Thanks to a sluggish start, both teams left it late in today’s Boxing day clash to perform anything of note - and while Villa took their chance to deliver the killing blow, Swansea blew it on the big stage. What’s more, an unlikely star took centre stage.
The first twenty minutes displayed an Aston Villa team very much full of Christmas Pudding. With Swansea dominating the ball at the Liberty Stadium, there was nothing much that Villa could do except hope to gain possession (somehow) and then pounce on the counter.
Swansea’s first set-piece chance saw Tammy Abraham rise twice to clear Villa’s lines before Ørjan Nyland comfortably saved. Prior to that, Oli McBurnie had found the space to shoot twice, before his shots were blocked. A sluggish Villa were all too happy to let Swansea play football.
Villa managed to find a shot and a scoring chance after Swansea’s hectic period of domination. Anwar El Ghazi ran Conor Roberts inside out on the flank before turning to find Alan Hutton. The Scotsman found Tammy Abraham who nodded down to give John McGinn a point-blank shot at goal, McGinn delivered, but Mulder in the Swansea goal pulled a fine save out of the bag to keep his side in the game. McGinn, and Villa, might be wondering how on earth that didn’t go in.
Swansea themselves had a ‘head in hands’ incident as McBurnie once found room to shoot in the box, inches away from Nyland. Space was exploited on the wing after Ahmed Elmohamady was caught up the pitch and McBurnie was found open in the box, but he didn’t, for whatever reason, take the shot until Hourihane and Chester closed him down. Shortly after that Nyland raced to Villa’s rescue to sweep a deep ball out.
Villa continued to grow into the game, but were still very much drowsy. Yannick Bolasie hit a good shot, and Elmohamady tried to step into the game, but Villa couldn’t do much more than retreat into the locker for an earful from Dean Smith. Aston Villa’s passing looked sloppy and 8-bit, as they slowly bounced around and were intercepted with ease.
The second-half started with Villa owning a bit more pep in their step. John McGinn came close, but couldn’t touch the ball in on the line, Yannick Bolasie had a point-blank shot stopped, Conor Hourihane came close from a free-kick.
A flashpoint lit up in Villa’s box after Daniel James collapsed after a tackle close to goal. Villa’s players flew into a rage, headlined by Glen Whelan who beelined for Oli McBurnie - and was quite lucky not have been awarded his second yellow of the game. The resulting corner saw Swansea miss and Villa thank their lucky stars.
Despite Swansea slowly growing into the game, Villa had looked more positive and their momentum was rewarded from the most unlikely of sources. An Alan Hutton cross on the left wing found Conor Hourihane who headed home,
Villa managed to escape a number of times - and a few players managed to escape from entering the referee’s book - before John McGinn succumbed after enjoying a pointless argument with the ref to pick up his ninth yellow card of the season. McGinn redeemed himself by hitting a fizzing shot that should have hit the net. The rebound wasn’t picked up by anyone and Mulder safely claimed. Swansea almost capitalised on Villa’s miss but Mike Van Der Hoorn couldn’t put his close range header past the posts - with the left hand post denying him. Another scare came soon after after Robert’s cross hit Conor Hourihane - with the hosts screaming for handball.
The final scare almost turned fears into reality for Villa, as Anwar El-Ghazi launched into a clumsy challenge to afford Swansea a 88th minute penalty. Wilfried Bony stepped up and slammed the ball into the palms of Ørjan Nyland, who saved with some ease. A man who has been blamed for so much managed to rescue Villa when it was needed from him.
It was more than crucial for Villa to perform today, and they did so - and all thanks to a goalkeeper who may be forced onto the bench soon. It’s been a strange season.