Nottingham Forest 0 Aston Villa 1 - Report
Scott Hogan scored for the second Championship game in a row to fire Villa past Nottingham Forest and up to fourth in the table.
The striker netted the only goal of the game on 18 minutes when he stopped to head home Robert Snodgrass’s splendid cross.
Skipper John Terry also hit the bar for Villa, who were comfortably in control for much of the evening.
But it took a smart save from keeper Sam Johnstone to deny Kieran Dowell a late leveller for the hosts.
Dowell’s powerful long range effort was a rare moment of alarm for Villa on route to a third consecutive league win.
This was also the third time this season they have beaten a new manager in his first time game in charge, as Aitor Karanka suffered defeat in his first outing in the Forest dugout.
Any other result looked unlikely from the moment Hogan took advantage of a superb delivery by Snodgrass to put Villa ahead.
The Scottish winger’s left-foot caused problems for the home side all game, goalkeeper Jordan Smith preventing him getting on the scoresheet in the second half with a superb save.
Forest saw plenty of the ball but did precious little with it. Despite being unable to add to their lead, Villa saw the game out in relative comfort, as they kept a third straight clean sheet.
Steve Bruce’s men remain five points behind second-placed Derby but climb above Bristol City in the table.
Having seemingly hit on the right formula in the 5-0 New Year’s Day rout of the Robins, Bruce was again forced into making a change because of injury.
Mile Jedinak’s absence in midfield meant a return for Glenn Whelan, who had himself missed the wins over the Robins and Middlesbrough through illness.
Whelan would then be withdrawn at half-time, to be replaced by Birkir Bjarnason.
It wasn’t all bad news for Bruce, who was able to name Terry in a Championship line-up for the first time since November 4, the skipper having recovered from an ankle injury sustained in training this week.
The home crowd provided a raucous atmosphere at the start but the game was devoid of action before Hogan put Villa ahead.
A good spell of possession on the right wing ended with Snodgrass whipping in a dangerous which Hogan, darting in from the left, met ahead of goalkeeper Smith to nod home.
Five minutes later, Terry came within inches of doubling the advantage. Grealish won a free-kick on the left and Snodgrass again supplied a brilliant delivery, which Villa’s captain sent crashing off the underside of the bar.
That would be Villa’s last chance of the half as Forest went on to dominate possession before the break.
Yet despite hogging the ball, they lacked ideas on how to break down the visiting team’s resolute backline.
A stoppage time Dowell free-kick, which flashed wide of the post, was the only real moment of alarm for Villa keeper Johnstone.
Villa were forced into a change at the break, Bjarnason coming on for Whelan in the centre of midfield.
Within three minutes, they were almost further ahead, a brilliant diving save from Smith denying Snodgrass after the winger had tried to keeper out with a free-kick whipped in to the near post.
Smith was again scrambling moments later when Grealish curled a shot just wide of the far post.
Forest were struggling to get any foothold in the game though they were almost presented with a way back when the otherwise excellent James Chester lost the ball in his own half.
That allowed substitute Barrie McKay to drive at the visiting defence but his right-footed shot was comfortably gathered by Johnstone.
Matty Cash also headed over as the hosts belatedly showed some signs of life, with McKay drilling another shot straight at keeper Johnstone.
The Manchester United loanee was forced into far more serious work with five minutes remaining when he palmed away a vicious, dipping long-range effort from Kieran Dowell.
Albert Adomah thought he had settled any nerves when he stroked home with two minutes remaining, only to be denied by an offside flag.
18 - GOAL - Scott Hogan heads Villa ahead for the second league game running, after getting on the end of Robert Snodgrass’s superb cross.
23 - OFF THE BAR - Villa skipper John Terry comes within inches of doubling his side’s advantage, heading a Snodgrass free-kick off the bar.
Forest (4-2-3-1): Smith, Lichaj, Mancienne, Mills, Traore, Vaughan (Bridcutt 81), Osborn, Cash (Ward 81), Dowell, Clough (McKay 64), Brereton Subs not used: Darikwa, Bouchalakis, Walker, Henderson (gk).
Villa (4-4-1-1): Johnstone, Elmohamady, Chester, Terry (c), Hutton, Snodgrass, Whelan (Bjarnason HT), Hourihane, Adomah, Grealish, Hogan (Davis 83) Subs not used: Taylor, Elphick, Lansbury, Onomah, Bunn (gk).