Yesterday saw Aston Villa travel northeast to Teesside to take on Middlesbrough in Tony Pulis’ first game in charge.
Saturday’s match came on the heels of a run of form that left many disappointed Villans expressing their uncertainty about the trajectory of the club.
The claret and blue entered the contest in 8th, outside of the playoff places. Prior to the match, in an interview with the BBC West Midlands, manager Steve Bruce did not exactly endear himself to disgruntled supporters:
“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.”
A couple hours later, thanks to an Albert Adomah and Robert Snodgrass connection, Aston Villa had notched an important 1-0 victory and weathered the apparent barrenness.
Those three points managed to keep Steve Bruce’s side in the thick of the playoff picture. Unfortunately the joy of the supporters was tampered a bit by the boss’ post match presser:
Bruce: “We’ve got to stop this mass hysteria, otherwise we’re not going to get anywhere.” [av] #avfc— villareport (@villareport) December 30, 2017
With the New Year coming tomorrow, we’ve got a resolution for the manager: stop whinging, and just keep winning Steve! That will help you avoid any “…crisis…,” “…frenzy…,” or “…hysteria.”
Here are the full player ratings -- based on a scale of 1 to 10 -- for yesterday’s 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough:
GK: Sam Johnstone, Rating: 5.5
Villa’s keeper wasn’t terribly troubled against Boro, and his defence deserves credit for that. Johnstone had a couple of collections and managed one save.
It was another clean sheet for him in goal. That was enough to get him an above average rating. Now the question going into the Transfer Window is: will Steve Bruce keep him?
He’s been one of the better performers all season. Thus it sure would be nice if he remains at Villa Park.
LB: Alan Hutton, Rating: 6
The Scot did not exactly get off to a flying start hoofing long balls in Scott Hogan’s direction.
But to Hutton’s credit, he grew into the match and had a solid outing. He made a couple of his trademark attacking runs forward and also led Villa with a total of 90 touches.
More importantly, Hutton tallied ten defensive clearances, including six within the 18-yard box. One of those clearances was off Villa’s goal line after Rudy Gestede managed to get a head on a long throw-in - classic Tony Pulis.
CB: James Chester, Rating: 6.25
Chester quite literally, does it every game for Aston Villa. What does he do you might ask? Well the Welsh centre-back just consistently puts in good shifts. Sure he’s had a couple of matches where he performed poorly, but those are collectors’ items.
Against Boro, ‘Chesty’ was instrumental in Villa’s clean sheet. He completed a majority of his tackles and blocked three shots within the 18-yard box. Chester also had five clearances, including a vital one in the 92nd minute. His 93% pass success rate - 55 of 59 - was also pretty impressive.
CB: Tommy Elphick, Rating: 6.25
Tommy Elphick gets home and empties his pockets— Jamie (@Jaydogg_3001) December 30, 2017
Gestede ✔ pic.twitter.com/QxqCYdSwXo
That sums it up. Elphick led the team in aerial duals won - 7 of 8 - and clearances - 12. He had a quality outing filling in for the returning John Terry.
RB: Ahmed Elmohamady, Rating: 5.75
In the 26th minute, Elmo probably saved Villa from going down 1-0 when he challenged Britt Assombalonga just in front of Sam Johnstone’s goal. As per usual, the Egyptian also had a large number of touches - 82 - in both halves.
He was involved in some nice attacking moves down the right and had a couple of threatening crosses into the box. None of his four crosses led to a goal, but on the whole, Elmohamady did the job yesterday afternoon.
LM: Albert Adomah, Rating: 6.75 (substituted off, 90th minute)
“Oh Albert Adomah” justifiably rang out on numerous occasions. The heatmap for the match will clearly tell you that the Ghanaian was Villa’s best attacking threat. In the 27th minute, Adomah had the claret and blue’s best effort of the first half.
The majority of his 58 touches came inside Boro’s defensive half. He also led Villa with nine total crosses, all of which came just outside the 18-yard box. Finally in the 75th minute, his attacking industry yielded a result.
