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    • By John in VillaTalk blog
      The pride of the Black Country arrived at Villa Park yesterday expecting to record a further win. They snuck out of the ground later with their tails between their legs having been clearly outplayed on the day by the pride of the Midlands.
      Cardiff and Fulham fans would have expected Villa to drop at least a point last night. They were to be disappointed. This looked a tough game for us but perhaps we underestimated the team’s will to win a little and by doing so over-estimated the impact our visitors would be allowed to make upon the match which brought them their heaviest league defeat of the season.    
      This was a memorable game and performance. It was a game that those Villa fans who were fortunate enough to attend can tell their children and grandchildren about in future years.    
      It was the day that our players and manager made Villa Park a fortress once again. Villa produced a performance that was even better than the one that gave us victory last month against the Small Heathens and we needed to do so against what is a significantly more competent team.    
      This was a hard-fought local derby. In the first half there was little to choose between the two teams. Villa took an early lead but were pegged back by the confident visitors who looked solid and dangerous for the rest of the half. The second half was a different matter. Wolves were blitzed by three second Villa half goals that they had no answer for. Villa take the honours from the games between the two teams this season 4-3 on aggregate then!
      Our visitors will come the end of this season take the place in the top flight that their consistently impressive overall displays this season have earned them, but they might not be surprised after yesterday’s game to find Villa occupying the other automatic promotion spot alongside them to ensure that this local derby is played in the Premier League next season.      
      My player ratings from a game that gave us our tenth win from our last twelve matches are:
      Sam Johnstone – 7 – Reassuringly solid on those occasions that he was tested. Could do little to stop Jota forcing in their equalizer.        
      Ahmed Elmohamady – 7 – A solid display.    
      James Chester - 8 – Scored our second on 57 minutes stretching to hit home a well-placed Snodgrass free-kick and wasn’t he happy about it?       
      John Terry – 8 – Was the rock on which our solid defence was built upon. Did very well to clear the ball over the bar with Bonatini waiting to get on to a ball that had been played back towards him by Doherty before their equalizer and directed a later Snodgrass free-kick towards Chester who was not quite able to connect with it. There was no way he was prepared to accept anything other than a Villa win from this game. Terrymendous!
      Neil Taylor – 7 – Looks capable of making this position his own now made a splendidly timed tackle inside the box on 78 minutes.
      Robert Snodgrass – 8 – Worked hard and did more than his fair share of tracking back. Showed he really wanted this one with a whole-hearted tenacious display.
      Mile Jedinak – 7 – We look a much more solid midfield with the bearded one in it. Got his head to    Snodgrass’s corner which led to our early opener.
      Conor Hourihane – 7 – A solid performance.    
      Albert Adomah – 8 – MOTM – Albert was a constant threat to the visitors down the flank. He scored our first after 8 minutes when he was in the right place at the right time to hit the ball in from close range, put a sweet cross over for the vital third goal which gave us a 2-goal cushion and did a solid job for us when back in his own half to stifle their forward movement.     
      Jack Grealish – 8 – He really is some player, isn’t he? Looks to be able to make the sort of immense contribution to a game that he made in that Liverpool cup semi-final week in and week out now.   
      Lewis Grabban – 7 – Scoring goals for fun, isn’t he? Added his fourth goal for us in his last four games with our third on 62 minutes. Hit the side netting at the near post on 43 minutes after turning well after Grealish has done so well to get a cross over to him. Bruce uses the loan market to great effect.     
      Birkir Bjarnason – 7 – Came on for Albert in the 75th minute and hit our fourth with a toe-poke from the edge of the box 10 minutes later having ran through their defence to reach there. 
      Henri Lansbury – Replaced Hourihane on 81 minutes so was not on quite long enough to earn a rating.  
      Scott Hogan – Replaced Grabban on 86 minutes and was not therefore on long enough to gather a rating.
      Up the Villa!
      John Lewis
    • By John in VillaTalk blog
      We dropped another two home points yesterday having gone two goals ahead within the first ten minutes. Our opponents drew level after only 26 minutes of the game to burst our bubble. Their goals came from a lumbering striker who was not good enough for the team that are rock bottom of the league today. His two finishes were reminiscent of Shearer in his pomp and I am sure he never expected his name to be linked with a player of that quality albeit for a fleeting moment other than by someone who was having a chuckle at his expense. Sadly, all too often their former players return to the city and take perverse pleasure in shining against us, so it again proved yesterday when Donaldson’s brace cost us a much-needed win.
