wasn’t on a winning side. The referee correctly sent off Figueiredo, but his allocated stoppage time failed to take full account of the 4 minutes that had elapsed between that incident and the resultant free-kick being taken.
When we found ourselves two goals down after just 6 minutes, I would have gladly taken a point from this game but when we had drawn level within 8 minutes, I had hoped that we would be able to complete the comeback and claim all three points. Doubt crept in when we went behind again on the 22nd minute and then again on the 51st minute but hope was reignited when we equalized again on a second and third occasion on 36 and 71 minutes. When they went down to 10 men on 68 minutes and we then took the lead for the first time in the game with only 15 minutes of normal time remaining it seemed the game would be ours. This game was anything other than predictable though and we have a habit of not capitalizing on teams being a man down as well as not being able to see out games when we sit back so there proved to be a sting in the tail.
It was perhaps inevitable that Joe Lolley and Lewis Grabban would make an impact on the game last night. A brace of goals from a player that is s Villa fan himself and another from a striker who has had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus one of which was us in the second half of last season was a little too much of an impact for my liking.
Forest scored with every on target shot that they had. Our defence is clearly our Achilles heel and Forest ran through it like a knife through butter last night. We should have had a penalty in first half stoppage time and had two late goals ruled out for hand ball and offside It was a game that neither team really deserved to lose but I could have just about have coped with our visitors being the team that did. We could now do with a win at Boro to make up for dropping two points at home last night albeit in a highly entertaining goal fest.
My player ratings from a game that will live long in our memories are:
Orjan Nyland – 3 – Beaten by all 5 of the on-target shots that he faced last night. Grabban hit the ball between the space he had left between himself and the near post for their fifth. He was beaten by shots from Grabban and Cash whose runs into the box were not picked up for their second and third goals. Watched rooted to the ground as Lolley’s well hit shot from distance went past him. No positives to be taken from this at all as any one of us could not have done any worse.
Alan Hutton – 5 – His cross late in first half stoppage time was handled by Cash but this was ignored by the referee. His unnecessarily hot-headed reaction following the sending off led to a booking that will see him miss the Boro game and we can ill afford that.
James Chester - 4 – Was grounded near the half way line when Grabban started his run into the box that nobody else picked up thus leaving him unmarked and in space to turn in their opening goal. Remains alarmingly below his very best and we are so reliant on his leadership. Is he still not fully fit?
Axel Tuanzebe – 5 – Grabban squeezed his last goal past Axel and inside the near post to secure a point for the visitors. The best of our defenders last night.
Neil Taylor – 5 – Hit a couple of decent crosses and played a one two on the edge of the box with Abraham but his 74th minute shot was blocked. Cleverly found El Ghazi for our fifth. His defending was a cause for concern at times though.
Yannick Bolasie – 7 – Made a nice run into the box and was brought down by Robinson for our penalty. Always a threat on his first start for us.
John McGinn – 8 – Hit a 30-yard shot on 14 minutes that Pantilimon was unable to hold, Kodjia was first to the loose ball but his effort was cleared off the line only for the ball to go in off Abraham’s outstretched leg for the first of our equalizers. Hit another good shot from outside of the area following a lovely turn on 39 minutes that Pantilimon was only able to parry away. Hit a sweet cross 2 minutes into first half stoppage time that Abraham headed straight to the relieved Pantilimon. Not fully fit and therefore not able to offer the sort of barrier he normally would in preventing opponents running through us.
Conor Hourihane – 4 – Outpaced by Carvalho who ran on into the box and hit their second past Nyland as both Hutton and Axel tried to get near enough to make a challenge. Hit a dangerous 48th minute cross that was cleared for a corner by Dawson with Kodjia in attendance. Finding the defensive part of his current role difficult to get a grip on.
Jack Grealish – 7 – Good when we were moving forward and always looking to find a pass, but Jack needs to remember to track back and be a nuisance to opponents when we don’t have the ball.
Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – Not quite able to connect with a nice 2nd minute cross from McGinn. Grealish played a nice ball through to him on 14 minutes, he ran into the box and had a shot blocked by a defender. Hit the shot that led to our second.
Tammy Abraham – 10 – MOTM – Scored four and could have had another. Headed in a sweet Bolasie cross at the far post for our first on 11 minutes. Was in the right place at the right time to get in the way of Grabban’s attempted clearance 3 minutes later. Made it a first half hat-trick when he hit his 36th minute penalty down the middle as Pantilimon dived to his left. Headed home a 71st minute Grealish free kick at the near post for his fourth. Scoring goals for fun which is good because we were conceding them as fast as he could score them last night!
Anwar El Ghazi – 7 – Replaced Kodjia on 66 minutes. Hit what could have been our winner 9 minutes after coming on when Taylor found him on the edge of the box and he hit a splendid shot into the left-hand corner of the net. He was booked on 87 minutes for using his hand to put an Elmo cross into the net to reprise Maradona’s infamous 1986 Hand of God moment.
Glenn Whelan – Came on for McGinn on 79 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating.
Ahmed Elmohamady – Replaced Bolasie on 83 minutes. A floated cross from Taylor deflected off a defender’s head to him on 93 minutes but Pantilimon parried it and was relieved when Abraham was flagged offside having forced home the loose ball on the goal line. Not on long enough to gather a rating.
Up the Villa!
Joe Gallagher, Trevor Francis, Kenny Burns, Kevin Dillon, Mark Dennis, Pat Van den Hauwe, Julian Dicks, Noel Blake, Tom Ross, Jasper Carrot your boys took a hell of a beating!
This game turned on the 35th minute when Gardner’s cross flew past Chester and Adams got a foot to it only for the ball to thud against the post rather than give the knuckle draggers a two-goal cushion. What could possibly go wrong for them after that? We could go straight up the other end and hit an equalizer which we did. We could then go ahead within 2 minutes and hit another two in the second half. It breaks their hearts doesn’t it?
The Scottish Cafu settled the game on the 76th minute with a tremendous run and a wonderfully taken goal. This has amusingly been referred to as a case of Hutton dressed as Lahm. For me it was a goal that was good enough to decide any game.
Garry Monk claimed that the visitors are on a learning curve. They certainly are. They are slowly beginning to learn at long last that they are comfortably the second-best football team in the second city and their tired and weary fans must have been grudgingly accepting that as they slunk out of Villa Park yesterday. They have now gone 13 league games without a local derby win and long may that run continue.
Our visitors were near their best yesterday which really isn’t that good in all honesty is it? We have played better and have lost recently. We conceded two goals, but we did come back from a goal down and extended our lead again when our two-goal lead was temporarily reduced to one. We had a very slow start but once we got into the game there was only ever going to be one winner and it was a joy to see Jack hold up 4 fingers on one hand and 2 on the other to the Holte End after the game.
Small Heath scored their first goal at Villa Park for 10 years yesterday. Back then we scored 5 goals in winning that local derby it was just the 4 this time! The city is still ours and it always will be.
My player ratings from a game that brought us our third straight win and took us up to eighth in the table are:
Orjan Nyland – 6 – It appears that he may be starting to gain a little confidence. Parried a 42nd minute Gardner free-kick that Dean who was in front of him couldn’t get a touch on to safety and then gathered a 59th minute Adams shot at his near post.
Alan Hutton – 8 – MOTM - Hit our stunning fourth goal on 76 minutes when he collected a loose ball inside his own half ran determinedly between Gardner and Maghoma into the box, jinked past Dean on the edge of the box before planting a sweet left footed shot into the corner of the net past Camp.
James Chester - 6 – Not quite at his usual very best but that can most likely be attributed to the injury that had threatened his place in the starting line-up and our defence would have been even more suspect had he been missing.
Axel Tuanzebe – 6 – Competent again.
Neil Taylor – 6 – A decent display.
Conor Hourihane – 6 – Hit a 65th minute free-kick that seemed destined for the far corner of the net until Camp got an outstretched hand to it which deflected it past the post for a corner.
Glenn Whelan – 6 – Did well enough but he is not quite a like for like replacement for the Scottish Iniesta is he?
Albert Adomah – 8 – Three of his crosses brought us three of our four goals before Harding’s challenge brought him a well merited booking and led to Albert hobbling off on 65 minutes. Get well soon Albert!
Jack Grealish – 8 – His close-range diving header at the far post from a perfectly flighted Adomah cross hit from the edge of the box gave us the lead and put a smile on Jack’s face as well as on ours. Faced several uncompromising challenges that were too leniently treated by the referee. Headed over on 46 minutes. Jack was too good for them to cope with.
Jonathan Kodjia – 7 - Scored our 37th minute equalizer. Hutton played the ball forward to Adomah whose cross was deflected off Morrison’s head towards Kodjia who turned the ball in low at the far post. Hit a 54th minute shot over the bar from outside of the area Harding got to the ball first on 80 minutes when he tried to make it five when the ball was deflected towards goal as he was challenged by the keeper on the edge of their area.
Tammy Abraham – 7 – Hit a shot over the bar on 2 minutes from the right edge of the box. Brought down an Adomah cross before himself being brought down by Morrison for our penalty which he took himself coolly sending Camp the wrong way and hitting the spot-kick in off the inside of the post. Headed a 66th minute Grealish corner over from close range at the far post which had evaded Camp’s reach.
