Villa beat Rotherham 2-0 at Villa Park, with Dave Woodhall watching.
On Saturday it was McGinn, Grealish, Adomah and Abraham. On Tuesday evening El Ghazi was added to what was the most attacking line-up Steve Bruce has fielded for some time. We also had Ahmed Elmohamady in his proper position at right-back, although there was to be an inexplicable decision in every Bruce team selection and this one was the return of Mile Jedinak – defensive lynchpin.
Actually, there was a bit of justification for playing Jedinak in central defence, as Rotherham’s attacking threat was always going to come from the air and he’s as good at defending high balls as anyone the Villa can call on. In the end Jedinak played well enough, and had he done better with a free header when going up for a second half corner the scoreline would have been a bit more convincing.
As it was, the points came from a win that could best be described as routine rather than convincing. Rotherham are a poor side on their travels and they didn’t really offer much to trouble Orjan Nyland except for a header late on that went just wide.
Villa made a bright start with nothing tangible to show for it and after 26 minutes the game was showing worrying signs of being the sort that fizzles out, except for the inevitable late winner from the visitors. Then after 27 minutes John McGinn’s ball was helped on by Jonathan Kodjia for Tammy Abraham to score his first claret and blue goal. It won’t be his last.
For the rest of the first half Villa looked promising although they were unable to add to the scoreline. For the first twenty minutes of the second half they merely looked asleep as Rotherham came back into the game. Then we had the sort of development that should be Villa’s main advantage over the rest of the division this season.
There aren’t many teams at this level that can call on wingers of the quality of Albert Adomah and Yannick Bolasie. To be able to bring then on in the closing stages of a game to run at a tired defence should be the mark of a team capable of winning promotion with ease. Bolasie may be a wide man, but the diving header that brought Villa’s decisive second goal was worthy of any of the great number nines we’ve fielded over the years.
With the game won the team could, albeit briefly, play with the sort of flair that Bruce has rarely allowed them to display. They can do it, and they should be allowed to prove that not only can they win games, they can do so in a manner that might keep the manager’s critics off his back.
As it is, the big questions remain unanswered. Can Bruce put together a run of wins against better opposition that would see Villa firmly established as promotion favourites? Can he at long last find a formation and playing style that makes the most of the players at his disposal rather than relying on individual flashes of brliiance? In particular can he find the best way to utiise Jack Grealish, the most talented player in the Championship but wasted when played deep or, as we saw for most of the game, on the wing?
All these and many more dilemmas will start to be answered on Saturday, with the arrival of Sheffield Wednesday.