Villa win at Sunderland with Dave Woodhall watching approvingly.
There comes a time in watching a successful side when you realise that winning isn’t something you hope for, but rather it’s become the norm.
Many years ago I remember going to see Villa’s previous promotion-winning team at Barnsley; they strode onto the pitch with an arrogance that said they were about to show that this stage was beneath them and proceeded to win two-nil with an attitude that spoke of scoring when they wanted, doing enough to win with style, and then going home. I turned to the Bloke Next To Me and said something along the lines of having the feeling that this was the start of a journey that wasn’t just going to end with promotion. And so it proved.
Of course, it helped that the team of 1987-88 had quality players and were managed by a genius. Even Steve Bruce wouldn’t argue that he’s in the same league as Sir Graham, but watching Villa’s win at Sunderland I got a similar feeling. The world’s changed and the next two years aren’t going to be anything like those that followed that promotion in 1988. We aren’t going to sign the best defender in Europe, see one of our players become the biggest star in the England team, finish runners-up in the Premier League and beat the most star-studded team in the world at Villa Park.
However, what we have now got is a side that can see off the opposition without breaking sweat. They come, they see, they conquer. Sunderland were just the latest opposition to realise that the Villa have become a team of winners, the sort to fear before the match and then once it’s started, to worry that any minute now they’re going to punish you. And we should know, because we spent long enough as the team who were set up to fail.
Villa weren’t brilliant at the Stadium of Light. They didn’t have to be. Sunderland are in the sort of downward spiral that we can only sympathise with, because had we not got rid of our once the answer to a prayer, talked a good fight and then became the stuff of nightmares American owner, we’d have been in the position they are. They got relegatd last season and they’re going down again.
The game might not have been a classic, but once Lewis Grabban got his third goal in four appearances after 33 minutes it was effectively over. James Chester made it two-nil from a corner in first half stoppage time – and how often have we heard those two sentences from the other point of view?
The second half was a formality, a case of seeing the game out with the minimum of fuss and no injuries. Villa got a third thanks to an own goal, but of probably more significance was the return of Jack Grealish for a 25 minute runout. To be able to bring players of such quality off the bench says much about the team’s strength in depth, a factor that will bode well as we approach the sharp end of the season.
It’s Wolves on Saturday, and the most important league game Villa Park has seen for many a while. Realistically we have to say that they’ve got the league sewn up, but if Villa can get a result in this one, not only might the Wolves start to wonder if they can stay the course, but the rest of the Championship will know, if they don’t already, what performances like Tuesday night’s prove. We’ve got a team here.