Spurning the pyrotechnics that welcomed the new year at Villa Park, the crowd provided all of the atmosphere necessary and in a match that required no preamble sang their desire to see a seventh consecutive victory and keep their squad’s 2018 form perfect against the hated cross-town rivals.
Beyond the import of the rivalry, the match allowed Villa the opportunity with a victory to take over the second automatic promotion spot and earn some points against the efforts of their table-mates. Each of the top six save Wolves drew in their matchups this week playing against competition lower in the table which opened a clear window for the Claret and Blue.
The biggest change to lineups came with Mile Jedinak replacing Birkir Bjarnason in the starting XI. Bjarnason’s all around play has been a huge boon for the squad over our last turn of form and it’ll be interesting to see if Steve Bruce’s roll of the die pays off. Bjarnason has certainly played his way onto the pitch and only made his case, yet Bruce might have opted for his more trusted Jedi.
The First Half
In short, Villa bossed the match through the first thirty minutes, with Jack Grealish playing a top notch two way game to push that attack and tackle in the midfield to create possession. Villa earned corner after corner, yet the final strike on net was always lacking.
Scott Hogan was responsible for Villa’s best chances, firing a rocket off the crossbar from the edge of the 18 yard box, and again at the end of a beautifully worked opportunity from Grealish through to Albert Adomah whose little poke from just inside the box made it to Hogan in front of the net. A Blues defender blocked the nudge to keep the score blank.
Jedinak in replacement showed his defensive capabilities breaking up a few Blues chances in the attack after they forced their way into the match at around the 30 minute mark. Some key deflections kept pressure from facing Sam Johnstone.
Albert Adomah put a ricocheted strike off of Blues keeper David Stockdale whose keeping qualities were prepared, yet when forced to play the ball pressure from Hogan caused him to put a few deep balls out of play.
In the 42nd minute the closest chance came on a breakaway down the Villa left by Sam Gallagher, with James Chester chasing him back to the net after captain John Terry’s slip. Gallagher picked a wide shot and obliterated Johnstone’s right post and the rebound came back to Gallagher but with little time with the ball at his feet was unable to take a proper swing and missed well high a clear net.
The halftime whistle came to draw an end to a 0-0 first half which with all of Villa’s possession (about 60-40) chances (8 corners to 3), and defensive activity (14 dispossessions to 1), saw Villa lucky to the dressing room square due to Gallagher’s missed shot. Credit due to WhoScored for the stats.
The Second Half
Lightning nearly struck int he first minute of the half with two Blues taking headers on their own goal lines to clear a corner with the second nearly caroming inside the crossbar, yet Birmingham City weren’t so unlucky on this occasion.
After nearly the hour, Birmingham City had more or less levelled with Villa for effort, yet they were not the ones with Jack Grealish and Albert Adomah afield. With a lot of blue in front of him, Grealish pulled two defenders away wide from the attack and Adomah made a spectacular break from the left to the middle of the pitch. Grealish’s pinpoint pass made it’s way to Adomah breaking across the box and when he cleared the defenders, put a shot straight into the short corner which rattled it’s way to the netting. Standing on the field wall with arms outstretched, Adomah was serenaded with the cheers of 40-some thousand of the faithful.
Hardly more could be said about Jack Grealish at this point yet he demands the plaudits and abundance of commentary. His activity at every level of the pitch is outstanding and coupled with his gravity among defenders, his play created nearly every opportunity for Villa in this match, as well as the one that put an all important notch on the board.
Down the stretch of the match Scott Hogan, who had a wonderful match even without finding the net, made way for newcomer Lewis Grabban making his debut. It was a good way to make an introduction with a happy crowd ready to welcome him to the park.
Birmingham City continued to play stupid aggressive instead of tough and Carl Jenkinsons challenge on Adomah should have put them to 10 men, but Villa got their revenge where it mattered in the 81st minute.
On a ball battered around in the Birmingham end Conor Hourihane, whose contribution to Adomah’s goal shouldn’t go unmentioned, found himself with the ball at his foot and an angle to the net and simply struck lightning putting a rocket into the corner of the goal.
Villa’s final change saw Glenn Whelan make his return to the pitch to provide some defensive cover. Adomah was given his hero’s exit and Villa’s subs continued to pressure Blues in their own end to see the match out.
Birmingham City’s frustration and true class was shown with Cheikh N’Doye being sent off in the final minute of action after he stepped on his second Villan of the day. After stepping on Mile Jedinak our captain John Terry pirouetted with him for a minute before the referee gave N’Doye his second yellow of the day.
In an all important match, Villa took all the goals, all three points, all the class and all the glory. Bragging rights for the city were won and a place in an automatic promotion spot was awarded as Villa leaped over Derby County while Oasis boomed throughout Villa Park and the squad earned their adoration from the Holte End.
Even though he exited in the 84th minute, the crowning highlight of the day was Jack Grealish exiting the pitch to the cheers of the attendees, clapping to show his appreciation and allowing them to show theirs. It was an absolutely banner day for the local wunderkind and though he didn’t see the scoresheet as he’d most certainly hoped, this victory was all at his feet as is all of Birmingham.
Jack, you’ve earned it. Jack, you own it.