After the early bad news of Andre Green’s injury, the team selections showed a bit of change in the initial XI with Birkir Bjarnason taking over on the left wing and Ahmed Elmohamady at right back. Mile Jedinak regained his defensive midfielder position pushing Glenn Whelan to the bench.
Kodjia, after his encouraging 45 minutes on Monday against Southampton in Premier League 2 action, took up residence on the bench alongside running mate Albert Adomah.
The First Half
The early action of the match saw a fair bit of drama with two early corner kicks awarded to Middlesbrough before a crazy third minute where Adama Traore put in a damaging late tackle on Conor Hourihane. After a brief conversation between the referee and the linesman Traore saw red and was shown the exit putting to rest concern among the fans carrying over from his weekend showing against Bolton.
With the man advantage Villa were able to place an embargo on possession. Too long crosses and missed connections took up Villas opportunities, though it seemed only a matter of just waiting for them to find one that worked and find some cohesion among the players.
Henri Lansbury playing alongside Mile Jedinak showed a good bit of defensive class with a few dispossessions and clearances against the short-shrift Boro squad, but also misplayed some offensive opportunities when the team desperately needed to create chances.
In the 24th minute Keinan Davis picked up and poor pass and made a quick pass to an oncoming Robert Snodgrass who put a quick shot on goal, but it was swallowed easily by the keeper for the most dangerous attempt that Villa had at that point. Later, to break up a Boro attack and start his own, Snodgrass was booked on a yellow.
An exciting moment in the 35th minute came on a beautiful touch ball from Neil Taylor. The pass was put just over the defense and then to the keeper by an oncoming Henri Lansbury. The keeper bobbled the shot, Lansbury attempted to follow it, fell down, and appealed for a penalty, though the referee didn’t acquiesce. Villa rebuilt the attack and Robert Snodgrass put a header on net which was held by the keeper to end the attack.
In the 40th minute Snodgrass made his presence felt again by putting a cross in front of the net, though Birkir Bjarnason saw his header go over the bar as he was showing that he was failing to acclimate to the match.
Snodgrass continued his impactful game when in the 44th minute he carried the ball through a tackle and earned a foul about 28 yards from goal and put a free kick on target at the near post that was, regrettably, saved.
The first half came to a close without a goal to show for their Villa’s effort, but their play exhibited determination and effort that should bear fruit for the second half. With that said, under any normal circumstances it would be a positive to just play well, create good opportunities and just happen to nick a header that could have had more power, but Villa need results. With the red to Adama Traore, and Middlesbrough pulling almost all of the defense back, this game had been all but gift-wrapped for three points and Villa needed to take advantage in the second half.
The Second Half
At the half both squads made changes, with Villa bringing on Scott Hogan and Albert Adomah for Birkir Bjarnason and Mile Jedinak showing a decided commitment to the attack.
In the 49th minute more bad luck struck as both Snodgrass and Hourihane had golden opportunities from an Adomah cross from the left wing. The keeper dove to deflect the cross right into Snodgrass’s direction who put a strike right hard against the bar. The bounce put the ball on Hourihane’s boot who in the chaos drove it off the ground and a defender and then was cleared.
Boro began attempts at wasting a lot of clock through the second half and Villa were unable to create chances from pressure when the 62nd minute they were greeted with disaster. On a Middlesbrough counter Henri Lansbury’s sliding tackle had no chance of catching the ball and he was shown a straight red from the referee leveling the match at 10 on 10.
In the 70th minute the final change was made and we welcomed back John Kodjia to action, but shortly after Middlesbrough had their best attempt on goal as Britt Assombalonga ran through the defense and put a strike off Sam Johnstone’s hands for a corner that came to nothing as Snodgrass cleared.
As if the team couldn’t look any more snakebitten, with the keeper out of the picture in the 76th minute Scott Hogan amazingly blocked a Conor Hourihane shot off of the line to keep Villa off the score sheet as Alex Carson screamed XG somewhere into the night.
Jonathan Kodjia looked spry holding defenders off the ball and putting a bullet header right above the net and it seems as if he’s ready to contribute for the rest of the campaign. Furthermore, he was given a yellow card for embellishment while trying to earn a penalty so his debut certainly seemed to be at his midseason stride.
The final 10 minutes went with Boro killing the lock and Aston Villa showing mental and physical fatigue from attacking for 80 minutes being unable to handle passes or hold possession. It also featured a bizarre drop ball where Middlesbroughs lack of attempt for some reason caused the referee to redo to drive home the fact that we’re now through the looking glass for absurdity.
The final whistle came at the end of a Villa corner that Conor Hourihane couldn’t put on net and we have to ask if this was Steve Bruce’s last match for the squad. It was certainly unlucky to have missed so many high percentage shots—a ball off the cross bar and a teammate blocking a goal—but this was a game that Villa needed to win before the kick off and even moreso after Adama Traores early red card. The September push we once envisioned is shriveling up and golden chances to climb the table are being missed.
Something has to change.