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Villa 2 Preston North End 2: Villa unable to protect lead from dominant first half

Saturday afternoon’s contest against Preston North End should have provided Steve Bruce and his men with great optimism going forward. What looked for long periods of time like a resounding win slipped away as Preston scored twice in the second half to escape with a draw.

Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Villa’s run of form under Steve Bruce has taken a hit over the past few weeks - defeats away to Cardiff City, Tottenham, and Wolves wiped away the good feeling that Villa had been slowly building up over the prior weeks. Saturday’s match looked, for long periods of time, like it would be the type of resounding victory Villa desperately needed. But all was not to be.

Villa’s first half performance was comprehensively dominant. The attacking corps of Albert Adomah, Gabby Agbonlahor, and Andre Green were menacing going forward. Andre Green should have put Villa ahead within 15 minutes, but his header was unable to hit the target. Villa were ahead soon thereafter, however, when Gabby Agbonlahor collided with Preston’s goalkeeper and sent the ball trickling towards the goal, where Albert Adomah smashed it over the line. Villa maintained heavy pressure on the Preston defense, which was rewarded when Adomah converted from the penalty spot after being tackled in the box. A superb first half effort from Villa ended in only a two-goal cushion going into the break.

As the second half got underway, Villa remained on top but failed to fashion many clear efforts on goal. From nothing, however, Preston were back in it when Jordan Hugill beat Sam Johnstone in the 64th minute. All of a sudden, a comfortable afternoon at Villa Park turned into a hesitant one. Preston would have been level a few minutes later if not for James Chester’s brave header in front of goal, but they were level soon enough, when Jordan Hugill scored once more to send a shock through Villa Park.

Villa’s first half was playoff-quality, but an inability to maintain a high level of performance for 90 minutes will likely continue to be a crippling problem for Villa. The remaining points available for this season are evaporating quickly. Making the playoffs this year is becoming a highly unlikely proposition.