Reading between the Lions

Dave Woodhall watches Villa beat Reading 3-0.

Someone who spends much of their time on the streets of Aston on matchday once told me that they didn’t need a radio or even to listen to the crowd to know how the match was going – they could tell by the number of people leaving the ground with fifteen minutes to go how many the Villa were losing by. I asked them if the same principle worked if we were well in the lead and supporters were nipping off early to miss the traffic as the match was already won. He replied that he didn’t know, as he’d only been working round there for ten years.

Yes, I know it’s an old joke but tolerate me – it’s been a stressful few weeks and Tuesday night’s win came as a relief for many reasons. Not only did it end the nasty little run that had threatened to crop up at just the wrong time, steadying nerves into the bargain, but it also put paid to the Tuesday evening jinx that was starting to get a bit annoying.

It was one of those rare occasions when Villa were on top throughout. Reading helped us by being poor and having a man sent off into the bargain, although that didn’t make much difference because the Villa were vastly improved from the shambles of past weeks. They should have been three up at half-time and would have been had it not been for the heroics of Reading keeper Vito Mannone. Of course this led to a bit of half-time worry but luckily a goal from man of the match contender Birkir Bjarnason within seconds of the restart calmed nerves and allowed Villa to play what was at times some very decent football.

Conor Hourihane got into double figures for the season (most unlike a Villa central midfielder) and we then had a moment that showed how Villa might have a secret weapon going into the play-offs. Top scorer Albert Adomah and arguably our most productive attacking player, Robert Snodgrass, could be substituted to rest their legs while in the place came quality in the shape of Jonathan Kodjia and promise (albeit probably never to be seen in claret and blue) in the form of Josh Onomah. Being able to give such players some game time with the pressure off is a luxury that few teams in Villa’s position can afford.

Getting a third goal thanks to Scott Hogan a couple of minutes later was an unexpected bonus and from then on it really was time for some of the crowd to slip away. The game wound down with no more goals, but no point doing more than what’s absolutely necessary at this stage. We’ve had more than our share of injuries although the silver lining to that particular grey cloud is that a player like Kodjia will be at peak form in a couple of weeks, at a time when players at other clubs will be starting to feel the strain of a long season.

Up next are Norwich, where we have a decent record, then Cardiff, who have a trip to Wolves on Friday night before coming to Villa Park. They’ve performed superbly so far but they’ve been up there to be shot at for a long time and knowing that when the final whistle blows next Tuesday we might be just a point behind them could well see the pressure getting to Neil Warnock’s boys. We can but hope.