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  1. Wolves last managed a league double against us in 1963. That they were able to do it again, so easily this afternoon, was nothing short of embarrassing. There was not a lot between the two sides during the first quarter, but the visitors became increasingly dangerous in the second and winning this game, was far too easy for them during the second half, when they were able to sit back and see the game out. We did not look like scoring at any time and one goal is usually more than enough to give our opponents three points, so it proved today. We did not create anything, we did not have any cutting edge or movement up front, dead balls were often miscued, and what crosses there were, did not trouble the Wolves defence at all. Our defence does look stronger of late, but a clean sheet is a rarity for us, and it always seemed inevitable that we would concede at least one goal today. Two points from four games since the restart is clearly relegation form. Things would look even more bleak, if the teams that are around us were not treading water too. We cannot rely on our fellow strugglers continuing to be quite so obliging. Four games coming in such quick succession, was always going to be a real test for our squad. One thing that today demonstrated, is that we do not have the sort of squad from which, you can pluck players to be able to rest our regular first team starters and still expect to win games. We may not be mathematically down yet, but with only six games remaining and with Liverpool, and then Manchester United up next, we do look like we are going to need an awful lot of points from our last four games, to make any sort of fight of it. We have missed the encouragement of the fans at our three home games since the restart. What ever happened to the passion of the Villa team that beat both Everton and Newcastle 2-0 at Villa Park last year? Our realistic target at the start of this season was 17th place, it is now looking increasingly likely that we will not achieve that target. I am beginning to wonder if we might have done much the same this season, had we not replaced the bulk of the team that got us promotion last year. After all they did play as a team. As things stand, I would be more than happy, if we still had something to play for on the last day of the season! My player ratings from a game that increased our relegation fears and left PL safety slowly ebbing away from us, are: Orjan Nyland – 3 – He once again demonstrated on the rare occasions he was tested, that he always has a mistake in him. Made an awful error on 42 minutes, that so very nearly gave Wolves a first half lead out of nothing. He shaped to throw the ball to the left, but somehow it slipped out of his hand straight to Jota on the edge of the box. Fortunately, Jota was as shocked as everyone else and hit a rushed shot from the edge of the box over the bar. Gathered a 19th minute Jimenez header at the near post at the second attempt. Beaten from the edge of the box by a Dendonker shot into the left-hand corner of his net on 62 minutes. How we are missing Steer and the assurance of Heaton. Ezri Konsa - 5 – Did well enough again in this role. Kortney Hause – 6 – Did well alongside Tyrone in the centre of defence but looked something less than a threat when in the other box. Tyrone Mings – 6 – Solid at the back. Matt Targett – Substituted on 11 minutes, having tweaked a hamstring in making a simple side footed pass. Not on long enough to merit any rating. Marvelous Nakamba - 4 – Either side of the first half drinks break, the ball bounced off him for an opponent to run clear to the right-hand edge of the box, fortunately we were not punished on those occasions. Sadly, some way off being “marvellous” again today. Conor Hourihane – 4 – Not even his dead balls were up to scratch today. Douglas Luiz – 7 – MOTM – He did not do anything wrong and looks increasingly a comfortable PL player. Hit a shot a couple of yards wide of the post on the hour mark. Jack Grealish – 6 – If anyone was going to get us anything out of this game, it was going to be Jack. He was unable to do it against a well organised outfit. Had a low 37th minute shot from the edge of the box saved by Patricio, who was otherwise mainly a spectator. Mbwana Samatta – 5 – Did not look particularly sharp today, I was hoping to see more energy from him and for him play off Davis, which rarely looked like happening. Keinan Davis – 6 – Worked hard and did hold the ball up at times. Playing with another striker made no positive impact on our longstanding lack of a goal threat, but they lacked any decent service today. Substitutes: Neil Taylor – 5 - Replaced Targett after 11 minutes. Did better than many of us, might have anticipated. John McGinn – 5 - Came on for Hourihane on 60 minutes. Time is running out for him to make a positive late contribution to our season, following his long absence. Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Replaced Konsa on the hour. Did what we have come to expect well enough. Mahmoud Trezeguet – Replaced Marvelous on 82 minutes. Not on long enough to earn any rating. Anwar El Ghazi - Replaced Davis on 82 minutes. Did he touch the ball? Not on long enough to earn a rating, in any case. Stay up Villa! John Lewis
  2. Their two goals may have had varying slices of luck about them, but they dominated this game from start to finish. We have got to be more positive from now, we probably would have been ripped apart yesterday, had we tried to take the game to our visitors. Instead, we appeared to bank on getting a second successive clean sheet within a week and perhaps even scoring a goal against the run of play, ourselves. We achieved the second of those two objectives when Hause scored on 43 minutes. The chances of our team, which have conceded the most goals in the Premier League, achieving the first objective yesterday, was always slim to none. We put men behind the ball, but it was too easy for the visitors and we only succeeded in delaying the inevitable for an hour, at the end of the day. At half time, some of us dared to dream for a moment, that we might beat a top four team for the first time, since we beat yesterday’s visitors in 2014. Reality soon kicked in though. The ball hitting the back of our net during the second half looked inevitable. The longer we could keep them out, the better our chances, would be of just conceding one goal and of hanging on grimly to a precious point. Things were going to plan for an hour and then in two painful minutes, our cunning plan was left in tatters. Dean surprisingly fielded an unchanged team yesterday. The new rule which allows two extra substitutes, was seen to work well for Chelsea yesterday. Had they only been able to have brought on 3 substitutes, they might not have made a double substitution as early as they did, on 55 minutes and within 5 minutes one of those substitutes had brought them level. The ruling helps the big sides and does nothing positive for the rest. Just look at the options that they had on their bench, compared to the ones that were available to us. A goal was always going to come for Chelsea yesterday. Unfortunately, like the Clapham omnibus, you wait an hour for one and then two come together. We just sat back and invited them forward. They had 74% possession, 19 shots to our 8 and 10 corners to our two. There are lies, dammed lies and statistics. Yesterday the stats showed there was only ever going to be one winner and it was not going to be us. At half time we were outside of the bottom three, will we be able to get ourselves out of it again this season and if we do, can we keep outside it? To have any chance of doing both, we will need to win a couple of games and to gather around 10 points from our remaining 8 games. Games will start running out fast now. We could really do with winning on Wednesday, but we will need to play for a win, and we face a team that won 3-0 yesterday, which will have given our next opponents confidence. Hopefully, our former manager, will choose to play for a draw! My player ratings from a game that would have left the crowd restless very soon after the start, had there been one, are: Orjan Nyland – 5 – Saved with his right hand on 20 minutes, from a Mount shot which was hit from just outside of the box. Pushed out a 31st minute Mount cross at his near post. Fumbled a 32nd minute Kovacic shot from just outside of the box and having failed to catch it, gathered the loose ball at the second attempt. Pulisic was unmarked at the far post when he somehow hit Azpilicueta’s 60th minute cross in the space between Nyland and the crossbar. He was left static on the line, when Giroud turned inside the box and hit a 62nd minute shot that deflected off Hourihane, past Mings behind him (who might otherwise have blocked it) and into the net for their winner. Touched an 84th minute Willian shot from outside of the area over the bar. Ezri Konsa - 5 – Doing as well as can reasonably be expected in his present role. Kortney Hause – 6 – MOTM – Put us ahead against the run of play (to put it mildly) after 43 minutes. Douglas hit a nice ball towards the far post that he stretched a foot to reach, Arrizabalaga blocked it at close range, but Kortney reacted quickly to hit the ball into the far side of the net. Could not quite get over the ball when he headed a 68th minute free kick, that Grealish had flighted into the box over the bar. Tyrone Mings – 6 – Had a solid game in the centre of a defence that was under constant pressure. Matt Targett – 4 – Too many crosses came into the box from his side of the field yesterday. Anwar El Ghazi - 4 – Hit a 32nd minute shot from outside of the penalty area that Arrizabalaga parried at his right-hand post. Anwar was again disappointing. His starting place should be in jeopardy by now, but no-one has consistently impressed in a wide role this season. Perhaps, we should take a leaf out of Sir Alf’s book and try being wingless? John McGinn – 4 – We needed John to hit the ground running, with hindsight that was never likely to happen following a six-month absence. John could still make the difference in the games that are to come, but he again ran out of steam today and was unable to play the all action role that he played so well at the beginning of this season and last. Could not get enough on his 34th minute header on a nice cross from El Ghazi that drifted well wide of the far post. Douglas Luiz – 6 – He is looking increasingly like the player that we had hoped that we had signed, since the restart. If only he could add a couple of those tremendous goals that he scored earlier this season, to what is a quickly improving midfield contribution. Jack Grealish – 5 – He really needs to play in the centre, where he will be more involved. We are currently wasting him; he is not a wide player! He is the player, that is most likely to unlock a defence, but he does not look likely to do that, too often currently. He can do much more than this. Chelsea appeared to be under instruction, to take turns to bring him down, during the game. Conor Hourihane – 4 – Quite a drop in his performance from what he produced on Sunday, but if we were going to attempt to play like this, then surely Marvelous would have been the right choice from the start. Keinan Davis – 5 – Put himself about, but he needs someone playing alongside him if we are to score the goals that we need to. I would have started Samatta, in a game like this myself. Substitutes: Mbwana Samatta – 5 - Replaced Davis after 57 minutes. Needs to start games now. Mahmoud Trezeguet – 5 - Came on for El Ghazi again, this time a minute later, on 70 minutes. Was not able to make any positive impact during the time that he had on the pitch. Marvelous Nakamba – 5 - Replaced Hourihane on 70 minutes and did not make a noticeable difference when added to our non-existent midfield. Jota - Replaced the usually irreplaceable John McGinn on 87 minutes. He was not on long enough to earn a rating, but he did have a late opportunity to steal us a point, with his first touch of the game on 87 minutes. Mings hit a free kick from just inside his own half, that Samatta headed into the box and Jota hit the ball inches wide of the far post. Stay up Villa! John Lewis
