Something For The Weekend (588)
A draw at Birmingham City and an impressive win at Preston brought satisfaction all round for the faithful, in a typical Championship fixture frenzy, where recovery time is reduced to a minimum and clubs with the fewer resources are stretched the most. The conclusion seemed to be that derby games are just not worth the hype and that Wednesday is a better night to play in the week than the sponsors' annoying preference for Tuesday.
The game at St Andrews was not great but it is always difficult to judge because the desire that your own team should demonstrate its superiority to the neighbours, which is rarely met, distorts the view to such an extent that the games seem far worse than the numerous other drab slogs which decorate a typical season. With City's new manager Steve Cotterill, trying to steady the ship and make Blues hard to beat, their defensive game-plan was totally predictable. My only surprise was that Bruce kept Onomah in the team when so much clog was predicted. As it turned out, it looked like a lesson for the lad in the realities, as the referee left us all wondering whatever happened to the obstruction rule.
The answer was to be found by Clicking Here.
Villa were better and came the nearest to scoring, when Davis literally missed by a couple of inches, as his shot flew off the underside of the bar instead of into the net. John Terry's deft header came very close too. Small Heath's chances were mostly created by Villa and I have to admit a cold sweat broke out when Johnson cannoned his clearance off Vassell and it rebounded past Villa's post. Then just to add a little more hair-raising interest to the game, Hourihane contrived to pass the ball to Jota, who thankfully, had a rush of blood to the head and blasted over. Bruce rang the changes by bringing on Davis and Jedinak and Villa finished the game as well as they had started it. It was just a pity about the middle bit. A decent point earned and potential embarrassments avoided. So no complaints from this Villan at least.
Villa's visit to Preston looked like a bigger challenge but news that they were without the defenders which had given the Lilywhites the best defence in the Championship only a few weeks ago, certainly made the game look winnable. But the absence of Jonathan Kodjia looked like it might be a deciding factor. As it turned out Villa looked like the real deal in the opening half-hour - quick, slick and dangerous. When Hutton went on a rampaging run from a deep position, and left his Preston marker for dead, all the jokes about the him being the Scottish Cafu, didn't seem quite so far-fetched. The move continued with Adomah and his cross created a chance for Keinan Davis, whose shot was kept out with a reflex-save. Villa then won a corner on the right and James Chester's bullet-header made it 1-0 to Villa. Preston's Johnson put in a dangerous free-kick to Villa's far-post and it was cleared by Elmohamady. A precision corner from Preston went to Ben Pearson on the edge of Villa's box, who chipped in a delightful ball to the far-post and great anticipation by John Terry allowed him to clear the danger from under Villa's bar. The assistant had missed the off-side but luckily when a Preston player dived for a penalty the referee spotted that he was on the way down before any contact was made. A header from Davis was kept out with a scrambling save from goalkeeper Maxwell. Onomah battled his way through some tough Preston challenges and sent a shot over the bar. Ben Pearson made a sloppy pass which was intercepted by Onomah, who broke through, got his head up, and picked out Robert Snodgrass, who had run into the space created by the run of Davis, to score Villa's second goal on 33 minutes.
The second half proceeded a little more tightly and with two contrasting refereeing decisions. Hourihane got a blow to the head with a flailing arm and Villa got a free-kick, then when a Preston player got something less of a blow in a challenge with Villa's Davis and made a big thing of it, supported by his team-mates, Davis got booked. The injustice obviously upset Davis and the Preston defenders, having been given licence, niggled at him in attempt to get a reaction and a dismissal. Bruce took him off and sent on Hogan, who combined with Hourihane to create a perfect chance for Adomah who put it over the bar. It was a fine performance by Villa and the referee got the big decision right. The commentary was entirely biased against Villa though. With claims that Villa's opener hadn't crossed the line, when it clearly had, that the Preston dive was a 'stonewall' penalty, and that Davis was lucky not to get sent off when the contact was minimal. Davis had a lesson on how, when you bully players into looking weak and foolish, it brings out the their inner Robbie Savage. Ever was it so.
But in the meantime all that has to be left behind as Villa must take on Sheffield Wednesday this Saturday. Wednesday are not doing great and find themselves 18th in the form-table, while Villa are top (last eight games). The Owls according to the stats, are mediocre in both attack and defence, and slightly better in defence than in attack. They are fourteenth in the table, which is where Villa seemed to spend most of last season. So good enough to get a surprise result, I would have thought, but rather better at home than away. They have had three losses away from home in their last six games. They beat Leeds 3-0 and Millwall 2-1 at home. Villa have several injury doubts in Onomah, Kodjia and Snodgrass, and it looks like Bruce will not be able to field the team which has done so well since the International break. Grealish has two games under his belt and of course Jedinak is back. So it definitely can't be considered a shoo-in for Villa but we should have enough to win the game. Another win and I'll probably need sedating.
Keep the faith!