Football is back! Well in my case it finally is after a 3 week honeymoon in the Seychelles. I’m mentioning this as I’ve heard brief reports of how we have played up until last night and despite the jetlag, I, along with the usual healthy crowd travelled down to Ashton Gate last night.
Travelling down it was like I hadn’t been away. Discussing team line ups, formations, the full works and as soon as we got down to Bristol I learnt that in typical Villa fashion it’s hard to predict what will happen.
Having seen the highlights in between the beaches, oceans and beers of our two previous games and the eight goals scored in the last two games, I was confident and looking forward to seeing the attacking style that I had heard was looking refreshing and the way forward.
Steve Bruce named a similar lineup to the side that beat Norwich 4-2 at home in our previous league outing, only making one change in bringing in Christopher Samba for Alan Hutton.
Now my view on last night may be different to many others and it may be down to the tiredness that I came away feeling pretty downhearted about the game.
Despite Andre Green being the first player from either side to create a chance, driving low after a trademark cut inside from the left hand side, the first 30 minutes or so saw Villa pinned back by the Robins with the likes of Jamie Paterson and most notably Bobby Reid providing energy and ambition to push for the opening goal.
Just before the break the Lions appeared to have started to wake up with a few chances beginning to fall to them through Hourihane and Elmohamady respectively.
Half time saw Bruce withdraw Samba with the player reportedly suffering from a knee injury. The formation switched to 4-4-2 and James Bree was the replacement, slotting into his usual right back position.
Early signs in the second half indicated a better performance was coming from Villa, Onomah first saw a shot blocked by City keeper Frank Fielding and then Conor Hourihane looked to continue his recent goal scoring form but his ambitious lob from 35 yards dipped just wide of Fielding’s right hand post.
However, on the hour mark John Terry fouled the lively Reid on the edge of the box and Marlon Pack’s low free kick (initially blocked) caused all sorts of problems as Villa failed to clear two or three times and it was left for Paterson to turn the ball into the bottom left corner from eight yards leaving Sam Johnstone no chance.
The away following again over 3000 strong got fully behind the team and were rewarded just four minutes later when Ahmed Elmohamady’s venture down the right ended in him being dispossessed by City left back Joe Bryan. Despite the tackle, the ball fell invitingly for Josh Onomah who rifled an effort at goal from 25 yards and a deflection off Marlon Pack saw the ball loop up and over a helpless Fielding and Villa were level.
With the Atyeo Stand in full voice, Hourihane found space in the box and didn’t catch his shot cleanly which could have seen Villa take the lead.
The remaining time saw Bristol City come within the goal post of retaking the lead, as Paterson quickly played in Eros Pisano, cutting in from the right and his miss-hit cross looked to be floating in over Johnstone only to see the ball bounce back down into the six yard box to the relief of all involved with Villa.
Villa could have fashioned a late winner when the two other substitutions from Bruce may have linked up. Birkir Bjarnason who replaced André Green burst down the left hand side but frustratingly didn’t look up to see Scott Hogan making a trademark run into the box and surely have a simple chance to pick up the three points.
It wasn’t to be and on the balance of play a point was probably the right result.
There are a few points to raise from the game itself which are the key reasons for my frustrations on the way home.
i) Christopher Samba did put in some important blocks but he showed little to no composure on the ball. I counted numerous times that passes, simple passes between him and Terry in particular were all over the place.
ii) The back line were often bypassing midfield playing several longer, hopeful balls towards Keinan Davis who had very little support despite his efforts to hold the ball up. He was becoming repeatedly isolated.
iii) Bruce’s substitutions and the timing of them. There were many times last season the team needed shaking up to add a positive impetus and last night, away from home again was the same case. We battled to a point and we could well have lost the game. But I honestly thought Hogan was needed not just earlier but even before we got ourselves level to show our own ambitions of winning. Scoring two against Norwich it was the perfect opportunity to give him a consistency which he needs in order to become a regular goal scorer.
iv) Leadership. One thing that really stood out for me was how quiet we were at corners and set pieces. It was the first time I’d seen Terry wearing the shirt and tried to really focus in on him when I could. I didn’t hear anyone shouting or screaming other than for Sam Johnstone and it carried on through the spine of the team. Whelan beaten several times in midfield and Davis being given the seemingly impossible task of trying to win headers against former Villa defender Nathan Baker who led their back line impressively.
Despite frustrations I am positive in the knowledge that Mile Jedinak and Jonathan Kodjia will make a massive difference. Anyone left that doesn’t see the sheer difference in Jedinak playing must be watching a different team or channel. I also believe Robert Snodgrass will be a great addition and he can be a game winner with the added bonus of being another set piece option.
My only hope is that the defence improves. If it doesn’t, Bruce has to adopt the attacking style, giving freedom to simply allow the “score more than you” approach.