Aston Villa 1-0 Cardiff City Player Ratings: Johnstone shines

Jack Grealish – hitc.com

Grealish’s 85th-minute wonder-strike separated two evenly matched sides as Aston Villa beat Cardiff City 1-0 in the Championship on Tuesday night, but we’d give our man-of-the-match award to Sam Johnstone. Here’s our Player Ratings from the game.

The Villans

Sam Johnstone – made an excellent double-save from Paterson and Morrison in injury time at the end of the first half, then great second half stops from Mendez-Laing and Zahore, denying the latter with his feet. His distribution might have been a little more precise but this was otherwise a man-of-the-match performance. 9

Ahmed Elmohamady – made some good overlapping runs to link up with Snodgrass early on. Didn’t get forward as much in the second half but still impressed in a defensive sense, making one or two nice interceptions with one crucial clearance off the line. 8
James Chester – guilty of the occasional sloppy pass in the first half, but more like his commanding self in the second period. There haven’t been too many more consistent players for the Villans this term. 7
Mile Jedinak – made some weak headers to the opposition early on as he acclimatized to a centre-back role he is not used to. Appeared more comfortable after the break. 6
Axel Tuanzebe – saw his afternoon cut short due to injury on 26 minutes, but the auxiliary left-back hadn’t looked comfortable prior to that, giving the ball away for a big one-on-one Cardiff chance. 3

Glenn Whelan – deeper than Hourihane and Grealish, generally staying close to the two centre-backs. Even though he didn’t always retain the ball with his forward passes, they allowed Villa to press further up the pitch. 6
Conor Hourihane – appears to have a Champions League left-foot and a non-league right foot: his opponents were aware of that tonight – forcing him onto his right where he was less effective. Showed good movement to get one-on-one in the second half but couldn’t quite find the finish. 3

Robert Snodgrass – showed excellent good movement into central areas in the first half, allowing others to pop up in the right channel in space. Posed a threat with his deliveries all evening, including one free-kick that led to the winner. 7
Jack Grealish – struggled to handle Gunnarsson’s physicality for some of the game; his technical qualities tended to shine when he was given space, as we saw for his stunning late winner. 6
Albert Adomah – had a decent back-post chance from a corner on 34 minutes but couldn’t quite convert. He closed down Peltier effectively well asked to, but perhaps lacks the confidence in possession we saw from him a month ago. 3

Lewis Grabban – anonymous in the first half, but looked more of a threat after the break. Pulled off a clever turn away from Bamba to create a dangerous back-post opening before heading wide from Grealish’s cross, then playing a fine through ball for Hourihane’s big chance. Work rate shouldn’t be questioned. 6

James Bree (on 26) – being right-footed, he was unable to provide width on the left flank. Suspect positioning for Zahore’s big chance but in fairness to Bree, Villa shouldn’t have left themselves with Neil Taylor as their only natural left-back. 4
Jonathan Kodjia (on 60) – his half-hour was best encapsulated by his attempts to dribble past seemingly the entire Cardiff defence, before shooting straight at Etheridge from a tight-angle. Supremely talented, if a tad greedy. 6
Christopher Samba (on 88) – gave Villa some extra height at the back to handle Cardiff’s late bombardment of throw-ins. 6

The Bluebirds

Neil Etheridge – denied Kodjia but didn’t have to make as many memorable saves as his opposite number, although he could have done little about the goal. Areas such as distribution and handling of set pieces offer some room for improvement. 5

Lee Peltier – an excellent back-post clearance early in the second half was his most memorable moment. Kept Adomah largely quiet but it’s hard to escape the feeling that other Championship right-backs offer more going forward. 5
Sean Morrison – given fewer positional dilemmas than Bamba but was impressive, barring one or two key moments. Couldn’t quite convert a chance in first half stoppage time and might take some of the blame for the winner, only half-clearing the ball. 7
Sol Bamba – his powerful, front-foot defending wins a lot of plaudits due to how impressive it can look when it goes well; at times tonight it did, but at other times we saw signs of the dangers of being too aggressive. Villa’s better openings came from Bamba rushing out to shut out gaps others vacated, only to leave gaps in more dangerous areas. 5
Joe Bennett – conscious not to allow Snodgrass to shoot or cross onto his left foot, he happily followed the Scot inside, even if in doing so he vacated the space at left-back. Given that Cardiff had three midfielders congesting play in central areas, perhaps he could have stuck to his position rather than follow his man. 3

Marko Grujic – called the shots for one or two second half spells and largely won his individual battles with Hourihane, even if he was nearly punished for failing to mark his man for one moment in the second half. 7
Callum Paterson – not the biggest player and therefore struggled to impose himself on a game that saw the ball in the air for long periods. Tried to feed off the knock-downs of taller teammates and forced a good stop from Johnstone at the end of the first half, but this wasn’t quite his day. 4

Aron Gunnarsson – largely limited Grealish’s creative threat, even if he gave his man too much space for the winner. Whenever he took a throw-in, Villa packed the box expecting an instant launch: when he once took it short, Hoilett was therefore in space and the move ultimately led to one of Cardiff’s best chance. Perhaps variation is the way forward? 7

Nathaniel Mendez-Laing – stole the ball in the build-up to an early one-on-one chance from which he hit the post, before forcing a fine save from Johnstone in the second half. Cardiff’s biggest attacking threat. 6
Junior Hoilett – his use of the ball in good areas was poor, at times giving the ball away with simple passes and he spent much of the first half too far back. Put in a cross that led to Zahore’s second half chance but this was a below-par display. 2

Kenneth Zahore – a nice through ball to Mendez-Laing aside, the Dane suffered from a lack of support. When he got it, he lacked power with his big second half chance before being taken off. 3

Gary Madine (on 68) – not the quickest, so his arrival signalled Cardiff’s intent to get numbers forward, even while the scores were level. Madine didn’t quite have the desired impact, however. 4
Jamie Ward (on 88) – injected some energy late on and put in one cross from the right that led to a half-chance. 6
Anthony Pilkington (on 90) – no late rescue act this time around. N/A