Yannick Bolasie – 6 – Replaced the injured Adomah on 65 minutes. Will he be fit enough to start in midweek if Albert isn’t?
Henri Lansbury – Came on for Whelan on 69 minutes only to be substituted himself on 77 minutes due to injury. Not on long enough to gather a rating.
Ahmed Elmohamady – Replaced Lansbury on 77 minutes. He was also not on long enough to earn a rating.
Up the Villa!
James Chester was back to his best last night firstly preventing a Bolton equalizer and then scoring our decisive second goal to send us temporarily to the top of the bottom half of the table and just 4 points behind the top six.
We had the perfect start last night with a 4th minute goal that it might have been hoped would lead to a confidence inspiring goal glut against a Bolton side that are currently on the crest of a slump. The visitors instead threatened to draw level and we sat nervously and uncomfortably in our seats until Chester added a second to give us a two-goal cushion and what then became a comfortable win.
We played better and lost against QPR, but it was vital that we won this battle between two teams that had both lost their previous two matches. We now need to put a decent run of results together which will not be easy looking at our forthcoming fixtures.
A second home win and a second clean sheet at Villa Park for our new management team gives us something to work on. Winning our home games as a minimum will keep us ticking along until the next transfer window when we can look to strengthen where necessary.
My player ratings from a game that we deserved to win and did are:
Orjan Nyland – 4 – He continues to make Pierluigi Gollini look like Dino Zoff! Comfortably collected a mishit 21st minute shot from Oztumer but then embarrassingly dropped a cross 4 minutes later which he then gratefully gathered when it fell at his feet. Seemed to have lost his bearings when he fumbled a harmless 41st minute Oztumer free-kick out for a corner that he should have left to go out. A schoolboy would have been unhappy with doing that under no sort of pressure.
Did well to get his right foot to a 47th minute Buckley cross from the edge of the six-yard box which was otherwise bound for Donaldson to tap in at close range for an equalizer, but the negatives outweigh this one positive for me. Although he was not often called upon he continues to look to have an error in him waiting to happen. He needs to be doing a lot of work with Neil Cutler in the coming days to address his weaknesses. Is Moreira still not another option?
Alan Hutton – 6 – Looks like he can still remember how to give an effective display in his rightful full back role.
James Chester - 8 – MOTM – Back to his best and this game will do no harm to his confidence. Did incredibly well to hook a 24th minute Hobbs header off the line with Nyland beaten. Was flagged offside when he headed home a 32nd minute Hourihane free-kick but was given the benefit of the doubt on 57 minutes when he headed a Grealish free-kick in between Alnwick and the post to settle the game.
Axel Tuanzebe – 7 – Will get increasingly more comfortable with more games alongside our captain in the centre of our defence. Did well to use his pace to get back and win an 84th minute challenge with Doidge inside of the box which along with the substitute’s heavy touch on the ball denied him a scoring opportunity.
Neil Taylor – 6 – Faced little to really test him last night but generally looked competent enough.
Conor Hourihane – 6 – Played in an unfamiliar deep midfield role in the absence of Thor. Did well enough given that and he rarely fails to do a decent job for us. Could he fill this role again?
Albert Adomah - 6 – Hit a 14th minute shot wide of the far post from the edge of the box and a bicycle kick (as allegedly invented by a late Villa chairman) onto the roof of the netting behind the crossbar. Substituted on 73 minutes.
John McGinn – 7 – Subject to the sort of rough treatment normally reserved just for Jack last night and the referee was as lenient with challenges on him as they usually are when Jack receives the same uncompromising treatment. Won the ball well from Donaldson on 43 minutes before running forward and hitting a cross towards the far post that was played back across the face of the goal by Kodjia only for Alnwick to get a hand to prevent Abraham getting his head on it. John then stooped to head the loose ball into the side netting having continued his run. He is quality and has an obvious tenacity and will to win.
Jack Grealish – 7 – Made a nice 4th minute run into the box which was spotted by Abraham who having turned to leave a defender for dead then played a perfect pass to Jack who took the ball past Alnwick and tucked it inside the near post. Had a 28th minute shot from outside of the area pushed wide by Alnwick.
Jonathan Kodjia – 6 – McGinn played a one-two with Hutton before hitting a 30th minute cross to the far post which Kodjia could only hook well over the bar. Flashed a 69th minute shot wide of the near post having ran into the area after being found by a nice ball from within his own half by Tuanzebe. Not at his powerful and defence threatening best yet.
Tammy Abraham – 7 – Maintained a good work rate last night. McGinn found Kodjia who ran into the box and squared the ball to Tammy on 46 minutes, but it was hit a little too firmly and bounced off his right leg to safety as he tried to take a touch when a goal had looked likely. He won’t fail to score too often in games at Villa Park this season.
Yannick Bolasie – Replaced Adomah on 73 minutes. Not on quite long enough to gather a rating this time. I had expected him to start this one.
Scott Hogan – Replaced Abraham on 81 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating.
Glenn Whelan – Replaced Jack on 90 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating.
Up the Villa!
We tried placing round pegs in round holes rather than in square ones yesterday and it worked!
It was nice to hear applause at half time and again at full time from a packed Villa Park on Saturday as the team left the field. It is very early in Dean Smith’s tenure at Villa Park and he has only had a couple of training sessions at best with some of his new players but there were still some early encouraging signs.
We pressed our opponents in their own half and showed a willingness to do so. Doing that took some pressure off our defence and we didn’t let Swansea begin to cause us too many problems at the back until the last quarter of the game when they had us on the back foot as we tired and might have denied us the victory our overall play and improved work rate had deserved.
We even started to look a bit more like a team than a group of individuals yesterday. This much needed win brings us level on points with Dean’s former club Brentford and only 3 points off the play off places. Leeds and Albion will soon be looking over their shoulders and don’t look so nailed on for promotion after their defeats yesterday.
Dean, JT and Richard O’Kelly have a 100%-win record. Dean Smith has a win from his first Villa game and that is something that none of our previous six managers achieved. We had lost to Swansea on their last two visits to Villa Park, so this was a case of third time lucky for us. The acid test will be our next two games which are away from home. We took 3 points from these games last season and could do with getting at least the same this. Let’s go to Norwich and QPR looking for wins instead of with our backs to the wall. Six points from these two games would really get this season started and we do have some ground to make up. We are also Aston Villa and are claiming our new manager bounce!
We are not going to become a team that will walk away with this league overnight. We started well and got a win but lacked a clinical finish and enough invention in the final third. We don’t dominate games although we have the players who on paper look capable of doing so. The problems we have found so far this season will not have disappeared and they may well rear their ugly heads again. We just may through hard work and application have it in us to turn the corner and make this a season to remember rather than one to forget. We may just have witnessed the start of something big yesterday. Let’s hope so!
My player ratings from a game that we kept a clean sheet for only the second time in a league game this season are:
Orjan Nyland – 7 – This was his best performance to date for us by some distance. This can be a new start for him as well as others and he can take some confidence from this display. Horton tried to turn in a cross on 23 minutes from just inside of the box that Nyland pushed away to his left. He then cut out a dangerous looking 56th minute cross low at his near post. Made a good reflex save on 69 minutes from a close-range Fulton header.
Alan Hutton – 7 – Gave his usual whole-hearted performance.
James Chester - 7 – Solid following his return from suspension.
Axel Tuanzebe – 7 – Looked reasonably comfortable alongside our captain in the heart of our defence. Worth a run in this position. Its not as if we are spoilt for choice when it comes to central defenders after all.
Neil Taylor – 7 – Has an opportunity to make this position his own again now. Looked solid enough at the back and denied the visitors an equalizer on 79 minutes when he got a foot to deflect a Roberts shot wide that had beaten Nyland who had come off his line towards him. Hit a nice cross on 22 minutes that McGinn almost connected with.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 7 – Claimed his fourth assist of the season yesterday. His crosses often find their man, don’t they? I was a little surprised to see him still a starter, but I guess managers know what they will get from him and Dean got that yesterday.
Bikir Bjarnason – 7 – Looking more comfortable in the holding midfield role with each game. Likes a tackle and worked tirelessly. His distribution is something he could do with looking at.
John McGinn – 8 – MOTM – Back to his best yesterday. John pressed and harried his opponents throughout and worked incredibly hard for this win. We will miss him at Norwich.
Jack Grealish – 7 – Play him in the position in which he feels most comfortable and you are likely to get match winning performances again from him. This was an improvement from Jack and I hope he will kick on from this and begin to consistently produce what we know he is capable of. Hit a 21st minute free-kick from the right edge of the box that just needed a touch from someone that it did not get. Hit a 47th minute shot from the edge of the box that took a deflection off a defender before Nordfeldt got a hand to it diving to his left. Elmo picked up the loose ball and Adomah headed the cross back towards Jack whose attempt to hook the ball in from around 8 yards was saved by Nordfeldt.
Albert Adomah – 7 – A much better performance than of late. Albert seems keen to impress again and made a couple of decent crosses being much more involved than he had been recently. Hit a 37th minute shot that was gathered easily enough by Nordfeldt. McGinn found him with a quickly taken 29th minute free-kick and his resultant cross took a deflection off Roberts that led to the ball eluding Nordfeldt and almost creeping in at the far post. Hit a 52nd minute effort just wide of the post.
