He may not have appeared on the scoresheet but Robert Snodgrass was the difference for Aston Villa providing two superb assists to set Steve Bruce’s side on the way to a 3-2 victory over the Brewers at Villa Park.
The Scottish international midfielder picked out the run of Albert Adomah in the first half to set up Scott Hogan’s close range finish to open the scoring and produced a pinpoint left foot cross to the back post for Albert Adomah to head home from close range on 65 minutes.
It looked game over for Albion when that second goal went in but an own goal from Ahmed Elmohamady just six minutes later gave Nigel Clough’s side new hope of perhaps picking up a surprise point. When Jack Grealish looked to have put the game to bed with a fine finish just two minutes from the end of normal time it looked like another 3-1 defeat for the Brewers only for debutant Liam Boyce to grab a consolation debut goal in added on time.
The Scotsman was a surprise second half substitute as Albion had to chop and change throughout the game due to injuries picked up during the course of the match and the delight of the Burton fans to see their record signing finding the back of the net with a calm finish took away some of the hurt of another Championship defeat.
Tuesday’s home defeat to Reading was disappointing on many levels but away at Villa Park, against a side heavily fancied for promotion back to the Premier League, there was numerous positives to take for the Brewers.
Boyce was clearly the biggest positive of the afternoon, a twenty minute run out aiding his return to fitness with the bonus of a goal but a debut performance from Jacob Davenport also suggested that Clough’s shrewd work in the loan market may just bear fruit, the Manchester City youngster looking calm and assured on the ball and often finding pockets of space to work in.
Clough rang the changes for the visit to the in-form Villans with four alterations from the midweek defeat. Having continued to ship goals playing a back five there was a change to the formation, a flat back four allowing more width in midfield to hopefully offer some protection to the defence. Jake Buxton was the man left out of the defence, dropping to the bench and relinquishing the captain’s armband to John Brayford. Coming into the side was deadline day signing Davenport for his senior debut. Luke Murphy was a surprise ommission from the side with his place in midfield going to Hope Akpan whilst Lloyd Dyer and Marvin Sordell also returned to occupy the wide midfield wing roles as Martin Samuelsen (illness) and Darren Bent (injury) missed out.
Dyer’s early jinking run into the Vila box offered Albion some optimism in the opening moments before Villa started to string some of their passes together. Brayford had to make a couple of important interceptions from an Alan Hutton cross and the subsequent corner kick that followed and Hutton headed a Snodgrass free kick comfortably over Stephen Bywater’s goal.
Some uncertain Villa defending on nine minutes almost allowed Albion to capitalise from their first corner won by the industry of Lucas Akins on the right. On the opposite side, Dyer was causing all sorts of problems for Ahmed Elmohamady and linking up with Akins was able to drive into the box and force Sam Johnstone to block at his near post.
Davenport quickly showed one of the reasons why he is so highly rated at Manchester City with a superb ball out to the wing for Sordell to create another chance as the ball in from the wing was helped into the path of Akins by Tom Naylor, Johnstone standing up well and saving the Albion striker’s shot.
Snodgrass went into referee David Coote’s notebook for pulling back Dyer as he looked to make another burst into the Villa box but the home defence were able to comfortably clear the reuslting free kick from Sordell.
Albion worked another good opportunity on 22 minutes as Davenport again started things off with an excellent angled ballout to Sordell on the right. Linking with Brayford on the edge of the box it was the Albion skipper that sent the ball into the path of Akins whose first touch allowed the ball to get away from him a little and give the Villa defence chance to recover. A first time shot would have probably seen the Brewers in front.
An injury to Tom Flanagan on 28 minutes forced the Brewers into an unwanted change and a reshuffle of personnel. Murphy was the man to come on slotting into his normal midfield role while Naylor moved to right back with Brayford switching to the left to fill the hole left by Flanagan’s departure.