  3. We know that VAR is loath to overrule a referee’s decision. Yesterday, showed that it is equally reluctant to overrule a goal line decision, that has been made by Hawk-Eye! Let us have a look at the positives. We kept a rare clean sheet; we took a point that might just prove to be the one that keeps us up at the end of the season and we did not get beaten by a team that many made favourites before kick-off yesterday. The negatives are that a point might not prove to be enough at the end of the day, we did not really look like scoring ourselves too often, we have a problem between the sticks and we are still in the bottom three. The “goal that never was” will be the only talking point for neutrals following this game. What a tragedy that a combination of a Hawk-Eye malfunction, the referee’s usual aversion to viewing an incident using the touchline camera and VAR’s resolute determination not to overrule a decision reached by a match referee, combined to deny Sheffield United yesterday. Before yesterday’s game, VAR had been fast running out of time, to begin to even out the incorrect decisions that had already cost us points, over the course of this disrupted season. It is about time, that we benefited from one of the many dubious decisions, that have been made so far this season. In my view, we are probably owed a couple more, to prevent such decisions having had a significantly negative influence on our relegation struggle. Something that was proved beyond doubt yesterday, was that fans really are vital to making a football match what it is. Without us there is no atmosphere and there is a lack of encouragement for the players. Yesterday’s game was reminiscent of park’s football, the tinned crowd murmur that Sky gave us, in no way matched the vibrance of a packed Villa Park and I gave up on it after a couple of minutes. Should Sheffield United now be awarded a point or even two? I do not recall the same question being asked when we were on the wrong end of earlier decisions. Should we have allowed Sheffield United to score an unopposed goal, as Leeds did for us at the end of last season? That decision cost Leeds nothing. They were already in the playoffs and automatic promotion was unattainable, but doing so yesterday, could ultimately have seen us relegated, so most definitely the answer is no. The referee’s decision is final, after all. Some will claim that the decision will disadvantage our fellow relegation strugglers, well previous decisions that went against us, worked to their advantage and they cannot have it both ways! We were the better team yesterday and we gave a better performance than we had done in the league games that we had played, just before the season was interrupted. Both teams were clearly lacking in match sharpness, hopefully we may therefore have a slight fitness edge when we play Chelsea at the weekend, as we now have a game behind us. Dean made a couple of surprising team selections yesterday. He explained that he was rewarding those players that had looked brightest in training during the past couple of weeks. There will also be a need to not overwork players during what will be a hectic run of games in the coming weeks. We looked more solid at the back yesterday and we created the lion’s share of what few chances there were. We have stopped the rot of 5 successive defeats, that we had suffered before the restart and we are now within a point of safety, although our goal difference is inferior to those clubs who are currently directly above us. The point we got yesterday was much better than nothing, but Sheffield United had looked beatable yesterday and we will need slightly more than an average of a point a game from our remaining games, if we are to make it to safety. My player ratings from a game, before which we remembered those lives lost to Covid-19 to date and players demonstrated their support for the Black Lives Matter campaign by taking a knee, were: Orjan Nyland – 4 – His susceptibility in the air has long been a cause for concern and it will have been gleefully noted by our future opponents yesterday. He so nearly gifted them a goal that would have badly deflated us, if not cost us the game on 42 minutes. Norwood aimed a free kick from the left towards the angle, between the bar and the far post. Nyland fumbled the ball and went backwards over the line, with Davis an immovable object standing at the post, thus preventing him being able to fully stretch out his arms to try to keep the ball on the right side of the line. This error will have left him lacking in confidence, fortunately it did not cost us a goal, but it may well cost him his starting place. Ezri Konsa - 6 – Surprising to see Ezri popping up here, rather than Elmo or Guilbert. Did well though. Kortney Hause – 5 – A 35th minute Hourihane corner found him at the near post, but it hit him, rather than was headed by him and the ball went harmlessly wide. Hit a very lackadaisical ball across the edge of the penalty area on 70 minutes into no man’s land, which was picked up by McBurnie. He found Lundstram, whose shot from inside the box flashed wide of the post Tyrone Mings – 6 – Not quite at his best yet, but he did his bit in holding this new-look defence together. Had claims for a penalty when his shirt was grabbed, and he was pushed out of reach of the ball. Matt Targett – 6 – A solid defensive display. Anwar El Ghazi - 5 – Jack hit a lovely ball to him and he proceeded to hit a 58th minute cross that just needed a touch, but the ball had passed Davis, before he had stretched his leg out. Had a shout for a penalty when there was contact on the edge of the box, but he does tend to throw himself to the ground and that does not always encourage referees to make penalty decisions, if you are wearing our shirt, at least. John McGinn – 6 – After six months absence this was a very welcome return, but John was unsurprisingly, rather ring rusty yesterday. The 76 minutes that he played, will see him nearer to his best, come the weekend. Got a decent header to a 17th minute Grealish free kick that was gathered by Henderson. Jack also found him on the edge of the box on 60 minutes, but Henderson pushed his shot past his left-hand post, easily enough. Worked himself into the ground for the cause. Douglas Luiz – 6 – A good solid performance. Jack Grealish – 7 – Opponents were once again, given licence to bring down Jack, without any fear of seeing a yellow card, as a result. Played a role in most of our better moments and will hopefully get back up to full speed shortly. Conor Hourihane – 6 – Had a 6th minute shot from about 8 yards saved by Henderson at his near post. Good delivery with that left foot as always and was more involved than he has been in some other games. Keinan Davis – 7 – MOTM - He put himself about up front and unsettled their defenders. He does so many good things, but he needs the confidence that a goal will give him. I had thought on hearing he would be starting, that he would be playing alongside Samatta rather than instead of him. Nevertheless, this was a good display by Keinan. Should have done better on 11 minutes, when Hause headed a Grealish corner at the far post, back across the goalmouth. Keinan headed the ball over the bar from close range when under pressure from a defender. So unlucky, when he chested down a nice ball from Targett on the edge of the area and then hit a 52nd minute shot that Henderson kept out at his near post, with his outstretched right hand. Substitutes: Mbwana Samatta – 5 - Replaced Davis after 69 minutes. He did not have the time to make a mark on this game, but he has goals in him and therefore needs to start games like these, in my opinion. Mahmoud Trezeguet – 5 - Came on for El Ghazi on 69 minutes. Did not make a significant positive impression on the game, during the time he had available to do so. Marvelous Nakamba – Replaced McGinn on 76 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating. Ahmed Elmohamady - Replaced Konsa on 76 minutes. He was also not on long enough to earn a rating. Stay up Villa! John Lewis
