By Jonathan Parkin
Aston Villa 2 Crystal Palace 0
A dismal defeat at the hands of Manchester United meant the penny dropped for a great number of Villa fans. It became more a question of when, not if, Villa would be relegated. Watford’s win against Newcastle has left the Villa needing at least three wins out of the last four games to have a chance, an impossible task for a team that lacks any motivation or desire. To add to Villa’s woes, Crystal Palace were unbeaten in their last 13 games against teams in the relegation zone, coming into the fixture.
Frustrated fans may have wanted to see more than a handful of changes to the side that gave up against United, however Dean Smith chose to make only one. Conor Hourihane replaced Anwar El Ghazi, to alter Villa’s formation a little, with Jack Grealish moving out wide. Kortney Hause pulling up in the warm up forced Smith to bring in Ahmed Elmohamady, shifting Ezri Konsa to centre-back.
The boys in claret and blue didn’t start well as Mamadou Sakho shouldered the ball into the net within ten minutes. VAR saw this as a handball though, and overturned the goal, the Villans got away with one big time. Jack Grealish looked much livelier down the left-hand side, but couldn’t find Samatta in the box. The danger from Villa all came from down the right, as Ahmed Elmohamady caused trouble in the Crystal Palace defence with his crosses.
Just before half time, a set piece finally evaded the first man or the goalkeeper’s arms, and Trezeguet jabbed home to give Villa a precious lead. When the Villa faithful had finally stopped rubbing their eyes, Trezeguet popped up to score another, after a borderline penalty shout from Jack Grealish. The Villans started to create a string of decent chances, but couldn’t make the most of them and get a third.
After the 70th minute, Palace upped the pressure, with chances for Van Aanholt and Benteke missed. The Villa boys nearly added a third as Trezeguet and Davis missed a ball across the face of goal, but they hung on to their two-goal lead to gain an important three points.
Though a win now may be too little, too late, it means there is once again a chance of Villa staying up. Everton were very poor against Wolves, and the remaining games are certainly winnable. The players finally reacted; miracles can happen.
Use code MOMS10 for 10% off below
Pepe Reina – 7
Pepe Reina was extremely solid in goal. A double save off Christian Benteke, and a stop to deny Patrick Van Aanholt were the highlights of a composed performance. The confidence he gives to the defence is clearly a lot greater than when Nyland is between the sticks.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 7
Other than single time Palace managed to get in behind on the left, Ahmed Elmohamady was defensively stable, and added extra threat with crosses from deep. Two of the best chances of the first half were carved out via accurate balls from the experienced full-back.
Ezri Konsa – 6
In parts of the game, Ezri Konsa struggled to deal with Christian Benteke and Jordan Ayew. His passing accuracy was also the worst of the Villa defence. The centre-half did enough to dampen a blunt Eagles attack for the vast majority of the match however.
Tyrone Mings – 6.5
Tyrone Mings had less offensive quality to snuff out this time round, compared to the Man United match. The 27-year-old was mostly solid, and wasn’t caught out not closing down, as he has done time after time. Proof of the lack of opposition quality can been seen in that fact that Mings didn’t have to make a single tackle and only one interception.
Neil Taylor – 6
Before being substituted for Matt Targett due to a nagging injury, Neil Taylor did little wrong. The Welshman played a nice through ball for Jack Grealish to get in behind the opposition full-back. He was also positioned well to deal with Christian Benteke, as the big striker rushed in on goal.
Douglas Luiz – 7
For once, Douglas Luiz wasn’t Villa’s stand out performer, because other players actually turned up. Nonetheless, the young Brazilian had a great game. Two tackles, two interceptions and two clearances are stats that have become the norm for the ever-improving midfielder.
John McGinn – 6.5
This was much more like it from John McGinn. The energetic Scotsman got involved in the play from start to finish, turning Palace midfielders and spraying passes like he was at his best. Though there was still something missing, and his attempt at a shot late on left a lot to be desired, there’s a much greater chance of Villa staying up if McGinn plays like this again.
Conor Hourihane – 7
Through his set pieces and attacking play, Conor Hourihane gave Villa some bite on the front foot. His freekick that set up the first goal was aided by a Crystal Palace head on its way to Trezeguet, but it was still a lot better than anything Jack Grealish has been able to conjure up, in recent games.
Trezeguet – 7.5
To get out the book of football clichés, Trezeguet undoubtedly had a game of two halves. His influence on the game for the majority of the first half was minimal, as he was defensively weak and failed to release the ball quickly enough. Come the fourth minute of added time in the first half, Trezeguet changed as he slotted the ball calmly into the back of the net. The Egyptian’s energy levels increased several-fold in the second half, and he did extremely well to control the ball and finish his next opportunity to make it two. It is unfortunate that he couldn’t get is hat-trick from Matt Targett’s cross, but Trezeguet’s performance was certainly better than he has managed in any other game since the restart.
Jack Grealish © – 7.5
Villa fans were calling for Jack Grealish to play in the centre for a very long time before the change in formation a few games ago. Despite this, Super Jack had a good game playing off the left. Joel Ward had a torrid time dealing with the Villa skipper’s runs inside and passes into team mates. As much as Villa fans don’t like him playing out wide, three key passes and two shots from the left highlight that it could be his best position.
Ally Samatta – 5.5
Once again, Ally Samatta failed to have the required impact. In the first half, the Tanzanian was constantly on his heels whenever the ball was loose in the box, and he really should have made more of a great heading opportunity. Most of Villa’s attacking impetus came from the midfield. The striker also did poorly when attacking the free kick that led to the disallowed Palace goal. Samatta needs to find his feet fast.
Off the Bench
Matt Targett (36) – 6.5
Matt Targett certainly adds an extra attacking outlet for the Villa. He emphasised this with a great ball across the box that should have resulted in a third goal. Defensively, the full-back was rarely challenged, and Palace failed to carve out many chances down the right. With Villa losing their other two potential left-backs, Targett’s return was timely.
Marvelous Nakamba (79) – 6
Zimbabwean midfielder Marvelous Nakamba made four passes in his late cameo. His presence was more about adding stability to the midfield late on, but he wasn’t really called into action.
Keinan Davis (79) – 5.5
Big man Keinan Davis had one chance to get his first Premier League goal. The striker couldn’t get any contact on the ball however, emphasising how hard Davis has found it to get off the mark. He needs to find a predatory instinct.
Anwar El Ghazi (87) – n/a
Anwar El Ghazi’s substitution was more about killing some time than making a big dent in the score line. The Dutchman had one bursting run forward, but lost the ball at the end of it.
Dean Smith- 6.5
A win has finally come for Dean Smith, and it has come when it seemed that all was lost. With Watford and West Ham playing each other and then the Manchester clubs, there is a real opportunity for Villa to turn up the pressure with a win against an inconsistent Everton side. Bournemouth are also back in the relegation escape mix, so Villa may have to win out.
Fans will have to hope that Villa have improved, and not simply that Crystal Palace have already packed their bags for their holidays. The question remains, where have performances and results like this been since the break? It may have taken too long for the Villa to react, but at least a miracles is beginning to bubble.
Give Jon a follow on Twitter here – @JonParkinSports