Coming off the first loss of 2018 (in the League) Aston Villa hosted Preston North End at Villa park. Neither of the injured duo of Grealish or Adomah was deemed fit enough for the starting lineup or the bench. Only change from Saturday was Onomah on for Elmohamady.
In the the opening minutes Villa were on top with Snodgrass the main threat for Villa. But it was Bjarnason that nearly broke the 0-0 deadlock in the 7th minute from about 35 yards out. The Icelandic midfielder cut in from the left side and found acres of room — the long shot was destined for the goal but for an excellent save. On the ensuing corner John Terry (wearing a kit with no number because his was ripped on the first corner of the night (no call)) tried to loop a header into the corner but the keeper caught it.
John Terry nearly gifted Preton with the opening goal with a bad giveway. Ball went right to Callum Robinson in Villa’s half. It was a stupid play from the captain. The former Villa youngster sent the shot wide left -- thankfully.
Scott Hogan earned Aston Villa a free kick from about 35 yards out. It was interesting to see Hogan come that deep for the ball though (and was the only time in the first half he did). Snodgrass cross found Terry. Hogan gathered on the far side of the net but his shot from a tight angle was easily blocked. Preston countered quickly and Bjarnason picked up the first yellow card of the match for stopping the attack with a shoulder tackle.
Preston then had an attacking spell. Villa defenders were forced into a slew of blocks but the visitors continued to push — mainly due to Villa continually giving the damn ball away. Once Villa did recover the ball most of the Villa players seemed to be just standing around.
And the gates opening in the 37 minute with a scrappy goal off a corner. Cross came in and was headed up in the air. Johnstone went for a punch -- but it only put the ball up in the air. A nicely taken overhead kick by Barkhuizen found the back of the net.
Villa did not respond well to the goal and spend the remander of the first half mostly in their own end.
Halftime came and went. But the manager was busy — Steve Bruce changed things up with Grabban and Davis on for Hourihane and Snodgrass off.
The formation ended up shifting to Davis and Hogan up top — four in the middle (left to right) Onomah, Bjarnason, Jedinak, Grabban. And the back four remained.
The subs may have been attacking but it was Preston who came out on the front foot. A pair of corners created a few decent opportunities.
Mile Jedinak picked up and early yellow card. The free kick came to nothing but the booking meant that both the center midfielders for Villa were on yellow cards.
It was the former Villa man (again) Callum Robinson who should have doubled the Preston lead. He found himself one-on-one with Johnstone but the keeper comes out on top. It was certainly a moment of redemption for the on-loan keeper.
In the 65th minute the match changed with a call from the referee. Hutton went on a run for about 30 yards. He laid the ball off to Onomah -- who sent a hopeful cross in. Keinan Davis went up for it after a bounce and was crowded out by two players. The ref (or more likely the one on the sideline) thought it was enough contact to call for a penalty. Lewis Grabban stepped right up and rolled the ball down the middle from the spot — thankfully the keeper dove to his left. 1-1 and all to play for. (I’ll wait for a replay — but it looked like a soft call)
Villa continued to grow into the match — though some heavy legs were clear especially with John Terry and Mile Jedinak. And that isn’t a shot at them. These are games in quick succession for anyone — but especially the veteran players. Bruce did not take either one of them off -- with his last sub being at right back with Elmohamady coming on for Tuanzebe.
Villa made a few attacks down the stretch. Hutton came close with a strong right foot that he could not keep down. Preston were clearly happy with the point as they wasted time on every free kick and substitution in added time (keeper ended up picking up a yellow for time wasting near the end).
But it was substitute Kenian Davis who had to chance to earn Villa the win. Davis forced a turnover — then had some nice footwork to continue the attack — and found himself on the end of a Grabban cross. The volley from the youngster was just wide. Preston then continued to waste as much time as possible until the final whistle.
It wasn’t pretty. But it was a point when for most of the match it looked like a loss. On to Wednesday on Saturday and hopefully a cleaner bill of health.