  4. Another late goal won it at Villa Park yesterday, but this time the boot was on the other foot and the late winner left us devastated, rather than ecstatic. This was a good game and we shouldn’t forget that Villa made a big contribution to that. A point would have been well deserved and it would have seen us, view the game much differently at the final whistle. As it was two stoppage time goals, at the end of both halves, did for us. How did we come to be a goal down at half time, having dominated the first quarter of the game and having had the best of the first half? Tyrone’s tonsillitis couldn’t have struck him down earlier during the winter break could it? How did Spurs not have a player booked, when we had two of our players shown a yellow card? When will VAR begin to give us decisions, rather than conspire to rob us of crucial points? VAR did something that it is normally very loath to do yesterday, it chose to overturn a referee’s decision. It was brought in to prevent clear and obvious errors. It took over a minute to find a reason to award Spurs their penalty at the end of the first half, that in real time neither the crowd, the players nor the match officials, considered was a clear or an obvious penalty. VAR is fast running out of time to even out its decisions over the course of the season, to prevent it being seen to have had a significantly negative influence on our relegation struggle. The point that we had in our possession, as the game went into the last minute of stoppage time, might well have proved crucial at the end of the season, we now have to hope that dropping it doesn’t come back to haunt us in May. On the bright side, we are still outside the bottom three and will hopefully have Tyrone back for the next game and McGinn back, in around a month. We will win games if we play like this and can tighten things up at the back. To quote Jose, “I think they did not deserve to lose” and I agree with him. Spurs are a top side and we had them on the ropes early on. Had it not been for a late error we might have claimed a point. Four more wins could keep us up and I’m not yet quite convinced that is beyond us. Our defence had always looked susceptible to being hit on the break yesterday and so it painfully proved. We really can’t afford to be without our big hitters. We are already trying to cope without John McGinn and our already fragile defence looks incredibly shaky without Mings, who organises our defence so well and is so often what holds it together. Let’s not be too harsh on the player who came into the side in his place and was asked to fill his role yesterday. He did make the challenge that VAR chose to award a penalty for and it was his late lackadaisical mistake, that resulted in the late winner that so cruelly robbed us of the point that our overall performance had deserved. Let’s not forget that he also scored our equaliser though and we will need him, in games that are to come. My player ratings from a game that was entertaining for the neutral, but had a devastating end for us was: Pepe Reina – 8 – MOTM – Pepe was so unlucky to have ended up on the losing side yesterday, having kept us in the game until the last minute. Stood no chance with their first, third and was so unlucky with their second, when having dived to his right to save Son’s penalty, the striker was first to the rebound. Saved low at his near post from Bergwijn after 59 minutes and dived to his right 2 minutes later to keep out a Song effort. He parried a 70th minute cross at his near post from Aurier, after he had made his run behind Targett and saved a 86th minute shot from Son with his legs, to spare Baston’s blushes, before diving low to his left to save a 92nd minute shot from inside the box from Lo Celso. Frederic Guilbert – 7 – Made a well-timed 48th minute challenge on Bergwijn, who had run from inside his own half into our box, as he was about to shoot. Ezri Konsa - 5 – Ran back to challenge Dele Alli, after he had run onto a ball that had gone through him and Reina then did the rest, coming out to block his 73rd minute shot. Bjorn Engels– 5 – He experienced the highs and the very lows of football yesterday. Bjorn finally scored and was credited with his first Villa goal, when he got up well to head Jack’s 53rd minute corner into the right-hand corner of the net. He had earlier conceded a penalty, when he chased back into the box to challenge Bergwijn, who had run onto a 43rd minute long ball from the half-way line, having left our defenders in his wake. He then made the late schoolboy error that cost us the point, that we had fought so hard to win, when he looked to control a nothing ball played towards him in the middle of the park, rather than just hoof it forward. The ball ran agonisingly under his foot and allowed Son to run clear to score their third. He also blocked a 41st minute Bergwijn shot with his body, that VAR spent a full minute looking at, in the hope that it had struck his hand! Kortney Hause – 6 – The best of our three central defenders last night. Did well to get back to block Dele Alli’s 15th minute shot on the edge of the 6-yard box, after El Ghazi’s loose under hit back pass, which had been intended for him, was picked up by the midfielder. Got in another block on the 34th minute, as Moura was about to pull the trigger at the near post and blocked a 41st minute Dele Alli shot, when positioned inside the 6-yard box. Got under a 58th minute Targett corner and his header therefore sailed well over the bar. Matt Targett – 7 – Made a well-timed 27th minute challenge on Aurier, as he was about to cross at the near post. Looked good last night and was our best defender, for me. Anwar El Ghazi - 7 – Hit a 4th minute free kick harmlessly over the bar from around 30 yards. Picked up Reina’s kick on the half-way line and ran purposely forward before hitting the 9th minute cross that Alderweireld turned in to give us the lead, under pressure from Samatta, behind him. Hit a powerful shot from outside of the box, that moved late and that Lloris saved with his hand, and then with his face on 37 minutes. Headed a bouncing ball, from a mistimed header from Engles, that Lloris easily clung onto on 64minutes. Danny Drinkwater – 5 – Unsurprisingly, given his lack of matches he’s still not up to pace yet. He is showing some signs of improvement, but can we afford the time it may take to bring him up to speed, given our present predicament? Douglas Luiz – 7 – Looked very good at times yesterday. Jack made a nice 18th minute run from just inside our half into the box, before finding him in the centre of the area unmarked, but his attempt on goal was blocked by Davies. What a difference another goal would have made then! Jack Grealish – 8 – Given little to no protection by referee Atkinson, who contented himself with telling his opponents how many times they had upended Jack, rather than giving them a yellow card. Made a run into the box and his 10th minute shot was deflected wide of the near post off Dier, ran into the box again a minute later and hit a shot just wide of the far post from the edge of the box. England’s midfield can’t do without him and nor can we. Mbwana Samatta – 8 – Was a thorn in the side of the Tottenham defence from the 1st minute until his 83rd minute substitution. Kept working tirelessly throughout. Headed a 22nd minute El Ghazi cross wide of the near post. Did well to chest down a 51st minute cross for El Ghazi, who shot straight at Lloris. His presence did much to unsettle Alderweireld, when he scored his own goal and he worked very well as a lone striker. He has hit the ground running. Substitutes: Marvelous Nakamba – 7 - Replaced Drinkwater after 60 minutes. He won the ball well and was determined last night. Must start the next game, in my opinion. Mahmoud Trezeguet – 5 - Came on for El Ghazi on 70 minutes. Didn’t make any significant contribution during the time he was on the field. Borja Baston – Replaced Samatta on 83 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating on his debut or to make any positive impression. Stay up Villa! John Lewis
  5. A bitter blue nose rang Radio WM last night, after they had been denied a late winner and on hearing that we had scored one. He likened it to “Father Christmas, having not delivered your presents at Christmas!” I’m sure that Troy Deeney must have felt much the same at the final whistle, as we taunted him with, “Deeney, Deeney what’s the score?” He may have put them ahead, grinned and goaded us, in his inimitable manner, after scoring his usual goal against us. He wasn’t smirking at the end though! This was the second successive Villa goal, that had come in the dying seconds of second-half stoppage time at Villa Park. It has lifted us out of the bottom three. This was as encouraging a home win, as was the defeat in our last home game to Manchester City, demoralising Who would have thought that this game would really end so gloriously? We were after all, well below our best for much of the game. We had plenty of possession, but we didn’t really threaten to do anything with it in the first hour of the game. We lacked creativity in the middle and had no threat up front, in the continued absence of a striker. We were painfully short of both confidence and belief. Players were often afraid to make a mistake, so tended to play the easier ball, that went backwards rather than forward. The crowd sensed this and rather than get on their player’s backs, they encouraged them forward. The team responded to the urgings of their fans and gave everything that they had to give and then some more. The hard work they put in, was eventually rewarded with the goal that brought us level, with 22 minutes of normal time remaining. A point would be better than nothing, which for a long time had seemed, what we were likely to get. On the contrary, once we got one, we got more or at least we got another crucial, fabulous goal, that secured the three points that we had needed so desperately. Watford got what they deserved last night, nothing at all! They were so very negative, guilty of blatant time wasting at every opportunity and they made a succession of illegal challenges, to break up our momentum, that were treated far too lightly by the referee. However, it was the visitor’s negativity that eventually did for them. Had they pressed for another on going ahead, instead of being content to try to hold onto what they had, they might have added another that would probably have put the game beyond us. Had the referee also allowed extra minutes, rather than seconds at the end of the game for their time wasting, they might also have had the opportunity to look for a late equaliser. Instead, it is the visitors who trooped off the Villa Park pitch, sitting in the bottom three, rather than us! This result has given us something to build upon. It has somehow, made the likely points total that we need to ensure our PL survival, look much more attainable. It may have been one win and only three points, but that win may look immense at the end of the season. Another 13-15 points can put our relegation fears to an end and the sooner we can get them the better! That sort of points target would have looked a real mountain to climb, unless we had found those two wonderful goals last night, to prevent us from being second from bottom of the table today. My player ratings from a game that was never really in doubt…were: Pepe Reina – 7 – Such a good signing. His experience and reliability can prove invaluable in our relegation battle. Stood no chance with Deeney’s close range header, after he had run in between Guilbert and Konsa. Made a terrific treble save on 55 minutes. He first got an outstretched hand to a shot from Deulofeu at his near post and then saved with his legs after Deeney had pounced on the loose ball, before getting a hand to prevent the ball going into the top corner of the net off Mings, with Deeney close behind the defender. Frederic Guilbert – 5 – Made some decent tackles and looked convincing when he got forward. Ezri Konsa - 6 – Didn’t look too comfortable when playing