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  1. Targett applied a Matt finish in the dying seconds of this game to break the hearts of Brighton fans and players alike yesterday. His late, late winner sent us up into mid table above our visitors and prevented VAR from robbing us of another two points. Quite why VAR chose to overrule the match officials and cancel out Hourihane’s well hit 42nd minute goal is beyond me. It certainly was not a clear and obvious error by the match referee, to not rule that Wesley’s attempt to reach a cross from Guilbert at the far post, represented an illegal challenge on Ryan as he flapped at the ball. Yes, Wesley’s arm was raised, as is invariably the arm of anyone who tries to climb in the air to head the ball. To adjudge that to represent a foul on Ryan is taking protection of the goalkeeper, way too far. This decision left me wondering, how many of Andy Gray’s or Peter Withe’s headed goals VAR would have ruled out?’ Brighton started brightly yesterday and scored a 21st minute goal that we could see was coming, from a Gros free kick that was floated towards Webster on the left edge of the 6-yard box. The defender had unforgivingly been left unmarked and he proceeded to head the ball back across the face of the goal and into the far corner of the net. Having been reduced to 10 men on 35 minutes, our visitors still posed an occasional threat to us during the second half. They came into this game with confidence following a surprising, yet well-earned win against Spurs. Their performance yesterday, should probably have seen them coming away from Villa Park with at least a point, against a Villa side that had struggled to find the scintillating form, that had put Norwich to the sword before the international break. Our visitors made their long journey back to the South coast yesterday, having failed to register their first ever win at Villa Park and having been denied a point by our late winner. This was because for once, we were able to find a way of beating both 10-men and VAR. VAR really does need sorting out. We are in mid-table despite VAR, which again intervened as the players had been about to re-start the game. It had also done so in the first half of our last home game, when it cancelled out McGinn’s goal against Burnley, as the players lined up for the re-start. It is rapidly killing the spontaneity of goal celebrations. When the ball has crossed the line, fans at the game are now in fear of its intervention until the game has been re-started. Goal celebrations, which are such a joyous part of attending a game, are therefore now understandably becoming muted. Brighton had enjoyed the better of the game before Mooy’s sending off. Having escaped an early booking, he could have no grounds to complain that he had been harshly treated on collecting 2 yellow cards so soon. Perhaps he was still finding difficulty in coming to terms with England’s earlier convincing World Cup win against the Wallabies! Another 6 points would see us match the total number of points that we were able to accumulate during the whole of the last season that we spent in the Premier League. This like the Norwich game before it, could have been considered a potential 6-pointer. It certainly represents a welcome win, given that our next two league games are against Manchester City and Liverpool. We were not at our best yesterday, but we didn’t resort to hoofing the ball into the penalty area as time was running short on us and winning on your “off days” is a necessary habit to acquire for any successful football team. We stretched our unbeaten home run to four games yesterday, came back to win the game having been a goal behind and have now won our last two league games. These results have seen us go ahead of Manchester United in the league table. I must admit that I rather like seeing that again, it has been far too long since that was last the case! My player ratings from a game that left us singing “Sweet Caroline” again when the final whistle sounded are: Tom Heaton – 7 – Got down to stop a 26th minute Maupay shot at his left-hand post. Maupay then played a nice ball on for Connolly, whose 31st minute shot from right of the penalty spot was prevented from giving them a 2-goal lead by Tom’s left foot. He gathered another Maupay shot at the second attempt on 45 minutes and did well again when he saved a 66th minute Montoya shot low at his left-hand post. Frederic Guilbert – 7 – Hit a couple of nice crosses into the box, including the one that produced our equaliser. Bjorn Engels - 6 – Played his part in the centre of our defence. Tyrone Mings – 7 – A solid performance. Matt Targett – 7 – Scored our winner with the last kick of the game. He was found by a well weighted 94th minute ball from Jack and coolly hit our second from the left edge of the 6-yard box, past Ryan and into the far corner of the net. Anwar El Ghazi – 4 – Had a 29th minute shot from the edge of the box blocked by a defender and hit a loose ball that had cannoned off Ryan wildly over the crossbar on 42 minutes. He really should have done so much better from only 6 yards out. He also headed a nice 67th minute Trezeguet cross harmlessly wide of the far post. Anwar can and needs to do better than this. Marvelous Nakamba – 6 – Left with a lot to do by himself in the middle yesterday. John McGinn – 6 – Some way off his usually very consistent best yesterday. Found the side netting with a shot on 37 minutes and had an on target shot blocked 3 minutes later. Hit a 65th minute shot over the bar, after Jack had pulled the ball back to him on the edge of the box. Jack Grealish – 9 – MOTM – Pulled the strings in our midfield yesterday and made good runs forward. Scored our equaliser and created our late winner. McGinn found Jack just outside the left of the box, he then played a superb ball between 2 defenders for Targett to hit our late winner. Jack had earlier started and finished the move that produced our equaliser in the 2nd minute of first half stoppage time. He ran forward with the ball before finding Wesley near the edge of the box, who in turn played the ball out wide to Guilbert whose low cross eluded a defender and Ryan before being bundled home by our captain. Conor Hourihane - 8 – Wrongly given a booking on 19 minutes and thereby conceded the free-kick from which Brighton scored their increasingly likely goal, having made a perfectly fair tackle and won the ball. Unluckily hit the left post with a 23rd minute free kick from 30 yards out. Conor was even more unfortunate to have VAR cancel out what would otherwise have been a 42nd minute equaliser. Ryan had been unable to deal with a cross aimed towards the far post by Guilbert for Wesley, the ball ran to McGinn who played the ball to Conor, whose accurate shot beat the keeper and found the top left-hand corner of the net. He attempted to turn in a 51st minute Targett cross, but hit the ball directly at Ryan, who blocked it and El Ghazi failed to turn in the loose ball. We missed Conor’s midfield contribution following his 63rd minute substitution, which led to Brighton at least initially, having more of a say in the middle. Wesley – 4 – Hit a 53rd minute cross over the bar and struggled to make any impression against defenders who looked like extras from “Land of the Giants”. Substitutes: Trezeguet – 6 - Replaced Hourihane on 63 minutes and looked worthy of a start next time out. Douglas Luiz – Replaced El Ghazi on 76 minutes. Hit an 88th minute shot from outside of the box a couple of feet wide of the post, having been teed up by Jack. Not on quite long enough to gather a rating. Keinan Davis – Replaced Wesley on 76 minutes. Not given long enough to earn a rating. He did however, do very well to take a 93rd minute cross down on his chest, before turning powerfully back towards goal and then hitting a shot from a wide angle, that Ryan fingertipped wide of the far post for a corner. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  2. Points win safety and we are not gathering enough of them. It’s still early days in this season and we are not cut adrift yet, but we really need to get out of the habit of not holding onto winning positions. We had the lead twice yesterday, but we were twice pegged back and therefore failed to gather the three points that we so needed. As a result, we still find ourselves sitting uncomfortably in the bottom three. We now need to win our next home game against Brighton and to start picking up points from our away games, to begin to compensate for the points that we are dropping at home. We should aim to start doing that next week at Norwich, in what they may see as an early 6-pointer. Four points from these two games would see us average a point a game, which if maintained over the course of the season, should be enough to secure our safety. Villa started brightly yesterday. We had the best of the first 45 minutes, and we went in at half time, a goal to the good, despite VAR having ruled out one from McGinn’s on the 25th minute. Villa failed to really push on in the second half, frustratingly twice conceding equalisers. The second of which was a real sucker punch, that came within 2 minutes of our regaining the lead from the head rather than the hand of Rodriguez on this occasion. By the way, what really is the point of VAR, given the way that it is currently being used? Perhaps it is, to quote my friend Sinead, an abbreviation for “Villa Are Robbed”? It certainly does us no favours and creates a lot of uncertainty after the ball has hit the back of the net. It also impacts adversely on the spontaneity of the game. Yesterday we celebrated a 25th minute goal from McGinn only for it to be ruled out a couple of minutes later, after the goal celebrations had died down. Are we soon going to have to wait to celebrate a goal until VAR tells us that it is safe to do so? VAR also backs up the decision made by the on-field referee 99.9% of the time, as was the case again yesterday when it ignored a foul on the edge of the box on El Ghazi in the build-up to their first goal. It also rubber stamped the referee’s decision that a yellow, rather than a red card was adequate punishment for Rodriguez’s crude late challenge on Jack. It seems to me, that VAR is more concerned about supporting fellow officials than making the right decision. This was never going to be an easy game, there will be no easy games this season. Burnley are a scrappy side and they made this a scrappy game. They were adept when it came to time wasting and to making over-robust challenges, particularly on McGinn and Jack, that the referee was happy to be exceedingly lenient with. They however are, annoyingly effective, know how to grind out results and they left Villa Park yesterday with the point that they came for. On the positive side, we are looking so much more competitive on our return to the Premier League than we had been on our embarrassing exit from it. We also stretched our unbeaten home run to three games yesterday, although the last two of these have been draws. My player ratings from a game that left us still waiting for our second league win of the season are: Tom Heaton – 6 – Tom collected a 36th minute McNeil free kick low at his right-hand post. Was rooted to the spot when Wood headed home their second equaliser. Frederic Guilbert – 7 – Looked good when moving forward as well as in defence. Bjorn Engels - 7 – Both Bjorn and Tyrone were given a thorough test by Burnley’s forwards. Tyrone Mings – 7 – Didn’t always look quite as comfortable as usual yesterday. Matt Targett – 7 – Nice to see him getting a start, typical of his and our luck that an injury led to him not being able to see out this game. We missed him up front and at the back, after his 62nd minute substitution. Anwar El Ghazi – 7 – McGinn swept a lovely ball wide to Guilbert, who hit a 33rd minute cross that Anwar turned sweetly into the far corner of the net for our opener. Substituted having sustained an injury in the build up to their first goal. Marvelous Nakamba – 8 – Looked solid, reliable and kept busy throughout. I would like to see us try a midfield with him starting alongside Douglas, with John and Jack playing ahead of them. John McGinn – 9 – MOTM – Scored one, had one ruled out by that dastardly VAR and not even a succession of illegitimate challenges could stop him making a terrific impact upon this game. Headed a nice 3rd minute Targett cross over the bar. Side footed Trezeguet’s precise 79th minute cross inside the near post and through Pope with aplomb to give us the lead again. Jack Grealish – 7 – Looked noticeably more effective playing further forward yesterday. Hit a shot well over the bar on 9 minutes, after the ball had been played back to him on the edge of the box. Jack was denied by Pope who saved his well hit 45th minute shot from just outside of the box at his left-hand post. Wesley found him on 74 minutes but his shot from the centre edge of the box was hit harmlessly over. Conor Hourihane - 6 – Nice to see him back in the starting line-up. Struck the outside of the left-hand post with a nicely hit 13th minute free kick from just outside of the area. He was given offside eventually by VAR, having hit the cross that McGinn hit home on 25 minutes. Had a decent shot blocked by a defender by the near post in the 6th minute of second half stoppage time, after a corner had fallen to him. Wesley – 4 – I was thinking that this just might be one of those days when a striker does virtually nothing throughout a game, other than score. Sadly, it wasn’t! Substitutes: Neil Taylor – 4 - Came on for Targett on 62 minutes and the impression that he made on the game was not a positive one. Neil was badly mismatched as Rodriguez raced ahead and easily climbed above him to head home their first. Committed himself embarrassingly early, allowing Lowton the space and time to put over the cross that led to their second equaliser. Kortney would surely have been another viable option; had he been sitting on our bench yesterday. Trezeguet – 6 - Replaced El Ghazi on 70 minutes, I for one, had rather expected him to start. He hit a splendid old-fashioned winger’s cross from the line for McGinn, to claim an assist for our second goal. Keinan Davis – Replaced Wesley on 88 minutes. He holds the ball up well and brings others into play, but he also unfortunately makes Heskey look like a bit of a goal machine. Nevertheless, two out of three ain’t bad, as Meat Loaf once said, and he must be getting very close to a league start now. Keinan wasn’t given long enough to gather a rating yesterday. