Derby daze

Dave Woodhall reports on Villa’s performance in the Second City Derby.

Nobody ever went broke underestimating public taste and in the same way nobody ever bought a ticket to watch Villa pay Blues for the quality of the football. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen this fixture but I can barely remember more than handful of genuinely exciting games. Some have been memorable because of the final score, most have been pretty unforgettable occasions.

Sunday’s midday clash was immediately filed in the latter category. In hindsight, you only had to look at the situtation both clubs find themselves in to bet your mortgage on a draw. Blues have dipped a bit in recent weeks, Villa are starting to put a run together. In any game that’s usually a fair indication that the teams will share the points; in one where a fear of losing outweighs the hope of winning it’s as close to a certainty as football ever throws up.

With Leandro Bacuna out and Jack Grealish suspended there was a return for Ashley Westwood in midfield. Why, is another question. I think that he sometimes comes in for some unfair stick but it is a cause for wonderment as to why a succession of maangers seem to carve Westwood’s name in stone on the teamsheet, particularly when, as on this occasion, there are better options available.

Maybe Steve Bruce thinks Westwood is capable of the sort of transformation that has turned Gary Gardner into the type of midfielder he looked capable of becoming pre-injury. Gardner’s opener was straight out of the Peter Withe/Andy Gray school of bullet headers and if Gary isn’t too sure about the identity of these Villa legends perhaps he can ask his brother Craig, who of course once claimed to have been a Holte End regular as a youngster.

Villa failed to capitalise on this start, and as the game wore on were continually pressed back. Blues equalised, Ross McCormack came on to little effect, hardly surprising as he was initially out wide where his effect is limited then surprise sub Gabby Agbonlahor arrived on the scene to a mixed reception. The stage was set for Gabby to win back the Villa fans but unfortunately it’s not 2010 anymore and he made little impact.

The game wound down to the predictable outcome. Blues will say they deserved to win, Villa can argue that if our rivals couldn’t beat us now then they never will. Steve Bruce has certainly added some organisation to the side even if the football is hardly flowing and by the return game in April the Villa team will surely be vastly improved on the shambles he inherited, even if the quality of the play might not be.

Whatever happened on the day and however they were obtained it’s hard to argue with eight points from four games. Long may the new manager bounce keep bouncing.