The visitors enjoyed an almost perfect start to the game. Shortly after Ayew’s early right-footed effort was blocked, Grealish connected cleanly with a cracking cross from Bacuna and opened the scoring with a right-footed volley in the fifth minute.
Di Matteo was forced to make an early substitution as Cissokho went down injured and the manager sent Amavi on.
Rivalry was put aside briefly as the home and away fans joined in a minute’s applause for recently deceased Villa fan Will Flack in the twenty-fourth minute.
With the Villans dominating possession, there came the familiar tale of not making the most of chances: Ayew’s shot went narrowly wide after twenty-five minutes before McCormack’s free-kick three minutes later struck a defender and went just past the post.
Bacuna’s attempt was blocked on the half hour mark and O’Donnell saved Ayew’s shot following a McCormack corner.
With six minutes until the break, the Robins mustered up their first real attempt on goal when a low shot from Freeman forced Gollini to dive and make the save in the bottom left-hand corner.
A direct free-kick on the stroke of half time gave McCormack another opportunity to score and his curler came close, missing to the left.
Di Matteo’s men continued to dominate for the first fifteen minutes of the second half and had yet another chance to double their lead, although Ayew could only blaze the ball over the bar after fifty-two minutes.
However, the host began to press and two goals in as many minutes from the hosts changed the game completely. The first came courtesy of Abraham, on loan from Chelsea, who was on hand to stab home when Gollini could only parry Tomlin’s shot into his path.
The Chelsea youngster, who has scored five times in seven appearances for Bristol City, played his part in the Robins’ second goal minutes later, setting up Bryan, who fired home from the centre of the box.
Stunned, the visitors could not respond and never looked like fighting their way back into the game in the remaining thirty minutes of the match.
Grealish did have a chance after sixty-eight minutes but O’Donnell saved it well.
By the time Green replaced Westwood, a number of Villa players had been needlessly booked, adding to the manager’s misery, and the cards just kept coming.
Tomlin’s curling effort from just outside the box in the eighty-first minute ended up in the top right-hand corner, sealing victory for his side and leaving the disheartened Villa fans waiting for their team’s first victory on the road in more than a year.
Speaking post-match, Di Matteo, aware of how old habits haunted the team, said:
“For an hour we were much the better side and in control but when they scored we lost confidence and didn’t look like a team any more.
It is not the first time that has happened and we need to work on it. At some point in a game, you are going to
come under pressure and we have to deal with that better.
We became like eleven individual players on the pitch and lost the organisation we had for sixty minutes. Conceding a goal seems to cause us to lose confidence and it’s a mind-set we need to change.
Bringing in new players will help us but we also need time to work together as a group. Conceding three goals as we did was not something I had seen from the team in the previous four games.”