“The best way to meet exceptions is to lower them” — Me, but probably Steve Bruce too.
Steve Bruce made a number of changes to the starting lineup and especially the bench after a disappointing Boxing Day performance, Whelan & Davis suffering from illness, and with an eye to another match coming on New Year’s Day. In pre-match comments the manager could have done the “next man up” language, or “busy period,” or “give the kids a chance.”
The gaffer lowered expectations even before the first kick telling BBC WM, “We are down to the barebones. Can we cope without our best players? I’ll be able to tell you in a couple of hours.”
Well..... they coped. It wasn’t pretty but it was a win.
The first half started with a number of long throws from the Pulis-lead Middlesbrough. Both defenses dominated the opening ten minutes with no chances at goal. It was great to see Mile Jedinak in front of the Villa back line stopping attacks and keeping the pressure off. Sometimes it can be forgotten with the Austrian’s at CB — that he is a really good defensive midfielder.
Middlesbrough’s Leadbitter picked up an early yellow card for clattering into Onomah. The Spurs man stayed down for awhile but ended up returning after a short stretch out. The ensuing free kick was taken by Hourihane but to no avail with the wall doing it’s job to take the pace off it.
The hosts took control of the match around the 20 minute mark. And it was Jedinak with another vital defensive play as Downing just moved right around Adomah to create an opportunity for the hosts that didn’t come from a long throw! Adomah was a bright spot for Villa recording his the team’s first shot on target in the 26th minute.
Onomah picks up Villa's second yellow card on the half an hour mark as the physical play continued. The Spurs man was subbed off a few minutes later — struggling from his earlier collision/concussion. Jack Grealish came on and slotted right into the attacking role.
Elmohamady and Snodgrass combined for a few neat attacks down Villa’s right near the end of the first half. Nothing really came of it — but it was nice to see those two working together well moving forward.
The first half wrapped up with Hutton struggling with a leg injury and Elphick picking up Villa’s third yellow card.
The second half started with about eight passes in our own area and a lumped ball up to Hogan (who shouldn’t be expected to control and hold the ball up because that is not his game).
Ten minutes into the half the first real chance for Villa when Jack Grealish from just outside the area hit a shot directed at the bottom corner but it was pushed out for a corner — that Villa could not capitalize. One tactical note on Jack in the second half — he was dropping very deep to pick up the ball. Pro: Jack is on the ball more. Con: no one near Hogan (deep tease — I’ll get back to that in a few graphs).
Former Villa man Adama Traore was subbed on — making it three former Villa players on for the hosts. Villa’s defense prepared for great pace/dribbling and no football ability.
Aston Villa found a foothold around the hour mark putting some pressure on and leading to a distance shot from Snodgrass but it was directly at the keeper.
The speedster make his first mark minutes later when Chester picked up a yellow for a tackling him. Middlesbrough also picked up a yellow — this time for Friend — as cards continued to rack up.
Tangent time — Villa played much of the half with 10 players in their own half. Hogan left totally isolated and no counter attacking attempts for Villa. The stats will not be kind to the Irish attacker (and I doubt Twitter will be either) but he was not set up to succeed today. And with 15 minutes left Hogan’s match ended coming off for Rushian Hepburn-Murphy.
Right after the sub Aston Villa finally found the breakthrough moment. Albert Adomah sent a cross to the far post, the defender stuck to Hepburn-Murphy in the six yard box and Snodgrass headed it home at the far post giving the visitors a one goal lead.
Villa seemed happy with the one goal lead but still maintained an attacking pressence largely through Jack Grealish and Adomah. RHM seemed to fit in pretty well to the hold up role up front. Birkir Bjarnason was final sub for Villa just short of 90 minutes. Albert Adomah walked off to warm and deserved applause.
The defense did the job — though not without some nerves — and Aston Villa ended 2017 with three points.
Up the Villa in 2018!