Gabriel Agbonlahor scored his first goal in 14 months as Aston Villa dealt a bitter blow to rivals Birmingham City with a 1-0 win at a passionate Villa Park.
The atmosphere inside the stadium was electric throughout, but the game itself lacked quality with both sides lacking passion.
That changed as Agbonlahor came off the bench to rile up the tempo and his goal means Harry Redknapp’s first game in charge of Birmingham ended in defeat with time running out on their survival chances.
Steve Bruce made five changes to the Villa team that lost at Fulham last week, with Albert Adomah, Henri Lansbury and Neil Taylor amongst those restored to the starting eleven while Scott Hogan started as a lone frontman following top scorer Jonathan Kodija’s suspension.
Meanwhile, Redknapp named a frontline of Che Adams and Lukas Jutkiewicz for his first game backed up by ex-Villa man Craig Gardner, who received a hostile reaction from the home fans whenever he touched the ball.
Before the match, an impeccable one-minute’s applause was held to commemorate the life of ex-Villa defender Ugo Ehiogu, who sadly passed away from a heart-attack earlier this week. The home side also paid tribute to Ehiogu with the players holding up a banner that portrayed him during his Villa days.
Once the game kicked off, quality was hard to find and it took 18 minutes for the first chance to come. It was the home side who created it, but Hogan headed well wide from Leandro Bacuna’s cross. It was a difficult one for the January signing, but the striker did well to win the header ahead of the much-taller defenders.
Throughout the first half, Villa failed to do enough with the ball and Bruce’s insistence of a long ball tactic towards 5ft 11in Hogan was confusing fans in the stands. Meanwhile, Blues showed more passion in their tackles and were the better side by a slight margin in the opening 45 minutes.
They did create one brilliant opportunity, but a horrific miss from Adams proved costly for the relegation-threatened side. Jutkiewicz did well to skip away on the left before finding Adams with a simple cross, but the forward volleyed well over from just 12 yards out. It was an awful miss and the Villa fans were quick to tell him of that.
The second half continued to bore the fans, but a change from Bruce brought life and passion onto the pitch at the right time. With the home fans calling for Agbonlahor, the Villa manager relented and made the switch. Within three minutes, it had all kicked off.
Agbonlahor threw himself into challenges and riled the Blues players into a frenzy, gaining a yellow card not long after coming on. The striker even toyed with the vistiting supporters and all of a sudden, we had a derby to watch again. Villa had momentum and could have been in front from a Lansbury free-kick, but James Chester powered his header over to the relief of Redknapp on the away bench.
Up the other end, Sam Johnstone had to make a smart save to keep out David Davis’ powerful low shot from 20 yards out. Unfortunately for Blues, it was their rivals who took advantage of the change in tempo with a goal in the 69th minute and to no-one’s shock it was Agbonlahor against Birmingham again.
There was a giant goalmouth scramble and Birmingham defended like school-boys before the ball broke to Villa’s number 11. With a turn and a left-footed shot, Agbonlahor rifled the ball into the net and spiralled away into wild celebrations after scoring his first goal since February 2016.
The goal was enough as Villa held on to a win that is more important to the fans than the manager, but it’s the repercussions for Birmingham that could be important. The loss leaves them just two points ahead of the relegation zone and just two games to change that.
Match Report by Kyle Dixon (@kyledixon95)