Dave Woodhall on Villa’s week.
The fun started with a trip to Swindon, compete with their very own village idiot in the shape of Paolo di Canio who reckoned that beating Villa would be better than sex with Madonna. Not exactly a game of two halves but in the first 45 Villa scored twice without playing particularly well. Then they played particularly badly, letting in two goals to set the scene for a potentially embarrassing finish. And then came the moment when I realised why Paul Lambert is Villa manager and I, nor anyone else in the crowd, is not.
Fabian Delph should have been introduced at least twenty minutes earlier to help relieve a midfield that was lightweight all along and being increasingly over-run as the game progressed. So why wait until we’d left in two goals before bringing him on? And why swap Stephen Ireland for Darren Bent seconds later, giving a strange 4-2-4 formation? The answer, in hindsight, was obvious – Swindon were on top, expecting to get a winner and by going on the offensive Villa caught them off guard. The team got a new lease of life, dominated the rest of the game and Christian Benteke’s second goal of the night gave Villa a winner they just about deserved.
Then was off to Sunderland and an out of form home side whose manager was starting to get a bit of criticism at long last. Again the team Paul Lambert picked looked a bit lightweight but they created chances, scored one and defended well to give a rare clean sheet away from home as well as the first back to back wins of the season. I know it might sound petty, but it definitely couldn’t have happened to a nicer manager. Martin O’Neill may have done some good things for us and the arguments concerning his time as manager will continue for years to come, but I’ve been sick of the media’s fawning over him and their attacks on the Villa ever since he walked out, as though we should have realised how lucky we were he chose to manage us and everything that might have gone wrong since then is judgement for our ingratitude. I’m sure that the Sunderland supporters who booed their team off the pitch at the end of the game might have something to say about his supposed infallibility.
It’s been a good week for Christian Benteke, scorer on Tuesday and provider on Saturday. It’s not been too shabby either for Gabby Agbonlahor, who scored in both games, and for Ashley Westwood, who made his first league start. Anyone who joins Villa from Crewe is bound to have a David Platt-shaped shadow over their career and it’s been a promising start. It’s also been a good week for Paul Lambert, whose team selections continue to mystify but who has given the perfect response to his critics.
It’s not been too good for Darren Bent, sub on Tuesday and out completely on Saturday with a mysterious injury that will have gladdened the heart of all conspiracy theorists. And it’s been a pretty appalling one for Martin O’Neill, dumped out of the League Cup and with his team’s league slump continuing. Oh dear.
Villa have got as tough a run as could be imagined coming up, starting with Manchester United at home on Saturday then a trip up to the other Manchester club the following week. Two successive wins have improved spirits all round. Two more and the fun can really begin.