If Villa’s win over Ipswich was theatre, than Villa’s draw against Derby was cinematic. A desperate defence conceding early on, a slugging attack fighting against the odds, woe betiding the Villa strikers, their finishing defying the scoreline and chances made.
All that until a single moment, where the buried roots of the plot met each other to reach their destined climax, after Villa had been knocking on the door for the vast majority of the game, they found a goal from a likely source - the boot of Lewis Grabban.
Early on, Villa found themselves on the ropes as their left-flank collapsed. Derby camped out and forced the issue tactically to ensure Villa were unable to recover, and they weren’t. Neil Taylor cut a forlorn and hopeless figure, clearly battling shadows on the flank and was completely unable to cope. His withdrawal due to a hamstring injury within 20 minutes will shine a light onto his performance as he was clearly left wanting - much to the delight of former Villa outcast Andi Weimann, who cut inside, out, and around like a jigsaw puzzle piece to open the goal wide for Cameron Jerome, who slotted in. Grey smoke filled the air from the Derby end, their supporters sent into delirium, a rush of hope to the head.
The introduction of Alan Hutton brought a clenched fist into the Villa team, who suddenly stood up, brushed their bloody nose and demanded a fight. Derby locked back into a shield wall, hoping to break and crush Villa once more, while the Villans caressed the ball, waiting for a moment to strike and break Derby hearts.
With Villa entrenched in the Derby half, nerves rose as Matej Vydra placed the ball into the path of a rampant Weimann with an enchanted backheel. Despite Weimann’s run, Ahmed Elmohamady and Alan Hutton came to spare Villa’s blushes by closing out the Austrian, who left Villa Park to four sides of applause.
After Jonathan Kodjia, Conor Hourihane, Robert Snodgrass and Jack Grealish asked questions of Scott Carson in the Derby goal, it was Lewis Grabban who scraped the ball in following a goal mouth scramble, with John Terry casually directing the ball to the waiting Grabban to steal home.
Villa left it late, but a single goal was the least they deserved. A valiant, crusading effort from a team that should be the favourite to go up in the play-offs. Never count Aston Villa out.
The Manager’s Thoughts
Villa’s Assistant Manager, Colin Calderwood, stepped in for Steve Bruce on the official site post-match presser. Calderwood thought it was promising that Villa performed well while chasing the result, and that it made for a very entertaining game of football.
I don’t care what you think about the game because Kristoffer Freiding STREAMED THE GAME ON TOP OF A MOUNTAIN.
Watching @AVFCOfficial with a view Happy with the 4G coverage in Norway, imagine climbing one of the highest +2000 m peaks on skis, then to sit down and stream a game of football⚽️ #AVLDER pic.twitter.com/1WxYZwfqqD— Kristoffer Freiding (@KristofferF) April 28, 2018
ROLL UP ROLL UP
Expected goals can tell us a fair bit about a match. Here’s an explainer. In the long term we can judge how well a team is doing in front of goal. On a match-by-match basis, we can simply judge chances, and how well they are taken.
Villa: 4.38 (1)
Derby: 0.9 (1)
Data provided by Infogol
A big miss for Villa here, who notched up a tally worthy of a fair few goals. Derby were bang on for value, with their single goal.
Still, there’s reason to be optimistic. That’s a good single-match performance from Villa who tallied up chances against a rigid, play-off worthy defence. On their day, they’d have been good for a massive scoreline.
Heading into the play-offs, we just need to ask Villa to simply ‘keep it up’. This will come good over two-legs and provide a good platform for the play-off final, should Villa qualify.
On the other hand, I hate football.
Goalscorers: Lewis Grabban continued his spree by adding a tap-in here.
Big winners: Glen Whelan and Josh Onomah stood out, once more. Onomah has found his place in the team and it’s alongside Grabban, Kodjia and Grealish. He’s able to see moves and plays that nobody else can envision. Glen Whelan was taken off for Onomah, but he’d performed a legion’s work in midfield for Villa. Should take a shot once in a while though! The biggest winner of the match was Alan Hutton, who helped Villa settle into the game and restored balance to the team.
Big losers: Neil Taylor didn’t look at all settled before he was taken off due to injury. Hope he comes back firing on all cylinders. Villa can’t afford to collapse on the flank again.
Best moment: The swelling roar of a full-to-the-brim Villa Park as Lewis Grabban finally poked home a goal that was more than due.
Worst moment: Seeing Villa misfire so often wasn’t great, but it was exciting! Worst moment? The impending doom of Cameron Jerome running riot with Andi Weimann. It looked to be Derby’s match for so long.
Man of the Match: Alan Hutton. Could have scored a few goals, ran wild on the left, reached back to save Villa. He was everywhere and he was immense. A great season from him.