Aston Villa manager Dean Smith reserved special praise for goalkeeper Orjan Nyland after he produced a superb penalty save in a 1-0 Boxing Day victory at Swansea.
Conor Hourihane scored the game’s only goal to give Villa the win which takes them to within three points of the Championship’s play-off places.
But Smith had Nyland to thank as the Norwegian stopped a last-gasp Wilfried Bony effort from 12 yards to ensure Villa’s sixth clean sheet of the season.
In the process he answered some of the critics who have been on his back in the campaign to date.
“Orjan has been doing very well of late. Credit to him and the goalkeeping department because they do a lot of work on penalties and they’d predicted Bony would go that way,” Smith said.
“He’s ended up making a good save which has won us the game. We showed another side to our game here with grit, defensive resilience, and I thought our shape was good too.
“For the first 25 minutes Swansea were much the better side, but we changed the shape and we have now lost just one of the last eight from what has been a difficult run.
“It’s very pleasing, but I’m not looking too much at the rest of the table or other results.”
Villa have agreed to sign Croatian international goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic in January, but here Nyland was one of their standout performers alongside midfielder John McGinn.
“Everyone knows we’ve signed another goalkeeper to put competition in an area we want to strengthen,” said Smith. “That’s what it’s doing for Orjan.”
Swansea dominated the first 20 minutes, but could not find a goal.
Daniel James saw his penalty appeal waved away and Bersant Celina and Mike Van Der Hoorn also went close. James crossed for Oli McBurnie too, but Villa got back to scramble clear.
At the other end, it was the visitors who had the first half’s best chance.
Anwar El Ghazi’s cross was headed down by former Swansea striker Tammy Abraham and McGinn fired on goal, only to see home goalkeeper Erwin Mulder save at point-blank range.
Villa built up a head of steam before the break and when the second half got going, Mulder made two quick saves from Hourihane free-kicks.
In the 65th minute, Villa moved ahead. Alan Hutton was given too much room down the left by Swansea’s defence and his cross was headed home by Hourihane.
The pace on the ball was too much for Mulder even though he got a hand to it.
Swansea added Bony and Nathan Dyer to the already-used substitute Jefferson Montero in search of an equaliser, and their chance came when Dyer was flattened by El Ghazi in the box.
Bony stepped up with usual Swansea penalty-taker McBurnie irate, but saw his effort saved by Nyland.
Swansea manager Graham Potter said: “Wilfried isn’t the first player to miss a penalty and he won’t be the last.
“Oli has always been the penalty taker because he has normally been the striker who has been on the pitch, but you’d expect someone of Wilf’s experience and character to take that responsibility.
“We might have lacked a little bit in the final third, but there are positives to take from this.”
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