Go to the end of the world and carry on

Dave Woodhall on Villa’s expedition to the wastelands of South London.

Credit where it’s due, and there were quite a few plus points to come out of the win at Crystal Palace. First there was the magnificent support, with almost 2,500 making the lengthy trek down to Croydon on a horrible Tuesday night in December. Three days after a journey to Burnley’s dark satanic mills, that means what would be the best part of a week’s wages to some people was spent watching a team whose only saving grace lately has been consistency – and that’s not a word I’m using in its complimentary sense.

There were other plusses as well, such as a clean sheet, which in itself means that Villa have conceded just two goals in four games, and an unbeaten run that now stretches to four matches. There were also impressive performances from most of the defensive players, with Carlos Sanchez getting better with every game (coming on as a substitute obviously suits him) and Alan Hutton continuing to show an astounding improvement.

But the biggest plus was the goal from Christian Benteke which gave us three points. The first win since September, his first goal since March. No matter how bad Paul Lambert’s tactics, nor how poor the match was to watch, we won and at this stage that’s all that matters. If you want to join in the modern footballing obsession with statistics we had 54% possession, so Glory Hallelujah for that as well.

Of course, it wasn’t perfect. The team is a long way off the required standard and the current position of twelfth is the most that could be expected given the way they’ve played for most of the season.

But, and more than anything such a fact shows the mediocrity of the “greatest league in the world,” if we’d held on in those three games I mentioned at the weekend rather than throwing away late leads we’d have gone up to sixth in the table. I wonder how many of the commentators describing last night’s win would have then called it a solid and professional uninspiring performance rather than a fluky victory that owed more to luck than judgement? As Ron Saunders said sometime in the twentieth century, the dividing line between success and failure is so very thin – and so is public perception.

Nobody will think that winning at Selhurst Park means all is fine. There are still problems at Villa Park that need to be addressed and they exist on and off the pitch. But a win’s a win and nothing breeds confidence like one. Maybe, just maybe, this was the turning point although I’d say that with a bit more conviction if it hadn’t been said a dozen times before during the past two and a half years.

Still, onwards and upwards. It’s bottom-placed Leicester at home on Sunday (thanks, Sky) and another three points will hasten Villa’s acceleration up the table. Passports at the ready; we’re headed for Europe. Did I ever tell you what a great manager I think Paul Lambert is?