the ball out of defence, in the first half. Allowed the ball to run onto Doucoure near the halfway line, who then found Deulofeu, who in turn ran into the left side of the area before hitting the side netting on 43 minutes. Trezuget pulled the ball back to him on 53 minutes and his shot from outside of the box, flew wide of the left post. Ezri hit a tremendous shot that produced our late winner. It was on target, Foster perhaps would have had a chance to have kept it out, had the ball not took a slight deflection off the prone Mings, but to credit the goal to Tyrone seems harsh on the lad. It seems he will have to be content with claiming a very, very big assist! Tyrone Mings – 7 – Blocked a 30th minute Pereyra shot from outside of the box, with his head, after the player had picked up a loose ball from Guilbert. Organised things at the back and got something on Konsa’s late shot to see himself credited with the winner, when on his back doing an interpretation of the “dying fly”. Reina’s last-minute free kick had fell to him and he had looked to have been brought down before Konsa hit the loose ball, but I have little confidence that the referee would have blown for a penalty, had we not scored. Kortney Hause – 6 – His strength is basic old-fashioned defending and he’s rather good at that, our present system places some additional demands upon him, that he will be working on in training. Matt Targett – 6 – Foster gathered a low 30th minute cross from him, low at his near post. His header from a 58th minute Guilbert cross unfortunately was straight at Foster. Jack found him inside the box and Foster did well to keep out his crisp shot from the left, which fell into the path of Douglas for our first. Danny Drinkwater - 3 – Showed some signs of improvement last night, although it would have been difficult to have looked any less effective than he had on his last home appearance. Made a couple of decent passes, didn’t hide from the ball, was clearly annoyed with himself, when things didn’t go right for him and there is a quality player there. He’s not surprisingly struggling for pace and to find the fitness needed to get from box to box. The boss has made a big call by deciding that we can afford to start him in games to get him match fit, given our present precarious situation. Mahmoud Trezeguet – 5 – Worked well and tried to get things moving up front. Hit a 60th minute shot over the bar. Marvelous Nakamba – MOTM – 7 – Back to his very best last night. Solid in the middle, won us possession and kept it. Jack Grealish – 7 – A lot of weight has been placed on his shoulders of late, as we have been relying on him both to create chances and to take them. He got a lot of close attention from opponents last night and did not receive too much by way of protection from the referee. He was often faced with two or three men on him, but he continued to push forward and got the reward that his hard endeavour deserved eventually. Anwar El Ghazi – 4 – Didn’t get near to winning any of his aerial challenges, when the ball was played up to him in the air. He’s not Peter Withe and he’s no target man either, Anwar needed the ball to be played towards him at ground level, if he was to have any realistic hope of winning it, last night. Was more effective later in the game, admittedly having not done a lot positive before then. Tried to bend a shot into the far corner of the net on 31 minutes from the left of the box, but it went harmlessly over. Showed some tenacity to evade a challenge and get the ball to Jack, in the build up to our first. Substitutes: Douglas Luiz – 7 - Replaced Drinkwater after 56 minutes. Made a difference in the middle and scored our all-important equaliser on 68 minutes when he coolly hit the ball which had cannoned off Foster into the roof of the net. He then proceeded to jump into the Holte End crowd, in much the same way that Andy Gray used to climb the barrier behind the goal, on scoring. It was great to see such a jubilant celebration. Indiana Vassilev - Came on for Trezeguet after 77 minutes. Not on quite long enough to earn a rating but he showed promise. Headed a nice 86th minute Targett cross, wide at the near post. Stay up Villa! John Lewis
  6. A late goal from the last kick of this sorry game, may have denied last season’s league champions a clean sheet, but it provided us with no consolation. It could not disguise the fact, that this was a grim return to the sort of humiliating non-performance’s, that we produced in the darkest days of season 2015-16! This was no less than shockingly embarrassing. We had started the game back in the bottom three, due to another win from a resurgent Watford earlier that day and at no time did we look capable of holding onto the point that would have taken us back above them. Manchester City ran through us at will. They started confidently and their confidence grew as it became clear that we were there for the taking. A league one or a league two team, would probably have shown more resistance and would have not capitulated as readily as we did yesterday. This defeat by a five-goal margin, could have been much worse. Six goals did not flatter the visitors and didn’t fully demonstrate the gulf in class between the two sides. It did however, effectively cost us the equivalent of 4 points, given the damage this thrashing did, to our previously comparatively healthy-looking goal difference. It also won’t have helped our recruitment process this month. We had the look of a sinking ship yesterday and players won’t be falling over themselves to join us after a display like this. Pepe Reina must have been looking for loopholes in his contract, after witnessing this debacle. We gave the visitors way too much space from the start. We didn’t press or challenge, stood back and just watched them play. We showed them far too much respect and they showed us no mercy. I had hoped before this game that we might produce something like the performance that we had given at Leicester in midweek. In the absence of McGinn and a striker of any description, it seemed unlikely that we could reproduce the sort of display that we gave, when unluckily losing to the champions elect two months ago. Instead we showed no belief and were no less than lambs to the slaughter. This game was lost at kick off, if not before. The visitors bossed the game all too easily and played the ball around as if we were not there, in the knowledge that goals were undoubtably coming. They are to good a team to fail to compete against. This was their attack versus our defence and there was only ever going to be one winner. We couldn’t string a couple of passes together for long periods and our midfield failed to make an impression on the game. Can we come back from this sort of demoralising performance? Well we won’t meet Manchester City again in the league this season and will meet Liverpool only once. Hopefully we will use this window to bring in at least a couple of forwards, so that we have an outlet up front and even a goal threat. Our remaining fixtures include games at Brighton, Bournemouth and West Ham. Watford visit Villa Park next and we really need to be winning games like these four, if we are to survive. Yesterday’s display does not encourage us to believe, but Southampton strung wins together after a 9-goal drubbing and Watford have now climbed above us, having looked done for, not long ago. We are only a point adrift of the next two clubs and are only three behind the next two, so we can but hope! My player ratings from a desperate, dispiriting game, are as follows: Orjan Nyland – 4 – Should have been able to get a hand to Aguero’s shot for their third on 28 minutes. Collected a 34th minute De Bruyne cross low at his near post. Aguero hit a 57th minute shot from the edge of the box into his hands and then having gifted possession back to the visitors with a poor throw, he collected Cancelo’s low cross at the near post. Stuck out a leg to block a 64th minute Silva shot at the near post and blocked a 70th minute deflected shot from the edge of the box from Cancelo Ahmed Elmohamady – 3 – Tried to shepherd the ball over the line, but Aguero was able to pull the ball back and this led to their second. Siva played the ball to his left to find Aguero inside the box and he wasn’t then able to put in a challenge before he hit the fifth, between Hause and Mings and past Nyland’s left hand. Ezri Konsa - 3 – Intercepted a 12th minute Cancelo cross that Jesus would otherwise have been likely to have turned in at the near post. His attempted 81st minute pass to Mings, was instead presented to Cancelo who in turn found Aguero, who proceeded to hit their final goal past Nyland. Tyrone Mings – 5 – Did well to keep out a 64th minute Jesus shot, that would otherwise have produced an earlier sixth for them. Kortney Hause – 3 – Should have been more determined to get a challenge in on Mahrez as he was about to hit home the opener. Neil Taylor – 3 – His 78th minute challenge on Jesus, deflected the ball wide of the near post for a corner. Danny Drinkwater - 2 – Thrown into this one having signed on loan only days earlier and been starved of fist team action for a couple of years. He therefore had some excuse for giving a less than effective performance. Substituted having got some much-needed game time after 79 minutes. Mahrez had went too easily past him on the edge of our box, before hitting their opener. He was then dispossessed by Silva, as he took a touch inside the area when trying to turn, who then set up Mahrez for their second. He was also unable to make any challenge on De Bruyne in the build up to the third and was outpaced by the same player, before he hit the cross for their fourth. Douglas Luiz – 3 – Substituted on 65 minutes. Left Aguero unhindered on the edge of the box; before he hit their third. Conor Hourihane – 2 – Made no impression on this game and his selection instead of the more defensive minded Marvelous was perhaps too adventurous. Jack Grealish – 5 – Picked up an unnecessary late booking for dissent, which could potentially rule him out of a vital future game. Anwar El Ghazi – 5 – Hit a 41st minute shot wide of the far post from just inside the left-hand edge of the box. Hit our 91st minute penalty into the back of the net, to the left of Ederson. Substitutes: Marvelous Nakamba – 5 - Replaced Douglas after 65 minutes and did well enough, on what was a very bad day for others. Trezeguet - 5 – MOTM - Came on for Hourihane on 71 minutes. Made a run into the box and his 86th minute shot was put out for a corner by Gundogan. He was then found inside the box by Jack and went past the same player, before being tripped by him to produce our penalty. Why on earth did VAR take a full minute to check, what was an obvious penalty? Henri Lansbury - Replaced Drinkwater after 79 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating Stay up Villa! John Lewis
