Written by AFCB_Liam
After an underwhelming opening day draw to Sheffield United posed more questions than answers, Bournemouth travelled to Villa with some trepidation, especially given last season’s wretched away form.
This was my first visit to Villa Park and after a couple of beers in the away fans’ marquee at the Whitton Arms, we headed in to soak up the atmosphere in the sunshine. First impressions were excellent; a proper football stadium with steep stands, fans close to the pitch and impressive atmosphere. As we built towards kick-off, the noise from the home fans was deafening, unlike anything I’ve heard in the Premier League before and far better than atmosphere I’ve witnessed at Wembley, Anfield or any of the other big stadiums. Obviously, this was partly due to the fans’ high spirits at their Premier League return, but as the banner in the Holt End says, they’ll definitely be the 12th man for Villa this season.
On the pitch, Eddie ditched the ill-fated 5-3-2 for 4-4-2, bringing in Daniels and Harry Wilson for Rico and Mepham. As the noise grew into a crescendo at kick-off, I think we away fans were a little bit shell-shocked. As a few people on here had said, we needed to silence the home crowd early.
None of us could dream at how early we would do this though. First, the trusty 2018 combo of Fraser and Wilson linked up inside a minute, Fraser playing Callum in on the left of the box. There was no real danger given how wide the ball was, but Heaton made a rash challenge, perhaps missing Wilson in his blind spot, and it was a stonewall penalty which didn’t even require VAR. KING despatched it with composure to settle our nerves and quieten the Villa faithful.
10 minutes later it was 2, a ball across the Villa backline was inexplicably dummied by Douglas Luiz, and fell to Harry WILSON 25 yards out, who took a touch and fired in a heavily deflected strike off the post and in. It was the Villa fans who were shell-shocked now, as the inevitable chants of “you’re going down with the scummers” started.
Villa reacted well and carved out some good opportunities which Ramsdale dealt with well, along with a string of dangerous balls into the box. We also had chances for Harry Wilson and King which were squandered. Talking of chances, another man who was given plenty by the referee was Billing, who was doing his best Arter impression in the middle; niggly fouls, talking back to the referee and tantrums when a decision went against him. He picked up one booking and could easily have received another by half-time. Despite that, he and Lerma were masterful at breaking up play in the middle and the back four looked a lot more assured except for one Daniels howler which was a replica of Spurs last season.
Eddie wisely took off Billing for Surman for the 2nd half, but we immediately surrendered possession and sat back. The next 25 minutes was pretty horrible to watch, a stream of chances and corners for Villa, with the out-balls to King or Wilson, generally being lapped up by Mings and co. Cook, Ake, Lerma and Smith were immense in this period, as was Ramsdale who looks assured with both crosses and shot-stopping. The pressure told though, and Douglas LUIZ atoned for his earlier error with an absolute peach of a curling effort from 30 yards out into the top corner to wake the home fans up again.
The noise cranked up again and the home team really had their tails up. We missed Billing and were losing out in the midfield, despite Jeff doing 2 players’ worth of effort in there. With the balls up to Wilson and King not sticking, Eddie replaced Harry Wilson for Solanke, who came on and made an immediate impact with hold up play, flick-ons and power. This balanced the play and led to us creating a couple of breakaway chances, the best falling to Fraser who toe-poked timidly at Heaton after running clear from the halfway line.
The Bournemouth fans were excellent in the last 10 minutes, sensing the team needed help to get across the line and making some impressive noise despite our nerves being shredded. Villa had a couple more chances and then the 4th official put up the dreaded 5 minutes of added time. We saw out 5 minutes impressively, spending more time in the Villa half than in most of the preceding 45 minutes put together, but then in the 96th minute, Villa got the ball up to the other end for a final chance which had last-minute equaliser written all over it. It was headed over and the final whistle went to send the away fans wild. Eddie’s passionate celebration at the end said it all about how important and hard-fought the win had been.
Then followed a sluggish journey to get from Whitton back to Birmingham New Street, which took about an hour and a half despite being only 3 miles and 2 stops. The traffic situation on the roads looked just as bad, so I imagine Villa Park must win an award for one of the most difficult grounds to get away from in the Premier League. Made all the more bearable by 3 points and the evening sunshine though!
Ramsdale – 8 – pretty much faultless and made some excellent saves. Looks more assured than Begovic and more experienced than Travers. The spot is his for now.
Cook – 8 – did what Cook does; put his head in dangerous places, cleared danger and marshalled the back 4.
Ake – 8 – see Cook.
Daniels – 7 – Hard to say whether I have League One bias, but I just feel so much more comfortable with him than Rico. Overlapped well, covered intelligently and bar one error was solid throughout.
Smith – 8 – Tireless performance and excellent defensive work. A little bit wasteful coming forward a couple of times, but what an engine he’s got.
Lerma – 9 – Immense again. Quickly becoming a Bournemouth hero. Covers so much ground and reads play exceptionally. I’m certain that had we not had him in there today we would have crumbled 2nd half.
Billing – 7 – Played very well but got himself worked up and almost sent off. Needs to learn from Jeff and curb the non-essential fouls.
Surman – 6 – Admittedly my nerves were shredded 2nd half so I was less analytical, but to me, he didn’t offer a lot either defensively or creatively. Should be 5th choice behind Gosling and Cook if everyone is fit.
Fraser – 6 – Poor game but did get an assist-assist for the penalty. Poor delivery and free kicks and missed a glorious chance to seal the win. Doesn’t look confident but still worked hard throughout.
Harry Wilson – 8 – Superb debut. Scored one, almost scored another and looked every inch the Eddie Howe player. Great link-up play and delivery.
King – 6 – May seem harsh but he overplayed it too many times and didn’t link up play effectively. Wasted some chances and generally looked off his game. Not sure where the King-Wilson link up from pre-season has gone but it’s not working at the moment.
Callum Wilson – 7 – Worked hard throughout and made life difficult for Mings. Looked more effective once Solanke came on. Not at his best but still won a penalty and almost got another assist.
MOM – Lerma. An absolute beast of performance in the middle of the park against a lively Villa midfield.
Verdict – An excellent away win in an intimidating place to visit. A game I think we would have lost last season. We looked far more comfortable in a 442 and with the changes in personnel. Neither Mepham or Rico is quite ready for the rigours of this kind of game.
We really needed a strong start today and we got it. The defence was immense but something still isn’t clicking upfront. Hopefully, Brooks can be the missing piece of the jigsaw when he’s back. Better substitutions from Eddie today though, proactive instead of too late.
Villa looked threatening and I think they’ll stay up, McGinn, in particular, was a livewire throughout. I hope they do survive, as I’d love to return to Villa Park, a proper football stadium! Fans on the way out all seemed very reasonable, honest and fair – don’t believe everything you see on a forum!
Finally, VAR. While I am generally for it, I don’t like that the fans in the stadium are disadvantaged compared to people watching on TV. For the Villa penalty appeal, we just had to stand there watching a screen saying “checking VAR” for a minute. In cricket, it works because the crowd sees the decision being made live and sees the same replays. Without that, it’s a horrible experience.
Silent AFCB wrote…
Agree with most except 2 things, I think Surman was worth more than a 6 and Ramsdale being faultless. The one issue I have with him is that almost every saves he’s made over both games, he’s left the ball in a dangerous area right in front of goal. He needs to learn to push wide or behind when making a save. Fortunately, we’ve been first to all of them so far.
Obviously, he’s doing incredibly well, but the better teams will target it and follow up long shots, just like we did against Karius.
Still cementing his position as number one pretty comfortably. – Join the conversation, click here.