Ruining the opening

Dave Woodhall on Villa’s successful start to the season.

The stage was set, the actors were in place and the story was ready to unfold. Gallant little Bournemouth were about to seal their rise from the threat of the Conference, if not total extinction, to the Greatest League in the World with an opening day win in front of a packed home crowd, some of whom had known there was a football club in town more than twelve months ago.

Sadly for them, and for the national media, the supporting cast hadn’t read the script.

Villa had six new signings starting the game if you include the newly-permanent Scott Sinclair and it was no surpise that they looked disjointed during the first half. Then the Magnificent Seventh arrived in the formidable shape of Rudy Gestede.

Gestede’s omission from the starting line-up had raised a few eyebrows, but maybe Tim Sherwood hadn’t seen enough of the striker since his arrival from Blackburn to warrant a full debut. Or maybe he wanted an “Oh shit, not HIM” moment at some stage in the second half.

We’ve seen enough of them against us over the years; cope with the opposition well enough for an hour or so, then Nemesis, often in the form of Ryan Giggs or Robbie Keane, steps off the bench with inevitable results. Happily, this time the result was a bullet header from a corner, the like of which is something else that’s happened far too often at the wrong end these past five years or so.

That makes three consecutive opening day wins, all of them coming away from Villa Park. What I still think of as Dean Court might not be as grand as the Emirates, or even the Britannia, but winning is still a handy habit to get into. There were a string of Man of the Match contenders, which is also a good sign. Micah Richards and Ciaran Clark looked like they might strike up a good understanding while Jordan Amavi is already impressing as a star of the future.

You can’t really take anything from this match as a portent of things to come – after all, look what happened following those wins aganst Arsenal and Stoke – but if nothing else Villa are now only 37 points from safety. The afternoon certainly showed, particularly with the likes of Jack Grealish and Carles Gil still to return, that Villa should have enough about them to beat the lower sides without too much trouble and so stay clear of the relegation zone. It’s not much, but at least it’s progress.

After the match Tim Sherwood spoke of looking to English players for any more squad strengthening, which makes the mixed blessing of Emmanuel Adebayor unlikely. Villa certainly do need a couple more signings because, while the starting XI is more than adequate, the type of injury crisis that has become a less welcome habit in recent years would leave us short of options.

The next match, against You Know Who and on Friday night for reasons that have been hotly debated already, will be a much stiffer test. Whatever the result, Villa will at least be trying to win the game and that fact alone also represents progress.