Villa’s 1-1 draw at Ewood Park, meant Blackburn have now gone 24 games unbeaten at home. To be fair, their long unbeaten run mainly built up in League One, never looked in danger against a Villa team who yet again under Bruce lacked ideas going forward.
In the early exchanges, Villa played into Blackburn’s hands, giving away cheap free kicks and having to weather a barrage of balls into the box, which had Tuanzebe floundering initially.
While Bruce bemoaned a penalty decision that wasn’t given when John McGinn was seemingly tripped in the box, Blackburn can claim they had a goal chalked off unfairly for offside, when Hutton was playing them on. Villa also got lucky in injury time, when Blackburn bizarrely only had four men in their wall for Hourihane’s equalising freekick, when it normally would have had one or two more.
This was Villa’s third injury-time goal in seven league games, which has given Bruce four extra points to paper over the cracks. It’s a good knack for a team to have though, if the Villa boss can sort out how they play in the normal 90 minutes.
While the Villa boss was hardly one game from the sack, Hourihane’s goal would have eased some pressure.
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Villa Player Ratings vs Blackburn Away
Orjan Nyland – 6
Didn’t have much to do, but with a new backline getting used to each other, he had to keep his wits about him, especially saving well from Tuanzebe’s misplaced header.
Alan Hutton – 6
Switched back to right-back. Looked a little shackled in terms of his forward play and got lucky when he kept Blackburn onside for their goal that was ruled out for offside. While he wouldn’t be my choice, you have to give him props that he’s still selected as Villa’s first choice right back, despite several other options.
Axel Tuanzebe – 6
Fingers are crossed that Tuanzebe can be an answer at centre back and after a nervous opening period, where he almost scored a brace of own goals, he put in a decent enough showing. As he showed against Yeovil, there will be an adjustment period for him at centre back, while he gets into his stride.
James Chester – 6
Chester had a better game than his previous outing for Villa. Hopefully the former Manchester United youth player can develop a new partnership with Tuanzebe, the product of the latest generation of United’s academy.
Neil Taylor – 6
A better performance from Taylor, who took a step in getting his confidence back. Taylor stepping up at left-back is crucial for Villa to have balance in the back four until the new year.
Mile Jedinak – 6
In the early part of the game, Jedinak looked more comfortable in his DM berth and showed some neat touches here and there, on top of getting in a couple of vital headers. With Villa being away from home, there was logic in playing him at DM to help Tuanzebe find his feet at centre back.
He seemed to gas in the second half though and was very flat-footed in the lead up to Blackburn’s opener.
I would be surprised to see him at DM against Rotherham at Villa Park. Bruce surely needs to be more positive than that.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 5
Mister average today, as per normal. He did actually get down the byline for maybe the first time in his Villa career and produced a cross that gave Abraham his best chance with a flashing header. It made a change for Elmo to take his man on, rather than playing a ball into a crowded box, as soon as he’s level with the edge of the penalty area.
Jack Grealish – 5
Another frustrating day at the office for Grealish, who seemed to be playing without purpose. He did his traditional dribble into the opponents box, taking on numerous players, which the result of is becoming predictable. Such runs seem to hypnotise his teammates to a stand still, when they should be showing for the ball and making runs.
Controversial as it sounds, on form, I would consider actually starting Hourihane above Grealish for the Rotherham game.
John McGinn – 6
His beginners luck seems to have deserted him or maybe Bruce has already coached his ability out of him? Joking aside, he had a largely frustrating afternoon, not helped by an early yellow card. From a penalty appeal that was turned down to scuffed shots. Still, the effort and endeavour is always there with McGinn, which is good to see. He’s still settling in and will come good.
Albert Adomah – 4
It seems Bruce extended an olive branch with a surprise selection of Admomah, who maybe was selected because it was an away fixture and he tracks back better than the new wingers. It’s always safety first with Bruce. Adomah though had a poor game and was almost volunteering to be substituted.
Tammy Abraham – 6
Abraham’s clearly showed some good movement in the box in terms of getting into goalscoring positions, but Bruce needs to cut the cautious shackles of his midfield to help Abraham thrive. Let wingers get around the back of the opposition defence. Get Grealish further up the pitch.
Abraham, had five shots during the game with three hitting the target. Abraham always looked to be Villa’s main threat and was unlucky not to open his account.
Opening goalscorer for Tuesday night?
Off the Bench
Jonathan Kodjia (68) – 6
Linked well to set up Abraham with a chance, with Bruce pushing Grealish out on the left to accommodate a front two. This maybe the first hint at Bruce’s Plan B for the rest of the season.
Conor Hourihane (76) – 7 MOTM
To Hourihane’s credit, he’s always looked up for it and has impacted games when he’s come off the bench this season. While he lost his place to McGinn, he may get it back at the expense of Grealish, if Jack’s not careful.
Can a midfield trio of McGinn, Grealish and Hourihane work, at the expense of a Bruce playing a DM, for home games against teams we should dominate?
Hourihane hasn’t done much wrong this season and I’ll give him MOTM for that, but mainly for this:
Yannick Bolasie (76) – 5
Bolasie was obviously not 100% fit and sharp to start, so it was good to see him get minutes to suggest he’s on his way. He picked up a yellow card and his greatest contribution was ducking under Hourihane’s freekick to allow it to bend into the net.
Manager Rating: 5
Bruce realised the areas of his ways and at least tried to remedy the imbalance of his defence. The whole back four was made up of players playing in their correct positions (bar Chester playing as a left-hand side CB).
Since Villa were away against a team who thrived of getting the ball into the box quickly, there was logic to playing Jedinak at DM too – especially with Tuanzebe finding his feet at centre-back.
Conservatism creeped into Bruce’s selection with Elmo on the right wing, instead of El Ghazi or Adomah. You can understand Bruce wanting to drip feed Bolasie into action though.
Tellingly, Tony Mowbray proactively made a couple of subs to influence the game, before Bruce decided it was time for a change. Maybe the Villa boss could have taken an ineffective Adomah and a fading Jedinak off earlier to try and seize the advantage?
At least he did a double substitute as a direct response to Blackburn taking the lead.
“We lost half the team I built last year” … You got some loan players in, they left. You’ve done the same again. WTF are you talking about, Bruce? This is tedious. #AVFC
— My Old Man Said (@oldmansaid) September 15, 2018
Unfortunately, some of Bruce’s poor excuses after the game, especially about having to rip up his squad and start again, and other nonsense, cost him rating points.