Tammy Abraham – 8 – Got our early winner on the 8th minute and on another day, he could have had a hat-trick. Got into the positions to score and this was his 4th goal in 7 games for us which is a more than acceptable strike rate. His goals can get us promoted this season and earn him international recognition again. He was a threat to the visitor’s defence from start to finish and seemed to be enjoying the game and the responsibility of leading the line.
Jack hit an 8th minute free-kick against the wall after Tammy had been fouled on the edge of the box. Elmo picked up the loose ball wide on the right beat a defender and cut the ball back to Jack who found Elmo again whose flighted cross towards the far post was headed past Nordfeldt for our winner from just outside of the 6-yard box by Tammy. Couldn’t quite reach a 58th minute Adomah cross and brought down a cross from Adomah 4 minutes later that Nordfeldt dived to his left to save. Headed a 68th minute cross from Bolasie downwards which bounced over the bar with the keeper ending up in the back of the net rather than the ball.
Yannick Bolasie – 7 – Replaced Elmo on 64 minutes and hit a nice cross 4 minutes later for Tammy that could have given us some breathing space at the end.
Jonathan Kodjia – Came on for Albert on 74 minutes. Not on quite long enough to earn a rating or to make the sort of impression that might demand a starting place.
Conor Hourihane – Replaced Jack on 83 minutes. Unlucky to find himself on the bench again in my opinion. Not on long enough to gather a rating.
Up the Villa!
At half time it was a question of how many goals that we would win by rather than whether we would win. They appeared to be just what we had needed to face last night namely a team that had less confidence and were in worse form than ourselves. At the end we proved to be just the team for a club at the bottom of the league to have faced. At half time it was Alex Neil’s managerial future that looked likely to be under more threat than Steve Bruce’s at the end of the game. What a difference a referee can make!
Preston had offered no threat up front and little resistance at the back in the first half, but a spot of dressing room half time cup throwing had them taking the game to us at the start of the second period. The referee’s subsequent intervention when he gave the visitors a very soft penalty and then compounded that by sending off our captain left us in disarray. Chester’s challenge on Nmecha was an innocuous one and if the referee really felt compelled to award a penalty then that should surely have been adequate punishment.
Had it not been for that sending off we might well have been in the top six rather than two points off the play off places this morning. I suspect that we would probably have weathered Preston’s early second half efforts and cruised to a comfortable win, but it wasn’t to be. Had we been in any sort of form we would have been out of sight before Chester’s dismissal because the Preston defence made our own look almost solid up until then!
The referee changed the course of this game, but we too readily surrendered the initiative when we went down to ten men last night. Other teams go down to ten men and it doesn’t have the same devastating impact upon them as it did on us yesterday. We should have tried to add another goal when we were still a goal ahead rather than negatively rely on a defence that is brittle even with Chester in it to hold out for the rest of the game. When we did move forward in stoppage time their defence showed itself to be as leaky as it had been in the first half. We left it too late to find out.
If there is one player and one position that we cannot afford to lose a player for most of a second half and for another game due to an unwarranted suspension, then it’s James Chester and our central defence.
Why did a player who has scored one goal in 7 years step up to take a vital penalty? Our designated penalty taker may have already been substituted and others may have been sitting on the bench but Bolasie who had already scored wanted to take it and surely Jack or McGinn should have also been ahead of Whelan in the queue to take the spot kick? They should have prised the ball out of the substitute’s hands.
My player ratings from a game that we looked like winning at half time and then did again with the last kick of the game but didn’t are:
Mark Bunn – 4 – Surprisingly it was he rather than Moreira who replaced Nyland and Bunn doesn’t inspire too much confidence either does he? Came out of his area on 24 minutes to get his feet to the ball before Robinson and blocked a cross at his near post on 50 minutes. Sent the wrong way from the spot by Johnson for their first on 56 minutes. Gallagher’s 79th minute free kick went past a poorly lined up wall and our keeper for the day left too much room to his left to allow their second to creep between him and the near post. Their 86th minute third from Moult appeared to go straight past him. Gathered a 66th waist high shot from the left edge of the box from Robinson and kept out a 79th minute. Perhaps Burnley could spare us one of their three keepers in January?
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – Hit a couple of decent crosses and had a decent enough game.
James Chester - 6 – His sending off left me wishing we had Mile available on the bench to bring on.
Axel Tuanzebe – 6 – Finally played in the centre and looked well worthy of retaining his place last night both with and without our captain alongside him. Moved a loose ball forward to Bolasie to hit in our third.
Alan Hutton – 6 – Might have got to the corner that led to their third.
Birkir Bjarnason – 6 – Looked comfortable and increasingly effective in the middle in the first half. Pushed to the ground at the far post to ensure he did not get his head to McGinn’s late corner and give us our late penalty.
Conor Hourihane – 6 – Faded in the second half but he was not alone in that.
Jack Grealish – 6 – Hit a 14th minute shot from the edge of the box over the bar. Showed some fleeting signs of still having the ability to run a game in the first half.
John McGinn – 6 – His challenge on the touchline allowed Abraham to run on to hit home our second. Has not quite seemed to take games by the scruff of the neck in the way he had been doing of late but it’s asking a lot of him to do it on his own every time.
Tammy Abraham – 6 – Scored our second and what should have been decisive goal on 37 minutes when he ran into the box from the left and stroked the ball past Maxwell into the corner of the net. Unlucky to be substituted on 56 minutes following the sending off to make way for a defender.
Jonathan Kodjia – 6 – Had a 9th minute downward header from a Hourihane free-kick blocked at the near post and was found by Elmo inside the box on 16 minutes but his shot was deflected by Maxwell at the near post across the face of the goal and out for a corner. Scored our opener on 26 minutes when Hourihane swept the ball wide to Elmo whose cross was headed past the keeper and into the far corner of the net by Jonathan. Had unusually done some work in his own half in the first quarter of the match less involved in the second half prior to being substituted.
James Bree – 6 – Replaced Abraham on 56 minutes. Got a good block in on Fisher at the near post on 81 minutes.
Yannick Bolasie – 6 – MOTM - Came on for Kodjia on 74 minutes and hit our 91st minute equalizer in at the near post. He must be starting games now.
Glenn Whelan – 4 - Replaced Hourihane on 83 minutes and made a difference but unfortunately not a positive one. Showed acceptance of responsibility by taking the spot kick that should have given us a late winner on 96 minutes but his decision cost us the game because his penalty was poorly hit to the keeper’s left and was just begging to be saved. Just because the ball was in your hands when the penalty was awarded does not mean you have to take the penalty Glenn when you are ill equipped to do so!
Up the Villa!
One moment of magic from John McGinn could only temporarily dispel the gloom from Villa Park yesterday.
The beat team won, and we were a long way off being the best team. Our visitors gave what will be one of their best performances of the season whereas we produced one of our worst in what is fast becoming a season to forget.
Sheffield Wednesday inflicted our first home league defeat of the season upon us for a second successive season yesterday. They started brightly and found it all too easy to come away with all three points as they had done last November when they won by the same score.
Tuesday’s home win had given us something to build upon and had lifted us up temporarily into the top six. This abject performance shattered any hopes we might have entertained of turning the corner, of producing a run of good results, of installing some much-needed confidence into the team and of easing some of the pressures that are on our club.
We have taken 13 points from our first 9 games of the season and sit uncomfortably in the bottom half of the table in 13th place. We had hoped to hit the ground running this season and to not leave ourselves with ground to make up on those teams who were occupying the automatic promotion places again. Instead of that we have the same number of points as we had after the first nine games of last season and that does not represent progress. Runs of poor performances and results happen to teams but to a club that is expected to seriously challenge for promotion a run such as this one is unacceptable, and it shows no obvious signs of ending any time soon.
A win would have put us into the top six again and would have taken us within 2 points of the early league leaders, but we were not able to capitalise on their own awful result. This was our manager’s 100th game in charge of our club and this defeat will only place his future at the club under increasing doubt.
We didn’t really get going yesterday other than for a few minutes between John McGinn’s sublime goal and The Owls scoring their winner during which time the rest of the team seemed to realise that he needed a little help. Things might have been different had Hourihane’s 64th minute goal bound shot not been flicked off the line by Pudil. We might then have somehow gone on to get a win that would have papered over the cracks that were so clear yesterday but instead their second goal ended any temporary hopes we held of a late comeback.
My player ratings from a game in which we had far too many players having an off day and on which we failed to work effectively as a team are:
Orjan Nyland – 6 – Beaten by Matias from the edge of the box for their opener and by Fletcher’s powerful header for their winner with the ball ending up in the right-hand corner of the net on both occasions. Saved a 62nd minute shot from Fletcher low to his right.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Not near his best.
James Chester- 6 – The cross for their winner passed over him to be met by Fletcher’s head. He must be finding that carrying our defence is becoming increasingly difficult even for him.
Mile Jedinak – 4 – What did Axel do to be banished to the bench for the last two games? Mile’s place is in front of the defence not in the centre of it. He lacks pace and is not comfortable in this role. Opponents like Fletcher who was made to look like twice the player he now is yesterday are well aware of that and take advantage of it to our cost.
Alan Hutton – 7 – Our best defender yesterday. Made a great challenge on Fletcher after he had run between Jedinak and himself to deny him a scoring opportunity.
