A loud Villa Park was ready for a good weekend and greeted some new faces in the starting XI after Steve Bruce mentioned his desire to get some rotation going among his club.
Birkir Bjarnason and Captain/Leader/Legend John Terry both missed their second consecutive match, Terry with his rolled ankle and Thor out with his back acting up. Both of those gents definitely need the rest with the potential push to the top or through the playoff.
Lewis Grabban looked active and creative on Tuesday against Cardiff with a few precision passes to create attacking space, and putting pressure on Leeds centrebacks was a point brought up in our prematch Statistical Analysis:
Another formation option could see the returning Jonathan Kodjia join up with Lewis Grabban up front or on the wing in a two-man attack after his impressive cameo coming off the bench against Cardiff. Playing a 4-4-2 would mean that the two Leeds centre backs (likely reserves) have a bit more to think about rather than looking after just Grabban. With Kodija’s link play essential now that he is fit it, this would add something different given Leeds will have scouted Villa in the last few weeks and will be expecting the formation in the first graphic. Who wouldn’t?
Aside from that, Bruce’s changes gave him options for later in the evening. With Leeds in a sad state, his reservist options like Glenn Whelan and Josh Onomah should have been likely to get the job done, and even if they couldn’t, the opportunity to try to put some life into the match through substitutions could give Bruce some reps to try some new things other than trying to win the match through volume of strikers on the pitch.
The First Half
The change in rotation showed early as a few passes missed their marks, crosses went long in misguided anticipation, and Leeds had the first chance on net as Ezgjan Alioski curled his attacking run centrally and put a ball straight on Sam Johnstone in net who deflected above. Leeds could create nothing from the corner, and that became a consistent theme of the first half.
Villa created corners with Mile Jedinak seeing the Championship highlights of the week and attempting a Ruben Neves in the box off one, but couldn’t wind the shot up quickly enough. Robert Snodgrass and Ahmed Elmohamady worked to create some space along the right side and Snoddy had a curling shot on goal that was blocked by Leeds keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell who was tested a few times and came up roses for the most part on the day.
Jonathan Kodjia looked active along the attacking left, creating some chances with the ball at his feet moving into the penalty area, but took a hard challenge just outside of the box and stayed down for a breathless minute as we hoped Jimmy Danger didn’t pick up another nagging knock.
Villa held the attack in the Leeds defensive area for so long of the half that the mass of time and pressure was just enough on their side. The scoreboard turned to reflect that pressure in the 29th minute as the attacking play off of a corner gave Jack Grealish the ball in space along the left side. Lewis Grabban’s strength kept his defender at bay until Grealish’s pass came in and Grabban’s header found the corner of the net.
Again, our man Gareth Cooper as the soothsayer called his shot.
Leeds began to enter the game and held some time in the attacking area before the halftime whistle came in a sigh of relief for the recent late and early concessions Villa had seen recently.
The Second Half
Paul Heckingbottom decided that the single goal deficit merited a half time change and brought off Caleb Ekuban for Samuel Saiz. The change worked wonders and Leeds controlled the first portion of the second half putting some serious pressure on Villa and threatening to level the match.
Glenn Whelan did the most to keep the marginal Villa lead coming off of a Leeds corner when a header pretty gently bounded toward the goal line. Not looking to be involved where he’d been, Whelan snuck back to the line in support of Sam Johnstone and cleared it.
Lewis Grabban made a great run through a centreback to create a near point blank shot on net to truly end the Leeds stranglehold on momentum, yet again Peacock-Farrell made some great saves on Grabban’s and then Kodjia’s shots and kept the Whites as clean as he could through the chaos.
The second half became a lot more physical with Kodjia and Onomah both getting into spats before being subbed off for Albert Adomah and Chris Samba respectively. Grabban was also brought off for Scott Hogan and all of the subs played their parts well to see the half through, though never allowing the fans the second goal that could allow everyone to take a breath.
The victory saw Villa cement at least a spot in the playoffs and draw to within two points of Fulham and one point of Cardiff. However, Villa will need to be bailed out by both of those clubs dropping expected points in their remaining matches as they look for someone to take care of the business they should have done on their own.
Even without a second goal coming, the changes that Bruce made to the starting XI and the subs were good. Whelan was limited in his play, but Whelan is limited in his play, and he got the job done. Josh Onomah looked very active throughout the match and had some spectacular plays to create opportunities, just not enough to follow them through. On the whole though, it was an exceptional, engaged match he played and both of them proved Bruce right.
Regarding the others James Chester is awesome, just barely missed nabbing a goal from an Onomah cross, and played beautifully on the back line in tandem with Mile Neve-nak. Sam Johnstone played smart when he was forced into some action, which wasn’t often and both Neil Taylor and Ahmed Elmohamady held their spots and contributed going forward. If anyone played less than stellar it was probably Snoddy who saw two free kicks straight into the wall of defenders and took some dramatic dives looking for fouls. He seems as if he could do for some rest.
For the subs; Scott Hogan had a run on goal that nearly created a gilt edge chance, but was closed out by an exception tackle from the defense, Albert Adomah kept possession and bled clock in the left corner well and on the Hogan run on goal completely broke a defender going to the goal—though he didn’t see Snoddy unmarked in front of the goal, and finally, Chris Samba didn’t participate much but for the last few minutes, but it was good to see the behemoth in action and healthy again.
Regardless of what Cardiff and Fulham do in their remaining matches, Villa did what they needed to today and guaranteed another chance this season to decide their own fate via the playoffs after forestalling their previous efforts at finding a spot in the top two. Stay checking us out here at 7500 to Holte as we prepare for Ipswich Town in a few weeks, and have a longer weekend to enjoy today’s victory.