Dave Woodhall reports from a wet and windy Villa Park.
At 7.45 on Wednesday night I was cold, damp and ready for a thoroughly miserable night’s football. Horrible nights usually produce horrible games and news that Gabriel Agbonlahor was out confirmed that a goal-less draw seemed nailed on. Ten minutes later I felt a lot worse and half an hour after that a lot better. Half time saw a resigned “We’d have settled for that after ten minutes” feeling and full-time was a mixture of joy, relief, elation and why can’t we be like that all the time?
Or rather, why can’t we go forward like that? The less said about Villa’s defence in that first shambolic half the better, but full credit to the team for the way in which they responded to going two down. Ron Vlaar was poor in the first half and a captain in the second. Ryan Bertrand’s class stood out and Villa have got to move heaven and earth to sign him up permanently in the summer. Andreas Weimann had his best game of the season and his goal will, hopefully, inspire him in the way that Christian Benteke’s strike against Arsenal has put him back on top form.
Man of the match, though, was Fabian Delph. Barely a year ago he looked surplus even to the requirements of a team struggling to avoid relegation. Tonight he looked international class. England must be blessed with a lot more midfield talent than I gave them credit for if Delph isn’t in Roy Hodgson’s plans for Brazil. And finally, the much-maligned Grant Holt. Yet again he came on at a time when the opposition had no option but to throw everything forward and he helped see out the game.
We’ve been moaning all season about a lack of goals and excitement at Villa Park. Will that do for now?
Yes, there are still problems in the team, and better opposition could have seen an embarrassing defeat. There are two days before the transfer window ends and they should be spent on bringing in at least two new players. That’s another argument, though. Right now I just want to celebrate a victory that might not have been straightforward, which probably highlighted as many deficiencies in the team as it did strengths, but which added another thrilling chapter to the story of the oldest and most historic league derby in the world. At a time when Manchester City can post a £51.6 million loss and shrug at the FFP rules, we should never forget what this corner of north Birmingham and its environs have contributed to the game.