Albert Adomah – 5 – Substituted on 68 minutes having made little positive impression on the game.
Conor Hourihane – 6 – Hit a shot from the edge of the area wide of the post on 33 minutes and another straight at Dawson on 58 minutes. He was unlucky not to put us in front when his goal bound 64th minute shot was flicked clear by Pudil. Reach reached a ball on the edge of the box before Conor was able to clear it and found Matias who hit their first into the net before Chester was able to slide in to get in a challenge.
Jack Grealish – 5 – Started wide for some reason. We had players sitting on the bench who can fill the wide roles. Jack is clearly less than comfortable playing out wide and needs to play where he was so effective last season just behind the striker(s). Hit a 6th minute effort wide of the far post and another wide from just outside of the box on 52 minutes. Let a clearance run off him to Reach in the build up to their winner.
John McGinn – 8 – MOTM – Hit a stunning volley from 30 yards on 53 minutes that went in off the underside of the bar and thudded into the right-hand corner of the net. His goal, performance level and determination shone out like a beacon on a gloomy night.
Tammy Abraham – 6 – Lacked service and without it a goal poacher is seldom a scorer.
Jonathan Kodjia – 6 – Passed the ball to Tammy a couple of times rather than attempting to go it alone as has been previously been his preferred option irrespective of having team mates in better positions. This was good to see and bodes well for the hopes of him building a good striking partnership with Abraham. Had an effort blocked on 59 minutes.
Yannick Bolasie – 6 – Came on for Adomah on 68 minutes and made a couple of runs that showed that he should have started this one. Hit an 82nd minute that Hourihane scuffed wide when in a good position.
Anwar El Ghazi – Replaced Kodjia on 78 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating.
Up the Villa!
Goals from Tammy Abraham and Yannick Bolasie on their home debuts gave us a much-needed win last night.
This was not a scintillating performance from us. Our visitors rarely threatened our brittle defence and we eased to a routine victory without looking particularly good.
The win was comfortable enough and it was achieved without us having to hit our stride. We didn’t look fluent last night, and we have a team of individuals that have yet to become a team but when that does happen the rest of the league had better beware because we have some pretty good individuals.
Last night’s win gives the team something to build upon and it has lifted us up to sixth in the table. That is not too shabby given our performances to date. Another win on Saturday could give the team an opportunity to put together a string of positive results that could in turn cement our place in the top six and install some much-needed confidence into them.
We played 4-2-4 last night which was a good and unexpected decision. The Millers arrived at Villa Park looking to take a point. They didn’t really look like doing so once we went in front but until Bolasie headed home our second there was always a danger that they would steal a point with an equalizer against the run of play as Reading had done before them. One goal is never a comfortable lead and we really need to kick on once we go in front so that our games do not always go down to the wire. Wood was too close for comfort on 77 minutes with a header that went wide of the post, but our second goal thankfully made the game safe just 2 minutes later.
This result will temporarily ease some of the pressure at Villa Park. The rare clean sheet will show our defence that it is not impossible to go through a game without conceding as will our two goals demonstrate that if we make the chances we have the players who can take them. We are not yet a well oiled smoothly running promotion machine, but we might yet in the fullness of time become one.
My player ratings from a run of the mill win against The Millers are:
Orjan Nyland – 6 – A quiet event free evening.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – Did well on dropping back to a role that I consider that he is more suited to also chipped in with a pin point cross that resulted in our second.
James Chester- 6 – Solid on those occasions that our defence was tested. Headed wide from a McGinn cross on 64 minutes.
Mile Jedinak – 6 – A quiet night for our defence but he was commanding in the air and did well in this central defensive role that we insist in playing him in on this occasion. Headed an 81st minute Bolasie corner harmlessly wide. Will Mile be rested for Axel on Saturday if we choose to try a little squad rotation?
Alan Hutton – 6 – Another reliable performance on the left.
Anwar El Ghazi – 6 – Substituted on 73 minutes having given a decent enough display.
Conor Hourihane – 7 – Earned his place with that free-kick at Blackburn and performed well on his merited return to our starting line-up. Hit a 45th minute free-kick wide of the post. Hit a 66th minute shot that Rodak kept out at his near post.
Jack Grealish – 7 – Some welcome signs of a return to form last night. Could it be that he had needed some time to become familiar with having other players around him that can make things happen as well as himself? He is also not seeing as much of the ball as he was and may need time to become more accustomed to his current role. Nicely found by Kodjia but his 19th minute shot went past the far post and Abraham was just unable to reach it to turn it in. Curled a 72nd minute shot just wide of the far post.
John McGinn – 8 – MOTM – A determined ball winner and he uses it so very well. Had an 87th minute shot from the edge of the box gathered by Rodak. Comfortably our most valuable player last night.
Tammy Abraham – 7 – Looked sharp, pacey and keen. Scored our opener on 27 minutes. Grealish found Kodjia on the edge of the box who played a sweet ball past 2 defenders to Tammy who hit the ball past the keeper and into the corner of the net. He did some nice work prior to finding El Ghazi who hit the ball onto the netting on the top of the goal on 15 minutes. He looked very good and will get better.
Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – Showed some nice touches and his partnership with Abraham looks to have some potential. Had a decent 1st minute cross pushed away by Rodak who also kept out his attempt to convert McGinn’s cross from close range 3 minutes later. Headed an 18th minute Grealish cross over the bar.
Yannick Bolasie – 6 – Came on for El Ghazi on 73 minutes and sealed the win with a determined 82nd minute diving header from a nice Elmo cross. Looks ready for a start on Saturday.
Albert Adomah – Replaced Kodjia on 81 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating.
James Bree - Replaced Abraham on 86 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating but it is nice to know he is still in contention for a place.
Up the Villa!
One goal is often not enough and so it proved yesterday. Up until Reading’s late equalizer it had looked like we had done just enough to get a win and “just enough” appeared to be all that we had thought that we would need to do.
Our defence is however porous, and we were not capable of closing out yesterday’s game. We have not managed to keep a clean sheet in the league so far this season. That is a feat that we achieved 16 times last season. Our defence, which was so well organised back then with John Terry in it is now crying out for reinforcement, but time is fast running out for us to bring players in.
There was the usual late, late goal at Villa Park yesterday but this time it was our visitors who scored it. We are now four points worse off against the opponents that we have played this season when compared to last season’s results and that is how far we are behind the early pace setters Leeds and Boro. We cannot rely on making up ground lost early in the season on those teams that are in the automatic promotion places now. We need to close the gap between us quickly before it grows into a chasm.
This was a case of after the Lord Mayor’s Show. Our best display of this new season against Brentford was followed by this poor display. We still have our unbeaten record, but this draw feels like a defeat. We seemed to approach this game expecting to win it. We need to go at the throat of teams from start to end to earn a victory and not sit back waiting for it to happen. We regularly need to hit fourth gear rather than coast in second. Any team has a puncher’s chance of getting something from a game when there is only a goal in it. We may have had the possession, but we didn’t do enough with it.
It is no good raising your game against the better teams in this division and dropping points against the rest. Three points is three points after all and at the final reckoning a win no matter who it came against will remain three points. That 3 points will go towards the final points total that we will need to achieve to finish in the top two. That needs to be our target as we know the play off lottery offers no guarantee of promotion.
Reading will be happy with a point for their coming battle to remain in this division. They showed little ambition up front until we went a goal ahead but score they did as have every other side we have met in the league to date. We cannot be satisfied with a point. We dropped points last season in games like this one at Villa Park. We have got to start producing our best on a consistent basis against every team that we face this season because if we do not teams will punish us for not doing so. We cannot afford to take any opponent lightly in this league nor should we or we will risk facing another season in it.
My player ratings from a game that brought us a disappointing third successive draw are:
Orjan Nyland – 7 – We may have found a keeper after all. Blocked a close-range effort from a corner by Moore on 44 minutes and then saved a 46th minute Bacuna freekick at his left-hand post. Made a tremendous double save on 82 minutes from Baldock at close range and then from Meite who hit the rebound. Dived to his right and Baldock hit his disputed penalty into the centre of the goal for their late equalizer.
Axel Tuanzebe – 6 – Another competent performance in what is unlikely to prove his most effective defensive position.
James Chester- 6 – One rare error from him cost us dearly yesterday. James had looked a clear favourite to reach a ball into the box first in the 3rd Minute of stoppage time but was outpaced by Sims. Their substitute took the opportunity to crumple to the floor with time running out for his side after Chester had won the ball but our captain in going to ground unnecessarily gave the referee a decision to make and he gave the benefit of any doubt to them. James was otherwise his usual steady self on those occasions that our visitors ventured towards our goal. He was unlucky to see a 12th minute header thunder off the crossbar from a nice Elmo cross.
Mile Jedinak – 6 – Allowed a Sims cross to go past him and only a terrific double save from Nyland prevented Reading from scoring as a result on 82 minutes. Otherwise gave a decent enough performance but this should not be accepted as being his long-term role.
Alan Hutton – 6 – Gave his usual consistent level of performance.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 7 – Stooped to head home El Ghazi’s perfect cross on 51 minutes and had a good all-around game.
Birkir Bjarnason – 7 – Made a good saving tackle on the edge of the box on 9 minutes winning the ball when an opponent was in a threatening position. Gave a very good solid performance throughout.
