The whole hope of Saturday evenings affair was to see if Villa are a focused enough side to not play down to their competition. Bolton have not begun the season with a bang but a whimper, whereas Aston Villa are playing the best football they’ve played in years and have top form in the Championship.
As was expected, no changes were made to the match day lineup as a few key injuries have solidified their lineup. It’ll be interesting to see how Mile Jedinak, Jack Grealish and Andre Green are integrated to this team when the time comes and they’re back healthy, but that time isn’t today and look at me, I’m even starting to look past the Trotters.
Added intrigue to the win would be that three points would put Villa back into the promotion picture, if only briefly.
#AVFC would, at least temporarily, move into the top six with a win tomorrow, as Ipswich play Bristol City and Leeds don’t play ’til Sunday.— alex carson (@crashcarson15) September 29, 2017
That’d be exactly what Dr. Vogel ordered when we first set out for this September slate of fixtures.
The First Half
The early portions of the match saw Sam Johnstone come up big for the Claret and Blue yet again in what’s quickly become a weekly occurrence. A blast from Bolton striker Sammy Ameobi had Johnstone diving to his left corner to block what would have been a shocker of a goal. It was rumored today that during the January transfer window that Villa would look to make his loan from Manchester United a permanent one and his early season play has certainly merited it.
If there has been any blight on Villa during their recent successful play, it’s been Glenn Whelan, who is holding the fort until Mile Jedinak recovers from his difficult groin injury. Prior to today, Whelan’s struggles have been the quiet kind where it seems everyone else is bringing value, yet he’s held steady as a more-or-less neutral. Of course we don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth as the team as a whole has been playing fantastic, but Whelan’s first few minutes today were loudly problematic.
In the 10th minute Whelan was booked for a hard foul on Bolton’s Jem Karacan and then shortly later lost possession while tangling legs with another Wanderer which drew a conversation from referee Jeremy Simpson yet, shockingly for the rest of Simpson’s day, no further discipline. A very quick level to the talent and form for this match would have been Whelan sent off and Villa going 10 on 11.
Simpson, however, earned himself quite a few boos and sarcastic cheers throughout the half from the Villa Park faithful and pretty overt rebukes from players on the field as it seemed a number of close contests were awarded to Bolton.
Bolton had a few good runs that if they were more in form could have caused trouble for Villa. In one instance Adam Armstrong took a deflection and beat Ahmed Elmohamady down the attacking left side and had a solid crossing pass, but with none of his mates following up, the opportunity came to nothing.
Even with that, Elmohamady had a very good challenge as Bolton were breaking on another occasion but the Villa attack, so dedicated to individual talent winning out, had a hard time breaking through Bolton’s defense which was content to sit back, wait to counter, and hold the whole 90 for an away point.
The penalty kick being true accounts for Kodjia’s first goal of the season, and relieves a little bit of criticism, yet he’s not without blame entirely. Being that he held the ball off of Adomah, it would have been the proper thing to do to let Adomah take the penalty kick. All in all, the entire sequence shows the Kodjia variance—sometimes painfully selfish in holding for his own shot, other times beautifully brilliant in completely earning a penalty.
The halftime whistle came shortly after a Kodjia header went over the top of the net and though leading by a goal, Villa certainly haven’t played great. They haven’t shown much ability to open up the Bolton defense through precision or cohesion and the Trotters with a little confidence could certainly find the net in the second half. Villa has shown a tendency to come out of the half slowly, so it would be up to the squad to lean more onto the attack and develop some play.
HT. Villa have struggled to unlock a defensive team. Long balls and quick switches have helped. Kodjia makes up for big miss. Ref is bad.— 7500 To Holte (@7500toHolte) September 30, 2017
The Second Half
As could have been predicted, Bolton started the second half with a fresh vigor and they controlled possession, earned corners, and generally applied pressure to the Villa defense. The back line stayed true, captain John Terry earned a few clearances, and for the moment a leveler was avoided.
In the 58th minute, Bolton was finally booked for their ongoing physical play against Kodjia and Keinan Davis in this instance it was David Wheater with a foul on Kodjia, though offenses could have been found against both he and Davis on numerous occasions throughout the first hour of the match.
A rather boring second half ensued with a few comments needed to be made about what Villa have created along the right side between Elmohamady and Snodgrass. Snoddy so clever and Elmo looking more comfortable on defense has shown to be a great strength. It also has to be said that Keinan Davis is just amazing. It’s a joy to watch him grow and develop into a complete game changer.
Davis plays like a hula hoop. He can back down a defender, hold him in place and whatever angle the ball takes, he can swing his hips around the defender and create and angle toward the net. In the 67th minute Mark Beevers found himself inside the hoop and was forced to foul Davis who would have been free on goal. That earned Beevers a yellow and a free kick.
The free kick saw John Terry clear on goal, but his left leg deflection flew right past the post.
Josh Onomah and Scott Hogan both came on late in the game as has been the normal substitution pattern for the club as they looked to try to pad their lead and the goal differential.
As Bolton looked to match the Villa goal the pitch opened up and both Hogan and Snodgrass saw chances in the box. Hogan hit a defender, and Snodgrass put a shot on goal to earn a corner and keep the attack up.
Bolton, however, did not roll over, earning a handful of corners inside the last ten minutes to raise the blood pressure of those involved, but had no real shots put on net in spite of Villa’s inability to clear the lines.
The final change for Villa saw Chris Samba come on for Snodgrass as Steve Bruce worked to kill the clock to get to 90 minutes.
Yet when is anything for this team ever predictable? In spite of making a defensive substitution, Neil Taylor was sprung toward the goal on the first real precision break down of the Bolton defense of the evening. He was fouled for the third yellow card for the Trotters, which was taken by Karl Henry to avoid a free shot on goal. Conor Hourihane’s free kick cleared the line of defenders, but couldn’t bend down into net.
An intense final minute of drama saw Neil Taylor being shown a red card for a high boot by the lovely Jeremy Simpson before a furious finish where Samba’s dome saved two points for the squad.
After being successful petitioning for Henri Lansbury’s rescinded red a few weeks ago against Middlesbrough, Bruce will certainly be pushing to keep his starting left back in the match day squad when the team begins play after the oncoming international break. Indeed, he didn’t leave the pitch before giving Simpson a piece of his mind after a very uneven day from the referee.
September ended with Villa earning 14 points from a possible 18, with a four match winning streak and a total goal differential of 10-1. In what started out slowly with two draws, the team righted the ship, played great football and here we are a point off the playoffs and four behind automatic promotion as of this publishing.
Finally, while our drama at Villa Park was coming to completion against the supposed worst team in the Championship, this was going on, which, sometimes it doesn’t all break out the way you’d expect, but today it just all comes together in the end, doesn’t it?