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!
A super well-placed Conor Hourihane free-kick gave Villa the win in yesterday’s game between the only two of the five English teams that have lifted the European Cup that currently play outside of the top flight. Forest won that trophy in 1979 and 1980. Villa continued the Midlands domination of that cup competition in 1982 to become the fifth consecutive winners from England with Liverpool also having won the trophy in 1977, 1978 and in 1981. These two Midland clubs have sadly fallen from grace and have a long way to go to become anything approaching the teams that they were back then.
Villa played well in the first half following a strong start to the game from our visitors. Our team produced some entertaining football with Adomah and Snodgrass both making some nice positive runs down each flank. Forest played their part in what was one of the better 45 minutes of football played at Villa Park in recent seasons. We scored one but the nagging thought remained that at the end of the game we might regret having not put at least one of our other first-half opportunities away.
Forest had a little too much of the ball for my liking in the first 45 minutes and that was even more the case in the second half. They were always going to get a chance or two given the amount of possession they were enjoying and they got the equaliser that many had feared they might on the 52nd minute. Fortunately, we bounced back with the goal that won it for us from our top goal scorer Hourihane on the hour and we managed to hang onto that lead until the close.
The three points that we gained from yesterday’s win took us into the top half of the table. It gave us two consecutive league wins for the first time this season which took us just 2 points off the play-off places and within 7 points of the automatic promotion spots. We are still playing catch-up after our poor start to the season but we are at least in the process of catching up. Wins against Burton and Bolton next week that will put us on 4 wins from 4 games are now required to give us the momentum that we need.
My player ratings from a game that we might well have drawn (which we did last season) are:
Sam Johnstone – 7 – Sealed our win when he showed his agility in pushing an 85th minute 30-yard Dowell free-kick that was played over our defensive wall and was heading for the top corner wide of the post with one hand. Had earlier been somewhat fortunate when he blocked a 55th minute Dowell shot with his right leg and it somehow deflected to safety past his left-hand post. Gathered a 57th minute Murphy header that went straight at him easily enough. Sam had the occasional wayward kick yesterday that led to a couple of throw-ins for the visitors but his confidence is there for all to see now and I hope we can make his loan into a permanent signing.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Forest targeted his wing as being a potential weak point for us from the start and had some element of success having done so.
James Chester - 7 – Did well and again looked solid yesterday alongside JT.
John Terry – 7 – Another composed and solid defensive performance. It was nice to see how much the win meant to him when the referee blew the final whistle.
Neil Taylor - 7 – Comfortable at the back and looked good when moving forward. His best performance to date for us in my opinion.
Robert Snodgrass – 7 – He gives us a lot and was a real threat on the wing but had understandably tired well before his 88th minute substitution due no doubt to his inactivity before joining us. Hit a nice cross on 33 minutes that Smith pushed out for a corner at the far post with Kodjia in close attention.
Glenn Whelan - 4 – Started well enough but tired noticeably in the second half wanting to take too long on the ball at times and being caught or almost caught in possession on occasion. Claimed an unwanted assist for their equalizer when both he and Terry tried to take the ball off Murphy on the edge of the penalty area but his involuntary touch on the ball instead put the striker clear inside the box and his shot gave Johnstone no chance. Jedinak’s injury impacts on our ability to rotate Mile and Glenn as well as to bring one of them on when the other tires.
Conor Hourihane – 8 – Hit our winner on the hour with a superb free kick that he bent around the wall and past Smith. A very good all-round midfield display throughout.
Albert Adomah – 8 – MOTM – Albert’s on fire, isn’t he? Hit our first goal after 15 minutes when he collected a splendidly measured ball played between two defenders into the box by Kodjia before rounding Smith and coolly slotting the ball home. Picked up a ball from Whelan just inside their half 3 minutes later and ran forward before cutting inside and hitting a shot from outside of the box that flew over the far post. Almost got on the end of a nice 56th minute ball into the box from Snodgrass that had just needed a touch at the near post. He was a constant problem to the visitors with his wide runs at their defenders.
Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – Got a big assist for our opening goal with a perfect defence splitting pass that was reminiscent of the sort that Gordon Cowans used to hit at will. Hit a 36th minute shot that Smith gathered at the second attempt after Davis had found him inside of the box. We look so much more threatening with “Johnny Danger” back in the starting line-up.
Keinan Davis – 7 – He holds the ball up and brings others into play so very well. Was found on the edge of the area by Snodgrass on 28 minutes and then showed some nice footwork before hitting a cross towards Kodjia that went wide of the far post.
Josh Onomah – 5 – Replaced Davis on 72 minutes. Found settling into this game and making an impression upon it a little more difficult than he would have hoped in the time he had available to do so.
Scott Hogan – Replaced Kodjia on 79 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating.
Alan Hutton – Replaced Snodgrass on 88 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating but he did stiffen us up defensively as we looked to close the game out and made an early challenge that left no doubt whatsoever that he meant business.
Up the Villa!
We made 11 changes from the team that won 3-0 at Barnsley on Saturday and paid the penalty for that with a cup exit (our first ever League Cup defeat against yesterday’s opponents). Not that we are alone in making significant changes in this cup competition and resting first team players at the drop of a hat as Middlesbrough made 10 changes themselves.
The League Cup was a really important trophy for around 40 years from the mid 60’s but it’s importance has faded to the extent that only 11,197 supporters attended this game. This game reminded me of those old Central League games that were played between reserve sides comprising of players who were out of favour, coming back from injury or potential first team players of the future. Crowds did not particularly flock in to see those games either.
Clubs mostly play teams that are pretty much unrecognisable from their first-team line ups until the last eight of the League Cup at least. We no longer have replays so that players do not face too many games in a season but those players do not play in the League Cup now anyway! The name of the competition has now become anyone’s guess with the sponsors having changed with great regularity since 1982 when the League Cup became the Milk Cup before morphing into a trophy that no club really makes a priority at the start of each season. It is a pity to see its demise.
This game turned on the 57th minute when we conceded a penalty and the first goal from the spot. We also lost Elphick who was given a second yellow which brought us down to ten men for the rest of the game (this referee was far less determined to even things up than the one had been last week). Up until then there had been little to choose between these two second string outfits neither of whom seemed desperate to want to win this game.
Both teams produced a lack lustre performance last night and it could be argued that we didn’t really play much at all. The game seemed to be drifting towards a tame goalless draw, extra time and penalties until the penalty was awarded. That gave Boro the impetus and the place in the next round on a day few Villa players did anything significant to advance their case for a first team call-up. We are now left free to concentrate on the league and to bring on the first team.
