Dave Woodhall sees Villa win, lose and unveil a legend in the making. No pressure there.
Villa have broken many unwanted records during Paul Lambert’s time but Sunday saw an opportunity to set a positive one for a change. Unfortunately, a late goal from Hull cost Villa the chance to go the opening three games without conceding for the first time, apparently, for over 100 years so we’ll have to settle for, equally apparently, our joint-best start to a Premier League campaign.
Villa played well against Hull. Some of the team, most notably Gabby Agbonlahor, played very well. They went off the boil a bit in the second half but that was a minor quibble. Yet again they saw out a game without any real drama and held onto the lead. The benefits of adding some experience to the side have been proved again and the only question is why it’s taken so long to put right what was blindingly obvious for at least twelve months.
Of course, it’s not just about experience. Jack Grealish came on for his first league action at Villa Park and the treatment he received even raised comment on MotD2. It was unnecessary, it was brutal and it proved that we’ve got a special talent on our hands. The way Grealish got up smiling from every assault was reminiscent of George Best’s emergence on the scene half a century ago. I’m not saying that Grealish will be anything like as good as Best, but there’s that swagger about him that smacks of potential greatness.
The international break gives a chance to take stock of the opening fixtures. Seven points from three games is at the top end of what could have been realistically expected, and the two wins were the sort of routine victories against sides at roughly our level that we’ve found so difficult since 2010. Last season those three games would have probably got us three draws at most.
More than anything, beating Hull silenced a murmur of discontent that had begun last Wednesday, with the latest chapter in Villa’s embarrassing litany of cup failures. In isolation, losing to Orient could have been ignored. We had a load of chances, wasted them all and they scored with their only meaningful attack. It happens to every club; get over it.
The thing is, it would be acceptable if it happened once or twice a decade. At Villa it seems to be happening once or twice a season. Whether it’s because Paul Lambert really doesn’t care about trophies, or because he hasn’t got the first clue about how to break down a side who sit back and let Villa keep possession I don’t know. It’s probably a bit of both.
Whatever the reason, I wish it would change. There’s no atmosphere like Villa Park for a big cup-tie, particularly midweek. We don’t even have to win – it’s almost seventeen years since the UEFA Cup quarter-final with Athletic Madrid defined the phrase ‘heroic failure’ and I can still remember the noise as those two temperamental genii Lee Hendrie and Stan Collymore gave the performances of their careers as Villa tried in vain to get the winner. A night to remember like that would make up in part for our recent diabolical home form.
We’re coming to the end of the transfer window. Less than 24 hours (36 if you’re Arsenal) to sign the player(s) we need to turn a decent summer into a good one and to reinforce our position as a solid mid-table side. With an £8 million bid rumoured to have been made for Tom Cleverley the money seems to be there. We were caught out last January when it was Wes Hoolihan or no-one, and in the end it wasn’t Hoolihan. We can’t afford the same situation to unravel this evening.