It was scrappy. It was lucky (maybe). It was vital. Aston Villa hosted Cardiff City Tuesday night in front of Prince William, and a Jack Grealish wonder goal saw Villa take home all three points. Oh, and John Carew was there, too.

The Good
Villa showed fight. It was a scrappy game, and with Birkir Bjarnason sidelined following an injury during warm-ups, and John Terry a scratch from the knock he picked up in the loss to Norwich, things didn’t look good. I mean, come on. We beat the second-placed team with Glenn Whelan starting and Mile Jedinak deputizing for Terry? Turns out we did.

A thing of beauty it was not. But it didn’t have to be as long as we found a way to win. Sam Johnstone was immense and single-handedly gave Villa a chance to win.

And not because Cardiff were overwhelming, by any means. But they did have chances they should’ve buried, and Johnstone was there every time, barring the opportunity Elmohamady cleared off the line. Glenn Whelan almost scored, too. Fortunately, he didn’t.

Then there’s Grealish, who cooly takes a volley from the edge of the box, and sends it slicing in off the far post for the match-winner on 85 minutes. Quite simply a moment of magic. At times I’ve heard people complain that he’s being greedy when he shoots, but really he’s anything but. I’ve been frustrated that he passes up so many shots. So all I can say is keep on firing, Jack.

Lewis Grabban showed some good all-round energy, and James Chester had at least one absolutely perfect, crunching tackle he had to get just right. Also nice to see that Christopher Samba is still among the living, and that we had a CB and FB on the bench.

Johnathan Kodjia looked a bit more himself on a couple of occasions, and Grabban’s nifty move to put himself in was class.

Nathaniel Mendez-Laing found the post instead of the back of the net.

Upward of 32,000 in attendance wasn’t too bad a showing, either.

The Bad
When you’re raving about your keeper, you know you could and maybe should have lost. However, I don’t know that Villa’s win was unfair on Cardiff. Sometimes a great save is also a save a good keeper should make. He’s there for a reason.

Then there was the fact that Grabban missed a great opportunity early on, another header he’d have wished he at least put on target, and Conor Hourihane poked wide when he looked certain to score. It was a lovely pass from Grabban that put him in.

So, despite some slack defending, a couple of good breaks, and more than a couple outstanding saves…The Bad? I can live with it.

James Bree had a couple dodgy moments, but how could he not having played so little? Glenn Whelan was Glenn Whelan. Jedinak did better playing CB than in his other outings there. Should’ve put that one up in The Good.

The Ugly
Maybe the game overall, but then again, both teams were were fully in the mix.

Final Verdict
You can’t say much more than a win’s a win. As I posted after the game, only Villa could lose to QPR and Norwich in between beating Wolves and Cardiff. Never mind not scoring against Bolton and Hull.

What it seems like to me is that Villa are better as underdogs, and that they tend to wilt as favorites. And although we can fairly say Villa rode their luck, it’s also the case that Villa were the team mainly on the front foot. Down the stretch, it seemed more likely that Villa would break the deadlock—Villa had 60% of the possession and completed 113 more passes than the Bluebirds, according to the OS.

Does it mean much? Yes, of course, because we may well have secured a playoff spot—I can’t be bothered to do the math at this hour. And truth be told, based on what I saw tonight, I’d probably rather face Cardiff than Fulham in the playoffs. Which means we’d certainly lose a re-match. But with Fulham sliding into second and Cardiff wobbling, well…

Mainly, though, I’m glad to see there was fight and that Villa didn’t shrink away from physicality. They didn’t get pushed around, they didn’t cave.

Next up are Leeds, who’ve lost three of five, then Ipswich, who’ve also lost three of five. Villa really could do themselves a world of good winning both those fixtures before facing Derby and Millwall in what might well be playoff previews.

And while Fulham and Millwall have been on phenomenal runs, it’s also the case that all good things do eventually come to an end. Paradoxically, we might be facing Millwall, at least, at the right time. Though I wouldn’t mind them turning over the Cottagers on the 21st before they come down to earth.

Anyway, it’s three points, still in the hunt, and another reversal from the earlier encounter.

Over to you.

Comments 42

  1. JC – Precisely as I saw it.

    In added on time at the end we had a couple of breaks that would have killed off Cardiff. It was a pity the players involved didn’t look for the others and make the killer pass. Twice it looked easier to do so than not.