      Our visitors arrived at Villa Park for our last home game of 2017 having gone 5 games without a win and having lost all but one of them. After yesterday we have gone 4 games without a win ourselves and the 4 points dropped at home in our last two home games may yet prove all too costly when the points are totalled at the season end.    
      What had started so encouragingly ended in seasonal disappointment. The Blades deserved their point and we never really looked like getting a winner against a team that pressured us and gave us no time on the ball after they had pulled us back to 2-2. Recoveries from injuries along with transfer window reinforcements just cannot come quickly enough for us.  
      I would take this opportunity to explain that my recent failure to post my home player match ratings after over twenty years of doing so was due to ill health which has prevented me taking my seat at Villa Park of late. It is also likely to I regret continue to do so in the near future which will in turn reflect on my ability to post my ratings as regularly as I have done previously.    
      My player ratings from a game that left us clinging to the play-off places by our fingertips are:
      Sam Johnstone – 6 – Stood no chance with their first which was lobbed over his head from the edge of the box and their second went through his legs at the near post before going in at the far post. Got down to his left to keep out a 45th minute Lundstram effort from the edge of the box and then got a hand to a 50th minute Duffy shot from the edge of the box.        
      Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Did well enough but can he continue to keep out the Scottish Cafu?   
      James Chester - 6 – The better by some distance of our central defenders yesterday.       
      Mile Jedinak – 4 – Scored with a nice header but allowed Donaldson goal side of him for their first and then failed to clear a hopeful ball aimed towards the same player who gleefully ran onto the loose ball for their equalizer.  
      Neil Taylor – 6 – Solid enough at the back.
      Glenn Whelan – 5 – No glaring error this time from this source.
      Robert Snodgrass – 5 - His well placed 9th minute free-kick was powerfully headed into the corner of the net by Jedinak to give us the early two goal cushion that soon burst.  
      Conor Hourihane – 6 – Hit a shot just wide of the post from outside of the box on 41 minutes.    
      Albert Adomah – 6 – MOTM – Sent Moore the wrong way when coolly converting a 4th minute penalty sending the ball into the corner of the net to the keeper’s left. Headed a sweet 29th minute Elmohamady cross wide of the far post but he can’t really be expected to put each and every chance away can he?    
      Jack Grealish – 6 – Made only his second start of the season and received some harsh treatment particularly from the aptly named Basham. Wanted the ball and has it in him to do something with it I trust he will soon be increasingly dominant in our remaining games.   
      Keinan Davis – 5 – Brought down for our early penalty when Stearman rashly took both player and ball. Taylor played a lovely 12th minute ball to Adomah whose cross eluded Keinan who was outmuscled by a defender as he stretched towards the ball. Headed a 60th minute Hourihane cross over the bar. Held the ball up but lacks a goal threat and it was asking a lot for him to play as a lone striker against this sort of no-nonsense central defence. Needs someone playing alongside him.      
      Ritchie De Laet – 5 – Came on for Snodgrass on the 59th minute which did little to increase our hopes of finding a winner.       
      Gabriel Agbonlahor – Replaced Davis on 73 minutes and was not on long enough to earn any rating but did pick up another injury near the end.  
      Scott Hogan – Replaced Elmohamady on 73 minutes and was not therefore on long enough to gather a rating. Needs to start games alongside Davis starting on Boxing Day.
      A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Promotion Year to all readers!
      John Lewis
    • By John in VillaTalk blog
      This was not a great game or performance from us but the mark of sides that get promoted is that they are able to grind out results when not at their very best and this is what we managed to do this afternoon.
      We now stand seventh in the table having won our fourth successive league game. We are unbeaten in our last eight games and are just a point behind the three clubs immediately above us that occupy three of the four play-off positions. We are also only 4 points off Wolves who occupy the second of the automatic promotion places and we visit them next.
