Aston Villa finally ended their four game goal drought as Leandro Bacuna and Libor Kozak struck late to ensure a comfortable 2-0 victory over Cardiff City.
For 74 minutes the game looked odds-on to be a bore-draw as both teams toiled away but created few real chances. Then on 75 full-back Bacuna was moved into midfield and curled in a beautiful free kick from the right of the penalty area, leaving Cardiff ‘keeper David Marshall stranded.
Minutes later a cross from the left by Aleksandar Tonev found its way to the far post where it was headed back by substitute Matthew Lowton for Kozak to head the ball into the net.
The double strikes were a great relief to manager Paul Lambert, his players and the Villa faithful who had suffered for over seven hours without seeing the ball hit the net at Villa Park.
The first half of the game started off as a typical Villa performance of recent weeks with a bright start which saw both Kozak and fellow striker Christian Benteke going close. But for the rest of the half Villa were wasteful with their chances. Karim El Ahmadi had two shots from outside the box but both were wide of the goal.
Villa’s squad was incredibly different to the one that faced West Ham last week as key players Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann and Antonio Luna were all missing through injury and in form midfielder Fabian Delph absent due to illness. The bench showed how stretched Lambert’s team was with youngsters Daniel Johnson, Calum Robinson joining Jordan Bowery in the first team line-up.
Bowery later replaced the goal scorer Kozak and had a good chance to make it 3-0 but the best he could muster was a shot that hit the side netting.
The depleted team didn’t stop the Villians from securing the victory and more importantly a first clean sheet in 17 matches.
Villa manager Paul Lambert described the free kick by man of the match Bacuna as "world class" and said he was proud of his team's performance. Bluebirds manager Malky Mackay refused to blame his defence saying ‘sometimes you just have to say it was a brilliant strike’.
Dutchman Bacuna, who scored another spectacular free-kick against Manchester City in September, said he had been taking set piece kicks, including penalties, all the time back in his native Holland where he originally started as a striker. However, he was quick to add that he had no intention of taking the spot-kick role from next-door neighbour Benteke.
“I am happy taking the free-kicks but will leave the penalties to Christian unless the gaffer says otherwise,” he joked.