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!