Aston Villa 1-0 Cardiff City Six Things: a moment of Grealish magic

Jack Grealish –

Jack Grealish’s 83-minute wonder-strike separated two evenly matched sides as Aston Villa beat Cardiff City 1-0 in the Championship on Tuesday night. Here’s six things from the game.

Villa’s strong start

Villa were the more prominent side early on, when they targeted the right channel. Robert Snodgrass drifted into central areas to force inside ex-Villan Joe Bennett, his assigned marker, with centre-back Sol Bamba often charging out to cover the left-back vacancy. His aggression sometimes resulted in gaps in even more dangerous areas, which Lewis Grabban would have exploited in the second minute had his close-range effort not found the right side of the net.

Cardiff’s big chances

The visitors absorbed more pressure in the first half yet created arguably the better chances. Axel Tuanzebe, later replaced through injury, was caught in possession by Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, who was subsequently played one-on-one by Kenneth Zahore, only to hit the far post. In stoppage time, Aron Gunnarsson’s long throws caused problems and Sean Morrison’s effort was scrambled clear by Villa; Callum Paterson would then have scored but for a certain goalkeeper’s intervention…

Saint Johnstone

Although question marks remain about Sam Johnstone‚Äôs distribution, his saves were crucial in an even game. After denying Paterson in the first half, he then made a super stop from Zahore: Villa had expected Gunnarsson’s 60th minute throw to enter the box, so Junior Hoilett had space on the left to cross for Mendez-Laing, who cushioned the ball only for his teammate’s effort to lack power. Johnstone also saved well from Mendez-Laing’s long-range curler to keep his side level.

Roles reversed

Cardiff midfielders Marko Grujic and Gunnarsson had been tasked with quietening Conor Hourihane and Grealish in the first half, but roles were reversed more after the break as Neil Warnock’s men got further up the pitch. Villa therefore relied on breakaways – most instigated by substitute Jonathan Kodjia – whose individualistic play led to a tight-angled shot saved by Neil Etheridge. Hourihane also had a fine chance to break the deadlock after escaping Grujic’s attentions but rolled wide of the near-post when one-on-one, after an impressive through ball from Grabban.

Grealish magic

One moment of Premier League quality was always likely to decide the game – it came from Grealish. Gunnarsson had won most of his battles with the midfielder but made the ill-fated decision to leave him unmarked on the edge of the ‘D’ for Snodgrass free-kick; when the Scot’s delivery was only half-cleared by Sean Morrison, Grealish fired the ball in off the post with a wonderful combination of power and accuracy. While some fans might be tempted to see that goal – and the win Villa held on for – as potential salvation of their automatic promotion chances, the result was more important in re-kindling belief. After seeing his side fall apart against QPR and Norwich recently, Steve Bruce needed to find a starting eleven he can trust in the play-offs: that, he might now have.

Bluebirds wobble

Some had concluded the automatic promotion race to be all over after Cardiff City stayed seven points clear with a 3-1 win over Burton on Good Friday; the theory being that Warnock would know how to manage the run-in with his experience. The willy campaigner’s moral outburst after the defeat to Wolves however made him look a little foolish and very quickly, they now have a lot of work to do to re-establish pole position.