Jack Grealish – 6 – Substituted at half time having picked up a dead leg. Hit an effort back across the face of the goal on 41 minutes.
John McGinn – 7 – MOTM – Looked a class above. Used the ball well and kept very involved. Made an early run into the box but his 1st minute shot was held by Mannone.
Anwar El Ghazi – 7 – A promising debut. Looks a wide threat, comfortable on the ball and showed a few tricks. Hit a pin point cross for our goal. Made a nice run into the box on 11 minutes and his shot was deflected into the side netting off Mannone. Anwar made way for Albert on 67 minutes.
Jonathan Kodjia – 5 – What a difference a couple of days can make. From a man of the match 2-goal performance in midweek to this sort of below par display again. Johnny Danger needs some sort of competition for his starting place and was sadly something less than dangerous yesterday. Did not have a great deal of service perhaps but he can do better than this. Flashed a shot over the bar on 62 minutes when others were better placed had he looked to find them. Lost the ball when looking to go it alone on 85 minutes when Hourihane was waiting unmarked inside the box.
Conor Hourihane – 6 – Came on for Jack at half time and did well. We need to try to find a place for him in the starting line-up. His goals come in handy after all. Hit a shot from the edge of the box on 50 minutes that Mannone collected comfortably and was found by Adomah inside the box in the 69th minute but he hit his shot wide of the far post.
Albert Adomah – 6 - Replaced El Ghazi on 67 minutes. Made a couple of decent runs and looked lively. Cut inside and hit a 73rd minute shot that was easily gathered by Mannone at the near post and then scuffed a shot 3 minutes later.
Neil Taylor - Replaced Kodjia on 91 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating.
Up the Villa!
Another late, late goal at Villa Park averted a travesty of justice last night. It gave us the very least we had deserved from a game that we had dominated until our visitors belatedly came into it during the last quarter with us by then having apparently punched ourselves out.
This was our best display of the season by some distance, but it had appeared until Kodjia’s second equalizer of the game that we would somehow emerge pointless from it. We have shown a never say die attitude already this season though and we managed to lift ourselves up from the canvas as time was fast running out to land a heavy blow that maintained our unbeaten record.
We have now drawn our last three home games against The Bees and this point may prove vital at the end of the season when the promotion places are decided. Our visitors have not lost at Villa Park since 1946 and they have clearly become a bogey team to us. They have made an impressive start to the season and may well end it in the top six. Whether they do or do not, they will be unlikely to be more relieved than they were last night to have emerged with a point from any of their remaining fixtures.
Our defence does currently remain a cause for concern. Maupay was left in space for their opener and had it not been for Nyland the visitors could have had more than two goals despite Villa having enjoyed the lion’s share of the game. We need to get back to last season when our defence was a strength rather than a weakness. Signing a left back and a central defender is likely to achieve that dare I suggest JT once again for the central defensive role?
We started strongly, pegged them back in their own half for long periods and denied them the opportunity to put their own stamp onto the game. There were encouraging shades of our best home performances of last season about last night’s game.
We now sit in fifth place with 8 points from our first four games. A win on Saturday will give our team which is steadily being reinforced something to build upon.
Maupay’s first goal was against the run of play and he should not have been on the pitch by then having cynically stamped on McGinn to have scored their second which might have won it for them. Had it done so it would have been a case of twilight robbery.
My player ratings from a game that our visitors are likely to have been more relieved to have taken a point from than disappointed to have not taken all three from are:
Orjan Nyland – 7 – A much improved display. This game can give him the confidence he needs. Conceded two goals but he had no chance with the first and did well to turn a 71st minute Yennaris shot around his right-hand post before Watkins beat Tuanzebe on 82 minutes and hit a shot that Orjan parried which then fell to Maupay to force home for their second on the line. Kept them within range with crucial saves on 84 and 89 minutes when blocking a Yennaris header from 6 yards out and then a close range Maupay shot.
Axel Tuanzebe – 6 – Substituted on 70 minutes. Did very well for a central defender who was playing as a full back and put in a couple of decent crosses. Did well to rob the ball away from Maupay on 11 minutes inside of the box. May well grow into this position but more likely to do so more easily and quickly in a central role.
James Chester- 7 – Solid and dependable once again. Headed a McGinn free kick that took a deflection off a defender over.
Mile Jedinak – 5 – A wayward backward header on 49 minutes from a couple of yards inside his own half fell to Maupay who under pressure from Chester as he ran forward was unable to get a shot in before Nyland came out to claim the ball at his feet. Otherwise did well enough in his extended outing as a holding midfield player playing as an emergency central defender. Headed a 30th minute McGinn corner back across the goal but nobody was near the goal line to put it in.
Alan Hutton – 6 – Beaten to the ball on the line for their second. Alan was his usual reliable self.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – Did well enough but he is playing too far forward for me.
Glenn Whelan – 7 – Did well tidying up at the back. Gave a good solid performance last night.
Jack Grealish – 8 – Was upended on a regular basis throughout the game as is too often the case. Nevertheless, Jack still showed his class and would have been able to do so more frequently had he had a modicum of protection from the match officials. Hit a 15th minute shot from the edge of the area that Bentley saved low to his right and had a shot blocked by him 4 minutes later. Jack picked up the ball and ran into the area on 56 minutes, but his cross was blocked by Bentley at the near post.
John McGinn – 8 – Another fine display by our Scottish Iniesta. Played a nice one two with Adomah on the 2nd minute and stretched to hit his shot just over the bar. Combines very well with Jack.
Albert Adomah – 6 – A better performance than of late. Couldn’t quite get a touch at the near post to a nice 19th minute Elmohamady cross.
Jonathan Kodjia – 9 – MOTM – Two vital goals and gave his best display by a country mile since injury interrupted his career. Showed his strength and ability to shield the ball. McGinn played a lovely ball through to him on 36 minutes and he hit a fierce shot which Bentley saved having got himself into a shooting position on the edge of the box. Hit his first on 39 minutes beating Konsa on the edge of the box having been found by Adomah and cutting inside the box from the left before pulling the trigger and hitting the ball in between Bentley and his near post.
Turned a nice 59th minute Adomah cross straight at Bentley. Added a second equalizer in the last minute of stoppage time. Elmo played a ball into the box that took a deflection off a defender’s head before Jonathan powered a header past Bentley and into the net.
Andre Green – 5 – Came on for Tuanzebe in the 70th minute. Not his best 25 minutes in claret & blue but he will make bigger impressions on games this season and needs to continue to get regular game time albeit mostly now it seems from off the bench.
Conor Hourihane - Replaced Whelan on 83 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating. I would have him starting games.
Rushian Hepburn-Murphy - Replaced Tuanzebe on 85 minutes. He was not on long enough to earn a rating either.
Up the Villa!
A second win of the season and a second successive home win against Wigan who have been hard to beat at Villa Park in past meetings maintained our 100%-win record yesterday. It gave us two wins at the start of a season for the first time in 19 years.
We have played better than this but for a second time in this fledgling season we showed our resilience by coming back to win after going a goal down. We sit third in the early league table with a game in hand of the early league leaders. Six points from our first two games is an encouraging start and it is something we can and need to build upon.
Cardiff gained promotion last season by winning close games on a regular basis and by maintaining a winning run that built their confidence. They developed the habit of grabbing late winners and although their football was not pretty it proved annoyingly effective. We have started this season a little like that. We might have lost or drawn a game like this and the last one last season, but we didn’t. Let’s put a run of wins together and stick to those automatic places like a limpet throughout this season.
Wigan looked a decent team yesterday and wins will not come easy against them for this season’s promotion contenders. They will consider themselves unfortunate to leave Villa Park pointless. I hope that a few more teams will feel that way before this season concludes.
My player ratings from a game that brought us another win as we await more new signings to further strengthen our team are:
Orjan Nyland – 5 – Beaten to the ball on the edge of the box by Powell who won their challenge to prod home Jedinak’s woeful attempted back pass on 41 minutes. Had little chance with their second. Will be working on his kicking and on crosses after this. Needs to be allowed time to acclimatise to his new team and to a new league.
Axel Tuanzebe – 6 – Substituted on 65 minutes as we were searching for a winner. Gave a competent enough display filling in as a full back but he would be more comfortable and needs to play in the centre of our defence.
James Chester- 7 – His usual reliable self at the back and was unchallenged when he climbed to head home a nicely placed 13th minute free kick from McGinn to give us our opener. Don’t you just love his new scoreboard photograph by the way?
Mile Jedinak – 5 – One careless moment tarnished what was otherwise a decent enough defensive display. His awful under hit back pass gifted Powell their equalizer. His place is in the midfield and he should only be used as an emergency central defender. Headed a McGinn free kick wide on 66 minutes.
Alan Hutton – 7 – Connolly got in front of him to head the ball home on 55 minutes and give Wigan the lead. Got forward well, earning his “Scottish Cafu” chants with a particularly adept 27th minute turn. Ran to the edge of the area before hitting a 46th minute shot that Walton saved comfortably enough and gave his usual fully committed performance.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – Seems to be an automatic choice. Headed away from the post to safety on 28 minutes. He does produce consistent performances, but this is a position that I feel we should still be looking at strengthening with some urgency.