      Bolton fought hard for something from this game. They were uncompromising and took full advantage of the lenience the referee gave to their challenges on our two strikers. Once we went in front it could be argued that the game was won given our visitors had not scored in their last six games. Win it we did but it was a little too close for comfort towards the end of the match and the referee’s whistle was much more welcome than the referee himself was.
      Having won this battle between two founder members of the football league we now face an international break that is unwelcome as we have built a momentum that would be nice to build upon without any delay. Both teams now face a testing battle during the rest of this season at different ends of the table.
      Bolton have a bit of a mountain to climb to hold onto the Championship status they claimed back last season having had their worst start to a season in 115 years. Although we increasingly have the look of a thoroughbred moving up through the field as the winning post approaches this race is not a sprint and today’s game demonstrated that we should not start counting our chickens just yet.       
      My player ratings from a game that continued our winning and unbeaten league runs are:
      Sam Johnstone – 6 – Got down well at his left-hand post to keep out a shot from outside of the box from Ameobe on 9 minutes. Got down again in the first minute of first half stoppage time to keep out an Armstrong effort. He looks solid.  
      Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – A decent all-round performance.                
      James Chester - 7 – Solid once again.    
      John Terry – 7 – He is a rock in our solid defence.       
      Neil Taylor - 6 – Made a nice 90th minute run but was fouled as he was about to pull the trigger on the edge of the box by Henry who was yellow carded as a result. Was then given a straight red 4 minutes later when a yellow seemed more appropriate for what was admittedly a rash high challenge on Le Fondre. No doubt we will be appealing this decision.  
      Robert Snodgrass – 7 – Had a very decent shot from just inside of the area well saved at his near post by Howard on 79 minutes. Worked tirelessly and will improve further with more games.           
      Glenn Whelan - 6 – Worked hard. Lost possession a couple of times but this was a steady enough display.   
      Conor Hourihane – 6 – Did his job effectively but I think he is more valuable to us when given the opportunity to get forward more often.
      Albert Adomah – 6 – A very good first half.              
      Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – MOTM – Hit our winner from the spot on 39 minutes when Howard went left and he coolly hit the ball right. Headed a Adomah cross over the bar in the 3rd minute of first half stoppage time. Should have done better on 37 minutes when a superb long ball from Elmohamady fell to him as he moved into the box but instead of squaring the ball for the waiting unmarked Adomah to tap it into the net he hit the ball wide of the far post. Made up for that when he was brought down by Beevers for the penalty that he himself converted.      
      Keinan Davis – 6 – Held and manhandled at every available opportunity by the defenders he came up against as was Kodjia who was also given little to no protection from the match officials other than when he was brought down for the penalty.           
      Scott Hogan – 6 – Replaced Kodjia on 72 minutes. Made a nice run into the box on 78 minutes having picked up a ball from Whelan but his shot was blocked by a defender. Looked good in the time he had to do so.    
      Josh Onomah – 6 - Replaced Adomah on 73 minutes and did his bit to help steady the ship at the end.
      Chris Samba – Replaced Snodgrass on 89 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating but did play a loose ball back shortly after coming on that could have cost us the win and then bravely got his head in the way of an on-target shot from Madine in the 5th minute of stoppage time to secure our victory.     
      Up the Villa!
      John Lewis
    • By John in VillaTalk blog
      A super well-placed Conor Hourihane free-kick gave Villa the win in yesterday’s game between the only two of the five English teams that have lifted the European Cup that currently play outside of the top flight. Forest won that trophy in 1979 and 1980. Villa continued the Midlands domination of that cup competition in 1982 to become the fifth consecutive winners from England with Liverpool also having won the trophy in 1977, 1978 and in 1981. These two Midland clubs have sadly fallen from grace and have a long way to go to become anything approaching the teams that they were back then.    
      Villa played well in the first half following a strong start to the game from our visitors. Our team produced some entertaining football with Adomah and Snodgrass both making some nice positive runs down each flank. Forest played their part in what was one of the better 45 minutes of football played at Villa Park in recent seasons. We scored one but the nagging thought remained that at the end of the game we might regret having not put at least one of our other first-half opportunities away.
      Forest had a little too much of the ball for my liking in the first 45 minutes and that was even more the case in the second half. They were always going to get a chance or two given the amount of possession they were enjoying and they got the equaliser that many had feared they might on the 52nd minute. Fortunately, we bounced back with the goal that won it for us from our top goal scorer Hourihane on the hour and we managed to hang onto that lead until the close.   
