Aston Villa’s first domestic exhibition match of the 2019/2020 was a game of two halves - in all meanings of the phrase. Two separate Villa sides played at Shrewsbury, and only one was able to unlock The Shrews to win out.
Here’s how it went down:
XI: Steer, Konsa, Mings, Taylor, Guilbert, Bjarnason, McGinn, Grealish, Davis, Jota, Green
After enduring some early - and late -pressure from Shrewsbury, Villa were able to steady the ship without providing any end product.
An early Jed Steer save from a free-kick calmed Villa down - and the Villans followed up with a spell of dominant possession. Villa’s right-flank shone with direct action, but the left side showed perhaps too much patience as Andre Green and Neil Taylor could do little more than trickle the ball around.
In a defensive midfield role Birkir Bjarnason found himself involved in action across the pitch. The Icelandic action man claimed balls in his own box, before launching into flying headers at the opposite end - enjoying the odd long rage strike as well. Fred Guilbert settled after a shaky start - but found his feet and delivered trademark pinpoint passes into the box from the right-flank. Jota enjoyed the occasion, rising to play the role of trickster with delight and threatened from distance, showing quick feet to unlock plenty of options for himself and others.
Some refereeing confusion emerged in the first half after Jack Grealish entered the book and gained a yellow card for an aggressive, but fair, lunge. Andre Green earned a foul just after the booking for simply tripping over his own feet after
Shrewsbury escaped a goal on the mark of 18 minutes as a towering Keinan Davis saw his header cleared off the line for a corner. Jack Grealish sparked a shot following a period of open play that succeeded the corner earned by Davis, but Max O’Leary claimed the curling effort with ease. Jota shortly followed up with a quick-fire volley after a combination with Guilbert, but Shrewsbury were able to deflect this shot off the line as well.
Another right-flank combination unlocked Keinan Davis once more, and his powerful shot rasped the palms of O’Leary who parried the shot out of play. O’Leary, of course, is well known by Villa fans after his appearance for Bristol City last season against AVFC - where the keeper kept his side in the game with a hatful of incredible saves.
Neil Taylor was the next up on the conveyor belt of Aston Villa chances - choosing to strike a soft shot from just inside the box against a crowd of Shrewsbury defenders. The resulting Grealish corner - a clear experiment - failed to advance the scoreline from deadlock.
Grealish’s leadership role clearly wasn’t lost on him - he demanded an urgent press from McGinn and Bjarnason; and could be seen roaring at his midfield partners if they failed to follow him into action. He drove from deep and assisted Bjarnason when the Icelandic midfielder found himself under pressure.
Without any cutting edge on show, Aston Villa retreated as the first forty-five minutes came to a close - soaking up pressure from Shrewsbury once more. The home team were able to bookend the first half with forward momentum. Villa enjoyed a final attack, and while Neil Taylor and Andre Green worked to fashion a chance, the absence of Jack Grealish in the passing triangle (due to him being scythed down) ensured they weren’t able to engineer anything of note before the whistle blew.
XI: Jed Steer, Chester, Hause, Targett, Bree, Hourihane, Lansbury, O’Hare, Hepburn-Murphy, Wesley, Hogan
Bar Jed Steer, who remained in goal, Aston Villa turned out a transformed lineup for the second half of football.
Villa found a good opportunity to open the scoring after Wesley Moraes plucked a ball from the sky with a mesmerising touch before placing the ball to Rushian Hepburn-Murphy - who like his counterparts in the first half was unable to find a way past an onrushing O’Leary. Kortney Hause attempted to send Villa into the lead but his header from an expertly delivered Hourihane corner couldn’t find the goal.
Jed Steer was able to escape an error after Shrewsbury pressed through Michael Morrison. The former Millwall forward was able to dispossess Steer in the box for a millisecond. Thankfully for the Villa keeper, he was able to hold onto the ball and withstand the press, passing the ball off to his defence.
Villa responded quickly with pressure of their own. Henri Lansbury found space for Scott Hogan on the right-flank to deliver a cross, which found Callum O’Hare. The spritely playmaker motioned to action a scoring movement but was sliced down in the box before it’s completion - and no penalty was awarded. The Villans were close to giving away a penalty themselves as James Chester collided with a forward inches outside of the box. Steer mirrored this by clattering Shaun Whalley, gathering a booking for his risky tackle.
Despite these scares, Villa were able to find a way past Max O’Leary. Wesley allowed himself to be the delivery man again, posting a bouncing through ball to a sprinting Scott Hogan. With boots screaming, Hogan clipped a ball off O’Leary and into the net to finally open up the scoreline.
O’Hare found himself in scoring position once more, but dwelled on the ball to find a better opportunity - which only led to him being robbed in the face of goal. On a better day, Villa’s youngster would have enjoyed two goals. Hepburn-Murphy enjoyed similar frustrations, and lashed at a good opportunity within the box - when a cool head would have seen him double Villa’s lead. James Chester came even closer with a looping header from a desperate position in the penalty area from a Hourihane free-kick - one of which would glance the post shortly after just before the final whistle.
Villa impressed in both halves and due to the darting runs of Hepburn-Murphy, the engineering of Wesley, and the finishing of Scott Hogan, they were able to take a deserved lead and bring home another pre-season victory.
Goalscorers: Scott Hogan 64’
Man of the Match: Jota/Wesley