Birkir Bjarnason – 7 – Played in the holding midfield role and popped up at the far post in the 94th minute to give us our late winner. A McGinn cross was cleared only as far as Hourihane who hit a sweet cross around the defender who was in front of him that Birikir hit home at the far post.
Jack Grealish – 8 – Was given little to no protection throughout from the referee who gave Wigan a licence to make uncompromising challenges upon him at will. Jack was his usual impressive self on those occasions that he was not hacked down. How super nice it was to see Jack still in a Villa shirt.
John McGinn – 8 – MOTM – A very impressive debut. He works hard, likes to make a challenge and looks good on the ball. His corner led to our equalizer and his left footed free kick found Chester for our first. Kipre attempted to clear John’s 63rd minute corner but it cannoned off Dunkley’s head into the back of the net for our second. Hit an effort just wide on 73 minutes having had a 33rd minute shot from outside of the area saved by Walton. Looks likely to be another impressive Scot who has appeared for The Hibees before joining us and he follows in the illustrious footsteps of Alex Cropley and Des Bremner.
Andre Green – 6 – Made a couple of decent runs and will get better with a run of games. Hit a 69th minute shot from the edge of the box that Walton kept out. This can be a big season for him.
Jonathan Kodjia – 4 – Looks a shadow of the player he was before injury. He improved during the second half, but it would have been difficult to have been less effective. Should have found his match fitness by now which was the reason we gave for his lack lustre displays at the end of last season. Headed a nice McGinn cross over in the 52nd minute and had a 61st minute shot blocked by Walton. Headed a 68th minute Adomah cross wide. Badly in need of a confidence boosting goal or two.
Albert Adomah – 5 – Came on for Tuanzebe in the 65th minute. Has not looked the same player that did so well for us up until towards the end of last season for some time now.
Rushian Hepburn-Murphy - 6– Replaced Green on 74 minutes. Looked keen as well as full of running and pace.
Conor Hourihane - Replaced Kodjia on 87 minutes. I had expected that Conor would start yesterday. Although he was not on long enough to gather a rating he did have time to hit the cross that produced our late winner.
Up the Villa!
Villa won this tie at the Riverside and finished the job last night. It was a close call between the two teams, but we were so determined to emerge the victors that we were not to be denied.
Boro have played us four times in the Championship this season and have not scored against us. If anyone was going to score last night, it was Villa that had looked the more likely to do so. Boro had a little more possession than we had last night but they rarely threatened to do anything with it. Our game management was as impressive as was our defence resolute.
We started strongly and had the better of the second half when it was our opponents who needed to press for a goal to level the aggregate score. Although at times we were forced back in the first half the clean sheet that secured the win that clearly meant so much to our team was rarely under threat in hindsight although a Villa goal would have eased our understandable nerves.
Our players gave all they had and were backed by an impressive wall of noise that was produced by a packed claret & blue clad Villa Park. Boro’s one and only plan was to give the ball to Adama. That plan did not work on Saturday and it did not work again last night because on both occasions he was unable to get the better of our formidable defence. Pulis assisted us by repeating the same tactics that had failed in their home leg and by not starting with Bamford and Fabio last night when they had to seek a goal.
So, it is to be a Wembley playoff final with Fulham that makes or breaks our promotion campaign this season. Fulham will be the media’s firm choice. They can play some nice football, but have they ever come near to the level of performance that we produced to humiliate this season’s champions at Villa Park two months ago? They have had their off days this season as have we. There was not a lot to choose between the two clubs points tallies at the end of the season and we have both beaten each other once. I think we have the big match experience and the team spirit to clinch promotion at Wembley.
To do that we need to produce the sort of Wembley performance that we gave against Liverpool 3 years ago rather than the one that we produced a month later against Arsenal. We won a cup final on the same day that we will be facing Fulham 36 years ago. Wembley would be a great place to clinch promotion but as we know it is no place for losers. Let’s win one again to get back where we belong on the 26th!
My player ratings from a game before which we remembered Jloyd and after which we celebrated reaching Wembley once again are:
Sam Johnstone – 7 – Confident and assured for most of the game. Was perhaps fortunate to still be on the pitch at the end having got a hand to keep out an 87th minute Adama effort when he had strayed just outside of the penalty area with his mind on claiming the bouncing ball. Downing’s resultant free-kick from the edge of the box thudded against the crossbar much to Sam’s relief.
James Bree – 7 – Lost possession on a couple of occasions early on but did his bit and settled into the game well. Did well to head out a 40th minute Adama cross at the far post with Howson having ran into position behind him.
James Chester - 9 – Another confident display. Hit a 37th minute shot wide of the post from a Grabban header.
John Terry – 9 – Just one win from picking up another trophy. Led by example last night.
Alan Hutton - 9 – Had Adama in his pocket once again. Adama had the edge in pace but Alan had the guile, will and experience to win his duel with him.
Robert Snodgrass – 8 – Covered an awful lot of ground last night.
Mile Jedinak - 9 – MOTM – Played a crucial role in front of the defence and his contribution like his beard was immense last night.
Conor Hourihane – 8 – Worked tirelessly to deny his opponents space and time. Charged down a 10th minute Randolph clearance but the ball deflected harmlessly to the left. Almost got on the end of a 34th minute Adomah cross but Friend made a timely and important challenge.
Albert Adomah – 8 – Another that put in a big shift for the cause. Had a 71st minute shot from the edge of the area deflected off a defender past the far post.
Jack Grealish – 9 – Curled a sweet 75th minute shot from the edge of the box which Randolph did well to keep out at the far post. He just oozes class.
Lewis Grabban – 8 – Worked hard up front and was denied by Randolph’s outstretched right leg when he got on the end of a 60th minute Adomah cross after a good one two between Jack and Albert. Hit a shot from well outside of the box 10 minutes later that Randolph tipped over.
Jonathan Kodjia – Replaced Grabban on 79 minutes and did his bit tonight. Nice to see him joining in with the celebrations at the end. Not quite on long enough to get a rating
Glenn Whelan – Replaced Hourihane on 85 minutes. Not on long enough to merit a rating.
Birkir Bjarnason – Replaced Adomah on 91 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating.
Get Up Villa!
Our unlikely hopes of automatic promotion were finally extinguished beyond any doubt yesterday. We will end the season in fourth place but will hopefully end it with a Wembley win to show for our efforts this season.
Ex Blue-Nose Cameron Jerome gave Derby County a 14th minute lead yesterday that despite Villa enjoying the lion’s share of the possession they had looked increasingly like holding onto until Lewis Grabban hit our late equalizer and put their invitation to the playoff lottery on hold for another week.
Villa deserved a point from this game at the very least and can now move on towards the playoffs having lost only two of our twenty-three home league games this season.
The East Midlander’s arrived hoping to win their first game at Villa Park since 1988. Having gone a goal up they resolved to keep what they had by means of a dogged well organised defence. On another day we might have scored four but on this occasion, we had to be content with one and with keeping our powder dry for the three playoff games on which the success or otherwise of our promotion campaign will be dependant.
Who knows we may meet our visitors again in those playoffs. On 26th May (a date of great significance in our club’s proud history already) a Wembley appearance may propel one of these two clubs back into the top flight. I for one would rather like that that meeting to happen, and I would back us to breech their defence more than once on that occasion to claim that final promotion place.
We are now able to rest players who may benefit from that in our final game of the season at The Den. Of those players that started yesterday I would wrap Elmohamady, Terry, Chester, Snodgrass, Adomah and Jack in cotton wool next weekend.
My player ratings from a game after which Gabby made his final Villa Park appearance as a current Villa squad member are:
Sam Johnstone – 6 – Kept out a 51st minute shot from the edge of the box from Lawrence.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – Did well to get back to block Weimann’s 73rd minute shot.
James Chester - 7 – Dependable and solid as ever.
John Terry – 7 – Welcome back! JT and Chester are such an effective central defensive pairing.
Neil Taylor – 4 – Substituted on 23 minutes due to injury. Should have just ran the ball out for a corner but instead gifted the ball to Weimann who then played the ball to Jerome for their goal. May well struggle to dislodge Hutton from the starting line-up now that he is recovered from injury himself.
Robert Snodgrass – 7 – Hit a fierce 75th minute shot from the edge of the box after his free-kick had come back to him which Carson tipped over unseen by the referee apparently. Worked tirelessly and kept trying to move Derby’s parked bus aside.
Glen Whelan – 6 – Had a decent game yesterday.
Jack Grealish – 8 – MOTM – Played a nice one-two with Grabban on 31 minutes chested the ball down well but his shot was kept out by Carson’s right foot. Hit a shot over the bar from the edge of the area on 61 minutes and another one wide 15 minutes later. He simply makes us tick.
Conor Hourihane – 6 –Tried to curl a 32nd minute shot from the edge of the box inside the far post but it was safely gathered by Carson. The ex-Villa keeper also was on hand at his right-hand post to save another 67th minute effort from him from the edge of the area. Somehow hit a 70th minute header from Snodgrass that fell to him at the far post wide.
Albert Adomah– 5 – Hit a nice cross that looked destined to be turned in by Grabban on the line just before the interval after Jack had found him with an inch perfect ball. Looks in need of a couple of weeks rest after having been a big player for us to date this season. Albert was substituted inside an hour.