My player ratings from a game that extended the number of years we have gone without a League Cup Final appearance and a League Cup Final win beyond 8 and 22 years respectively are:
Jed Steer – 5 – Could only watch with relief when Bamford’s 26th minute header from a cross struck the bar with Hutton standing statuesque alongside the striker. Saved well low at his right-hand post to keep out a 30-yard shot from Forshaw on 36 minutes. Went left and Bamford struck his 58th minute spot kick down the middle. Caught in no-man’s land for their second when Bamford headed home a Tavernier cross at the near post that Bjarnason seemed to be trying to avoid making any contact with.
Ritchie De Laet – 5 – Made a good late run from well inside this own half on 92 minutes but his finish was high, wide and not very handsome. Headed the ball off the line on 89 minutes from a Taverier header or was it already marginally over?
Tommy Elphick - 4 – Started comfortably enough and headed in from a Lansbury free-kick but was flagged offside. Earned a second yellow card and cost us the game on 57 minutes when he rashly brought down Bamford inside the box and reduced us to 10 men.
Chris Samba – 6 – Did the simple things well enough and plays to his strengths.
Alan Hutton - 6 – Started very well.
Henri Lansbury – 6 – Sent off against these same opponents last Tuesday but was available to play having had his red card correctly rescinded. Went off with an injury on 41 minutes and we missed his experience.
Jake Doyle-Hayes - 6 – Not as effective as he was in his last cup outing but he was very, very good on that day.
Josh Onomah – 5 – Not at his best last night but few were. Had a 44th minute effort kept out at the far post by Konstantopoulos.
Calum O’Hare – 6 – MOTM – Make another good impression last night. Chased down apparently lost causes such as in the 34th minute when he went after a Hutton cross that seemed destined to go out of play and turned it back towards goal to force Konstantopoulos to stretch out a hand to avert the danger. Worked hard throughout just needs to try to add a cutting edge to his game.
Birkir Bjarnason – 4 – Another disappointing display and he is clearly no full back.
Scott Hogan – 5 – Could not quite turn a ball into the box in from close range on the hour mark. More was expected from him but he did not get a lot of service. Looked understandably unhappy to be substituted as were we to see him go given the match situation.
Ross McCormack – 5 – Replaced Lansbury on 41 minutes. Showed a couple of nice touches and looked like he might have turned home a 65th minute Samba header from a corner. Is it time to re-think bringing him back in from the cold?
Jordan Lyden – 5 - Replaced Hogan on 60 minutes. Made no particularly noticeable impression on the game in the time he had available.
Corey Blackett-Taylor – Replaced Onomah on 81 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating.
Up the Villa!
This was an improved performance on the one that we witnessed on Saturday but it would have been difficult to have been worse than that! The team selection was a little more positive as were the substitutions made at half time that gave us two strikers at long last albeit against a team who were down to ten men. We enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession and created several chances but were sadly unable to put any of them away.
Another goalless home draw makes it seem a long time since we hit 4 at Villa Park but we did exactly that in the two home games we played prior to last Saturday’s game. These draws have done nothing to lift us nearer to the top six than the bottom six or to ease the pressure on our manager. Boro’s defence rode their luck at times last night but they were organised and determined. We got forward a lot last night but our final balls were often wayward and we lacked the confidence along with the luck to hit the back of the net when scoring opportunities arose. Given that we deserved to have won this one.
So, we are left with just one league win from 7 games and are unbeaten in our last 4 matches. We have kept a second successive clean sheet but have not scored in those two games either. We are one of 5 clubs with 7 points but are the last placed of these clubs because we only have 7 goals from our 7 games. We are 3 points clear of Small Heath who head the 3 clubs who are sitting in the relegation zone but are 5 points off the play off places and 9 off the automatic promotion places. Make of that what you wish but we need to start scoring goals and to start winning rather than drawing games. We need to start by winning at Barnsley, at home to Bolton and at Burton. 16 points from 10 games would sound a lot better than 7 from 7. To do that we will need to start putting our chances away and keep it tight at the back. We will also need to play for wins. Here’s hoping!
My player ratings from a game that showed that there really is not that much between these two teams (currently 4 points) are:
Sam Johnstone – 6 – Not frequently called upon but did very well on 71 minutes to keep out a shot from the edge of the box from Assombalonga that he turned past the post and had earlier flown across his goal to keep out a 3rd minute Gibson header.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Got forward in the first half but we had other wide players available to do that last night. Did ok at the back when called upon to do so.
James Chester - 6 – A sound defensive performance when tested.
John Terry – 6 – Solid and composed.
Neil Taylor – 6 – Another steady defensive performance. Got forward more often although having done so his final ball sometimes went astray.
Robert Snodgrass – 8 – MOTM – Robert was a real threat last night. Tried to turn home a 25th minute ball played to him on the edge of the box from Davis who had picked up a loose ball but his shot was collected by Randolph. Headed downwards on 36 minutes but it bounced nicely into Randolph’s hands. Hit a nice 40th minute cross over the keeper which was headed wide by Davis. Hit a decent 45th minute free kick from the edge of the box that was gathered near the post at the second attempt by Randolph. Hit the bar on 50 minutes with a fierce shot (which was perhaps unnecessarily so) after Randolph was only able to parry an Adomah cross in his direction.
Henri Lansbury – 6 – Looked to be trying to take one for the team when he brought down Johnson from behind on 64th minute. That gave the referee the opportunity he had been waiting an hour for and without any hesitation he evened things up by showing Henri a straight red. It was a yellow card offence and a professional foul. I can’t recall seeing anyone getting a straight red for one of these but I suspect it was interpreted as a kick at the opponent. Left clear by a splendid chip over the defence by Taylor but Randolph scrambled the ball away.
Mile Jedinak - 6 – A welcome return following injury and the 45 minutes he had will have shaken off a few cobwebs. Made way for Hogan at half time to give us another striker as we attempted to press for a goal against a team we then had a man advantage over.
Conor Hourihane – 7 – Conor was the victim of an unnecessary and wild scissor like challenge from Traore that led to the once occasional Villa Player getting his marching orders after 4 minutes. Hit a speculative shot from 30 yards on 27 minutes that flew a couple of feet over the bar. He was so unlucky that Hogan got in the way of his goal bound shot on the goal line on 76 minutes. He then had a late opportunity to win the game on 94 minutes when a Snodgrass corner fell to him but his shot was off target and went wide of the near post.
