It would be fair to say that most Villa fans went into the game against Middlesbrough with a negative mindset. No wins in five and pressure was massively beginning to build on manager Steve Bruce.
It was Tony Pulis’ first game in charge of Middlesbrough since he became their new manager and Villa fans would have loved to get one over the former Baggies boss who used to obsess over West Brom’s ‘illustrious neighbours’.
The Villa manager made a few adjustments to the side that lost on boxing day to Brentford as he tried to pick a side to change Villa’s fortunes.
Pulis went back to his old tricks by playing a big man in Rudy Gestede up top and gave Ryan Shotton a start so he could use his long throwings as he did when the two worked with each other at Stoke.
Former Villa striker, Gestede had a few first-half attempts but did little to trouble Sam Johnstone in the Villa goal.
The closest the away side come in the opening 20 minutes was through a free kick but Robert Snodgrass couldn’t course any concern on the Middlesbrough goal.
It was quite a drab first half with neither side really causing the other any bother but it was Villa who came out for the second half on the front foot.
James Chester came close but he could only head Conor Hourihanes free-kick onto the roof of the net, while Darren Randolph did well to deny Villa when he turned Jack Grealish’s low shot behind for a corner.
Middlesbrough introduced former Villan Adama Traore to try and turn things around with his pace and power but as Villa fans, we know all too well that the former Barcelona winger lacks a final ball.
In fact, it was Albert Adomah, the man who replaced Traore at Villa who created the only goal of the game. The winger sent over a deep cross for Snodgrass to dive and head into the bottom corner.
It was a poor game in truth but Villa will be happy to take all three points knowing they won’t have to come up against Middlesbrough once their new manager settles in.
The pressure seemed to have lifted off Bruce until he appeared to comment about the fans turning a few bad results into a crisis. The fans are very divided on the manager and I can’t imagine that changing until his days at B6 are numbered. Next up for Villa is Bristol City at home on New Year’s day.
Steve Bruce: “Considering the problems that we’ve had (without nine players) it’s a very satisfying win. The response from the other night was vitally important. We’ve seen today this is a division which throws up results which leave people scratching their heads at. Let us get on with the job in hand.”
Tony Pulis: “I thought Villa did well, they played with a back four and five in front and never let us get in behind. I wanted to play with two forwards, see what Rudy Gestede and Britt Assombalonga were like together with Stewart Downing and Martin Braithwaite – and the quality they’ve got you’d hope we’d create opportunities.”