Aston Villa scored a number of key goals at the far post this season under Dean Smith.
Words by Mark Jirobe | @VillaMarkPGH
When Dean Smith was appointed as Aston Villa manager, he had a few daunting tasks ahead of him. First and foremost, he had to identify and diagnose exactly why the crop of players he inherited were not clicking together. Chemistry is a funny thing, both in science and in sport. One tiny little detail could corrupt an entire bond. Smith becoming Aston Villa manager was always going to be a project of sorts, but it seems like the 48 year old gaffer has gotten it right to this point.
One of the biggest gripes from Villa supporters during the Steve Bruce era at AVFC was the lack of a “plan”. It would not be incorrect to claim that Bruce kept his old-world footballing experience by implementing a ‘hoof ball’ approach. Now, during the very young Dean Smith era, there seems to be a few instances where a fresh tactical approach has been proven to work time and time again.
One of these tactical approaches has been seen more than a few times in the final third of the pitch. During their Championship season that saw them promoted via the Playoffs, Villa were scoring in a few different ways. Outside of individual brilliance of a John McGinn master-stroke, or a Conor Hourihane free-kick, there has been one other consistency for Villa under Dean Smith: the far-post goal.
It happened in the very first game Smith would manage for Aston Villa in a 1-0 win against Swansea City at the end of October. Elmohamady would find a ball in the penalty area after a blocked free kick, twist around and swing a right-peg at it. Tammy Abraham would then jump up and head the ball into the back of the net. It’s a common thing to see, really. Making a cross in a favourable position to one of the taller players on the pitch has been a part of football for as long as it has been an organised sport. But, it would be proven that this specific offensive tactic would be used again and again by Villa for the remainder of their season.
Against Derby County in November, Yannick Bolassie would beat his man to find space, cross the ball towards the far post and none other than John McGinn was on the end of it. McGinn isn’t the tallest of players in the Aston Villa squad, but his determination and will to win cannot be ignored. Not only was this goal significant for Villa to gain chemistry and get some of their swagger back, but it also catapulted Villa to a 3-0 win against Derby.
In the very next game of the season, against Birmingham City of all opponents, the far-post cross would turn up yet again. On this occasion, Albert Adomah would hunt down a ball in the final third that seemed like it was going to roll out for a Blues goal-kick. Instead, Adomah found a way to cross the ball towards the back stick, over the head of Tammy Abraham and into the chest of Jonathan Kodjia. Kodjia would slightly settle the ball and blast it past the Birmingham City keeper. Soon after in the contest, Adomah would again show off his crossing ability for one of the more memorable goals of the season.
After a few step overs, Adomah would swing his left foot at a ball right outside of the penalty area. None other than local lad and Aston Villa skipper Jack Grealish would be on the end of it for a rare headed goal at the back post. Grealish’s celebrations were passionate and understandable, but the fact remained. Villa were onto something with attacking the far post, seemingly at will.
The far-post tactic was not purely implemented in open play throughout the season, however. Villa would show in a 3-0 dispatching of Middlesbrough that attacking the far post via set pieces was also something they were tirelessly working on. James Chester would be on the receiving end of one of these corner deliveries against Boro.
The examples are virtually endless in the case of Villa attacking wide channels of the pitch and putting crosses towards the back-post for a goal: Mings against Blackburn, Abraham to Grealish away at Bolton… but none more dramatic and meaningful than in the EFL Championship Play-Off Final.
Anwar El Ghazi scored a goal off of his shoulder after a wonderful cross from Ahmed Elmohamady from the opposite flank. It was almost an exact carbon copy of the goal that Jack Grealish scored months prior against Birmingham City; exposing the flanks, draw defenders toward the ball, cross at the back post, and a show of determination to slot the ball into the back of the net.
The far-post tactic has been elementary and integral for Aston Villa in their eventual promotion. While Tammy Abraham was the main beneficiary of these opportunities due to his size, one could fathom that Villa supporters will be treated to the same tactical approach in their first season returning to the Premier League. There will be players who are brought in during the summer transfer window that will buy in to the Dean Smith style of football and perhaps the far-post tactic is only the first page in a book of tactical awareness.