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  3. West Ham like Everton before them, arrived at Villa Park with some pundits talking about where an anticipated victory would leave them in the league table. The Hammers failed to leave with the three points, as had The Toffeemen, perhaps those pundits might start showing us a little bit of respect before too long. The point gained last night gives us 4 points from our first 5 games and a second successive clean sheet at home. This represents a satisfactory enough start to our season and takes us out of the relegation zone (Mind the gap Wolves!). What we now need to do is to build upon these last two home games and to stretch our unbeaten home record from two to four games. A minimum of four points and preferably all six, should be our target from our next two home games against Burnley and Brighton. It is important that we put together an unbeaten home run that will make visiting clubs aware that they are in for a battle, if they expect to leave Villa Park with anything. This team will get better as it becomes accustomed to playing alongside each other and playing in the Premier League. In the interim, we need to pick up points like this one to prevent us being left with a lot of ground to make up when we do click. West Ham will finish this season in the top half and are not a bad side, so at this stage of the season a point is not too disappointing, even when it was collected against a team that were down to 10 men from the 67th minute. We don’t seem to take much of an advantage from opponent’s being sent off and last night, was not to prove an exception. The second booking did seem harsh, but Mike Dean chose to give the benefit of the doubt, rather than a second yellow for simulation to Noble on 38 minutes when he went down inside the box. If only Kevin Friend had given the same benefit of doubt to Jack at Palace, we would now be on 5 points rather than 4. My player ratings from a game that reinforced the view that goals may prove hard to come by this year are: Tom Heaton – 6 – The quieter by some distance of the two keepers last night. Easily held a 7th minute shot from the edge of the box from Noble and a header from Taylor. Frederic Guilbert – 7 – He’s looking increasingly competent. Met a nice 33rd minute cross from Jack on the edge of the 6-yard box, but his mistimed header was easily collected by Fabianski. Bjorn Engels - 8 – MOTM – Assured, confident and has quickly developed a superb understanding with Tyrone. Faultless last night. Tyrone Mings – 8 – Made a good block on a 35th minute Noble cross and got another crucial block on a 73rd minute Haller shot inside of the box. What a partnership we now have at the centre of our defence. Neil Taylor – 6 – Reasonably solid at the back last night but will surely have a Targett on his back soon. Anwar El Ghazi – 5 – Responded petulantly when Mings berated him for not tracking Noble’s 35th minute run, moving his head towards Tyron’s face. There could only have been one winner, but he could perhaps show this sort of aggression when going for the ball in the other box, rather than when going for a colleague in his own. Looked a bit like a Joey Barton wannabee last night and VAR did look at this sorry incident, which might have earned him a red for the intent to butt. Fabianski was a determined first to a 40th minute Jota cross aimed for Anwar and left the intended recipient of the ball in a heap on his follow through. Jack had earlier played a nice 32nd minute ball to him inside the left-hand side of the box, but the ball was never quite brought under control and ran out of play. McGinn chipped a lovely ball to him that he chested down well on the edge of the box before hitting a shot that Fabianski gathered without undue concern. Marvelous Nakamba – 7 – Almost lived up to his name. A promising debut from a player who immediately looked at home as our deep lying midfielder. Could we potentially play him and Douglas, moving Jack and John a little further up? John McGinn – 7 – Hit a well struck 30-yard shot that unfortunately went straight into Fabianski’s clutches. He was found just inside the box by El Ghazi during the 1st minute of first half stoppage time. His shot took the slightest of deflections off Wesley, who was in an offside position before being kept out low at his right-hand post by Fabianski. Jack Grealish – 6 – Jota played a nice ball to Jack whose 51st minute cross was parried away at the near post by Fabianski, the loose ball was hit from just outside of the box by McGinn narrowly wide of the same post. Luiz played a nice 88th minute ball into the box that Jack stretched a leg to reach at the far post. He was only able to get a slight touch on it from 7-8 yards out, which sent the ball harmlessly wide. That had seemed to be the golden opportunity for a late winner, but I have the feeling that had he found the net, VAR might have found his toenail had strayed offside. It’s not quite happening for Jack just now is it? Jota - 6 – Ran out of steam and was substituted on 66 minutes. Hit a couple of decent crosses. Wesley – 4 – Some way below the standards he set himself with his last so impressive home performance. Headed a nice 13th minute cross from Jack over at the near post and then headed a 45th minute Jota cross tamely that Fabianski went down to his left to gather. That chance was later ruled offside by VAR. Went to ground all too easily and predictably when the ball fell towards him off a defender’s shoulder, after Davis had got a cheeky touch on El Ghazi’s 92nd minute corner. Didn’t have a lot of service but he can do better than this. Substitutes: Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 - Came on for Jota on 66 minutes, did what it says on the tin again. Douglas Luiz – Replaced Nakamba on 81 minutes. Not on quite long enough to gather a rating but stopped a dangerous looking run from Haller with a far from subtle, yet nevertheless important illegal challenge after 82 minutes. He might also have claimed an 88th minute assist when he found Jack near the far post, so he did show what we had missed in the short time he had available to do so. Keinan Davis – Replaced Guilbert on 85 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  4. The Toffeemen arrived at Villa Park expecting to go top of the league for 24 hours yesterday. They may have assumed they would win, but they were licked by the hungry Villa lion. We found over the previous three seasons, that you should never take a win for granted against any football club. Some Everton fans and perhaps some members of their team, made that mistake before last night’s game. A resilient performance from the boys in claret and blue, had them eating their words at the end of the game. Marco Silva and Tony Bellew clearly found defeat as hard to swallow as it was to accept last night. There is now just a point between the two clubs. Villa Park was a wall of sound and of celebration as we recorded our first win of this new season following our promotion. It has been three and a half long years since we last won a Premier League game. We have got the taste of victory back, it’s sweet, we like it and we want more! Everton started the game strongly as a previously unbeaten side would have been expected to, but they were unable to convert their possession into goals. We cut out the errors, that had cost us points in our previous two games and we battled hard for this morale boosting win. We also played some sweet football between scoring and the end of the first half. A clean sheet and two goals scored, gave us just what we needed from this game. What a difference that first goal made. It boosted our confidence and gave us belief. It also gave us something to hold onto and all credit to our players, who were very determined to cling onto this victory. Is anyone else suffering from the same permanent grin that they last had on their face after the playoff final? It’s so very good to be back and winning again. My player ratings from a game that produced post game rejoicing and noise, that was reminiscent of Wembley a couple of months ago are: Tom Heaton – 6 – Well protected by those in front of him. Frederic Guilbert – 7 – Was found by Jack on 32 minutes and ran from just inside his own half, to the edge of their area before hitting a shot over the bar. Defended well and clearly likes to get forward. Another debut that was full of promise. His value must be near £20m now! Bjorn Engels - 8 – Did well to block a 32nd minute shot from Calvert-Lewin that was hit from just past the penalty spot, after Coleman had found the striker with a nice ball. He also got a partial block on Iwobi’s 71st minute shot, which made it a comfortable catch for Heaton. He looks so assured alongside Tyrone. Tyrone Mings – 8 – He wasn’t going to let a pre-match groin strain keep him out of this game, was he? Reacted well to block a Keane shot from six yards out, that was later ruled offside by VAR, after a 12th minute corner had fallen to him. Tyrone was first to react when Kean’s 83rd minute shot hit the right-hand post to avert the danger. Tyrone is the rock upon which our sound defence has been built upon. Neil Taylor – 6 – Solid enough at the back and was determined not to lose concentration due to the barracking he received from Everton fans. He remains somewhat less effective when he moves into the other half. Trezeguet – 6 – Unlucky to be booked on 84 minutes when Coleman took a frustrated and petulant swing at the ball and him after being awarded a free-kick. Worked hard and does a lot of it when the opposition have the ball. Douglas Luiz – 7 – Closed opponents down well and looked solid. John McGinn – 7 – He was here, there and, everywhere wasn’t he? John was found by another nice ball from Jota before hitting a low 25th minute cross from inside the left-hand side of the box for the waiting Wesley, that Pickford held onto at his near post. Jack Grealish – 7 – Was brought down inside his own half and his quickly taken free-kick began the move that led to the opening goal. Trezeguet played the ball back to him on the left-hand edge of the box, from where he looked to curl in a 45th minute shot that went a couple of yards past the far post. Gave a determined performance, chased and challenged for the ball when it was not at his feet. Jota - 8 – Guilbert played the ball to him in the 21st minute, but instead of playing the anticipated one-two he played a superb ball into the box, between two defenders for Wesley to claim a big assist for his goal. Substituted on 77 minutes having fully justified his selection and having hit some clever passes. Wesley – 8 – MOTM – Answered those (including myself) who had entertained some early doubts about him, with this tremendous performance. He hasn’t taken too long to settle, has he? Made a nicely timed run to meet Jota’s perfectly weighted pass into the box to him and coolly turned the ball past Pickford and into the left-hand corner of the net on 21 minutes. Raced purposefully onto another well hit ball from Jota 3 minutes later, running strongly past Mina, who recovered well to block his shot on goal. Held onto the ball well and was happy throughout to engage in battles for the ball with the uncompromising Mina and Keane. Substitutes: Anwar El Ghazi – 7 - Replaced Jota on 77 minutes and made a big impression on this game, in so little time. Wesley found him on 84 minutes, he stepped forward before hitting a shot from outside of the box, which Pickford pushed clear to his right. Jack played a clever ball to him on the right edge of the box, he then hit an 89th minute shot that deflected over the bar off Keane’s back. He went on to put the result beyond doubt on 95 minutes. Taylor cleared the ball from well inside his own half, Wesley picked the ball up before giving the ball to McGinn who in turn played the ball to Anwar inside of the box. He then ran past Andre Gomes and steered the ball past England’s number two’s dive, or should I say through it? Ahmed Elmohamady – Came on for Trezeguet on 86 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  5. 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. Substitutes: 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! John Lewis
  6. 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. Substitutes: 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! John Lewis
  7. We witnessed history being made yesterday. In years to come the question will be asked, do you remember when our great club broke their record of consecutive league wins in 2019? That record had remained unbroken since 1910. That’s beyond living memory, so we had to refer to the record books to read about that winning run and that grand old team. In the years to come, you will be able to say that you were there and that you witnessed this incredible run. You can tell your children, your grandchildren and anyone else who is prepared to listen, that you remember this splendid team, this great run and had the pleasure of seeing Jack Grealish, John McGinn, Tammy Abraham et all play in the claret and blue. Those players have earned their place in Villa history as did Harry Hampton, Billy Walker, Pongo Waring and Eric Houghton, before them in bygone seasons. We secured our place in the end of season promotion playoffs yesterday, with two games of the season to spare. Only in our wildest dreams, did any of us see this winning run coming at the beginning of March. As our boss said after yesterday’s game, “If you had asked me 11 games ago would we go and win the next 10, I would have thought you were a little bit crackers.” Now let’s extend this winning run to 15 games! This superb run merits a joyful ending. For it not now to end with our promotion, would be too cruel on this team who have worked so hard to claim their ticket to the play off lottery. For a second successive season to end in despair would be beyond abhorrent. We have played better than we did yesterday during this run of wins. Millwall are always a tough nut to crack and were both determined and uncompromising, as they looked for a point to assist their relegation fight. Although not at our scintillating best, we were still clearly the better of the two teams and on another day the score might have better reflected this. As it was, for the second successive home game the visitor’s man of the match was their goalkeeper, but once again he still finished on the losing side. Villa didn’t need to go into fourth gear to win this one. We eased to victory without adding a second goal, that would have left us sitting more comfortably near the end. Our team have now developed the confidence and composure to see games out without undue cause for concern though. We seemed perhaps, to be conserving something for the decisive games that are to come, as we eased to what was ultimately a comfortable tenth win in front of a packed Villa Park. My player ratings from a game that sealed a Happy Easter for us and that meant that the play offs are coming are: Jed Steer – 6 – Produced a very good save on 15 minutes, pushing a Wallace shot from outside of the box, out for a corner to his right. He then had a moment of madness, when he ran out to but didn’t get near a 71st minute floated free kick into the box, taken from just inside our half by Pearce which was thankfully headed wide by Cooper. Ahmed Elmohamady – 7 – Elmo gets better with each game and looks increasingly composed, confident and reliable. Mile Jedinak - 7 – Mile did a tremendous job again in the centre of our defence yesterday in the absence of both Axel and Kortney. He was as uncompromising and determined as our opponent’s defenders were and that is saying quite a lot. Tyrone Mings – 8 – MOTM – So steady and so composed at the heart of our defence. Didn’t put a foot wrong and oozed confidence. He plays a crucial role in making this team tick. Neil Taylor – 7 – Did well again and has played his part in this fantastic winning run. Albert Adomah – 6 – Substituted after an hour no doubt with the intention of preserving his energies for those battles that are yet to come. Glenn Whelan – 7 – Substituted on 60 minutes, most likely for the same reason that Albert was. Got down bravely where the boots were flying on 16 minutes, to head away a corner that had fallen to Pearce who had played it back across the face of the goal. Provides solidity for our midfield. John McGinn – 8 – Did well to avoid a booking that would have threated an untimely play-off suspension. Whelan played a neat ball to him inside of the box, but his 41st minute shot was blocked at the near post by a defender. Had a hand in many of our chances. Jack Grealish – 8 – A welcome return for the player whose return to the side as captain following a lengthy injury, sparked the outstanding run that broke a long-standing club record yesterday. Green played the ball back to him and his 68th minute shot from near the penalty spot was only kept out by Martin’s legs. McGinn found him near the centre circle on 72 minutes, Jack ran on to the edge of the box before hitting a shot which deflected off a defender just inches past the keeper’s right-hand post. Anwar El Ghazi – 7 – Hit the cross that Jonathan put away for the winner. Headed a 9th minute Grealish corner wide at the far post and brought a defender down in getting up for it. McGinn played a nice ball for Anwar to run onto, he looked to curl a shot past Martin and inside of the far post, but Martin got down well to push the ball around the post on 90 minutes. Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – Came in for the injured 25-goal Tammy and hit our winner in the 30th minute. Pounced on a misjudged loose back pass a minute earlier, but his heavy first touch enabled Martin to just touch the ball first as they met on the edge of the box and the chance was gone. Made a nice run inside the box on 56 minutes running between two defenders before hitting his shot wide of the far post. Jack found El Ghazi on the left side of the box and his nicely hit 30th minute cross, was hit home by Johnny Danger to his obvious delight. Substitutes: Conor Hourihane – 6 – Replaced Whelan on 60 minutes and did his bit in the middle. Andre Green – 7 - Came on for Albert on 60 minutes and looked good. Grealish found him on the right of the box on 66 minutes but his shot from a tight angle hit the side netting. Hit a sweet 84th minute volley after an El Ghazi shot had deflected off a defender towards him, only to be denied a goal by a great reflex save by Martin. McGinn swept the ball right for Andre who ran inside of the box and hit a 90th minute shot that deflected over the bar off a defender. Keinan Davis – 6 - Replaced Johnny Danger on 76 minutes and again did his bit, showing some surprisingly deft touches with the ball at his feet. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  8. 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. Substitutes: 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! John Lewis
