Aston Villa pulled another rabbit out of the bag as they defied both the weather and a determined Wigan Athletic at the DW stadium to snatch the match by two goals to nil.
It wasn’t pretty for the Villa fans but this was their 5th win in 6 matches although the majority of those have been against lowly opposition.
The fixture list in February and March has been oh so kind to Steve Bruce and his Villa team but you don’t win games on paper, you win them on the pitch and goals from James Chester and Scott Hogan was enough to seal the points against a wasteful Wigan team. With this loss Wigan are staring down the barrel of a gun for relegation but it could have been so different if they had only taken their chances.
It was cold, it was wet and it was windy but Villa were already cock-a-hoop with 3 players back from injury either in the starting line up or on the bench.
Captain James Chester set them on their way before Hogan back in the team having been one of those out injured headed home his first goal in claret and blue to send the Villans behind the goal wild.
But it wasn’t easy for Villa. Mile Jedinak put his first foot wrong since returning from injury by inexplicably gifting the ball to Wigan striker Omar Bogle inside 10 minutes. The former West Brom trainee was clean through on goal and rounded Sam Johnstone before somehow failing to put the ball between the posts. A huge let off for Villa.
Yet another lapse in concentration gifted Bogle another run at goal. But Hourihane, who had initially given the ball away, chased back and conceded a free kick. Bogle could and should have done better as he had a bit of a mare for the home team.
Steve Bruce’s side were largely frustrated by Wigan and Villa keeper Sam Johnstone did well to shift his feet to push Michael Jacobs’ low effort wide of the goal.
A combination of last-ditch defending and poor finishing from Wigan meant the match was level at the break. Jonathan Kodjia, who is trying to become Villa’s first player to score 20 league goals since Peter Withe in the 1980/81 First Division title-winning season, hardly saw the ball in a disjointed Villa first half.
The claret and blues were sloppy again when 10 minutes into the second-half defender Gary Gardner gifted the ball to Jacobs, who forced the busy all afternoon Johnstone into a fine save.
Steve decided to ring the changes and following Gardner’s mistake, both he and Bree were sacrificed as Henri Lansbury and Scott Hogan made their returns from respective achilles and ankle injuries.
Still Wigan continued to push looking for the opener and desperately requiring the three points to avoid them being stranded in 23rd position in the Championship. A substitute of their own, Callum Connolly, drew yet another fine save from Johnstone at point-blank range.
Lansbury, too, had an immediate impact. His corner evaded everyone in the box and somehow went out for a goal kick. It only needed a glance and the 4,781 fans in the away end would have been celebrating. Instead Wigan pounced again and a Jacobs’ 70th minute corner was met by another Latics substitute in the form of Ryan Colclough, but his header was hacked away at the near post by Kodjia.
Two minutes later a corner from the right was played short by Hourihane to Albert Adomah, who set the ball for the Irishman to deliver. Hogan jostled for position with goalkeeper Gilks and the former Blackpool man could only punch as far as James Chester. The captain powered the header home to almost recreate a replica of his winner against Derby County.
Wigan could have levelled almost immediately through Bogle, The man who nothing went right for in the rain, as Sam Johnstone was on hand to deny him again with arguably his best save of the match. That was to prove crucial as Villa finished off the game through Hogan late on. Adomah’s cross was met by the 24-year-old at the near post. A well-placed header that brought up his 15th goal of the campaign.
For manager less Wigan they are now seven points adrift of safety in interim boss Graham Barrow’s first game in charge and although they battled hard they look as sharp as a dead fish up front. The team who dismissed manager Warren Joyce only 5 days ago will look upon their first half misses as a lost opportunity.
Villa’s form has dramatically improved in recent weeks but despite closing the gap on sixth-placed Sheffield Wednesday from 17 to 11 points in their last two games, with just eight games to go a play-off spot for Steve Bruce’s 12th-placed side remains unlikely. The fact that we are even contemplating that in mid March after the dreadful start to the year does show the progress Villa have made under Bruce’s tenure of late.
Wigan caretaker manager Graham Barrow had this to say:
“There was a satisfaction about the game for so long. Then it was the old sucker punch and we only have ourselves to blame, for the first goal especially.
“Why we switched off so much, I don’t know. But I was encouraged by the fact we did work their goalkeeper, probably more than we’ve worked any goalkeeper.
“There was a lot to be encouraged by across the board. I’ve asked a lot from the players this week and they’ve almost produced, but not quite enough.”
His counterpart, Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce said:
“They gave us a really tough game, that’s how difficult the Championship is.
“It’s good to see us show a little bit of resilience. But, if we’re being honest, we’ve got to be better than what we’ve been today.