It has been 3 months and we have gone 12 games since we last tasted defeat. It is still disagreeable to see visiting fans celebrating a win at Villa Park and it is even worse for their team to be picking up the Championship trophy afterwards, as was the case yesterday. The last time we ended a game pointless, was against the team that we next face over two legs for a place in the playoff final. Our clear objective is now to ensure that we remain unbeaten in our next three games.
Six of the players that started our last game and five of the players who started our last home game, started this one. The decision to rest players yesterday, was without doubt the right one. We have bigger fish to fry than Delia Smith, Ed Balls, Hugh Jackman and Stephen Fry’s boys in the coming weeks.
The three play-off games that are to come, can provide us with the happy ending to this season that our recent tremendous run should culminate in. These crucial games will define our season. Win them and we will accompany Norwich back to the top flight, as they escorted us down to the Championship three years ago. Losing against our local rivals or in the final against either Leeds or Derby, would have an unthinkable impact on the makeup of our superb team. It just cannot happen!
Yesterday’s game gave our visitors their first win at Villa Park since 1992. This win also resulted in them being promoted as champions. Victory in the play off games, will give us the opportunity to play our first choice eleven when we meet them next time and the outcome would I suspect be likely to be somewhat different. I look forward to seeing that game next season!
Norwich started strongly, like the game meant more to them than it did to us, which it did. They took an early lead, but we showed our resilience by equalising within 7 minutes and then shading the first half. Either side could have won it during the second half and there was little to choose between the two sides. The game appeared to be likely to end in a draw, which would have perhaps suited both clubs, but Norwich were greedy for more. As has so often proved the case this season, they stole the points in the last few minutes. That was cruel on the much-changed team that we put out yesterday, but we will get over it should our season end in promotion.
My player ratings from a game that was played in front of a packed Villa Park, during which we remembered those who had joined the ranks of the HEITS during the season on 20.18 minutes are:
Jed Steer – 6 – He was relieved that Hernandez’s 45th minute curled shot from outside of the box struck the crossbar, with him well beaten. Did well to get his outstretched right hand to a 69th minute Stiepermann shot from the edge of the box and perhaps could have done the same with Vrancic’s 86th minute winner, which eluded the same outstretched hand, having been hit from very nearly the same place.
Alan Hutton – 6 – It was fitting to see him given the captaincy on what is likely to be his last league appearance in the claret and blue shirt that he has worked so hard to win, as well as hold during his time with us. It must have just been pure coincidence that we looked a tad susceptible on the right flank yesterday. Hats off to the Scottish Cafu!
Axel Tuanzebe - 6 – Seemed slow to react to the Hernandez cross that Pukki turned in, having got to the ball in front of him.
Kortney Hause – 6 – Needed the game.
Neil Taylor – 6 – Reliable again.
Albert Adomah – 6 – Surprisingly did the full 90 minutes.
Glenn Whelan – 7 – Poked a 45th minute shot just over from the edge of the box. Had another solid game in the middle.
Henri Lansbury – 6 – He’s not quite Jack but who is? Did a decent job yesterday and showed that he can play a part, if required in the games that are to come.
Conor Hourihane – 7 – Hit a sweet free kick that produced the equaliser. Curled a 30-yard shot just wide of the far post on 37 minutes.
Andre Green - 6 – Andre was unlucky that his goal-bound 17th minute shot from a central position in the penalty area, after Hutton’s cross found its way to him, was blocked by Aarons.
Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – MOTM – 3 goals in his last 4 games now. Johnny Danger is encouragingly living up to his nickname at the business end of the season. Did well to get in front of his marker and flick Hourihane’s perfectly placed free kick past Krul and into the far corner of the net on 14 minutes. Headed an accurate 33rd minute Hourihane cross just over the bar. A defender got a touch to a 37th minute ball played into the box for him from Adomah, but he got to the loose ball and his close-range effort was blocked by Krul’s legs at the near post. Gamely ran on to a poor 54th minute back pass played back into the box, that Godfrey just got to first, but sent the ball narrowly wide of the far post in doing so.
Keinan Davis – 6 – Replaced Kodjia on 72 minutes and again looked both keen and capable.
Birkir Bjarnason – Came on for a rare appearance replacing Lansbury on 80 minutes. Bikir was not on quite long enough to gain a rating.
Up the Villa!