  9. 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. Substitutes: 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! John Lewis
  10. We now have our place in the top six. The battle is to stay there. Derby and Bristol City may have a game and two games in hand of us respectively, but we have the points on the board. City must also visit Villa Park and neither of these teams are currently winning games for fun, are they? The likes of Preston, Forest and Wednesday are behind us, so they would need to have a better finish than we do to the season, in order to overhaul us. As Ron Saunders once said at the business end of a very successful season, “Do you want to bet against us?” Yesterday’s fourth successive victory has taken us into the play off places. Who would have thought that likely just a couple of weeks ago? The win has left us just a point behind Middlesbrough, who must now fear being overtaken by the team that knocked them out of the play offs last season and completed the double over them yesterday. They are in our sights now and so is promotion! Eight games of this season remain, or could it be 11? The international break has come at a time when we are on a tremendous run that looks like it could sweep us into the end of season play offs. We must use this break to our advantage. Let’s hope that players who are on international duty return to us fit and that a couple of those who are currently on the treatment table, near fitness during this period of club inactivity. We currently have the look of a team that is putting together a late run to make the play offs, that other clubs will not relish meeting in them. Clubs that enter the play offs on the crest of a run of good results, often take the promotion spot from teams that have finished above them over the course of the season. We could be that club this year. If we can play as well as we have done in the last 4 games, in our final 8 games of the season and then do the same in the 3 play-off games, it just could be on, after all! The high winds and second half rain were not conducive to good football. Tony Pulis must have welcomed the conditions then and our visitors from Teesside might well have been reminded of a summer’s day back at home! They may have come to Villa Park to park the bus, but they left it in the club car park and their usually solid defence was breached three times. Villa were not to be distracted by the weather conditions. We dominated this game from start to finish. If it had been a boxing match, it would have been stopped before we applied the coup de grace on the 88th minute. I don’t want to tempt fate, but it seems that our defence might now have reached the point where a two-goal lead can prove to be enough to secure a win. My player ratings from a game that left us surprisingly and unexpectedly optimistic, about our play off prospects are: Jed Steer – 6 – Not unduly troubled by the visitor’s attack but appeared both confident and assured. Ahmed Elmohamady – 7 – Another solid performance from Elmo, who is doing more than a bit to make our defence look increasingly and reassuringly solid. Kortney Hause - 7 – Solid, unflustered and looking increasingly confident, alongside Tyrone in the centre of our defence. Tyrone Mings – 8 – His towering presence in the centre of the defence is increasingly impressive. He has so much time on the ball, is unrushed, confident and is the rock on which our defence is currently built. His was an inspired signing! Neil Taylor – 7 – This was a no-nonsense defensive performance, which is exactly what we have been looking for from him. Keep it up Tayls! Glenn Whelan – 8 – MOTM – Didn’t put a foot wrong yesterday. I can’t recall him playing better in our shirt than this. He was the cog in our midfield engine and allowed Jack and John to move forward knowing that he was on hand behind them. Hit a 52nd minute shot from the edge of the box wide of the left-hand post. It must have been nice for him to hear the crowd acknowledging his tremendous performance yesterday. Andre Green – 6 – Substituted after 65 minutes having not over troubled Friend on the right. John McGinn – 8 – Scored one and made one, what’s not to like? Headed a 1st minute El Ghazi cross over. Hit a nice ball to find El Ghazi in space on the edge of the box for our first. Grealish played a ball inside for Abraham that ran past him for John to pick up and run with to the edge of the box before hitting our second into the right-hand corner of the net. Jack Grealish – 8 – Hit the foot of the near post on 62 minutes, having ran inside the box following a short corner. Gave another captain’s performance, led by example, teased opponents with his skills and his presence created space for his teammates. Had a 36th minute shot from the edge of the box deflected wide on 36 minutes. Anwar El Ghazi – 7 – He looks a little like Ronaldo to me from a distance (I must get my eyesight checked), he doesn’t play much like him yet, but this was a bright, encouraging performance from Anwar. Hit our opener on 28 minutes, when he was found unmarked on the edge of the box by McGinn. He proceeded to run into the box and slot the ball past the keeper and into the far corner of the net nicely. Grealish made a strong run forward from inside his own half, before finding him just inside the box but his 50th minute shot was hit just wide of the far post. Tammy Abraham – 7 – Worked hard, stayed busy made some nice forward runs and led the line well. The only thing that was missing was his 22nd goal and that will come another day. Hit a 61st minute ball from Elmo over on 61 minutes and a shot from the edge of the box wide of the right-hand post 3 minutes later. Substitutes: Albert Adomah – 6 – Replaced Green on 65 minutes and hit our third 23 minutes later, when he tapped home from close range after Randolph had been unable to hold a shot from Davis. Jonathan Kodjia - 6 – Replaced Tammy on 72 minutes. Keinan Davis - 6 – Made a rare first team appearance yesterday, coming off the bench to replace El Ghazi on 75 minutes. Elmo found him on the left of the box on 88 minutes, from where he got into a shooting position before curling a shot towards the far post that Randolph obligingly spilled for our third. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  11. Jack’s back and so were the Villa yesterday! Alan Durban, Kevin Hector, Roy McFarland, Alan Hinton, Archie Gemmill, Roger Davies and Francis Lee. Your boys took one hell of a beating! Captain Jack invigorated the team on his return and led by example. We have not looked nearly as good as we did yesterday, in the 13 league games that we have played without him, since injury deprived us of our talisman. One player does not make a team, but one player can help a team to play like one! Three first half goals won it for us at Pride Park in November and four first half goals won it for us at Villa Park yesterday. We have scored 7 goals against Frank Lampard’s Derby and have kept two clean sheets against them this season. If we could play them every week, then promotion might still not be quite beyond us! Villa rather than our visitors looked the serious promotion contenders yesterday. If only Jack had been able to come back a month earlier, we might have made a late run for the play offs. As it is, we are 6 points behind sixth place Bristol City. That gap could be pegged back to three points as they still have to visit Villa Park, but they do have a game in hand. Derby also have a run of 4 successive home games to follow this defeat, which still leaves them 3 points ahead of us. A more realistic and achievable target is therefore making it another double on Sunday! Our visitors were not at their best yesterday, but they seldom are at this stage of the season, are they? The scintillating first half performance that we produced yesterday, would have blown away any championship team though. We eased through the second half with the game already won but lost another central defender through injury during it. Tommy Elphick can now be added to Axel and Chester, on the treatment table, on the day that we got our Jack back. Could Chester be fit for selection by Sunday, I wonder? My player ratings from a game that left us remembering how good it feels to see a Villa home win and how hard it can prove to stop smirking after a victory such as this, are: Jed Steer – 6 – Had a quiet afternoon but his presence may be giving some much-needed confidence to the defenders who are in front of him. Ahmed Elmohamady – 7 – He retains the ball. Sometimes he plays the ball back behind him to do so but he doesn’t give the ball away too often. He does what it says on the tin and did so yesterday very well. He got an assist with a well-placed cross for our second. A good solid overall performance from Elmo. Tommy Elphick - 7 – Solid again alongside Tyrone before he was stretchered off on 67 minutes. He was unfortunately on crutches after the game. Appeared to catch his foot on the turf when moving towards a pass from Mings. This was cruel luck for Tommy, who has been twice the player he was before his loan spell, since returning to the club from Hull. Tyrone Mings – 8 – He looks increasingly composed and comfortable with each game. Headed an El Ghazi cross wide of the far post on 57 minutes. We must pull out all the stops to try to keep him at Villa Park next season! Kortney Hause – 7 – He wins plenty of ball in the air, doesn’t he? He understandably tends to drift towards the middle of the defence, which leaves room on his flank. Looked solid yesterday and played some nice balls out of defence. Looked comfortable when switched into the centre of our defence following Tommy’s substitution. Glenn Whelan – 8 – Glenn turned back the years yesterday and produced a very good solid all round midfield performance. He also hit the corner that Jack volleyed home to make it four before the half time whistle. Albert Adomah – 7 – Albert was involved, keen and made a positive impression during this game. Hit a shot over the bar from inside of the box on 20 minutes. Conor Hourihane – 8 – Back to his best yesterday at long last. Conor popped up here, there and everywhere. Grealish played a nice ball forward to El Ghazi whose cross was hit wide of the far post by Conor on 5 minutes. Four minutes later, Jack floated a superb ball for Abraham to run onto. Tammy’s attempt on goal was blocked by Carson, only for the ball to run onto Conor, who turned home our first. He then swept home our third and his second on 44 minutes, placing the ball past Carson from the edge of the box with some aplomb. Jack Grealish – 9 – MOTM – So much for needing a couple of games after a lengthy injury break to get back to his best! Jack was simply tremendous on his long-awaited return to the first team. He hit a magnificent, unstoppable volley from the edge of the box to give us our fourth goal in the 2nd minute of first half stoppage time from Whelan’s corner. He then hit a 55th minute shot from the edge of the box that Carson pushed away for a corner. He teased and worried Derby until leaving the field to a standing ovation on 71 minutes. Hopefully he will get a little more protection from match officials following his return from injury, although it only took 17 minutes for him to receive a first clumsy challenge that went unpunished yesterday. Anwar El Ghazi – 7 – Good to see him tracking back a couple of times and he did well when doing so. Made a strong run before hitting a cross that Tomori blocked a minute into first half stoppage time. The ball then cannoned off Wisdom into the side netting and we scored from the resulting corner. Took a touch on a 79th minute Hourhihane cross before hitting a shot that Carson blocked near the far post. A step up on his recent performances. Tammy Abraham – 8 – Hit his 21st goal of the season to end a barren run of three games without a goal. Whelan found Elmo on the right on 37 minutes and Tammy stretched to prod home his cross at the far post for our second. Claimed an assist for our third, when he won a high ball and ran on towards the box before playing the ball to Hourihane to score our third. Hit a 76th minute shot from the edge of the box, having been found by Grealish which forced a good save from Carson. Great to see him nodding his head in reaction to this encouraging win on the final whistle. Substitutes: Neil Taylor – 6 – Came on for the unluckily injured Elphick on 67 minutes. Fitted in well enough, enabling Hause to move into the middle of the defence. Tom Carroll - 6 – Replaced Jack on 71 minutes and got some more first team minutes behind him during what was a less than pressured finish to the game. Andre Green - Came on for El Ghazi on 80 minutes. Andre was not on long enough to gather a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  12. Two defeats within a week have consigned us to a fourth season outside of the top flight. Fans bought half season tickets a couple of months ago in the hope of witnessing a strong second half of the season. They will now be resigning themselves to the fact that half of the games that they paid for have now become meaningless end of season fixtures for our football club. We started well but we just don’t make good starts into goals and half time leads, do we? Instead we concede goals freely and find ourselves too often having to try to pull home games out of the fire in the second half. There was to be no stirring late comeback this time. We had 63% of the possession, 11 shots to their 10, 9 corners to their 2 but they had the two goals and ran out comfortable winners. We probably shaded it before they scored, but the first goal was always going to be crucial in this game. When it came and was followed by another 4 minutes later, that effectively ended the game as a contest. Albion were content to hold onto what they had, and we were too easily beaten. Our primary second half ambition seemed to focus on damage limitation rather than on a concerted attempt to try and throttle those annoying Throstles. Even so, had we managed to put away one or two of the chances we made, we might have witnessed an unlikely comeback again. We are 7 points behind Boro and Derby who are sixth and seventh. We play both of these sides at home in what is left of this season. On paper we could therefore draw within 4 points of each by winning those two home games but let’s face it we cannot buy a win. We have only won 6 of our 17 home league games to date and have one win from our last nine games. Rodriguez’s hand stole 2 points from us in December and it was in that game that we had last looked