Villa made it eight straight wins against Bristol City. Dave Woodhall is keeping score.
“We ran out onto the pitch, looked at the crowd and there wasn’t one of us who didn’t feel we wouldn’t die for Aston Villa.”
Believe it or not, those were the word of David Platt, who since then has spent much of his time pretending that he has no connection with the club where he made his name. The occasion was the second division game against Bradford in 1988, which is still possibly the most frenzied atmosphere I’ve ever known at Villa Park. Platt scored the only goal of what was the last home match of the season and at the final whistle you just knew that Villa were going to be promoted – and so it proved.
The same thing happened towards the end of Saturday’s match with Bristol City. The visitors had scored with their only shot on target to pull the score back to 2-1 but as the clock ticked down there were few signs of worry in the crowd and certainly none amongst the players. We’d got the match won, another three points were in the bag and that feeling of momentum was kicking in. Just occasionally a belief of this sort settles around Villa Park – management, players and supporters combine, the fates chip in with their contribution and we become unstoppable.
Before that there was the pre-match blow of Jack Grealish and Jonathan Kodjia being ruled out, which means that by my reckoning we were down to our third-choice keeper (a debatable argument, but this is a point I’m making here), twelfth central defensive paring of the season and were missing the best defender, midfielder and substitute in the Championship. Plus Dean Smith was named Manager of the Month the previous day.
All this against a team who could have gone above us with a game in hand if they’d won. There were a few in the crowd who would have settled for a draw at this point.
Villa were understandably scrappy during the first half, although Albert Adomah hit the post and there was a bit of a scare when Andreas Weimann, who seems to be finally turning into the player he showed flashes of when he was with us, had a goal ruled out for offside.
Then in the second half there was only ever going to be one winner. Conor Hourihane was brought down for a definite, stonewall, no question about it penalty that was put away by Tammy Abraham, and it was good to see that there was none of that don’t celebrate scoring against your old club nonsense.
Hourihane then missed a couple of chances before scoring the most difficult of the lot and at this point Villa should have been ahead by the type of scoreline that would have sent a message to the rest of the league. Instead, City took advantage of the one bit of hesitancy in the Villa defence all afternoon to pull a goal back and though they might have felt they had a chance, the reality was that Villa weren’t troubled for the rest of the game, including the six minutes stoppage time that were found from somewhere.
Last season the best player in the league to help defend a one goal lead was John Terry; this season it’s Glenn Whelan, who once again gave a performance of calm assurance that makes you wish he was five years younger. And that’s without mentioning another solid performance from Neil Taylor, Anwar El Ghazi’s best game for a while and some bloke named McGinn, who seems to be doing alright.
in the circumstances this was perhaps the most impressive win of the recent run, although perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Dean Smith is putting together not so much a team as a system, where players can step in to replace those who are unavailable for whatever reason. Again, this is something that should be an absolute given at any club with pretentions towards success, yet which Villa have managed to avoid for so long.
And so on to the Easter fixtures, and without wishing to tempt fate we could hardly have a better couple of games coming up. Remain focused, avoid complacency, and in just over a week’s time a place in the play-offs will be virtually assured.