Birkir Bjarnason – 4 – A disappointing display. Snodgrass was found by a nice ball from Terry and ran into the box before hitting a chipped 40th minute cross that flew over Randolph and Christie but Birkir’s far post header was poorly directed and looped wide of that post.
Keinan Davis– 6 – Worked hard and does hold the ball up well hopefully he can add an increasing goal threat to his overall game.
Albert Adomah – 7 – Replaced Bjarnason at half time and made a positive impression.
Scott Hogan – 6 - Replaced Jedinak at half time. Headed the ball onto the roof of the net on 68 minutes. Needs to start games no doubt he will have to wait a week for that.
Jonathan Kodjia – 7 - Replaced Davis on 70 minutes. Nice to see him back in a Villa shirt and hopefully he can provide the goals we have recently been so short of. Got on the end of a teasing cross from Snodgrass and his far post header was helped onto the bar by Randolph before falling to Hourihane whose shot was cleared off the line by our own player. Headed a Hourihane free kick just over on 80 minutes.
Up the Villa!
Despite selling players like there is no tomorrow in the last two transfer windows and being second from bottom of the table both before and after this game our visitors have not tasted defeat in their last three games against us.
The Bees drew at Villa Park last season and did the same yesterday. This result has put as huge a dent in our confidence and has placed similar doubts upon our promotion prospects as had our 1-1 home draw against Brentford last September.
We need to approach home games with a view to winning them rather than to not losing them. The onus is on us to crate chances and to put those chances away. Playing two forwards up front would be a good place to start. We were poor in the first half and were even worse in the second.
Whilst our overall performance yesterday was unacceptable the result was no less than our visitors deserved and they were clearly the better team. We were fortunate to end the game with a point. They may still be in the bottom three but they were very well organised, looked by some way the most likely of the two teams to break the deadlock and comfortably handled a team that are only three points and five places above them.
Brentford dictated the course of the game all too easily. They bossed the midfield, dealt comfortably with what little threat we produced up front and unlike us produced good scoring opportunities aplenty. They had a plan and we didn’t. They were well organised where we were not. We have the better squad on paper but it did not look like it on Saturday!
Steve Bruce admitted in his post-game interview with BBC Radio WM that we “didn’t play with the energy or the spark that was required”. He also admitted that he “should have done better and freshened us up”. He went on to add that “at 3 – 4 o’clock yesterday (Davis, Green and Onomah) weren’t going to play but wanted to play this morning, unfortunately all three of them have come off injured and looked jaded and tired”. I would have hoped that Hogan, Snodgrass and Lansbury had also wanted to play having had a less arduous week. He added looking forward to our next game, “We’ll be better than what we were today”. We will need to be!
We dropped too many points at home last season and have now dropped 4 points from our first 3 home games of this new season. We gave ourselves too much ground to make up on the teams that ended up battling for promotion last season due to our early run of disappointing results. We are now 10 points behind leaders Cardiff, 8 points behind Leeds, 7 points behind Wolves and 4 points behind 6th placed Middlesbrough who we play next Tuesday. We are currently 18th in the league and have only 6 points from our first 6 games of the season. Our previous manager left when the club occupied 19th place having taken 10 points from the first 11 league games of last season and having been 10 points off the play-off places. Say no more!
The 2 points that we dropped yesterday need to be made up sooner rather than later. We cannot afford to be cut adrift as we were last season with too much ground to make up on the promotion contenders. The visit of Boro provides us with an early opportunity to make some amends. They won 3-0 at Bolton yesterday to take themselves into the last of the play-off positions. Given that, a draw might have just been acceptable before we drew our second home game of the season yesterday although we do really need to win home games against the clubs that we hope to be competing with for a promotion place at the end of this season. We now cannot afford to drop further home points against Boro. A defeat on Tuesday would take the gap between the two clubs up to 7 points after only 7 games but if we perform anything like we did yesterday it is hard to see us making up any ground on them.
My player ratings from a game that gave us a stark and unpleasant reminder of how we fared last season are:
Sam Johnstone – 8 – MOTM – Quite simply we would have lost this game without him. Did very well to block a 57th minute Clarke shot with his right leg after the player had run into the box having been put clear. Parried and then held a Barbet free kick from the edge of the box on the hour mark. Did well to turn a 72nd minute Watkins shot past the far post and pushed a 76th minute shot from the edge of the box from the same player past his left-hand post.
James Bree – 6 – Did well enough at the back.
James Chester - 6 – Wanted too long to bring an 85th minute Snodgrass cross that had flown above Hogan to him under control which allowed Bentley the chance to smother his eventual effort.
John Terry – 6 – Made a 19th minute mistake that presented the ball to an opponent on the edge of the box but his blushes were spared when Whelan cleared the danger.
Neil Taylor – 6 – Another steady defensive display.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 4 – Did not make enough of an impression on the game. Headed a cross from Green well over on 52 minutes and had 79th minute appeal for a penalty rejected when Dalsgaard took the ball before he went down.
Josh Onomah – 6 – The best of our midfield by some distance yesterday before he left the field on the hour due to injury. Snatched at a nice 9th minute Green cross hitting the ball wide of the post.
Glenn Whelan – 4 – Needed to try playing the ball forward instead of behind him more often.
Conor Hourihane – 5 – Did not get forward often enough and would have benefited from having Lansbury alongside him in my opinion.
Andre Green – 6 – Substituted on the hour due to a hamstring injury and he will be missed. Dropped too deep at times but he was not alone in that and he did play a couple of decent balls into the box.
Keinan Davis– 6 – Held the ball up well when he had the opportunity to do so but he was left very isolated up front, short of service and played with no support alongside him. Hit a 21st minute shot from the edge of the box that went just wide of the post. Onomah found him well inside the box on 26 minutes but he sliced the ball into the side netting.
Robert Snodgrass – 6 – Replaced Green on 60 minutes and showed signs of good things to come from him in the future.
Scott Hogan – 5 - Replaced Davis on 60 minutes. Made a good run inside the box and was found by a ball from Onomah on 67 minutes but his attempt to square the ball from close range but a tight angle was intercepted by Bentley’s left hand at the near post. He needs to start and to have another striker playing alongside him.
Gabby Agbonlahor – 4 - Replaced the injured Onomah on 71 minutes. I could not help but think that the creativity of Lansbury or the running of Bjarnason would have been a better option. He made no noticeable positive impact upon the game.
Up the Villa!
