Aston Villa fans welcomed back former manager Dean Smith on his first return to Villa Park following his sacking earlier this season.
It wasn’t on the best of days for the Great Barr born manager as he knew, defeat would see Norwich City relegated from the Premier League after just one season.
A win was much needed for his successor Steven Gerrard. It takes Villa to the magic 40 point mark and although not mathematically safe, it settles any doubts in sections of the fanbase.
Gerrard made three changes to the starting line-up that drew with Leicester last weekend. Lucas Digne returned from injury, despite earlier reports suggesting he would be ruled out for the remainder of the season, as Ashley Young dropped to the bench. Ezri Konsa was also replaced by Calum Chambers despite the clean sheet last week while Douglas Luiz also dropped to the bench as 18-year-old Tim Iroegbunam was handed his full Premier League debut.
If we are honest, it wasn’t a game for the memory bank and for large portions lacked any real momentum from either side.
Villa’s first two changes came from Digne who whipped balls into the box but Ollie Watkins’ effort went well wide while Matty Cash could only head the ball into the waiting hands of Tim Krul.
Leon Bailey came the closest for the home side in the first half when Krul’s fine one-handed save prevented the winger’s curling shot from hitting the back of the net.
Emi Martinez was not to be left out either despite a relatively quiet afternoon. Milot Rashica, who was rumoured to have turned down a move to Villa last season as he apparently didn’t want to sign for a club in a relegation battle, forced a save from 25 yards out.
What little momentum Villa had, started to fade and it was only an injury to Bailey that forced Gerrard into a change.
Danny Ings replaced the winger and he only needed seconds to make an impact. A delightful ball over the top of the Norwich defence found Watkins, he beat Sam Byram with a turn inside before unleashing a shot past Krul.
Phillip Coutinho, was growing into the game following a quiet first half but it wasn’t long before he was replaced by former Norwich midfielder, Emi Buendia.
The pace of the game slowed right down as it had an end of season feel about it but Ings was to have the final say when he scored late on after Krul had denied Jacob Ramsey.
It was far from a classic and Villa’s downturn in form and performances in the season half of the season, similar to last are a real concern. But we will take the win and move on to the next one with a trip to Burnley next weekend on the agenda.
- Much was made out of the return of Smith and he rightly got the reception he deserved. I have expressed before on this blog that I feel Smith went at the right time. The reception was not disrespectful towards Gerrard in the slightest and the former Rangers manager could earn one himself in the future should he impress.
- Although strange to see Chambers replace Konsa following the clean sheet last week, it was probably long overdue. I like Konsa and hope he finds that form we have seen before at Villa but he has struggled for large portions of this season. Chambers will come up against much harder opposition but a second clean sheet on the bounce is always a positive.
- Danny Ings – A special mention to the former Southampton striker. He came on, assisted and got himself on the scoresheet. That’s 12 goal involvements this season in 25 appearances.
- I mentioned it a few times in my report but the momentum shown by Villa, possibly not helped by Norwich, wasn’t great. The following brought by Norwich said everything you needed to know but another lacklustre performance by Gerrard’s man sent Villa fans home in relief more than anything else.
- Our fans – I am fed up with hearing our fans right off our own players. In recent weeks Konsa, Bailey and now Coutinho has been written off by certain sections of our fans. We could learn a lot from one of the teams that we meet before the end of the season, Crystal Palace. They always seem to get behind their team and players.
Burnley v Aston Villa
Turf Moor, Burnley
Saturday, 7th May – 15.00 (GMT)
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