Can we play you every week?

Dave Woodhall enjoys an afternoon at Villa Park for a change.

We might think that Villa have more bogey teams than most, so imagine how it must feel to be ours? That’s been the fate of Norwich City for more years than i care to remember. Whether it’s psychological, or mystic forces are at play, I don’t know, but Villa always beat Norwich at home and more often than we beat anyone else we beat them away as well.

So at the end of a week where Steve Bruce has been under more intense scrutiny than at any time since he was appointed, the opposition on Saturday afternoon couldn’t have been any better. He responded to criticism in the time-honoured way, by blaming first the players for being crap, then the supporters for having unrealistic expectations.

The first was fair enough, as they’re like that way too often. The second is the sort of thing that regularly gets thrown at us, usually by a manager under pressure and always unfairly. If we were the sort of people who stage marches and protests because we haven’t won a trophy for a couple of years (Arsenal, this means you) then fair enough. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a team that cost more to assemble than any other team in the entire history of the Football League to finish in the top half of the Championship and win more games than they lose.

Villa went into the game on Saturday bottom of the table (and I know it means nothing at this stage, but even so…) and another defeat would have undoubtedly added to the pressure on both manager and owner. Anyone expecting a safety-first team selection was surprised by a line-up that had Keinan Davis leading the attack. It might only have been because almost everyone else was injured, but Davis could have made a dream start when a good chance was saved in the first minute.

No matter – it didn’t take long for him to set up Conor Hourihane’s opener before hitting the bar as Villa created more chances than they have all season, going into the break 2-0 up. Naturally, they conceded two in the second half, but this was one of those rare occasions when they responded to conceding a goal by going back onto the attack rather than dropping even deeper, and each Norwich goal was followed by a Villa one, or more accurately, a Hourihane one.

Our brand-new hat-trick hero has been a microcosm of Villa’s performances since he was signed in January. Let him get forward and he’s quality, stick him barely in front of the defence and disappointment invariably follows. There’s a lesson there for the management.

And here’s another one. We’ve got two games coming up this week. Keep the same approach, continue with the mentality that livened up Saturday afternoon and you won’t have to talk about unrealistic expectations because most of them will be achieved without too much bother. For a start, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for midweek wins against Wigan and Bristol City. I know Bruce will be prioritising the league game so there’ll be wholesale changes and a few youngsters given a run-out for one of the matches. I’m not so sure which one I’d like to see them playing in.