like serious promotion contenders. This time it was his foot and a second goal just before half time that was deflected past Kalinic that prematurely ended our season. On both occasions the referees acted as Albion’s twelfth man. My player ratings from a game before which we paid tribute to Gordon Banks, who was England’s best goalkeeper and to Ian Ross who was a rock-solid Villa defender and the captain of our 1975 League Cup winning team are: Lovre Kalinic – 5 – Saved low to his left from Murphy on 23 minutes having earlier dropped and then gathered a routine 20th minute ball into the box at the second attempt. Stood no real chance with Robson-Kanu’s 41st minute header which looped over him from a Holgate cross after Green had allowed him too much space wide on the right. Beaten again 4 minutes later from the edge of the box by a Rodriguez shot that took a deflection off Elphick and went in off his left-hand post. He had been dazed by a 21st minute collision with Livermore that resulted in his substitution at half time. Alan Hutton – 4 – What he provides going forward was not compensated by his defensive lapses yesterday. Murphy left him in his wake too often and too easily. Tommy Elphick - 6 – Made an important 4th minute challenge on Holgate. Hourihane’s 48th minute corner found him at the far post and his header was deflected onto the top of the crossbar off Dawson. Tyrone Mings – 7 – MOTM – Booked for strongly yet correctly pointing out to the referee that he had played the ball out of play, off Rodriguez so it should have been a goal kick rather than a corner after Hutton had allowed the forward to run clear of him. Solid and composed in the centre of our defence again. Might need some persuading to make his loan deal permanent in the summer but we should make that a priority. Kortney Hause – 6 – Looked decent yesterday and will get better with the increased match fitness that more first team games will result in. Headed a 30th minute Hourihane free kick well over the crossbar. Glenn Whelan – 5 – Glenn wasn’t our least effective midfield performer yesterday. John McGinn – 6 – Picked up the booking that has always appeared inevitable that will result in a 2-game suspension for our most effective and consistent midfielder. Hit a 30 yard shot that Johnstone dived to his left to push away for a corner. Conor Hourihane – 4 – Doesn’t contribute much other than his ability to hit a corner and a free-kick well. Stretched to reach the ball in the build up to their second but Rodriguez came away with it and then moved to Hutton’s left without the defender attempting to put in a challenge before hitting the ball past Kalinic. Andre Green – 5 – Hit a 2nd minute shot wide of the post from the edge of the box but didn’t make much of an impact upon this game. Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – Did well, particularly in the first half. Glanced a near post header from an 81st minute McGinn corner just wide of the far post. Tammy Abraham – 6 – He was in the right place at the right time twice but this time he was unable to put his chances away. Even Tammy showed he can’t do it every time yesterday. Hause got a firm header on a Johnstone kick that Elmo controlled near the left-hand edge of the box before finding Tammy unmarked near the penalty spot. His touch was poor, and Johnstone smothered his side footed attempt on goal. Climbed well between 2 defenders to head an 84th minute Hause cross just wide of the far post Substitutes: Jed Steer – 6 – Came on for the injured Kalanic at the beginning of the second half. Jacob Ramsey - 5 – Replaced Hourihane on 61 minutes. It was asking a lot of this youngster to expect him to come on and make an impression in this game with the die already cast. Understandably took some time to settle into the game. McGinn played a nice ball that found him within the box on 94 minutes, but he attempted a cross which was blocked when he might have been better having a pot himself. Hit a shot wide of the post from the resulting McGinn corner. Jonathan Kodjia - 4 - Came on for Green on 71 minutes and has looked keener to try to make an impact on games in the past when coming off the bench. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  13. This was an unbelievable, outstanding, incredible, amazing, astonishing, sensational, surprising, unexpected, remarkable, dramatic and thrilling comeback! With eight minutes of normal time remaining Sheffield United were temporarily on top of the league and were a seemingly comfortable three goals ahead. By the end of the game that lead had disappeared before their very eyes, their promotion hopes had been blunted, and they found themselves shell shocked and sitting back in third place where they had been at the start of this astounding game. Our visitors bossed the first half on our own patch. They picked up where they had left off at Bramall Lane 5 months earlier and showed how much they wanted to finish the game in top spot by dominating the early stages of the game. We were caught on the back foot and had looked a very poor second best. This extraordinary result was achieved despite the match officials showing that they could match Mr Magoo and Arsene Wenger by not seeing that Sharp was offside when Dowell hit the ball in the build up to their second goal before compounding that error by not noticing that he had gone on to kick the ball out of Kalinic’s hands. That goal had been allowed when we were threatening to get back into the game and looked to have extinguished our hopes as did later decisions to ignore late penalty appeals by Mings and McGinn, but we were determined not to be denied by inept officiating. This exhilarating late, late show admittedly only earned us a point, but this outstanding comeback showed both resilience and character. We might yet look back on this night, on which we snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat as a turning point in our season. It could possibly have as positive an impact on our remaining games as it threatens to have a negative effect on our visitor’s promotion chances. Stranger things have happened, this comeback being just one example. We just need to play for the whole of each game like we did at the end of this one from now onwards! My player ratings from a game that took us within one win off the final play-off spot are: Lovre Kalinic – 5 – Dived to his left on 5 minutes to block a Baldock shot from the edge of the box. Could only parry Dowell’s 53rd minute shot from outside of the area onto Madine’s head. His header struck the far post and Sharp kicked the ball into the net and out of Lovre’s grasp for his second. Gathered a 77th minute McGoldrick shot from just inside the left edge of the box at the second attempt. Alan Hutton – 5 – Picked up a loose attempted headed clearance just outside the box on 56 minutes but his shot went harmlessly over the bar. Sharp peeled off Hutton to head home a 62nd minute Dowell cross but sometimes a hat-trick is not quite enough! Tommy Elphick - 6 – Made a good challenge on Madine as he looked to turn in a 51st minute Baldock cross. Solid alongside Tyrone. Tyrone Mings – 8 – MOTM – Silenced his vocal critics from South Yorkshire with a towering performance and what had appeared to have been a late nicely headed consolation goal from an 82nd minute Hourihane corner. Pulled down by Basham as he made ground inside the box to reach the ball, but his penalty appeal was ignored by the referee. Comfortable on the ball and played the ball out of defence very well. Neil Taylor – 4 – Made Baldock look like the Brazilian Cafu at times on a night for him to forget. Not a great exhibition of defending again. Mile Jedinak – 4 – Unsurprisingly looked short of pace on his return to the starting line-up. John McGinn – 6 – Screwed a shot wide from the edge of the area on 83 minutes. Held by Stevens on 93 minutes as he looked to reach a ball played into the box by Hourihane, but his penalty appeals fell on deaf ears. Worked hard as usual. Conor Hourihane – 5 – Hit a 71st minute free kick from the edge of the box that Henderson parried away. Not contributing much other than his undoubted dead ball prowess. Anwar El Ghazi – 5 – Nice to see him tracking back a bit. Still lacking the end product that he produced at WBA though. Jonathan Kodjia – 5 – Some nice touches and looked keen to be involved at times prior to his substitution. Tammy Abraham – 7 – He had drifted well behind the goal line as the corner came over for their first, so he was unable to prevent the ball going over the line when Sharp put in Madine’s far post header back across goal. Elphick hit a shot from the left of the area that Henderson didn’t hold and instead pushed into Tammy’s path at the far post with the inevitable consequences on 86 minutes (goal number 20!). Didn’t enjoy a lot of service but worked hard and his late goal sparked what had seemed fanciful hopes of a draw. Substitutes: Andre Green - 6 – Replaced Kodjia on 65 minutes and completed our remarkable comeback with a sweet far post header from a McGinn cross on 94 minutes. Worth a start in my opinion. Glenn Whelan – 6 - Came on for Jedinak on 66 minutes and made a difference to the game. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  14. This should have been a more comfortable win. We had the chances to have put the game out of sight before our penalty gave us a two-goal cushion. As we all know a two-goal lead can more than occasionally not prove enough for us. This so nearly proved to be the case again yesterday. Our visitors who had for 75 minutes looked like a team that were on the bottom of the table and destined to give us a rare routine victory were injected with belief by a goal out of nothing by Sears. After that goal our insecurities and defensive frailties were exposed, and we were left clinging on to the win as our opponents suddenly realised a point might be there for the taking after all. Had it not been for the timely intervention of a post and the hand of Tommy, we might even have somehow managed to lose this one. Nevertheless, win we did for the first time at Villa Park in two months. This win needs to be followed up by our signing of much needed reinforcements before the transfer window slams shut next week and by a win at Reading next weekend who like Ipswich also occupy one of the relegation places. This timely win has moved us back into the top half of the table and above Small Heath who now occupy a more accustomed place in the bottom half themselves. We are also within four points of sixth place and another ticket to the play off lottery. My player ratings from a game during which we rediscovered that winning feeling are: Lovre Kalinic – 6 – The clean sheet that appeared likely for much of this game would have done a lot to boost Lovre’s confidence. Stood no realistic chance with their goal which was sweetly struck by Sears from 30 yards and flew past him at speed into the top corner of the net. Gathered a 45th minute Chalobah shot in the centre of his goal. Should have had that yellow card when he was booked for time wasting when waiting for a substitution to be made rescinded, but the referee is always right even when he’s wrong! Alan Hutton – 6 – He again looked at his best when he was getting forward. James Chester - 5 – Did well enough, given that he is carrying an injury. Tommy Elphick – 6 – Quaner ran between Chester and Tommy before going past Kalinic and hitting a shot which Elphick blocked with his trailing arm as he fell with Chester behind him covering on the line on 73 minutes. He was the best of our defenders yesterday. Neil Taylor – 5 – Will he still be our first choice when this transfer window has closed? Glenn Whelan – 6 – Did what we have come to expect but was more effective than of late at doing it, he understandably tired in the second half. John McGinn – 8 – Hit a shot wide of the post on 4 minutes after Abraham had found him inside of the box. Turned superbly leaving Skuse for dead before running towards the and hitting a 31st minute shot that was too hot for Bialkowski to hold but Adomah was ruled offside when he hit the spilled ball into the net. Turned inside the box on 33 minutes and hit a shot that was not firm enough to seriously trouble Bialkowski who made a comfortable save at his left-hand post. Hit a 41st minute shot from outside of the box that Bialkowski was unable to hold onto but Collins was on hand to put the loose ball out for a corner. Hit a 53rd minute Hutton cross wide of the post and then hit a 64th minute Taylor cross over the bar. John was prevented by Judge from getting on the end of a Hourihane corner which resulted in the penalty that produced our second goal. On another day he could have scored a couple of goals himself. Importantly John continues to avoid the 10th yellow card that would bring him a 2-game suspension. Conor Hourihane – 6 – Hit a 35th minute free kick from outside of the box that Bialkowski held at the second attempt as Abraham came in intent on adding a second. Hit another on 43 minutes that the keeper saved more routinely. His dead ball delivery was again impressive. Albert Adomah – 5 – A marked improvement on last week’s display. Looked more interested, had an impact upon the game and could have gathered some much-needed confidence had his 31st minute finish not been ruled offside. Worked well with Hutton but can do better. Anwar El Ghazi – 5 – Looked brighter than of late and more energetic but he is lacking an end product. He has shown that he can be more of a threat to defences than this. Tammy Abraham – 8 – MOTM – Where would we be without his goals? Tammy weighed in with another brace yesterday. Hit our early 6th minute opener when he got in front of the visitor’s defence to be first to and to prod home Hourihane’s perfectly placed free kick. Coolly sent Bialkowski the wrong way from the penalty spot on 61 minutes, stroking the ball into the right-hand corner. Forced a save from Bialkowski on 36 minutes with a header from a McGinn cross and another on 65 minutes when he tipped his shot over the crossbar. Had a tame effort saved on 85 minutes but almost added a late third on 88 minutes when his shot was blocked at close range by the busy Bialkowski at his left-hand post. Substitutes: Ahmed Elmohamady - 4 – Replaced Adomah on 68 minutes and demonstrated why he is currently spending his time on the bench rather than starting when he came on. Jonathan Kodjia - Came on for Whelan on 78 minutes. Looked busy and better than he has done of late in the time he had on the field, but he was not on long enough to gather a rating. Mile Jedinak – Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Replaced El Ghazi on 85 minutes to stiffen our defensive resolve, so that we would hold on to what we had. Not on long enough to earn a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  15. We gained a point from a losing position rather than lost points from a winning one for a change yesterday. We were nothing short of appalling in the first half and made it all too easy for Hull. Given our form of late, more than a few of us could see this one coming. Chester’s timely goal came just before half time and it gave us some grounds for hope where there had previously been none. If there was anything positive to be taken from this game, it was that we awoke in the second half to come back from two goals down to claim a point. A point was not enough however, and Hull showed that they are not quite as good as their 6-game winning run might have suggested when they were belatedly put under some pressure yesterday. What they do have is the confidence that a good run of results brings in comparison to the lack of it and the anxiety that we currently suffer from due to our own ongoing dismal run. Unfortunately, although there was plenty of time left after our equalizer to complete the recovery and to take all three points, we didn’t really look like doing so and the team seemed to lack the belief that they could go on to win the game. It seemed many of them, unlike the fans