Dave Woodhall on a day when (almost) everything went right for Aston Villa.
Villa let in a late goal and the much-maligned Wesley missed a penalty. Just another typical Saturday, eh? We may as well accept it now – we’re going down.
But, of course, quite a bit more happened at Carrow Road and all of it was positive, overdue and, in its way, inevitable.
Alright, scoring five away from home, even against a team whose injury list was more akin to the one Villa post most Friday afternoons, wasn’t the sort of thing that could be predicted at the start of the match. But for all the media doomsaying, defensive mistakes, officialdom errors and downright bad luck that Villa have endured since the start of the season, the team have generally been playing as well as could have been expected and so it was only fair to believe that if they clicked throughout a whole game then we’d be in for a rare treat. And so it proved.
Fourteen minutes gone and Anwar el Ghazi hits a deep cross to Wesley. Rather than put in a header he has the confidence to bring the ball down and hold off defender and keeper to score, which was particularly impressive given the scrutiny he’s been subject to lately.
On thirty, Norwich’s defence was more reminiscent of Villa at their worst as Wesley found space to tap in from a couple of yards out. He did miss a penalty and the follow up, but credit to the Norwich keeper for a couple of fine saves and for giving us a half-time of nervous apprehension rather than total enjoyment. This is, after all, the Villa and if there’s a previously-undiscovered way of cocking up we’re sure to find it.
Luckily it only took four minutes into the second half before the nerves were settled when Jack Grealish, doing what he does best, ran at the Norwich defence, laid the ball off, received it back and hit Villa’s third. The further forward he is, the better he plays. It doesn’t take a footballing genius to work that one out and Jack in full flight, ghosting past defenders, is one of the best sights in football.
Number four was, in its way, the most remarkable goal Villa could score. There was quite a bit said in the week about the first anniversary of Steve Bruce’s sacking. The transformation from the sort of negative display we’d been used to, to the sight of a left-back winning the ball on the edge of the opposition D, then having it almost snatched off his foot for a midfielder to fire home is difficult to credit.
And it should be worth mentioning that the player who scored was Conor Hourihane, who at times couldn’t get into the side last season yet here, in the Premier League, laid on Wesley’s second, won the penalty and scored what would have been the goal of the game, had to not been for…
Hourihane was replaced by Douglas Luiz, which by this stage of the game must have been like going ten rounds of a title fight with Anthony Joshua only for his place to be taken by Tyson Fury for the last two. I’ve wondered what Luiz has done to be out of the picture in recent games but perhaps he’s better coming on in cameos at this stage, where his ability to take the ball forward will be an asset against sides who are either tiring or, in the case of Norwich, totally demoralised.
The fifth goal was inspired by Jack Grealish, still chasing everything even at four up and harassing the Norwich defence into giving the ball away. A couple of passes later and it arrived at the feet of Luiz, twenty yards out. A couple of seconds later and it was dipping, swerving and creeping inside the post for the fifth and final Villa goal.
There was still time for a poorly taken free kick to be mis-hit by Tyrone Mings and for what appeared to be Tom Heaton losing the ball in the sun. It was unfortunate and should never happen again, although it would also be churlish to dwell on that particular moment when there was so much good to come out of the game.
Not only was it three points against the sort of opposition we should be getting a result from, but there’s also the psychological boost of knowing that we can put in such a display and also the other teams in the league realising it. Then there’s the pictures of the Villa supporters who infiltrated the home stand being seen around the world. You just can’t buy that sort of publicity.