Parties and hangovers..
Parties and hangovers..
Villa’s impressive win over Wolves on Saturday was one of those games which only happen on rare occasions. It was one of those games which the Villa kids will remember all their lives. Beating Birmingham City was memorable but the Wolves thrashing surpassed the former by a good margin because Wolves are the best team in the Championship and no one really expected Villa to put four goals past them. The win saw Villa at peak performance and as such it was entirely reasonable to expect some kind of decline for the game that followed. It was just a matter of how much the extreme physical effort Villa put into the Wolves game would carry over and how much the sense of achievement would dull their mental focus. The evidence that the defeat of Wolves had come at some cost was plain to see on Tuesday night and Queens Park Rangers did to Villa what Villa had done to Wolves, but with less effort.
Most Villa fans would have witnessed quite a few post cup-final slumps, where Villa’s league form collapsed after a day of glory. I think it could be argued that Villa’s astounding 2015 FA Cup semi-final victory over Liverpool, initiated one of the longest slumps in modern Villa history. So it figures that if a game is treated like a cup-final, which the Wolves game definitely was, then it seems likely that there was going to be a hangover for the following game, especially when it follows within a few days of an outstanding fist-pumping victory. Who can the manager possibly drop from a team which looked the absolute business against a top team, without killing the team spirit? And, sometimes it is the opposition’s turn to enjoy the benefit of a fortunate deflection and not your own. Accepting such realities and keeping your nerve is what winners do.
Villa’s resounding win over Wolves was probably the best Villa performance since that 2015 semi-final win over Liverpool and Jack Grealish was the only player to play in both and to have starred in both. Even so, in the post-match analysis it seemed invidious to pick out any single player for particular praise because there were so many candidates. Grealish’s contribution demonstrated that there were two classy teams on the pitch. Albert Adomah’s goal and assist added to some absolutely crucial defensive work in the left-back position put him high on my own list, and Elmo’s immaculate game at right-back helped nullify the Wolves threat on the other flank. Chester’s goal which turned the game for Villa and yet another magnificent defensive performance was also notable. Grabban’s fantastic movement across the front of the defender and his cracking finish, proved that he is a striker of top quality. While the combative hard-work and high-quality delivery of Snodgrass was another crucial performance which invited nominations for Villa’s player of the season. Jedinak made one of those robust contributions that often go unnoticed and his header was crucial in setting up Adomah’s opening goal. The list could go.
The Wolves game started off with the visitors looking tentative and the expectation was that they would suddenly turn it on. But it was Villa who sprang to life as they built a passing move from the back, through Chester, Grealish, Terry, Taylor and then Grealish again, on Villa’s left. Jack sent an overhit pass forward, which was obligingly headed down to Hourihane by Batth, and Conor slipped it to Adomah whose cross was blocked for a corner. Snodgrass put in a really great ball which eluded every head except Jedinak’s and then Batth somehow managed to slice his clearance back towards his own goal and the subsequent scramble ended when Albert Adomah prodded it home from close range, as Wolves tried to get it to safety. At one-nil with Wolves yet to show the class their fans had been shouting about, Villa pessimists started to think a draw was now a real possibility. But Villa’s lead only lasted another twelve minutes, which prompted some doubt and uncertainty. The first threat came after an elegant midfield exchange between N’Diaye and Neves, which was finally moved on to Jota, who despite his miscontrol, hit a sweet ball to the far post which Doherty hooked back across the Villa goal but John Terry intercepted and headed over his own bar for a corner. Their equaliser came after Wolves had worked the ball out wide-right to Doherty whose superb first touch beat Taylor, which gave him a free run on Villa’s goal. His shot was weak but Chester’s toe-ender deflected it away from goalkeeper Johnstone and it broke to Jota who bundled it home. Were Wolves about to assert themselves? No. Things were about to get rough as Wolves got increasingly frustrated. Batth took out Grealish on Villa’s left with a sturdy body-check, which earned him a yellow card. The Snodmeister swung in the free-kick to the far post. John Terry managed to hook it back into the danger area from the byline and N’Diaye launched it long upfield which was met by Taylor’s head. For reasons known only to himself, Jota launched a violent late challenge on Taylor which sent him crashing backwards to land heavily on his back. This seemed like a sign that Wolves were getting increasingly frustrated and as further cards followed, it was hard to doubt. Villa finished the half strongly and a neat move between Grealish and the Snodmeister, in which Jack somehow got in a cross, despite being hemmed in, ended with Grabban shooting into the side-netting from a very narrow angle.
