Over the international break, much of the talk around Aston Villa has been about how they are getting so much wrong off the pitch so it was nice to finally be back at Villa Park watching what we love the most. On top of that, a Saturday, 3 p.m. kick-off. Bliss.
Villa kicks off their group stage of the Conference League on Thursday but first up it was Crystal Palace in the Premier League.
Palace manager Roy Hodgson wasn’t at the game due to illness so I just wanted to send him best wishes and hopefully, he makes a quick and complete recovery to return to the dugout.
Match Report: Aston Villa 3-1 Crystal Palace
Unai Emery handed Nicolò Zaniolo his first start in a Villa shirt following his arrival on loan last season in the only change in the side from the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool two weeks ago.
The game started as many would have expected, the home side dominating the game while the visitors were solid, well-drilled and looked to counter-attack Villa when they could.
The first chance fell to Ollie Watkins when he pounced on the ball following some sloppy passing at the back for Palace. The striker advanced, opened up his body one-on-one with Sam Johnstone but the England keeper was equal to the effort.
Villa thought they had broken the deadlock on 34 minutes when Pau Torres picked out Moussa Diaby with a long ball. The French man controlled the ball before taking the ball around Johnson and into the net. VAR overturned the goal moments later as he was judged to be offside.
Matty Cash then had two opportunities, firstly he miss-kicked an effort after Zaniolo cut the ball back to him and then he could only head the ball over the bar when Lucas Digne picked him out from a cross out on the left.
The visitors rarely threatened in the opening 45 minutes, but they took the lead early in the second half through Odsonne Édouard.
Substitute Jean-Philippe Mateta turned Torres and crossed the ball over to Édouard who was able to slot past Emi Martinez, who had lost his footing in the build-up to the goal.
Villa continued to dominate but the visitors looked more likely to score the next goal as they hurt Villa on the counter-attack. Joel Ward’s effort went wide of the post after Joachim Anderson’s header picked him out. Then it was the turn of Eberechi Eze, who impressed all day but Martinez was equal to the England International.
The home side eventually got the goal they were desperately looking for through substitute Jhon Durán. Digne picked out the Columbian with a beautiful cross and chested the ball forward before smashing the ball into the back of the net.
Nine minutes was added on following the visitor’s time wasting and five minutes after Villa’s equaliser the referee awarded the home side a penalty when Watkins was bought down in the box.
VAR tried to intervene but replays clearly showed Chris Richards taking Watkins’ legs before pushing the ball away. Referee Darren England stood with his original decision and a penalty was awarded. Douglas Luiz stepped up and sent Johnstone the wrong way.
Moments later, Villa made it three which probably flattered them when Diaby picked out Leon Bailey was able to slot home from close range.
The win sees Villa win 10 games in a row at Villa Park, 9 of those coming in the Premier League.
What the managers said
“[It] was a difficult match like everyone is. We played very well, created chances and didn’t concede a lot in our box. But we didn’t score [in the first half].
“We played a lot [of other matches] like today [Saturday] and were winning in the first 20 or so minutes. We said at half-time to keep going and controlling the game like we were doing. They have a very good team and good players and they did that transition and scored the goal. Then it was a difficult moment.
“We were playing more with our hearts than with our minds in the last 20 minutes and sometimes you need that. At the end, we deserved to win. We scored three goals so I’m very happy because after their goal, it was a difficult moment and we really reacted very well.
“We want to play every minute here and to enjoy it. We want to be competitive, to learn and build our team with the players. I am very happy because this three points today is because every player involved – those in the starting XI or on the bench – helped us with good impact.”
Paddy McCarthy (Assistant Manager)
“I’m disappointed for the players. The game plan worked for a large spell of the game, but I’m disappointed that we didn’t get anything from the game.
“The team shape and the effort were great. We knew it was going to be a tough side, but the boys who stepped in were great.
“The result just leaves a really bitter taste in our mouths.”
Villa dominated but missed the end ball at times. Equally, if we take the chances we had in the first half the game could have been put to bed by half time but it wasn’t to be. Emery seemed quite happy for Villa to wear Palace down and with the freshness from the substitutes, we eventually got all three points.
Watkins dry patch in front of the goal will be playing on his mind but I have no doubt throughout the season he will score his fair share of goals.
Villa will head to Poland where they will play Legia Warsaw in the Conference League on Thursday with a 5.45 pm kick-off.
Crystal Palace will host Fulham next Saturday in the Premier League.