Two wins keep Villa in touch..
Two wins keep Villa in touch..
Villa got their play-off aspirations back on track this week with two wins, which kept them in the top-four, albeit with not much margin for error. This was a greater achievement than some were unwilling to admit, as the absence of two key players proved to be not as crucial as was dreaded. Villa were not quite so assured at the back without John Terry and not quite so tricky in creative situations without the movement and menace of Jonathan Kodjia. But Villa definitely deserved their six points after a dominant second-half performance against Queens Park Rangers and a workmanlike but less attacking display against Sunderland, two and a half days later.
I was really pleased to see both Snodgrass and Onomah back on the team-sheet and my hope that Villa would get something at Loftus Road increased accordingly. Both have been crucial during Villa’s resurgence. Onomah has brought some Premier League class to Villa’s midfield. Snodgrass’s relentless and combative play really upsets defenders and ensures they have so much more to think about. His quality means Villa have creative threats right across the front-line.
Against QPR Villa’s 26 shots on goal didn’t tell the whole story and the home team had a couple of good chances to even the tie. The Hoops scored early from a corner after Johnson failed to negotiate a path around a collection of impeding players as he lost the flight of the ball and his star-jump was very much in vain. Villa could have and should have equalised when a precise three-man move between Hutton, Davis and Onomah put Adomah through but he missed the target. And then again, when QPR messed up badly and gave the ball to Villa on the edge of the box. The shot from Onomah was saved brilliantly by Smithies. A feat he repeated later when he saved from Davis. Villa then raided down the left and Onomah hit the bar. A shot from Snodgrass was blocked by a dangling QPR arm and Adomah coolly sent Smithies the wrong way and hit the penalty into the roof of the net.
Villa were very much on the front-foot in the second-half and a sweeping counter-attack ended with Davis heading wide. QPR replied with some slick play of their own but Brummie Matt Smith put his chance past the Villa’s post. Once again Hutton fed Davis who powerfully held off some robust physical challenges to put Hourihane in on goal but his shot fizzed over the bar. Then it was Snodgrass’s turn to combine with Hutton and battle through the physical wall of QPR’s midfield, fed Hourihane, who put the unmarked Adomah through and Albert the Lion scored with a perfect shot which clipped the inside of the far post to make it two-one to Villa. Another battling run by Snodgrass ended with a shot from Davis which Smithies did well to keep out.
Villa’s Tuesday night encounter started off in sombre fashion as the two club’s fans were forced to remember that their clubs had been relegated from the top flight in the most humiliating of fashions, where the wrong sort of records were set or at least challenged. Sunderland offered a clear reminder of Villa at the beginning of last season, as they looked like a bunch of individuals who had the technique but, to quote The Boss, looked like a bunch of dogs who have been beat too much. Willing but fearful and with no collective idea of what risks to take and what risks to avoid. How quickly we forget.
Villa scored after ten minutes when Sunderland’s charge forward left them short in midfield after it broke down. Onomah got his head up quickly, fed Snodgrass, who chipped a ball through Sunderland’s corridor of uncertainty, to the far post, and Prince Albert nipped in to tap it into the Sunderland net. Sunderland had a bigger share of the ball than the Villa crowd were comfortable with and Johnson was forced into a desperate save and then saw a Sunderland daisy-cutter whiz past his post. Snodgrass made a cross field run and combined with Davis, which ended with a block from the on-rushing Sunderland goalkeeper. Alan Hutton went on a charge, did a fancy back-heel which pleased the crowd. Hourihane’s shot looped upward and Albert tried a spectacular volley which ended up in the stands.
Sunderland were still trying to digest their half-time talk when the second period got under way and Villa quickly made a chance. Then on forty-nine minutes Samba made a massive headed clearance from his own half and a lesser header from a Sunderland defender gave the ball to Onomah who controlled neatly, played a one-two with Snodgrass, and turning, five yards outside the box, scored with a left-foot shot via an arcing deflection. Villa proceeded to monopolise the attacking but didn’t make a clear-cut chance. It began to look like a routine win for Villa until Oviedo cut in on Villa’s right and cracked in a shot, which Johnson kept out but it rebounded along the goal-line to the edge of the box and Samba allowed an unimpeded cross, which led to a scrappy goal. Bruce had already battened down the hatches by bringing on Jedinak and he gave a late taste to Grealish and El Mohamady. Villa were doing their best to run the clock down as the final whistle went. It hadn’t looked as easy as was hoped but it is impossible to make the claim that Sunderland posed much of a threat. Villa had made taken six points from six and had kept their place in the play-off places and an amazing number of fans were a bit critical but not this one.
Villa now have an interesting home game against Ipswich, who are just about in the middle-third of the form table, which has resulted from a mixed bag of results, of two wins, two draws and two losses from their last six games. They are fourth from top when it comes to scoring goals and eighteenth when it comes to letting them in. This makes them a little bit better than Villa at scoring goals (+4) and rather worse when it comes to conceding (-10). Ipswich seem like just the team to test Villa’s defensive qualities in the absence of John Terry. The statistics definitely suggest a high-scoring game. It certainly seems likely that Villa will have to score a few more of their chances, as it seems likely they will concede, bearing in mind recent errors. After the Sheffield Wednesday shock, I won’t be taking too much for granted, but a score-draw would seem like a reasonable expectation. A win would be a massive statement but pleasing the critics will be the hardest button to button.
Keep the faith!