Dean Smith entered a full Villa park to a raucous reception. We (the collective Villa fan base) can only imagine what it would be like to lead the team that we love. Today one of our own got to live that dream.
The atmosphere was had a different tone — but was no less passionate — for a minute of tribute before the match to remember two-time Aston Villa Chairman Doug Ellis (go read James’ reflection on meeting the man). A long line for former players and staff lined up to pay respect.
Then — as Dean Smith said it would — the day turned from the emotional to the business end of football.
Swansea took the kickoff and were immediately pressured by the Villa front line.
Seven minutes in Villa fans were given another chance to roar. Tammy Abraham was fouled at the top of the box by a late tackle. Jack Grealish stepped up for the free kick but hit it right into the wall. Ahmed Elmohamady picked up the ball on the right wing, got by a man, played a quick one-two with Grealish and eventually put in a perfect cross to find Tammy Abraham’s head. The former Swansea loanee made no mistake and made it three in three.
Villa settled in after the goal — patiently looking for the attack and well aware that Swansea were looking for chances from the counter attack. Villa’s defense were equal to the challenge through. John McGinn had a chance to double the lead but could not find the right touch inside the box from a Neil Taylor cross.
Just short of the half an hour mark Villa again almost doubled their lead with McGinn at the center of another attack. The Scottish midfielder was fouled — but jumped right up and released Adomah down the left. The winger’s cross was deflected and looped toward goal only to find the cross bar. I couldn’t tell if the keeper got a touch or not with his hand — but if he did it wasn’t much of one.
Most of the rest of the first half saw a consistent pattern — Villa pick up the ball around midfield and quickly attack. But just can’t find the right pass to unlock the defense. The midfield trio of Grealish, McGinn and Bjarnason ran the show.
Nyland was forced into action on the edge of half time when Swansea’s Jay Fulton had a ton of room in the box when a low cross found him. But the keeper pushed it away and thankfully the Swansea attacker couldn’t make the most of the rebound.
Villa started the second half on the front foot. Jack had a long distance shot deflected and saved. The young man got another chance seconds later but the volley was slightly miss-hit — so it bounced weakly and right at the keeper.
Adomah also had a chance to double the lead — but when he tried to catch the keeper at his near post he pulled the shot into the side netting. And the winger wasn’t the only one who was not able to make chances count.
At the hour mark Tammy Abraham chested a ball down in the six yard box. Fired a shot with power but the Swansea keeper was in the correct position. Yet another gone wasted. But wait there’s more, ten minutes later from almost the exact same spot — Abraham headed a ball off the ground and over the net. It would have been better if it went into the net. That is the goal.
Kodjia replaced Albert Adomah with fifteen minutes to go. The big man immediately looked to make things happen but had miscommunications with McGinn then Jack Grealish.
Swansea began to push as it looked like the high energy play began to take a toll on Villa. The nerves were clear on and off the pitch as Nyland and Neil Taylor were called to save Villa with ten minutes to go. Villa could not clear their lines and seemed really hesitant in their own box.
Jack was subbed off inside the last ten minutes with Conor Hourihane coming on.
McGinn picked up an important yellow card down the stretch and will miss the next match (Norwich on Tuesday) for his fifth of the year.
Swansea huffed and puffed and very nearly blew the Villa house down but in the end the Tammy Abraham goal was enough. Dean Smith walked off the pitch with his hands held high and the Villa faithful breathed a sign of relief.