Aston Villa took on Fulham this afternoon, after just one day's rest after the Reading game, and it didn't really go according to plan (unless this actually was the plan, in which case wtf Steve?).
Here's how things played out:
The first half
Well that was painful. Fulham started well, with their fullbacks and wingers doubling up on Villa wing backs James Bree and Jordan Amavi. Amavi in particular looked vulnerable, as Ryan Fredricks was persistent in his forward movement.
Fulham scoring seemed inevitable, and sure enough, it happened. Sam Johnstone made a decent save, but Villa couldn't clear their lines, and the ball fell to 16 year old Ryan Sessegnon, who scored at the second time of asking. Not really sure there was much that could be done to prevent it, save for having a better team.
The half went from bad to worse as Jonathan Kodjia collided with Fredricks. The Fulham man seemed to kick out at Kodjia, who fired back with a kick of his own. Unfortunately, the referee only saw the latter, and Kodjia received his marching orders, and will get a three match ban for his troubles. Yes, he was fouled, but his reaction was oh so stupid, and it has cost Villa dearly.
The rest of the half played out with Villa on the back foot, though Elphick had a header cleared off the line. Otherwise, it was pretty much all Fulham, with Scott Hogan looked very isolated up top. Could Steve Bruce rejuvenate the side at half time?
The second half
Things improved, if just for a while. The atmosphere was pretty dead at Craven Cottage, until Jack Grealish cut inside from the left and rifled the ball into the top corner. A lovely goal from the Jack Grealish that we know and love, even if we don't see this from him enough. Nonetheless, it earns him a spot in the starting XI to play Birmingham, and honestly.
Sadly, we weren't level for long, partly thanks to a terrible referee call (again, the ref was awful today, sucks that we have to endure another season of Championship officiating). Gary Gardner made a perfect tackle, which was wrongly given as a foul, and from that, Sone Aluko hit a volley that deflected past Johnstone. Not really sure that he could've done much about that.
Chasing the game, Steve Bruce lost the plot. Alan Hutton came on for James Bree, which is fair enough. But bringing Rushian Hepburn-Murphy on for Jordan Amavi was MADNESS. No Villa player switched over to the left, and within seconds, Fulham's Kebano was unmarked out there and fired home, with all the time in the world. What made it even worse, was that Bruce would later replace Scott Hogan with Conor Hourihane. Why not bring Hourihane on for Amavi, retaining a man on the left, and then brining RHM on for Hogan? Along with playing three at the back against a team who are strong out wide, it's fair to say that Bruce got this one wrong.
The derby match, of course. Villa welcome Birmingham City to Villa Park on April 23, in a game which could sink the boys from Small Heath even further into the relegation mix. Wouldn't that be nice.
With Jonathan Kodjia out, it would be interesting to see Hepburn-Murphy join Hogan up top. Not sure if Neil Taylor will be fit to play, but I sure hope so, as Jordan Amavi has seriously regressed defensively. Grealish and Gardner probably did enough to retain their places, but I would consider switching Elphick out for Hourihane, if only because three at the back is a failure.
However we line up, next Sunday is arguably the last game of the season that actually means something, so it would be nice if Villa could turn up for this one.