Villa scored four goals at home for the second time in four days yesterday despite making 11 changes from the team that defeated Norwich on Saturday.
Our League 1 table-topping visitors also made the same number of changes. It seems clear from this that both clubs are prioritising promotion rather than cup glory this season although a visit to Wembley might yet be needed to secure promotion for both teams via the play-offs.
This was a much better game than I had anticipated it would be and it was free for season ticket holders! It has often been said that “you don’t get anything for nothing” this phrase was recently used by the new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for example but we season ticket holders did get something for nothing last night we got to witness another goal fest at B6 for free!
Scoring four goals in consecutive games for the first time since 2008 (when we scored 4, 6 & 5 goals in 3 successive games the first and last of which were home games) could well lead to Villa Park soon becoming known once again as fortress Villa Park. Make it so Villa!
It was nice to see youth getting a chance in the first team again last night and it paid off once again. Most players that would be expected to be called upon on Friday for the visit to Bristol City got a game off. The young players that replaced them impressed and that can only be good for both them and for our football club.
We might not win this cup or go much further in this competition but we have not yet embarrassed ourselves with the sort of inept performances we have produced in losing to lower league opponents in the recent past. For a second time within a week we performed well for 90 minutes and scored goals for fun. A third win on Friday might suggest that we really have turned the corner after what was an unexpectedly poor start to this season.
My player ratings from a game that took us into the last 16 of the League Cup that we last won way back in 1996 are:
Jed Steer – 6 – Looks an able deputy for Johnstone. Was fortunate late on when an 89th minute effort from Hunt struck his legs rather than the back of the net.
James Bree – 6 – My primary concern with James being selected tonight as well as De Laet is that this suggests Hutton might be being saved to start on Friday night for some reason that is beyond me! James looked confident and competent last night both at full back in the first half and then when switched to the centre of our defence in the second.
Ritchie De Laet - 6 – Looked as adaptable as Bree did when he changed position with him from playing as a central defender alongside Elphick in the first half to playing as a full back in the second during which he made a couple of decent runs forward. Was beaten a little too easily by Colclough who then ran on to slot the ball into the corner of the net past Steer for their 43rd minute goal but he then claimed a big assist for our fourth goal.
Tommy Elphick – 6 – Gave a steady and solid enough central defensive performance working alongside two defenders who would not be expected to feature too often in the centre of our defence. Hit a speculative 30 yard shot on 58 minutes that went wide of the post.
Mitchell Clark – 6 – Did well on his debut looking solid and comfortable in his role throughout. Hit a 10th minute shot from the edge of the box after an Adomah corner had been partially cleared that Jones pushed out for a corner at his right-hand post.
Albert Adomah – 7 – Performed at a level above what we have seen from him of late and sustained a good performance throughout the game rather than for say 45 minutes or less as has sometimes been the case previously. Hit our second goal on 36 minutes when he connected sweetly and first time with a cross from Bjarnason to send it rocketing into the roof of the net.
Gary Gardner – 5 – Below his best last night as he has been for a while now. This may well be the last that we see of him in our shirt. Injury problems have hindered his development as I think has the holding midfield role he has often been asked to play as was the case last night. Gary looked to have a bright future with us showing an early ability to pick a pass (as he did last night in the build up to our first goal) and to find the back of the net himself but he is now looking to move on to play first team football more regularly. I hope this will soon see him performing at the sort of level he did when on loan at Forest for example (but not against us).
Jake Doyle-Hayes – 8 – MOTM – We might well have witnessed the emergence of a second significant young talent within less than a week yesterday. Jake did the simple things well, made some good strong challenges, has the happy habit of finding one of his own players more often than not and pretty much dominated the midfield until his 78th minute substitution. A very impressive performance that will surely see him start our next cup tie and challenge for a place on the bench in future league games in the same way as O’Hare has.
Birkir Bjarnason – 7 – Looked a lot more up for this game than he had done in recent appearances. Needs to get as involved in future games as he was in this one on a consistent basis in order to challenge for a starting place. Might have added a third on the 42nd minute when Hogan found him inside the box but he took a touch which enabled Jones to claim the ball. Scored our fourth on 74 minutes. De Laet made a good run from within his own half before hitting a cross that hurried behind Hogan but Bikir made a determined run that put him in front of a defender and he hit the ball home well. He also had a decent header kept out by Jones 10 minutes later.
Callum O’Hare – 7 – Showed signs of promise as he did in his previous appearance in this cup competition. Worked tirelessly and showed some nice touches. Got down where it hurts on the 40th minute when trying to get the ball in after a De Laet header from a corner. Hit a good cross on 45 minutes that Hogan was not quite able to stretch enough to be able to turn it into the net.
Scott Hogan – 8 – O’Hare played a ball to Scott on 8 minutes that he took into the box before wrong footing a defender and seeing his shot blocked by Jones at the near post. Gardner headed a 12th minute corner forward that Scott headed onto the crossbar. Opened the scoring on 19 minutes when a nicely weighted ball from Gardner found Adomah whose low cross into the box was turned in with his outstretched right foot. Scored his second and our third of the night on 44 minutes to restore our 2-goal cushion when he picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box turned and lashed the ball into the corner of the net. Headed a ball into the box from Adomah straight at Jones on 65 minutes. Scott was substituted on 81 minutes to put an end to his search for a third goal.
Ross McCormack – 6 – Replaced O’Hare on 73 minutes for a very rare Villa appearance. Was he in the shop window? Most likely but if so he did himself no harm showing he retains the ability to bring others into play in the final third as well as an awareness of the need to find space for himself in the box.
Jordan Lyden – Replaced Doyle-Hayes on 78 minutes. A welcome return to first team action but he was not on quite long enough to gather a rating.
Easah Suliman – Replaced Hogan on 81 minutes and bravely blocked a fierce Burgess shot on 94 minutes. Our England U-19 UEFA European Championship winner was not on long enough to earn a rating.
Up the Villa!
We scored four goals at Villa Park for the first time in three years yesterday. Conor Hourihane scored our first hat-trick for two years and his own first. This our first win of the season took us from the bottom of the table up to 16th place. We also left the ground with smiles on our faces rather than frowns after this goal fest.
We conceded two goals and at times looked too shaky for comfort at the back. That is enough of negativity which was far outweighed by the positives yesterday. We scored four, could easily had another two and we played positive, flowing, attacking football. Each time they scored and threatened to peg us back we responded with a goal of our own to ease our fraying nerves.