    Great to see Warnock gutted. Felt sorry for his cat last night. Before thinking about Leeds on Friday, I’m going to enjoy the day as I’m still stoked.

  2. Thanks JC Not a classic with the ball seeing more sky than boot but exciting all the same, you have to wonder how many would still be on the pitch in the prem? nevre seen so many ripped shirts, pushing trips etc, what happened to the professional foul and the straight red?

    Several questions came up from that game for me, first is should Jedinak keep his place in the back four? I think yes, less running and I think his fitness is better and positioning a close equal to JT while being more dominant.

    Next is how to play Grabban? Locked into the slot up top stifles his play so he’s no Centre forward for me but his eye for a pass may be a godsend, can we reinvent the team again to suit? we ended the game with three free wheeling players in Grabban, Kodjia and Grealish whilst still playing launch ball from the back with Jedinak, Johnstone and Elmo. Should we drop Albert and put Thor and creaky wheelan in the middle and go 4411 with jack out left.

    Third is Kodjia ready to start? ordinarily I would say no, he looks slow compared to last season but still has that brain thats wired a little different. Goal scoring requires a skill set and that skill set requires neural networks in your noggin, those are downgraded after three weeks without use and he’s been out a long time and may take months to reacquire his full skill set but as non of the Centre forwards are prolific at the moment he may have the biggest pain in the arris factor and combination of physical presence if we continue to hoof it forward.

    Millwall have four top 6 contenders in Sheffield, Fulham, Middlesbrough and us, if they are still unbeaten after that they will take some stopping, they won their 1st div play offs last season too.

    I’ve been thinking about Promotion and I think we need it rather than are ready for it, even if we come straight back down it will fund a better return if we fail to stay up and clear debt if we are sensible.

  3. Mark,

    Couple good questions. I can understand changing things up…not sure how likely that is, of course.

    I like Grealish in the middle because the ball sticks and gives us a fast, central link that can receive a tricky ball, carry it, beat a man, pull us into attacking positions, and then distribute. Bjarnason has also shown a willingness to carry it from deep. Hourihane, while often not seeming to do much, simply flows the right way with these two and is often in dangerous positions just outside the box.

    The trick, as you say, seems to revolve around the argument we’ve been having about who belongs up front. You’re right that Kodjia is still a ways from regaining himself, but still brings a certain threat from being strong and able to beat a man. Grabban showed a good eye for a pass from deeper positions. Hogan, as we know, chases tirelessly from the front and moves defenders around.

    Seems to me that if Grabban drifts as he did last night that’s where he might be most useful. Kodjia still comes on to change things. He’s probably likely to score soon, or at least create chances by trying to score. Hogan is the forward if you’re going to press high.

  4. Plug,

    We did have those chances, as well as a couple others…I remember Grealish all alone in the box and Grabban, I think, wide right at the edge of the area, fixated on goal and not seeing him.

    Fortunately, it didn’t matter. But I really wouldn’t have minded one of those injury time opportunities going in just to put a little icing on it.

  5. Oh, and Jedinak.

    He was pretty strong last night, especially in the air, coming up to meet it. I doubt you take Terry off if he’s fully fit, though I agree Jedi, if he’s got his head in the game, didn’t seem a downgrade. I just don’t see SB leaving Terry out down the final stretch.

    Albert? He and Snoddy have played a lot, and he’s been off the boil a bit. I know you’re suggesting that the two of them seem to dictate we play a certain way, and I’m sure it’s true. I’d probably go with the same set-up as we saw last night to start, though with Bjarnason in (no surprise there).

    Main change is that I’d simply like to see us de-emphasize crossing it in, and look to be more central, see if Snoddy and Albert can’t cause more trouble by coming in to receive or cut passes back into the middle. You know, just not be so predictable.

  6. Jc- Read a couple of articles about Cardiff and millwalls tactics and what they have in common. They are the quickest in the league at moving the ball from front to back average two passes and have the least possession. I assume that this is how Bruce wants it but doesn’t have the players. Both Cardiff and millwall have big lads up top that are good in the air the difference being millwalls press high too, I’ll post the article later about that.

    I think jedinak went a long way to nullifying Cardiff’s threat without losing numbers in midfield with him dropping back into defence.

