Villa beat Swansea 1-0 on a memorable afternoon at Villa Park, with Dave Woodhall taking note.
Doug Ellis said many things, one of which was that managers take the credit for winning while chairmen take the blame for losing. That could well have been the case in Doug’s day, but things have changed and nowadays Villa managers certainly get plenty of abuse every time the team lose. I could say that I can’t remember who gets the credit for winning but that particular joke would be far too easy.
It was Doug’s day every bit as much as Dean Smith’s against Swansea. The tribute to our former chairman was as dignified as you’d expect from the Villa and the reception from the crowd a genuine one. Doug was always a controversial figure but past enmities were put aside in respect of a man who has been a part of the club’s fabric for as long as most of us can remember.
Before then the sight of a local lad fulfilling a dream in front of a packed Villa Park was equally emotional. We’ve had a fair bit of practice in welcoming new managers lately, but this one was a bit special. The team he’d picked might not have been all that different in personnel to one of Steve Bruce’s, but the difference in attitude was light years ahead.
For a start, four defenders played in their proper positions, something which might just catch on. Then, the first instinct of every player was to move the ball forward with a bit of purpose, rather than knocking it sideways in anticipation of a mindless hoof upfield. Eight minutes gone and Villa were a goal up, thanks to Tammy Abraham, who is starting to look the part even if he’s also starting to look like this time next year he’ll be somewhere else.
The rest of the game wasn’t great, but successful revolutions don’t happen overnight. Villa should have made the most of a series of chances during the early part of the second half, yet they were all wasted and we were holding on at the end. The much-maligned Orjan Nyland made a few good saves and credit should also be given to Neil Taylor, who had his most impressive game for some time. I’ve always thought that he’s not been the same since that tackle on Seamus Coleman; perhaps having John Terry back might be giving Taylor a psychological boost.
There were also groudbreaking substitutions, with the aim of taking the game to the visitors rather than protecting the lead. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but again, a revelation compared to what we’ve been used to. And finally, with the points secured a post-match interview that showed some insight into what the new boss has already learned and what he aims to be doing in the weeks to come. Nothing drastic is going to change immediately, but the most important part of fixing a problem is knowing you’ve got one, and that’s something which is being addressed already.
A win against opponents looking to get back to the Premier League and a clean sheet. In the circumstances you can’t really ask for much more.
Next up is a midweek trip to Norwich, themselves seven places above us in the table, yet win and we’ll go above them; that’s how tight things are. If Villa do win, Dean Smith will deserve every bit of the praise he gets for an immediate improvement. And if we lose, it’ll be Steve Bruce’s fault.