Yesterday, Aston Villa welcomed Cardiff City back to Villa Park for the first time since 2013, and once again, Villa were able to send the visitors back to Wales empty handed.
This was the second game that I've attended at Villa Park this season, and compared to Fulham last month, Cardiff probably brought twice as many fans. They also let off a blue flare/smoke bomb early in the game though, so they lose a little goodwill on that account. Overall, it was a pretty lively atmosphere, helped of course, by a good performance on the pitch from the Villa.
After a slow start, Villa controlled the play for most of the first half, passing the ball around nicely. And despite only having a two man midfield, Villa were not overrun in the middle, which was a pleasant surprise. Aside from his error in the build up to the Cardiff goal, Ashley Westwood was solid, whilst Mile Jedinak was tremendous once again. He probably flew under the radar somewhat compared to the flair players in the Villa side, but seriously, Jedinak was a huge presence against a physical Cardiff side.
Albert Adomah was lively, scoring one, and assisting Jonathan Kodjia for the Ivorian's 6th in seven games. Honestly though, Kodjia should've scored two, blazing a left footed effort high into the Holte End late on. Aside from that though, Kodjia was impressive once again, as he continues to justify his big transfer fee. Elsewhere, James Chester and Jordan Amavi too were excellent.
The star man for me though, had to be Jack Grealish. Early on, he was clattered from behind by Aron Gunnarsson as he was shepherding the ball out of play, and from this moment, you could tell that Cardiff were going to struggle to deal with the tricky playmaker. In total, Grealish was fouled ELEVEN times, including two by fullback Lee Peltier, who received two yellow cards and a red for his efforts. In addition, Grealish earned Villa a penalty, having been clattered by Sean Morrison when through on goal late on (as an aside, the ball through to him by Kodjia was gorgeous). Though he didn't score, Grealish was a nuisance throughout, and put in one of his most impressive displays in the Aston Villa shirt.
There were a couple of things that could do with improving from Villa after the game though. Nathan Baker going off injured at half time was a blow, even more so because Tommy Elphick had to come on. The club captain was out of position on several occasions, and the defence looked weaker with him in it. Hopefully, Baker's groin injury is but a minor one.
Once again, and still contentiously, Gabby Agbonlahor featured in the final 20 minutes. And honestly, he wasn't effective. Sure, he ran about a lot, missed a chance that he should've scored, and picked up a yellow card for dissent. Not great. Especially considering that fellow striker Rudy Gestede came off the bench and absolutely bossed it. It proves just how effective that Gestede is as an impact sub. Cardiff's Morrison and Bamba had been mostly solid all game, but having already put in a sizeable shift, they couldn't deal with Gestede, who won practically every aerial duel in the last ten minutes. A good performance from the Benin international.
A good win against a tough team, and now Villa will be hoping to carry their form into another big game next weekend, away at Leeds United.