Dave Woodhall watches as Aston Villa beat Blackburn Rovers 2-1.
There were almost forty thousand people inside Villa Park on Saturday to watch the latest episode of Villa’s late dash for the play-offs, but three of them attracted more attention than all the rest put together. Martin LAursen and Juan Pablo Angel received the acclaim of supporters who remembered how good they were, and how much better they might have been had injuries and other circumstances not intervened.
Gareth Southgate, on the other hand, slipped in and out of the ground as quietly as the England manager can ever hope, but there could have been few who weren’t aware of his presence or the reason why he was reminding himself that there’s life outside the Premier League.
Jack Grealish, for it was he who Southgate was there for despite anything the national boss might say to the contrary, didn’t have his best game but even at less than 100% he’s still way above the level of mere mortals and was instrumental in Villa’s domination of the first half hour, when Tammy Abraham was on hand to tap in a goal after eight minutes and another productive afternoon seemed likely for the highest home goalscorers in the Championship.
Playing against the worst travelling defence was also ideal for rattling in the goals but there were no more before the break, with another half-dozen good chances saved or wasted either side of the interval. Villa went two up after an hour, John McGinn crossing for Tyrone Mings to head home, and that should have been game over with no problem.
Villa’s defence has improved immeasurably since January and just one goal conceded in the previous four wins shows that the early season problems have largely been eradicated particularly in the keeper’s area. But Jed Steer seemed to misjudge the flight of a free-kick that came from a rare Blackburn attack and there were sixteen minutes remaining that turned out to be more worrying than they need have been.
Still, no problem. With Mings as dominant as he seems to have been since the moment he arrived at Villa – and it’s a log time since a central defender made such an immediate impact on the team – the match was seen out with barely a further problem. There was, though, one moment which further showed that while Jack Grealish might be esly the best midfielder in the Champion ship, if he’s not on top of his game he’s not even the best at Villa Park.
John McGinn, whose pass had started the move for the first goal and whose cross led to the second, picked up the ball deep into injury time. Mere mortals would have headed down the right wing and into the corner but McGinn moved first into the centre of the pitch and continued running into the opposite corner to waste time and end up winning a corner. And on that level of professionalism there didn’t seem too much wrong with Mings when he went down injured late on, just as Blackburn were starting to look a bit too comfortable on the ball, either.
Five wins out of five in March and Villa move up to fifth. In fact, games in hand might change the situation a bit, but the top six is starting to look like it could be how the table will be at the end of the season, and that would set up an interesting finale. In the meantime Villa have got to keep winning, and the game at Hillsborough this coming Saturday will arrive compete with a subtext or two.