What. Just. Happened?
It’s cliche to say football will take you on a roller coaster ride of emotion but Aston Villa’s 3-3 tie against bottom-of-the-table Preston North End at Villa Park on Tuesday night ticked all the boxes. And when the final whistle sounded after Glenn Whelan’s 97th-minute penalty was saved by Chris Maxwell, a dreary night at Villa Park ended just as it began, with an air of uncertainty and a wish that something, anything, would change about this football club and Steve Bruce’s stewardship of this team.
It’d be easy to argue Villa could feel hard done by the referee but this game embodied Bruce’s approach. Take whatever margin you have, either on the advantage or to the disadvantage, and narrow it. It can work when you have a lesser side and need to grind out results to achieve a target. But with a side like Villa, and its embarrassment of riches for a division such as the Championship, its a frustrating and maddening experience that takes much of the fun out of football. It turns rooting for your favorite club into a chore akin to sweeping the floor or weeding the garden. And it’s time to uproot the head man in charge.
The throw away began innocent enough but in such maddening fashion. The Villans headed into halftime up 2-0 looking as good as gone with the three points. Preston North End provided little threat and zero shots on target. But after halftime, Villa came out flat. In fact, more than flat. Sitting back with 10 men behind the ball, Villa looked tentative and Preston seized the initiative.
On the 54th minute, Preston broke through and James Chester found himself defending against a clear goal scoring opportunity. A red card was shown and the meltdown began in earnest. Former Villa man Daniel Johnson converted the penalty to cut the lead to 2-1. From there, PNE never relented. Lukas Nmecha rattled the far post and then Callum Robinson forced a Bunn parry in the 77th minute. Paul Gallagher then bent one around a questionably placed Mark Bunn wall and the comeback was complete at 2-2.
Villa’s bright start seemed like an eternity ago. The opener came in the 26th minute off the head of Jonathan Kodjia. Ahmed Elmohamady produced a nice arcing cross from just outside the box and Kodjia outjumped the defender for his first goal since August against Brentford. It was a goal Villa deserved and while they weren’t fulling asserting themselves on the league’s bottom side, they were showing enough initiative going forward to warrant the breakthrough.
The second on 36th followed after McGinn ran down a PNE defender along the touchline, won the ball, and dropped it off for Abraham. Abraham took a run at a slack Lilywhites right-side and slid the ball past Chris Maxwell into the right-side of the goal to double-up Villa’s advantage.
Louis Moulton gave PNE a short-lived lead on 86 minutes but Yannick Bolaise’s extra time goal salvaged a point for Villa.
The match ended with Whelan’s penalty, an attempt Steve Bruce couldn’t stand to watch.
Yep, Steve, we’d agree. We’re tired of watching this too.