After a great end to 2017 with an away victory at Middlesborough, we began 2018 with a very difficult game against high flying Bristol City. Many fans feared the worst for this game and I doubt that anyone inside Villa Park expected what was to come.
Steve Bruce stuck with the same eleven that beat Middlesbrough a few days earlier as he tends to when we win games.
The home side started off a little bit shaky and allowed Bristol the majority of the ball. The away side came close with a long-range effort from Marlon Pack that whispered past the post.
It took Bruce’s men just 23 minutes to take the lead and control of the game. Jack Grealish who was once again in excellent form played a beautiful ball through to Albert Adomah, who in turn crossed the ball into the box for Scott Hogan to head a looping header into the back of the net.
Villa then doubled their lead when Hogan, once again got on the end of an Adomah cross only to be denied by Steele but Robert Snodgrass was the quickest to react to score the rebound.
As the half-time whistle was blown the players were greeted with a deserved standing ovation after the excellent first half performance. After throwing away a 2-0 lead against Sheffield United some fans could have been forgiven for worrying about what the second half had in store.
Bristol moved centre-back, Aden Flint, up front for the second half as once again they started brighter of the two sides. They came close only to see two of their players get in each other’s way and for James Chester to scramble the ball away.
The third goal and probably the killer goal saw Grealish once again get involved. The midfielder picked up the ball from his own half and turned the burners on to travel towards the Bristol box, he then played a perfectly weighted ball to Snodgrass who took a touch inside and dispatched the ball into the back of the net.
With the game all but put to bed, Bruce opted to take off the impressive Adomah to a standing ovation from both sets of fans and replaced by Birkir Bjarnason.
Villa then made it 4 through the Icelandic substitute. Alan Hutton played a superb ball through for Bjarnason who beat the offside trap and placed the ball past Luke Steele into the bottom right-hand corner.
The fans chanted “we want five” and the home side granted them their wish. The ball fell to Conor Hourihane outside the six-yard box following a cross that was deflected from Rushian Hepburn-Murphy for him to slot home to complete the rout!
Grealish was very impressive and was my Man of the Match. His runs were so powerful and he left the Bristol defence for dead on more than one occasion. Let’s just hope his form can continue as he will play a vital part in the second part of the season.
Bruce has received a lot of stick recently, rightly or wrongly but he deserved credit after this display. He got his team selection and tactics spot on for a promotion rival.
Steve Bruce: “We had a slow first 20 minutes and there was a period in the second half where they looked a threat from set-pieces, with their two centre-halves.
We’ve played well. It’s good to score five and it puts us in a good position.”
Lee Johnson: “This was a game too far for us. You try and run two half marathons in two days, with all the speed, tempo, guile, skill and environment.
It was interesting to hear the Villa fans mocking us, Bruce flicking the ball all over the gaffe – we’re still three points above them. Let’s see where we are at the end. We’ve got to use that as ammunition.”