Aston Villa 3 Hull City 1: Wembley trip has distracted us, admits Bruce

TWO quick-fire goals in the build-up to half-time from Andi Weimann eased the considerable relegation nerves for Aston Villa as Hull City’s curse against the Midlanders continued.

Hull City's manager Steve Bruce on the touchline.
Hull City's manager Steve Bruce on the touchline.

The game was described as a cup final by Villa chief Paul Lambert ahead of kick-off, with Hull - whose safety was effectively sealed after last weekend’s last-gasp draw at Fulham - playing for nothing other than pride ahead of their main end-of-season business, the FA Cup final against Arsenal in a fortnight’s time at Wembley.

The afternoon was essentially all about Villa, down among the dead men towards the bottom of the Premier League, and despite their horrendous home sequence which had seen them see their colours lowered by ten visiting sides in the league, the hosts delivered when it mattered in front of a bumper crowd of 37,182.

All the scoring arrived in the first period, with Villa taking the lead inside a minute, courtesy of Ashley Westwood and despite Hull getting on terms just before the half hour through a Jordan Bowery own goal, Weimann’s double sealed matters.

It was a largely forgettable day for Steve Bruce’s cup finalists, who saw defender James Chester leave the field through injury just before the break to compound matters.

Hull went into the game without so much as a goal against Villa since August 1987 with the wait to find the net at Villa Park considerably longer than that - way back in November 1973.

Tracing back their previous win in this corner of the Midlands involved dusting down the history books even further to November 1967, their only success at Villa in 13 previous attempts.

Another chapter to their bleak tale of woe at this unhappy venue arrived just 57 seconds in when the relegation-threatened hosts - desperate for some points reward ahead of tough looking away-days at Manchester City and Spurs - notched a precious early opener to sooth any nerves among the big home crowd.

Gabby Agbonlahor got away from ex-Villa player Curtis Davies, despite a clumsy looking challenge that could have warranted a foul - before pulling the ball back to Marc Albrighton, who failed to connect from a fresh-air shot, with Westwood faring better with a cool low finish.

It was the midfielder’s third goal of the seaosn and none have been more important.

It represented an early blow which Hull, without a win after coming from behind since September, could have seriously done without, with the visitors producing a low-key, tentative start.

The one downside for the hosts was when Agbonlahor, who received attention after setting up Lambert’s side’s opener had to leave the fray, clearly struggling on 24 minutes, with the speedster replaced by Bowery, who spent a spell earlier this season at Doncaster Rovers.

James Chester then diverted a cross-shot from Weimann wide before the visitors levelled, right out of the blue, on 28 minutes.

A quickly-taken Tom Huddlestone free-kick caught Villa napping down their right, with Liam Rosenior, just possibly standing in a slightly offside position, sending over a dangerous cross-shot which appeared to take a deflection of the outstretched leg of Bowery, with Jelavic in close attendance, before nestling in the net.

Handed an instant transfusion of confidence, City went close to taking the lead when a brilliant 25-yarder from Huddlestone appeared destined for the net in front of the Holte End, only for Brad Guzan to produce a terrific one-handed reaction save right out of the top drawer.

Nervy for the first time in the game, Villa were temporarily on the back foot before another choice opportunity saw them go close to retaking the lead, with the Hull defence not exactly covering themselves in glory.

Weimann evaded a couple of challenges before cutting inside and seeing his low shot from an acute angle blocked by Harper and straightaway , Bowery’s header from Fabian Delph’s cross was tipped over by the veteran keeper.

But the respite was brief with Villa regaining the lead on 41 minutes, thanks to livewire Weimann.

Following a Delph corner, Nathan Baker saw his powerful goal-bound header cleared from close to the line by Jelavic and amid considerable consternation, a game of pinball ensued as Hull failed to clear after another Baker header was tipped onto the bar by Harper, with Weimann nipping in to head in the rebound.

Another bad sight arrived for Hull fans straight after when Chester was replaced by Alex Bruce, with the defender appearing to be carrying an injury.

Bruce had barely settled himself when moments before the interval whistle, Hull’s flaky looking rearguard leaked another poor concession, with Weimann again the beneficiary.

Bowery - impressive after entering the fray - was given time and space to curl over an inviting cross with Weimann stealing in as sub Bruce and Curtis Davies, having a poor game by his high standards, dithered before sending a fine header past Harper.

Even accounting for Villa’s wretched vital statistics at home, home fans looked suitably settled at the break, with their heroes halfway towards achieving safety.

Hull made their second change at the interval, with David Meyler not coming out at the start of the second period, with Stephen Quinn replacing him.

Attacking the massed ranks of the Holte End, a fourth almost arrived when Weimann teed up Bowery, who turned Maynor Figueroa inside out before unleashing a fierce shot which was parried and then collected at the second attempt at his near post by Harper.

Hull’s quest at a comeback looked token with a rare moment of threat seeing Jelavic fail to connect following Ahmed Elmohamady’s cutback before firing in an effort at the second attempt which was blocked by Westwood.

Most of the play was at the other end with Bowery again showing his wares to beat Bruce with his rising effort tipped over by Harper.

It was increasingly starting to resemble party time in the sunshine with Villa fans lauding two former favourites present in the main stand in Stilian Petrov and Ian Taylor, with nothing Hull were offering threatening to spoil the party.

Huddlestone did see a low shot saved by Guzan before more loose defensive play from Davies let in Bowery, whose shot flew into the Holte End as he failed to grab the goal his display deserved.

Play proceeded to peter out with the hosts’ job effectively done on an afternoon when Hull could have few complaints at the outcome which represented the rearest of beasts, a routine Villa home win.

Hull boss Steve Bruce, whose side slipped below Villa and into 15th place after their third successive game without a win, admitted FA Cup final fever has had an effect on his side.

Attention in East Yorkshire has been focused firmly on the May 17 trip to Wembley since last month’s semi-final success over Sheffield United, but Bruce has been battling hard to keep his players on the task at hand.

As yet, it is a battle he has been losing.

“I’ve said for the last couple of weeks we have to keep focused,” he said.

“The whole city is talking about the FA Cup final and why shouldn’t it be? But it’s been very, very difficult to keep a lid on it when we’ve still got a little bit of work to do.

“It’s at the forefront of everybody’s mind and that’s only human nature because it’s something we’re all looking forward to.

“But we didn’t do enough to win this game. We were so sloppy, awful in our defending.

“We didn’t get started and didn’t show that resilience you need to win a game or draw a game in the Premier League.”