Something For The Weekend (606)
A routine win with sad reminders..
With the overhyped 'Beast from the East' arriving in Birmingham rather later than had been insistently predicted, last Friday evening, Villa's home game with Queens Park Rangers was postponed, much to the disappointment of an excited and expectant Villa faithful. Although the absence of the usual pre-match press conference on Friday offered a few clues that the game would be left waiting for another day, the late announcement of the fact, left those travelling from the outer reaches of the Villa diaspora both frustrated and out of pocket. It was much worse for the QPR fans. This was not helped much by the fact that even after Villa had bowed to the inevitable, it took the BBC an hour or so to put the information on their website. Having been four days too early with predicting the 'arctic' conditions, the BBC proved to be tardy when it actually mattered on the day. Villa could have done a lot better too.
Despite the disappointment it was impossible to make the case that the postponement had been a bad thing, and what with so many key Villa players still recovering from injury, the prospect of three games in eight days was hardly a happy one. So with the rapid thaw having done the business, Villa set off to play the Mackem on Tuesday night feeling rather less leg-weary than they might have been, and aware that Sunderland are a club in trouble. As hoped, it turned out to be a routine win for Villa and Sunderland turned out to be a sadder sight than it had been reasonable to imagine. They were actually even worse than Villa at their lowest point, which is some achievement. Just like Villa not so long ago, Sunderland look like the proverbial house divided against itself. Just about every player looks depressed to the point where their motor-skills are affected. It was a reminder of how fragile the spirit of a club can be and there for the sake of Xia, was the take-home message for villans with short memories.
The game started in the clinging, damp, cold of the Stadium of Blight, with the home team packing their own half and relying on the rangy figure of Ashley Fletcher to launch breakaway attacks. Villa dominated the opening exchanges and had enjoyed nearly 60% of possession by the time Grabban and Hourihane combined to put in Hogan for what looked like a good chance in the early minutes. He missed but would have had to be either Benny or Platty to score that kind of volley. Hogan got another chance when Snodgrass put a ball on his head but it glanced just over and landed on the roof of the net. Snodgrass was once again the creator as he found Adomah in the area but the back-heel which was supposed to put Hogan in was intercepted by defender Donald Love, who cleared up field to Fletcher, who outpaced Chester, as he charged into the Villa penalty area, but fortunately for Villa he got a really ugly touch, and it bounced off his knee for a Villa goal-kick. He hung his head in sheer frustration and misery. Sunderland were the architects of Villa's opening goal as some increasingly nervous passing between Kone and his midfielders, who insisted he should have it back, went awry, and the Frenchman eventually contrived to pass it straight to John Terry, who slipped it to Adomah on Villa's left, who was given plenty of space to put in an arcing cross into the Sunderland area, which eluded Hogan's head but bounced nicely for the head of the lurking Grabban. The goal left Sunderland with something to aim for and they became considerably more lively as they moved forward as a team. They certainly looked better but lacked the patience to make themselves a decent chance and opted to shoot from distance, after they had built a little pressure. A Villa move down the right ended with a throw-in for Elmo and with Sunderland looking a bit dazed and confused, Villa won a corner as Grabban shielded the ball with his back to goal, on Villa's right flank, as he toyed with his old colleagues and progressed towards the byline. Snodgrass took the corner and James Chester was left free to head home Villa's second, right on half-time.
Sunderland started the second-half a bit livelier but then when they won a free-kick some way into Villa's half, no Sunderland player showed for the taker, and Maja, who had won the free-kick, was forced to play it backwards. Sunderland enjoyed some less than fluid passing but progressed through Villa's midfield, only to be halted by a foul by Snodgrass. Brian Oviedo sent in a bending free-kick, which was headed on and Sunderland forced Johnstone into a reflex save to push it over the bar. Some scruffy play led to Villa's third goal. Goalkeeper Johnstone launched a long clearance down Villa's left, which ended with Love skying the ball over his head in the opposite direction he intended and it was eventually scramble for a Villa throw-in, taken by Taylor. Grabban and Hourihane combined in a crisp high tempo exchange with Hogan and defender Jones. Hourihane's firm ball across the face of Sunderland's goal was diverted into his own net by Oviedo. With the game looking won Bruce brought on Grealish, who added to Villa's quality. Grabban and Hourihane set up Grealish for a jinking run into the Sunderland area and goalkeeper Steele was forced to push his shot wide. Grabban who had been outstanding all night gave the ball away and substitute Osoro showed his pace as he broke away and forced Johnstone into saving with his legs. Our Jack had run back and was in position to tidy things up. He then made a fantastic pacey run through midfield and set up Snodgrass for what should have been Villa's fourth but the Snodmeister unselfishly crossed to Adomah at the far-post and the ball was put behind by Kone. Then Jack did it again as Sunderland's scrappy move broke down on the edge of Villa's box and he left Sunderland treading water, as he set up Adomah, who had moved to the right, but his shot was saved well by goalkeeper Steele. Adomah's subsequent limp was more worrying than his near miss. Villa didn't need to be at their best to win the game but they looked highly competent. It was a thoroughly professional performance for Villa and it looks like Grabban is quite a player, judging by this outing at least. Sunderland look like they need a hypnotist, a psychologist and shaman to change their mindset. It is time for them to feel the fear but do it anyway.
As Villa prepare to play the mighty Wolves this Saturday, I would not describe my feelings of nervous anticipation as fear but the feeling of excitement, hope and doubt, definitely reminds me of the pre-match nerves of Villa cup semi-finals past. Wolves are ten points better off than Villa in the Championship and even though Villa's recovery has been fantastic, Wolves have been the most consistent over the season. Villa are actually higher in the present form table than Wolves but when it comes to scoring goals and keeping them out, Wolves are the best in the league, with Villa a little way behind, in third place. Villa recently lost to Fulham and so did Wolves. Wolves have some fine players and so have Villa. Villa look like a far more cohesive unit than they did back in October. The teams are equally matched and Villa have home advantage. Like runaway leaders Newcastle last season I think it will be a close game. Wolves can feel the hot breath of Cardiff on their necks and surely won't be gambling too much against Villa. A goal either way will win it. Villa beat the bottom team but can they beat the top?
Keep the faith!