— Villa Underground (@avfc_vilr) February 28, 2017
VILLA REPORT & RATINGS
28,000 of us braved the monsoon like conditions at Villa Park to finally see Bruce’s side show a little verve to dispatch The Robin’s.
Whilst the first half was full of our usual scares and nervousness, the second half showed us a glimpse at what many of the new recruits can deliver.
Ultimately it was positive and represented progress. Finally!
3 more hard earned points underline the combative nature of the league we’re in, but 6 points in a matter of days also illustrates how quickly the narrative can change.
Where concern rightly prevailed after the dismal defeat to Ipswich, there were many positives to be taken from the the victory over Lee Johnson’s struggling side.
We certainly didn’t have everything our own way in the first half and City will feel unlucky not to have found the net.
The conditions didn’t help, but the visitors also had success (particularly down our right), unsettling us on more than one occasion. Striking the bar and forcing the erratic Sam Johnstone into a fumbled catch stick in the mind as harrowing moments viewed from The Holte End.
Despite this Villa should have lead.
Gary Gardner was chopped down when through on goal, with the goalkeeper fortunate to only receive a yellow. Evidently the rule of “last man” and “goal-scoring opportunity” weren’t in the thinking of the match official, who was inconsistent for both sides all night.
The penalty Villa received for the foul set the stage for former City striker Jonathan Kodjia, who could do no better than blast the spot-kick onto the bar.
Cue chants of “what a waste of money” from the the visitors. Always a dangerous chant with plenty of the game to play-out in my experience.
Villa huffed and puffed, but looked as likely to concede as score as the half-time whistle went.
Time for a bollocking from Bruce…
Villa looked a different proposition in the final 45, with the midfield catching the eye and completely dominating the visitors.
Hourihane (on for the injured Gardner) began to demonstrate his worth, ticking over nicely in midfield. Jedinak was a man mountain; nothing escaped his attention. Lansbury was unshackled, spraying the ball, trying different passes and driving the game forward.
Green, a revelation in recent weeks, terrorised the opposing fullback. The youngsters movement, control and single mindedness in his role are starting to genuinely impress. A fine curling effort deserved more than to hammer back off the bar.
Jack Grealish, a peripheral squad figure lately, could do well to watch his team-mates efforts and apply them himself.
The defence held firm, Hutton was tireless and Taylor cut a steady figure at left back. The centre halves of Baker and Chester were uncompromising and organised (in that order).
Adomah, who was having a mare otherwise, then delivered a telling cross towards Kodjia. The Ivory Coast international had lots to do, glancing a looped header beyond the stranded goalkeeper. A great assist, but a truly fantastic header. Cue The Holte End responding to the visitors earlier chant.
Villa suddenly looked far more at ease.
After a nervous moment requiring a good save from Johnstone the play broke.
Kodjia, now wide, burst from the right, before releasing the ball to Adomah. He could only mis-kick the ball into the path of the advancing Conor Hourihane. He made no mistake, scoring his first goal for the club to jubilant scenes.
A big win, as much for the psychological lift it provides as the points it puts on the board.
The United loan keeper pulled off two excellent saves in the second half, which earned him his money this week. Johnstone looks every bit a player lacking in confidence, which is evident in indecision when faced with crosses as well as some dubious distribution. Experience may have a lot to do with this.
An excellent performance from a man reborn with the arrival of fresh competition in the shape of James Bree. Whilst it begs the question why we didn’t necessarily see this before, there can be no faulting the level of effort and determination given over 90 minutes. Hutton was a tireless runner down the flank, defended forcefully but fairly and started dangerous marauding attacks on more than one occasion.
Another steady performance from the club captain at the heart of defence. Chester is the anti-Baker, offering a cool head and a footballing brain to the equation. This is a welcome upturn after a period of indifferent form for a player who looks head and shoulders above most in his position in the division.
Whilst it can often be agricultural with Baker, wet, miserable conditions as against Bristol City are perhaps most suitable. Physically Baker was a constant hindrance to the City attack, and his efforts combined well with Chester/Jedinak’s tidying up around him. Solid.
There were some initial murmurings of uncertainly about Taylor after his arrival, but the fullback appears to be settling in well to life at Villa Park. This was another performance where the basics were done neatly and professionally. The obvious comparison has to be to the weak and erratic displays of Jordan Amavi in the same role. Taylor’s display was equally tireless, with evidence that there is a competent footballer within him at times as well. Assured.
Gardner (5) (Subbed IJ 38 mins)
Gardner picked up a knock in literally the opening seconds of the game and hobbled around until his withdrawel on 38 minutes. Gardner gives lots of legs and is a willing runner, but it was interesting to compare the upturn in overall quality from the midfield when he was replaced by Conor Hourihane.
Hourihane (7) (Sub On 38 mins)
Whilst he struggled to make any impact in the few minutes he had in the 1st half, the second gave us a real demonstration of his potential. Control, passing and vision were central to the midfield battle being won in the second half. His performance was topped off with a first club goal at the Holte End. Could easily have added a second late on, but could only fire straight at the keeper. Very positive.
Jedinak (8.5) (MOTM)
As impressive a defensive display as you will likely see this season. Little, if anything got past the Australian captain who gave another illustration of just what we missed when he was out recently with injury. His physical marauding presence alone was effective, but the fact was that his ability to win aerial battles and read danger to the standard he can is invaluable. A criticism in his early Villa career was wayward passing, which was a real worry. Against Bristol City he intercepted, mopped up and released the ball to our playmakers. A superb performance.
The former Forest midfielder has a subdued first half but benefited from the introduction of Hourihane. Lansbury constantly picked up the ball from deep and tried to start something positive. Whilst not always successful, he does try the tricky pass and has the vision which makes him a dangerous asset to have. The 26 year old is also combative and not shy of a firm challenge, which was key to our control of the midfield and victory.
Adomah (4) (Sub off 77 mins)
How can a man with 2 assists score just 4? Well, whilst he could certainly argue he did what he was paid for providing Villa’s opener, the overall performance wasn’t good at all. Countless dead ends, missplaced passes and dispossession. The jury is out, but he lives to fight another day.
Bree (-) (Sub on 77 mins)
A wise sub from Bruce, removing the indifferent Adomah and sparing Hutton who had impressed at right back. Bree firmed us up for the final minutes and didn’t put a foot wrong.
Kodjia is an enigma and also marmite to many. Whilst some want their strikers to be selfless and greedy, others hold the counter view, seeing a team-player as key. I sit somewhere in the middle, wanting Kodjia to be selfish at key moments, but having greater vision for the supporting cast. The best and worst of Kodjia was on display. At best he was a powerful, unplayable and goalscoring striker. At worst he was peripheral, isolated and indifferent to the help of his team-mates. The penalty miss was woeful. His goal a really, really good headed finish. The pass to Adomah, eventually leading to the second goal, an improvement.
Green (7.5) (Sub off 86 mins)
An eye catching display from a player who is experiencing a significant rise in stock at Villa Park. Pacey, direct and an absolute nightmare for fullbacks, Green could have a massive future at Villa. The youngster has many impressive attributes, but his perseverance coupled to quite sublime ball control marks him out as something very special. That talent was almost sublimely unleashed midway through the second half after a run, cut in and outrageous curled effort onto the crossbar. Similarly to Derby he cramped up towards the latter stages, but a fine performance nonetheless.