There were flames and a pre-match firework display yesterday but we missed the spark of invention around the box that Jack had until his injury at WBA been providing us with, during the game itself.
Dean Smith indicated after the match that he anticipated being without Jack for the rest of this month. His two-month absence will deal a potentially lethal body blow to our promotion hopes. It has already badly dented them, with us having taken only 6 points from a possible 15 from the games he has already missed.
We have taken rapid steps to remedy our goalkeeping and central defensive issues already during this transfer window. I feel we now need to do the same in finding someone who can give us some sort of midfield creativity when Jack is absent.
This was to be a sorry start to the New Year for us with another two points dropped at Villa Park. The number of games played during the festive season has clearly taken its toll on our team which has also suffered from injuries that have had a noticeably adverse effect on our performance level. We started well yesterday but couldn’t put the game out of the reach of our visitors and we once again dropped points after being in front. Had we not done this quite so often, our promotion prospects would be looking considerably rosier now.
We have 3 draws and a defeat to show from our last 4 home games. That is not promotion form. Tammy’s goals have kept us in touch with the play off places, but we have not closed in on sixth place and are instead treading water 5 points off it. We have failed to take advantage of the recent slip ups of Leeds and Norwich and it is Sheffield United and WBA who are now within reach of these two clubs in the battle for automatic promotion. Whilst we look on now focusing on 6th rather than 2nd place.
We started well against an anti-football, cynical, time wasting QPR side who were aided and abetted by an inept refereeing display and who after this fixture remain above us having taken 4 points off us this season. Having drawn level on 75 minutes with 11 minutes of stoppage time still to be played once 90 minutes had been reached, QPR might have anticipated their goal being put under constant siege as we pressed for a late winner, but they got the point they came for all too easily without undue cause for concern.
My player ratings from a game that produced goals but not the three points that we needed are:
Jed Steer – 6 – Held a 69th minute shot from Freeman at his near post and made a good stop with his legs on 86 minutes from an Eze shot. Offered us some level of assurance between the sticks on his recall from Charlton. Had no chance with their first and their second flew past him into the top corner so on a day of only 4 on target shots 50% of them produced goals for the visitors.
James Bree – 6 – Did well enough in his natural position.
James Chester - 6 – Clipped the ball over their bar on 5 minutes. Played with a tad more confidence alongside Tommy.
Tommy Elphick – 6 – Welcome back! Tommy will offer us some reasonable cover in the second half of the season. His Hull loan seems to have helped him to get back on track and he looked better than he had last time around yesterday.
Alan Hutton – 4 – Looked good enough coming forward again and he always gives 100% but his primary job is to defend, and he wasn’t up to scratch in that area yesterday. Lost an aerial challenge for the ball during the build up to their equalizer and left oceans of room on his flank too often. A glaring example of that was when he ambled back into a central position and Wszolek was allowed to run unchallenged and cross for Eze to hit their second past Steer and into the top corner of the net.
Birkir Bjarnason – 5 – Still in need of game time to build up his match fitness following his injury. Hit a 60th minute shot over from the edge of the box. Seemed to know what needed doing but often did not quite have the legs to do it.
John McGinn – 7 – A Bjarnason cross was deflected off a defender to John whose 20th minute shot from the edge of the box rattled the crossbar. His accurate cross a minute later produced our first goal. On hand in his own box to head a 33rd minute cross out for a corner. Had a shot saved at the keeper’s left post in stoppage time
Conor Hourihane – 5 – Failed twice to get any challenge in during the build up to their second goal. Hit an 81st minute free kick onto the roof of the net.
Albert Adomah – 5 – Can do better than this.
Jonathan Kodjia – 5 – Hit a shot wide of the near post from inside of the box on 44 minutes but demonstrated again that he is not a natural wide player.
Tammy Abraham – 8 – MOTM – How many goals does he need to score to be on the winning team? Scored his first on 21 minutes when he nodded in a perfectly placed cross from McGinn and added a second on 75 minutes when he touched home another splendidly inviting cross this time from El Ghazi. Ran onto a sweet ball played through from McGinn on 23 minutes and hit his shot over the bar. Also had a 9th minute shot blocked at the near post by Lumley after Adomah had found him well.
Anwar El Ghazi - 6 – Replaced Kodjia on 61 minutes. Hit a perfect cross which Tammy turned in for our 75th minute equalizer.
Yannick Bolasie - 6 – Came on for Adomah on 61 minutes. Hit the ball across the face of the goal on 78 minutes and headed an El Ghazi cross onto the roof of the net in stoppage time. Had earlier headed a Hourihane corner towards goal that was scrambled away from the goalmouth.
Glenn Whelan – Replaced Hourihane on 91 minutes. He was not on long enough to earn any rating and it was a surprising decision to see him coming on rather than Hogan or Davis with a winner being surely our objective in the last 10 minutes of the game.
Up the Villa!