After the thrilling and frustrating yet relieving draw with Queens Park Rangers, Villa sit three points clear of relegation, albeit having played at least a match more than everyone apart from Tuesday night’s opponents. With just six games left – three difficult away ties and three winnable home clashes – here’s a look at the Good, Bad and Ugly of the 3-3 nerve-wrecker.
Christian Benteke seems the obvious place to start here. His first goal ten minutes into the game showed that he was in the mood – it was the first opportunity that he’d had to get the ball down and run at the QPR defence, and they couldn’t handle him.
His second was fantastic, showing the kind of composure that only a player oozing confidence can pull off, and his free-kick for the third was perfectly placed past a wall which was only about seven yards away by the time he struck it. He saved us from a catastrophic defeat, and he’s come into form at a crucial time with seven goals in seven games under Sherwood after two in 16 under Lambert this season.
Another pleasing aspect of the game was his partnership with Agbonlahor up top. Gabby has received his fair share of stick this season, generally justifiably, but he and Benteke always seemed to know where each other were throughout the game and linked up nicely. Agbonlahor was unlucky not have scored with a great header, and he did superbly to beat Sandro (a player, incidentally, who approaches tackling the same way that a bull approaches a matador) to the ball to play Benteke through to put Villa 2-1 up.
Jack Grealish’s first Premier League start was predictably greeted by excitement from the Villa faithful and he did not disappoint, showing guile, enthusiasm and desire. His first-half chance was undeniably a golden opportunity but the defender’s touch on the ball meant he had to quickly readjust under pressure. With more experience and game time under his belt you’d have backed him to score it.
How anyone can have thought that Grealish’s performance on his first league start was deserving of being singled out for criticism is utterly beyond me. His set-piece delivery was largely poor, but his display was encouraging at the very least.
Two guys sat behind me on the Holte End spent the entirety of the teenager’s time on the pitch ripping his performance to pieces. I considered turning round to tell them to give it a rest, but I didn’t because I’m British and as such I strive to avoid even the mildest form of confrontation.
Villa’s first half was superb after going 0-1 down – the home side were utterly dominant, had 14 shots in the first half (more than in the first half of any other game this season) and should have had the game won by the break. If Villa can work on taking more of the chances that they carve out and tighten up the defence, all three remaining home games this season are distinctly winnable.
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