Villa on top beside the seaside

Villa beat Brighton 3-1 in the Carabao Cup as Dave Woodhall looks on approvingly.

I was going to draw a connection between the collapse of Thomas Cook and the decline of the League Cup, touching on how famous old names failed to move with the times and you can’t beat the market. Then the Villa went and won at Brighton and it became clear that there’s life in at least one of these beleaguered institutions still.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that a League Cup tie, particularly at this stage, is the perfect match to play in. Win, and you’re on a roll, looking forward to the next round and with the serious end of the competition in sight. Lose, and it’s a pointless competition that only distracts from the proper one. A midweek jaunt to the south coast would once have been the
cue for free coaches and publicity but the current regime don’t appear ones for the grand gesture and another sold-out away following didn’t seem to need such encouragement. It was just as well that they did turn out in such numbers given the less than half-full nature of the rest of the ground.

Dean Smith picked what looked the perfect side for such a win-win scenario, making the expected wholesale changes from Sunday’s fiasco yet retaining a core of experienced starters plus plenty of quality on the bench. The line-up looked easily good enough to beat an inexperienced Brighton side with an average age of 21, and so it proved.

Jota opened the scoring midway through the first half, left in acres of space from a Conor Hourihane pass. If that one was down to poor marking as much as Villa’s attacking play the second goal ten minutes later was the climax to a series of quick passes out of defence, a good run by Keinan Davis and another run into the box from Hourihane. Conor, it has to be said, provides a bit of a dilemma when it comes to first team selection. He doesn’t really do anything well enough to justify a place in a Premier League, yet his all-round game makes up for a lot of shortcomings and he’s always likely to get a goal from somewhere.

As if to show that Villa can be as slack when it comes to marking Brighton pulled one back from a corner, then some youngster named Grealish came off the bench to stamp his mark on the game, his performance topped by another goal from an unmarked midfielder.

The rest of the match was fairly uneventful. Villa eased into the fourth round draw, although looking again at the relative merits of the two sides anything else would have been a huge setback. Awaiting us are Wolves, who struggled to get past Reading with another weakened side. To be honest, whoever wins this one will probably be the team whose manager decides to treat the game most seriously.

Looking on the brightest of sides, the evening showed Villa that they can win games. I don’t suppose any of the fringe players gave anything Smith didn’t know already with regards to playing on Saturday in a match where there won’t be any excuse for getting anything less than three points. The opposition will certainly be of a higher standard and taking it much more seriously. But for tonight, well done to the team on doing what had to be done, and doing it professionally.