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MattVillan reacts to Aston Villa 1-1 Bristol Rovers

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MattVillan gives a brief assessment of the players' performance from Wednesday's friendly

Rovers goalscorer, Matty Taylor
Rovers goalscorer, Matty Taylor
Pete Norton/Getty Images

It was an unexpectedly cool West Country evening Wednesday night, as Aston Villa tripped themselves up en route to unexpectedly drawing 1-1 away to Bristol Rovers. The match wasn't televised, but our MattVillan was at the ground and gave us his report...

For the first 45 minutes, Villa manager Roberto Di Matteo's went with Pierluigi Gollini in goal, with Alan Hutton on the right, Jores Okore pairing Nathan Baker in central defence, and Bennett manning the left flank. Villa were untroubled in the final third for much of the first half, with Gollini coming out to smother a half chance and the back line having to clear the odd decent cross. Bennett and Hutton, as a result, managed to spend much of their time on the pitch well up in the attacking areas.

Hutton was his usual self, full of full-blooded, not especially good defending and pretty rubbish crosses (even the official account said so!);

whereas Bennett excelled. Long gone are the days of meek Joe being batted about the place, he looked strong and above all confident in his ability. Baker and Okore weren’t really tested, clearing comfortably but otherwise having a relatively relaxed evening.

Ashley Westwood and Aaron Tshibola lined up in midfield, with the pair of them quietly going about their business. As usual, Westwood’s distribution was typically consistent and he harried and badgered the Rovers players whenever they came too close. Tish looked comfortable and exhibited his apparently excellent passing range on a few occasions. Also of note was one occasion where he efficiently broke down a Rovers’ attack with a well-timed tactical foul- something that could come in handy in the months to come.

In the final third, André Green started on the right, with Rushian Hepburn-Murphy played alone up top as a number nine and Jack Grealish and Jordan Ayew swapped between the left wing and in the hole. Green had a quiet night, never quite getting the opportunity or perhaps the confidence to carve out anything in the first half, and after a great little move where he flicked it over his man which culminated into a poor cross in the second half, he faded somewhat as he spent the game tracking back to cover the right (more on that later).

Grealish had an excellent game, full of flicks and tricks, bamboozling the Rovers’ defence. Most of Villa’s attacking play in both halves went through him, and generally, he was very good. On the odd occasion it seemed he missed opportunities to set up a team-mate, but these were generally half-chances -- blink and you’ll miss them.

Ayew was Villa’s goalscorer for the evening, and it was well taken, as he ghosted past a handful of the Pirates’ defenders before slotting past the keeper. Prior to the goal however, the Ghanaian looked somewhat apathetic. After, he seemed more focused and caused problems for Bristol defence, with a chance following good link-up play with Grealish just smothered by the keeper early in the second half.

Hepburn-Murphy’s night was relatively quiet, although the 17-year-old showed his promise, on one instance with a driving run to win a corner near half time. Otherwise, he had a few good touches and gathered the ball well at times.

Half-time saw Mark Bunn and Joleon Lescott replace Gollini and Baker at goalkeeper and centre half respectively. It would be harsh to blame Bunn for the goal (though he was beaten at his near post), but he had a far more busy night than his Italian counterpart, with a much stronger Rovers side coming out for the second period, including 28-goal-scoring-last-season striker Matty Taylor. Bunn was forced to save well from a number of chances as the reshaped defence struggled somewhat.

Lescott, one of the chief architects of Villa’s downfall last season, had to endure a good deal of banter from the Villa fans whom he was training in front of in the first half, and it must be said, some of it was beyond the pale. It was however rightfully shouted down by the majority of the rest of the fans.

Here's video of the goal if you haven't seen it:

On the 60th minute, Hutton, Bennett, Tshibola, Ayew and Hepburn-Murphy made way for Tommy Elphick, Aly Cissokho, Gary Gardner, Scott Sinclair and Rudy Gestede.

Okore’s move to right back precipitated a downturn of form for him, as he struggled to create anything going forward and often struggled for pace going back. Elphick was principally at fault for the Rovers goal, as he was caught out of position and despite manfully legging it back to attempt a challenge on Taylor he missed his tackle, leaving the sharp-shooting Gashead a relatively simple chance for a man of his class. Cissokho did as Cissokho always does, defending somewhat competently and crossing abysmally.

Gardner looked comfortable despite not quite getting out of second gear, and found himself with two good chances from set pieces very late one. One, a powerful free kick on the right which didn’t make it past the wall; and the other from a neat cutback from by Grealish which he fired just over. Idrissa Gana Gueye looked comfortable, breaking up play well as he usually does although he was caught in possession once or twice.

Sinclair showed good pace, but couldn’t manage a cross and found himself with two good chances. One, where Gestede sent him for a one-on-one where he couldn’t even hit the target with very little pressure and a far harder chance where he turned his man and shot just wide later on.

Gestede was poor. He had a diamond chance from a cross which he put wide, and shot past the post a few times too. An Arsenal fan, watching the game, was left questioning why a man with such poor coordination and footballing ability is paid to play the game professionally.

On the whole, Villa looked short a striker and a winger at least, with the former looking more and more vital by the day. Overall, we created enough chances to win handsomely, but without someone to put them away we could well be haunted by the same issues as last season.

Did you see any of the performance? What do you think of Matt's assessment? Are you worried about our players still not knowing how to defend?! Let us know in the comments!

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