  7. This game wasn’t a Christmas Cracker, but it’s the result that is the be all and end all, given our present precarious situation and we were the club that came away with the oh so precious points. This was our first belated taste of seasonal cheer and didn’t it go down well? We have taken six valuable points from the Canaries this season and now have our first double of the season in the bag as well. Yesterday’s win brought us within a point of West Ham and two behind both Brighton and Bournemouth. Anything less than a win, would have seen an uncomfortable gap start to develop between the bottom three and those clubs. Yesterday’s victory gives us a win and a defeat, from the first two of the critical three-games that will bring 2019 to a conclusion. We travel to a reinvigorated Watford tomorrow and need a minimum of a point and preferably all three, to maintain the healthy gap between the bottom two clubs and ourselves. One goal always seemed likely to win this one, if in fact there was even to be one. At half time, the game looked as if it might just as easily drift into a goalless draw, which would not have been enough for either club. The importance of this game between two clubs that were relegated together and then promoted together three years later, was clear for all to see yesterday. Neither side could afford to lose this 6-pointer and both teams were clearly determined to emerge the victors or at the very least with a share of the points. There wasn’t a lot to choose between the two teams yesterday. Norwich might claim to have had the better of it, they certainly had some clear opportunities, but it was to be Villa that found a lethal finish to secure the points. It was tough on the visitors, but as we have already found out this season, a good performance does not always result in a win or even a draw. We battled well to hold our lead, although we did tend to drop increasingly deep towards the end. This clean sheet has hopefully played a big part in bringing our recent poor run of results to an end, before it could do us irreparable damage. We are now half-way through this season, and we have 18 points from our 19 games. 36 points would be unlikely to keep us up in my opinion and a point a game might not prove quite enough this season, the way the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United are gifting points to teams that are around us. We may therefore need to find as many as 22 points from our remaining 19 matches to ensure our safety. Points from the teams that are around us is what we need, six from Watford to add to the six from Norwich would be nice. We are going to need some new blood next month, the odd unexpected win or two and perhaps VAR giving us something, rather than costing us for a change! My player ratings from a game that brought us three points that could well prove to be crucial at the end of this season, are: Tom Heaton – 8 – MOTM – Gathered a low shot from the edge of the box from Cantwell after 8 minutes. He was relieved when a 17th minute Byram header struck the bar, after the defender had evaded his marker Elmo. Did so very well to keep out a 51st minute Trybull header at his left-hand post, after he had evaded his marker Trezeguet. Made a crucial reaction save on 86 minutes to keep out a shot from Hernandez at his left-hand post. Those two exceptional second half saves, were of the quality that had kept Burnley up before he moved from them to us. Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – Injected some experience and a cool head into a defence, that had looked so shaky last time out. He also hits a decent cross or two. Ezri Konsa - 7 – He looked solid yesterday and alongside Kortney did well as a central pairing, when under a fair bit of pressure from the visitors. Did well to claim the ball from Pukki after the striker had ran into the box on 20 minutes. Headed a 75th minute corner wide of the far post. Kortney Hause – 7 – Wolves loss has been our gain. Did very well to get a touch on the ball, just as Pukki was shaping to hit it, after the striker had run inside the box and onto a ball from Buendia after 16 minutes. Both Konsa and himself, were running alongside Pukki and Heaton was moving towards the striker to close him down, before Kortney had made that crucial intervention. Matt Targett – 5 – This clean sheet can help his confidence return and that of the squad in general. Anwar El Ghazi – 4 – Looked to be on the verge of substitution twice in the first half as he sat despairingly on the turf, apparently putting the extent of his pain threshold to the test. He can drift out of games for periods, but also has occasional moments when he looks a threat and I guess that is what currently keeps him in the starting line-up more often, than not. Made two or three hasty clearances, that unnecessarily handed back possession in the second half. The ball went through his legs, as he attempted to turn a Trezeguet header from a 37th minute Elmo cross, inside the far post with his left foot. Marvelous Nakamba – 4 – Substituted on 56 minutes, having not for the first time of late not quite lived up to his first name. Douglas Luiz – 7 – Made an incredible clearance to deny Tetty a certain goal on 51 minutes, when he somehow stretched to divert his shot over the bar, from no more than a couple of feet from the goal line. Had earlier hit a low shot from the edge of the box, wide of the right post on 6 minutes and hit a 14th minute shot over, after a shot from Konsa had been deflected into his path off Wesley. Jack Grealish – 8 – Enjoyed the extra involvement that playing in the number 10 role gave him yesterday and stepped up to lead by example, with Tyrone and John unavailable to share that responsibility. Hit a 54th minute shot from the edge of the box that Krul saved to his right and claimed an assist for the winner. Trezeguet – 4 – He has a determination about him, but he failed to make any really significant positive impression upon this game. Wesley – 5 – Contributed to this result, with some decent work holding up the ball and some hard-running yesterday. At times, he can give the appearance of a decent striker outside of the box, but any confidence he might once have had inside it, is long gone despite encouragement from supporters, his goal drought continues and shows no prospect of ending in a constant flood of goals. Substitutes: Conor Hourihane – 7 - Replaced Naka after 56 minutes and hit our winner on 64 minutes. Conor played a one-two with Jack, who jinked into the box before returning the ball to Conor who hit a sweet shot past Krul and into the right-hand corner of the net. He just must start for me, if necessary, instead of one of our wide boys perhaps. Jota - Came on for Trezeguet on 84 minutes and was not on long enough to gather a rating. Henri Lansbury – Replaced El Ghazi after 92 minutes. Not on long enough to attract any rating. Stay up Villa and Happy New Year to all Villa Talkers! John Lewis
  8. We had an unwelcome visit from the ghost of relegations past yesterday. This was our fourth successive league defeat. Unsurprisingly that grim losing run has left us in the bottom three, facing a relegation fight and a possible Fulham-like immediate return to the Championship. In earlier games this season, we could blame VAR for some unjust decisions and rightly claim that we were not getting the points that some of our performances merited. In our last home game, we could point to the fact that we were up against a team in Leicester, who were on the crest of an unbeaten run and thus being outplayed in defeat against them, did not quite seem to be a harbinger of potential doom. The same cannot be claimed, after being outplayed by a team that started the day three points behind us and that won a game that both teams could not afford to lose, way too easily This crucial run of three games, that could set the tone for the rest of this season, could not have started any worse. Nine points from the games against the teams that occupied the relegation places, before yesterday’s abject defeat, could have pulled us clear of them. We must now get something from both of our next two games to prevent Norwich and Watford, pulling us back towards them. We went into this run of games already without Tyrone Mings, who is both inspirational and undoubtably, one of our three most consistent performers. Yesterday a cruel early injury, robbed us of a second of them. Captain Jack has now to lead a team that has fast grown bereft of confidence, to show a determination to compensate for the absence of their two teammates, in the next two vital games we have remaining this year. We started slowly again yesterday, as we had done against Liverpool, but this time it was our visitors that scored the crucial first goal. Our heads dropped all too readily following that opening goal. We badly missed John McGinn when injury robbed us of his strong running and competitive edge. I also wonder why we chose to replace him, after only 8 minutes, with a second holding midfield player in a game that we needed to win. Jack was on the periphery of things, wide on the left and surely, he then needed to be moved into the middle, where he would have had a greater involvement in the game. There was a distinct lack of Christmas cheer to be had at Villa Park for home supporters yesterday. Our visitors were of course happy to receive our gift of three points, but they had perhaps not quite been expecting to have them handed to them on a plate. It is said that it is better to give than to receive, few of us were of that opinion as we left the ground, after this game! My player ratings from a game that we need to put behind us and learn from are: Tom Heaton – 6 – Did well to get right hand to Long’s 21st minute shot from inside of the box, but the ball was pushed into the path of Ings for their opening goal. Prevented Ings from getting a hat-trick when he pushed his 84th minute shot to his left and was relieved when Hojbjerg blasted the resultant loose ball over. He then made a save low to his left from Hojbjerg 4 minutes later. Frederic Guilbert – 4 – Had a shot helped over the bar by McCarthy’s right-hand in the 3rd minute of first half stoppage time, having been found by Grealish on the edge of the box. Bjorn Engles - 4 – Looked a shadow of the player that played so convincingly alongside Mings in earlier games during this season. Was far too easily outpaced by Long, as he ran onto a pass from Redmond that led to their first. Kortney Hause – 5 – The best of our defenders during this one. Coolly chested a Long header down for Heaton to collect on the goal line, with Ings behind him on 26 minutes Matt Targett – 4 – Let Ings run past him as they both ran into