Dave Woodhall watches as Villa beat Fulham 3-1.
During the Cold War both sides spent billions on espionage and counter-espionage, each trying to find out what the other was getting up to. Instead of wasting all that money they should just have invented Twitter, because there you can find out anything, whether it be the location of your enemy’s spy satellites or, more importantly, Jack Grealish’s fitness.
Sunday morning’s rumour became Sunday afternoon’s fact – despite training during the week Jack was still out with what seems to be a reoccurrence of his mystery ailment and the conspiracies could start up again. It was probably just a precaution, and if Villa had been in Fulham’s position at kick-off he might have been worth the risk starting. As it is, the season is drifting to an end and here we had one of those games where a mid-table, nothing to play for team were up against opponents battling for their Premier League lives. Villa Park has seen plenty such clashes over the past decade.
And for the first hour it saw another one. There wasn’t a great deal to talk about except for a return to the good old days of Villa being shafted by an inexplicable refereeing decision, this time when Ollie Watkins won a penalty and then lost it again. The second half started in much the same vein as the first until a mistake from Tyrone Mings, who until then had been his usual top-class self, led to Villa going a goal down.
It seemed as though the rest of the game might echo how the season is fizzling out, but the introduction of Trezeguet for Anwar El Ghazi brought an immediate change in the urgency and subsequent goal threat from the Villa front line. We then had the first formation- and tactics-changing substitution for what seems an eternity, Keinan Davis replacing Morgan Sanson. He might never be the most prolific goalscorer and he’s not exactly a matchwinner up front on his own, but the one thing Davis can do is add the physicality that creates opportunities for others.
The third substitution saw Douglas Luiz replaced by Jacob Ramsey and Villa had a shape and purpose that has been missing for too long. Trezeguet, a confidence player if ever there was one, got on the end of a cross by Mings, making amends for Fulham’s goal to equalise. Almost immediately Davis won the ball again, laid off for Trezeguet again and the Egyptian goal machine put Villa into the lead.
The team were now playing with a purpose missing for a couple of months and with three minutes to go some good work from Traore led to Ollie Watkins getting his twelfth of the season. Traore and Trezeguet might be one inconsistently mercurial talent too many to last in the same squad for much longer but when they come off both players are great to watch.
It might have seemed a routine win in the end and although it was anything but until the final fifteen minutes, Villa got the three points that will boost their confidence going into the final stages of the season and should do the same for the men who got the goals.
I’m now in two minds between wanting a good run of form to see the season out and regarding the final nine games as the beginning of the close-season we hardly had last summer, taking the opportunity to give a run-out to some of the under-23 squad who look so promising. Playing Watkins and Davis together might be worth have a look at as well.