Reading into it

Villa finally win away. Dave Woodhall hopes it’s the first of many.

When a team’s on a bad run, and particularly when they’re as short on confidence as the Villa, getting that first win starts to take on Holy Grail proportions. It doesn’t matter how it comes; as the cliche goes, a stoppage time deflection against the run of play that ricochets off a couple of defenders can be every bit as important as a 5-0 masterclass.

Jordan Ayew’s (almost) last-gasp winner at the Madejski Stadium wasn’t that fortuitous and it wasn’t even against the run of play, but it could be the most vital goal Villa have scored since the FA Cup semi-final eighteen months ago.

Injuries and suspension meant that Steve Bruce has already found out how, for a Villa manager, unchanged teams just don’t happen. Leandro Bacuna was in midfield, always an ‘interesting’, if not downright ‘brave’ selection, although anyone who criticises him should also accept that if every player had put in as much effort this season Villa wouldn’t be in this position.

Bacuna was his usual self all game; not a worldbeater but doing the job he was told to do. And unlike most games in this winless spell, so was everyone else. Villa gave as good as they got against a side hoping to move in the top six and it was no surprise when they took the lead, Johnathan Kodjia scoring with the help of that potentially season-changing deflection.

Of course, it was even less of a surprise when Villa conceded an equaliser thanks to a bit of dozing defence following a penalty save from Pierluigi Gollini. Then came what was a genuine surprise when rather than crumbling, Villa showed resolve in defence, sharpness in attack and a more direct approach, particularly when Ayew came on with a quarter of an hour to go, caused a few problems for the home side.

Being able to bring players of the quality of Ayew and his fellow Jordan, Amavi, off the bench is what should have been able to separate Villa from the rest of the division this season. It hasn’t so far but maybe there’s hope yet and Ayew’s late penalty kicked off not only another cliche, wild celebrations from the travelling support, but also hopes that this expensively-assembled squad might start punching its weight.

Villa’s win took them to the giddy heights of seventeenth, but more importantly left them, at the moment, six points off the play-off places. Realising that a late winner doesn’t necessarily have to be at the wrong end could see that gap shrinking before much longer.