Eating my way through some sugar mice on the way down to the raintown that is Birmingham I pondered if City could maintain their incredible run of form and keep the promotion dream alive and kicking or would they melt like a chocolate girl and, in terms of the playoffs, kiss this thing goodbye. Hoping to avoid another lost weekend we lined up a 4-2-3-1 .
Kingsley De Wijs Burke Kane
Grosicki Evandro Bowen
The return fixture last August had demonstrated the gulf in class between the sides. Steve Bruce’s Villa were workmanlike and efficient and dangerous in attack with tiger tormentor Grealish running the midfield and Hutton scoring a worldy. City played decently, but another summer of malaise meant that competing against the better sides in this division was always going to be a tough ask.
How times have changed! Bruce has gone and Villa find themselves a point and two places below the most in form team in the big country.
City attacked the Holte End in the formation that home or away has suited them well. But it is Villa with a point to prove who start the better and cause Marshall to make a proper save for the first time in 180 minutes of football. Villa and City are determined to use both wings – Villa pressing, City on the break. All good fun.
As the match meandered for a few minutes I decided to look away from the pitch and survey the stadium. Villa Park can be best described as ‘traditional’; almost enclosed by terraced housing with four more or less separate stands that would house up to 70,000 back in the day when everyone went to watch football. Whilst the ground can hold just over half that, the days of Villans packing it out and making a noise akin to an aeroplane taking off are long gone. Mismanagement by the Lerner regime, poor player recruitment and a failure to recognise that Villa were not a top six Premier League side led to relegation and not even Steve Bruce could get them back to that wonderland. Plans are apparently in place to extend the North Stand to house another 8,000 if Villa get promoted. I advise a temporary ‘Ekaterinburg’ extension if you do, fellas!
Though Villa Park still returns a sense of history that other grounds have lost. Memories of league titles, cup wins, classic FA cup ties. Billy Graham clutching a hand upwards bringing thousands of Brummies closer to Heaven, Ally McCoist wheeling away from the Swiss goal during Euro 96 bringing thousands of Scots temporarily closer to the second round, a teary Jimmy Bullard hobbling off the pitch and bringing a life of punditry and fishing closer to him. Yes, Villa has hardly been a happy hunting ground for the Tigers. I’ve spent many a time wishing I was lucky to witness a City win here. Then as I am lamenting that nothing ever happens here, City score.
On 23 Grosicki is released and makes a run down the left but shoots wide for a corner which Martin heads over. Then after more City pressure the ball pings around the box falling to Bowen who finds space and shoots low past Kalinic. Cue Tiger bedlam in a well loaded lower Deadly Doug stand. Another goal by the number 20. What a starman he is. I hope he looks back at this time with us as a happy one when he is marauding down the right for one of the top sides for surely that is where he will end up soon. Like Robertson and Maguire, Bowen is made in Hull.
City really have their tails up at this point. On 38 minutes Grosicki decides to rip it up again down the left combining well with Martin who 1-2s it then lays it on a plate for Evandro to acrobatically fire into the roof of the net. Cue mauling chants to unhappy punters in the North Stand. I could be happy watching this until the end of the season.
The noise from the home fans seems come to more berating their own players then of genuine support. Surely they are used to seeing dispiriting losses? And us? We are bossing it looking comfortable at the back and dangerous if we broke away. As the half drew to a close I thought see it out and don’t do anything daft. On 45 Abraham decides to barge into De Wijs which the referee, rather than seeing it as soft as fuck and booking the diving forward, awards a free kick. Worse our defensive Titan Jordi goes down holding his ankle. Drat! Then from the resultant free kick Chester heads in with a De Wijs hole in our defence. Double drat! At least he didn’t celebrate.
Then onto some light hearted comedy. A dropped ball in midfield is uncontested by City who have to do some emergency defending as Villa attack instead of politely passing back. An incensed Markus, thinking the ball would surely roll to me, decides to barge into Hourihane and gain a yellow for them both.. All as fruity as one of Adkins porridges.
I enjoyed the half time break as I ate a sandwich as big as a small amazon delivery box. All the more entertaining was watching the new generation of City Hulltra’s posturing at the Villa youth like strutting peacocks. I’m sure it was only the fact that they desperately needed a wee wee and a coke that saved the stewards some serious bother.
The second half began with Villa again on the front foot, with City looking a little bit less assured at the back but potent up front. Bjarnason spoons wide when a pass looks a better option. Grosicki spoons wide after a lovely cross field pass by Bowen. Several Villa balls to their front two are nullified as little nudges by McKenzie and Burke put them off.
I wrote on 57 that I did not fancy Abraham to do much today. I was left eating those words as Hutton found some space out on our left to plant a cross to Abraham whose shot was initially blocked by our two defenders but rebounded kindly for him to rifle past Marshall. Cue mauled by the Villa chants. What a pathetic chant that is.
Expecting City to cave in at this point? Nope, that’s the City of six months ago. Villa press and cross but we resolutely defend though often long clearances find no one. Martin stays forward but is not really contributing much in the way of attack. Batty for Evandro suggests that Adkins sees holding on more realistic then rampaging back in front.
However we nearly do score at the death. Bowen manages to pass from a tight angle which foxes Elphick but not Martin whose connection is not the best but angles the ball goalwards before Kalinic toe pokes it out of danger. Martin staying on the field was a little odd as the temptation must have been to bring Campbell whose pace would worry any defence. But Adkins was oblivious to it. The four minutes extra time signalled a fire drill in the home stands which strangely I could not hear from where I stood.
Then that was that. A draw signals the end of the winning run but not the unbeaten run. I would not call myself the seer, but if we can get to February without losing, then who knows where we could find ourselves. And that we are doing this with dignity under the current ownership is astonishing.
Dominic Fellowes (via Tiger Chat)