    I think we are a half way house team on tactics, being neither long ball nor possession based. ideally Bruce prefers the former but doesn’t have the outlet up top to play direct without kodjia on full form, even then he’s not norm for that style.

    Our biggest problem is a team that doesn’t truly suit the manager. I know he’s built the team but the starting point was far away from his liking.

  7. To add, in back of my head I can’t help but feel January last seasons window was about a different style (by someone) to what Bruce tried to instil in the summer. Almost as if he got offerered those players and took them rather than have nothing at the time, we know other targets were looked at and didn’t happen and the players bought at least had resale. Smacks a little of the sherwood window maybe?

  8. JC- Don’t disagree on less crossing as our go to tactic either, I guess even this late in the day we need to know what type of team we are? we all see different possibilities for the players we have but can/does Bruce? or is it just another case of if we get lucky again.

  9. Good links, Mark.

    Yeah, I don’t think we know. That Millwall article does a good job, obviously, of showing that they do know who they are. You have a system, players have to buy in and fit it. Course, sounds like they’ve spent three seasons on it.

    Us, I can see patterns, yes. Dunno if the pressing looks as organized, but certainly there’s our wing attack, hugging the touchline, using the FB and then a trailing midfielder for the triangle out wide. There’s either the cross on, if it’s there, or the cut-back to the midfielder. Not novel, certainly, and teams expect it. But on the right day, we do create some opportunities.

    With Jack, and also Birkir, there’s been more play up the middle. But it seems to be the case that it’s really the striker’s role that’s been more uncertain. Obviously they’re each very different, and that seems to consistently be the place where we seem like we don’t have a plan, or aren’t able to execute it.

  10. MK – Interesting links those. Thanks.

    Does anybody know where we can find data published on each team’s distance covered by the players during the game? That would be very telling for me because it would either confirm my thoughts that Villa are often outrun during proceedings or show just the opposite and prove it’s all in my head.

    I know each team has their own GPS system for this data but does anyone publish all teams data?

  11. Plug,

    Haven’t the time to poke around, but seems like Opta would have it if they have something as esoteric as how quickly teams move up the pitch…?

  12. Prozone has these “distance covered” stats for more than 100,000 players in all the major leagues. I was looking for anyone who has collated them by team and published the results.

  13. Mark
    Interesting piece the Millwall player interview, & it certainly explains why they’ve been on such a good run, especially as I think they were promoted last year.
    But eventually they will be fully sussed & countered.
    It also shows in dark relief the culture of untogetherness that is still at VP, even if there has been much progress from the even darker days of yore.
    This is a main reason that we have so much problem with consistency on the pitch in my opinion.

  14. Concerning Millwall’s style of all moving forward at once, Hogan may be very useful in slowing that down, with his speed & runs.

  15. IanG,

    Seems to me Villa have struggled most with high-energy pressing teams. Have for a while. We just don’t seem to anticipate it and provide easy outlets. Players are isolated, often receive balls that are difficult to control from another player who’s under pressure, and tend to either pass errantly or get caught in possession.

    This is why I think Grealish helps, and why I also like Bjarnason in there. By carrying the ball, they counteract that pressure—Grealish, especially, since he’s generally very tidy on the ball, does a good job shielding and earning fouls.

  16. Iang- I have been wondering how we will counter them as we have struggled when pressed thats why the route one seems to happen a lot. Millwalls manager has only been a manager for three seasons, lost in play offs 1st won it second looks likely to be in this seasons, doesn’t like losing or non committed players. Question as always is how to hit Hogan.

  17. JC- Agree on Grealish and Birkir helping but yet again it contradicts Bruces instincts I feel of the quick counter. Would the real Aston Villa please stand up 🙂

  18. Its going to be an interesting last few games with Fulham not as fluid by all reports, they have Brentford and Millwall yet and the Bloes away last game who might need the points. I think unless Cardiff implode they will regain 2nd Derby have 6 games left? with some high flyers in there. Hopefully I’ve cursed them all and they all go on losing streaks previously unknown to man.

  19. MK,

    All for a quick counter, but I’ve not understood the long balls we play…One thing to be hitting a hold-up man, another to be making a longer pass on the deck to a player who’s running in a designated channel.

    We lump it to players who are not hold-up men, and don’t often seemed to have a designed pattern for breaking quickly on the deck.

