Aston Villa 1-0 Cardiff: Jack Grealish stunner wins it for Villa
By Pete Hall
Last Updated: 11/04/18 7:55am
Jack Grealish's stunning 25-yard volley earned Aston Villa a crucial 1-0 victory over fellow promotion hopefuls Cardiff at Villa Park.
The game, given the Royal seal of approval with Prince William in attendance, looked to be heading for stalemate as the latter stages loomed with the score goalless, but Grealish stepped up to slam home a volley in the 85th minute to snatch all three points for Villa.
Cardiff had plenty of chances throughout the match but found Villa goalkeeper Sam Johnstone in inspired form, with his save late in the first half to prevent Glenn Whelan from scoring an own goal the pick of the bunch.
The result means Cardiff drop out of the top two, with Fulham's victory over Reading seeing them climb into the automatic promotion berths, while Villa are now just four points behind Neil Warnock's side, and trail Reading by five.
Aston Villa: Johnstone (9), Elmohamady (6), Chester (6), Tuanzebe (6), Jedinak (6), Snodgrass (6), Whelan (6), Hourihane (7), Adomah (6), Grealish (8), Grabban (7).
Subs: Bree (6), Kodjia (7), Samba (N/A).
Cardiff: Etheridge (6), Peltier (7), Morrison (6), Bamba (7), Bennett (6), Gunnarsson (6), Grujic (6), Paterson (7), Hoilett (6). Mendez-Laing (7), Zohore (6).
Subs: Madine (6), Ward (N/A), Mendez-Laing (N/A).
Man of the match: Sam Johnstone
Villa could have made a dream start following clever work by Robert Snodgrass to put Lewis Grabban in, only for the on-loan striker to lash his angled shot into the side netting in only the second minute.
The hosts had a big let off in the 15th minute when young Axel Tuanzebe was caught in possession by Nathaniel Mendez-Laing who broke clear down the right but watched as his low raking drive hit the foot of the far post.
Then, as the first half neared its climax, Johnstone brilliantly denied Cardiff after a cross had cannoned off the back of Whelan and headed for the bottom corner.
Steve Bruce made three changes from the side beaten at Norwich at the weekend, with Mile Jedinak, Axel Tuanzebe and Lewis Grabban coming in. Scott Hogan dropped to the bench. John Terry was not involved due to an ankle injury. Two changes for Cardiff as Marko Grujic and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing started.
Early in the second half Cardiff slowly emerged as the more dangerous as they began to launch a series of attacks to pressurise the Villa rearguard. Only an outstretched foot by Johnstone prevented Kenneth Zohore from opening Cardiff's account shortly.
Grealish then escaped Gunnarsson's close attention to send Conor Hourihane clear only for the Irishman to push his shot wide as he was closed down by Etheridge.
Johnstone came to Villa's rescue to keep out a real block-buster from Mendez-Laing before Villa clinched the game in the 85th minute when Grealish produced a swerving shot which cannoned off the post and into the net.
Man of the match - Sam Johnstone
Grealish will get the plaudits for his sensational volley, but without Johnstone's brilliance in the home goal, Cardiff could have been out of sight. His stop to keep out Whelan's possible own goal was out of this world - the ball looked past home, but he flung himself to his left and hooked the ball out. Would have given Cardiff the impetus at a crucial time.
Steve Bruce: "We all know that Jack Grealish is a talent. To be without him for six months shows what we have missed. It took him some time to get back to his fitness after his ankle injury against Birmingham City but this was the real Jack Grealish.
"He certainly earned his money against Cardiff. To beat Cardiff it was always going to be a little bit of magic and quality as shown by Grealish. Since he came back into the team he has attempted to play with maturity. The freak injury he suffered in pre-season shocked him. It put him on a back burner but now he is getting the right sort of plaudits."
Neil Warnock: "I don't know why we didn't win. We had some great chances. I know Grealish scored a world class goal but I do not how Villa's goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone, was not man of the match. He was unbelievable. One save with his foot was made when he was going the wrong way.
"I cannot fault the lads. It was disappointing to lose two games to two world class goals but luck has a habit of evening itself out. The effort could not be faulted. We created quite a few chances. You could see what it meant to Aston Villa at the end. You would think they had won the World Cup."
There is no rest for the wicked as Villa have another Sky live clash, on Friday, against Leeds, while Cardiff have an extra day to prepare for the trip to Norwich.