Aston Villa’s transition to a 4-1-4-1 continues to provide dividends as Steve Bruce’s side claimed its third straight Championship victory. The win keeps Villa on pace with Derby County who remain five points ahead of Villa in the second automatic promotion spot. Scott Hogan’s 18th minute header proved to be the difference between the two sides.
Despite the win, Nottingham Forest dominated possession 61-39 percent. Villa seemed content to allow Forest to take shots from distance and nurse their early lead. But as a whole, Villa played well as a unit and continue to put their awful December stretch behind them.
GK: Sam Johnstone. Rating 7.0.
Johnstone didn’t have much to do early, but his 86th minute save of Kieran Dowell’s left-footed blast from range proved to be his biggest contribution of the evening. The shot appeared to baffle the keeper and it deflected off his forearm. As the rumors of his move seem to be calming down, Villa need to hold onto Johnstone during this January period and, hopefully, into the future. Since the 2-1 loss to Brentford on Boxing Day, Villa’s defense has yet to concede in league play. Johnstone delivered a solid display in a strong away performance.
LB: Alan Hutton. Rating 6.5.
Not sure what has gotten into Hutton of late but the defender looks more and more comfortable ranging forward and chipping in on the attack. His last ditch saving tackle in the 27th minute stifled a Forest response and kept Villa in the advantage. While Villa didn’t see much of the ball at times, Hutton and his counterpart completed the most passes. Hutton’s 52 passes was second-highest for Villa.
CB: John Terry. Rating 6.5.
Terry’s return threatened to disrupt a backline coming into the match with two consecutive sheets, but the former England captain showed why he is an automatic listing on the team sheet when healthy. Even though he didn’t have much to do all evening with James Chester shadowing Forest’s Ben Brereton, Terry’s 23rd minute header off the woodwork signaled Villa’s intent. While Tommy Elphick filled in admirably in Terry’s absence, it’s good to see the captain back there leading the line.
CB: James Chester. Rating 7.0.
Chester took Forest’s main forward attacking threat and put him in his back pocket for the evening. After running rampant against Arsenal’s back line, Brereton did little to threaten Villa’s defense and Chester played a role in making sure Forest’s attack wouldn’t be going through the youngster. He had a shaky moment when he gave the ball away on a long Villa pass. Chester led Villa with seven clearances and controlled the box all evening.
RB: Ahmed Elmohamady. Rating 6.5.
Pretty tame afternoon for Elmohamady despite leading Villa with 61 passes completed. Contributed solidly to the clean sheet and linked up nicely with Snodgrass all game.
LM: Albert Adomhah. Rating 5.5.
Anytime that we can nick an away win without Adomah registering a shot on goal, Villa should hop on the bus and get out of town as quickly as possible. Forest did a good job pushing Adomah out wide left, keeping him out of the middle and out of shooting range. His one look at goal, which would have put the match away, was clearly offside.
CM: Glenn Whelan. Rating 6.0.
Whelan had to come off at halftime with a leg injury, but in Bruce’s newly discovered 4-1-4-1 formation, Whelan looked comfortable sitting in front of the back four disrupting attacks and pushing the ball up to start Villa’s attack.
CM: Conor Hourihane. Rating 6.5.
Hourihane is another Villa midfielder benefiting from the switch to the 4-1-4-1. No longer sitting deep and working to build the attack, Hourihane can play more aggressively and bring the attack forward from a more forward position. The midfielder was all over the pitch and led Villa with six tackles.
RM: Robert Snodgrass. Rating 8.0.
Man of the Match. For the second league match in a row, Snodgrass wins Man of the Match honors with another stellar performance. Snodgrass really seems to be enjoying his football at Villa at the moment. His assist on the goal and his cross to Terry were just two of many very good crosses into the Forest box on the evening. When he wasn’t crossing the ball, his runs and ability to pick up fouls took the pressure off the Villa defense.
CAM: Jack Grealish. Rating: 7.0.
Grealish continues to grow into the player Villa fans desperately hoped he’d become. He also seems to have matured a bit, relying less on tricks and cute footwork in tight spaces and simply passing the ball forward into the threatening positions. Grealish completed 89% of his passes to lead Villa.
ST: Scott Hogan. Rating 7.5.
A second goal in as many games for the now-suddenly in-form Villa striker. Villa seem to be finding a way to play with Hogan upfront, relying less on the long ball over the top and instead getting the ball out wide to Snodgrass and Adomah. Hogan’s 18th minute goal was a classic goal-scorers goal cutting quickly in front of the keeper to head the ball in from six yards out. It’s no surprise that Hogan seems to be scoring goals as Snodgrass comes alive as his service has finally given something for the former Brentford man to latch onto.
45th minute: Birkir Bjarnson (for Whelan). Rating 7.0.
Villa didn’t miss a beat thanks to Bjarnson’s workrate in the second half after coming on for the injured Whelan. The Icelandic international might not be with Villa after the January transfer period, but it was nice to see why Bruce rated him enough to bring him to Villa Park last January.
82nd minute: Keinan Davis (for Hogan). Rating 5.0.
Davis engaged in some nice hold up play late but did little to impact the match.
91st minute: Neil Taylor (for Adomah).
Taylor took the field. That’s about it.