Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier managed to put a tough week behind him with a victory in what was a must win game with local rivals West Brom. The Villa boss had come in for some recent criticism from many sections of the fans after a pretty disrespectful show at Liverpool but all that is behind us now and we move on together! In what wasn’t the the best Villa performance in recent weeks, a gutsy showing and some impressive glimpses were enough to see the home side through to a 2-1 win over Di Matteo’s side. An edgy start saw WBA begin to threaten before Villa scored on the break through Downing, now with 6 goals and close out the half. A much more solid display defensively was matched by decent possession play and Villa picked up a deserved second through the returning Emile Heskey. A disappointing end to the game saw the visitors claim a consolation game late on but it proved too late and the hosts clung on for only their second win in 11 league games.
The match saw Houllier make some forced, and some unforced changes to a side that wasn’t firing on any cylinders at all at Liverpool on Monday night. Gabby Agbonlahor and Stephen Ireland were both victims, once more, of a season disrupted by knocks and missed out. Luke Young was also unfit to start at right back which meant a first league start for Eric Lichaj who had a game that he wouldn’t forget. King Carlos Cuellar finally got his chance to come back into the side with Houllier making the correct decision to replace an uninspired Richard Dunne, better late than never.
The away side were without top scorer Peter Odemwingie, which meant a start for Fortune as a lone striker. Chris Brunt was a doubt with a groin injury before the game but was able to last the 90 minutes.
The game started slowly with no-one wanting to make a mistake, as is so often the case in derby games. The intimidating figure of Somen Tchoyi proved a threat down the right for the Baggies as the Cameroon international gave Stephen Warnock a torrid time in the first half. The midfielder managed to beat Warnock and Collins before rattling the crossbar with the ball rebounding to Thomas who could only fire at his only player before Villa cleared.
WBA kept up the pressure and Warnock was in trouble once more but Fortune could only drag his chance wide.
While the visitors were mounting a spray attacks Villa were holding on and on a break, a moment of pure inspiration from fit again Marc Albrighton saw the winger nutmeg Cech and deliver a fantastic cross. Emile Heskey failed to connect with the ball but it made its way to Downing who had got in front of Gonzalo Jara to divert home at the back post.
Little to report up until the half way mark after the 25th minute strike though the Baggies were pushing for an equaliser to no avail.
After the restart Villa were much more compact defensively and Cuellar and Lichaj carried on their fantastic performances from the opening 45 with Collins and Warnock both improving dramatically. Albrighton almost double Villa’s lead when he managed to get onto a Downing delivery but could only divert a diving header wide.
Stand-in captain Ashley Young was a constant threat and a lively showing saw him fouled on countless occasions, two of which, by Thomas and Jara, saw them booked.
After 80 minutes Villa secured three points after good work once more from Albrighton picked out a glancing header from Collins which was converted, opportunistically, by Heskey who headed home from close range despite all the Villa players swarming over Collins, who they thought had scored.
It looked as though Villa would get a much needed clean sheet but Paul Scharner headed home a last minute corner to bring on squeaky bum time in an additional 4 minutes, though Houllier’s men held on to a desperately needed 3 points.
Villa Player Ratings
Brad Friedel – 6 – very few saves to make
Eric Lichaj – 8 – impressive, dealt with Thomas expertly
Carlos Cuellar – 7 – strong and much needed return
James Collins – 6 shaky first half but decent second
Stephen Warnock – 6 – bossed in first half, solid second
Marc Albrighton – 8 – moments of real class
Barry Bannan – 6 – on the periphery
Jonathon Hogg – 7 – fantastic tackles, battled superbly
Stewart Downing – 7 – impressed again
Ashley Young – 7 – captain’s shift
Emile Heskey – 7 – hard-working return
Nigel Reo-Coker – 6 – good to see him back
Nathan Delfouneso – 6 – little to do
Chris Herd – no time
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