It’s all in the mind

Dave Woodhall doesn’t have to think too hard about Villa’s 3-1 win over Cardiff.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve said that watching the Villa has become enjoyable again, and games at home are starting to feel like they’ll be routine wins. Which of these is the cause and which is the effect are debatable – is it enjoyable because we’re winning, or are we winning because we’re enjoying ourselves and so there’s less pressure on the team?

This is something our new sports psychologist Tom Bates might be able to explain. That such a role exists in football shows how the game has evolved – I can well imagine Ron Atkinson’s reaction to the news that he needed a psychologist’s help to get the best out of his players. What Ron Saunders would have said is something I don’t care to think about.

Anyway, on to the latest episoide in Villa’s climb up the table. Lots of things are now becoming accepted on matchday. You know that the pre-match rituals aren’t going to be the highlight of the afternoon. You can watch the opposition make a decent start to the game without the sinking feeling that we’ll be in for a torrid ninety minutes. You have a fair idea that when a Villa player passes the ball it’ll end up where they want it. I’d like to say that going a goal up against limited opponents such as Cardiff should be game over, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Instead I’ll say that we’re starting to realise that when the team concede a daft goal they don’t immediately crumble but instead they take such setbacks in their stride.

Two-one up, Villa sat back in the second half although Cardiff rarely looked capable of a second equaliser. Villa had chances to kill the game off completely well before Jack Grealish beat one defender inside the area, allowed a second to foul him and Rudy Gestede’s penalty meant that for the first time since August there were no nerves going into stoppage time.

One thing that wasn’t routine was the Man of the Match. Albert Adomah would normaly have walked it with a goal and an assist although he had strong competition from Jonathan Kodjia, who got the second goal and whose all-round performance was exemplary. Jack Grealish was all over the place; passing, running with the ball and one tackle in particular drew comparisons with Gordon Cowans at his best. If this had been a Premier League game the Match of the Day pundits would have been drooling over Grealish’s performance and calling for his inclusion in the England squad. Of the unsung heroes Mile Jedinak gave another of the dominant performances that disprove his earlier shaky form and James Chester was as steady as ever, while Jordan Amavi continues to make steady progress.

To take so many positives from a match has been unknown for so often that the biggest concern now must be what will happen when something does go wrong. It undoubtedly will sooner or later, but the longer this good run continues, the less effect the first setback will have. Leeds at Elland Road is the next test and again it’s live on TV, so again the watching public will be able to see that this Villa is a different entity to the one they were laughing at a few weeks ago.

Confidence breeds success breeds confidence. You don’t have to be an expert psychologist to know that.