      The three points that we gained from yesterday’s win took us into the top half of the table. It gave us two consecutive league wins for the first time this season which took us just 2 points off the play-off places and within 7 points of the automatic promotion spots. We are still playing catch-up after our poor start to the season but we are at least in the process of catching up. Wins against Burton and Bolton next week that will put us on 4 wins from 4 games are now required to give us the momentum that we need.    
      My player ratings from a game that we might well have drawn (which we did last season) are:
      Sam Johnstone – 7 – Sealed our win when he showed his agility in pushing an 85th minute 30-yard Dowell free-kick that was played over our defensive wall and was heading for the top corner wide of the post with one hand. Had earlier been somewhat fortunate when he blocked a 55th minute Dowell shot with his right leg and it somehow deflected to safety past his left-hand post. Gathered a 57th minute Murphy header that went straight at him easily enough. Sam had the occasional wayward kick yesterday that led to a couple of throw-ins for the visitors but his confidence is there for all to see now and I hope we can make his loan into a permanent signing.
      Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Forest targeted his wing as being a potential weak point for us from the start and had some element of success having done so.                
      James Chester - 7 – Did well and again looked solid yesterday alongside JT.    
      John Terry – 7 – Another composed and solid defensive performance. It was nice to see how much the win meant to him when the referee blew the final whistle.       
      Neil Taylor - 7 – Comfortable at the back and looked good when moving forward. His best performance to date for us in my opinion.  
      Robert Snodgrass – 7 – He gives us a lot and was a real threat on the wing but had understandably tired well before his 88th minute substitution due no doubt to his inactivity before joining us. Hit a nice cross on 33 minutes that Smith pushed out for a corner at the far post with Kodjia in close attention. 
      Glenn Whelan - 4 – Started well enough but tired noticeably in the second half wanting to take too long on the ball at times and being caught or almost caught in possession on occasion. Claimed an unwanted assist for their equalizer when both he and Terry tried to take the ball off Murphy on the edge of the penalty area but his involuntary touch on the ball instead put the striker clear inside the box and his shot gave Johnstone no chance. Jedinak’s injury impacts on our ability to rotate Mile and Glenn as well as to bring one of them on when the other tires.   
      Conor Hourihane – 8 – Hit our winner on the hour with a superb free kick that he bent around the wall and past Smith. A very good all-round midfield display throughout.
      Albert Adomah – 8 – MOTM – Albert’s on fire, isn’t he? Hit our first goal after 15 minutes when he collected a splendidly measured ball played between two defenders into the box by Kodjia before rounding Smith and coolly slotting the ball home. Picked up a ball from Whelan just inside their half 3 minutes later and ran forward before cutting inside and hitting a shot from outside of the box that flew over the far post. Almost got on the end of a nice 56th minute ball into the box from Snodgrass that had just needed a touch at the near post. He was a constant problem to the visitors with his wide runs at their defenders.            
      Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – Got a big assist for our opening goal with a perfect defence splitting pass that was reminiscent of the sort that Gordon Cowans used to hit at will. Hit a 36th minute shot that Smith gathered at the second attempt after Davis had found him inside of the box. We look so much more threatening with “Johnny Danger” back in the starting line-up.      
      Keinan Davis – 7 – He holds the ball up and brings others into play so very well. Was found on the edge of the area by Snodgrass on 28 minutes and then showed some nice footwork before hitting a cross towards Kodjia that went wide of the far post.           
      Josh Onomah – 5 – Replaced Davis on 72 minutes. Found settling into this game and making an impression upon it a little more difficult than he would have hoped in the time he had available to do so.    
      Scott Hogan – Replaced Kodjia on 79 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating.
      Alan Hutton – Replaced Snodgrass on 88 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating but he did stiffen us up defensively as we looked to close the game out and made an early challenge that left no doubt whatsoever that he meant business.     
      Up the Villa!
      John Lewis
    • By John in VillaTalk blog
      We made 11 changes from the team that won 3-0 at Barnsley on Saturday and paid the penalty for that with a cup exit (our first ever League Cup defeat against yesterday’s opponents). Not that we are alone in making significant changes in this cup competition and resting first team players at the drop of a hat as Middlesbrough made 10 changes themselves.
