Aston Villa 1-1 Preston: Lewis Grabban penalty earns a draw for home side
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 20/02/18 11:35pm
Lewis Grabban netted his first goal for Aston Villa to scramble a nervous 1-1 Championship home draw against Preston on Tuesday.
Tom Barkhuizen, North End's leading marksman, put the play-off chasing Lilywhites ahead in the first half. But Villa equalised as a result of a controversial penalty converted by on-loan Bournemouth striker Grabban in the 66th minute.
A struggling Villa, who had been looking to complete the double, therefore missed the chance to move into second place in the table.
Villa were seriously depleted due to the absence of Albert Adomah, Ahmed Elmohamady and Jack Grealish, although they made a good start when Preston were undoubtedly indebted to goalkeeper Declan Rudd.
The former Norwich stopper had to make a spectacular save flinging himself to his right to keep out a powerful shot from Birkir Bjarnason and a minute later Rudd saved a John Terry header as Villa strived to build an early advantage.
After losing their first league game in eight at Fulham on Saturday, Villa attempted to bounce back in style but they were thwarted by an equally determined Preston side who exploited the midlands club's shortcomings.
Preston, who had skipper Greg Cunningham and Ben Pearson back in their side, played with quiet confidence as they slowly found some attacking form generally generated by Alan Browne.
A dreadful clearance by Terry gave Preston a golden opportunity to take the lead but Callum Robinson's snap shot from 20 yards went narrowly wide of the post with goalkeeper Sam Johnstone completely out of position.
But it was Rudd who continued to take the first-half honours with another point-blank save from Scott Hogan.
Frustration began to creep into Villa's play and it was clearly evident that they sadly missed the creative ability and drive of Grealish, while Mile Jedinak struggled badly in midfield.
Consequently Preston were able to pose real problems with some smooth attacks which had Villa back-peddling.
The pressure was relieved by Alan Hutton moving forward to fully test Rudd's undoubted ability.
Preston, who had only lost one game in their previous 16 Championship matches, demonstrated their attacking danger when Barkhuizen put them ahead in the 37th minute.
Johnstone, who gave away a bad goal at Fulham, attempted to punch the ball clear only to set up Barkhuizen to score with a scissors kick which looped into the roof of the net.
The goal definitely put Villa on the back foot and after the break they made a double substitution, sending on strikers Grabban and Keinan Davis.
Preston continued to look the more dangerous with Johnstone forced to make a fine save from a Paul Huntington header but Davis won a penalty which live-wire Grabban casually converted with a low shot into the middle of the net.
Steve Bruce: "We found it difficult against a really good Championship team. They have a good work ethic, good players and in this league they are a threat for anyone. It is fair to say we found it difficult in the first half but in the second half we could have won the match with the best pass and best quality of the match but Keinan Davis didn't take the chance.
"All of a sudden we have a difficult Villa Park pitch at the moment. I've never seen it in such condition but we eventually got something out of the game despite missing several creative players through injury. Without them we have found it difficult."
Alex Neil: "I thought we were the better side over the 90 minutes. It was disappointing and frustrating that it was a soft penalty which enabled Villa to get back into the game. I didn't think it was the right decision. We dominated the match and I thought my players were magnificent. The only criticism I have is that despite the number of chances we created we scored only one goal.
"I thought we performed very well and our shape was excellent. In terms of performance I was extremely proud of my team and I thought Preston were unlucky on the night. Personally, I thought the penalty was a hammer blow as I couldn't see Villa getting back into the game. If we continue to perform as we did against Villa and convert our chances then there is no reason why we shouldn't have a strong end of season."