were perhaps a little too readily content with another “Desmond”. What has happened to the Villa that won at Derby, Boro and deserved to win at the Albion? We have clearly missed both Jack and Axel but to take just 7 points from our last 7 games is simply not good enough. We now find ourselves in the bottom half of the table and 7 points adrift of sixth place. Had we managed 14 points from our last 7 games (which didn’t seem quite so unlikely back then) we would have 46 points rather than 39 and would now be 6th rather than 13th. We would also be within touching distance of the top 2 rather than having all but written off any lingering hopes of making the play offs. Let’s hope we can win another one of the games that appeared winnable a few short weeks ago next weekend. Hopefully we can use that to start the winning run that we need to start sooner rather than later, if not to start a late promotion run to give us some pride back. Not giving our visitors a 2-goal start would go some way to achieving that against bottom of the table Ipswich. My player ratings from a game that left us top of the bottom half of the table once again are: Lovre Kalinic – 5 – Beaten low at his left-hand post by Bowen’s first from the edge of the box on 27 minutes and he will be disappointed by that as were we. Had little chance with their second, with the unmarked Evandro’s well hit shot deflecting off Taylor on the line into the roof of the net. Blocked a 25th minute header from Burke at his near post. He then prevented us from surrendering all 3 points to the visitors on 90 minutes with a superb save from a point-blank Martin shot. Alan Hutton – 5 – His cross produced our second goal. James Chester - 6 – Gave us a lifeline when he got his head to Hourihane’s 45th minute free kick. Did incredibly well to hook Elphick’s deflection on a Grosicki shot off the line in the 8th minute after Hourihane had lost possession at the start of the move. Tommy Elphick – 6 – Produced another steady enough performance in the centre of our brittle defence. Neil Taylor – 5 – Produced an improved second half display. One strong second half challenge was rather memorable, and he did very well to get back to clear a dangerous cross from the 6-yard box on 73 minutes. He stuck out a leg in an attempt to poke the ball clear on the edge of the area, but it invitingly fell straight to Bowen a couple of yards to his left from where he hit their opener. Birkir Bjarnason – 4 – He put himself about but has looked a pale imitation of the player he was earlier this season since his return from injury. Headed a 49th minute Hutton cross wide of the far post. A couple of times yesterday as he chased after and wrestled down opponents in the middle of the field, he looked more like a Keystone cop from the silent movie era rather than an international footballer. Might be worth another shot in the deeper role that Conor has been trying to fill. Substituted on 75 minutes. John McGinn – 8 – MOTM – Ran the show and battled gamely on but others around him declined to follow his excellent example for far too long. Kept trying to move us forward, worked tirelessly and shone brightly throughout the game. Hit a 56th minute shot wide from an Abraham cross and hit a shot from outside of the box over 12 minutes later. Conor Hourihane – 5 – Hit a perfectly placed free kick for our first but he clearly cannot fill the deep midfield role where he looks uncomfortable and a bit of a fish out of water. He works hard but lacks the pace of some opponents he comes up against and is unfamiliar with what is expected from him in this role. His place in the team should be in the opposition half, where he has been effective rather than in our own where he is not. Albert Adomah – 3 – Only began to look partly interested in the second half after what I’m sure will have been a quiet word from the boss during the interval. He was substituted on 59 minutes as understandably Dean’s patience with him had been exhausted some time earlier. Made little to no contribution during the first half. Yannick Bolasie – 3 – See Albert’s rating above. Yannick mirrored his none performance and I found myself checking half way through the first half that he was still on the field given the scarcity of his contribution to the game. Tammy Abraham – 7 – This game should have been a celebration of Tammy’s decision to continue his loan spell with us but our sorry performance last week as well as in the first half yesterday unfortunately put paid to that. Suffered from a lack of service in the first half but always looked for the ball and hit our 64th minute equalizer when after having his first attempt at a low cross from Hutton blocked by a defender, he stepped over him to hit the ball past Marshall at the second attempt. Substitutes: Anwar El Ghazi - 5 – Replaced Bolasie on 59 minutes. He was on the bench today having given a couple of the sort of performances that Albert and Yannick produced today since his terrific display at The Hawthorns last month. This was a somewhat brighter display. Jonathan Kodjia - 5 – Came on for Adomah on 59 minutes and provided a little of the energy that we had been lacking. Andre Green – 6 - Replaced Bjarnason on 75 minutes. Showed some pace and desire on his return from his loan at Portsmouth but he also hit an 86th minute cross over from close range when a winner looked his for the taking. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  16. The news that had spread around Villa Park before yesterday’s game that Abraham may well have played his last game for Aston Villa deflated our spirits and the game that followed did nothing to lift the gloom. Dean Smith tasted his second defeat at Villa Park yesterday. Swansea recorded their first ever cup win against us. We produced the sort of shambolic performance that was reminiscent of those that we had grown accustomed to witnessing during our relegation season. We were knocked out of this competition in the 3rd Round for a third consecutive year. Abraham was the perfect fit for us up front as were we the perfect football club for him. If it turns out that he has played his last game for us, then we will not only have a defence and a midfield to worry about but also a forward line that has been neutered. The depth and quality of our squad had already been found wanting by the absence through injury of Jack and Axel. It was further put to the test by leaving James Chester, Conor Hourihane, Yannick Bolasie and Jonathan Kodjia out of the starting line-up. Who was to know that among those that were selected there were several players that would choose to take the afternoon off as well? Our defence once again conceded goals for fun yesterday and our midfield did little to halt the progress of their opponents through it or to create much themselves in and around the penalty box. What was different was the absence of any threat up front from us. With Abraham in the team there is an expectation that we will score goals as freely as we concede them. Without him, that would be highly unlikely to be the case and yesterday was a worrying sign of things that may be to come. Sadly, the strikers we had on the pitch yesterday did nothing to suggest they would be able to score goals with any sort of regularity should Abraham make a move to a football club in the Black County that is suffering from chronic delusions of grandeur. This sorry capitulation was very hard to endure. We gift wrapped Swansea (who failed to make a similar number of changes to their team in order to try to even things up) a place in the 4th Round and they must have had to pinch themselves to believe how easy we made it for them to score 3 goals without reply yesterday. We are now free to concentrate on the league and this abject performance, which led to merited boos at the final whistle will also give our players a weekend’s break from the rigours of football on 4th Round weekend! My player ratings from a game that extended our FA Cup years of hurt into a 62nd year are: Lovre Kalanic – 6 – Let’s give him a little more than 90 minutes to prove his true worth to us. Peter Shilton would have struggled behind this defence (although he is getting on in years now)! Lovre conceded his first goal 2 minutes into his debut when he blocked a low cross but unluckily the ball rebounded into Baker-Richardson and was deflected in off his shin. Turned a 32nd minute shot from outside of the box from Roberts past the post for a corner. Beaten low to his right for their second and third goals. Made decent saves on 76 and 83 minutes to prevent the score looking even more humiliating. James Bree – 5 – Will have and has had better games than this one. Alan Hutton - 4 – He’s not a left back and he’s certainly not a central defender either. Playing him in this position lost us the forward runs that he makes from wide positions and it did nothing to make our already suspect defence look any more solid. Fer ran for and crossed a loose ball following a challenge with him to Fulton to score their third as Alan stood statuesque in the centre of the penalty area. Tommy Elphick – 6 – Headed a 74th minute Lansbury corner wide of the far post. Neil Taylor – 4 – Looked far from comfortable on his return to the first team. Glenn Whelan – 4 – I would have anticipated that Glenn rather than Bjarnason would have been rested for this one. John McGinn – 7 – MOTM – It was surprising that John played the full 90 minutes yesterday (he was the only player to really do so). He is another player that I think would have benefited from a rest, Dean said post game that he would get one when his next booking presents him with a 2-game suspension and therefore an enforced rest! Showed his usual tenacity and work ethic along with his understandable frustration on 92 minutes when Lansbury played a free kick to him and he blasted it over the bar. Albert Adomah – 4 – A couple of times early on, I thought that he might just produce something of his old self yesterday, but this ended up being another disappointing afternoon. Curled a 54th minute shot over the bar and Mulder kept out an 80th minute attempt by him. Callum O’Hare – 6 – Taken out of the firing line on 55 minutes. Like Doyle-Hayes, I think we have a player here, but they both need games and experience. This was an experience that Callum will have been able to take little good from. Showed promise at times along with his inexperience on other occasions. Would benefit from a loan in much the same way that Jack once did in my opinion. Anwar El Ghazi – 4 – He looked like he really didn’t want to be there most of the time yesterday. Can do and needs to do better than this on a consistent basis. Was ball watching and failed to pick up Dyer who ran behind him onto Fer’s nice through ball before slotting the ball past Kalanic. Scott Hogan - 5 – Lacking in the confidence that scoring goals would give him, but he is not looking likely to go on a scoring run any time soon, so it is a bit of a Catch 22 situation. Lost possession on the edge of the box which led to their opener. Turned a 1st minute El Ghazi cross wide of the near post and 5 minutes later hit an Adomah cross goalward which hit Mulder on the line rather than the back of the net. Kodjia touched the ball back to him on 62 minutes but his attempt was blocked at the near post by a defender. Had one of these gone in it might have shaken us out of our lethargy. Substitutes: Jonathan Kodjia - 5 – Replaced O’Hare on 55 minutes and didn’t live up to his nickname in the time he had on the pitch. Henri Lansbury - 6 – Came on for Whelan on 60 minutes and appeared to want to take the opportunity he was offered to show that he could do a job for us in the future. Hit a 64th minute shot from outside of the box that flew wide of the left post. Did well enough on a day that too many of those around him did not. Keinan Davis – Replaced Hogan on 72 minutes. Held the ball up well again but he won’t score with the regularity that we need someone to and needs to play alongside another striker. Not on quite long enough to gather a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  17. There were flames and a pre-match firework display yesterday but we missed the spark of invention around the box that Jack had until his injury at WBA been providing us with, during the game itself. Dean Smith indicated after the match that he anticipated being without Jack for the rest of this month. His two-month absence will deal a potentially lethal body blow to our promotion hopes. It has already badly dented them, with us having taken only 6 points from a possible 15 from the games he has already missed. We have taken rapid steps to remedy our goalkeeping and central defensive issues already during this transfer window. I feel we now need to do the same in finding someone who can give us some sort of midfield creativity when Jack is absent. This was to be a sorry start to the New Year for us with another two points dropped at Villa Park. The number of games played during the festive season has clearly taken its toll on our team which has also suffered from injuries that have had a noticeably adverse effect on our performance level. We started well yesterday but couldn’t put the game out of the reach of our visitors and we once again dropped points after being in front. Had we not done this quite so often, our promotion prospects would be looking considerably rosier now. We have 3 draws and a defeat to show from our last 4 home games. That is not promotion form. Tammy’s goals have kept us in touch with the play off places, but we have not closed in on sixth place and are instead treading water 5 points off it. We have failed to take advantage of the recent slip ups of Leeds and Norwich and it is Sheffield United and WBA who are now within reach of these two clubs in the battle for automatic promotion. Whilst we look on now focusing on 6th rather than 2nd place. We started well against an anti-football, cynical, time wasting QPR side who were aided and abetted by an inept refereeing display and who after this fixture remain above us having taken 4 points off us this season. Having drawn level on 75 minutes with 11 minutes of stoppage time still to be played once 90 minutes had been reached, QPR might have anticipated their goal being put under constant siege as we pressed for a late winner, but they got the point they came for all too easily without undue cause for concern. My player ratings from a game that produced goals but not the three points that we needed are: Jed Steer – 6 – Held a 69th minute shot from Freeman at his near post and made a good stop with his legs on 86 minutes from an Eze shot. Offered us some level of assurance between the sticks on his recall from Charlton. Had no chance with their first and their second flew past him into the top corner so on a day of only 4 on target shots 50% of them produced goals for the visitors. James Bree – 6 – Did well enough in his natural position. James Chester - 6 – Clipped the ball over their bar on 5 minutes. Played with a tad more confidence alongside Tommy. Tommy Elphick – 6 – Welcome back! Tommy will offer us some reasonable cover in the second half of the season. His Hull loan seems to have helped him to get back on track and he looked better than he had last time around yesterday. Alan Hutton – 4 – Looked good enough coming forward again and he always gives 100% but his primary job is to defend, and he wasn’t up to scratch in that area yesterday. Lost an aerial challenge for the ball during the build up to their equalizer and left oceans of room on his flank too often. A glaring example of that was when he ambled back into a central position and Wszolek was allowed to run unchallenged and cross for Eze to hit their second past Steer and into the top corner of the net. Birkir Bjarnason – 5 – Still in need of game time to build up his match fitness following his injury. Hit a 60th minute shot over from the edge of the box. Seemed to know what needed doing but often did not quite have the legs to do it. John McGinn – 7 – A Bjarnason cross was deflected off a defender to John whose 20th minute shot from the edge of the box rattled the crossbar. His accurate cross a minute later produced our first goal. On hand in his own box to head a 33rd minute cross out for a corner. Had a shot saved at the keeper’s left post in stoppage time Conor Hourihane – 5 – Failed twice to get any challenge in during the build up to their second goal. Hit an 81st minute free kick onto the roof of the net. Albert Adomah – 5 – Can do better than this. Jonathan Kodjia – 5 – Hit a shot wide of the near post from inside of the box on 44 minutes but demonstrated again that he is not a natural wide player. Tammy Abraham – 8 – MOTM – How many goals does he need to score to be on the winning team? Scored his first on 21 minutes when he nodded in a perfectly placed cross from McGinn and added a second on 75 minutes when he touched home another splendidly inviting cross this time from El Ghazi. Ran onto a sweet ball played through from McGinn on 23 minutes and hit his shot over the bar. Also had a 9th minute shot blocked at the near post by Lumley after Adomah had found him well. Substitutes: Anwar El Ghazi - 6 – Replaced Kodjia on 61 minutes. Hit a perfect cross which Tammy turned in for our 75th minute equalizer. Yannick Bolasie - 6 – Came on for Adomah on 61 minutes. Hit the ball across the face of the goal on 78 minutes and headed an El Ghazi cross onto the roof of the net in stoppage time. Had earlier headed a Hourihane corner towards goal that was scrambled away from the goalmouth. Glenn Whelan – Replaced Hourihane on 91 minutes. He was not on long enough to earn any rating and it was a surprising decision to see him coming on rather than Hogan or Davis with a winner being surely our objective in the last 10 minutes of the game. