After a 4-1 win against the table-toppers Wolves, Villa supporters could be forgiven for rubbing their hands for the automatic promotion battle ahead with Cardiff and Fulham. With Villa’s squad strength and supposed better players, it was suddenly looking good.
Fast-forward a few days, and after two defeats in two pretty routine games against QPR and Bolton, their automatic promotion dreams lie in shatters. Cardiff are now seven points ahead with a game in hand, while Fulham have leapfrogged Villa in the table.
It could be worse, Cardiff’s trip to Derby was called off due to snow. If they had beaten an injury-ravaged Derby and then Burton at home on the Friday after the international break, Neil Warnock’s team could have had a 13 point lead before Villa played Hull City.
While Cardiff will no doubt drop points in April, you get the distinct feeling Villa will too, and more than Fulham, who have a much softer remaining fixture list.
Automatic promotion isn’t 100% over, but it’s not looking good at all.
Villa Player Ratings vs Bolton Away
Sam Johnstone – 6.5
In difficult snowy and windy conditions, Johnstone acquitted himself well. He was let down by his defence for Bolton’s opener. He demonstrated good decision-making on the hour mark, when he came off his line well to meet a ball with his head on the edge of his box, after Bolton had sprung the offside trap.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 5
A good block with 20 minutes to go from a Bolton shot made sure Bolton didn’t get the second goal to seal the deal, but for most of the game he didn’t look comfortable at all. His positioning and passing was wayward (completion rate way down). The uncertainty over Elmohamady grows in terms of the long-term.
John Terry – 7 MOTM
The Villa captain should have done better on the corner ball to the near post that led to Bolton’s opener, but apart from that, he was one of the main reasons Villa stayed in the contest. Terry rose to the meet the poor conditions head-on and won a lot more aerial battles than on Tuesday night (12 in total). There was a couple of key blocks on shots too, amongst his many clearances. He almost got on the end of a Snodgrass freekick to equalise in the first half. One of the players you can’t criticise the effort of.
James Chester – 6
Not as convincing as Terry in the conditions. A clumsy challenge after being caught a little flat-footed to give away a freekick shortly before Bolton scored earned him a yellow card. Was left on his butt by Le Fondre after the hour mark, but luckily the striker fired wide. Mr Consistent hasn’t lived up this name in the past couple of games.
James Bree – 6.5
Certainly seems to have a more attacking mindset than most of Villa’s fullbacks this season. Joining Grealish and Adomah in attack down the left, he was occasionally the furthest forward on that flank. Had a decent enough game and didn’t do himself any disservice. Had a late chance to get a point for Villa too.
Birkir Bjarnason – 5
He may come from Iceland, but he didn’t look like he was comfortable in the snow. He lost Le Fondre for the game’s only goal, although the ball shouldn’t have been allowed to come through to the Bolton player in the first place. If Bjarnason had played the QPR game, as seemed logical, then Jedinak could have come in fresh for this snow battle.
Robert Snodgrass – 6
Delivered some decent chances in the first half that nobody got on the end of. Seemed to be the only Villa player that had a legitimate chance of turning the game, albeit from a deadball. When he was subbed for another striker, it seemed to be something of a strange move.
Jack Grealish – 6.5
Grealish again was the focus of Villa’s play and even in the snow had the most touches of any Villa player (86). As was also highlighted by the QPR game, he needs schemers alongside him to help him dominate games, as opposed to creating the odd chance. I wish the real Conor Hourihane would step forward, as that would help Grealish’s cause.
Conor Hourihane – 5
As above and it wasn’t surprising to see Hourihane being subbed first. it’s been coming in recent games. Hourihane should be making a better overall contribution to Villa’s play going forward, rather than just grabbing the headlines with the odd goal now and then.
At the moment, doesn’t look good enough to be a Premier League player, but considering Villa’s last week, that doesn’t quite matter at this moment in time.
Albert Adomah – 6
Adomah struggled to get to grips with the conditions, although the left flank in the first half was the most green of all the areas of the pitch. A tough day at the office.
Lewis Grabban – 5.5
He was a lot more involved against Bolton than his vanishing act against QPR with over twice as many touches. With the conditions, playing Davis alongside him and going a bit more direct, may have caused Bolton a lot more issues and given Grabban more room to operate.
Off the Bench
Rushden Hebburn-Murphy (53) – 6
The first of three substitute strikers to enter the field and an odd choice to say the least, since he hasn’t played much recently due to injuries. He seemed to lack composure at times and seemed unlikely he was going to help change Villa’s fortunes in the game.
Scot Hogan (71) – 5
Hogan had a chance with 15 minutes to go, but it was cleared off the line. Apart from that, he made little difference with his three touches.
Keinan Davis (81) – N/A
Considering the conditions maybe Davis should have been a starter? Odd that he was the final of the three strikers bought on, with no supply line left on the field. There’s no surprise he only got a couple of touches and Hogan got just three.
Team Performance – 5
While the snow blizzard levelled the playing field somewhat, Villa at times failed to match Bolton’s spirit and effort. Again, like against QPR, there was a flatness to their play, lack of any plan or adjustment for the conditions. They had chances to snatch a draw, but they never looked likely to win the match.