After a strong second half contribution from Henri Lansbury and Jack Grealish last weekend in rescuing a point from Leeds, it was thought Steve Bruce would make some revisions to our XI on the day to take advantage of the squads depth, so seeing Henri Lansbury start on the pitch was a welcome switch.
Scott Hogan, after recovering from his stomach issue, was brought back into the match day squad, but all in all the lineup didn’t see much alteration. Bruce knows that every point matters especially ones we need to secure against a game but low in the table Millwall bunch and seems intent to not make wholesale switches to what’s been working.
The First Half
Millwall came out the louder Lions to start the match with a lot of empty blue seats visible at Villa Park and pushed the ball furthest into Villa territory early. Unable to link up, Villa defenders saw the ball out for goal kicks each time.
Keinan Davis had a heavy foot on a few balls that could have created some attacking opportunities and you wonder even in the early minutes how much fatigue he’s built up over the last few months. Villa created their first bit of pressure around the 8th minute along the right side and though West Ham castaway Robert Snodgrass and right back Alan Hutton couldn’t make chances come, Villa gained the advantage of possession for the first quarter of the day.
Albert Adomah and Davis linked up around the 12th minute to create the first attempt for Villa, but after a quick breakaway and Adomah setting up Davis, the distant strike cleared the top left corner for a Millwall goal kick. Shortly after that, Adomah had a diving header inside the box that missed right and though it seemed like Villa brought the class for the start of the match—
Commentary and recap are looking to be easy today: Aston Villa are good. They're better than Millwall. They're playing like it through 20 minutes.— Robb Jones (@robbjkjones) December 9, 2017
—tides would quickly turn to your writers chagrin.
Sam Johnstone had a gutsy challenge on a Millwall run, really pushing far out of his box to clear a few attacks before Millwall earned themselves what seemed like, I dunno, three hundred corners? starting the 20th minute and they truly did earn them. Good counter runs and precise balls created opportunities, but the Villa back line and Johnstone’s aggressive play kept the sheet clean. A remarkable save, a familiar sight from Johnstone, kept things level with a world class save on Jed Wallace’s shot.
Things change.— Robb Jones (@robbjkjones) December 9, 2017
Millwall showed great patience and pace on the counter taking advantage of a lead-footed Villa back line for some advantage on the attack and each time they came to nothing deterred by Johnstone’s aggressive style. It’s damning with faint praise to say Johnstone is our best player on the day because that means everyone else is playing poorly, but he is class. His first half was a display of ability married with moxie and mindfulness and our Alex Carson put it on the head.
signing johnstone permanently should be the no. 1 order of business for #avfc this summer, but that might be difficult if promotion isn’t won— alex carson (@_alexcarson) December 9, 2017
Aside from Johnstone it was a very poor first half after an initial strong showing. It was mostly summed up in stoppage time as Villa, just outside of Millwall’s 18 yard box had all eleven standing around waiting for someone else to make something happen. It truly looked like a basketball point guard running down the clock and waiting to start a play except the team looked lost and just ready to get off the pitch.
No one in particular played well. Hutton for how often he asks for the ball has nothing to do with it when he gets it and Snodgrass relied on him as a valve above his ability. Snodgrass overplayed a few balls centrally and lost possession leading to one of the many Millwall counter runs. Josh Onomah looked sleepy and in the midfield when he isn’t engaged this team isn’t firing. Adomah and Taylor looked non-communicative along the left side and the best play was reserved for Glen Whelan, Chris Samba and Henri Lansbury—though they didn’t do much to distance themselves, they just didn’t balls it up.
The entire team would need to regroup to get out and earn three points. A comfortable win looked completely off the board when the teams walked off the pitch.
The Second Half
Villa did better finding the ball in space with Adomah and Taylor both having good forward movement and passes. Taylor attempted a cross in front of net that mistakenly just barely cleared the top bar. Shortly after, Adomah received a ball in the box from Onomah but he attempted to play on to Snodgrass who wasn’t breaking to net. Looked a situation where Adomah should have been greedy.
Both teams got a bit testy after a foul on Josh Onomah when George Saville was a ball of fire until Chris Samba came and made sure everyone was making peace. Saville earned himself a yellow and Villa did nothing with the free kick.
Snodgrass had a rough day. He didn’t seem to be on a page with the rest of the squad and wasn’t able to make anything of his opportunities. He gave way to Jack Grealish who came on at the 59th minute. The move put Adomah back to his usual right side, Onomah toward the left and Jack took over centrally.
From there Villa created their first shot on goal. Jack found himself with enough space to put a curler into a corner, but it was pushed out to the side nearly to Adomah for a rebound, but behind for a corner which came to nothing. A few minutes later a break saw Onomah pushing the attack and put a deflected shot behind and Villa seemed more in control and took over the run of play.
Hutton made way for Ahmed Elmohamady as Bruce was pushing for some creativity to pull the three points yet the attack still couldn’t put pressure on David Martin’s net. Henri Lansbury had a busy day at the corners and hadn’t put a good ball through yet he still retained duty after Elmo’s appearance before giving up the final few corners and set pieces to Grealish.
Villa’s final substitution came at the 78th minute when Chris Samba picked up an injury and made way for erstwhile captain Tommy Elphick. Sambas injury will need to be monitored as his replacement of John Terry over the last few matches has been surprisingly successful. Elphick actually looked good, but untested save for a won header. His ability to simply be on the pitch seems like found change.
Villa earned a few more corners in the attacking end but made no further challenges. Millwall, content with the draw, let Villa have possession, packed the box and decided that if Villa were to have a hero on the day, they would have to earn it through all 11 with an attack that had turned up no cohesion.
Even with that apparent concession, Villa gave Milwall almost all of the stoppage time possession and opportunities, and as the final whistle blew, Aston Villa missed a golden opportunity to push up in the standings.
A shit day. Villa played below their ability and couldn’t earn three points against a team that they are certainly better than. There will be complaints about Bruce’s selections or substitutions but the players, save Johnstone and to a lesser extent Grealish, Samba and Whelan didn’t seem up for the match.
On the day Villa retained fifth place in the table due to goal differential over Blades while Wolves surprisingly drew at Molineux with Sunderland who played a man down for thirty minutes. We’ll have more reaction throughout a matchless week in the run up to a much tougher away fixture with Derby County a week from today. Villa are in no concern to drop out of the table next week at that match, but it’s a six-pointer they’ll need if they are serious about finding their way into an automatic promotion spot.