Lewis Grabban – 7 – Curtis Davies had him in his pocket for a fair bit of this game, but he did what goal scorer’s do and hit home our equalizer and his 20th goal of the season on 84 minutes. Hourihane hit a powerful shot that Carson blocked but the ball rebounded to Terry who coolly played it along to Lewis who applied the required finish. Headed an Adomah cross harmlessly over the bar on 25 minutes when he should have been on target also headed a ball from Elmohamady onto the post in first half stoppage time.
Alan Hutton – 7 – A very welcome return. Alan came on for Taylor in the 23rd minute. Made some decent runs forward and had a 79th minute header which went just wide of the post.
Jonathan Kodjia – Replaced Adomah on 59 minutes. He is increasing his match fitness with each appearance following his long injury lay off but would benefit from the confidence that a goal brings and almost got one in the 74th minute when he hit the post from a Snodgrass cross.
Josh Onomah - Replaced Whelan on 81 minutes. Josh was not on long enough to gather a rating.
Get Up Villa!
A second successive home win and clean sheet has left us just 270 playoff minutes plus stoppage/extra time away from promotion.
We did not need to be at our best last night to emerge the victors and we were not. We had by far the better of the game and ran out comfortable winners, but we took our foot off the gas noticeably in the second half and other teams might have made us pay the penalty for that. This was our third game within a week, so it might have been tired legs rather than a casual approach that brought the visitors more into the game in the second half, but we never quite killed them off and a one goal lead can often not prove quite enough. This was a night when we might have boosted our goal difference I hope that we do not regret having not done so.
Leeds are not the team to fear that they once were, but neither are we. They had some unfamiliar names in their starting line-up but of these their young goalkeeper Peacock-Farrell kept them in the game and their full back Pearce also looked very promising. These are two players that on this showing I suggest we would perhaps do well to keep an eye on for the future.
My player ratings from a game that left me thinking what might have been had we performed a little better in a couple of our recent games and not spent so much of this season without Jack, JT and Kodjia are:
Sam Johnstone – 6 – Tipped a 3rd minute Alioski shot over the bar. Rarely called upon after that.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – A decent enough performance.
James Chester - 7 – Failed to get a touch on a great ball from Onomah on 69 minutes that was all that was needed to seal our win. Dependable as always at the heart of our defence.
Mile Jedinak – 7 – Has done well alongside Chester in the centre of our defence as two successive clean sheets suggest. Mistimed his header on 76 minutes when Snodgrass found him with a free kick.
Neil Taylor – 5 – Not yet quite up to the level he has given us at times in the past.
Robert Snodgrass – 7 – Tried to curl an 18th minute shot inside the far post which Peacock-Farrell pushed out. Unusually hit a couple of free kicks harmlessly into the wall but hit some nice crosses and kept working at it.
Glen Whelan – 6 – Did a decent enough job as our holding midfield player. Kept things simple and did well to be in the right position to cover at the far post to head away an attempt by Phillips to turn in a cross on 50 minutes.
Josh Onomah – 6 – Much better than of late. Did well to work himself a 33rd minute shooting opportunity but flashed his shot wide of the near post. Kept busy throughout.
Jack Grealish – 8 – MOTM - Had a couple of attempts to repeat his match winning shot against Cardiff but they did not trouble the keeper. Made a nice run into the box on 69 minutes and hit the ball from just outside of the 6-yard area which Peacock-Farrell blocked with his outstretched leg.
Jonathan Kodjia – 6 – Ran on towards a nice early Snodgrass ball hit from inside his own half only for Peacock-Farrell to run outside his area, beat him to it and clear it with his head on 18 minutes. Looked odds on to hit a second goal for us when he was pushed by O’Connor at the near post as he looked to get his head to a sweet Grealish cross. For some reason his penalty claim was denied. I was surprised to see him start but each minute he gets sets him up to make a bigger contribution in our playoff games. Substituted having got 67 minutes game time.
Lewis Grabban – 7 – Elmohamady hit an intended cross from the right so wildly across the goal that it fell to Grealish just outside the left-hand edge of the box. Jack then hit a perfectly flighted 29th minute cross which Lewis headed unchallenged into the left-hand corner of the net for our winner and his fifth goal for us. Was not quite able to turn a nice 61st minute ball from Snodgrass past Peacock-Farrell from close range and the keeper also got to Kodjia’s attempt to turn in the rebound which was ruled out for offside.
Albert Adomah – 6 – Came on for Kodjia in the 67th minute. Grealish chipped a lovely ball over a couple of defenders to Albert whose 75th minute shot was blocked at the near post by Peacock-Farrell. He then left a defender for dead on 84 minutes on the left flank but then hit the ball wildly across the face of the goal rather than find Snodgrass who was unmarked on the centre edge of the penalty box.
Scott Hogan - Replaced Grabban on 78 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating.
Chris Samba – Replaced Onomah on 85 minutes and was not therefore on long enough to gather a rating.
Get Up the Villa!
Two Championship heavyweights traded blows last night before Super Jack landed a knock-out blow in the 85th minute that was good enough to win any game.
Cardiff’s defeat is their second on the trot and they may now find pulling back Fulham who are on such an impressive run to be beyond them. There is therefore now a decent prospect of this fixture being repeated on 26th May subject to both teams emerging victorious from their two-legged semi-finals and avoiding each other in these.
After the game Neil Warnock said, “you could see what it meant to Villa tonight the way you thought they’d won the World Cup when the whistle went.” He is right it wasn’t The World Cup and it is unlikely to prove too decisive in the promotion race, but it might just act as a bit of a confidence booster for us and knock that of his own club should the two teams happen to meet again next month.
We played a lot better than we had at Norwich (it would have been difficult to play any worse) last night and the win takes us within four points of third placed Cardiff. A win on Friday against Leeds United will now see us qualify for the playoffs. Sadly, points dropped recently and unnecessarily have made automatic promotion an unrealistic prospect for us.
Cardiff worked hard and pressed us giving our players very little time on the ball particularly in the first half. Although we look the better team on paper the game is not played on paper as the league table currently demonstrates. Our visitors could consider themselves unfortunate to have not had scored as the first half drew to its conclusion with them on top. The second half was a different matter with Villa posing an increasing threat until Jack hit his world class winner.
My player ratings from a game that Villa produced a Royal Command Performance for the watching Prince William who was sitting comfortably next to his Villa hero John Carew last night are:
Sam Johnstone – 8 - MOTM – His saves kept us level for Jack to hit our late winner. Having done so well to keep out a Whelan header in the third minute of first half stoppage time he then recovered quickly to block Paterson’s attempt from the rebound. Kept out a 57th minute Zohore shot from the edge of the box with his left foot at the left post and did the same on the 82nd minute with another shot from Mendez-Laing.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – An improvement upon his last game.
James Chester - 7 – So solid at the back and was a reassuring presence in JT’s absence.
Mile Jedinak – 6 – Filled in well for JT alongside Chester.
Axel Tuanzebe – Picked up a knock which led to his early substitution when losing possession on 16 minutes near the centre circle to Mendez-Laing who ran on to hit a shot against the far post. Did not merit a rating during the time available.
Robert Snodgrass – 7 – Had a penalty shout on 46 minutes when he went to ground after Bennett leaned into him just inside of the penalty area. Worked hard and well.
Glen Whelan – 4 – A late replacement for Bjarnason who was injured during the warm up. Twice came uncomfortably close to getting an own goal in first half stoppage time. Morrison played the ball back across goal after Whelan had cleared his initial header only for Glen to send it goalward where Elmohamady was in the right place at the right time in the second minute of first half stoppage time to clear the ball off the line. In the next minute he headed a Bennett free-kick which looked destined for the back of the net before Johnstone pulled off a tremendous save to keep it out with his left hand.
Conor Hourihane – 5 – Worked hard. Was found by a great Grabban ball on 69 minutes but having taken a touch his left foot effort ended in the side netting tis a pity his right foot is just for standing on. His 80th minute shot from the edge of the area after Grealish’s back heel had given him the opportunity was then pushed wide for a corner by Etheridge.
Albert Adomah – 5 – Substituted after an hour. Hit a second shot inches wide of the post from a 34th minute Snodgrass corner after his first was cleared back to him by Bamba.
Jack Grealish – 8 – Hit our stunning 85th minute winner when a Snodgrass free-kick was cleared to the edge of the box and fell to him in space to hit a right footed volley in off the inside off the left post. Given little protection by the referee having been clearly targeted for some special treatment by our opponents.
Lewis Grabban – 6 – Doesn’t seem to carry quite the goal threat he did earlier for us. Hit the side netting on 2 minutes having been found by Snodgrass and headed a 48th minute Grealish cross wide of the far post.
James Bree – 5 – Came on for the injured Tuanzebe in the 26th minute. Showed signs of ring rustiness but that was only to be expected.
Jonathan Kodjia - 6 – Replaced Adomah on 60 minutes. Ran inside the box beat a defender and had a 65th minute shot saved by Etheridge at the near post. Gaining increasing match sharpness with each outing with a view to being at his best for the playoffs.
Chris Samba – Replaced Hourihane on 88 minutes and was not therefore on long enough to gather a rating.
Up the Villa!
The pride of the Black Country arrived at Villa Park yesterday expecting to record a further win. They snuck out of the ground later with their tails between their legs having been clearly outplayed on the day by the pride of the Midlands.
