On what was a wet and miserable night, Steve Bruce may have sampled his last night at Villa Park. If the new majority owners consider one win in the last 10 games, as threatening Villa’s promotion potential, then it could be curtains for the Villa boss over the upcoming international break.
Bottom of the Championship Preston looked like a routine home win for Villa, when they were coasting at 2-0, after Kodjia and Abraham had both scored. A dubious penalty decision turned everything on its head though, resulting in both James Chester being sent off and the deficit reduced to 2-1.
Villa then sat deep and folded. Soon enough, they found themselves 3-2 down.
It seems Bruce’s Villa struggle equally to play with 10-men, as they do playing against 10-men.
If there’s one positive trait though that Villa have shown this season, it’s their willingness to battle to the end. This time they scored an injury-time equaliser and should have also added a winner with the last kick of the game, but for Glenn Whelan’s penalty miss.
In the end though, despite all the drama on the pitch, the limelight was taken by a potato and a cabbage.
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Villa Player Ratings vs Preston Home
Mark Bunn – 5
If things were going well at Villa, Bunn probably wouldn’t be at the club, even as a third-choice keeper. The fact he was actually starting a game tells you all you need to know about the level of the two keepers Bruce has brought in. The mistake riddled number one Nyland was benched, while our supposed number two, Andre Moreira, cut an isolated figure during the warm-up.
It started off as a quite night for Bunn, then as Villa collapsed after Chester’s dismissal, bar one decent save, he had a night to forget. I’m not quite sure what he was doing on the freekick Preston scored, his positioning was all wrong and the wall wasn’t set up properly.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 5
Chalked up an assist for Kodjia’s header, but was all at sea like his teammates when Villa were down to ten men.
Axel Tuanzebe – 6
At times was a little too eager and gave away cheap free-kicks early on. He certainly showed he could have done with a run of games in the position, as suggested in this column previously. Why play him at DM in the last cup game, when he could have got another game at centre-back under his belt? He struggled when it was him and Bree at the back. Did well to dig out an assist for Bolasie’s late equaliser though.
Alan Hutton – 6
Was having an easy night in the first half, but struggled in the second half. His Emile Heskey-like shot, that was heading for a throw-in before it was picked up, reminded us of the potential yin and yang of Hutton going forward.
James Chester – 5.5
Struggled to contain the physicality of Preston’s Lukas Nmecha throughout the game and got caught out giving the ref the option to blow for a penalty. Having viewed the incident back a few times on one camera view, it’s a tough call and would need a few VAR angles to look at it. A straight red though? Remind me of the triple punishment rules again…
Conor Hourihane – 6
Another match where he perhaps was Villa’s most consistent midfielder throughout the game, yet he showed little authority in the middle of the park, when it got tough with Villa a man down.
Jack Grealish – 6
Grealish had Preston on the back foot in the first half and always gave them something to think about. In the second half though, he seemed to disappear from sight. This was hardly a Dwight Yorke vs Newcastle performance, when Villa went down to 10-men then. There was little evidence of his billing as Villa’s main man. I would have liked to have seen him stepping up for the penalty.
John McGinn – 5
Not the kind of McGinn display that won him early plaudits this season, especially in the second-half when Villa had little resistance in the midfield. Normally, 10-men, if organised in two banks, are difficult to break down, not so Villa and McGinn didn’t seem to help his team hold any kind of shape.
Birkir Bjarnason – 6
Another one of the lost midfielders in the second half, although to his credit he did ‘win’ the penalty in the final seconds and served up a potential three points up on a plate.
Jonathan Kodjia – 6.5
Rose very well for his headed goal, but when Villa went down to 10-men and needed him to hold the ball up and be a one-man nuisance at the top of the pitch, he offered very little and was subbed. If he had made more of an impression, he may have still been on the pitch to take the penalty.
Tammy Abraham – 7 MOTM
Worked hard and his directness paid off with his goal. Looked good for more in the second half, but was sacrificed after the Chester sending off. We’ll give him the MOTM, simply because he could do nothing about his vanishing act from the pitch, when Villa went down to 10-men, unlike most of his teammates.
Off the Bench
James Bree (55) – 5
With little in terms of midfield resistance in front of him, he was swamped.
Yannick Bolasie (73) – 6
Ultimately, grabbing Villa’s late equaliser vindicated Bruce’s decision to bring him on for Villa’s sole striker. Bolasie should have then told Whelan, he was taking the penalty though.
Glenn Whelan (82) – 4
Only had four touches while he was on the pitch. His final one was the missed penalty. No Phil King unlikely penalty king moment for him, but why a player with one goal in the last seven seasons was taking a penalty, raises concerns over the temperament (and balls) of others in the team.
Manager Rating: 4
Dropping Nyland and ignoring Moreira, in favour of Bunn in goal, was the first talking point of the game, but an understandable decision (although it does not reflect well on Bruce’s judgment to get those keepers in the first place). Losing Jedinak to injury was a blow, although Villa were initially coasting without him.
Yes, Bruce did get unlucky with the Chester sending off, but considering the times Villa have struggled to break 10-men down (especially for 87 minutes against Middlesbrough, 51 minutes against Ipswich and 20 minutes in the play-off final), it was very disappointing to see Villa wilt so quickly to be 3-2 down in front of their home fans.
What were the midfield doing? Bruce was obviously involved in the organisation of defending with 10-men here.
Maybe rather than turning his back on Villa’s last second penalty, Bruce should have made sure a player used to scoring more frequently than Whelan, took it? Bolasie, Grealish, or McGinn, maybe? He needed to win the game, his actions were too passive for my liking.