We extended our unbeaten run to 7 games yesterday and Stoke’s own unbeaten run now stands at 9.
The deluge in which the game was played was not conducive to flowing football and both teams cancelled each other out in the first half. The goals like the weather were not going to dry up though and the second half rained goals.
I had feared that the visitors might extend their run of victories at Villa Park to 4 each time they went ahead but we are made of sterner stuff than we once were, now aren’t we? A draw was a fair result on a day that we were not able to reproduce the level of performances that we have been producing of late, in a game during which we so clearly missed Jack’s invention in and around the visitor’s box.
The visitors started strongly, were well organised, gave us little space and were allowed to make several uncompromising challenges in order to break up our forward movement. They came to stifle us and to get a point. They might have taken all three had we not battled back twice from a goal behind. This was a point that may well prove crucial when the season reaches its conclusion against a team that unlike us currently, have both a solid goalkeeper and a solid defence.
We now face a second tough home game against the current league leaders on Sunday. They are currently 12 points ahead of us and we could do with a win to bring that gap down to single figures and to leave us with realistic ambitions of finishing the season above them in one of the automatic places.
My player ratings from a game that kept us two points ahead of our fellow promotion chasers from the Potteries are:
Orjan Nyland – 6 – Saved well from Allen low at his left-hand post on 6 minutes. Parried away an 11th minute shot from McLean from a Martina cross and Chester hooked the resultant loose ball clear. For some reason dropped a knee when Allen put Stoke ahead on 47 minutes and the ball flew over his outstretched arm into the net. Went the right way for Afobe’s well hit 78th minute penalty but the ball was destined for the left-hand corner of his net.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Allowed McLean to run inside him and then unnecessarily brought him down inside the box with Kodjia covering the run ahead of the forward.
James Chester - 6 – Solid enough and looked nearer to his reliable best.
Axel Tuanzebe – 6 – Becoming more familiar with and showing signs of growing into the role alongside Chester.
Alan Hutton – 6 – Lost possession on the edge of the box to McLean whose cross was hit home by Allen for the visitor’s first. Looked better when moving forward than when under pressure at the back from Ince. He’s got to start on the right whenever possible.
Glenn Whelan – 6 – Did all that can be expected of him. He is not a like for like replacement for Jack, but he did put in a shift.
Anwar El Ghazi – 4 – So disappointing following his display last week. Had little of the ball and did little with it on those rare occasions that he did have it. Was unable to force home a Hutton cross on 55 minutes from close range that Butland gathered gratefully.
Conor Hourihane – 6 – Butland helped Conor’s 24th minute free-kick from just outside of the area over the bar.
John McGinn – 7 – Got stuck in and was our stand out player until the arrival of Jonny Danger. Missed the space that opponent’s double teaming and focus on Jack normally provides as did others.
Yannick Bolasie – 6 – Blasted the ball harmlessly over the bar on 80 minutes when a cross seemed a much better option. Hit a shot wide of the post on 61 minutes from inside of the box. Claimed an assist with a nice cross for our second and it was nice to see him playing a full game.
Tammy Abraham – 7 – Had a 55th minute shot from the edge of the area saved low by Butland at a post. Was made to wait a long time to take our 73rd minute penalty but he coolly slotted it home sending Butland the wrong way in the process.
Jonathan Kodjia – 8 – MOTM - Replaced El Ghazi on 65 minutes and what a difference he made! Was pulled back inside the box by Pieters as he moved to Elmo’s ball to him which resulted in our penalty. Headed home our second equalizer on 84 minutes when he headed a Bolasie cross pat Butland and into the left-hand corner of his net.
Scott Hogan – Replaced Whelan on 85 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating.
Up the Villa & A Merry Christmas to all Villa Talkers!