Aston Villa ended 2018 with a point at against Preston at Deepdale. An Ahmed Elmohamady own-goal cancelled out Tammy Abraham’s first-time strike. A late chance for Birkir Bjarnason was however squandered, costing the away side another two points on the road.
Dean Smith named an unchanged starting eleven for the trip to Preston, with Glenn Whelan starting his third match in a row. The energy levels of Smith’s side have been tested in recent weeks. The festive schedule seems to have taken its toll on the group.
The hosts started on the front foot, catching Villa cold in the opening exchanges. Jordan Storey rattled Orjan Nyland’s crossbar as the Norwegian fumbled a Paul Gallagher corner. Only minutes later, former Villa youth stars Daniel Johnson and Graham Burke linked up to cause Villa’s shaky defence problems. Long balls fired over the top of James Bree and James Chester caused chaos all afternoon. But on this occasion, Nyland kept the scores level by beating away Burke’s well-timed volley towards goal.
After a poor twenty minute showing from the away side, Anwar El Ghazi had the chance to grab a goal against the run of play. The ball fell at the feet of the Dutchman after Abraham tried to feed Conor Hourihane on the left wing. Driving towards goal, El Ghazi fired over with his weaker left side. Abraham pealed off Storey – the Chelsea loanee was left fuming with the winger’s decision making.
He wasn’t so upset minutes later though, as he managed to score his 14th of the season. Tammy wriggled away from Paul Huntington inside the six-yard box before connecting with Whelan’s corner from the left side, seconds from the half-time whistle.
Villa started the second period as they did the first, vulnerable and asleep at the back. Manchester City loanee Lukas Nmecha struck towards Nyland’s near post, keeping the Villa stopper on his toes from minute one.
Preston’s expansive attack and Villa’s naive defending finally translated into a goal on the hour mark. After recently coming under criticism, Elmohamady didn’t help his own cause by turning into his own net in a goal line battle with Nmecha. Johnson wandered into the box to pick up Gallagher’s one-two before sliding across Nyland’s box, to manufacture the equaliser.
With their tales up, the hosts almost turned the game on its head in the space of minutes. Johnson’s range of passing once more causing problems for a lacklustre backline in desperate need of organisation and leadership. Tom Barkhuizen raced onto the loose ball before firing at the base of Nyland’s post, after he chose to confront the pacey forward.
It wasn’t to be Villa’s afternoon when substitute Bjarnason failed to convert from a matter of inches. It seemed harder to miss. Elmohamady swept the ball across North End’s six-yard box. Without a meaningful touch, the Iceman put his name down for miss of the season.
Eleven points separate Villa and Norwich City in second place, and with a favourable fixture list, the ground must be made in the next month to mount any sort of promotion bid.