Aston Villa 1-0 Leeds: Lewis Grabban keeps Steve Bruce's side in touch with Championship top two
By Dan Long
Last Updated: 14/04/18 7:22am
Lewis Grabban's first-half header proved to be the difference as Aston Villa maintained their hopes of automatic promotion with a 1-0 victory over Leeds in the Sky Bet Championship on Friday evening.
The hosts looked dominant in the first half and Grabban scored his fifth goal for Villa to give Steve Bruce's side an important lead when he headed home Jack Grealish's cross (29).
Leeds' threat grew in the second half with the introduction of Samuel Saiz but, despite Villa looking shaky after the interval, the home side battled to a crucial victory that secures at least a play-off place.
Aston Villa: Johnstone (6), Elmohamady (6), Chester (6), Jedinak (7), Taylor (6), Snodgrass (7), Whelan (6), Onomah (6), Grealish (7), Grabban (7), Kodjia (6)
Subs: Adomah (5), Hogan (n/a), Samba (n/a)
Leeds: Peacock-Farrell (7), Pearce (7), Pennington (6), O'Connor (6), Dallas (6), Vieira (5), Phillips (5), Alioski (5), Hernandez (5), Roofe (5), Ekuban (5)
Subs: Saiz (6), Grot (5), Lasogga (n/a)
Victory moves Villa to within two points of second-placed Fulham, though their automatic promotion ambitions lie largely out of their hands having played a game more. Paul Heckingbottom's Leeds remain 14th in the standings.
With the play-offs unreachable for Leeds, they had the chance to scupper Villa's chances of automatic promotion, but despite an enterprising start in the Midlands, the visitors never really looked like doing so in the first half.
It took more than 10 minutes for the first sight of goal but, when the first series of chances came, Bailey Peacock-Farrell looked alert to first beat away Robert Snodgrass' curling effort, before racing from his line to head a long ball clear with Jonathan Kodjia lurking.
By the time the first goal came, the hosts were comfortably in control. Leeds' defensive frailties were then laid bare as Grealish swung in a cross from the left and Grabban overpowered Matthew Pennington to plant a header past Peacock-Farrell.
Leeds improved after the break as an air of anxiety gripped Villa Park, but that feeling was somewhat soothed on the hour mark when Grabban went within inches of scoring his second.
Steve Bruce made three changes from the side that beat Cardiff on Tuesday evening: Neil Taylor, Josh Onomah and Jonathan Kodjia started in place of Axel Tuanzebe, Conor Hourihane and Albert Adomah.
Leeds made three changes of their own with Ezgjan Alioski, Tom Pearce and Matthew Pennington in for Vurnon Anita, Jay-Roy Grot and Pontus Jansson.
The 30-year-old beat the offside trap to force Peacock-Farrell into a smart reaction save, before the Leeds 'keeper just about managed push Kodjia's effort away from the rebound.
Leeds' lack of potency in attack and failure to test Sam Johnstone played to their opponents' advantage as Villa saw out the match for a vital win.
Man of the match - Bailey Peacock-Farrell
Another coming-of-age performance from the 21-year-old as he made a host of important saves to keep notable efforts from Robert Snodgrass and Lewis Grabban out. The academy graduate has starred since taking the number one shirt from Felix Wiedwald and looks incredibly assured between the sticks, particularly astounding given his age.
Steve Bruce: "We did enough and sometimes you need to your fifth game in 13 days 1-0. I always thought we were comfortable and we just needed that second one; we've had one or two opportunities but in the end I think both teams have run their race. We're delighted. A 1-0 win is decent and we've done it without pulling up too many trees.
"The one thing we've tried to do all season is to try and get the ball in the box from a wide area and we've been quite successful. We didn't have many but that cross from Grealish in the end was the deciding factor. That little bit of quality he possesses, good cross, great header and it's won us the match."
Paul Heckingbottom: "We've got to play without fear, especially when we've got a young side. We did ok in the first half without the ball, but with the ball, we were a threat on the counter but we were loose. No disrespect to Villa, but that gave them their best opportunities.
"At the start of the second half we were much better but we have to play with that freedom because you can't be intimidated coming to places like this, regardless of whether it's your first or second game, go and enoy it - we are trying to take the pressure off the players. They can take the credit from that, but not the result."
Both sides are next in action a week on Saturday - Aston Villa travel to Portman Road to face Ipswich, while Paul Heckingbottom's former club Barnsley are Leeds' opponents at Elland Road.