Villa’s class takes them to seventh heaven…
Villa’s class takes them to seventh heaven…
Villa made it seven wins in a row on Sunday and rose to second in the table after a very memorable win over local rivals Birmingham City. The game will be remembered for the sheer quality of the goals and a marvellous midfield display from Jack Grealish. The spectacular second goal by Conor Hourihane will be listed amongst the notables of bygone years and will be spoken of in the same breath as Gary Cahill’s famous marvel, or even Chico Hamilton’s derby winner, by gentlemen of a certain age. The game will go down in oral Villa history as one of the finest performances in a second-city derby. Even so, the result was a lot closer than legend will recall it, and if Southampton loanee Sam Gallagher had scored for the visitors when it was still nil-nil, the outcome could easily have been in City’s favour. Guru Colin Calderwood had called it exactly right in the pre-match press-conference, when he said that whichever team scored the first goal would probably win the game.
Gladly for those with claret and blue blood Villa opened the scoring and what a fine goal it turned out to be. The quality of Grealish’s ball for the assist was astounding and one which Andres Iniesta might have been pleased with. Adomah’s finish couldn’t have been more precise. It was a bit of class which stood out like the proverbial tanner in a chimney-sweep’s ear because the game was more battle than exhibition. David Davis strained his knee when he slid in for a challenge with Jedinak, which limited Birmingham’s threat, and N’Doye had accidentally-on-purpose trod on Grealish’s ankle by way of an attempt to even things up, when he got the opportunity. It was not quite so X-certificate as in days of yore but it was a tough game where Villa needed their battlers as much as their artists.
Villa started the game with a pleasing high tempo while Blues kept it methodical as they tried to lure Villa out. A poor kick from goalkeeper Stockdale went straight to Cheikh N’Doye but with his back to Villa and nowhere to go he was instantly dispossessed by Grealish, who exchanged passes with Hourihane and flashed a shot wide of the post. A Blues attack petered out with a poor attempt at a cross and Grealish on the edge of Villa’s box, sent Hogan sprinting away down the left wing. Hogan cut in, enjoyed a favourable rebound, and hit the Birmingham bar with a looping shot which left Stockdale flapping at air. Blues replied after some neat midfield play which put Jacques Maghoma through, who set up David Davis for a shot which was deflected just wide by the chest of John Terry. It was Maghoma who put Gallagher through with a teasing ball inside John Terry, after a Villa attack had ended with a disappointing cross from El Mohamady. John Terry’s stumble was a carbon copy of Jedinak’s, which let in Donaldson for Sheffield United back in December. Only the heroics of James Chester prevented a goal as his run sent Gallagher a yard further wide than was ideal, which reduced the size of his target. He hit the post dead-centre and put the pacey rebound over the Villa bar. It was Birmingham’s big moment and a huge scare for the Villa. Birmingham were soon to have their own scary moment when Roberts met a high Snodgrass cross, with a smudge of a header and then Harlee Dean headed against his own bar.
The second-half started with Villa still looking very lively with Grealish dominating the midfield and tormenting Birmingham’s defence. It was a professional foul on a charging Grealish, which earned N’Doye his first yellow card, which really should have been his second. Our Jack was still shaking off the results of N’Doye’s foul when he created Villa’s goal. He ran through midfield, exchanged a pass with Hutton and found himself two against three with Adomah, as Carl Jenkins, N’Doye and Maghoma were quickly in attendance. With Grealish teasing the pair out on the touchline, Adomah signalled the move by starting his run infield, parallel with the edge of the area, and our Jack put in the perfectly weighted pass which went past Albert, which meant he didn’t need to check his run to bring it under control. Leaving Kiefenbeld in his wake, Adomah sent a precision shot through the gap, which went in off the inside of the post and did a delightful dance around the onion-bag, to a mighty Villa roar. The Holte hailed their hero and Steve Bruce memorably discovered how close his emotions were to the surface, which gave every Villa fan a bit of a throat-wobble by way of empathy and the romance of the moment. The Blues were not quite so appreciative and Carl Jenkins was quickly in the book for an ugly aerial challenge which left Adomah needing treatment.
The subsequent free-kick was to prove rather more punishing than the yellow card. John Terry sent a long kick from the half-way line in the general direction of Snodgrass on the right of Birmingham’s area, and Harlee Dean headed down to Conor Hourihane, who with fantastic technique steered the ball with his chest so it fell for his magic left foot and he sent a perfectly straight wondrous, looping, shot into the corner of the Birmingham net. It was a goal worthy of settling any close game and Villa looked likely to survive the nine minutes, plus quite a bit of stoppage-time, with Blues looking defeated. Villa nearly made it three when another lousy header from Dean gave the ball to Snodgrass in the Birmingham box but the Snodmeister shot wide of the post. Hourihane’s decision to attempt to run the clock down by the corner flag went awry and Blues charged down their left and won a corner, despite the whole of the ball having crossed the line, before the Villa contact. From the corner Roberts clipped the Villa bar with a medium paced header from distance. Then four minutes into stoppage-time Blues had a long throw-in on Villa’s left and in the rough and tumble N’Doye tried his trampling routine on Jedinak and John Terry had to step in to prevent the assault. The perpetrator in blue got his second yellow and was required to leave the field. With Davis injured and their main man in midfield suspended, this amounted to high collateral damage for Birmingham beyond the badly needed points.
It was a sour note to end the game on because Blues had been resolute for most of the game and it had required some outstanding quality from Villa to score both the goals. Blues had the chance they were banking on but failed to take it. They definitely looked good enough to avoid relegation but were just out-classed on the day by a better team on a hot streak. If Villa hadn’t worked so hard and if Jedinak hadn’t put in such an immaculate defensive performance, it is hard to see how Villa could have won this one. Grealish deservedly got the praise and the plaudits but for me it was Jedinak who reminded me why Villa couldn’t win without him not so long ago, and why I thought he was absolutely key to the result. The fact that N’Doye picked up his yellow cards from fouls on Grealish and Jedinak seems to prove who he thought had ruined his afternoon the most. They both do different jobs but they were both absolutely immense last Sunday.
Recording their seventh win on the bounce and moving up to second in the table added to the sense of glory of having won the derby but Villa still have a daunting amount to do to complete the project. Even Wolves, surprisingly, only managed six wins in a row between October 31st and 4th December ’17, which puts Villa’s winning-streak into perspective. It seems possible that the sheer delight, attention and praise, might distract the players, as they go into Villa’s game at Craven Cottage but we can only hope not. If the derby was a six-pointer in terms of local pride, then the Fulham game is a six-pointer in the more traditional use of the term. With The Cottagers second to Villa in the form table and with only a three point cushion amongst the play-off places, the game is huge for both clubs. It is probably not a bigger game than last week but it certainly looks a lot more difficult on paper. With only a point between Villa and both Derby and Cardiff, Bruce’s boys really need to get something out of the game to at least keep in touch with the promise of a top-two finish. Fulham can be quite prolific at home and only spoiled their chance of winning six in a row by drawing away to Bolton.
If Jedinak is fit enough to play, then Villa’s defence should be tight enough to soak up the pressure and it will be just a matter of seeing whether Villa can score at the other end, as both Adomah and Grealish are injury doubts. If Villa win this one the players will become legends in the making, and we will definitely be getting good vibrations.
Keep the faith!