Aston Villa kept their slim hopes of automatic promotion alive this week, by handing out a 3-0 thrashing of relegation-threatened Reading at Villa Park. the result leaves Villa seven points behind second-placed Cardiff City with six games left to play.
Steve Bruce recalled Birkir Bjarnason for the game after the Icelandic midfielder missed out on selection entirely for the Good Friday clash with Hull City.
His complete exclusion was certainly a surprise, but not when considering the international break he had. Bjarnason featured for Iceland against Mexico and Peru in San Francisco and New York during international duty. With that in mind, the Birmingham Mail reported that Bjarnason was told to rest as Villa took on Hull.
They drew that game 0-0 but leaving Bjarnason to recover certainly paid dividends against Reading last night.
The 29-year-old put in arguably his best ever performance for Villa in the game against the Royals. He scored a sublime 25-yard strike to get the scoring going. He continued to shine throughout the game. Bjarnason was a constant option in the heart of midfield and ran the game from his central role.
It was the type of performance he has consistently put in when given a chance since nearly leaving the club in the January transfer window.
Some would argue that leaving him out v Hull was a mistake, but taking four points from the Easter fixtures is a good achievement for any team in the Championship.
Bruce’s decision to keep Bjarnason fresh for the Reading fixture ensured they had enough in the tank to ensure all three points v Paul Clement’s men.
As for Bjarnason, he will hope this performance has secured him a regular starting place for the rest of the campaign. Bruce will certainly struggle to leave him out after this impressive display.
One to Watch: Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish at his creative best vs Ipswich
The Villa youngster was exceptional again this weekend.
Jack Grealish again proved why he is Aston Villa’s most important player in their attempt to gain promotion back to the Premier League with an excellent performance in Villa’s 1-1 draw with Ipswich Town on Saturday.
The 22-year-old’s wonderful display was underpinned by the 28 passes he completed in the final third – which, according to WhoScored was more than any other player had managed in a single Championship game thus far this season.
Grealish also completed five key passes in the game, bringing his season total to 11 – more than any other player in the league other than Norwich’s Ben Marshall (also 11).
Furthermore, the Englishman completed five of his six dribbles in the game.
Steve Bruce spoke glowingly of Grealish this week on TalkSport.
“He’s arguably the best young player I’ve had in terms of ability. He can do something where he can lift you off your seat, he’s such a natural footballer and of course he’s grown up a bit,” the Aston Villa manager said.
“For me, he’s going to be a top, top player.”
It is hard not to agree with Bruce. Not only does it appear as though Grealish has matured greatly in the last 12 months, his performances since the turn of the year have been astounding – he has arguably been the division’s best player in that period.
His constant menacing against Ipswich was no different – he has started this season brightly.
If he can manage to help guide Villa to the Premier League, he may be there for the long-term.
Why Matt Targett would be a superb loan signing for Aston Villa
The loan signing of the young Englishman would be a superb acquisition for the Villans, as Targett has promotion experience and possesses Premier League quality.
Targett made his Premier League debut for Southampton in September 2014, and has gone on to make 27 top flight appearances for the Saints. In addition, he has featured in the Europa League, as well as for the England U-21s.
Last season, the 22-year-old joined Fulham on a loan deal during the January transfer window and enjoyed immense success in the Championship. Targett made his debut on 27 January and had to wait until the final match of the regular season until he suffered defeat in a Fulham shirt.
The left back was vital during Fulham’s successful play-off run; Villa fans will know him well as he was part of the Fulham team that won 1-0 at Wembley in May.
Targett showed exceptional defensive intelligence last season, with a knack of being in the right place at the right time. Always composed at the back, the 22-year-old is comfortable in possession and can kickstart attacks, deliver dangerous crosses, and link up well with the left winger.
Fulham rated Targett so highly that they bid up to £15 million for the defender this summer, yet saw their offers repeatedly rejected by Southampton manager Mark Hughes.
Extremely well-regarded in southwest London and evidently coveted at St. Mary’s, Matt Targett would be a great addition to Steve Bruce’s squad as Villa aim to bounce back from last season’s crushing play-off heartbreak.
And the move would offer the Villans some solace as Fulham were eager to sign Targett, but instead hijacked Aston Villa’s deal for Joe Bryan. Now, the Championship club would attain the services of a Fulham target while they mount their promotion push.
Rangers return for Ross McCormack would show last resort after transfer failures
Rangers are continuing to look to strengthen their front line and provide alternatives to reduce the dependence upon Alfredo Morelos, despite his prolific start to the campaign, and the latest name to be linked with a move to Ibrox is Ross McCormack.
TeamTalk say that the Scottish side have shown an interest after Aston Villa made it clear that they would be prepared to pay all of his £40,000 per week wages, which could mean he would be a bargain acquisition.
The 32-year-old played 10 games and scored two goals during a stint at the club as a youngster in 2005/06 before departing for Motherwell, where his impressive form earned him a move south of the border.
However, since moving to Aston Villa for £12 million, his career has gone downhill. A fall-out with Steve Bruce meant that his career at Villa Park has been all but written off.
“It’s been a disaster. There’s no two ways about it. I scored four goals and played something like 25 games. If you look at the five years before that I was averaging over 50 games a season and probably over 20 goals. I think most players have a dip in their careers, hopefully that was mine.”
Rangers have had a bid turned down for Hearts forward Kyle Lafferty, according to STV, and a reported interest in McCormack may represent a shift in attention to a player who is unlikely to be first choice in Steven Gerrard’s wishlist.
McCormack may have scored 14 goals in 17 games for Melbourne City, but he has not played regularly in Britain since 2016 and, at 32-years-old, is not a long-term solution. Such short-termism is something that Gerrard has been keen to avoid with his other signings.
Financially, the deal may make sense with such low costs, but it is hard to see that Gerrard would welcome a player on the decline with reported attitude problems and fitness issues having spent his summer hiring young and exciting talents with a point to prove.
Exclusive: George Williams on his Fulham spell, Euro 2016 and two year ambition
We caught up with the former MK Dons and Fulham prospect, now plying his trade for Forest Green.
Exclusive: Christian Doidge discusses new season, career highlights and transfer speculation
The Forest Green Rovers striker spoke to The Boot Room ahead of the 2018/19 campaign.
Exclusive: Cardiff City’s Joe Bennett discusses his new contract; promotion and new signings
The full-back spoke exclusively to The Boot Room as he looks ahead to the Bluebird's top flight return.
Liverpool15 hours ago
Three selection headaches for Jurgen Klopp ahead of Liverpool’s clash with Brighton
Everton7 hours ago
Everton round-up: Bolasie hijacked, Williams to Bolton and Mina deals emerge
Brighton and Hove Albion14 hours ago
Brighton favourite Uwe Hunemeier scores rare double for new side Paderborn
Everton14 hours ago
Free agent target Miguel Veloso has twice outclassed Everton in Europa League thrashings
Leeds United16 hours ago
Leeds fans are right to get excited as Bielsa seeks Bahlouli reunion
English Premier League17 hours ago
Reece Oxford can be the answer to West Ham’s woes
Celtic7 hours ago
One year since £800k Celtic transfer collapsed, Rivaldo Coetzee still hasn’t played
Championship6 hours ago
Andrea Radrizzani drops hints on ambitious Leeds United plans