Something For The Weekend (595)
Early Christmas gift leads to Villa disappointment..
My reasonable expectations of a draw for Villa on their visit to Pride Park were thrown into doubt pretty early on Saturday afternoon, as the team-sheet revealed that Steve Bruce had rang the changes and the absence of some key players looked likely to be crucial. I expected Jedinak to be an adequate replacement for the injured Samba but I thought the loss of Hutton would deprive Villa of a bit of fire in the belly, and it was impossible to see how Villa's front-line was going to function properly without Keinan Davis. As it turned out Villa weren't exactly overwhelmed by Derby and the result was more or less decided by a glaring boob of a pass-back from Glenn Whelan, which led to a tap-in for Villa OB Andi Weimann.
Villa were under pressure early on when some scruffy football from both teams and a poor touch from Onomah put Nugent in but Super Sam Johnstone was quickly off his line to block. More scruffy defending from Villa failed to clear the subsequent corner and Derby's Nugent acrobatically put the ball high over Johnstone's bar. Nugent was put in again after Derby enjoyed some neat play in the middle-third and Huddleston fed Craig Forsyth, who curled in a fine cross from a deep position out wide and Nugent's header forced a save from Johnstone. Villa replied with a shot from Grealish which was deflected over the bar. Jedinak put a ball over the top, which Adomah collected but was adjudged to be offside. Derby managed a few weak attempts as they got bogged down in Villa's solid wall on the edge of the box. But then Whelan had his head-in-hands moment, when Vydra, having seen him make the pass-back to Johnstone from the right-half position already, anticipated that he might do it again and was in the perfect position to accept the through-ball. Vydra's accurate ball bypassed Villa's defence and Andi Weimann got his tap-in. Robert Snodgrass cleverly tricked his way through Derby's midfield, which ended with a shot from Hourihane but it lacked the power or precision to trouble Scott Carson in the Derby goal.
Villa got a golden chance in the second-half to level the score when a poor kick from Carson went straight to Taylor's head. He found Grealish, and Grealish found Adomah, who put in the cross, which was headed on by Onomah, and Snodgrass had most of the goal to aim at but his shot lacked sufficient meat. Derby sat back and Villa enjoyed plenty of the play, with Grealish and Adomah combining well down the left. Another cross found Snoddy's head but he failed to get a good contact. With plenty of space behind Villa, Derby launched a counter-attack which Johnston was forced to kick into touch. Bruce brought on Hogan for Whelan just past the hour but as Villa were mostly relying on high crosses from the left, Villa didn't look like scoring. Derby were looking the most likely and it took a good save from Johnstone to keep out a powerful header from Derby's Johnson. Derby were trying to run the clock down when Villa switched off and a sloppy clearance from Taylor found Keogh who sprinted forward to put in substitute Russell, who neatly slipped it under the diving Johnstone to make it two-nil.
Villa were some way short of their best but it has to be said that two-nil flattered Derby. Villa dominated possession but had only two shots on target compared with Derby's eight. Johnstone was definitely the busier of the two goalkeepers. Villa's problems seemed to be mostly in the final third, where the absence of Davis meant that there were very few of the quick dynamic interchanges in midfield between Snodgrass, Onomah and Davis, which usually work the opposition so well. In attacking situations there was no one who instinctively took up positions in the box and without Keinan's physical presence Derby always had men to spare. The absence of John Terry and Samba meant Villa had less of a threat from set-pieces. Villa have done remarkably well in the absence of some key men but the latest forced absences seem to have knocked them out their stride.
Villa definitely need John Terry to be available and soon. A Terry return would allow Jedinak to be available to give Whelan the occasional rest, and Bruce needs a forward who can fill the crucial role that Keinan Davis does so well. Other Villans will be better able to think of a like for like than myself. I can't see how Villa are possibly capable of playing another way to facilitate the effectiveness of forwards they already have. From what I have seen of the Championship thus far, it seems that for most teams and certainly Villa, the clubs' best players are very often loanees from the Premier League. In fact, with Villa sailing so close to the limits of the FFP rules, it seems likely that Villa are a bit short of leeway when it comes to signings and so arranging a loanee or two may be Bruce's only option. But like the rest of us after Christmas, the Villa gaffer will need to see the loan arranger pronto or else the fans will call him Tonto.
In the meantime Villa must take on Sheffield United this Saturday evening and then face an away trip to Brentford on Boxing Day, which is more than enough to test the resilience of Villa sinews and powers of recovery. If Villa have suffered a hiccup lately then Sheffield United have suffered a minor tremor, after losing their last three games, which made it four defeats in six games. Anything less than a win for Villa will see them drop out of the top-four and will offer portents and painful reminders of last January's poor run. Both clubs have dropped down the form table recently. Villa are now down to sixth and the Blades
are down at eighteenth just above Burton. Villa are average when it comes to scoring goals and United are average when it comes to letting them in, while being below average when it comes to scoring them. So Villa should nick this one as long as Bruce has his key men available. With Villa offering a Kids For A Quid deal, let's hope there's enough children in attendance to explain to the adults that it is only a game. Whatever the result I wish my fellow Villans a very Zappa Christmas.
Keep the faith!