Cutting down the Forest

Villa continued their good league form with a 1-0 at Nottingham Forest on Saturday. Dave Woodhall was watching.

It’s interesting to see how some words can suddenly enter into common usage to justify certain opinions, and football seems to be one of the best, or worst if you prefer, offenders.

“Momentum” is one such word, and it was used a lot after last weekend’s FA Cup ties. Quite a few people said that Villa’s defeat to Peterborough would have damaged the momentum built up after two good league wins. This ignored the fact that the same thing was said after losing to Middlesbrough in the League Cup, after which the team went on their best run for years. Nottingham Forest, meanwhile, would have been on a high after beating Arsenal.

“New manager bounce”
is a phrase that’s also often used. Everyone knows that this makes previously bad teams unbeatable (unless it’s the Villa) and again, it neatly skirted round another fact, namely that Villa had faced beaten three of the four new managers we’d faced this season before Saturday (I’m not claiming credit for finding this one out so don’t blame me if I’m wrong). But still, it gave another reason to fear the worst as Villa kicked off against Forest and their new boss Aitor Karanka. It was on TV as well, and that’s also usually enough to set the nervous off.

Not, of course, that we had any reason to worry. as from almost the first kick until the final whistle Villa were in control. Scott Hogan’s second in two games was the only goal but on another day Villa could have had a couple more, at least.

Jack Grealish continued his fine form and showed that he’s probably the most important payer in the side at the moment. When he’s on top of his game there’s always they chance that something is going to happen; if he’s having an off-day the team’s attacking invention is reduced massively. As one of the most gifted players in the Championship, Jack is vital to Villa’s hopes of promotion.

Robert Snodgrass also continued with his recent improved form with cross for Hogan’s goal the highlight of an impressive performance, while Hogan himself showed that goals can be like number elevens – you wait ages for one then suddenly there’s a glut.

As the season moves on and the games take on greater importance, Villa are starting to show how we have a couple of assets that, like those key words, can start coming into play. The first one is strength in depth. Mile Jedinak is out, Glenn Whelan takes his place. Whelan gets a knock, Birkir Bjarnason comes on and immediately looks assured as he slots into the team. We might not have that luxury throughout the squad, but it’s there in more places than most.

The other asset is that Villa are incredible comfortable holding onto a one-goal lead. Looking back at the match objectively, at no time did they ever look like conceding. If he does nothing else, Steve Bruce has ended the last-minute calamities that the team were prone to, and which cost his predecessor Roberto Di Matteo his job. And if that’s not tempting fate, nothing is.

The chief reason why Villa looked so at ease in the final stages of the match was, of course, the return of John Terry, another asset that no other club in the division can enjoy. Not only is he head and shoulders above any other Championship defender, maybe any other player at this level, but the other team know it as well. And that, indisputably, is a fact.