Looking for your a-game when under pressure, and feeling fatigued…
With Cardiff losing to Wolves last Friday, in the most gut-wrenching fashion imaginable, Villa’s lunchtime encounter with Norwich City on Saturday looked like a huge opportunity to close the gap between the Championship’s second-placed team, and stake a claim to automatic promotion.
Unfortunately, Steve Bruce set his stall out with what looked like the intention to control the game, which they were succeeding in doing, until Josh ‘Nakamura’ Murphy scored with a perfect strike, which will surely be listed alongside Justin Fashanu’s legendary goal, in Canary folklore. Villa had been looking as okay as Norwich up to the goal, which is not to say much, but Bruce’s decision to make a double substitute after ten minutes of the second-half, by swapping Adomah and Snodgrass and for Kodjia and Grabban didn’t improve things, as Villa quickly conceded a second when Grabban lost the ball in Norwich’s defensive third and Murphy broke away to combine with Reed, to create a tap-in for Srbene, as Villa’s offside trap malfunctioned.
With a two goal cushion, Norwich set up two rows of a five and a four to secure it, and it was at this point when Kodjia passed the ball along the edge of the area, our Jack allowed the ball to travel across his body, and neatly fired home. The hope of a comeback didn’t last, as Villa got into a right pickle out on their left and got sucked towards the ball. John Terry gave the ball away and was left trailing the sprightly Murphy, who set up Maddison for an easy finish. Three-one and Villa looked destined for the play-offs.
The unavoidable conclusion was that Villa don’t play well in low intensity contests and can’t always keep the intensity at the level they need, when they are playing every few days. But there or thereabouts is what was promised and that is exactly what we’re likely to get.
With John Terry and Bjarnason both missing on Tuesday night and the resurrected Samba on the bench, there was plenty of reason to doubt Villa’s ability to resist Cardiff’s powerful team. But it turned out to be Cardiff who had decided to stick and grind out some kind of result to shore up their precarious second-place, under massive pressure from Fulham. They set up their two banks of four, and by hook or by crook were hoping to engage in a battle of physical and psychological attrition, with every trick in the Warnock armoury.
Villa started the game well and created a chance for Grabban on the right with Snodgrass and Elmo making space with some sharp pass and move. Etheridge managed to save with his legs and pushed it for a corner. But it was Cardiff who came the closest to scoring when Mendez-Laing won the ball in midfield with an industrial-strength challenge and charged through on the Villa goal to hit the post. Villa got themselves a half-chance when Adomah couldn’t quite connect with a Snodgrass corner via a Chester knock-back, and it went out for a goal-kick.
Villa got lucky when Cardiff worked the long throw into the area, and after it was headed on, it ricocheted off Zohore and it hit Elmo on the goal-line. It was cleared but Snodgrass chose to foul Hoilett to relieve the pressure. It was from the free-kick out on the left, which led to the double-save which earned Sam Johnson most people’s man-of-the-match vote. It looked like it was Whelan’s header which required the first and then the second from a piledriver from Paterson. Whelan cleared with a big kick into touch, worthy of Barry John himself.
In the second-half Johnstone again kept a Zohore poke out with an outstretched leg. Villa created a breakaway through Grealish, who picked out Kodjia on the right. Kodjia tricked his way past the defender and it was Etheridge’s turn to save from close-range. Villa should have scored as Cardiff got pulled out of shape after Jedinak returned yet another long aerial ball, and Villa built on the left with Grabban, Bree, Grealish and then Grabban again. Grabban got a signal from Hourihane as he started his run and Grabban sent a precise pass through the gap, which Hourihane took in his stride but his first touch was a little too heavy, and favouring his left, he put a great chance past the post.
Villa built on the left again from a Hourihane throw-in, with Kodjia and Grealish. The latter put in Hourihane with a back-heel, on the corner of the penalty area. Hourihane sent in a swerving whizbang which Etheridge pushed wide for a corner. A typical long-ball move from Cardiff set up Mendez-Laing for a shot and Johnstone saved strongly and it was cleared upfield by Grabban. Both teams were feeling it but Villa looked to be slightly on top.
A Villa move on the left started with a Bree throw-in, was broken up with some typical Cardiff rough stuff and Kodjia was awarded a free-kick. Snodgrass took the kick into the densely packed line of defenders and attackers. It rebounded off the foot of Morrison and looped into the air towards Grealish, standing on the ten-metre radius. He watched it carefully, checked back, and hit a perfect volley with the outside of his foot, which flew unstoppably inside of the post and into the net. The Holte erupted and royalty took to their feet, as our Jack went on his run of joy.
It had been yet another impressive performance by Villa, who definitely rode their luck at times, against a powerful team, whose savage football demanded a whole new set of challenges compared with Wolves. Unlike the regrettable scenes after the Wolves defeat, Warnock, or Colin as his friends call him, took the defeat well. The faithful trooped home wondering why there was such a difference between the Villa they had just seen, and the one they had witnessed on Saturday.
In the meantime, if it is Friday then surely Villa must be on the telly, with Bruce counting his fit defenders and wondering if he can make a four, against visitors Leeds United. Terry won’t be available and it is just a question as to whether Jedinak can recover enough to play another game two and half days after the last. He was excellent against Cardiff but at least he wasn’t chasing around midfield, so might have a little left in the tank, for this, the last of Villa’s five games in thirteen days.
Leeds have played a game less but only managed to win one and draw one out of the last four and find themselves one place above Burton in the form-table (last eight games). With Villa at home and presumably buoyed by Tuesday’s huge win, they should at least get something out of the game. The prospect of eight days of rest and recuperation should mean they won’t be holding anything in reserve. Let’s hope that a win provides the fans with some respite too and we can end what has been a very demanding fortnight, on a positive note.
Keep the faith!