Let us hope that this result marks a turning point in our season. An away win at Bristol City on Friday looks far less unlikely than it did on Saturday morning and that would take us into the top half of the table and within reach of the top six. Make it so Villa!
My player ratings from a game that demonstrated that you can win games with kids are:
Sam Johnstone – 6 – Had hearts in mouths when he raced outside of his box on the 38th minute when attempting to intercept a ball that had gone past our defenders but narrowed the angle well on the 50th minute when Naismith’s near post shot hit the side netting. Had little chance with both of their goals.
Alan Hutton – 4 – Given a tough afternoon particularly in the minutes prior to his 64th minute substitution by the lively and pacey Murphy. Hutton allowed him to get goal side of him for their first on the hour mark and was beaten easily 2 minutes later by the same player whose cross led to a goalmouth melee that was settled by a clearance from Johnstone. Difficult to see a reason for him to continue to start games instead of either Bree or De Laet given his current form.
James Chester - 6 – Really should have been on target with an unchallenged diving header from a 55th minute Hourihane free kick that flew harmlessly over the bar.
John Terry – 6 – Neither he nor Taylor picked up Oliveira in the 79th minute when the forward was left unmarked to hit their second.
Neil Taylor – 6 – A solid enough defensive display and he also got forward well at times.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – Hit the bar in the 4th minute of stoppage time after Bree had switched the ball back to him inside of the box.
Josh Onomah – 6 – Substituted on the half hour having sustained an injury.
Glenn Whelan – 7 – Much more involved yesterday and this played a part in Conor and Henri having the opportunity to move forward more often than they had been doing previously. Hit an on-target effort from the edge of the box on 37 minutes which was inadvertently blocked by Davis.
Conor Hourihane – 9 – MOTM – As the late Bruce Forsyth often said, “Didn’t he do well?” It is not often that a midfield player gets a hat-trick but Conor did so yesterday producing the sort of performance he regularly gave for Barnsley which led us to sign him. He needs to have licence to get forward where he can be so dangerous from now onwards. Davis threaded the ball between 2 defenders on the 19th minute to Conor but he hit his shot across the face of goal and inches wide. Onomah then won the ball near the half way line before hitting a nice ball for Davis to run onto. Keinan proceeded to hit a low cross that went between the goalkeeper and a defender before reaching Conor near the far post who hit home our 22nd minute opener with assurance. Lansbury fed Conor from a Taylor free-kick and his 68th minute 30-yard shot took a deflection off a defender on its way past the keeper and into the corner of the net. He completed his hat-trick on the 85th minute when Elmohamady found him in a central position a couple of yards outside of the box and he struck the ball low into the right-hand corner of the net. Almost turned home a fourth goal on 89 minutes but that effort was blocked.
Andre Green – 8 – Lansbury found him on the edge of the box on the 42nd minute and he then picked his spot curling the ball around a defender and into the top right-hand corner of the net to give us our second goal of the afternoon. He will do well to score a better goal than this one for us! Hit a 70th minute shot from the edge of the box just wide of the post and should have had a second goal to his name on the 94th minute when Elmohamady’s shot bounced to him off the bar only for his header to find Gunn’s hands rather than the back of the net.
Keinan Davis – 9 – Looked very, very promising yesterday. Held the ball up and led the line very well. Refused to be knocked off the ball and utilised his strength and determination throughout to give the central defenders he was up against a very difficult afternoon. Won the ball from Zimmermann on the 2nd minute and ran inside the box before hitting a shot which was blocked by the advancing Gunn’s legs. Taylor then found Green on the edge of the box whose inch perfect 16th minute cross was met by Davis but Gunn did well to get a hand to his header to keep it out. Ran onto a strong 24th minute header from inside his own half by Whelan and having got the better of a defender hit an effort from the edge of the box that struck the top of the crossbar. Denied by Gunn on the 64th minute when he ran onto a ball from Lansbury but could not turn the ball past the keeper.
Henri Lansbury – 6 – Replaced Onomah on 30 minutes. Was not quite able to slide in to make contact with a good 35th minute Hourihane cross into the box. Looked to be belatedly in the process of forming a decent partnership alongside Conor today and he has surely done enough to start games from now on?
James Bree – 6 - Replaced Hutton on 64 minutes and we looked more secure after that.
Chris Samba – Replaced Davis on 87 minutes. Was not on long enough to earn a rating.
Up the Villa!
We encouragingly played like Champions-elect during the first half yesterday but failed to put enough of the chances that we created away and as was proved so often last season a one goal lead is not always enough for us.
That Cup of Traditions tournament was made for us, wasn’t it? Villa performances are all too often games of two halves during which Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde take turns in coming out in claret & blue shirts. Those pre-season games were of only 45-minutes in duration and they did not therefore allow us the opportunity to take our foot off the pedal for half of the game as we did yesterday.
Hull deserved their point. They had the better of the second half in much the same way that we had the best of the first 45 minutes. We fell into that nasty habit of thinking that we could hold onto a one goal lead again. We surrendered the initiative and dropped points from what was a winning position and we cannot continue to do these things if we are to achieve our promotion objective this season.
We need to start dominating games over the full 90 minutes rather than for the first 45 and belatedly the last 10 as we did yesterday. We need to score more goals on a regular basis and to finish teams off when we have the game in our hands to win.
My player ratings from a game that cast some doubts upon our chances of significantly improving on last season’s points and goals tallies are:
Sam Johnstone – 7 – Nice to see him confidently claiming balls in the air. Dived to his left-hand post to gather a header back from Taylor who was under pressure from Bowen on 10 minutes. Made a good double save on 44 minutes from Frazier Campbell with his right leg as the striker tried to turn the ball past him having run inside the box and then punched clear an effort from Grosicki from the edge of the box. Had little to no chance with their equalizer which came from Bowen who had been left totally unmarked.
Alan Hutton – 6 – Claimed an assist for our early goal.
James Chester - 7 – Solid alongside JT.
John Terry – 7 – MOTM - Confident and assured at the heart of our defence. Looked as disappointed as we were with the result.
Neil Taylor – 6 – A steady enough performance.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Had a decent first half but faded in the second half as did the team in general.
Henri Lansbury – 6 –Ran between two defenders to collect a long ball from inside his own half by Taylor, took the ball from the edge of the box into it before hitting the ball across the face of the goal and wide of the far post on the 2nd minute. Chested down a 30th minute ball into the box from Elmohamady before hitting a decent shot that was gathered by McGregor.
Glenn Whelan – 6 – A solid hard-working performance.
