A fifth successive league win has taken us above Middlesbrough and into fifth place.
We played some scintillating football in the first half and were the better team by some distance, but we ended it just one goal to the good. A two or a three-goal lead would have better reflected our first half dominance and it would have put the game beyond our visitors.
We were unable to play with quite the same panache that we had produced in the first half during the second. We almost appeared to be running down the clock, having apparently taken a leaf out of our beleaguered and soon to be departing Prime Minister’s play book. Unlike her though, we did achieve the meaningful result that we were seeking, but we needed the two-goal cushion that we eventually got and that our ascendancy richly deserved to secure it.
Having stretched our lead to two goals after an hour, an apparent goalkeeping error, good goalkeeping by Raya and missed chances conspired to give the visitors hope of getting something out of the game, when there should have been none.
Blackburn were let back into the game in the second half and their confidence grew as we were pinned back in our own half too often. Those old concerns about being able to see out a game returned, as did the worry that a one-goal lead is never a comfortable one. The end of the game couldn’t come soon enough for us, although the referee seemed willing to keep it going until they had equalized, having found 6 minutes stoppage time to play from somewhere. We did however, eventually secure the vital win that we were looking for and the relief was there for all to see as the final whistle was belatedly blown.
My player ratings from a game that kept us in front of the chasing pack and that gave us the opportunity to see Juan Pablo and Martin on the pitch again at half time are:
Jed Steer – 5 – He does seem to have the occasional error in him, as he demonstrated yesterday, having last done so at Forest. Jed was otherwise generally assured, but what seemed to me to be a lapse of concentration produced the goal that brought the visitors back into the game. Mulgrew’s 74th minute free kick appeared to possibly bend a little in the air and Jed was left only able to throw out a hand to his right to keep it out as he moved left. Ex-nose Bell was the first to react to the loose ball, hitting it into the net to set up a fraught end to the game for us.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 7 – Another good display from Elmo, who is looking more reliable with each game.
Kortney Hause - 7 – Solid alongside Tyrone once again, to the extent that a fit again Axel did not need to be rushed back to shore up our much-improved defence.
Tyrone Mings – 8 – MOTM – Kept our defence composed when it was coming under increasing pressure during the second half and popped up at the other end to give us the much-needed insurance of a second goal. McGinn hit a sweet 61st minute cross from the left edge of the box that Tyrone headed downward and into the net past the despairing Raya. He is clearly a very good top-flight defender and will hopefully be appearing there with us next season.
Neil Taylor – 6 – Steady enough at the back and might have had a second in first half stoppage time when Grealish found him on the left of the box and his shot could only be palmed towards the near post by Raya. El Ghazi was offside when he helped the ball in at the far post, but would the keeper have been able to have scrambled across goal to have kept it out, had he left it?
Glenn Whelan – 8 – Another very solid, composed and assured midfield performance by Glenn. He has hit a rich vein of form, hasn’t he? He was beaten twice in the air at the far post for two successive first half corners, Conway rattled the bar following the second on 16 minutes. We might therefore need a re-think on who we place on that post for our future games.
Andre Green – 6 – Substituted after 66 minutes. The ball wouldn’t quite run for him yesterday and ran past him more than once early on, his final ball needs greater accuracy.
John McGinn – 8 – Put his international woes behind him yesterday. John was unlucky to not get the goal that his terrific first half performance merited, when Raya pushed his 21st minute shot against the far post, after Green had found him nicely on the edge of the box. Hit a sublime ball to El Ghazi in the build up to our opening goal. Hit a 15th minute shot from outside of the box that Raya gathered at the second attempt. Conceded an unnecessary free kick that produced their goal.
Jack Grealish – 7 – A good game from Captain Jack with John and himself, running the show and getting us moving forward.
Anwar El Ghazi – 6 – His well hit cross produced our opening goal, after he had nicely chested down McGinn’s ball to him.
Tammy Abraham – 7 – Tammy was in the right place at the right time once again when he tapped home El Ghazi’s inviting 8th minute cross from close range for our early opening goal. Turned well before hitting a shot from near the penalty spot from a nice McGinn cross, that Raya kept out with his legs. Could and should have eased our nerves on 89 minutes when Hourihane found him inside the box nicely, but he hit his shot over the bar.
Albert Adomah – 6 – Replaced Green on 66 minutes and will now be eyeing his starting place.
Conor Hourihane - Replaced Jack on 89 minutes. Played a nice ball to find Abraham inside the box on 89 minutes, which should have led to our third goal. Not on long enough to gather a rating.
Up the Villa!