Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa recorded a third win in their preparations for the new campaign, beating relegated Burton Albion 4-0 at the Pirelli Stadium. Goals from Jonathan Kodjia, Albert Adomah, Ritchie De Laet and Gary Gardner mean Villa are now unbeaten in their last four against the Brewers.
An unconvincing display can be excused from the travelling faithful as Bruce opted to trial a new 3-5-2 formation. With width coming from Andre Green and De Laet in wing back positions, an unfamiliar defence of Neil Taylor, in demand James Chester and Alan Hutton was formed. Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane started with Jack Grealish in the middle of the park, whilst Adomah and Kodjia headed the attack.
In front of a 2,890 strong crowd, Villa struggled to make an impression in the opening stages where three loose, long balls failed to meet claret and blue shirts. Adomah’s shrug of the shoulders helped paint the picture of the dismal opening from the travellers. However, as the man of the match performer, De Laet impressively disposed of Burton trialist Elliot Hodge, the Belgian threaded a ball into Kodjia‘s path on the 4th minute. Grateful of the service, the Ivorian drove towards goal, and at an angle saw his initial effort denied by Stephen Bywater. The forward tucked away the rebound to score three goals in his last two outings.
Persisting to hit the front man, Villa almost paid the price for negative football. Whilst Chester kept Lucas Akins quiet for the first quarter, the former Arsenal man cleverly kept the ball in play of the right-hand by-line and with the Welshman unable to recover, the forward could square to Jamie Allen. Six yards out, it was Hourihane who preserved Villa’s narrow advantage with a timely block.
A frustrating opening 20 minutes meant Burton could seize the opportunity to draw level. As Akins grew into the game, he managed to draw Chester out of the back three and in doing so allowed Matty Lund and Liam Boyce to run towards Hutton. Luckily, a misplaced pass from Lund denied Boyce his chance to capitalise on a poor showing from the visitors.
The latter stages of the first half epitomised the difficultly Villa has in keeping a slender lead as Scotsman Alan Hutton played a blind pass across the park. Again Boyce couldn’t manage to threaten Jed Steer’s goal as Hutton recovered well, forcing the former Ross County marksman out wide. A lack of invention and control over the first period meant Villa’s creative players couldn’t make their presence known.
Bruce – due to meet Villa’s new investors this week – made no changes at the interval with a mix of youth and experience all filling out the bench. After a tame opening to the second period, Villa doubled their lead through last seasons top scorer Adomah. Clinching his fourth goal in his last three appearances against Burton, the Ghanaian international swept beyond Bywater. After the uninspiring performance of Lansbury in the first half, the midfielder drove at the heart of the home defence and stabbed a ball through to Adomah, who after a poor first touch – put Villa into the driving seat.
Only three minutes later saw an impressive solo goal from right wing back De Laet. Scoring his first goal for the Villans, you’d think the defender had been doing it all his career. Collecting the ball 40 yards from goal he carried it past four static yellow shirts before firing low, beyond Bywater with his weaker left side. Villa now led 3-0. On cue, the travelling fans chanted “Villa’s going up”! It’s fair to say the positive events of the week have rubbed off on the claret and blue faithful.
The hour mark saw Bruce – sitting in the stands – make eight changes. Glenn Whelan, Tommy Elphick, James Bree and Gardner all came into the fold, whilst inexperienced Mitch Clark, Easiah Suliman, Jake Doyle-Hayes and lively Corey Blackett-Taylor also entered the fray.
The latter, having impressed against Telford earlier in the pre-season schedule, powered through Burton’s midfield, before laying Adomah off to role across the box, where Gardner added a fourth to an emphatic second-half display. Yet, unfortunately for the young winger, he pulled up moments later holding his hamstring- a painful way to end a promising performance.
Even if the game was a foregone conclusion the visitors controlled the ball throughout the second period. Notably, the brief cameo from young Irishman Doyle-Hayes was promising. Whilst providing good movement with compatriot Whelan in the middle of the park, his technique was for all to see. The dynamic midfielder collected the ball on the edge of the box and with exquisite control, manipulated the ball with the outside of the boot before striking a half-volley inches from Bywater’s far post.
It’s not the Cup of Traditions, but silverware none the less, Aston Villa are now the holders of The Bass Charity Vase which aims to raise funds for medical and hospital charities. As Adomah struggled to lift the cup, cries of “Jack Grealish, we want you to stay”rang out from the east terrace.
As the transfer window will slam shut in under three weeks, the fate of Villa’s star man must be sorted. Bruce warned Daniel Levy he’ll have to stump up big money for Grealish, following Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens’ recent takeover.
Aston Villa now travels back to the Bescot Stadium to face West Ham on Wednesday night. Active in the transfer market, Manuel Pellegrini’s Hammers will prove a test for Bruce’s men, that’s if the new investors can clarify reassurances of his position at the club.