The day we caught the train

Vila’s 3-0 win at Derby could be worth more than three points, reckons Dave Woodhall.

Every successful season really starts with a statement performance. No matter how well you’ve been playing until then and what previous results have been like, there comes one day when it all clicks into place, the rest of the league has to take notice and from then on the team assume an air of invincibility that can lead to glory.

The best example of this came all those years ago in January 1981, when after looking good but not really convincing the rest of the country that we were serious title contenders, Villa beat Liverpool 2-0 and from the moment Dennis Mortimer put the ball past Ray Clemence the team looked, performed and acted like champions. I can also remember a few years later, when Graham Taylor’s side had started the season badly, then begun to put together a decent run and really took off after hammering Everton 6-2 on Bonfire Night 1989.

Another game in November might prove to be the day when Villa finally began to treat the Championship as there for the taking rather than simply hoping for the best. Derby could have gone top if they’d won, but from kick-off they were never going to get the opportunity. Both sides missed chances in the first half, the home side’s threat mainly coming from long balls aimed at the Chester/Tuanzebe partnership that’s starting to improve, yet can still throw up moments of danger.

There was little danger in the second half because Dean Smith changed the system round, cutting off the problem at source, and Villa took control. Twenty minutes to go and the team are doing well. The game’s still goalless and a point at Pride Park is a useful one. Some managers would be tempted to leave things as they are in the hope that a goal might come. We’ve seen plenty of Villa managers bring on an extra defender to make sure of the draw.

Dean Smith took off Jonathan Kodjia, brought on Yannick Bolasie, and fifteen minutes later we were three-nil up. That’s management.

A perfect cross from Bolasie found John McGinn running in unmarked to open the scoring, four minutes later McGinn’s through ball was turned in by Tammy Abraham and on days like this, when Conor Hourihane gets a free-kick 25 yards out there’s only one place the ball’s going to end up. Such was Villa’s second-half dominance that the final score was almost a disappointment. Five or six-nil wouldn’t have been an unfair reflection of the play.

We had days like this under Steve Bruce, but there was always the feeling under our previous manager that any good times were bound to end before long. Now we’re putting a set-up in place that already looks to be one for the long term. For two seasons other clubs must have looked at the quality in Villa’s squad and wondered when they would finally start playing. Saturday, 10th November 2018 looks like the answer.

This and the rest of the day’s results leaves us eleventh in the table, four points off the play-off places and seven away from the top two. No club seems capable of putting together the sort of run that would take them clear of the pack and we can only look back wistfully at the situation Villa found themselves in after the play-off final.

If the club’s finances hadn’t have been so complicated (which is one word to describe it; others are available) Steve Bruce could well have been replaced by Dean Smith within days and Sam Johnstone, Robert Snodgrass and Lewis Grabban could all still be with us. The race to finish runners-up would be underway.

2 thoughts on “The day we caught the train

  1. Villa could have easily been two goals behind by half-time, at Derby on Saturday, and they definitely needed an act of brilliance from Bolaise to set up the opener for the dashing McGinn, to get their mojo going. Villa’s fabulous fifteen minutes, crowned by Hourihane’s sublime free-kick, sprinkled a bit of fairly dust on what had been a good performance and turned it into a great one. Let’s just hope we have enough reasons to come, to remember the game longer than last season’s stunning victory against Wolves. It definitely was a brilliant way for Dean Smith to earn his first away points, against a highly-rated team, enjoying the halo-effect of the arrival of Frank Lampard. The performance had all the signs that suggest Villa could make their way into the play-off positions and it just so happened to be a weekend of fixtures, which allowed for comparisons with their peers to be made, with Sheffield United playing Wednesday and the Baggies taking on Leeds. The Blades played some great passing football but the breakthrough never came against their battling South Yorkshire local rivals, which demonstrated the downside of their passing game, as the nil-nil became more and more inevitable. Leeds looked pretty impressive against the Albion and their dynamic attacking style looked every bit as exciting as rumour has it. The Albion drew them on and exploited some horrendous defensive ricks, with their attacking pace and power, to romp home, but even though they got a thumping there was a lot of quality about Leeds. My conclusion was that Villa definitely are on par with their play-off rivals but may struggle to score against teams set up to defend, unless they can repeat the astounding quality they showed against Derby. Only Villa books, as yet unwritten, can say whether Saturday was a turning point or not. Let’s hope so. UTV!

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