As the snow fell over Lancashire like a blanket, Aston Villa found themselves equally suffocated by a Bolton team that were all too happy to take an early lead and force Villa to raise their game in order to keep their promotion hopes alive.
Aston Villa dealt with a Bolton barrage early on as Sammy Ameobi whipped in a number of corners within the opening minutes of the match. John Terry and Conour Hourihane rose to the occasion each time, before Sam Johnstone safely claimed the ball to offer Villa their first spell of meaningful possession
The Baltic conditions in Bolton assisted Villa on an early break, with Mark Beever’s affording three mistimed clearances to allow Albert Adomah and Lewis Grabban to pounce, but the latter’s shot couldn’t find the back of the box, let alone the back of the net. At ten minutes in, Bolton and Villa were both spared, when the traditional white football was changed for an orange version. Due to the weather, the white ball was barely visible.
Will Buckley and Sammy Ameobi were all too happy to ask questions of Villa’s defence, and got out on top - when Buckley duped James Chester into a challenge that pushed the Villa defender’s name into the referee’s book. This kicked off a sequence of events that led to Bolton Wanderers taking the lead inside twenty minutes.
Bolton took the lead after Ameobi’s poor whipping corner was backheeled by Darren Pratley across the mouth of the goal, where Adam Le Fondre was waiting, unmarked. Birkir Bjarnason and Conor Hourihane should have dealt with it, but questions should be asked of Villa’s pairing of John Terry and James Chester - who need to be organising their defence. All round, an awful goal to concede, but not entirely undeserved. Somehow, both John Terry and Hourihane were unable to clear a poor cross, and were unable to settle Villa, who freaked out and allowed Le Fondre to bury
Aston Villa were instantly placed on life support, and could have went two down after Jon Flanagan was left in acres of space by James Bree on the left. His shot was thankfully parried, and the Villans managed to stay alive to muster a fightback.
Jack Grealish tested Bolton’s Ben Alnwick with a dipping volley, to earn Villa a corner that typically led to nothing. It was a brilliant bit of technique to tempt the Villa faithful into life.
Bolton were lucky to keep ten men on the pitch after Andrew Taylor left a mark on Birkir Bjarnason with a rough, high challenge. The Bolton man found the ball, but his feet carried through to land a crushing tackle on Bjarnason’s ankles. Bjarnason jumped up after the Aston Villa bench, including Steve Bruce, charged the pitch. Robert Snodgrass also jumped into the fray, and found a booking for his trouble.
Lewis Grabban could have brought Villa back into the game, but his point blank shot was saved. The man on-loan from Bournemouth should have buried it, or at least tested Bolton a little bit more with his shot.
Villa ended the first-half having hustled and put in a shift, but with nothing to show for it. A moment of lost focus led to Bolton taking their lead, and holding it. Bolton came out of the traps storming and Villa, with a makeshift back four thanks to James Bree’s strange position on the left, struggled to deal with them.
As the second-half kicked off, the snow continued and so did the frustration at the Macron. Both Bolton and Villa found themselves at the mercy of the referee on the day, who seemed to be all too eager to freeze play at the slightest notion.
A change was introduced for Aston Villa, who moved Rushian Hepburn-Murphy into the fray for Conor Hourihane, who never really seemed to get started. The youngster almost made an instant impact, but his spinning volley never really took off after Ahmed Elmohamady picked him out. Despite the best efforts of the deep-lying Jack Grealish and a rampant Robert Snodgrass, nothing came off, at all for Aston Villa.
The second-half was a banquet of slips, spills, mis-kicks, misplaced passes, half-chances and sloppy challenges, much to the delight of Bolton who were able to control and strangle the game from the comfortable position afforded to them by their early goal.
Scott Hogan, who replaced Albert Adomah, found himself on the end of a Robert Snodgras ball, and could have easily mirrored Lewis Grabban by missing in the face of goal, but the Villa man was able to do one better by forcing Bolton’s Jon Flanagan to save the day. You’d have expected the net to bulge, though, and Hogan should have struck the ball with a lot more confidence instead of simply trying to redirect the ball.
Keinan Davis eventually moved onto the pitch for a departing Robert Snodgrass, to push Villa forward with four strikers. Not one of Villa’s front-men were a scratch on Bolton’s Adam Le Fondre, who led the way with some force to challenge John Terry and James Chester. The Bolton man made a real difference, something that Aston Villa were unable to do.
Late on, Ben Alnwick managed to keep out James Bree’s diving header with a showcase of goalkeeping footwork, along with a fingertip save. Too little and too late from the away team.
As Lewis Grabban’s dribble was knocked out for a throw, so were Villa, who are surely knocked out of automatic promotion by some margin now. Villa’s last rally was snuffed out by the final whistle and a roar from the home crowd.
Bolton find themselves breaking away from the relegation group, while Villa’s hopes will rely on an all-out collapse from Cardiff.