Ruling Britannia

Dave Woodhall is encouraged by Villa at the weekend.

It’s usually at around this time of the year that I bring up something I was once told – in the first week of the season performances are more important than results. I don’t know if it’s true or not but if nothing else it’s something to cling onto after an opening day defeat.

That looked like it was going to be important going into Saturday’s game at Stoke. An unimpressive collection of pre-season friendlies had followed a summer of transfer deals that were seriously underwhelming. With the club’s future still uncertain and no sign of a new owner in sight pessimism was the order of the day as we prepared to face opposition that have usually managed to bring out the worst in the Villa since they battered their way into the Premier League eight long years ago.

So naturally, against such a backdrop, Villa were well worth a win that could have been more conclusive had the team’s finishing been up to the standard of their defending. Good chances were missed either side of Andreas Weimann’s fiftieth minute strike but as one-goal wins go this was one of the more straightforward.

What was particularly impressive was the way Villa went about defending their lead in the closing stages. There was no panic, no desperate hoofing the ball out of defence, just a calm assurance throughout the team. Ron Vlaar continued his World Cup form, the much-maligned Philipe Senderos alongside him did the job he was signed for without fuss. On either side debutant Aly Cissokho and born-again Alan Hutton were equally efficient. Kieran Richardson helped anchor the midfield, allowing Fabian Delph to get forward and show that he could become an England regular before long.

Villa have now got experience running through the side, which is something that’s been missing for a few years. This summer’s signings may have been uninspiring, they won’t sell many tickets, but they will make the team harder to beat. We might not win at Arsenal this season, or beat Chelsea and Manchester City at Villa Park, but equally I can’t see Crystal Palace or a side bound for relegation such as Fulham were doing the double over us.
It’s also worth remembering that it was achieved almost half a team missing. Carlos Sanchez finally signed on Friday, too late to play at Stoke. Jores Okore wasn’t risked and neither was Joe Cole. There’s also the small matter of Christian Benteke and Libor Kozak to make a return before too long.

Of course, it’s only one game. After all, we won at Arsenal on the opening day of last season, were then cheated out of the game at Stamford Bridge four days later and look how that turned out. But those two performances were never going to be repeated on a regular basis whereas the most encouraging thing about Saturday’s performance, the delight on the players’ faces at the final whistle notwithstanding, was that it didn’t seem out of the ordinary. If the game was played again today, Villa would win it again. It wasn’t a fluke.

Coming up at Villa Park on Saturday are Newcastle, another team that have caused us a few problems over the years. If we can win that one, and if we can also add another player or two, as Paul Lambert hinted on Saturday, we might be able to look to the future with more optimism than was thought possible.