Villa went down 3-1 at Spurs with Dave Woodhall remaining on the bright side.
The first match back in the Premier League was always going to be something to look forward to with a few mixed feelings. After years of being a progressively big fish you’re off to deeper waters. All summer there’s been the excitement of looking forward and buying what you need, together with a sense of impending dread that the day will soon be here. A bit like the first day at senior school, but without your big brother to watch out for you and the rest of your year feeling the same.
Anyway, it was ironic that the first match was away at Spurs, in their new billion-pound stadium. A decade ago we were competing with them for the best of the Rest title, but while we’ve done just about everything wrong, they’ve done it right, or almost – whatever they might say, we’ve lifted more trophies than they have in that time, so there.
They finished third in the Premier League last season, we finished fifth in the Championship. We spent a shedload in the summer in an attempt to stay in the top flight, if they’d spent as much they’d be looking to win it. And to make the task even more daunting, by the time kick-off approached the two teams who finished above Spurs last season had already scored nine goals between them without breaking sweat.
Dean Smith raised a few eyebrows with his team selection, relying on much of the team who had won the play-off final. Whether this was down to injuries or fitness concerns, or whether he was reluctant to have a totally new defence thrown into such an occasion, it seemed as though Villa might be steamrollered from the off.
Nine minutes in, and Villa were a goal up. John McGinn get on the end of a through ball, placed his shot perfectly and it was time to dream. Indeed, if Trezeguet had scored from his opportunity then the half-time score might have caused even more eyebrows to be raised.
But there’s a massive difference between this level and the one we’ve just left. Intensity, for a start – it seemed that every time a Villa player got the ball in the second half there were three of the Spurs team right on him. And being able to bring on an £80 million player when our equivalent came from the Championship at about one-thirtieth the price.
Legs and minds got tired, Spurs pressed relentlessly and the end result was inevitable, although it didn’t really have to be in such a cruel fashion. Two of their goals came from deflections, although it has to be said that even a point from the game would have been a robbery of highway proportions.
Days like this can be valuable as long as everyone learns from them, and I have no doubt that our coaching team will be spending every waking moment from now until next Saturday analysing what went wrong and how to put it right. And in the spirit of optimism that comes from the sun still shining, there was also a lot to be encouraged about.
For a start, Tyrone Mings looked totally at home in what it grieves me to say is one of the best football settings in the world. He and Bjorn Engels have already struck up an understanding that shows the promise to rival some of the best we’ve enjoyed. Tom Heaton behind them seemed equally up to the task he’ll face this season. Further up the pitch, Trezeguet showed that he’ll be a surprise to a few defences as well.
The rest of the team can’t be overly criticised against such opposition. Learn from the mistakes, get up to speed and take it from there. Saturday at home to Bournemouth, with a few more of the summer’s arrivals making an appearance, was always going to be a better indication of how the team will perform and on this showing there’s still plenty to look forward to.