Aston Villa 1 Leeds United 1
I think this Leeds side came of age tonight. There is no doubt that this was a decent Villa side, a side unbeaten at home this season and a side getting better with every game under the experienced guidance of Steve Bruce. For half an hour it looked as though Leeds might be overrun as Villa bossed the game and bamboozled us with their sheer pace of movement and yet they created few clear cut chances as the Leeds defence was as resolute as always despite another enforced shuffle as Liam Cooper deputised for the injured Kyle Bartley. I think we can now rest assured that we have sufficient strength in depth at the back as Cooper and Berardi filled in perfectly well for Bartley and Taylor.
But after that first half hour Leeds gradually but determinedly played themselves into the game; it was almost as if they suddenly became aware that they were matching this Villa side without all that much trouble and so they began to play their own game. There was another little spell of Villa pressure at the start of the second half too but when Leeds opened the scoring in the 54th minute the game changed completely.
The goal came from our very own talisman – Pontus Jansson. He rose to powerfully head a right wing corner straight at Villa keeper Mark Bunn but such is the aura of our big centre half that Bunn must have been mesmerised and somehow he let the ball squirm through him and over the line. Villa Park was stunned into silence – they are a tough bunch of supporters to please, much like our own – and it was the cue for Leeds to begin perhaps their best spell of attacking football we have seen so far this season. There was real belief amongst both fans and players that we could now beat anyone anywhere. Within minutes of the restart Leeds were attacking again with the dangerous if erratic running of Hadi Sacko causing Villa all sorts of anguish. Another corner and more chaos in the Villa box as the ball bounced loose to Pontus on the edge of the area. He took aim and fired at goal. It always looked to be an inch or two too high and sure enough it cannoned off the top of the bar. Another corner soon followed and then another. The Villa were creaking big time and had we been able to grab a second goal the game would have been over. Sadly we couldn’t find the breakthrough and Villa came through the onslaught to regroup. Rob Green was called into action and performed faultlessly as he blocked and parried a couple of decent efforts and then got a huge roar of approval as he fisted away a dangerous cross. Leeds had brought on Pablo Hernandez for Dallas earlier and then Wood replaced Roofe and eventually Liam Bridcutt was replaced by the fresh young legs of Ronnie Vieira. Pablo took a while to find his range just as he did when he came on at Preston but there is no doubt his invention has been missed in midfield.
It wasn’t to be the perfect night as a flailing hand from Cooper gave Villa a late penalty and some of us pondered whether Kyle Bartley might have dealt with the cross better but at the end of the day a point here is a great point and more than that the second half display from Leeds will give everyone at the club confidence that we are indeed strong enough, even without any January reinforcements, to stay in the top six. We will get better than this too, as Garry Monk keeps telling us. Hadi Sacko was guilty of another couple of glaring errors of judgement late on as he took too long to shoot on one occasion allowing a stray Villa boot to deflect his shot onto the bar while failing to spot Wood in a better position on another. Pablo will find his range once he has a few more minutes of game time after his long lay-off. I’m convinced we are yet to see the fireworks Kemar Roofe can provide too. We have loads of potential and the future looks really good if we can hold onto the several loan players we have and don’t lose them to other clubs that are surely monitoring our progress. The proof of our Christmas pudding will now be a comfortable win with another strong performance on Monday when Rotherham come to town. We can then surely look forward to regular points for the rest of the season and see where that gets us to come May.
Aston Villa Leeds Utd
Possession 46% 54%
Shots 11 12
On Target 5 2
Corners 4 7
Fouls 15 15