Dave Woodhall on an interesting week at Villa Park.
Two games, two steps forward. On Tuesday Villa outplayed Manchester City for 120 minutes and came away with a deserved victory. City would claim that they fielded a weakened side after making ten changes. Well, Paul Lambert made six himself and any team featuring the likes of Tevez, Ballotelli and Milner is a strange variation on the word ‘weakened.’ Lambert picked a team to win the game and win it they did, providing Villa with a promising away draw at Swindon of the third division proper. Win that one and Villa are in the quarter final. From there, anything can happen.
This fact was brought up when I was talking to a couple of Albion supporters before the game on Sunday. None of us could understand the mentality of mid-ranking Premier League teams with no real chance of relegation and who hadn’t won anything for decades not bothering with cup competitions.
Talking of which, whether you like it or not, Villa have set the standard for West Midlands football since the game first became properly organised. Except for a couple of isolated periods, any team who were better than the Villa were the best in the region. Therefore, every time anyone else is above us in the league, the balance of power is apparently shifting.
The latest team to make this claim are the Albion, on the basis that they did, indeed, finish higher than Villa last season and won at Villa Park for the first time since a week after Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. This meant they arrived on Sunday expecting victory but instead found a Villa team who were well on top throughout the first half and who could have been two up at the break had Christian Benteke, in particular, been on better form.
Of course, after the re-start the inevitable happened, Albion took the lead and for some time seemed the more likely team to score again. Then Lambert made three quick substitutions which altered the game and put Villa back in control. If anyone was going to get a goal it was Darren Bent – there’s been plenty of debate about what he brings to the team if he isn’t scoring, but Villa are not so good that we can afford to leave a player of such quality out of the team.
It was a draw, both teams would claim they deserve to win, but the team with most shots, shots on target, corners and possession had the better case for such a claim. It was another small step for a team who seem to be improving almost every week. That balance may not be shifting as much as some would like.