Villa can finally start 2017 after it gave its fans 3 points for the first time since Boxing Day. Henry Lansbury got his first win in a Villa shirt, Sam Johnstone his first win and more importantly his first clean sheet for Villa; James Chester got his first Villa goal and finally cheers at the end of the game raining down instead of boos.
It wasn’t a pretty win, it was downright ugly, but rarely this season or last has it been so beautiful.
Steve Bruce put in, in my opinion, a good line up. Kodjia as the lone striker took pressure off the midfield which had seemed over-run with he and Scott Hogan in the team, especially as Lansbury has had to play holding midfielder and Hourihane looking a little weak in Villa’s team.
Instead of Hourihane, Bacuna was selected, leaving out Grealish, Bjarnason and the afore mentioned ex-Barnsley lad seemed a risky decision.
Villa started okay, putting early pressure on the visitors. The home side should have had a penalty when Adomah had his ankle kicked as he ran past the Derby left back, which clearly impeded the wingers run.
Chester headed Jedaneks headed cross and pulled a fine save from former Villan Scott Carson.
Derby had a bigger penalty shout when Baker appeared to scythe down another former Villa player, Darren Bent.
Villa grabbed the lead after Christie put Carson under pressure, forcing him to give Villa a throw in. Tidy work on the left resulted in a decent cross from Lansbury and Villa winning a corner, the crosser trotted over to boos and jeers from the visiting section and promptly delivered a very decent cross. Kodjia headed the ball toward goal and JAMES CHESTER raced in, took the ball on his knee and then pop headed it over the helpless Carson.
Villa then did what infuriates Villa fans and sat back inviting pressure for the remaining 70 odd minutes.
Derby easily had the lion’s share of possession, but created very little. There was so much room on the left that crosses came in time after time, but none really bothered the in charge Chester.
The ref used his book late in the first half to give Tom Ince a caution for a petulance reminiscent of Grealish’s actions at Forest a few weeks ago that ultimately led to a loss, whilst ignoring more dangerous fouls that could have caused injury by both teams.
Derby seemed more intent in the second half to show off its prowess of ball possession without creating anything, insuring a boring start to the second half. Villa fans are less than impressed, we’ve been watching the same thing for years especially in the Paul Lambert years and then under Remi Garde and Eric Black.
Villa finally did come close to sewing up the game when youngster Andre Green headed a lovely cross from Bacuna onto the foot of the post and Derby scrambled the ball to safety.
Derby had a couple of hopeful balls over the top just beyond the reach of Darren Bent, ah the memories of seeing Bent not get to a ball, be completely marked out of a game and go offside again, the good old days of McLeish and Lambert again.
Finally, substitutions were made and both teams tried to hand the game over to the opponent. Villa took off Adomah and Green and actually did not replace either one. Oh, wait, I’m told Bjarnason and Amavi came on. Derby did the same taking off the feisty Russell and replaced him with the invisible Bennett.
Bjarnason’s contribution was to head a corner to a Derby player who set up Bent with a similar Chance to the one Chester put away, but in honor of his days at Villa Park the striker I once termed affectionately Statue fluffed his lines.
Amavi showed us his international qualities by trapping a hard pass 4 feet 8 inches in front of him, beating Gabby’s previous record of 5ft set in 2012. He also had a major hand in a late Villa horror show, which we’ll get to.
With Villa effectively down to 9 men and 2 bodies, Derby unveiled their game plan. They were going to hit Villa late like everyone else and Villa were, gulp, ready for it. Villa did need Johnstone to make a fine save from a headed effort this time from the Bent we remember fondly in the Houllier/McCallister season. We, however also got to see the Villa defenders get mad at the young keeper for not coming out to deal with balls they allowed to run through to him.
Neil Taylor blotted a pretty decent performance when he was booked for a foul that was not a bookable offence, especially as Kodjia, Hughes, Hutton and Russell had all endured earlier with no punishment, but was a culmination of that and an early foul on Ince leading to the former Blackpool player's booking that got him a talking to.
Moments later and Amavi broke clear and was hacked down by Christie, most definitely a card.
Bruce left me scratching my head with his final substitution, Gardner on for Kodjia, leaving no striker and no way to win if Derby did manage to get more than 1 shot on target. However it was to be a good substitution and Gardner and Bacuna almost forced Derby into conceding a goal, but Bacuna’s lack of composure saw his shot sail high and wide. Gardner raised the Villa fans volume with a cruching tackle.
Enterning the 3rd minute of a 4 minute stoppage time Villa seemed to be dealing okay and when Bacuna, now playing centre forward came back to intercept a pass all looked good, but then he made the mistake of holding the ball too long with a defender being in the vicinity, that defender being Amavi who chose that moment to hip check his team mate who had to struggle to keep the ball and ended up forced out of bounds. The official made the difficult decision and awarded it to the visitors and Leandro had a rush of blood to the head and ran at the official and physically bumped him while screaming about a throw in! The ref gave the lad a straight red.
It was very daft by Bacuna especially as easily Villa dealt with the throw in. But, more so because Bacuna had played well enough to force himself into Bruce’s plans in the next game or so, but now has taken that decision away from him and could very well find himself forgotten again, especially if Hourihane, Grealish or Bjarnason or all three play well, he could find himself at the back of the line again, which is a shame as I feel he could be a big player for us the rest of this season and into next.
Villa dealt with one last push and Johnstone punched a cross to saftey and help grab a welcome 3 points.