His cross to the far post found the head of a diving Robert Snodgrass. That move ultimately allowed Aston Villa to escape with a massive win.
Albert Adomah is an absolute class act and that's the end of that— Lewis Butler (@LewisButler97) December 30, 2017
Based on that tweet, and the collective applause Adomah received when he came off at the Riverside, Boro supporters seem to be a knowledgable bunch - credit to them.
CM/CDM: Mile Jedinak, Rating: 6.25
Isn’t it amazing how much better the Australian can look playing his natural holding midfield position?
Jedinak read the game well in his natural role, leading the team in interceptions. He was also solid defensively as he tallied seven clearances and won all of his aerial duals.
Going forward, he completed 23 of 27 passes and on occasion, allowed Conor Hourihane the freedom to push forward.
After his performance against Boro, it must be asked, should he be starting in this role?
CM: Conor Hourihane, Rating: 5.5
Saturday against Tony Pulis’ men was by no means the Irishman’s most notable match.
His 53 total touches were distributed throughout the pitch in the type of pattern you would want from a box-to-box midfielder.
However, the thing that earned him an above average rating, was the fact that his passing improved as the match went on. Hourihane completed 90% of his passes and eventually took over corner duties late on.
Hopefully if he continues to play alongside Mile Jedinak in the centre of midfield, Conor Hourihane can find the goals again.
RM: Robert Snodgrass, Rating: 7 (MotM)
Middlesbrough 0 - 1 Villa Highlights#AVFC pic.twitter.com/rLoVXheNlP— The Informer 线人 (@AV_The_Informer) December 30, 2017
The Scot’s goal was absolutely crucial yesterday, and it could be even more important going forward. It was enough for him to pip Albert Adomah for ‘Man of the Match’ honours.
CAM: Josh Onomah, Rating: 5 (substituted off, 37th minute)
The young Onomah went off in the 37th minute, likely with a head injury. He did start the match off fairly well, but he probably should have been taken off when the initial clash of heads occurred, 22 minutes earlier.
Unfortunate for the young lad, but it probably should be the case that Jack Grealish is Steve Bruce’s first choice for the no. 10 role. Though there are rumours of Nick Powell arriving at Villa Park.
ST: Scott Hogan, Rating: 5.25 (substituted off, 75th minute)
The striker had just five touches in the first half. That was not necessarily Scott Hogan’s fault. Aston Villa just do not seem to play to his strengths - yesterday was no exception to that trend.
Spent most of the first half hour camped in our own half. We don’t move the ball through midfield at all, poor Scott hogan completely isolated up front. Doesn’t help Adomah’s not having a great game either. Nothing he’s trying is coming off.— Darth Yxllop (@Yxllop) December 30, 2017
Hogan’s second half was not much better. He gets a bit of a bump just because he must have gotten a bit lonely out there.
CAM/CM: Jack Grealish, Rating: 6.25 (substitute, 37th minute)
In the 55th minute the talented lad picked up the ball about 40-yards out, dribbled it to the edge of the box and had a go. His well-struck shot very nearly found the bottom corner, but Darren Randloph made a quality save.
On the night, Grealish won multiple corners and free kicks when he was on the ball. He might not fill up the stat sheet, but he seemingly always brings an attacking spark to the side.
Against Middlesbrough, he was bright. Consequently, after the match there were plenty of calls for him to consistently be in the starting XI - yours truly concurs.
ST: Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, Rating: 5 (substitute, 75th minute)
It was nice to see the 19-year-old get some time on the pitch! Hepburn-Murphy did have one touch that was just phenomenal. He is an example of the multiple talented youth players who could come good in the not too distance future.
LM: Birkir Bjarnason, Rating: 5.25 (substitute, 90th minute)
‘Thor’ came on just as four minutes of stoppage time were announced. In those minutes, he had two clearances, including one within the box. That’s enough to give him a little extra on the rating.