Leandro Bacuna – 4 – I really do struggle to understand why Leo started yesterday instead of Conor Hourihane who spent a frustrating evening sitting on the bench. Leo put in a shift at times during the first half but his impact on the game was not marked and had become minimal at very best well before his substitution. A deflected 70th minute cross from Taylor fell to him at the far post but his last kick of the game was hurried and flew well over the bar.
Gabriel Agbonlahor – 6 – Had a gilt-edged opportunity to open the scoring on 6 minutes when a nice ball from Lansbury put him clear wide on the left he proceeded to run into the box but he was denied by McGregor’s outstretched hand as he attempted to place the ball past the advancing keeper. Made no mistake just a minute later when Elmohamady fed Hutton who was running to his right. His low cross hurried behind Hogan and in front of Lansbury before falling to Gabby who was unmarked on the edge of the 6-yard box at the far post whose crisp well-placed finish found the far corner of the net. Tired as the game wore on and became increasingly less effective.
Scott Hogan – 6 – Made a good run down the left on 21 minutes before pulling the ball back for Lansbury on the edge of the box who did not manage to connect with the ball with his right foot and the ball instead hit his standing foot and was easily picked up by a defender. Dawson’s attempted 27th minute clearance hit Lansbury who found Scott who in turn beat 2 defenders before aiming to push the ball past McGregor only to see it strike his left leg before it was gratefully gathered by the keeper. Could not quite get enough contact on Elmohamady’s deflected 32nd minute cross to turn it in.
Andre Green – 6 – Replaced Bacuna on 70 minutes and gave us some energy. Missed a late chance which looked much harder to miss than to score from on 80 minutes. Taylor’s free kick fell to him a couple of feet out near the far post but his header was badly mistimed and went harmlessly across the face of the goal rather than into the net. He will get goals and win games for us this season.
Josh Onomah – 6 - Replaced Hogan on 78 minutes and looked a pacey, promising addition to our squad.
Chris Samba – Replaced Lansbury on 90 minutes and was immediately pushed up front alongside Gabby. This desperate last toss of the dice did not lead to the late winner Steve Bruce was seeking but Chris put himself about in this unfamiliar role. He was not on long enough to gather a rating.
Up the Villa!
Aston Villa have been installed as favourites to win promotion to the Premier League this season after bolstering their squad with some high-profile summer signings. Chief among them is former England captain John Terry, a real coup for the club as the Chelsea legend had plenty of offers from around the globe. Steve Bruce has also brought in Ahmed Elmohamady and Glenn Whelan and the Villans are looking strong going into the 2017/18 season. Newcastle Utd and Brighton secured automatic promotion last season by a comfortable margin, so what can Aston Villa learn from the success of those clubs last season?
Speculate to accumulate
This really should not be the extent of Villa’s summer signing as history shows that some shrewd summer acquisitions can catapult clubs into the Premier League. Newcastle splashed out £54 million last summer and built a title winning side featuring the likes of Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle and Mohamed Diame. They were something of an anomaly because they were able to raise a substantial war chest by selling stars like Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum and Andros Townsend, but promotion does not come cheap. Brighton bought Glenn Murray and Shane Duffy for around £7.5 million, and the previous summer they laid out more than £11 million on players like Anthony Knockaert and Jamie Murphy. Villa have thus far spent less than £2.5 million and may need to display greater ambition if they are to haul themselves back into the top flight.
Loan your way up
The riches that await clubs upon reaching the promised land that is the Premier League are bountiful, but is can be a challenge to raise funds while languishing in the Championship, so the loan system can be a life saver. A key feature of Newcastle’s title winning escapades was the marauding wide play of Christian Atsu, signed on loan from Chelsea. Brighton meanwhile loaned a few players to bolster their ranks, but best of all loaned Glenn Murray, whose goals fired them to promotion. He was such a success that they bought him outright in January, but those goals in the first half of the season really propelled Brighton to promotion.
Get the right blend of youth and experience
The average age of summer arrivals at both Newcastle and Brighton was 24. So far the average age of arrivals at Villa this summer is 29, and the club could do with recruiting a few younger players. You need experience – Newcastle had it in droves with the likes of Diame, Gayle, Ritchie and Daryl Murphy, while Brighton could count on Sidwell and Bruno – and Villa have that from Terry, Elmohamady, Mile Jedinak, Whelan and so on, but it is a long old season in the Championship and you need plenty of young and hungry players to see you through.
Turn Villa Park into a fortress
Brighton accumulated more points at home than any other club last season and that drove them to a top two finish. They lost just three home games out of 23 as they were buoyed on by passionate home support, and that was invaluable in their promotion bid. Newcastle only had the fourth best home record but made up for it by securing the best away record, but they still won 15 games at home. If Bruce can turn Villa Park into a fortress, the club will set the pace next season. It is the largest and most impressive stadium in the division, and Terry and co should make it an intimidating place to visit. If you want to get betting on football then the 2/1 on offer for Aston Villa to be promoted looks a great option.
Utilise a deadly striker
Goals ultimately win you the division, as Rafa Benitez acknowledged with the shrewd recruitment of Dwight Gayle. The forward enjoyed the best goals per minutes ratio in the division and finished with 23 goals. Murray at Brighton also netted 23 times, showing how important it is to have a striker that has proven Premier League quality leading your bid to climb up to that division. Villa do not have that luxury, but there is still time to sign a striker. However, they can call upon Jonathan Kodija, who banged in 19 goals last season, finishing fifth in the goal scoring charts. He seems to be improving all the time and he can be the 20-plus goal scorer Villa need to mount a title challenge, while Scott Hogan can also chip in with vital goals.
Aim to concede fewer than a goal per game
Three teams scored 85 goals last season: Newcastle, Fulham and Norwich. What set Newcastle apart was that they conceded just 40 goals, to Fulham’s 57 and Norwich’s 69. Keeping things tight at the back and conceding fewer than a goal per game was crucial to them winning the Championship. With Terry at the heart of the defence there is every chance Villa can emulate that. Brighton were outscored by four teams last season, including 10th placed Brentford, but they too only conceded 40 goals. The Championship is an open league full of goals, so maintaining a tight ship at the back is the best way to stand out and rack up crucial points.
Martin Green is an experienced sports writer and tipster. He has covered the Championship for many years
The Championship can be a cruel mistress, any fan of any club will tell you exactly that meaning that, regardless as to how much things can change over the course of the season, a quick start can do wonders for anyone’s campaign.
Villa fans know only too well what a poor start to the season can do for your fortunes across the following nine months-or-so after the debacle of last term.