  20. JC
    That’s it in a nutshell, it limits what can be effective.
    I’d like to see codger & hogan as a pair, as well as codger & hogan, even Davis & codger, but it has to link with who’s playing in midfield, otherwise it’s hit or miss.
    When we get different forward players being picked, there never seems to be a coherent strategy that links it all together.
    Any explanations definitely seem to be as if they think they are talking down to children, & haphazard to say the least, such as ” let’s see what *** can do now he has a chance”, he’s been very patient.
    bulls**t I call it.

  21. A mistake, hogan twice, instead of Grabben, must mean some prejudice eh.
    I’m not anti Grabben, just would like some coherence in the signing, training & selection of players.
    Less shooting from the hip [& lip] in constant emergency mode.

  22. IanG- After nearly two seasons it still appears hit and miss, frustrating as the players are there to play a better standard you’d think. I get Millwall and Cardiffs style they play to their strengths and that seems to go for most teams in this league, they are not good enough quality wise to be hap hazard in their strategy. Match effort with a plan can mask many faults, playing as a team is more than being best mates.

  23. The ugly, every game we play under Bruce

    Real v Juve. WHAT a great game, great tactics by juve. 3-0 down first leg, they’ve scored 2 at the min. Would like to see juve win the champions league

  24. Back home at last, after spending the night in Birmingham, celebrating Villa’s win and Jack’s wonder goal, which was every bit as good, if not better than Murphy’s on Saturday!

    Warnock’s aggressive and disruptive tactics were undone in the end by the very target that he had pinpointed to his players, dear young Super Jack!
    There was not a lot of difference between this and the Wolves game, only the score line, where Grabban should have put away his early chance from Snodgrass, and Hourihane (how could he miss) from Grealish’s fantastic pass! Fortunately Sam Johnstone made certain the back door was closed and kept out every effort from Warnock’s animals.

    The standard of refereeing was once again shocking, and more should be made of ripping the shirt off a players back…!!!

    Have to say that Whelan had an outstanding game coming on at a moments notice, and also James Bree, who must have felt quite rusty with no time even to warm -up. Jedinak also did a great job in Terry’s place. a very makeshift side that pulled together, gave 110% effort with 32,500 fans roaring them on, along with our future King, and a former “king” of Villa Park, John Carew.

    Certainly made a difference when Kodjia came on for Adomah, and he is now looking much more the part, and expect him to be in the team on Friday. I am certain that Bruce will need to rest at least 4/5 of the team for Friday, as he will not want to make the same mistakes he did after the Wolves game.

  25. PP- worth watching the highlights as Johnstone and the defence had to keep out a couple of attempts from Wheelan too so you knew it was going to be our night 🙂 I think that there were so many fouls it became the norm.

    Forgot to mention Bruces after match presser where he just had to mention the injuries? he’s had nearly a full squad for a while and lost plenty,maybe thats the answer don’t give him time to think 🙂

    The commentator also mentioned JT’s appearance in the team of the season? certainly he’s had some good games but he’s had some stinkers too, he’s been far from consistent and missed 2 months so I think theres a lot of stock put in a players name.

  26. Recon have now renamed Bodymoor Heath in exchange for a major sponsorship deal for the training ground to put it on the world map……

    Increase in compensation for HS2..????

  27. Sponsorship by the owners appears to be how some clubs get around the FFP rules. You can’t tell me Sheik Rattle n Roll at Man City hasn’t been doing that.

    Leeds are down to the bare bones tomorrow due to injuries. Don’t be fooled Villa. Hecky will still have them attack us as he knows no other way. Our team selection will be important.

    I’d keep Jedi and Bree in defence. If SB wants Samba as cover on the bench, then I wouldn’t add Taylor. Might be worth giving Adomah and Snoddy a rest and bench them. Lansbury in, the viking in, Codger for Adomah. O’Hare on the bench along with Grabban. Start with Hogan and Codger and bring Grabban on for Hogan after half time along with Adomah and Snoddy or O’Hare.

    A win and we are in the play offs. COYVB.

  28. which villa team is going to turn up tonight,bottlers battlers or bewildered ,
    we the fans havent a clue ,bruce doesnt have a clue either
    what side will we start with as before we the fans wont have a clue and if tuesday is nything to go on bruce doesnt ,bree not even on bench yet plays fair portion of the game

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