Swanning Around

Dave Woodhall was at Villa Park to see the season proper finally get under.

Villa are away to Southampton on Saturday. I can hardly wait. It’s been a long time since I looked forward to the next match with anything other than trepidation, but that’s what beating Swansea does for you. Twelve months ago they were one of those “The likes of” teams who should be brushed aside with ease but since then they’ve won a lot of respect and arrived at Villa Park on Saturday second in the table, having scored 14 goals in four games.

There was a belief in some quarters that a draw would represent a decent result in such circumstances but this idea was soon quashed when Villa started well and got better as the game wore on. Matt Lowton’s goal was a cracker, but the most important thing was that even though we didn’t get a second until late on we continued attacking throughout. Last season would have seen the team under orders to pull back ever-further until an equaliser became inevitable; this season we’re the ones doing the attacking. And the reward eventually came, when Christian Benteke marked his debut with a right place, right time goal that proved he could become a genuine cult hero.

At least half a dozen players deserve especial praise, but one in particular needs mentioning. Brett Holman might have felt out of place when the manager who signed him was already history by the time he arrived but he’s made sure he was in the line-up from the start of the season and on Saturday his non-stop harrying of the opposition was typical of a side who will rarely be outworked whatever the opposition. Comparisons are already being made with Des Bremner, and there’s no higher praise than to be talked about in the same breath as a Hero of ’82.

Winning one game doesn’t make you world-beaters, no more than losing the first two should have seen us marked down for relegation. There is, though, a wind of optimism blowing through Villa Park. The team are being allowed to play, and they do, indeed, look like a team. They’re attacking with invention, rarely lose the ball and when they do, they look to get it back.

I doubt Villa will be any great shakes in the league this season and the League Cup draw has probably put paid to any chance of a cup run (but you never know). We’re good enough to be safely mid-table and any team we face at any time will know they’ve been in a game. Most importantly, there’s going to be a base to build on next summer.

And of course, nothing that happened on the pitch anywhere came close to the most important footballing story of the past seven days. The truth has finally emerged and I can’t add anything to the words spoken by, of all people, Radio One presenter Scott Mills at six minutes past three last Wednesday. “This one is for the Hillsborough families, who never, ever gave up.”