A few wins early doors can do wonders for a side’s form and confidence and could be the difference when things get tough around the all-important Christmas run.
The pressure is now on Steve Bruce and his backroom staff to deliver in their first full season after a woeful 13th placed finish last season. After a summer in which most fans are still trying to get their head around the landing of Chelsea legend John Terry, fans have every right to look forward to the new campaign and with high expectations indeed.
If those expectations are to be met, however, a fast start is the order of the day. Last term, under Roberto di Matteo, the Villans managed just one win in their first 12 Championship games, a 3-0 win over Rotherham in their second league outing the only light in the darkest of runs.
A similar spell at any point this season will do away with any hopes of a Premier League return at the second time of asking, however, hit the same run of form in the opening weeks again and all morale will be shot to pieces from the word go.
That said, with the fixture list handing Bruce a tough start, it’s naïve to expect that every game will yield three points. Therefore we’ve picked out three early season games which could well shape their season.
Hull City (H) It may seem obvious given that this is the season’s curtain raiser, however it offers much more than that.
Hull were relegated from the Premier League despite a late battle under Marco Silva last season, playing some exciting football at some times. If Bruce’s men can make a statement, which they are currently with odds of 11/10 to do, against one of the relegated sides so early in the new season it will serve as a huge lift to the squad and fans while also putting a foot in the right direction in what is a rough opening run.
The Tigers are under the guise of new manager Leonid Slutsky, a close friend of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, meaning they could well throw a few surprises on the hosts at Villa Park. However, should Terry & Co. manage to deal with such a side so early on, under the pressure of the home support, it could do wonders for the start of the season.
Reading (A) Bruce’s side should have one aim and one aim only this season, a return to the top flight. If they are to reach such heights, much like with their opponents on the opening day, they are going to have to topple the best.
The Royals may have fallen in the play-offs last season, however, second only to promoted Brighton & Hove Albion they boasted the best home form in the league across the campaign, losing only twice (Chris Hughton’s side lost three).
Jaap Stam’s men pose a formidable challenge, however, meeting them so early in the season before they have had time to settle in to a run of form at the Madejski Stadium is an opportunity too good to turn down.
Should they pick up a result against the Tigers early on, and follow it up with a strong performance and result to match in Berkshire confidence should not be an issue for Bruce.
Bristol City (A) Early last season the Villans paid a visit to a Bristol City side who would spend most of the season battling the drop, only to blow a 1-0 lead and be sent packing 3-1 with their tails between their legs.
Once again the two have been drawn against each other early in the season and, despite a change in management and a host of new players, there will undoubtedly be a desire to get one over on City.
Not only would such a win bring the precious three points but it would also bring with it another boost in confidence.
This game was very, very friendly and not a lot can be deduced from it. Before the game I expected our visitors to be battling to stay in their present division this season and for us to be striving for promotion preferably without recourse to the play-off lottery. I witnessed nothing to change that opinion yesterday as this game gave little clue concerning how successful each team may or may not be in achieving those objectives.
It was fitting that the two football clubs that are most associated with the late Graham Taylor met in this tribute match. There was warm applause from the Hornets fans when the Holte End sang “Graham Taylor’s Claret & Blue Army” during the second half and both sets of fans showed their mutual respect for their former manager throughout. Graham would have liked that.
My player ratings from what was a low-key warm-up game in which our new signings shined brightly are:
Jed Steer – 6 – I would anticipate that Jed will be our back-up keeper this season now that the injury that kept him out of first team contention is hopefully behind him. Jed looked confident when the ball was played back to him and his kicking was reliable and better than we have grown accustomed to seeing from our keepers of late. Kept out a close range 64th minute effort from substitute Isaac Success out with a little ball juggling and held a low shot on the 83rd minute.
Alan Hutton – 6 – Brought down inside the box in the 53rd minute by Kaboul to give us our penalty. Alan had his usual solid no-nonsense game.
James Chester - 7 – Looked solid at the back as he so often does.
John Terry – 7 – JT looked very composed and found his man on all but one occasion when he had the ball at his feet. We look less likely to concede with him organising the defence and his partnership with Chester looks very promising.
Neil Taylor – 6 – A solid enough display.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 7 – MOTM – Looked sharp and trickier than I had anticipated he would be when making wide runs.
Henri Lansbury – 5 – Hit our 54th minute spot kick to the keeper’s left but Gomes guessed the right way and pulled off a save that kept the score level.
Glenn Whelan – 6 – He likes a tackle, doesn’t he? Looks capable of adding the sort of solidity we missed when Jedinak was absent in games last season.
Jack Grealish – 5 – Left the field on 26 minutes having appeared to have taken a blow to the ribs.
Andre Green – 5 – Made a couple of decent runs.
Gabriel Agbonlahor – 5 – Kept himself busy enough in the first half but lacked support alongside him and faded prior to being substituted. Should have done better on the 2nd minute when he was put clear and only had Gomes to beat but he hit his shot straight at the keeper.
Leandro Bacuna – 5 – Replaced Grealish on 26 minutes. Leo is still waiting for that Champions League club to come in for him and this sort of performance will not have changed things on that score.
Scott Hogan – 6 - Replaced Gabby on 54 minutes. Looked keen to make a positive impact and we will need goals from him in Kodjia’s absence.
Birkir Bjarnason – 5 - Replaced Green on 69 minutes. Needs to make a bigger impression in games than he did in this one to start matches for us.
Jordan Amavi – Replaced Lansbury on 74 minutes. Jordan was not on quite long enough to earn a rating but it was nice to see him still wearing our shirt and he hit a cross that fell to him on the 76th minute just wide of the post with his first touch.
Conor Hourihane – Replaced Whelan on 74 minutes. Hit a firm 87th minute shot from outside of the box that Pantilimon kept out. Needs to start next week.
Chris Samba – Replaced JT on 74 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating but it is good to have him available to add his physical presence off the bench in games.
James Bree – Replaced Elmohamady on 74 minutes. Not on long enough to merit a rating.
Up the Villa!
Aston Villa with nothing to play for save their pride and their fans played their part in defending the integrity of the EFL by not surrendering meekly to a team that needed a win as had Huddersfield last weekend for example.
We were reduced to ten men in the 63rd minute when the referee decided the penalty they converted was not quite enough punishment for Baker so it then appeared Brighton were set for the win that they needed to clinch the title. However, their wild goal celebrations proved to be somewhat premature because 10-man Villa kept at it and Grealish hit a late equalizer that handed the trophy to Newcastle.
