We were missing three of our biggest hitters for this game, but the absence of Jack, Tyrone and Kortney could not derail our fast finishing promotion train.
These three players had played crucial roles in extending our run of successive league wins to 7 before yesterday’s game. Their absence was a real cause for concern before Saturday’s kick-off, but we proved that we are not quite a one-man team after all, despite rumours to the contrary.
It has been 44 years since Aston Villa last recorded 8 consecutive league wins. We were promoted at the end of that 1974-75 season, finishing second to Manchester United. Let’s hope that this tremendous run of wins produces the same happy ending.
This was a real top of the table clash and in the first half both sides battled like rutting stags to gain supremacy. The second half was a different matter. We pulled 4 points clear of our promotion rivals with a dazzling 45-minute display that produced another vital win and could have given us a more decisive win, than the odd goal one that we achieved. Their goalkeeper Max O’Leary had a day to remember, making save after save to prevent us from stretching our lead to an unassailable one.
When they pulled a goal back with 16 minutes of normal time remaining along with an astonishing 7 minutes of stoppage time, many may have anticipated the game being cruelly snatched away from us during those nervous final minutes. That didn’t happen though and didn’t really look like happening. Instead we played out those remaining minutes with confidence and without too much cause for alarm.
The players that turned out in claret & blue yesterday wore their shirts with pride. They played as a team and the squad clearly all want to play their part in achieving our goal. They players gave everything, and by so doing, brought what had seemed only a few weeks ago to be an unrealistic hope of making the play offs within touching distance.
WBA supporters were telephoning BBC WM after the game claiming that they want to meet us in the play offs, my message to them would be “be careful what you wish for!”
My player ratings from a game that took us within 3 wins of equalling our club record of 11 consecutive wins which we achieved in 1897 and that also got Lee Johnson rather infuriated for some reason are:
Jed Steer – 6 – Well protected by those in front of him, other than when they pulled a goal back.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 7 – Another very composed and solid performance from Elmo.
Axel Tuanzebe - 8 – He was simply outstanding at the heart of our defence yesterday. Axel was both assured and composed throughout.
Mile Jedinak – 7 – Brought all his experience to bear to produce this solid defensive performance when we so needed it. Had an 85th minute header blocked on the line.
Neil Taylor – 7 – Did well. His confidence is growing with each win as is his contribution to each of those wins. His attempted clearance was blocked at the start of the build up to their goal and he had a 77th minute shot blocked at the near post.
Albert Adomah – 6 – Played his part for the whole game this time, in securing what was an important win. Hit the post with a header on 13 minutes. Hit an 80th minute shot wide of the keeper’s left-hand post.
Glenn Whelan – 8 – Controlled the midfield again. Held it together making full use of his experience and steadied things when a cool head was needed. Fully deserves the plaudits he is now getting.
John McGinn – 8 – Had a lot of responsibility on his shoulders in this game and John thrived on that. Ran the ball from the corner flag into the box before hitting a shot that O’Leary did well to tip over the bar. Hit an 88th minute shot over having been found by Davis and had a 94th minute shot tipped over the bar.
Conor Hourihane – 8 – Had a 31st minute header from an El Ghazi cross punched clear by O’Leary. The keeper again did well to block his 62nd minute close range shot with his leg, which went on to bounce over the bar. Was awarded our penalty when going for a cross into the centre of the box from McGinn. Nodded an inviting El Ghazi cross over on 64 minutes. Picked up a loose ball in the middle to start the move that he finished on 66 minutes with he turned and hit a shot past the keeper and inside the far post for our second goal. On another luckier day for him, he might have had a hat-trick.
Anwar El Ghazi – 8 – MOTM – Produced the sort of performance that he had showed he was capable of at WBA. He beat his man for fun yesterday, particularly during the second half during which he was unstoppable. Hit a 13th minute shot from well outside of the box that O’Leary was only able to palm away towards Adomah whose header struck the near post. Hit a 62nd minute shot from outside of the box that O’Leary could only punch away to his left. Found Conor inside the box to claim an assist for our second goal. This was a match-winning performance and we need to see more of the same in our remaining games.
Tammy Abraham – 7 – Lacked the service he has become accustomed to getting from Jack in the first half. Showed nerves of steel when slotting his 55th minute penalty into the centre of the goal, as O’Leary dived to his right to give us the crucial first goal, having missed one at Rotherham in midweek. Tammy has two dozen goals this season and another six would be very, very nice.
Keinan Davis – 7 – Replaced Tammy on 72 minutes and did a really great job. Held the ball up well when we needed him to, fitted smoothly into the lone striker role and quickly got into the game. Outmuscled a defender to claim a ball played forward by Lansbury and moved into the box, hitting a 94th minute shot that O’Leary blocked with his legs at the near post.
Henri Lansbury – 6 - Replaced Conor on 80 minutes and played his own part in securing this win.
Up the Villa!