Something For The Weekend (594)
Super Sam saves the day....
The Villa faithful had to settle for the consolation of earning a point after Saturday's home encounter with Millwall, and but for wayward finishing from the visitors and some substantial heroics from goalkeeper Johnson, the denizens of the Den would have won the game. The visitors turned out not to be quite as ferocious as expected but played smart, pragmatic, football which only lacked a finish. Villa definitely were a long way short of their recent best and certainly had to graft for their point. Villa dominated the possession but only had one shot on target compared with Millwall's eight, which more or less tells the whole story. Millwall crowded the midfield and the ball spent rather a lot of time in the air. It got increasingly difficult for Villa as the game went on.
Early on, Villa produced some decent link-up play between Davis and Onomah which created three chances but Davis and Adomah failed to hit the target. Villa then managed to give the ball away on the edge of the Millwall box, from a Lansbury corner, and the visitors charged forward, with Robert Snodgrass trailing in their wake, but some over-elaboration by the Millwall forwards, meant Villa had time to recover and the shot ended in the safe hands of Sam Johnson. Villa gave it away again when they found themselves outnumbered 3 to 6 near Millwall's corner-flag and two big hoofs sent Lee Gregory through, whose pass into the Villa box was tapped into the Villa net, but Wallace was a mile offside.
Millwall made the first chance of the second-half but O'Brian blasted over. They were successfully smothering Villa's play and Villa's attempts to take the aerial option were being mopped up by the two centre-backs, Hutchinson and Cooper. Villa's Taylor, confronted by a massed wall of Millwall shirts tried an audacious chip, which was tipped over by goalkeeper Martin but for some reason the referee and his merry men didn't see the contact, much to Villa's increasing frustration. Grizzly Morison created a scruffy move down Villa's left but the final feeble shot ended in the arms of Johnson. The Villa defence was looking increasingly ragged as Morison blasted a pigeon-killer over the bar. Villa were looking stretched and static as Millwall created another chance, but luckily for Villa the resulting shot was easily saved.
Villa looked rather more cultured once Grealish had come on for Snodgrass on the hour and Millwall looked wary when he combined with Onomah down the left, which ended with a very nice curving and dipping shot from our Jack, and it required a good save from Martin to push it to safety. Another Villa move and shot broke down and Millwall launched a superb counter-attack with Lee Gregory running free on the Villa goal. Luckily for the hosts he put it well over the Villa bar to gasps of dismay and relief. Samba limped off and Tommy Elphick got his first taste for a very long time. Another air-raid from Millwall created another chance for Gregory but his header was straight at Johnson. A combination between Cooper and Morison create another yet chance for Gregory and Johnson produced a strong-wristed reflex-save which saved Villa's blushes and secured the consoling point.
Millwall should have won the game and they look like one of many teams who are set up well, and are only that elusive twenty-goal-a-season striker away from making a challenge. Their triangle of three big lads, in Cooper and Hutchinson at the back and Morison in midfield, provide an excellent launch-pad for their aerial style, and as they proved against Villa, they are able to force the opposition to play the same way, even when they would much prefer not to. Villa did it less well, as the quality of ball up to Davis got worse as the game went on. Millwall's hefty central pair easily mopped up the overhit balls and they came straight back. If Villa had scored one of their early chances, it would have been a different game, and with the onus on Villa to attack it was ideal for Millwall.
Having looked less than impressive against mid-table Millwall, Villa definitely need to up their game against their top-six rivals Derby County this Saturday. After Samba limped off last week, it is possible that Villa will need to patch up the defence with either Elphick or the just back in training Jedinak. It should be a different game to Millwall and hopefully the ball will spend a little more time on the deck than in the air. With Lansbury having a decent game last time out and Hourihane having been rested, it is going to be quite a guessing game trying to predict the team. Derby are a point better off than Villa and are higher up the form table, after four wins in the last six games compared with Villa's three. Derby are better in attack than Villa but weaker in defence, so all the indicators are that there is nothing between the two teams. Both teams need a win to consolidate their challenge. Derby have home advantage which gives them the edge and a draw would be a reasonable expectation for Bruce's boys. A win would be a massive fillip to sustain Villa through the daunting demands of the Christmas fixture madness.
Keep the faith!