Aston Villa have only won one competitive football match in their last nine. Steve Bruce’s men had to settle for a share of the points against Bristol City last night. A late first-half header from Birkir Bjarnason cancelled out Josh Brownhill’s deflected effort on the sixteenth minute.
In search of a winner, Steve Bruce chose to replace the only recognised forward on the pitch in Tammy Abraham, deserved of the cries from the three thousand away Villains: “You don’t know what you’re doing!” and “We want Brucey out”.
Goalscorer Bjarnason replaced Anwar El Ghazi, whilst Axel Tuanzebe was recalled for Ahmed Elmohamady at right back. Former Bristol City pair Jonathan Kodjia and Tammy Abraham led the line, while Jack Grealish was wasted out wide. John McGinn and Conor Hourihane partnered Birkir in the middle of the park. Mile Jedinak, James Chester and Alan Hutton look permanent fixtures in an unbalanced Steve Bruce backline.
Having struggled at the DW Stadium, the Robins started the better of the two sides and should have been rewarded for their early pressure. Andi Weimann – at Villa from the age of fifteen – could’ve grabbed his sixth goal of the season. He squeezed in between Tuanzebe and Chester at the far post, before heading over from yards out.
Only minutes later, however, Villa mustered their own chance, and at that, possibly their best of the first period. With Grealish standing up a cross from the right flank, Niki Mäenpää – linked with the away side in the summer – flapped at the cross. Presenting the ball to Kodjia who’s goal-bound effort was blocked. Following an encouraging response to the early pressure the hosts brought upon Villa, Abraham was denied his second goal in claret and blue. Kodjia turning provider, delivered from the opposite wing, but the on-loan Chelsea man backed into Mäenpää. Tim Robinson blew for a foul on the Finnish ‘keeper before the ball bounced into an empty net.
Bristol score first
Despite such a response, Austrian Weimann played a neat one-two with Taylor, and before the forward was tackled on the edge of the box Brownhill’s strike seemed to have wrong-footed Orjan Nyland in the Villa goal, breaking the deadlock in front of the Villa faithful.
Bereft of ideas, the travellers failed to make their lions share of possession count, as two long ranged efforts in as many minutes from both Hourihane and Abraham demonstrated the lack of invention or ideas going forward. It was no wonder that a set piece got Villa out of jail on the third minute of first-half additional time. As Grealish floated off the left flank, his agility drew a foul from O’Dowda on the wing to provide Villa with the opportunity to get bodies in the box for the only time in the first period.
Hourihane once more expertly delivered into the six-yard box, where Icelandic international Bjarnason headed home to tie the scores before the break. Irishman Hourihane has nineteen assists since the start of the last campaign, more than any other player in the division.
Villa began the second period with purpose, as Tim Robinson was again under the spotlight. The referee waving away claims of a handball in the box this time. It was Hourihane’s delivery that again caused chaos for the home side. A melee ensued after Conor whipped the ball inside the penalty area. Moments later, McGinn demonstrated his technique again, coming close to drilling another volley in front of the travelling Villa fans. But with the angle against the Scot, Mäenpää had enough room to turn the ball around the post.
As Villa fatigued at the hour mark, Lee Johnson chose to introduce Famara Diedhiou to ruffle a few feathers at the top end of the pitch. Since the away side hadn’t troubled the home goal for at least ten minutes, Yannick Bolasie should have replaced Kodjia earlier than he did.
Going for the win
With the game dwindling to a natural end, both sides still managed half chances to threaten a winner. Bristol City threw the first punch, loading balls into the box, and with Diedhiou connecting with Elliason’s corner, McGinn scrambled off the line.
At the other end, on two occasions Grealish got to the right-hand byline. Before his deliveries where both cut out before they could reach the intended target of Abraham.
Granted, Tammy had little to work with for most of the game. But that is simply not a reason to replace the only man who looked like winning the game for Villa. A man that netted over twenty times at for the opposition two campaigns ago. After starting the game with two strikers and no wingers, Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa ended it, looking for a winner without any strikers, and two wingers.