Dave Woodhall watches Villa ease past Crewe in the Carabao Cup second round.
Being drawn away at Crewe in what should still be called the League Cup inevitably brings back memories of David Platt and Graham Taylor’s legendary, if unprintable, team talk at half-time in the 1989 FA Cup.
Villa were 2-0 down at the time, and indeed got out of that mess in the way Sir Graham instructed. Back then, as now, Villa were in their first season back in the top flight while Crewe were in the fourth and a lot has happened to both clubs during the intervening thirty years.
Villa were still firm favourites to go through on Tuesday evening and although losing would have been a shock, even allowing for their recent appalling record in this competition, a bigger one would have been if Dean Smith had fielded anything like a full-strength side. In the end he made ten changes from the one that started the win over Everton on Friday night, giving spots on the bench to Jacob Ramsey and seventeen year-old striker Cameron Archer.
Villa got off to a good start as Konsa marked his debut with a goal after four minutes and although Crewe had a couple of chances and a goal ruled out through offside the tie was effectively over on 25 when Conor Hourihane got a second from the edge of the area after good work from the Jota and Henri Lansbury.
Matt Targett had a less memorable debut when going off injured as the first half drew to a close but in the time added on for his substitution Hourihane scored his second and Villa’s third after what seemed like five minutes of first-timne passes and a lovely deep cross from Anwar El Ghazi.
As expected, Crewe started strongly at the start of the second half but Anwar El Ghazi came closest to scoring when hitting the post on the break. Villa, as they were throughout, were better going forward than defending. The game was drifting to an uneventful end before Jack Grealish made a surprise appearance with twenty minutes to go and immediately set up a goal for Keinan Davis. Then a short corner led to a fifth from Frederic Guilbert and there were still fifteen minutes to go.
Now excuse me for getting personal for a moment, but my friend Lee has been raving about Cameron Archer since he was the youngster’s teacher so I can imagine his feelings when the latest product from the Bodymoor Heath Academy conveyor belt came on with eight minutes to go. It was a pity that his arrival came seconds before Crewe got the goal they deserved, but he can’t be blamed and didn’t look out of place surrounded by his more acclaimed team-mates.
Grealish got a sixth, and the game finally ended. Villa had run up the kind of scoreline that might just get noticed and make a few people think that if nothing else, we’ve got strength in depth and the sort of cup debacles that accompanied our spell in the Championship are over. Just as importantly, the style of play that Dean Smith has installed at the club has been learned, throughout the first team squad and beyond. Every player this evening, whatever their position, looked comfortable on the ball and knew what their job was. No fuss, and certainly no mess to get out of. Job done.