Bristoling with confidence

Villa stepped into the New Year with a sparkling 5-0 win over Bristol City, while Dave Woodhall is denying his recent past.

I think I may have to report a crime to the cyber-police. It appears that this website has been hacked; there’s no other explanation for it. After Villa were unlucky to lose at Brentford on Boxing Day I wrote that such misfortune would be bound to even itself out soon and that Steve Bruce’s belief in open, expansive football in the light of adversity would surely be rewarded.

However, when I looked back at the article in question my words have been replaced by some nonsense about how Bruce was on the verge of getting the sack and serve the boring dinosaur right. Obviously I couldn’t have been so wrong, therefore the only logical conclusion is that evil forces have somehow been at work.

The New Year got off to the best possible start with Villa’s biggest league win for almost five years, and taking the opposition’s league place into account it was the best performance for a lot longer than that. The opening minutes weren’t great but once Scott Hogan had converted Albert Adomah’s cross midway through the first half confidence visibly flooded through both goalscorer and his teammates like a New Year detox following a week-long Christmas binge.

Robert Snodgrass followed up another Hogan chance to make it two at half-time. City brought a couple of players on and started brightly again after the break but Snodgrass’s second on the hour wrapped up the points and gave the Villa Park crowd a comparatively stress-free end to the game.

Reading comments from Bristol City supporters after the final whistle they seemed to focus on their players being tired after a busy December. Villa have of course played just as many matches as them but we have a big advantage over most of our promotion rivals, and one that became apparent in the later stages of the game.

There can’t be many teams who can call on such a wealth of talent from the bench, even allowing for the number still out of action. Bruce took some stick for not starting Jack Grealish on Saturday, but in hindsight did the right thing in allowing Jack to be rested, even if he did play longer than was probably intended. It’s a long time since a Villa manager was able to rotate the squad and this luxury will prove vital in the months to come.

As the game wound down, punctuated by further goals from Conour Hourihane and the unlikely source of Birkir Bjarnason, Villa’s players were noticeably fresher than their opponents. I know it’s easy to have a spring in your step when you’re five-nil up but it’s also a lot easier when the manager knows he can call on such promising talents as Rushian Hepburn-Murphy or Callum O’Hare at the first sign that a player might have picked up a slight knock or has given his all.

There was a general feeling that if Villa made it through the holiday period in roughly the same position as we started December we’d be doing fine, and that’s pretty much been achieved. In terms of points we’re further from the promotion places than we were a month ago but to balance that we’ve finally managed to beat a couple of the teams around us. Confidence and momentum are great things and a few of our rivals will be looking at this result and thinking that at long last a squad boasting as much talent as ours is finally getting its act together.