Instant Recap: Birmingham City 0 – 0 Aston Villa
What’s more to say about the first engagement of the Second City Derby?
After being teased this week that some of the infirm Villans would be making their return to the pitch in St Andrews, it was with a touch of discouragement that when the lineups were announced, only Mile Jedinak returned to the match day lineup and that to replace oncoming starlet and native son Callum O’Hare.
Jack Grealish would have to make his debut another day while Villa returned to the XI that gave them one of their more complete victories against Fulham a week ago.
The First Half
The energy of the Blues fans was great, congrats to them. As a viewer rather than a participant in the crowd, their engagement made an important match even more exciting.
Even with the excitement of the crowd, Villa came out composed and began with a good run of possession instead of playing back and trying to deal with an excited Blues squad. Hats off to Bruce getting this squad prepared.
The Blues had a good opportunity to break the Villa attack and counter after Glenn Whelan had a spell of the vapors, I guess, and had to check his life-alert bracelet.
It took fifteen minutes to have our first scrum where Che Adams got rough with Ahmed Elmohamady along Villas defensive right. Adams pushed Elmo to the turf and Robert Snodgrass came to the Egyptians defense. A gathering began with Captain John Terry’s fiery entrance notable. Referee Andrew Madley had trouble adjudicating, however, and just gave cards to both Snodgrass and Adams.
After that the match broke down with neither team seemingly able to find their feet. Jota often grabbed possession in the attacking end with intent and vigor, yet Villa’s defense often met him as he attempted to center up in front of net.
In the 27th minute the Blues had their first opportunity in attack with a few clear strikes at net, but James Chester had a key block and the ball was cleared for the Villa counter.
Keeper Sam Johnstone showed his agility taking a ball far out of net under duress from a Birmingham City forward early in the match and in the 30th minute made a good save on a Jota blast and another from an acute angle three minutes later. The shots weren’t expertly placed, but his play continues to be remarkable, yet he almost saw himself on the wrong side of legend after putting a kick directly into an onrushing Blues player that was almost deflected straight back into the net.
Whelan’s play picked up after his tumble and he released Jon Kodjia on a few advance balls, though no opportunities were found.
Before the half Birmingham really began to put pressure on Villa, Chiekh Ndoye had a header that if it weren’t placed directly at Johnstone, would have put the Blues up and sent the buildilng skyward.
Due to injury Blues forward Isaac Vassell was forced off the pitch in stoppage time before half a few minutes after taking the brunt of an Alan Hutton tackle to his right knee. He was replaced by Sam Gallagher in a Hutton had a decent first half with a few good clearances and it’s been a pleasant surprise that he’s played a solid understudy to Neil Taylor.
The first half drew to a close with Birmingham City in the attacking end to the groans of Blues fans and some personal satisfaction on my end.
Villa started well, but fell back, allowed the Blues to generate opportunities from possession rather than countering and generally ceded the match to Birmingham City. Villa needed new tactics to open up the pitch in the attacking end.
The Second Half
The second half saw Villa’s midfield begin their struggles anew. Conor Hourihane put a stamp on a ball and sent it straight to Jota who went on a tear to goal. His shot went just high, but it was the second time this match that an opportunity was purely given away by the Villa midfield after Whelan put himself on roller skates and fell over while on top of the ball. In addition to Josh Onomah having a difficult time acclimating himself to the derby, this has been fifty of the most disappointing minutes that Villa have played in a while.
In the 52nd minute to add to Villas midfield woes, Whelan was made to look even more like a bareknuckle brute by winding up on the business end of a Chiekh Ndoye arm-flail for which Ndoye earned a yellow. Give him some fingerless gloves and other old-timey couture and he’s got his Halloween costume all done.
Birmingham City controlled the match again through the first portion of the second half with Sam Gallagher just putting a deflection over net. The match seemed ready to open at any minute.
Steve Bruce made his first switch of the day when he brought off Robert Snodgrass in a curious move bringing on Mile Jedinak. Jedi was a welcome change, but Snodgrass actually seemed to be playing with some passion and capability so the why of Bruce choosing to bring him off seemed to be the yellow he was given earlier in the match.
Villa had their first real attempts on net starting around the last third of the match. An Adomah cross for a Kodjia header was expertly saved by leaping Blues keeper Tomasz Kuszczak and shortly later both Terry and James Chester just missed a few deflections at the far post by inches that would have put Villa up. Being that the best Villa opportunities came after bringing Snodgrass off, maybe I’m just dumb.
In the 74th minute another head-scratcher as Keinan Davis was brought on for Conor Hourihane. The sum of both moves put Villa into a 4-3-3 with Davis up top as the central forward with Kodjia to his left and Albert Adomah to his right.
And again, the subs looked to be a good move as Villa again upped their percentages with a solid attacking possession. Alan Hutton and Glenn Whelan (I’m completely clueless here) partnered for a solid give-and-go along the left side which put Hutton free against Kuszczak whose initial save caromed back to Keinan Davis who put a blast directly on the crossbar. Birmingham City were again lucky to not be a goal down.
Shortly after that Kodjia had an attack pushed up into the 18 yard box, after shaking himself out of his own boots, he put a blast that again skimmed off the top bar and then had to be walked off the pitch by the medical staff. He was quickly replaced by Scott Hogan and our fingers are crossed that it’s not too severe.
Through stoppage time Villa continued to cede territory and throw-ins to Birmingham City before a long running counter put Adomah into the box. A lay off of the ball to Davis and subsequent foul gave Villa a free kick from just outside the 18 yard box which went slightly over the net before the final three blasts ended the match.
It was a day of missed opportunities for Villa. The missed goals led to Villa losing two spots in the table and dropping to sixth place, though they now boast a streak of 11 matches undefeated in this derby.
This, however, isn’t as significant for Villa as it is for Birmingham City. As we’ve discussed, Villa’s real competition is winning promotion and getting back to the Premier League. A draw in a derby, though it can be noted that these matches can be crapshoots, shouldn’t be encouraging.
The November slate of matches still somehow fell positively with the upcoming Wednesday engagement at Preston being the most difficult and that’s where Villa turn their attention to now. Will we finally see the return of Jack Grealish? Will Jon Kodjia be fit to participate? And how will those questions reflect on the formations and tactical decisions Steve Bruce has on his plate. Follow along with us and we’ll do it all together. We’ll have another crack at showing our place in the city in February and hopefully by then we’ll be a few spots up in the table.