Steve Bruce’s tenure at Villa Park is all but over after his side failed to beat Preston North End, who are rock bottom of the championship. In a crazy game under the lights, Glenn Whelan had the opportunity to steal all three points from the penalty spot at the death. Preston had turned the game on its head, leading 3-2 after James Chester received a red card. Winning 2-0, Villa goal-scorers Tammy Abraham and Jonathan Kodjia where both replaced before the away side fought back.
Bruce handed a first start of the campaign for Mark Bunn as he chose to drop £4m signing Orjan Nyland – a goalkeeper Bruce has followed for four years. Ahmed Elmohamady, Axel Tuanzebe, Chester and Alan Hutton made up the defence. Bruce seemed reluctant to change the midfield and attack, keeping Grealish on the wing.
Bright start for Preston
Preston started the brighter of the two, showing no respect to the hosts at Villa Park, but it was John McGinn who took the game by the scruff of the neck. Winning the ball deep in his own half, the Scot found Grealish on the half turn. He then drove towards the heart of the Preston backline. As Jack looks to add more goals to his game, he struck from twenty yards but failed to find the target.
As Villa hit their stride, it was a matter of when not if for the hosts, an uncommon thought at Villa Park these days. Elmohamady – using the space on the right flank – stood up a quality cross to the back post. Kodjia hung above Darnell Fisher to head across Chris Maxwell’s goal.
With Preston on the ropes, Villa doubled their advantage ten minutes later. McGinn’s tenacity and intensity was rewarded. The midfielder pinched the ball on the left flank under the nose of Paul Huntington, before providing an assist for Abraham. At a tight angle, Abraham stabbed the ball underneath Maxwell to give Villa control at half-time.
The fight back
Having lost their previous five, Preston had a point to prove while the hosts thought the game was over. Callum Robinson came close on two occasions, but the away side was rewarded for their start, and Villa punished for theirs. However, what wasn’t so clear-cut was Darren England’s decision to give Chester his marching orders for allegedly bringing down Lukas Nmecha in the box. A penalty was given and dispatched by former Villa youngster Daniel Johnson.
A passive and clueless second period invited the away side back into the game which was in the hands of Bruce’s men. James Bree replaced Abraham to fill the void left in the back four. Manchester City loanee Nmecha was a handful, striking the post a minute after his side tied the scores. On three occasions, Paul Huntington failed to capitalise on awful Aston Villa defending. He headed over from inside the box – but the hosts did not learn their lesson.
After McGinn was too eager to win back the ball, the fleet-footed Johnson drew a foul on the edge of the box. It allowed substitute Paul Gallagher to sweep past an un-organised Villa wall. Mark Bunn – starting in goal for the first time since May – failed to keep the ball out of the net by pushing off the near post – hardly claiming the number one spot.
Up for grabs
Since Bruce chose to replace both strikers, we went searching for a winning goal for the second game running, without a recognised striker and Conor Hourihane who was replaced by Glenn Whelan. Alex Neil made his own changes – to move to prevail – as Louis Moult put his side in front. He headed home from a corner after only three minutes passed since his introduction.
Villa Park fell toxic, thankfully for all of five minutes as Yannick Bolasie turned in from close range after a melee in the box, from McGinn’s corner from the right flank. But in true Villa fashion, all hope was rejuvenated as Johnson presented the hosts with a golden chance to steal all three points on the 94th minute.
Bolasie, buzzing after scoring his second goal in front of the Holte End, seemed certain to win the game until Glenn Whelan took a liking to the situation. Scoring four goals in three-hundred Premier League appearances, the Irishman stepped up and tamely rolled the ball towards the right corner, but with Maxwell guessing correctly, Villa dropped another two points.