Aston Villa 1 – 1 Leeds United
The roar as the ball hit the back of the net told you all you needed to know. Relief swept around Villa Park as Jonathan Kodjia emphatically sent Rob Green the wrong way from the penalty spot and quickly turned to hope. Four minutes plus stoppage time? Cup finals have been won in less time than that.
In the end, a point was the least we deserved. After dominating the first half, Villa found Leeds a different proposition after the break. It was in keeping with the way the Yorkshiremen have approached the season.
They hold the highest ‘points gain’ in the division based on how they have turned games around in the second half of matches. It would be no surprise if we’ve dropped the most. We’ve got to be challenging for an honour this season somewhere along the way, even if it’s just a statistical one.
And I must admit I feared the worst when Pontus Jansson gave them the lead just past the hour mark. Our missed chances haunted us and bums began squeaking when he hit the bar shortly afterwards. The manner of our pre-Christmas defeat at Elland Road looked set to repeat itself and end the last remaining unbeaten home record in the Championship.
But, as has so often been the case during Steve Bruce’s reign, Kodjia proved to be the saviour. He turned from hero to villain as the final minutes ticked down and the game inexplicably became a brilliant slice of end-to-end football.
Leeds attacked, we countered and they countered our counter before we countered their countering of our counter; there were more Counters than a Tesco Express.
Kodjia and Jordan Ayew both went close in the first half, drawing good saves from Rob Green. The former England international may have been hapless for his country but he was in fine form at Villa Park. While there is usually a ricket lurking in his game, there was little or no sign of it in this fixture.
A slow-burning first half became a slow-burning second half. Jansson’s opener picked the tempo up a little, even if it was a disappointing goal to concede. Goalkeeping has been a problem area with Pierluigi Gollini’s inconsistency costing him the starting line-up place. However, Bruce – like the rest of us – will surely feel Bunn should have done better with the Swede’s header.
But the game exploded in the final fifteen minutes as Villa cranked up the pressure. It told on Leeds eventually when Cooper needlessly handled in the area and Kodjia coolly dispatched his penalty. From then on, it was counter-attacking mayhem at both ends of the pitch.
Green made more outstanding blocks, particularly from Kodjia while Jansson shot wide for the visitors. More often than not, the final ball let both sides down as they both desperately sought a winner.
A point is better than nothing and leaves us within touching distance of the play-off places. It’s the continued improvement in performances under Steve Bruce but as any football fan will tell you, I can live with the failure, it’s the hope that kills me.