Judging by the state of Steve Bruce’s interview after the game, Villa’s 1-0 win at Middlesbrough was probably Villa’s biggest win for Bruce during his time at the club. It certainly releases a bit of pressure after previously going five games without a win.
It wasn’t the most exciting of games and professional is probably the best way to describe the job Villa did on Boro, with the home side limited to just one shot on target.
If the win is backed by a home win against Bristol City, then Villa should be back in the play-off spots, but they will start 2018 out of them on goal difference.
Aston Villa Player Ratings vs Middlesborough
Sam Johnstone – 6
With his defenders behaving themselves for a change, it was a surprisingly quiet afternoon for the Villa keeper with the home side only registering one shot on target. Will be happy to be back amongst the clean sheet stats.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6
Had his defensive hat on and tended not to venture very far forward due to Boro’s threat down the left. Did his job though.
Tommy Elphick – 8 MOTM
Hard to think that he wasn’t even in Bruce’s initial XI for the game.
I’m going to say ‘I told you so’ on Elphick’s inclusion in the team, as I’ve championed his inclusion after Terry got injured. A centre-back who captained a team to Premier League promotion doesn’t become naff overnight. Some supporters are quick to right players off, but giving Elphick a second chance was always a better gmable than playing Chris Samba or Mile Jedinak as Terry’s replacement.
After a decent enough performance against Brentford, Elphick was certainly one of Villa’s best performers today with the most clearances and won headers.
He was noticeably psyched up for the game, a mindset which carried on after the game when celebrating the win with the travelling Villa fans.
He showed the kind of determination that Villa will need for the remainder of the season.
James Chester – 7
Reliable once again and looked more at ease with Elphick alongside him than recent company.
Alan Hutton – 7
Mile Jedinak – 7
More at home in midfield than at centre-back, Jedinak again proved his worth once Villa had taken the lead in shielding the defence. He also picked up Rudy Gestede at set plays in the first hour and nullified the threat from the ex-Villa striker.
Robert Snodgrass – 7
Has picked up some flak from some Villa fans in recent weeks. Perhaps his end product hasn’t been as good as what we expected, but you can’t fault his effort and endeavour. Of his three shots on target, one was a vital winner for his manager.
Conor Hourihane – 6.5
Covered a lot of ground as per usual on his recall, although sometimes his runs forward went unrewarded. After his hat-trick against Norwich, many expected him to catch fire, but while underwhelming on that front, his all-round midfield game is still good.
Scott Hogan – 5
The Ghost of Hogan again struggled to get into the action and provide a visible threat to Boro. No loss when he was subbed off, since he had only touched the ball 11 times in 74 minutes. Is he isolated? Yes. Could he do more to get involved? Probably.
Josh Onomah – 6
Got the nod over Grealish but went off injured in the first half after some bright early play.
Albert Adomah – 7
Adomah had something of a sloppy first half, but remained Villa’s main focal point in attack. Then it was his turn to become provider serving the ball up on a plate for Snodgrass to head home.
Off the Bench
Jack Grealish (37) – 7
Probably a bit harsh on Grealish that he didn’t start, but he definitely improved Villa in the second-half with his probing runs and intent to get something going.
Rushian Hepburn-Murphy (74) – 6
Got involved, made himself available and was tidy on the ball. In fact, Hepburn-Murphy touched the ball more times in 16 minutes (12 touches) than Scott Hogan did in 74 mins (11 touches).
Birkir Bjarnason (90) – N/A
Only had a handful of touches after coming on just before the final whistle.
Team Performance – 8
Villa needed to show grit and with Boro coming to terms with their new manager, they had a chance of getting something out of the game, if they could cut out the individual errors of recent games. Villa would have perhaps settled for a draw, if the rest of December had gone better, so the extra two points are much welcome.
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