Villa’s Bruce bonus

Villa’s win at Sheffield Wednesday strengthens their play-off hopes, writes Dave Woodhall.

I’ve got a betting adage that when both clubs are odds against with the away side marginal favourites, a draw’s the likely result. Bookies love me.

That apart, if would have been daft to ignore the subtext of Villa’s game at Sheffield Wednesday. We’d won five in a row, they were unbeaten in twelve since their new manager eventually rolled up and both sides were looking for a win to keep their play-offs hopes going.

Wednesday took the initiative early on when Villa’s defence failed to pick up either the man with the ball or the man he passed it to. One down after seven, and with Steve Bruce in charge you could guess the war of attrition that the next 83 minutes would bring. It wasn’t particularly pretty but Villa got back into the game and midway through the first half Tyrone Mings hit a perfectly-flighted sixty-yard ball that Andre Green did well to keep in play and John McGinn did even better to score from.

Villa have let a few players go who weren’t good enough at the time but have blossomed elsewhere and one we should definitely have kept was Barry Bannan. Not because he’s a world-beater but simply so that he wouldn’t play against us; Bannan always seems to save his best form for games against the Villa and it was his ball that led to the penalty for Wednesday in the second half.

The home side were on top at this point and a goal might have won them the game but Jed Steer will have dealt with trickier back-passes than the tame effort he had to save. If that was the game’s turning point then another significant moment came with eight minutes remaining and the withdrawal of Anwar El Ghazi.

The scores are level and the visiting manager makes a substitution. He could have brought on a more defensive-mined player with the intention of holding onto the draw. Instead on came Jonathan Kodjia. And therein lies the difference between Steve Bruce and Dean Smith. Both teams would have been happy with a point but only one manager would have been.

Grealish laid off the ball to Kodjia in stoppage time and although the substitute’s shot was saved it fell nicely to Albert Adomah to put Villa into the lead. And of course, after going 2-1 up in such circumstances, you’d expect ten men behind the ball and wasting what little time remained. But this is Aston Villa 2018-19, and we don’t do the expected.

Carry on attacking, keep going forward and Tammy Abraham made the best of an awkward final ball for a scoreline that might not have been entirely deserved, but who cares? Particularly not when late goals in other games meant that Villa are now fifth and for the first time this season our destiny is in our own hands. Steve Bruce had said a few things before the match and he said a few after it as well, but that’s understandable. There’s not a sacked manager in history who didn’t think he was unfairly treated nor one who didn’t believe his club were unlucky to lose in such circumstances.

And with Bruce and this game put behind us we can move onto the next one. Rotherham on Wednesday night, and a few changes might have to be made. Kortney Hause suffered a hip injury on Saturday although Axel Tuanzebe showed that he’s a more than adequate replacement. It might be time for Glenn Whelan and possibly Andre Green to be rested as well. it’s in our own hands now.