      The League Cup was a really important trophy for around 40 years from the mid 60’s but it’s importance has faded to the extent that only 11,197 supporters attended this game. This game reminded me of those old Central League games that were played between reserve sides comprising of players who were out of favour, coming back from injury or potential first team players of the future. Crowds did not particularly flock in to see those games either.
      Clubs mostly play teams that are pretty much unrecognisable from their first-team line ups until the last eight of the League Cup at least. We no longer have replays so that players do not face too many games in a season but those players do not play in the League Cup now anyway! The name of the competition has now become anyone’s guess with the sponsors having changed with great regularity since 1982 when the League Cup became the Milk Cup before morphing into a trophy that no club really makes a priority at the start of each season. It is a pity to see its demise.    
      This game turned on the 57th minute when we conceded a penalty and the first goal from the spot. We also lost Elphick who was given a second yellow which brought us down to ten men for the rest of the game (this referee was far less determined to even things up than the one had been last week). Up until then there had been little to choose between these two second string outfits neither of whom seemed desperate to want to win this game.
      Both teams produced a lack lustre performance last night and it could be argued that we didn’t really play much at all. The game seemed to be drifting towards a tame goalless draw, extra time and penalties until the penalty was awarded. That gave Boro the impetus and the place in the next round on a day few Villa players did anything significant to advance their case for a first team call-up. We are now left free to concentrate on the league and to bring on the first team.  
      My player ratings from a game that extended the number of years we have gone without a League Cup Final appearance and a League Cup Final win beyond 8 and 22 years respectively are:
      Jed Steer – 5 – Could only watch with relief when Bamford’s 26th minute header from a cross struck the bar with Hutton standing statuesque alongside the striker. Saved well low at his right-hand post to keep out a 30-yard shot from Forshaw on 36 minutes. Went left and Bamford struck his 58th minute spot kick down the middle. Caught in no-man’s land for their second when Bamford headed home a Tavernier cross at the near post that Bjarnason seemed to be trying to avoid making any contact with.
      Ritchie De Laet – 5 – Made a good late run from well inside this own half on 92 minutes but his finish was high, wide and not very handsome. Headed the ball off the line on 89 minutes from a Taverier header or was it already marginally over?               
      Tommy Elphick - 4 – Started comfortably enough and headed in from a Lansbury free-kick but was flagged offside. Earned a second yellow card and cost us the game on 57 minutes when he rashly brought down Bamford inside the box and reduced us to 10 men.    
      Chris Samba – 6 – Did the simple things well enough and plays to his strengths.       
      Alan Hutton - 6 – Started very well.  
      Henri Lansbury – 6 – Sent off against these same opponents last Tuesday but was available to play having had his red card correctly rescinded. Went off with an injury on 41 minutes and we missed his experience.           
      Jake Doyle-Hayes - 6 – Not as effective as he was in his last cup outing but he was very, very good on that day.   
      Josh Onomah – 5 – Not at his best last night but few were. Had a 44th minute effort kept out at the far post by Konstantopoulos.
      Calum O’Hare – 6 – MOTM – Make another good impression last night. Chased down apparently lost causes such as in the 34th minute when he went after a Hutton cross that seemed destined to go out of play and turned it back towards goal to force Konstantopoulos to stretch out a hand to avert the danger. Worked hard throughout just needs to try to add a cutting edge to his game.         
      Birkir Bjarnason – 4 – Another disappointing display and he is clearly no full back.     
      Scott Hogan – 5 – Could not quite turn a ball into the box in from close range on the hour mark. More was expected from him but he did not get a lot of service. Looked understandably unhappy to be substituted as were we to see him go given the match situation.            
      Ross McCormack – 5 – Replaced Lansbury on 41 minutes. Showed a couple of nice touches and looked like he might have turned home a 65th minute Samba header from a corner. Is it time to re-think bringing him back in from the cold?
      Jordan Lyden – 5 - Replaced Hogan on 60 minutes. Made no particularly noticeable impression on the game in the time he had available.
      Corey Blackett-Taylor – Replaced Onomah on 81 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating.     
      Up the Villa!
      John Lewis