There or thereabouts?
Having already secured their play-off place, Villa’s four-nil win at Ipswich last Saturday added a nice cherry to the Villa muffin and had the faithful lamenting the loss of some crucial points over the season, as Steve Bruce’s team kept the gap between themselves and second-place to a tantalising four points, with two games to go. But with Cardiff having a game in hand, it all looked rather academic, even if the fantasy scenarios were irresistible. Even so, the game itself looked like it was destined to produce another dose of the very ordinary fare Villa served up against Leeds United, before Grant Ward got himself sent-off for what looked like a potential leg-breaking challenge on Neil Taylor, just before half-time. Hourihane had scored Villa’s opener on twenty-five minutes, after a nice chunk of luck gave the assist, via a deflection and the post, from a Grabban shot, but despite Villa dominating the play Ipswich were defending well. It didn’t look like Villa were about to turn it on, before the break, even if we hoped they might.
Amazingly, caretaker-manager Bryan Klug didn’t add a midfielder to his line-up at the break, although there were two on the bench, which wasn’t what the Germans call klug, but decided to add a forward in Freddie Sears, just before the floodgates opened. This allowed Josh Onomah to show what a good player he is when given space and the Villa romp began, with Lewis Grabban playing the starring role. It was Onomah who set up Lewis Grabban for Villa’s second, just before the hour, which settled Villa, killed off Ipswich belief and began the rout. If Onomah’s assist for Grabban’s first goal had left the latter with plenty to do, his assist for his second only required a cool head and a precise shot to convert. Ipswich had knocked off for a snooze, when Bjarnason sent in his superb cross for Lansbury to make it four.
Early in the game it really should have been Ipswich who took the lead when they quickly switched the ball from their left flank to their right and Jamie Ward’s cross eluded every Villa defender and fell to the feet of Myles Kenlock, who should have side-footed home his first goal for the club, but somehow he rushed the shot and it went well wide for a goal-kick. Lewis Grabban was looking lively on the right for Villa and was attracting boos from the home fans because he once played for Norwich City but it didn’t get more serious than a few bucolic insults. Villa worked it across the edge of the Ipswich box and then back again. Hourihane had a shot and it was deflected wide by Jordan Spence for a corner. Villa enjoyed three corners in a row. The Villa shots rocketed in and were mostly kept out by Cole Skuse who needed a standing-count after stopping a Hourihane rocket with his swede. Villa broke dynamically from the back and Grabban used his strength to win the ball and carve out a shooting opportunity, with quick feet and a darting run. His shot went straight to Skuse and it bounced off his knee, hit squarely on the front of the post and rebounded back to Hourihane who sent it home. One-nil. Villa had another opportunity when Jack Grealish was used for a bit of amorous body surfing by Jordan Spence. Hourihane took the kick and bent it high over the bar. Ipswich were then reduced to ten men when, for reasons only Grant Ward will know, he went in knee-high with studs bared, on Neil Taylor. The referee produced the red card, the Ipswich contingent begged to differ, and the neutrals were left with the casting vote.
Ipswich really looked like they could have done with a bit of sensible talk from Mick McCarthy at half-time as they started the second-half. They were trying unsuccessfully to play it out from the back and were making a very poor job of it. Sloppy was the word. They gave the ball away on their left with some dithering and Onomah nipped in and set up Bjarnason for a chance but he miscontrolled and fired wide. Ipswich were hurrying and scurrying as Villa built pressure but couldn’t win the ball and Onomah was in acres of space as he hit a sweet shot from distance which forced a save out of goalkeeper Bialkowski. Villa’s clincher came when Villa worked the ball across the field in front of Ipswich’s first bank of four and being completely unmolested Josh Onomah played a straight ball to the feet of Grabban, with his back to goal. Defender Knudsen was too tight and was easily rolled by Grabban, who with quick feet and neat control did a one-eighty and slotted home with a show of class. Ipswich replied with a turn and shot from Waghorn but he was just too far from goal to trouble Sam Johnstone. Villa won a free-kick when Jack Grealish was floored with a body press from Carter-Vickers. The kick went square to Onomah who blasted a well hit shot past the Ipswich post. Ipswich went slack and sloppy again and trying to play it out from the back Carter-Vickers underhit a pass and Onomah nipped in to set up Grabban for his easy second goal, in off the post. Four minutes later the game had been reduced to a stroll and Villa made it four when Bjarnason spotted Lansbury’s run and sent in the perfect cross, for him to head home and end the contest with a Villa roar.
Four goals, some classy play, and a clean sheet, made for a satisfying Saturday night for the faithful, and by Tuesday night when Cardiff lost at Derby, things looked to be going exactly to plan Villa-wise. The chances of Villa achieving automatic promotion still look gossamer thin but Fulham finishing above Cardiff would be the better outcome, when it comes to negotiating the play-offs. Villa’s easy win against Ipswich didn’t require the intensity Villa usually need to look convincing and it is very much to be hoped that they have plenty left in the tank for their enthralling encounter with Derby County at Villa Park on Saturday, against a team which definitely needs to win to maintain their play-off position. It will be a tough call for Steve Bruce, as to whether he plays his best eleven for the sake of maintaining momentum, or he keeps his powder dry for the must-win play-off games, which will decide so much. A win would certainly maintain the positive mood as Villa build up to the midnight hour.
Keep the faith!