A late Birkir Bjarnason goal won all three points for a much-changed Aston Villa side, who claimed their second consecutive win of the season, a fete last achieved in 1999, over Wigan Atletic at Villa Park.
Over thirty thousand Villains welcomed Jack Grealish’s return to Villa Park since his proposed move to Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday was blocked by Nassef Sawiris and despite the turbulent week behind Jack, he wore the number 10 with more pride than ever before.
He started alongside new signing and man of the match John McGinn, with Bjarnason holding. Bruce opted to drop Tommy Elphick for Mile Jedinak who’d partner James Chester, whilst Axel Tuanzebe started at right back, with Alan Hutton operating on the left side. Andre Green and Ahmed Elmohamady supported Jonathan Kodjia on the flanks.
With Conor Hourihane dropped to the bench, McGinn attended to set-piece duties. His first delivery came on the tenth minute as the Scot stood over a deep free-kick which led to Villa opening the scoring. A looping cross committed Wigan ‘keeper Chris Walton, allowing Chester to head into an empty net, his first since March.
The skipper’s defensive partner, Tuanzebe – returning for a second stint at Villa Park – looked reassured in the early stages, allowing the ball to run across his body when Paul Cook’s Wigan pressed aggressively against a slow Villa backline. As the athletic away side grew into the game, holes appeared in the Villa defence when Antonee Robinson and Michael Jacobs found space on the left flank. Elmohamady, failing to cover Tuanzebe, allowed left-back Robinson to run into the box and fire towards Orjan Nyland’s goal.
Wigan’s threat didn’t end here as Nick Powell rose highest at the back post to connect with a Michael Jacobs corner minutes later. Although goal bound, Elmohamady helped preserve Villa’s lead by clearing off the line. After this wake-up call, the hosts began to make use of the best player in the league. With Jack picking up possession deep in the Villa half, he chooses the direct pass to McGinn who moved in between the lines to collect and with his back to gaol, took a touch to steady himself and drive towards goal. However, the six-foot-five-inch frame of Chris Walton got down well to deny the young Scot from range.
The final chance for Villa in the first period, if converted would’ve been the perfect time to score, concede however and it would be the worst time to surrender the slender advantage we had. Cue a Wigan equaliser…
Jedinak, having replaced Elphick in the starting eleven received the ball off match winner Bjarnason without any pressure in Villa’s half, yet somehow the experienced Aussie managed to under hit a back pass to Nyland. The Norwegian could only clear the ball against the shins of the oncoming Nick Powell, before deflecting into the Villa net.
The second period started as the first left off, as the first twenty minutes epitomised. At one end, the industrious McGinn floated a superb cross into the box from the left wing which again evaded Walton in the Wigan goal, but Kodjia couldn’t convert from five yards. The hosts would pay for missing their gilt edge chances when Callum Connolly put Wigan ahead on the hour mark. The impressive Powell whipped a dangerous cross in front of Nyland where Connolly redirected into his far corner.
Since avoiding numerous scares from the visitors, Villa managed to get back on level terms only five minutes later after falling behind. McGinn’s wicked delivery caused chaos as Cedric Kipre cleared off Cheyenne Dunkley head, which luckily fell into the Wigan net.
After Jedinak nearly atoned for his previous error from another McGinn set piece, Steve Bruce was counting his lucky stars as new Wigan signing Josh Windass missed a sitter in front of the North Stand. The former Rangers man couldn’t convert from yards out as a deep cross opened up the Villa back four once more.
All successful sides find a way to scrape three points, which is exactly what Bruce’s men managed to do in the ninety-fourth minute. As Wigan centre-half Dunkley cleared to the feet of Conor Hourihane – who had replaced Jonathan Kodjia – the midfielder swung an excellent cross from the left flank towards the back post where Bjarnason was waiting to tap in, handing Villa a second win of the new season.
Villa now travels to Yeovil on Tuesday for the first round of the Carabao Cup, before Ipswich entertain us on the following Saturday.