Match report by Jamie Aspinall.
Paul Cook was true to his word when he said last week “If we do get beat then I’d rather it [happen] by being aggressive and trying to win the game”. Latics certainly went all guns blazing against Aston Villa. Unfortunately it did not pay off like it did last week and they were this time on the losing side in another exciting five goal thriller.
The home side took an early lead through James Chester, then Nick Powell and Callum Connolly turned the game on it’s head for the visitors, until Chey Dunkley converted into his own net and then in the dying seconds of injury time Birkir Bjarnason took back the lead to cause an eruption of noise and deal a sickening blow to the unlucky Latics.
It was an end-to-end game full of nervous energy at times due to the high pace which kept the spectators at the edge of their seats. There were stand out performances from Powell and Jack Grealish, who both ended up staying with their respective clubs after being linked with moves away during the transfer window and the game benefitted from their presence.
Cook in his post match interview said “All of the aspects of the game we’re happy with…apart from the result”. It was a killer blow to have been so close to victory after playing such great attacking football, however an aspect I was definitely not too happy with was the defending.
The first Villa goal showed poor communication between the defence and goalkeeper. Dunkley failed to track the run of Chester and the usually commanding figure of Christian Walton in goal half-heartedly came to challenge for the ball only to be left looking deflated. The opening goal did however come from a very debatable free kick but that is no excuse for the poor defending.
This mix up in communication and lack of commanding presence was seen again at the back, as the second and third Villa goals could all have been easily prevented. There was an element of misfortune for the second goal as Cedric Kipre’s attempted clearance cannoned off Dunkley into the goal, possibly the misjudged header from Antonee Robinson had him unsighted.
The late winner for Villa was this time a lack of conviction from Walton and Robinson who both failed to judge the low cross to the back post and were beaten by Bjarnason. Latics need to tighten things up at the back, otherwise all the great attacking play will be in vain.
Getting back to the positives, the visitors could quite easily have been the victors thanks to their forward play. If either new signing Josh Windass or Michael Jacobs had hit the target with their headers late on then the fine balance of the game could’ve switched in Latics’ favour.
The energetic substitute, Windass, nearly headed home a well worked pass and move, he was maybe too keen as he got underneath the ball and headed over, Jacobs will also be kicking himself for his header that he should’ve converted in similar fashion.
The Latics goals came first from Powell who was quickest to react to Mile Jedinak’s poor back pass to make things all square at half time. Powell then sent a pinpoint cross towards the back post in the second half for Connolly to direct his header into the bottom corner and send the visitors into the lead.
A special mention has to go to captain Samy Morsy who was the driving force of the team carrying out his duties tirelessly as he so very often does, breaking up the opposition play and distributing the ball to great effect.
If the opening two performances are anything to go by then Latics’ fans will certainly be getting their money’s worth in terms of entertainment. Steve Bruce praised Latics’ performance and was complimentary about them being a good side, he expected a tough game and that’s what he got.
In Cook, we have not come across such an attacking minded manager for some time where his philosophy towards the game is to take it to the opposition. Rather than try to play for a point or keep Villa at bay to stop a defeat, Cook set the stall out to play for the win, which as a fan I can say was highly exciting.
Some will say it was a gamble to attack against a strong side away from home, but on another day we could’ve quite easily been celebrating a second consecutive 3-2 victory. I’m sure we are all waiting in great anticipation for the next league fixture to find out what thrills are in store.