the box for their first. Both full backs struggled at the back on Saturday. Anwar El Ghazi – 3 – McCarthy blocked his 15th minute attempt to turn in a Targett cross at the far post. Made a half-hearted at best challenge on Stephens, when marking him at the corner from which he headed their third. Anwar produced one of those infuriating displays yesterday, when he seemed to lack the determination to try to get into the game and to make a positive impression upon it. John McGinn – Substituted after only 8 minutes due to injury, not therefore on long enough to gather a rating. Douglas Luiz – 5 – Hit a 27th minute shot from the edge of the box wide of the left-hand post, having been found by Grealish. Conor Hourihane – 4 – We expect much more from him, but he was not alone in that yesterday. Jack Grealish – 7 – MOTM – Hit our consolation goal on 75 minutes and hit another shot from a similar spot in the 94th minute that moved in the air, which McCarthy pushed out for a corner. His fine goal was the one bright spot in a gloomy afternoon at Villa Park. He chested the ball down, which took one bounce before he hit a sweet shot from the edge of the box into the top right-hand corner. Wesley – 3 – Hit a 19th minute El Ghazi cross wide of the post, which was the way he was facing, rather than turn it towards goal and he was also unable to direct a 37th minute header from an El Ghazi cross towards goal. Headed a corner wide of the post from a 65th minute corner. He lacks confidence, wasn’t provided with a lot of service and didn’t go looking for the ball too often either. At times held the ball up and moved it around but he needs to make a bigger contribution in games like this, that tend to pass him by all too easily. The ball is not his friend on the ground or in the air, particularly when he is inside or near to the area and goals do not seem to be his forte. Substitutes: Marvelous Nakamba – 3 - Replaced McGinn after just 8 minutes. Another player who having shown outstanding early promise, currently is producing something other than marvellous displays. His awful touch on Redmond’s cross presented the ball to Ings for their third on 51 minutes and when the resultant loose ball fell to their striker on the edge of the 6-yard box, the result was all too inevitable. Jonathan Kodjia - 5 - Came on for Hourihane on 56 minutes and looked worthy of a start soon. Trezeguet – 5 - Replaced El Ghazi after 68 minutes. In the absence of Conor, he hit an 80th minute free kick from the left edge of the box that was gathered by McCarthy. Stay up Villa and Merry Christmas to all Villa Talkers! John Lewis
  9. Alan Hansen once said, “You can’t win anything with kids.” Last night proved, that you certainly don’t win cup quarter finals with them! Liverpool could have chosen to play a couple of their first team squad, who would not be needed for tonight’s exacting game against Monterrey last night. Those players could have added a bit of first team experience to last night’s youngsters and then flown out to Qatar today. They chose not to do so. They gave the extra cash that their mid-season trip would give them, priority over a cup competition that they have previously won eight times. By doing so, they undermined this cup competition and left their academy players facing the prospect of a demoralising defeat. Sprinkling their team with 2 or 3 first team squad members would have been unlikely to have won the game for them last night, but it would have made it look more of a match. As it was, the match lacked any real cup-tie atmosphere, the attendance was down on what it would otherwise have been and the result, if not the margin of victory seemed pretty much inevitable at the kick-off. Liverpool got what they deserved last night. An abrupt exit from the cup, their first defeat in 20 games and their heaviest ever League Cup defeat. This was a game that we were expected to win. Failing to do so, would have been an utter embarrassment. We made 10 changes ourselves from Saturday’s PL starting line-up, but this was literally a game of men against boys, no matter how much potential those boys may or may not have. We started hesitantly and it was against the run of play, when we opened the scoring on 14 minutes. There was an element of fortune in that goal and in the second that followed within 3 minutes, but once that 2-goal cushion had been established any contest that there might have been, was extinguished. Our young opponents fought gamely and didn’t let their heads drop, they also enjoyed plenty of possession and might well have scored one or more, had Nyland have not been so determined to keep them out. Having established a four-goal lead at half time, it seemed we were reluctant to press home our advantage in the second half. Perhaps, we had decided to not give the youngsters that had been put up before us as potential lambs to the slaughter, to that slaughter. Certainly, had we put away a couple more of the numerous opportunities that we created last night and moved from second into third gear more often, we might have had two, three or even four more goals last night. My player ratings from a game that left us just one tie from a third Wembley appearance in three seasons are: Orjan Nyland – 9 – MOTM – Top class last night. Made a one handed save at his near post from Elliott on 10 minutes and then blocked a shot from Kane at the same post with his left leg, following the resulting corner. Pushed a 26th minute shot from Christie-Davies over the bar and made a terrific one-handed reaction save to keep out a 54th minute Kane effort from the edge of the 6-yard box. Kept out a 67th minute header from Kane at the near post. Made a smart one handed save from Elliott on 85 minutes and then saved at his left-hand post from Clarkson’s follow up header. Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – Found by Jota and hit a 17th minute cross from the right-hand side of the box, which took a wicked deflection off a defender, that took the ball over Kelleher and into the net just inside the far post for our second goal. Ezri Konsa- 6 – A quiet evening. James Chester – 6 – So nice to see James back in the first team last night. Neil Taylor – 4 – Didn’t particularly look over comfortable against the opponents he came up against last night. Jota – 6 – Had a hand in our third and fourth goals. Henri Lansbury – 5 – Had a 76th minute shot from the edge of the box parried wide by Kelleher’s right hand. Douglas Luiz – 6 – A solid all-round performance. Conor Hourihane – 6 – Gave us the lead with a 14th minute free kick from the right-hand edge of the box. Kodjia didn’t quite get a touch on it, but his close-range presence, hampered Kelleher’s ability to commit to the goal bound cross. Trezeguet - 6 – He was the first player to look like he wanted to make an impression on this game for us after 10 minutes. Got into scoring positions, but didn’t find the net, having done so. Hit a 57th minute shot harmlessly wide of the far post and another 63rd minute shot from the left-hand corner of the box into Kelleher’s hands. Hourihane played a ball for him to run onto on 63 minutes, he touched the ball past the onrushing Kelleher, but it was hit too weakly from just inside of the box, giving a covering defender the time to get back and clear it before it was able to creep inside the far post. Diverted a 64th minute cross from Lansbury over the bar. Ran onto a 71st minute ball from Douglas, his shot from the edge of the area was blocked by Kelleher’s right foot. Was just unable to get on the end of Wesley’s 75th minute cross and failed to make the necessary contact with his head to an inviting 86th minute Elmo cross to the far post. Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – Played a role in Hourihane’s opener and added our second shortly afterwards. Jota played a nice ball for him to run onto, he ran inside the box and coolly side footed the ball past Kelleher’s outstretched left leg and into the corner of the net. Jota then brought the ball under control before finding Elmo on the right-hand of the box, his 45th minute cross was prodded home with his left foot from the edge of the 6-yard box. This was a real poacher’s goal and his goals made a case for a starting place on Saturday. He also made a well-timed run onto a ball from Lansbury and hit a 60th minute shot from the edge of the box, that was pushed past the far post by Kelleher’s left hand, before it was adjudged to have been marginally offside. Substitutes: Wesley – 6 - Replaced Kodjia on 73 minutes. Made an opportunity for Trezeguet and then scored our fifth on 92 minutes to respond to the challenge that Kodjia’s brace of goals had made to his starting spot. Made a nicely timed run onto a ball from Trezeguet, he ran into the box before calmly placing the ball past Kelleher and into the far corner of the net. This was an accomplished finish, that has brought a lengthy goal drought to an end and should give him some much-needed confidence. Kortney Hause – Replaced Chester on 77 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  10. Leicester came to Villa Park on the back of 7 successive league wins. This had always looked like a bad time to be meeting them and so it proved. We were second best by some distance yesterday, but quite a few other teams would have been as well. We needed to be at our very best to get anything out of this game and we were some way off that. They have risen to second in the table and we now sit uncomfortably above 18th place, only on goal difference. There was to be no mistaking which team was which yesterday. Our season will not however, be defined by games like this one. It will be determined by our ability to put this game behind us and to win the winnable games, that we will face later this month. Sitting watching this one, was occasionally reminiscent of some of those excruciating home performances from the 2015/16 season. Let’s hope that fortress Villa Park will not be so easily taken again, by future visitors. We may be too close for comfort to the last of the three relegation places, but we are 4 and 6 points respectively above the bottom two, with a superior goal difference. There are also six teams who are currently above us, that are within 4 points of us. We are only a point off a point a game for the season. We need to avoid being unduly negative, things may well look a lot better in 2 – 3 weeks. A place outside of the bottom six, remains on! My player ratings from a game, prior to which fans and past players paid tribute to the late, great Ron Saunders are: Tom Heaton – 7 – MOTM - Dived at his near post to push out a 13th minute Maddison free kick. Came out of his box well to beat Iheanacho to an under hit 37th minute attempted back pass from Konsa. Kept out a close-range header from Soyuncu, whose run had not been picked up with his face. Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Calmly tapped the ball back to Heaton, after Evans had played the ball into the 6-yard box from the left, having met the ball played into the area after running behind his marker Wesley. He was marking Evans at a 49th minute corner but was prevented by Ndidi from covering the scorer’s run and VAR chose to ignore that. He shouldn’t be keeping Guilbert out of the starting line-up. Ezri Konsa - 5 – Did well to block a 3rd minute Maddison shot on the right-hand side of the 6-yard box. Unluckily tripped by Heaton as he ran into the box with Vardy, which gave the striker the time to have another go at turning the ball home for their first. Tyrone Mings – 5 – Brought down Ricardo on the right-hand edge of the box to earn himself a yellow card on 11 minutes, after his own poor first touch had presented his opponent with the ball. Really didn’t want to come off, with what looked like a pulled hamstring, but although it showed how much playing for us means to him, this injury couldn’t be run off. He was clearly prevented from closing down or chasing back by the injury, when they scored their first. Belatedly substituted on 23 minutes. We will miss his organisation, influence and his “nothing shall pass” attitude, if he is to be out for a few weeks. Matt Targett – 5 – Has looked better in his own half, as has the rest of the defence. Anwar El Ghazi – 6 – Really should have been on target, when he hit the bar after 11 minutes. Jack had switched the ball nicely to Targett on the edge of the box, his cross went behind McGinn and in front of Wesley to Anwar, who seemed surprised that it had reached him and wasted the opportunity to put us in front. He then headed or shouldered a 24th minute Grealish free kick over and onto the roof of the net. Wesley found him inside the box, but his 83rd minute shot was hit harmlessly wide of the near post. Gets into the right positions and often looks good until the very last moment. He needs to put a few more opportunities away. John McGinn – 5 – Like Jack not at his best, but he’s still as good, if not better than anyone else. John looks like he would benefit from a rest. The problem is that we can’t really afford to give him one and we can’t really afford not to give him one. Conor in for him on Saturday? Douglas Luiz – 5 – His 77th minute header was intended for Jack but was picked up by Praet who then played the ball that put Vardy clear for their fourth. Marvelous Nakamba – 5 – Not at his combative best yesterday. Jack Grealish – 6 – Gave us hope of a comeback when he scored in the 2nd minute of first half stoppage time. Konsa chested an attempted headed clearance down and Jack hit the ball from inside of the box into the far corner of the net, off the post. Became increasingly frustrated in the second half. Wesley – 4 – Not a lot of service, but not a lot of impact either and he provided no goal threat. Substitutes: Bjorn Engles – 6 - Replaced Mings on 23 minutes. Made a vital 32nd minute interception on a Vardy ball, that was intended for Iheanacho, but Bjorn did well to put it back to Heaton. Did the same 6 minutes later when he stretched to stop a ball from Maddison, putting Vardy clear. Trezeguet - 6 - Came on for Marvelous on 59 minutes. An Evans attempted clearance fell to him on the edge of the 6-yard box, but his 87th minute shot was hit well wide. Frederic Guilbert – Replaced the injured Targett after 78 minutes. Not on long enough to gain a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  11. This was a big, big, win for us last night. It brought us within a point of our visitors, and it took us to the top of the bottom six. It provided some much-needed breathing space between the clubs who occupy the three relegation places and our football club once again. It was a game that just might look like a bit of a 6-pointer, come the end of the season. It was an important game that we needed to win, against a team that will be likely to be involved in the relegation scrap at the business end of the season. It was a winnable game that we ended up winning rather comfortably. There was not too much to choose between the two teams during the first half hour, but two goals in 4 minutes opened a gap between the sides, that the visitors never really looked like closing. Newcastle really don’t much like their visits to Villa Park do they? They sang “We’re higher than you” near the end. They might not be able to sing that for too much longer. They may have lost Rafa, but they still have Mike Ashley and now have our former gaffer. They will take little solace from that, or from last night’s result and it will have been an awfully long trip back to Tyneside for them, will it not? Newcastle came for the point and by doing so, our former boss perhaps showed us a little too much respect for their supporter’s liking. We had lost our previous three games and they had been unbeaten in their last three after all, but form is temporary. Steve Bruce threw on Andy Carroll and Dwight Gayle, in a late attempt to find a cutting edge. Rod Stewart, from whom Carroll bought his current house, is probably fitter more often at 74, than is the Geordie striker. He along with the player that the Baggies couldn’t afford to keep, couldn’t bring them back into this game. The two-goal margin did not flatter us, we made the opportunities to have won this by four or five. We didn’t concede a goal late on and kept a clean sheet, what’s not to like? The three points have taken us to 15th place in the PL and we are now as near to the top six as we are to the bottom three. We can now visit Old Trafford on Sunday, with more confidence than we have had for many a year. My player ratings from a game that took us a point ahead of my point a game season’s target are: Tom Heaton – 8 – Fernandez met a 43rd minute corner and his header bounced off the ground to Heaton’s left from 6 yards out. Tom did well to keep the ball out, making a sharp save to his left. Was called upon again on 47 minutes and did well to push a Saint-Maximin shot past the far post with an outstretched hand. Hayden hit a 59th minute shot straight at him, that he was able to reach above his head to save, after Douglas had been too easily dispossessed on the edge of the box. Held a 69th minute Carroll shot, which again went straight towards him, at the near post. Frederic Guilbert – 7 – Fernandez stretched to block his dangerous 90th minute cross at the near post with Wesley waiting hopefully behind him. He’s looking a real bargain. Ezri Konsa - 7 – Might have scored twice. Once for us with a 53rd minute downward header from a Grealish corner that Dubravka did well to keep out at his right and for them, when he sliced a 60th minute Saint-Maximin cross inches wide of the near post. He is looking increasingly comfortable. Tyrone Mings – 7 – Not quite as totally dominant as we have come to expect. Matt Targett – 7 – A solid and convincing display. Anwar El Ghazi – 7 – Failed to reach a 13th minute cross from Targett that just needed a touch. Jack made a powerful run towards the left edge of the box before being brought down by Fernandez. Hourihane hit the resultant 36th minute free kick with his usual accuracy into the 6-yard box, which Anwar was on hand to hit into the roof of the net. Almost added a second but was caught offside when running onto a 44th minute ball from McGinn. He found the net, but the last defender had not continued to cover his run, having instead turned to close in on McGinn and thus as he had not checked his run Anwar was clearly off. John McGinn – 7 – Dubravka saved low at his near post from him on the 76th minute after Jack had threaded the ball between 2 defenders for him. Ran strongly into the box, receiving a pass from Jack but his 93rd minute shot was hit wide of the far post. He then collected a long ball from Mings and shaved the left post with a 94th minute shot from outside of the area with the last kick of the game. Douglas Luiz – 7 – Jack rolled the ball across the edge of the box for him to hit a 29th minute shot that Dubravka did well to tip over the bar with one hand. Kept the ball well. Conor Hourihane – 9 – McGinn played a sweet ball for Jack from inside of the centre circle, but Yedlin pushed him from behind just inches from the edge of the box as he ran to meet it. Conor took the resultant 32nd minute free kick touching the ball to Jack, who teed the ball up for him, creating an angle from which he hit a superbly placed shot between the near post and Dubravka for our first goal. Hit an ambitious volley over the bar from an 86th minute Mings cross. Jack Grealish – MOTM - 9 – Ran the game and ran forward with great purpose throughout. His opponents paid a heavy price when twice resorting to bringing him down on the edge of the box, as our two goals resulted from free kicks given for fouls on Jack. He almost curled a 62nd minute shot inside the far post, having combined well with El Ghazi near the edge of the box. Hit a 69th minute shot along the turf that was easily collected by Dubravka. Wesley – 7 – Held the ball up well at times, kept busy and might have scored on 77 minutes when he met a perfect Hourihane cross, but his close-range attempted tap-in was blocked on the line by Dubravka. Substitutes: Henri Lansbury – Replaced Hourihane on 91 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  12. Two late goals, the last of which was scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time, preserved Liverpool’s long unbeaten run. They also denied valiant Villa a reward that their whole-hearted display merited. A draw would have represented a fair enough result, but this defeat was more than harsh. By the way, where did those 5 minutes of second half stoppage time come from (he actually played 7)? When this stoppage time Brexit like extension was announced, it seemed to me that the referee was prepared to play on for as long as it took for Liverpool to get a winner. Once we had to endure Fergie time, is Klopp time now a thing? Villa gave everything they had yesterday. We defended like Springboks and to come out of this game with no points to show for it was so incredibly hard to take, for both players and fans alike. The fans were our twelfth man, the referee filled that role for Liverpool. Having tripped Marvelous and then immediately brought down McGinn for the free kick that produced our goal. Why had their 94th minute goal scorer Mane, not been booked before receiving his eventual 37th minute yellow card, for example? Liverpool did have the lion’s share of the possession and they kept going forward remorselessly until the last minute of prolonged stoppage time. Ultimately this was a heroic effort and a very harsh result, but you can’t really expect to survive by dropping too far back with