The sorrowful reaction of the Brighton players at the end showed how much the game had mattered to them. No doubt Newcastle fans will accept that we played a major role in bringing them the trophy they collected yesterday and will stop whingeing about our football club for a short time as a result?
We finished the season with a plucky point but in the bottom half of the table, albeit top of that bottom half. We now face a vitally important summer during which Steve Bruce will need to make the changes necessary to gather the extra thirtysomething points we will need to secure automatic promotion next season.
What yesterday’s game did prove is that in games against Brighton this season there has not been a great deal to choose between the two teams (although it is arguable that we produced our two best performances of the season against them). Brighton who have been promoted have had the consistency that we have lacked and have not had the runs of bad results and poor performances that have blighted our season and cost us any hope we once had of joining them in the top flight next season.
Respect is also due to the Seagulls fans who applauded at the right moments, showed appropriate respect and resisted any temptation there may have been to remind us of our under-achievement during this season. Enjoy your return to the top flight and I hope we will join you next season.
The highlight of yesterday for me was the half-time appearance of Villa heroes’ Peter McParland and Nigel Sims 60 years on from their 1957 FA Cup win against the Busby Babes. I really hope that we can lift that trophy again for them soon as this is the longest time our club has gone without winning it by some distance.
On a personal note, I would like to take this opportunity to add my late friend Peter Wyper to the list of Villains that we have sadly lost during this season. Pete was a life-long Villa fan who was among those that cheered the 57 cup winners on their return to the city from Wembley. Pete passed away yesterday evening following a lengthy battle with illness. He will be much missed by his family and friends – HEITS.
My player ratings from our last game of this disappointing season are:
Sam Johnstone – 6 – Was sent the wrong way from the spot but had earlier did very well on the 58th minute to block a shot from Baldock with his legs after the forward had got the better of Baker. Sam also did well to keep out a 77th minute shot from Bruno. If that was to be his last game for us it was a decent one but will it prove to be given he has now found his confidence with us?
James Bree – 6 – Was found on the edge of the box by Bacuna on 78 minutes and his shot was deflected just over the bar.
James Chester - 7 – Solid enough at the back as usual and is becoming a threat up front.
Nathan Baker – 5 – Given his marching orders a little too readily for me in the 63rd minute when he clipped the heel of Baldock as he was pulling the trigger having reacted slower to a header on than the forward had.
Neil Taylor – 7 – A good solid overall performance that was his best for us to date for me.
Albert Adomah – 4 – Did the best of what work he did when they had the ball. His impact up front was once again only minimal prior to his 61st minute substitution. He is capable of doing a lot more than he did yesterday and than he has done of late.
Henri Lansbury – 6 – Hit a decent 13th minute shot from around 30 yards that Stockdale pushed wide for a corner low at his left-hand post. He really should have put us ahead 7 minutes later when Pocognoli chested a Taylor cross back across the face of the goal to him but he turned his header inches wide of the far post with the goal gaping before him. Nice to see both Henri and Hourihane getting forward more often than has recently been the case and they can become a very effective midfield pairing with a pre-season behind them.
Conor Hourihane - 7 – MOTM - Bent a free-kick around the wall in the 2nd minute of first half stoppage time which Stockdale did well to turn around his post. Hit a 56th minute shot from outside of the box that Stockdale got down low at his left-hand post to keep out and 2 minutes later Davis played the ball back to him inside the box and his shot was again saved by the keeper low at the far post. Eventually took an 85th minute free-kick from the edge of the box following Bacuna’s shenanigans that forced a save from Stockdale.
Leandro Bacuna – 5 – Showed the same lack of discipline that led to his recent suspension for getting in the face of a linesman again yesterday when twice forcibly demanding the ball at free-kicks from Hourihane. When did he last score from a free-kick and what leads him to think that he should be in line to take a free-kick ahead of Conor (who tends to force a save rather than prod the ball into the defensive wall)? His petulance was more striking for me than what impact he otherwise had on the game yesterday. Will his name still be found on the team sheet next season or will his long-awaited move to a Champions League team actually happen?
Jordan Amavi – 6 – Did well enough playing once again in an advanced role.
Scott Hogan – 5 – Pounced on a sloppy half-hit 34th minute back pass from Pocognoli hitting a shot from inside of the box that was deflected just wide by Stockdale’s outstretched leg. Worryingly limped off the field following a clumsy challenge by Sidwell that the referee chose not to show any card for.
Keinan Davis – 7 – Replaced Hogan in the 2nd minute of first half stoppage time and showed some promise for the future during the second half. Lansbury played a ball into the box for him to run onto on 50 minutes but penalty appeals were ignored by both the referee and his assistant when Dunk slid in to take Davis rather than the ball. He was not quite able to force the ball home near the goal line after Amavi had headed the resulting corner towards Chester at the far post who in turn had headed the ball goalward. Grealish hit a 69th minute cross and having turned nicely he hit a shot that forced a save from Stockdale. Had an opportunity to win the game when the ball fell to him off a defender with a minute of stoppage time remaining. Keinan ran to the edge of the box but his shot was a weak one and was easily held by a relieved Stockdale.
Jack Grealish – 7 - Replaced Adomah on 61 minutes. Hit our late equalizer on the 89th minute. Taylor played the ball to him near the edge of the box and his curled shot went past a couple of defenders as well as remarkably keeper Stockdale who was left on his knees having failed to get anything on the ball as it went past him. This was a clear step up on some recent displays from Jack.
Tommy Elphick – 5 - Replaced Amavi on 65 minutes. Half hit a 68th minute back pass that Murray ran onto before playing the ball unselfishly back to Baldock who saved Tommy’s blushes by making a hash of the scoring opportunity which left the ball being played clear after it hit Chester’s leg rather than the back of the net.
Up the Villa!
From what I know, if we are loaning a player ( such as Bolasie, Jenas, Grabban etc) we pay all of their contract, and a healthy loan fee and we keep them.
From what I know, if we are loaning out a player, we pay all of their contract, and their new club send them back when they fail.
Pretty sure it was a stroke of genius by the previous regime because without having played all those games in the wrong position being exposed and looking terrible he wouldn't been able to slot in at CB now
I don't dislike him at all.
It's just that he's (allegedly) earning £70k/w sitting on our bench.
we knew he'd come back from injury when we signed him so no shade on him, but I'm not a huge fan of us once again paying money to help other clubs players recover from injury.
Hopefully he'll come good and the money will have been well spent.