If this is Steve Bruce’s way to respond to a ‘crisis’, allow me to be the first to suggest every time Villa fails to come out playing offensive-minded football, Villa are in crisis.
Villa began the evening in eighth place while visitors Bristol City headed to Villa Park in third place carrying a solid away record with only one loss marring six wins and five draws. But despite the impressive away form, Villa reminded the Robins why they haven’t won at Villa Park since 1979. Playing attacking football not seen by the Holte End in some time, Villa delivered some New Years Day fireworks running rampant past Bristol City 5-0.
Villa climb to fifth, off the heels of their second consecutive victory, and warming the December chill that befell the Villa camp after five in a row without a win. Bristol City slip to fourth. The win gives Villa its first victory against a side above them in the table, and with many of the away trips to the Top 6 out of the way, Villa has a huge opportunity to consolidate and push for the second automatic promotion spot that the fans want.
Now, on the to the player ratings.
GK: Sam Johnstone. Rating 5.5
Johnstone didn’t have much to do all evening. City’s only shot on target beat the Villa keeper but was cleared off the line by James Chester. Otherwise, a pretty uneventful night. It’s A second consecutive clean sheet for the Villa defense so let’s hope the rumors of Johnstone’s departure to West Brom are nothing more than an agent trying to get something for his player.
LB: Alan Hutton. Rating 7.5
Villa’s defense started slowly, looking shaky in the second minute as City nearly nipped an early goal. Like the rest of the Villa back four, Alan Hutton settled down nicely and asserted himself by carrying the ball forward on more than a handful of occasions - playing nearly as many balls in the Bristol City offensive half as the defensive half.
Completing 92 percent of his passes, Hutton finished off one of his better Villa performances with a nice through ball to Birkir Bjarnason for Villa’s fourth goal.
Alan Hutton vs. Bristol City— Jack Grimse (@JackGrimse) January 1, 2018
91.7% Pass Acc
10 Duels Won
2 Chances Created
Enjoying an unexpected renaissance. pic.twitter.com/sgEGCMxPHd
CB: Tommy Elphick. Rating 7.5
Tommy Elphick stood tall at the back winning seven aerial balls and providing a steady complement to Chester. His pairing with Chester was split early by the Bristol attack, but the two took command as the match progressed.
While Elphick has had a tendency to be error prone, it remains a mystery as to why Bruce didn’t turn to him sooner after Samba’s injury. He is another example of Bruce being forced into the right move due to injuries, but Elphick has shown himself to be suitable cover for the Terry-Chester centre back combo for the rest of the season.
CB: James Chester. Rating 7.0
While not a overpowering performance from the Welshman, James Chester’s nifty back heel to Adomah kick started the second goal. And his clearance off the line at 2-0 early in the second half allowed Villa space to maintain its attacking approach to the game.
RB: Ahmed Elmohamady. Rating 6.0
Not much to say here aside from some nice link up play with Robert Snodgrass and Scott Hogan early in the first half. Hoofed a few up to Hogan going nowhere in the channel. Lead Villa with 75 touches, most of them out wide right in the midfield third. Didn’t have a lot to do defensively as part of the back four delivering a clean sheet.
LM: Albert Adomah. Rating 7.0
Despite not taking a shot on goal, Albert Adomah played a big role in Villa’s romping win. His cross to Hogan setting up the header in the 23rd minute came after a few boos rang out in Villa Park. Early on he looked willing to go forward, turning on the ball a few times instead of playing the backpass to Hutton or Chester. Eventually he started linking up with Grealish and the rout was on. His individual willingness to take defenders makes him a threat each and every match and his six crosses led all players.
CM: Mile Jedinak. Rating 7.0
It’s easy to see why Bruce gets sucked into playing Mile Jedinak at CB. His four aerials won was second to only to Tommy Elphick. But his positioning and leadership in the middle of the midfield is too important to Villa for him to play anywhere else. In partnership with Elmohamady, Jedi broke up numerous Bristol City attacks down the flank. Not a single Jedinak pass was completed from the Villa defensive third, demonstrating an ability to lead the line and keep City pinned back all evening.
CM: Conor Hourihane. Rating 7.0
Conor Hourihane picked up Villa’s fifth goal after the result was well in hand, his first since the match winner against Forest back in September. Villa’s set up had Hourihane pressing up higher in the attack. This is his ideal position and it simply belies belief Hourihane spends so many games sitting deep, picking up the ball, and passing upfield. Conor was all over the field, completing 82 percent of his passes and providing his usual quality set piece delivery.
RM: Robert Snodgrass. Rating 8.5 and Man of the Match
Robert Snodgrass had his best game in a claret shirt scoring Villa’s second and third. He had a late look at a hat-trick sending the ball over the bar. ‘Snoddy’ didn’t menace Bristol’s defense as many of his touches were wide and at midfield. But he helped control the right side of the pitch and kept popping up in the right areas all evening. His second goal came after another Adomah cross found Scott Hogan inside the box. Bristol’s keeper Steele parried away the effort but Snodgrass picked up the ball and slammed it into the back of the net. Whenever Villa had something going, Snodgrass was a part of it.
CAM: Jack Grealish. Rating: 8
Grealish’s evening looked to be getting off to a rough start as he played a loose ball early setting up a Bristol City scoring opportunity on the counter. That may have been his only misstep of the night.
Jack Grealish showed every bit the promise he’s held for the past couple of seasons, running at the defense and creating opportunities all over the pitch. His run in the 28th minute forced a yellow card foul from Nathan Baker and following that, Grealish terrorized the Robins defense all night long. Picking up balls all over the pitch, he found space between defenders driving Villa’s attack. Jack deserved a goal in the first half driving a low hard shot off the left post. Another injury forced Bruce to play Grealish in his ideal role and it’ll be tough to take ‘Super Jack’ out of the creative central attacking midfield role going forward.
ST: Scott Hogan. Rating 7.5
Scotty Hogan scored his first League goal of the season in the 23rd minute with a looping header from Adomah’s cross. It was his first league goal for Villa since March against Wigan.
The goal seemed to come from nothing as Hogan had only two touches prior to the scoring chance. He did see the ball a bit more throughout the match, but most weren’t in a threatening position. His second shot attempt failed to find the back of the net but led to Snodgrass’s first goal. Villa still relies on the long ball to Hogan, but as the match progressed and Villa started playing more on the floor, he came into the game, making the smart runs that helped drag defenders away.
69th minute: Birkir Bjarnson (for Adomah). Rating 7.
Bjarnson remains an enigma to most Villa supporters. Still, his nice run led to Villa’s fourth goal. His work rate isn’t questioned, but he does come in and out of matches too frequently. After the goal he faded, but came back into the match late. A good night for the Icelandic international.
80th minute: Calum O’Hare (for Grealish). Rating 5.
O’Hare had little impact with the match in hand. Only seven touches and three passes. Would like to see him get a strong run in the F.A. Cup match against Peterborough.
82nd minute: Rushian Hepburn-Murphy (for Hogan) Rating 5.
RHM came on late to help see out the match. Not much to say here.