After probing without success for the first half hour of the game Villa finally unlocked the Burton defence on 33 minutes. A neat little backheel from Jack Grealish allowed Snodgrass to run into space and pierce the Burton defence with an inch perfect ball for Albert Adomah. Once Snodgrass’ pass found its target Albion were opened up and a simple ball across the face of goal gave HOGAN a tap in.
Conor Hourihane spurned a chance to double Villa’s advantage with a speculative effort from the edge of the box that Bywater got down to well. Albion then had two players yellow carded as they went in search of an equaliser before half time. Murphy was adjudged to have been a little too combative in a tussle with Snodgrass inside the centre circle and then as Burton looked to capitalise on more uncertain defending from Elmohamady, Akins was carded for a supposed dive inside the box as he tried to wriggle his way through.
With the game deep into first half stoppage time Albion had to survive a late scare when Adomah burst forwards from midfield, capitalising on a loose pass to find Hogan, the striker only denied his second of the game by an acrobatic save from Bywater.
Half time: Aston Villa 1-0 Burton Albion
A difficult afternon got even harder at half time as Murphy was unable to continue after a first half coming together with Hourihane. The on loan Leeds midfielder failed to reappear for the second half, his place taken by Jamie Allen.
The former Rochdale man quickly went searching for that elusive first Burton goal and wasnt far away with a precise effort from the edge of the box, Allen convinced that his effort took a deflection and should have earned a corner despite referee Coote awarding a goal kick.
Kyle McFadzean picked up a yellow card, to add to those for Akins and Murphy, when he joined forces with Davenport to halt Grealish’s burst through the Burton midfield. Naylor was not long in joining his defensive colleague in the book, a block on the raiding Alan Hutton enough to see him incure the ire of Mr Coote.
The second Villa goal, when it came, on 65 minutes waqs somewhat harsh on Albion who had been making a good fist of the second half up to this point. Villa probed on the right but it was another killer ball from Snodgrass that opened up the Albion defence. A perfectlyt weighted left footed cross to the back post allowed ADOMAH to pull away from Naylor and head home from close range.
Albion would certainly heaved a huge sigh of relief when Villa made their first changes and both Adomah and Snodgrass were the men to make way for Premier League loanees Axel Tuanzebe and Josh Onomah. There was even more relief when Grealish went over theatrically in the box and Coote administered the same punishment as he did for Akins, a yellow card for simulation.
With nineteen minutes remaining the Brewers were thrown something of a lifeline when ELMOHAMADY put through his own goal. Dyer sent over a corner that was met by a towering header from Turner. Naylor tried to help in on at the back post but the intervention of the Egyptian made sure that Albion had a route back into the contest.
Clough’s final substitution was a brave one. Turner went down with a problem before the sides could kick off again and his exit prompted the surprise introduction of record signing Liam Boyce for his debut. Another defensive reshuffle was called for with Naylor shifting to the centre of defence and Akins dropping in at right back to allow Boyce to fit in up front.
Elmohamady’s afternoon got slightly worse when he was carded for a dangerously high foot inside the six yard box as Brayford headed clear under pressure and Grealish’s frustration’s increased when his curling effort from just outside the box grazed the top of the crossbar on the way out of play.
The relief on GREALISH’s face when he swept home the third Villa goal on 88 minutes said it all. Pressing forwards in search of an equaliser, the Brewers were caught by a swift raid that culminated with Tuanzebe, the Manchester United loanee, sending in a fine cross that the young forward turned superbly to crash home from ten yards out. A good finish, no doubt about it.
In stoppage time Albion threatened to make a game of it, despite the late nature of the goal. Brayford’s ball forwarded was inadvertently helped on by a claret and blue shirt and there was BOYCE to calmly slide the ball past Johnstone for a debut goal to remember in front of the Holte End.
There was to be no grandstand finish though for Albion as Villa saw out a nervy last few minutes of added time to seal a sixth successive league win. Their first such run since the 1990s. The scoreline did not tell the whole story of the game and the Brewers could leave the pitch with their heads held high, even in defeat.
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