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  18. Leeds stretched their lead over us to 15 points with their late, late winner yesterday. I can’t really see us closing that gap during the second half of the season. That would leave us with just one automatic promotion place to aim for namely the one currently occupied by Norwich who are currently 14 points ahead of us. To claim that place we must rely on Norwich not being this season’s Cardiff and, on our ability, to overtake them along with the likes of WBA and Derby. It might just come down to a winner takes all clash with Norwich at Villa Park on the final day of the season. We currently stand 11th in the league table and that doesn’t make great reading does it? We are also just 5 points away from a play off place and with half of the season left to be played I still expect us to finish sixth or better. Neither team really deserved to win this one, but we did lose it and that can be attributed to our porous defence which was a weakness to begin with and is now even more so due to injuries. Leeds won for the first time at Villa Park since 2002 yesterday and they did so having been two goals down after just 17 minutes. The lead was never a comfortable one though was it? There always lingers a doubt that we can claim a clean sheet and the third goal always looked like it might be crucial. So, it proved. Although we started the second half well and had the visitors on the back foot for the first 10 minutes of it, they claimed the third goal of the game and had drawn level 5 minutes later. It was more than cruel for their late winner to be scored in the 5th minute of stoppage time though. Had the referee decided that we would play on until they score when the 90 minutes were up? Our 7-game unbeaten run came to a sorry end yesterday and our new boss tasted defeat for the first time at Villa Park. We must now bounce back on Boxing Day in our middle of the table clash with Swansea so that we don’t give ourselves and our hopefully reinforced defence too much ground to make up in the New Year. Given we have now gone 3 home games without a win, perhaps it is to our advantage that this one will be away? My player ratings from a game that did little to lift our festive spirits and instead had us reaching for them are: Orjan Nyland – 6 – Did well to help a 22nd minute Chester back header over the bar when it might otherwise have produced a fortuitous goal for the visitors. Left too much space between his left-hand post and himself on 37 minutes and was relieved to see the free kick from Hernandez fly just wide. Did well to tip a 63rd minute Klich shot from the right-hand edge of the box over the crossbar. His poor clearance from a 67th minute Chester back pass fell dangerously to an opponent around 30 yards out. Parried a 79th minute Alioski shot away. Ahmed Elmohamady – 4 – Gift wrapped them their late winner with a tame back header that played an Alioski cross straight to a delighted Roofe inside of the box in the 95th minute who proceeded to hit the ball into the corner of the net. He had earlier made an 8th minute challenge on Harrison that prevented him making contact with a Roofe cross at close range. James Chester - 6 – The best of our defenders yesterday which is not saying a great deal. Nobody went with Jannson as he headed in his 61st minute equalizer having ran in between James and Hutton to glance the ball in. James Bree – 5 – Needed to try to make a move towards Clarke as he ran all too easily past Elmo inside the box before hitting their first into the far corner of the net. Playing out of position through necessity. Must be worth a shot starting in his natural position. Alan Hutton – 5 – He really isn’t a left back, is he? Glenn Whelan – 6 – Started well enough. John McGinn – 8 – Had another impressive game and gave everything he had. Why does he get booked so often when opponents who do the same or worse to him escape punishment so often by the way? We need to get up this season to keep him. Conor Hourihane – 7 – Hit our 17th minute second with a sweetly placed left foot shot from outside of the box after Kodjia had done so well to make room for himself on the edge of the box before playing the ball inside to him. Yannick Bolasie – 6 – a nice back heel by Whelan led to the ball cannoning off Kodjia and running on to him on the edge of the box but Jansson’s 47th minute challenge averted the danger just as he was about to pull the trigger. Produced one superb piece of Cruyff-like skill out wide on 51 minutes that left 2 defenders bamboozled. Jonathan Kodjia – 6 – Headed a 13th minute Hourihane corner wide of the far post. Won the ball on the edge of the area and flashed a shot just over on 48 minutes. Tammy Abraham – 8 – MOTM – Tammy really didn’t deserve to end up on the losing side yesterday. He back heeled the ball to Hourihane on the edge of the box who in turn played it inside of the box for McGinn the loose ball was behind Tammy but he stretched his leg to make good contact with it and hit home his 9th goal in 8 matches on the 5th minute. Worked very hard throughout. Substitutes: Anwar El Ghazi - 5 – Replaced Kodjia on 62 minutes and made no positive impression on the game. Birkir Bjarnason - 6 – Came on for Whelan on 73 minutes. A welcome return following his injury lay off. His 85th minute corner almost produced a third, but a fine reflex stop by Peacock-Farrell spared Forshaw conceding an own goal. Will need a couple of outings to build full match fitness. Scott Hogan – Replaced Bolasie on 83 minutes. Not on long enough to earn any rating. Up the Villa and Happy Christmas & 2019 to all Villa Talkers! John Lewis
  19. We extended our unbeaten run to 7 games yesterday and Stoke’s own unbeaten run now stands at 9. The deluge in which the game was played was not conducive to flowing football and both teams cancelled each other out in the first half. The goals like the weather were not going to dry up though and the second half rained goals. I had feared that the visitors might extend their run of victories at Villa Park to 4 each time they went ahead but we are made of sterner stuff than we once were, now aren’t we? A draw was a fair result on a day that we were not able to reproduce the level of performances that we have been producing of late, in a game during which we so clearly missed Jack’s invention in and around the visitor’s box. The visitors started strongly, were well organised, gave us little space and were allowed to make several uncompromising challenges in order to break up our forward movement. They came to stifle us and to get a point. They might have taken all three had we not battled back twice from a goal behind. This was a point that may well prove crucial when the season reaches its conclusion against a team that unlike us currently, have both a solid goalkeeper and a solid defence. We now face a second tough home game against the current league leaders on Sunday. They are currently 12 points ahead of us and we could do with a win to bring that gap down to single figures and to leave us with realistic ambitions of finishing the season above them in one of the automatic places. My player ratings from a game that kept us two points ahead of our fellow promotion chasers from the Potteries are: Orjan Nyland – 6 – Saved well from Allen low at his left-hand post on 6 minutes. Parried away an 11th minute shot from McLean from a Martina cross and Chester hooked the resultant loose ball clear. For some reason dropped a knee when Allen put Stoke ahead on 47 minutes and the ball flew over his outstretched arm into the net. Went the right way for Afobe’s well hit 78th minute penalty but the ball was destined for the left-hand corner of his net. Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Allowed McLean to run inside him and then unnecessarily brought him down inside the box with Kodjia covering the run ahead of the forward. James Chester - 6 – Solid enough and looked nearer to his reliable best. Axel Tuanzebe – 6 – Becoming more familiar with and showing signs of growing into the role alongside Chester. Alan Hutton – 6 – Lost possession on the edge of the box to McLean whose cross was hit home by Allen for the visitor’s first. Looked better when moving forward than when under pressure at the back from Ince. He’s got to start on the right whenever possible. Glenn Whelan – 6 – Did all that can be expected of him. He is not a like for like replacement for Jack, but he did put in a shift. Anwar El Ghazi – 4 – So disappointing following his display last week. Had little of the ball and did little with it on those rare occasions that he did have it. Was unable to force home a Hutton cross on 55 minutes from close range that Butland gathered gratefully. Conor Hourihane – 6 – Butland helped Conor’s 24th minute free-kick from just outside of the area over the bar. John McGinn – 7 – Got stuck in and was our stand out player until the arrival of Jonny Danger. Missed the space that opponent’s double teaming and focus on Jack normally provides as did others. Yannick Bolasie – 6 – Blasted the ball harmlessly over the bar on 80 minutes when a cross seemed a much better option. Hit a shot wide of the post on 61 minutes from inside of the box. Claimed an assist with a nice cross for our second and it was nice to see him playing a full game. Tammy Abraham – 7 – Had a 55th minute shot from the edge of the area saved low by Butland at a post. Was made to wait a long time to take our 73rd minute penalty but he coolly slotted it home sending Butland the wrong way in the process. Substitutes: Jonathan Kodjia – 8 – MOTM - Replaced El Ghazi on 65 minutes and what a difference he made! Was pulled back inside the box by Pieters as he moved to Elmo’s ball to him which resulted in our penalty. Headed home our second equalizer on 84 minutes when he headed a Bolasie cross pat Butland and into the left-hand corner of his net. Scott Hogan – Replaced Whelan on 85 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating. Up the Villa & A Merry Christmas to all Villa Talkers! John Lewis
  20. What a game that was! It’s not very often that Villa draw a game 5-5. The last time we did so was way back in 1966 when we came back from 5-1 down to draw 5-5 at White Hart Lane. Tony Hateley scored 4 of our goals against Spurs on that day. On this occasion it was Tammy Abraham that did the same. When the dust has settled, we can reflect on the positives and negatives to be taken from this game. We scored 5 goals but conceded 5 as well. We pulled goals back to equalize on three occasions but couldn’t hold onto a lead against 10 men when we had eventually got one. We are unbeaten over the last 4 games, but our winning run came to an end last night. Our attack was impressive, but our defence was shambolic. Tammy Abraham claimed the match ball but wasn’t on a winning side. The referee correctly sent off Figueiredo, but his allocated stoppage time failed to take full account of the 4 minutes that had elapsed between that incident and the resultant free-kick being taken. When we found ourselves two goals down after just 6 minutes, I would have gladly taken a point from this game but when we had drawn level within 8 minutes, I had hoped that we would be able to complete the comeback and claim all three points. Doubt crept in when we went behind again on the 22nd minute and then again on the 51st minute but hope was reignited when we equalized again on a second and third occasion on 36 and 71 minutes. When they went down to 10 men on 68 minutes and we then took the lead for the first time in the game with only 15 minutes of normal time remaining it seemed the game would be ours. This game was anything other than predictable though and we have a habit of not capitalizing on teams being a man down as well as not being able to see out games when we sit back so there proved to be a sting in the tail. It was perhaps inevitable that Joe Lolley and Lewis Grabban would make an impact on the game last night. A brace of goals from a player that is s Villa fan himself and another from a striker who has had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus one of which was us in the second half of last season was a little too much of an impact for my liking. Forest scored with every on target shot that they had. Our defence is clearly our Achilles heel and Forest ran through it like a knife through butter last night. We should have had a penalty in first half stoppage time and had two late goals ruled out for hand ball and offside It was a game that neither team really deserved to lose but I could have just about have coped with our visitors being the team that did. We could now do with a win at Boro to make up for dropping two points at home last night albeit in a highly entertaining goal fest. My player ratings from a game that will live long in our memories are: Orjan Nyland – 3 – Beaten by all 5 of the on-target shots that he faced last night. Grabban hit the ball between the space he had left between himself and the near post for their fifth. He was beaten by shots from Grabban and Cash whose runs into the box were not picked up for their second and third goals. Watched rooted to the ground as Lolley’s well hit shot from distance went past him. No positives to be taken from this at all as any one of us could not have done any worse. Alan Hutton – 5 – His cross late in first half stoppage time was handled by Cash but this was ignored by the referee. His unnecessarily hot-headed reaction following the sending off led to a booking that will see him miss the Boro game and we can ill afford that. James Chester - 4 – Was grounded near the half way line when Grabban started his run into the box that nobody else picked up thus leaving him unmarked and in space to turn in their opening goal. Remains alarmingly below his very best and we are so reliant on his leadership. Is he still not fully fit? Axel Tuanzebe – 5 – Grabban squeezed his last goal past Axel and inside the near post to secure a point for the visitors. The best of our defenders last night. Neil Taylor – 5 – Hit a couple of decent crosses and played a one two on the edge of the box with Abraham but his 74th minute shot was blocked. Cleverly found El Ghazi for our fifth. His defending was a cause for concern at times though. Yannick Bolasie – 7 – Made a nice run into the box and was brought down by Robinson for our penalty. Always a threat on his first start for us. John McGinn – 8 – Hit a 30-yard shot on 14 minutes that Pantilimon was unable to hold, Kodjia was first to the loose ball but his effort was cleared off the line only for the ball to go in off Abraham’s outstretched leg for the first of our equalizers. Hit another good shot from outside of the area following a lovely turn on 39 minutes that Pantilimon was only able to parry away. Hit a sweet cross 2 minutes into first half stoppage time that Abraham headed straight to the relieved Pantilimon. Not fully fit and therefore not able to offer the sort of barrier he normally would in preventing opponents running through us. Conor Hourihane – 4 – Outpaced by Carvalho who ran on into the box and hit their second past Nyland as both Hutton and Axel tried to get near enough to make a challenge. Hit a dangerous 48th minute cross that was cleared for a corner by Dawson with Kodjia in attendance. Finding the defensive part of his current role difficult to get a grip on. Jack Grealish – 7 – Good when we were moving forward and always looking to find a pass, but Jack needs to remember to track back and be a nuisance to opponents when we don’t have the ball. Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – Not quite able to connect with a nice 2nd minute cross from McGinn. Grealish played a nice ball through to him on 14 minutes, he ran into the box and had a shot blocked by a defender. Hit the shot that led to our second. Tammy Abraham – 10 – MOTM – Scored four and could have had another. Headed in a sweet Bolasie cross at the far post for our first on 11 minutes. Was in the right place at the right time to get in the way of Grabban’s attempted clearance 3 minutes later. Made it a first half hat-trick when he hit his 36th minute penalty down the middle as Pantilimon dived to his left. Headed home a 71st minute Grealish free kick at the near post for his fourth. Scoring goals for fun which is good because we were conceding them as fast as he could score them last night! Substitutes: Anwar El Ghazi – 7 – Replaced Kodjia on 66 minutes. Hit what could have been our winner 9 minutes after coming on when Taylor found him on the edge of the box and he hit a splendid shot into the left-hand corner of the net. He was booked on 87 minutes for using his hand to put an Elmo cross into the net to reprise Maradona’s infamous 1986 Hand of God moment. Glenn Whelan – Came on for McGinn on 79 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating. Ahmed Elmohamady – Replaced Bolasie on 83 minutes. A floated cross from Taylor deflected off a defender’s head to him on 93 minutes but Pantilimon parried it and was relieved when Abraham was flagged offside having forced home the loose ball on the goal line. Not on long enough to gather a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  21. Joe Gallagher, Trevor Francis, Kenny Burns, Kevin Dillon, Mark Dennis, Pat Van den Hauwe, Julian Dicks, Noel Blake, Tom Ross, Jasper Carrot your boys took a hell of a beating! This game turned on the 35th minute when Gardner’s cross flew past Chester and Adams got a foot to it only for the ball to thud against the post rather than give the knuckle draggers a two-goal cushion. What could possibly go wrong for them after that? We could go straight up the other end and hit an equalizer which we did. We could then go ahead within 2 minutes and hit another two in the second half. It breaks their hearts doesn’t it? The Scottish Cafu settled the game on the 76th minute with a tremendous run and a wonderfully taken goal. This has amusingly been referred to as a case of Hutton dressed as Lahm. For me it was a goal that was good enough to decide any game. Garry Monk claimed that the visitors are on a learning curve. They certainly are. They are slowly beginning to learn at long last that they are comfortably the second-best football team in the second city and their tired and weary fans must have been grudgingly accepting that as they slunk out of Villa Park yesterday. They have now gone 13 league games without a local derby win and long may that run continue. Our visitors were near their best yesterday which really isn’t that good in all honesty is it? We have played better and have lost recently. We conceded two goals, but we did come back from a goal down and extended our lead again when our two-goal lead was temporarily reduced to one. We had a very slow start but once we got into the game there was only ever going to be one winner and it was a joy to see Jack hold up 4 fingers on one hand and 2 on the other to the Holte End after the game. Small Heath scored their first goal at Villa Park for 10 years yesterday. Back then we scored 5 goals in winning that local derby it was just the 4 this time! The city is still ours and it always will be. My player ratings from a game that brought us our third straight win and took us up to eighth in the table are: Orjan Nyland – 6 – It appears that he may be starting to gain a little confidence. Parried a 42nd minute Gardner free-kick that Dean who was in front of him couldn’t get a touch on to safety and then gathered a 59th minute Adams shot at his near post. Alan Hutton – 8 – MOTM - Hit our stunning fourth goal on 76 minutes when he collected a loose ball inside his own half ran determinedly between Gardner and Maghoma into the box, jinked past Dean on the edge of the box before planting a sweet left footed shot into the corner of the net past Camp. James Chester - 6 – Not quite at his usual very best but that can most likely be attributed to the injury that had threatened his place in the starting line-up and our defence would have been even more suspect had he been missing. Axel Tuanzebe – 6 – Competent again. Neil Taylor – 6 – A decent display. Conor Hourihane – 6 – Hit a 65th minute free-kick that seemed destined for the far corner of the net until Camp got an outstretched hand to it which deflected it past the post for a corner. Glenn Whelan – 6 – Did well enough but he is not quite a like for like replacement for the Scottish Iniesta is he? Albert Adomah – 8 – Three of his crosses brought us three of our four goals before Harding’s challenge brought him a well merited booking and led to Albert hobbling off on 65 minutes. Get well soon Albert! Jack Grealish – 8 – His close-range diving header at the far post from a perfectly flighted Adomah cross hit from the edge of the box gave us the lead and put a smile on Jack’s face as well as on ours. Faced several uncompromising challenges that were too leniently treated by the referee. Headed over on 46 minutes. Jack was too good for them to cope with. Jonathan Kodjia – 7 - Scored our 37th minute equalizer. Hutton played the ball forward to Adomah whose cross was deflected off Morrison’s head towards Kodjia who turned the ball in low at the far post. Hit a 54th minute shot over the bar from outside of the area Harding got to the ball first on 80 minutes when he tried to make it five when the ball was deflected towards goal as he was challenged by the keeper on the edge of their area. Tammy Abraham – 7 – Hit a shot over the bar on 2 minutes from the right edge of the box. Brought down an Adomah cross before himself being brought down by Morrison for our penalty which he took himself coolly sending Camp the wrong way and hitting the spot-kick in off the inside of the post. Headed a 66th minute Grealish corner over from close range at the far post which had evaded Camp’s reach. Substitutes: Yannick Bolasie – 6 – Replaced the injured Adomah on 65 minutes. Will he be fit enough to start in midweek if Albert isn’t? Henri Lansbury – Came on for Whelan on 69 minutes only to be substituted himself on 77 minutes due to injury. Not on long enough to gather a rating. Ahmed Elmohamady – Replaced Lansbury on 77 minutes. He was also not on long enough to earn a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  22. James Chester was back to his best last night firstly preventing a Bolton equalizer and then scoring our decisive second goal to send us temporarily to the top of the bottom half of the table and just 4 points behind the top six. We had the perfect start last night with a 4th minute goal that it might have been hoped would lead to a confidence inspiring goal glut against a Bolton side that are currently on the crest of a slump. The visitors instead threatened to draw level and we sat nervously and uncomfortably in our seats until Chester added a second to give us a two-goal cushion and what then became a comfortable win. We played better and lost against QPR, but it was vital that we won this battle between two teams that had both lost their previous two matches. We now need to put a decent run of results together which will not be easy looking at our forthcoming fixtures. A second home win and a second clean sheet at Villa Park for our new management team gives us something to work on. Winning our home games as a minimum will keep us ticking along until the next transfer window when we can look to strengthen where necessary. My player ratings from a game that we deserved to win and did are: Orjan Nyland – 4 – He continues to make Pierluigi Gollini look like Dino Zoff! Comfortably collected a mishit 21st minute shot from Oztumer but then embarrassingly dropped a cross 4 minutes later which he then gratefully gathered when it fell at his feet. Seemed to have lost his bearings when he fumbled a harmless 41st minute Oztumer free-kick out for a corner that he should have left to go out. A schoolboy would have been unhappy with doing that under no sort of pressure. Did well to get his right foot to a 47th minute Buckley cross from the edge of the six-yard box which was otherwise bound for Donaldson to tap in at close range for an equalizer, but the negatives outweigh this one positive for me. Although he was not often called upon he continues to look to have an error in him waiting to happen. He needs to be doing a lot of work with Neil Cutler in the coming days to address his weaknesses. Is Moreira still not another option? Alan Hutton – 6 – Looks like he can still remember how to give an effective display in his rightful full back role. James Chester - 8 – MOTM – Back to his best and this game will do no harm to his confidence. Did incredibly well to hook a 24th minute Hobbs header off the line with Nyland beaten. Was flagged offside when he headed home a 32nd minute Hourihane free-kick but was given the benefit of the doubt on 57 minutes when he headed a Grealish free-kick in between Alnwick and the post to settle the game. Axel Tuanzebe – 7 – Will get increasingly more comfortable with more games alongside our captain in the centre of our defence. Did well to use his pace to get back and win an 84th minute challenge with Doidge inside of the box which along with the substitute’s heavy touch on the ball denied him a scoring opportunity. Neil Taylor – 6 – Faced little to really test him last night but generally looked competent enough. Conor Hourihane – 6 – Played in an unfamiliar deep midfield role in the absence of Thor. Did well enough given that and he rarely fails to do a decent job for us. Could he fill this role again? Albert Adomah - 6 – Hit a 14th minute shot wide of the far post from the edge of the box and a bicycle kick (as allegedly invented by a late Villa chairman) onto the roof of the netting behind the crossbar. Substituted on 73 minutes. John McGinn – 7 – Subject to the sort of rough treatment normally reserved just for Jack last night and the referee was as lenient with challenges on him as they usually are when Jack receives the same uncompromising treatment. Won the ball well from Donaldson on 43 minutes before running forward and hitting a cross towards the far post that was played back across the face of the goal by Kodjia only for Alnwick to get a hand to prevent Abraham getting his head on it. John then stooped to head the loose ball into the side netting having continued his run. He is quality and has an obvious tenacity and will to win. Jack Grealish – 7 – Made a nice 4th minute run into the box which was spotted by Abraham who having turned to leave a defender for dead then played a perfect pass to Jack who took the ball past Alnwick and tucked it inside the near post. Had a 28th minute shot from outside of the area pushed wide by Alnwick. Jonathan Kodjia – 6 – McGinn played a one-two with Hutton before hitting a 30th minute cross to the far post which Kodjia could only hook well over the bar. Flashed a 69th minute shot wide of the near post having ran into the area after being found by a nice ball from within his own half by Tuanzebe. Not at his powerful and defence threatening best yet. Tammy Abraham – 7 – Maintained a good work rate last night. McGinn found Kodjia who ran into the box and squared the ball to Tammy on 46 minutes, but it was hit a little too firmly and bounced off his right leg to safety as he tried to take a touch when a goal had looked likely. He won’t fail to score too often in games at Villa Park this season. Substitutes: Yannick Bolasie – Replaced Adomah on 73 minutes. Not on quite long enough to gather a rating this time. I had expected him to start this one. Scott Hogan – Replaced Abraham on 81 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating. Glenn Whelan – Replaced Jack on 90 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  23. We tried placing round pegs in round holes rather than in square ones yesterday and it worked! It was nice to hear applause at half time and again at full time from a packed Villa Park on Saturday as the team left the field. It is very early in Dean Smith’s tenure at Villa Park and he has only had a couple of training sessions at best with some of his new players but there were still some early encouraging signs. We pressed our opponents in their own half and showed a willingness to do so. Doing that took some pressure off our defence and we didn’t let Swansea begin to cause us too many problems at the back until the last quarter of the game when they had us on the back foot as we tired and might have denied us the victory our overall play and improved work rate had deserved. We even started to look a bit more like a team than a group of individuals yesterday. This much needed win brings us level on points with Dean’s former club Brentford and only 3 points off the play off places. Leeds and Albion will soon be looking over their shoulders and don’t look so nailed on for promotion after their defeats yesterday. Dean, JT and Richard O’Kelly have a 100%-win record. Dean Smith has a win from his first Villa game and that is something that none of our previous six managers achieved. We had lost to Swansea on their last two visits to Villa Park, so this was a case of third time lucky for us. The acid test will be our next two games which are away from home. We took 3 points from these games last season and could do with getting at least the same this. Let’s go to Norwich and QPR looking for wins instead of with our backs to the wall. Six points from these two games would really get this season started and we do have some ground to make up. We are also Aston Villa and are claiming our new manager bounce! We are not going to become a team that will walk away with this league overnight. We started well and got a win but lacked a clinical finish and enough invention in the final third. We don’t dominate games although we have the players who on paper look capable of doing so. The problems we have found so far this season will not have disappeared and they may well rear their ugly heads again. We just may through hard work and application have it in us to turn the corner and make this a season to remember rather than one to forget. We may just have witnessed the start of something big yesterday. Let’s hope so! My player ratings from a game that we kept a clean sheet for only the second time in a league game this season are: Orjan