Villa saw out 2017 with a 1-0 win at Middlesbrough, as Dave Woodhall reports.
A couple of weeks ago you’d have looked at this Saturday’s upcoming match and thought “Middlesbrough. Away. In that horrible time between Christmas and New Year. And we’re on a bad run.” Then you’d have counted at least a hundred better things to do, although you could have consoled yourself with the thought that whatever other horrible circumstances might have been attracted to this game, at least you wouldn’t have to watch a team managed by Tony Pulis. A lot can happen in a couple of weeks.
Quite a bit can happen in three days as well, because while after the debacle that was Boxing Day there seemed no chance of Steve Bruce surviving much into the New Year, one win and all is once more sweetness and light. Well, maybe not because as feasts of football goes this was more left-over turkey than seven course banquet. Bruce once again set up a team not to lose, while for Pulis aiming not to lose isn’t so much a tactic as a way of life. There was also the ready-made excuse of a sickness bug putting even more players on the missing list.
The result was inevitable – at one point during the first hour there might have been an attack, but it was probably a boredom-induced hallucination. Jack Grealish, on for this week’s casualty Josh Onomah, was buzzing around with no end product while the other 21 players on the pitch had no beginning or middle product to speak of either. The result of the game seemed equally inevitable, then on came Rushian Hepburn-Murphy for his first appearance in what seems like years, and within seconds Villa were one up. Albert Adomah created this one for a change rather than scoring, the goal coming from the rare heading prowess of Robert Snodgrass.
Fifteen minutes to go and we had the all-too-familiar feeling of knowing that one goal would prove decisive because the team who had conceded had neither the wit not the ability to change the tactics that had been unsuccessful so far. Less familiar was that the team destined to win were the Villa.
The rest of the game was seen out with the minimum of fuss. While we’ve undoubtedly missed John Terry, and his return can’t come quickly enough, his presence is nevertheless still being felt in these situations, even though he might be a couple of hundred miles away. Not for the first time this season a one goal lead was defended calmly and professionally. Tommy Elphick comes in for some justified criticism, but he was dominant in the air, James Chester beside him was his usual consistent self and Mile Jedinak showed that he’s as reliable in midfield as he has been unreliable lately in defence.
One win might not have solved every problem, but it was a handy enough one particularly considering that a few of the teams around us dropped unexpected points. Now we need to build on it with another good result at home to Bristol City on Monday. Get that one and the supposed crisis that Steve Bruce has been talking about lately will be delayed for another week.