Its only half time, despite Bon Jovi’s confidence, but if we can hold on to what we’ve got at the Hawthorns on Tuesday night, then we’ll make it to Wembley on 27th May.
We take a one goal lead with us on Tuesday night and that didn’t really look very likely at half time, did it? Albion arrived yesterday, with avoiding defeat as their primary objective. Is Pulis providing Jimmy Shan with tactical advice as well as Michael Appleton?
The first half looked like a carbon copy of the game they had won at Villa Park in February. They were solid at the back, worked hard, flooded the midfield and gave us very little space. Jack and John’s threat from the middle had been nullified by them during the first half. We had plenty of possession, but we had created very little of note with it and we gifted them the lead on 16 minutes to boot.
What a time this would have been for the winning form that had gotten us into these playoffs to have deserted us. This Villa team are not beaten that easily though. The game was turned on its head by two goals in 4 minutes from us as we went into the last 15 minutes of normal time. Dwight Gayle’s 88th minute red card, when the referee had finally lost patience with him will result in their hot-headed, top scorer missing the second leg. That may yet prove as important to the outcome of this tie, as was the introduction from the bench of Conor Hourihane yesterday.
We have seen a couple of Lazarus like semi-final comebacks over the past couple of days. Our own comeback deflated our visitor’s yesterday. The tie is not won yet, but we will not be as ineffective as we were in the first half again. Albion must also make it a more open game in search of a goal that would level the score. That will give us the space we were denied yesterday and the chance to put the game beyond them.
The claret & blue relief was as clear at the final whistle, as was the disappointment that was etched on the faces of the whinging Albion players, staff and supporters. We must now finish the job on Tuesday evening. We are two wins away from promotion. It is high time that we left Wembley rejoicing a win, rather than having experienced a painful defeat. Do it for us Villa!
My player ratings from a game that has left us, tantalisingly within touching distance of a second successive Wembley play off final appearance are:
Jed Steer – 7 – Both he and Taylor went for the same ball on 11 minutes that neither got to. He made up for that communication breakdown seconds later, when he got his fingertips to help a Rodriguez shot from the edge of the box onto the crossbar, that would otherwise have produced a goal.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – He has rightly become an undisputed first choice, hasn’t he?
Axel Tuanzebe - 7 – Another good display alongside Tyrone.
Tyrone Mings – 7 – Solid at the back, although facing free-scoring opponents. Hit a 45th minute shot from the edge of the box that forced a save from Johnstone.
Neil Taylor – 6 – Did well enough.
Albert Adomah – 5 – Failed to make a real impression on this game, which was disappointing.
Glenn Whelan – 5 – He has been immense in our midfield of late, but Glenn didn’t produce quite the same level of performance that he has been giving in recent weeks yesterday. Made a costly error that gave them an early lead, when he failed to control a pass back to him from Jack on 16 minutes, that Gayle proceeded to run onto before hitting a shot past Steer.
John McGinn – 6 – Kept unusually quiet, but even the very best players don’t do it every week, like John they do it 99% of the time. I wouldn’t want to bet against him taking Tuesday’s game by the scruff of the neck and not letting it go.
Jack Grealish – 7 – Didn’t make his usual impact upon the game during the first half but he still had a hand in both of our goals. Won a challenge on the edge of the box before hitting a 59th minute shot that Johnstone saved easily enough to his right. Ran into the right-hand side of the box before pulling the ball back to Hourihane on the edge of the box to claim an assist for our equaliser. Was moving towards the near post when Gibbs slid in to bring him down near the 6-yard box for our penalty
Anwar El Ghazi - 6 – Hit a shot from the left-hand side of the box that took a deflection off Holgate before being held by Johnstone at the foot of the near post.
Tammy Abraham – 7 – Left isolated and starved of service in the first half on his return to the team. Hit a first-time effort over the bar on 15 minutes from an Elmo cross. Made an increasingly significant impression on the game during the second half. Elmo played a ball down the line for him which he ran on with before cutting into the box, outpacing a defender and hitting a cross that Johnstone blocked low at the near post on 52 minutes. Nodded a 55th minute Taylor cross over and past the far post.
Tammy was the coolest man in the ground when he put away his 79th minute penalty, sending Johnstone the wrong way and the ball into the right-hand corner of the net for our winner. Holgate was looking for any excuse to go down when Tammy jumped for a header inside the box and he went down dramatically to try to steal a late penalty for his shell-shocked side.
Conor Hourihane – 8 – MOTM – Replaced Whelan on 67 minutes. His introduction led to Jack moving further forward and he made the difference yesterday. Conor was in space on the edge of the box when Grealish played the ball back to him on 75 minutes. His aim was true and his superbly hit left foot shot flashed into the left-hand corner of the net, with Johnstone just a spectator. Had earlier made an important 74th minute interception, stretching to reach a ball intended for the unmarked Murphy from Gayle.
Andre Green – 6 - Came on for Adomah on 67 minutes and provided some pace.
Jonathan Kodjia – Replaced El Ghazi on 91 minutes. Not on long enough to gain a rating.
Up the Villa!