The harsh reality of life in the Championship hit home yesterday, as Roberto Di Matteo’s first competitive game in charge of Aston Villa, the team’s first match in the second tier since 1988, ended in a 1-0 defeat at Hillsborough.
It certainly wasn’t the start to a new life in the second tier that the 4,500 travelling fans wanted and the first half in particular provided a reminder that there is more work to be done in rebuilding the “house that had to be knocked down” before the transfer window closes.
Chances were at a premium in the cagey opening forty-five minutes.
The first opening fell to the hosts in the twelfth minute as Pudil stabbed the ball hopefully towards Forestieri, who could only turn it wide.
A weak header from Ayew after nineteen minutes was the Villans’ only real chance of the half.
A clash of heads between the new Villa captain Elphick and Owls’ debutant Fletcher, who had been growing in confidence, even chancing his arm with an overhead kick, midway through the half saw the Scotsman forced off after receiving treatment on the pitch and replaced by Hooper. A bloodied, bandaged Elphick soldiered on.
The half hour mark saw Bacuna’s cross headed straight at the Owls’ goalkeeper by Ayew.
Just before the whistle blew, Pudil’s glancing header was greeted by a simple save from Gollini.
After the break, Forestieri’s attacking threat forced the visitors to pick up the pace. They proved dominant in the early stages of the second half but Westwood’s drive from twenty yards out inched wide. He then drilled another long range effort narrowly wide.
It seemed as if new signing McCormack was struggling to gel with Gestede. Nevertheless, the pair were responsible for the visitors’ best chance of the game in the seventy-fifth minute, when Gestede nodded the ball on for McCormack, whose hesitation allowed the Owls’ defenders to nullify his threat.
With the game seemingly headed for a scoreless draw, a scuffed clearance from Gollini, under pressure from Hooper, created a chance for the advancing Forestieri, who made no mistake and smashed a low ball home with five minutes left on the clock.
Speaking post-match, Roberto Di Matteo said:
“With ten minutes to go, you’re away from home against a good side, you’d like to see the game out: if you can’t win it, don’t lose it.
Unfortunately, it was an error from us that gave them the goal but I thought that in the second half we were a very good team and had some excellent opportunities to score.
It’s very harsh for us to take because I’d like the opposition to do something special to score rather than give them a goal.
We have to learn from this situation. We’ve only been together for five weeks…”