Nyland – 7 – This was his best performance to date for us by some distance. This can be a new start for him as well as others and he can take some confidence from this display. Horton tried to turn in a cross on 23 minutes from just inside of the box that Nyland pushed away to his left. He then cut out a dangerous looking 56th minute cross low at his near post. Made a good reflex save on 69 minutes from a close-range Fulton header. Alan Hutton – 7 – Gave his usual whole-hearted performance. James Chester - 7 – Solid following his return from suspension. Axel Tuanzebe – 7 – Looked reasonably comfortable alongside our captain in the heart of our defence. Worth a run in this position. Its not as if we are spoilt for choice when it comes to central defenders after all. Neil Taylor – 7 – Has an opportunity to make this position his own again now. Looked solid enough at the back and denied the visitors an equalizer on 79 minutes when he got a foot to deflect a Roberts shot wide that had beaten Nyland who had come off his line towards him. Hit a nice cross on 22 minutes that McGinn almost connected with. Ahmed Elmohamady – 7 – Claimed his fourth assist of the season yesterday. His crosses often find their man, don’t they? I was a little surprised to see him still a starter, but I guess managers know what they will get from him and Dean got that yesterday. Bikir Bjarnason – 7 – Looking more comfortable in the holding midfield role with each game. Likes a tackle and worked tirelessly. His distribution is something he could do with looking at. John McGinn – 8 – MOTM – Back to his best yesterday. John pressed and harried his opponents throughout and worked incredibly hard for this win. We will miss him at Norwich. Jack Grealish – 7 – Play him in the position in which he feels most comfortable and you are likely to get match winning performances again from him. This was an improvement from Jack and I hope he will kick on from this and begin to consistently produce what we know he is capable of. Hit a 21st minute free-kick from the right edge of the box that just needed a touch from someone that it did not get. Hit a 47th minute shot from the edge of the box that took a deflection off a defender before Nordfeldt got a hand to it diving to his left. Elmo picked up the loose ball and Adomah headed the cross back towards Jack whose attempt to hook the ball in from around 8 yards was saved by Nordfeldt. Albert Adomah – 7 – A much better performance than of late. Albert seems keen to impress again and made a couple of decent crosses being much more involved than he had been recently. Hit a 37th minute shot that was gathered easily enough by Nordfeldt. McGinn found him with a quickly taken 29th minute free-kick and his resultant cross took a deflection off Roberts that led to the ball eluding Nordfeldt and almost creeping in at the far post. Hit a 52nd minute effort just wide of the post. Tammy Abraham – 8 – Got our early winner on the 8th minute and on another day, he could have had a hat-trick. Got into the positions to score and this was his 4th goal in 7 games for us which is a more than acceptable strike rate. His goals can get us promoted this season and earn him international recognition again. He was a threat to the visitor’s defence from start to finish and seemed to be enjoying the game and the responsibility of leading the line. Jack hit an 8th minute free-kick against the wall after Tammy had been fouled on the edge of the box. Elmo picked up the loose ball wide on the right beat a defender and cut the ball back to Jack who found Elmo again whose flighted cross towards the far post was headed past Nordfeldt for our winner from just outside of the 6-yard box by Tammy. Couldn’t quite reach a 58th minute Adomah cross and brought down a cross from Adomah 4 minutes later that Nordfeldt dived to his left to save. Headed a 68th minute cross from Bolasie downwards which bounced over the bar with the keeper ending up in the back of the net rather than the ball. Substitutes: Yannick Bolasie – 7 – Replaced Elmo on 64 minutes and hit a nice cross 4 minutes later for Tammy that could have given us some breathing space at the end. Jonathan Kodjia – Came on for Albert on 74 minutes. Not on quite long enough to earn a rating or to make the sort of impression that might demand a starting place. Conor Hourihane – Replaced Jack on 83 minutes. Unlucky to find himself on the bench again in my opinion. Not on long enough to gather a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  24. At half time it was a question of how many goals that we would win by rather than whether we would win. They appeared to be just what we had needed to face last night namely a team that had less confidence and were in worse form than ourselves. At the end we proved to be just the team for a club at the bottom of the league to have faced. At half time it was Alex Neil’s managerial future that looked likely to be under more threat than Steve Bruce’s at the end of the game. What a difference a referee can make! Preston had offered no threat up front and little resistance at the back in the first half, but a spot of dressing room half time cup throwing had them taking the game to us at the start of the second period. The referee’s subsequent intervention when he gave the visitors a very soft penalty and then compounded that by sending off our captain left us in disarray. Chester’s challenge on Nmecha was an innocuous one and if the referee really felt compelled to award a penalty then that should surely have been adequate punishment. Had it not been for that sending off we might well have been in the top six rather than two points off the play off places this morning. I suspect that we would probably have weathered Preston’s early second half efforts and cruised to a comfortable win, but it wasn’t to be. Had we been in any sort of form we would have been out of sight before Chester’s dismissal because the Preston defence made our own look almost solid up until then! The referee changed the course of this game, but we too readily surrendered the initiative when we went down to ten men last night. Other teams go down to ten men and it doesn’t have the same devastating impact upon them as it did on us yesterday. We should have tried to add another goal when we were still a goal ahead rather than negatively rely on a defence that is brittle even with Chester in it to hold out for the rest of the game. When we did move forward in stoppage time their defence showed itself to be as leaky as it had been in the first half. We left it too late to find out. If there is one player and one position that we cannot afford to lose a player for most of a second half and for another game due to an unwarranted suspension, then it’s James Chester and our central defence. Why did a player who has scored one goal in 7 years step up to take a vital penalty? Our designated penalty taker may have already been substituted and others may have been sitting on the bench but Bolasie who had already scored wanted to take it and surely Jack or McGinn should have also been ahead of Whelan in the queue to take the spot kick? They should have prised the ball out of the substitute’s hands. My player ratings from a game that we looked like winning at half time and then did again with the last kick of the game but didn’t are: Mark Bunn – 4 – Surprisingly it was he rather than Moreira who replaced Nyland and Bunn doesn’t inspire too much confidence either does he? Came out of his area on 24 minutes to get his feet to the ball before Robinson and blocked a cross at his near post on 50 minutes. Sent the wrong way from the spot by Johnson for their first on 56 minutes. Gallagher’s 79th minute free kick went past a poorly lined up wall and our keeper for the day left too much room to his left to allow their second to creep between him and the near post. Their 86th minute third from Moult appeared to go straight past him. Gathered a 66th waist high shot from the left edge of the box from Robinson and kept out a 79th minute. Perhaps Burnley could spare us one of their three keepers in January? Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – Hit a couple of decent crosses and had a decent enough game. James Chester - 6 – His sending off left me wishing we had Mile available on the bench to bring on. Axel Tuanzebe – 6 – Finally played in the centre and looked well worthy of retaining his place last night both with and without our captain alongside him. Moved a loose ball forward to Bolasie to hit in our third. Alan Hutton – 6 – Might have got to the corner that led to their third. Birkir Bjarnason – 6 – Looked comfortable and increasingly effective in the middle in the first half. Pushed to the ground at the far post to ensure he did not get his head to McGinn’s late corner and give us our late penalty. Conor Hourihane – 6 – Faded in the second half but he was not alone in that. Jack Grealish – 6 – Hit a 14th minute shot from the edge of the box over the bar. Showed some fleeting signs of still having the ability to run a game in the first half. John McGinn – 6 – His challenge on the touchline allowed Abraham to run on to hit home our second. Has not quite seemed to take games by the scruff of the neck in the way he had been doing of late but it’s asking a lot of him to do it on his own every time. Tammy Abraham – 6 – Scored our second and what should have been decisive goal on 37 minutes when he ran into the box from the left and stroked the ball past Maxwell into the corner of the net. Unlucky to be substituted on 56 minutes following the sending off to make way for a defender. Jonathan Kodjia – 6 – Had a 9th minute downward header from a Hourihane free-kick blocked at the near post and was found by Elmo inside the box on 16 minutes but his shot was deflected by Maxwell at the near post across the face of the goal and out for a corner. Scored our opener on 26 minutes when Hourihane swept the ball wide to Elmo whose cross was headed past the keeper and into the far corner of the net by Jonathan. Had unusually done some work in his own half in the first quarter of the match less involved in the second half prior to being substituted. Substitutes: James Bree – 6 – Replaced Abraham on 56 minutes. Got a good block in on Fisher at the near post on 81 minutes. Yannick Bolasie – 6 – MOTM - Came on for Kodjia on 74 minutes and hit our 91st minute equalizer in at the near post. He must be starting games now. Glenn Whelan – 4 - Replaced Hourihane on 83 minutes and made a difference but unfortunately not a positive one. Showed acceptance of responsibility by taking the spot kick that should have given us a late winner on 96 minutes but his decision cost us the game because his penalty was poorly hit to the keeper’s left and was just begging to be saved. Just because the ball was in your hands when the penalty was awarded does not mean you have to take the penalty Glenn when you are ill equipped to do so! Up the Villa! John Lewis
  25. Goals from Tammy Abraham and Yannick Bolasie on their home debuts gave us a much-needed win last night. This was not a scintillating performance from us. Our visitors rarely threatened our brittle defence and we eased to a routine victory without looking particularly good. The win was comfortable enough and it was achieved without us having to hit our stride. We didn’t look fluent last night, and we have a team of individuals that have yet to become a team but when that does happen the rest of the league had better beware because we have some pretty good individuals. Last night’s win gives the team something to build upon and it has lifted us up to sixth in the table. That is not too shabby given our performances to date. Another win on Saturday could give the team an opportunity to put together a string of positive results that could in turn cement our place in the top six and install some much-needed confidence into them. We played 4-2-4 last night which was a good and unexpected decision. The Millers arrived at Villa Park looking to take a point. They didn’t really look like doing so once we went in front but until Bolasie headed home our second there was always a danger that they would steal a point with an equalizer against the run of play as Reading had done before them. One goal is never a comfortable lead and we really need to kick on once we go in front so that our games do not always go down to the wire. Wood was too close for comfort on 77 minutes with a header that went wide of the post, but our second goal thankfully made the game safe just 2 minutes later. This result will temporarily ease some of the pressure at Villa Park. The rare clean sheet will show our defence that it is not impossible to go through a game without conceding as will our two goals demonstrate that if we make the chances we have the players who can take them. We are not yet a well oiled smoothly running promotion machine, but we might yet in the fullness of time become one. My player ratings from a run of the mill win against The Millers are: Orjan Nyland – 6 – A quiet event free evening. Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – Did well on dropping back to a role that I consider that he is more suited to also chipped in with a pin point cross that resulted in our second. James Chester- 6 – Solid on those occasions that our defence was tested. Headed wide from a McGinn cross on 64 minutes. Mile Jedinak – 6 – A quiet night for our defence but he was commanding in the air and did well in this central defensive role that we insist in playing him in on this occasion. Headed an 81st minute Bolasie corner harmlessly wide. Will Mile be rested for Axel on Saturday if we choose to try a little squad rotation? Alan Hutton – 6 – Another reliable performance on the left. Anwar El Ghazi – 6 – Substituted on 73 minutes having given a decent enough display. Conor Hourihane – 7 – Earned his place with that free-kick at Blackburn and performed well on his merited return to our starting line-up. Hit a 45th minute free-kick wide of the post. Hit a 66th minute shot that Rodak kept out at his near post. Jack Grealish – 7 – Some welcome signs of a return to form last night. Could it be that he had needed some time to become familiar with having other players around him that can make things happen as well as himself? He is also not seeing as much of the ball as he was and may need time to become more accustomed to his current role. Nicely found by Kodjia but his 19th minute shot went past the far post and Abraham was just unable to reach it to turn it in. Curled a 72nd minute shot just wide of the far post. John McGinn – 8 – MOTM – A determined ball winner and he uses it so very well. Had an 87th minute shot from the edge of the box gathered by Rodak. Comfortably our most valuable player last night. Tammy Abraham – 7 – Looked sharp, pacey and keen. Scored our opener on 27 minutes. Grealish found Kodjia on the edge of the box who played a sweet ball past 2 defenders to Tammy who hit the ball past the keeper and into the corner of the net. He did some nice work prior to finding El Ghazi who hit the ball onto the netting on the top of the goal on 15 minutes. He looked very good and will get better. Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – Showed some nice touches and his partnership with Abraham looks to have some potential. Had a decent 1st minute cross pushed away by Rodak who also kept out his attempt to convert McGinn’s cross from close range 3 minutes later. Headed an 18th minute Grealish cross over the bar. Substitutes: Yannick Bolasie – 6 – Came on for El Ghazi on 73 minutes and sealed the win with a determined 82nd minute diving header from a nice Elmo cross. Looks ready for a start on Saturday. Albert Adomah – Replaced Kodjia on 81 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating. James Bree - Replaced Abraham on 86 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating but it is nice to know he is still in contention for a place. Up the Villa!
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