Villa beat Norwich 1-0. Dave Woodhall watches.
Boxing Day is perhaps the most traditional event of the football season. It’s a time for wearing your new scarf (and on that subject, what has purple and gold got to do with the Villa?) or, if you’re particularly an exhibitionist, fancy dress.
I could sat that the panto season extended to Villa Park with eleven total strangers impersonating footballers, but that would be too easy, even if it wasn’t much of an exaggeration.
Jack Grealish was his usual heart of everything worthwhile self, Kourtney Hause was impressive. Both of them, though, were overshadowed by a goalkeeping display from Tom Heaton that ranked with anything we’ve seen from a Villa player in years.
And that’s the problem, because when you’re at home to one of the few teams below you in the table, your keeper shouldn’t be much more than part of the supporting cast. He certainly shouldn’t be the star.
Injury forced Dean Smith into making several changes to the starting line-up, but there was still a place for the disappointing Wesley, and a continuation of the 4-3-3 formation that has been severly lacking during Villa’s recent slump.
The resulting lack of anything to improve the dismal weather was no great surprise. Norwich controlled the midfield, causing far too much pressure on Villa’s defence for comfort. It took the best part of an hour before the first shot on target, unsurprisingly from Grealish. By this time Heaton had already got the Man of the Match award sewn up, and he continued to show his undoubted quality throughout.
Fortunately, Villa do have one further asset to call on, in the shape of Conor Hourihane’s regular ability to find the back of the net. Set up by Grealish, Hourihane’s 64th minute goal after replacing the (yet again) disappointing Marvelous Nakamba was the one bright spot of the afternoon.
After that Villa rode their luck with a mixture of poor finishing, good defending and yet more superlative goalkeeping. Which was just as well, because the chances of a second goal to kill the visitors off were as likely as Santa’s reindeer being sold as burgers on Trinity Road.
Even more fortunately, Norwich seemed to have accepted their fate long before the final whistle, and one thing Villa did well was to close the game out during stoppage time.
A poor performance, three welcome points. In Villa’s position it’s better to win badly than lose in style, but nobody should be under any illusion that this forgettable Boxing Day game will be anything like the start of a revival, unless there’s a massive improvement in attitude from players and management alike.
Watford on Saturday is another big game. It might not exactly be a must-win, but it’s definitely a don’t-lose.