Dave Woodhall on Villa’s incident-packed win at St Andrews.
It was always going to happen one day. I thought I might have to write that in the aftermath of defeat – Villa have had such a great run against Blues in recent years and logic dictates that it has to end some time.
But not on Sunday afternoon. Instead the thing that in hindsight has been coming for years occurred after ten minutes, when someone who looked old enough to know better emerged from the stands to hit Jack Grealish from behind.
Playing Blues is never one of my favourite weekends, but it seems that as football violence in general has lessened, so the bitterness surrounding this fixture has increased. As Villa said after the match, a red line was crossed and let’s be grateful that the miscreant was armed only with his own stupidity and not a knife.
As far as the game was concerned, the tempo was set with Grealish hacked down after four minutes for the first booking of the afternoon. Villa took time to settle although a makeshift central defensive partnership coped with everything that came their way.
As the first half progressed Villa started to find their feet and were beginning to show their class by the interval. There were still few clear chances until the strength in depth that Villa possess came into play.
The main dilemma facing Dean Smith had been whether to bring back John McGinn, although the Villa manager opted to keep the same midfield that had done so well against Derby. In his position I’d have done the same, not that the situation is ever likely to occur. Glenn Whelan did well enough for the opening onslaught but as the tempo changed and the game opened up, so the energy of McGinn became a better option.
Andre Green also came on for Albert Adomah and almost scored with his first touch. No worry, because McGinn’s crossfield ball found Grealish, who jinked into the box before firing home. He was booked for celebrating with the supporters and if unconfirmed stories are to be believed a steward was involved in some further unsavoury incident during the aftermath of the goal.
Conor Hourihane then hit the bar from 25 yards before Blues, in a late flurry, had a couple of chances that were missed by Craig Gardner. And that was it for a game best forgotten, although it won’t be. Villa deserved to win, if only for their refusal to be rattled in the face of unprecedented provocation. Tyrone Mings is performing the difficult task of getting better with every game and Kourtney Hause made few mistakes in his unfamiliar central role.
Just about every other Villa player did what they were meant to do and Jack Grealish was Jack Grealish. Whatever the future might hold for both parties, we’re now watching the emergence of a true Villa great.
In a wider context, two straight wins have put Villa up to ninth in the table, four points off the play-off places, and it says everything about the inconsistency of the league that Villa can still be in contention after such an appalling couple of months that started off 2019.
Coming up on Wednesday is a trip to MartinO’Neill’sNottingham Forest, themselves in good form recently. While a big win would be more than welcome to keep the impetus going, the last couple of results means that a draw wouldn’t be the end of either the world nor of Villa’s promotion hopes.