half an hour plus stoppage time still to be played. The ball was played out of defence and into their half, before being quickly returned into the final third of our half all too often. Our players were understandably becoming increasingly tired as the game wore on and Liverpool do have a habit of getting late goals against their opponents. Nevertheless, the longer the game continued with our slender lead intact, the more hope grew that this would be the game when Liverpool’s late onslaught came to nothing, but it was not to be. One goal was hard enough to take but two was nothing short of inhumane! There was not to be the embarrassing capitulation that gift wrapped the points to Liverpool on their last visit to Villa Park on this occasion. This time they made a late smash & grab for them. They will have made their way back home relieved that their unbeaten record remains intact, knowing they had been in a real game this time and no doubt relieved and more than a little surprised to have won it. This was the sort of prestige fixture that last season’s promotion, gave us the opportunity to play once again. It is not a game to be in trepidation of, although currently it does represent a bit of a free hit for us. What we have proved now, is that we can compete again with the best. We also have the nucleus of a team that can settle into the Premier League and that could in time become accepted, once again as belonging in it. We didn’t take a point yesterday or from Manchester City, but we were not really embarrassed by either side. For a minimum of 45 minutes at Citeh and for much of this game, we made the two best sides in the country work very hard for what they got. If we approach that sort of form, now that those two games are behind us against the rest of the clubs that are destined to finish below them, then we can comfortably gather the points that we will need to ensure our safety. My player ratings from a game during which our players got scant reward for the immense effort that they put into it are: Tom Heaton – 8 – Made a nice 18th minute save from Saleh at the near post. Saved low at his near post twice from Wijnaldum and then Mane on 49 minutes. Tom also did so well to block a close-range goal bound 60th minute Mane header at the near post. Frederic Guilbert – 7 – Picked up an early knock that he gamely played on with, until his 69th minute substitution. Did well, particularly as he was clearly carrying a niggle. Bjorn Engels - 9 – Did well to clear a dangerous 36th minute Robertson ball into the box for a corner. He was in the right place at the right time so often yesterday. Tyrone Mings – 9 – MOTM – Looked every inch the captain yesterday, encouraging those around him in their endeavours and carrying out his own in an exemplary fashion. Did very well to block a glancing Mane header, that was heading towards the near post on 26 minutes. Matt Targett – 8 – Hit a nice 9th minute cross that was aimed for Wesley which ran past him into the path of Engles who really should have got his head to it, inside the 6-yard box. He was very solid at the back. Anwar El Ghazi – 8 – Might have given us a lead in the 1st minute when Wesley squared the ball to him and it somehow eluded both van Dijk and Mane on the edge of the area, but his shot was hit straight at Alisson. More involved in the game than he often is and did some tracking back, although Mane ran inside him to meet Robertson’s 87th minute cross, before heading the ball past Heaton at the far post. Marvelous Nakamba – 9 – Fully lived up to his name yesterday. Worked incredibly hard. Hit a splendid 78th minute ball from within his own half that found Trezeguet, who in turn played a nice cut back to find Hourihane inside the left of the box, which on another day might have produced a second goal. John McGinn – 9 – He didn’t stop working yesterday. He burst out of defence with pace, snapped at the feet of opponents and did the work of two men in the middle. Douglas Luiz – 7 – Looked very good at times, particularly when he was moving forward with the ball. Trezeguet - 9 – Ran himself to a standstill and then ran some more. Scored his first Villa goal to give us the lead that we held onto until so near to the end of this game on 21 minutes. McGinn floated a free kick that found him at the near post, from where he squeezed a shot into the net, past Allison’s right leg. Hit the air rather than the ball at the far post on 36 minutes when trying to volley a well-aimed ball from El Ghazi to him. Worked tirelessly in his own half and in the opposition’s one throughout. Wesley – 8 – This was much more like it. If he consistently chased, challenged and put himself about as much as he did in this game, then Wes would prove more than a handful for defenders, particularly as you don’t come up against the likes of van Dijk every week. It was particularly pleasing to see him going from one attempted challenge to another 5 times, closing opponents down each time just prior to his late substitution. He can feel aggrieved by numerous refereeing decisions that went against him during this match. Substitutes: Ahmed Elmohamady – 7 - Came on for the injured Guilbert on 69 minutes. Conor Hourihane – 6 - Replaced Douglas on 73 minutes. Allison closed him down at the near post and his attempted 78th minute cross was cleared by van Dijk, when a shot might just have given us a two-goal lead. Seemed to find it more difficult than he usually does to get into this game. Jonathan Kodjia – Replaced Wesley on 86 minutes. Might have got a head to, rather than swung a leg towards, the corner that Mane got his head to at the near post for their late, late winner. Not on long enough to get a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  13. Villa made 9 changes last night, but our Black Country visitors outdid us by making 11. This game was not therefore played at the level or intensity that we can expect when these two teams meet again in a week and a half. Wolves clearly demonstrated through their team selection, like Brighton before them, that this competition was not a priority for them. They paid the price for that decision and I rather hope Liverpool will play their kids in the next round as well! There was no real tempo to this game, particularly in the first half. Wolves played a big part in this, because both teams need to contribute towards a game for it to sparkle. The young side that Wolves selected lacked experienced players alongside them and it showed. This was a game that looking at the team sheets, we were expected to win. We did so, without needing to get out of second gear and we didn’t. We did what was necessary to win and that was not too much last night. This game was therefore some way off the blood and thunder that would normally be associated with a local derby, that was a cup tie to boot. That’s not our fault alone. It takes two to tango and although the game was a bit of a damp squib, we did win it and are now within touching distance of another potential Wembley appearance. The game looked a bit like a friendly, until they equalised, and we then quickly restored our goal advantage. A one-goal lead is a slender one, but it had always looked like being enough to take us into the last eight. It wasn’t to be a happy ending for visiting fans last night on their big day out. It wasn’t to be too much of a spectacle for us either, but victory was ours and that is what the record books will show. My player ratings from a game that proved that we have the greater squad strength of the two Premier League outfits are: Jed Steer – 6 – Pulled off a vital save from Cutrone on to keep us ahead. Stood little chance with their goal, Cutrone having ran between Conor and Kortney to meet Taylor Perry’s 54th minute cross, he then poked it inside the near post and past Jed. It was otherwise a quiet evening for our keeper. Ahmed Elmohamady – 7 – Captain for the night and his experience told at times. Got a fine touch at the near post on Lansbury’s 57th minute cross to give us what proved to be our winner. Ezri Konsa- 7 – Looked very composed. Kortney Hause – 7 – Easily won challenges in the air and he will have enjoyed this win. Neil Taylor – 4 – Almost took this game into penalties with an awful, casual, badly under hit attempted back pass that was pounced upon on the edge of the box by Cutrone. He looked destined to hit an undeserved second equaliser as he ran into the box, but Steer did very well to make ground towards him and block his shot with his legs. Anwar El Ghazi – 7 – Put us ahead on 28 minutes. Lansbury threaded a lovely ball past a defender and Anwar hit it with his right and the ball trickled in past Ruddy’s right hand for our opener. Hit an effort wide of the right-hand post from around 30 yards in first half stoppage time. Headed a 65th minute Elmo cross that Ruddy saved at the near post and was then unlucky when he hit a 70th minute Taylor cross that hit Bennett, which would otherwise have found the net. A decent enough showing, but he could have done even more against these opponents. Henri Lansbury – 7 – Started quietly but later imposed himself on the game and was involved in both of our goals. Headed an 80th minute Trezeguet cross wide of the far post, when he should really have been on target. Douglas Luiz – 7 – Hit a speculative 21st minute shot over the bar from around 25 yards. Lost possession too easily just inside his own half to Taylor Perry and that casual moment led to their equaliser. His quality otherwise stood out in the middle. Conor Hourihane – 6 – A fair display. Trezeguet - 6 – Hit a 62nd minute shot wide of the near post, having been found inside the box by Hourihane. Kept busy. Keinan Davis – 7 – MOTM – Held the ball up well once again, won the ball in the air and ran strongly with it. He does everything, other than really look like scoring. If he were able to add goals to his game, then we would have a £25m striker on our hands. Left the field having appeared to pull a hamstring on 49 minutes and we missed him up front. Substitutes: Jonathan Kodjia – 5 - Replaced Davis on 50 minutes. A welcome return to the first team following injury, but he will need to show more than this and to find his match fitness quickly, with Davis likely to be out for a period. John McGinn – Replaced Lansbury on 81 minutes. His coming on, demonstrated the comparative strengths of the two benches. Not on long enough to earn a rating, but he did gather an unwanted yellow card. Hit an 83rd minute shot just over, having seen an effort a minute earlier blocked. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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
  24. 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
  25. 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
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