Cardiff and Fulham fans would have expected Villa to drop at least a point last night. They were to be disappointed. This looked a tough game for us but perhaps we underestimated the team’s will to win a little and by doing so over-estimated the impact our visitors would be allowed to make upon the match which brought them their heaviest league defeat of the season.
This was a memorable game and performance. It was a game that those Villa fans who were fortunate enough to attend can tell their children and grandchildren about in future years.
It was the day that our players and manager made Villa Park a fortress once again. Villa produced a performance that was even better than the one that gave us victory last month against the Small Heathens and we needed to do so against what is a significantly more competent team.
This was a hard-fought local derby. In the first half there was little to choose between the two teams. Villa took an early lead but were pegged back by the confident visitors who looked solid and dangerous for the rest of the half. The second half was a different matter. Wolves were blitzed by three second Villa half goals that they had no answer for. Villa take the honours from the games between the two teams this season 4-3 on aggregate then!
Our visitors will come the end of this season take the place in the top flight that their consistently impressive overall displays this season have earned them, but they might not be surprised after yesterday’s game to find Villa occupying the other automatic promotion spot alongside them to ensure that this local derby is played in the Premier League next season.
My player ratings from a game that gave us our tenth win from our last twelve matches are:
Sam Johnstone – 7 – Reassuringly solid on those occasions that he was tested. Could do little to stop Jota forcing in their equalizer.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 7 – A solid display.
James Chester - 8 – Scored our second on 57 minutes stretching to hit home a well-placed Snodgrass free-kick and wasn’t he happy about it?
John Terry – 8 – Was the rock on which our solid defence was built upon. Did very well to clear the ball over the bar with Bonatini waiting to get on to a ball that had been played back towards him by Doherty before their equalizer and directed a later Snodgrass free-kick towards Chester who was not quite able to connect with it. There was no way he was prepared to accept anything other than a Villa win from this game. Terrymendous!
Neil Taylor – 7 – Looks capable of making this position his own now made a splendidly timed tackle inside the box on 78 minutes.
Robert Snodgrass – 8 – Worked hard and did more than his fair share of tracking back. Showed he really wanted this one with a whole-hearted tenacious display.
Mile Jedinak – 7 – We look a much more solid midfield with the bearded one in it. Got his head to Snodgrass’s corner which led to our early opener.
Conor Hourihane – 7 – A solid performance.
Albert Adomah – 8 – MOTM – Albert was a constant threat to the visitors down the flank. He scored our first after 8 minutes when he was in the right place at the right time to hit the ball in from close range, put a sweet cross over for the vital third goal which gave us a 2-goal cushion and did a solid job for us when back in his own half to stifle their forward movement.
Jack Grealish – 8 – He really is some player, isn’t he? Looks to be able to make the sort of immense contribution to a game that he made in that Liverpool cup semi-final week in and week out now.
Lewis Grabban – 7 – Scoring goals for fun, isn’t he? Added his fourth goal for us in his last four games with our third on 62 minutes. Hit the side netting at the near post on 43 minutes after turning well after Grealish has done so well to get a cross over to him. Bruce uses the loan market to great effect.
Birkir Bjarnason – 7 – Came on for Albert in the 75th minute and hit our fourth with a toe-poke from the edge of the box 10 minutes later having ran through their defence to reach there.
Henri Lansbury – Replaced Hourihane on 81 minutes so was not on quite long enough to earn a rating.
Scott Hogan – Replaced Grabban on 86 minutes and was not therefore on long enough to gather a rating.
Up the Villa!
We dropped another two home points yesterday having gone two goals ahead within the first ten minutes. Our opponents drew level after only 26 minutes of the game to burst our bubble. Their goals came from a lumbering striker who was not good enough for the team that are rock bottom of the league today. His two finishes were reminiscent of Shearer in his pomp and I am sure he never expected his name to be linked with a player of that quality albeit for a fleeting moment other than by someone who was having a chuckle at his expense. Sadly, all too often their former players return to the city and take perverse pleasure in shining against us, so it again proved yesterday when Donaldson’s brace cost us a much-needed win.
Our visitors arrived at Villa Park for our last home game of 2017 having gone 5 games without a win and having lost all but one of them. After yesterday we have gone 4 games without a win ourselves and the 4 points dropped at home in our last two home games may yet prove all too costly when the points are totalled at the season end.
What had started so encouragingly ended in seasonal disappointment. The Blades deserved their point and we never really looked like getting a winner against a team that pressured us and gave us no time on the ball after they had pulled us back to 2-2. Recoveries from injuries along with transfer window reinforcements just cannot come quickly enough for us.
I would take this opportunity to explain that my recent failure to post my home player match ratings after over twenty years of doing so was due to ill health which has prevented me taking my seat at Villa Park of late. It is also likely to I regret continue to do so in the near future which will in turn reflect on my ability to post my ratings as regularly as I have done previously.
My player ratings from a game that left us clinging to the play-off places by our fingertips are:
Sam Johnstone – 6 – Stood no chance with their first which was lobbed over his head from the edge of the box and their second went through his legs at the near post before going in at the far post. Got down to his left to keep out a 45th minute Lundstram effort from the edge of the box and then got a hand to a 50th minute Duffy shot from the edge of the box.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Did well enough but can he continue to keep out the Scottish Cafu?
James Chester - 6 – The better by some distance of our central defenders yesterday.
Mile Jedinak – 4 – Scored with a nice header but allowed Donaldson goal side of him for their first and then failed to clear a hopeful ball aimed towards the same player who gleefully ran onto the loose ball for their equalizer.
Neil Taylor – 6 – Solid enough at the back.
Glenn Whelan – 5 – No glaring error this time from this source.
Robert Snodgrass – 5 - His well placed 9th minute free-kick was powerfully headed into the corner of the net by Jedinak to give us the early two goal cushion that soon burst.
Conor Hourihane – 6 – Hit a shot just wide of the post from outside of the box on 41 minutes.
Albert Adomah – 6 – MOTM – Sent Moore the wrong way when coolly converting a 4th minute penalty sending the ball into the corner of the net to the keeper’s left. Headed a sweet 29th minute Elmohamady cross wide of the far post but he can’t really be expected to put each and every chance away can he?
Jack Grealish – 6 – Made only his second start of the season and received some harsh treatment particularly from the aptly named Basham. Wanted the ball and has it in him to do something with it I trust he will soon be increasingly dominant in our remaining games.
Keinan Davis – 5 – Brought down for our early penalty when Stearman rashly took both player and ball. Taylor played a lovely 12th minute ball to Adomah whose cross eluded Keinan who was outmuscled by a defender as he stretched towards the ball. Headed a 60th minute Hourihane cross over the bar. Held the ball up but lacks a goal threat and it was asking a lot for him to play as a lone striker against this sort of no-nonsense central defence. Needs someone playing alongside him.
Ritchie De Laet – 5 – Came on for Snodgrass on the 59th minute which did little to increase our hopes of finding a winner.
Gabriel Agbonlahor – Replaced Davis on 73 minutes and was not on long enough to earn any rating but did pick up another injury near the end.
Scott Hogan – Replaced Elmohamady on 73 minutes and was not therefore on long enough to gather a rating. Needs to start games alongside Davis starting on Boxing Day.
A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Promotion Year to all readers!
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.
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!
I think if he can demonstate that a few players have significantly improved, he will get time.....they will see, things can get better
I have seen no one improve under his tutelage.....its not good guys.
bumping along, much like Bruce, will not save him.
I am tired of listening to these manager philosophies....what's Darren Moores philosophy?.....what's Chris Wilders Philosophy?....What's Lee Johnsons Philosophies.
They just build balanced teams......players who can defend and players who can attack.
They all work their nuts off and don't get physically out played.
Its so damn obvious its untrue.......we are a million miles away from anything that resembles balanced.
9 assists, 4 goals, best passing percentage, second most "key passes" after Jack. That's just this season. Last season first midfielder to reach double figures in goals for Villa since Platt. Yeah, he must be awfull.
I’d hope that purslow is right in his comments about ffp and that our finances are not bad enough to worry about who we can or can’t afford to sack - if smith does finish in the bottom 8 and the board feel they can attract a better manager then I’d hope that finance wouldn’t be an obstacle - that said I’m sure we all hope smith does succeed - I certainly could never have envisaged a run like this a couple of months ago
Finance should come into it, we lose the best part of £300k a week in revenue soon, expiring contracts nearly cover it leaving net nothing for a rebuild without selling some of the bigger earners with a year left. Smith has worked under bigger constraints and him, Pitarch, Kelly etc. will have better resources than Brentford regardless. What they need is some time. Binning the project before it has a chance to get going incurs cost in paying off Smith and Kelly.
EDIT: Bruce in the end was given too much time, but he was allowed to have a preseason to get things how he wanted for a tilt at going up (which very nearly happened). The same should be given to Smith.
I think he does need time, within reason.
However, I don't think the Brentford Model will work with us.....I don't see us going up without a discerning view on defence.....I mean, the whole team having an ability to defend.....See Man U last night or Albion against us.
I think there will be much scrutiny, in what happens between now and the end of the season.....and opinions behind the scenes will be made....Its not a question of whats fair and whats not.....if Dean presides over a similar run in his first 14' he may not be given the time or opportunity to try and improve it.