Bush whackers

Villa won 2-1 at QPR. Dave Woodhall looks at the game and the question it posed.

A couple of weeks ago I suggested that Villa’s record of eking out wins at home and mixed fortunes on our travels might be the bare minimum in terms of acceptable results but it gave no room for manoeuvre when things occasionally went wrong, as proved when they went very wrong at Villa Park against Sheffield Wednesday. That defeat left us with a bit of catching up to do at Loftus Road on Saturday.

The scene was set – one of the oldest truisms in football is that a successful team is built down the middle. We had the best central defender in the league out injured, our most reliable central midfielder on the bench after travelling 12,000 miles a couple of days previous and two strikers out after assorted mishaps during international week. We were playing a team who’ve beaten the top two at home, and it was chucking it down.

The omens weren’t exactly set fair, and they were a lot less fair eighteen minutes in, when Villa’s defensive frailties returned and the normally-reliable Sam Johnstone made an almighty hash of trying to deal with a corner. One down and Villa never, ever come back to win away games after the opposition take the lead. Game over and Bruce Out.

Except that we stepped up a gear and dominated the rest of the half. Chances were created, although none of them came to anything, but seconds after Josh Onomah had hit the bar we got a stoppage time penalty which Albert Adomah duly converted.

If anything Villa stepped up yet another gear in the second half. Glenn Whelan was solid, Conor Hourihane grafted to crate space for the more attack-minded midfielders to get forward, which Onomah and Robert Snodgrass duly did, helped by Keinan Davis playing the target man role to perfection. Given the progress he’s made in the past twelve months, this time next year we could potentially be looking at another of the great Villa number nines. Gray, Withe, Benteke, Davis. No pressure there then.

Adomah got the only other goal, and if there was a criticism to be made it was that the team wasted more chances, which could have proved costly had QPR not been so poor. But as it was Villa once more saw a game out with the minimum of fuss and moved up to fifth in the table. We are, once more, Steve Bruce’s Claret & Blue Army. Not only was it three points, they were obtained with the style and ease that again showed how well this team can play given the opportunity.

I know it’s tempting fate, and I know this is the Villa we’re talking about, but the two upcoming home games this week have to be straightforward wins and a sizable boost to the goal difference if we’re to be serious about this promotion business. Ipswich who we play on Saturday are not far behind us in the table while Sunderland on Tuesday evening will have new manager Chris Coleman trying to boost a team who are starting look doomed again. Neither should be a pushover but both have got to be beaten.

Of course we’re going to have to complete the task, and a few more, without Jonathan Kodjia and Scott Hogan, both of who picked up what could be lengthy absences last week. Hogan, sadly, will be no great loss based on his Villa record to date but Kodjia’s absence will be a massive blow.

Or will it? Our results, and certainly the way we achieve them, seem to be better this season when Kodjia has largely been missing than they were last year, when he was rattling in the goals. Is this upturn despite Kodjia being out, or do we play better without him? Will his absence boost our promotion chances, or end them? We can argue about it all we like but only time will tell.