Villa beat Birmingham for Second City bragging rights in Capital One Cup
Aston Villa eased their recent Midlands derby woes with a 1-0 win against bitter local rivals Birmingham City in the Capital One Cup third round, thanks to a Rudy Gestede goal and a pair of timely substitutions by Tim Sherwood.
What began as a rather exciting, open and end-to-end Second City scuffle soon turned into an example of poor execution, though the first half was no less enthralling for it.
The Championship Blues certainly had the most fizz and flair initially, though Villa endeavored to be first to every loose ball in midfield, refusing to allow their visitors to settle.
It was Sherwood’s summer striker signing Gestede who set the tone for what would ultimately be a fruitless opening 45 minutes in both final thirds, scuffing an early shot, with the former Blackburn Rovers frontman and Scott Sinclair later fluffing their attempts to connect well with a bobbling ball in the box.
For his part, Sinclair at least illustrated intent as he sped into City’s area, his delayed strike almost fooling keeper Tomasz Kuszczak.
Also for the Villans, Leandro Bacuna’s low-cross was curled in just a smidge too far ahead of on-rushing Gabriel Agbonlahor, while the fullback was troubled by young-gun Demarai Gray at the opposite end.
Full of exuberance and abandon, Gray’s raw pace and guile was evident, yet the versatile attacker’s spark could not compensate for some poor decision-making, with a few poor passes scuppering chances, in particular when the fledgling forward failed to find well-positioned Clayton Donaldson.
Still, Birmingham showed range, with a dangerous target to aim long punts toward in Donaldson, and the ability for crisp passing on the decks.
Half-time was met by boos from the frustrated home crowd, and Sherwood responded over the break by boldly bringing on Jack Grealish and Jordan Ayew, with Agbonlahor and Joleon Lescott leaving in exchange.
Sherwood’s shuffling of his pack instantly revived the hosts, with Grealish’s whipped ball causing all kinds of havoc in Birmingham’s box, though Gestede and Sinclair both neglected to hit the net.
With the tide turned firmly in now dominant Villa’s favour, Gestede finally broke the derby deadlock in the 61st minute with a typically trademark header. Nippy Grealish slid a pass to overlapping left back Jordan Amavi, who hit a wonderful first-time cross for Gestede to gobble up after a lethal leap, giving his side the lead.
Good work from Donaldson and Gray unlocked Villa’s rearguard to put Tottenham academy product Jacques Maghoma through on goal, but the shot was weak and low, allowing Brad Guzan to gather effortlessly.
Birmingham never gave up, but Arsenal-owned schemer John Toral and fellow substitute Viv Solomon-Otabor both missed a gloriously bouncing ball in the box.
Villa themselves still had chances, with impact players Ayew and Grealish continuing to stretch their opponents and impress, though neither could slot home despite their best efforts. Luckily for Villa Park fans they didn’t need to, as Sherwood’s side held on to their 1-0 win, with the Birmingham Blues left to rue their early wastefulness.