Wolves started the second-half determined to show their class and indulged in some neat passing. This broke down when Jedinak headed down to Snodgrass whose run was halted by Neves’ trip. An alternating line of old gold and claret shirts formed on the edge of the Wolves box and Snodgrass bent in the free-kick. The race started and Chester stuck a flying foot out and guided the ball past Ruddy to put Villa ahead. Chester did his Al Jolson celebration and Villa Park went nuts. Some mutual screams of delight were exchange between Steve Bruce and a Peter Kay lookalike in the crowd, as the paroxysm of joy convulsed. Before five minutes had passed, Grealish went on a majestic run and slipped one of his perfectly weighted passes down the outside of the defender on the left. Adomah took it to the byline and cut it back. A perfectly positioned Grabban ran across the front of the defender and poked home Villa’s third goal. There looked like there was no way back for Wolves but Villa were soon under pressure as Hourihane felt the need to foul substitute Costa out at the left corner of the Villa box. Neves took the free-kick and it hit the jumping Snodgrass’s arm, which took the pace out of it. The referee decided it did not deserve a penalty but others disagreed. Wolves were looking like a spent force by the time the leaden-legged N’Diaye gave the ball away in his final third, and substitute Lansbury had passed it wide to substitute Bjarnason on 85 minutes. His solo slalom run through a dazed-looking Wolves defence, climaxed with his arrow-straight right-foot shot past Ruddy. It was the crowning glory of Villa’s superb performance, which will be remembered and recalled across the generations.
Villa’s superb dominant performance raised expectations and there was much talk about Villa finishing second or even higher. There were predictions of a Wolves slump and Villa going on an unbeaten run but by the final whistle on Tuesday night things looked quite different and reality bit back with a vengeance. The least said about Villa’s performance the better but let it be said that Villa’s defence had a mare, the midfield had loads of possession but didn’t create much and the service to the forwards was poor. QPR were happy to let Villa have 61% of the possession and did a hell of a lot more with their own 39% than Bruce’s boys. Bedwell the QPR left-back had a night to remember as he provided the brilliant assist for Manning’s superb opening headed goal and then scored their second goal, after Villa lost their shape as they gathered around Eze, who was doing a fair impression of Jack Grealish. Villa were more direct and lively once Davis had come on, but chasing the game, Villa conceded a third goal, again from their overloaded left, and it was all over. Villa kept going and got a goal back through new super-striker James Chester but the damage had been done. The Villa faithful took their journey home feeling just a little
shell-shocked. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
It was a very bad night but Villa have the perfect opportunity to get things back on track as they take a trip to Bolton Wanderers this Saturday teatime. The Trotters are 20th in the table and have only won one game in their last six, which was against bottom club Sunderland. They have been grinding out draws, which earned them a six point cushion between themselves and the relegation three, and have averaged a point a game over their last six. Villa will be without Neil Taylor who really struggled against QPR and was taken off injured at half-time. The rest are fit and available. Villa should win this one and as it is on the telly, the sofa loafers will get to judge for themselves the extent of Villa’s bouncebackability. A ruthlessly professional, unspectacular win, would be the perfect response to Tuesday’s aberration. Let us enjoy ourselves but not too much. They better watch their step.
Keep the faith!