Villa win 2-1 at Burnley as Dave Woodhall claims part of the credit.
Out in the real world people are saying they’ve had enough of experts. In the parallel universe that is modern football we’re all experts. Graham Taylor once said that thirty thousand people in the crowd could pick a better team than him beause their team never gets beat, or as John Gregory put it with characteristic bluntness, “Hindsight United have never lost a match”.
Football being what it is now, anyone with an avid interest in the game and enough cable subscriptions can probably watch more football, and have more information about players at their fingertips, than Sir Graham enjoyed during his entire managerial career. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that when Dean Smith’s 3-5-2 line-up was announced before the game at Burnley it was only what many of us have been saying for weeks would serve Villa best.
It’s also a formation that served Sir Graham well, as it did Brian Little, manager of the last successful Villa side. Of course, it helped that they had such world-class talent as Paul McGrath, Dwight Yorke and David Platt to call on, while Deano is slightly less well-resourced. But he was able to recall Tyrone Mings to the side after a lay-off, and the difference that made can’t be under-estimated.
Villa began the game brighter than they have for some time and went ahead after twelve minutes thanks to a well-taken goal from Jack Grealish. Sixteen minutes later Grealish laid on a second for the most relieved man in Lancashire, Wesley, whose strike from inside the box was hit superbly well for a player so out of form before today. Grealish then got his second four minutes from half-time with another memorable shot, to give Villa an unassailable and well-deserved three-goal lead going into the break.
Sorry; we’ve just heard that the first one was disallowed. And that, rather than Villa’s domination during the first period, was the main talking point. It’s wrong to call a player offside because of an armpit, or a toenail, or whatever fine margin is enough now. But even more ridiculous is the amount of time taken over the decision. If it takes two minutes to judge whether a player has committed an infringement or not, then he hasn’t. How straightforward should that be?
Villa faded in the second half but Mings was able to rally his troops in the manner that has been sorely missed. Wesley went off with what hopefully won’t be a serious injury and there was a momentary worry when Burnley pulled a goal back with ten minutes to go, Tom Heaton injuring himself in the process. There was unsurprisingly nine minutes of stoppage time and Villa stood firm until the final whistle. The second half hadn’t been particularly pretty, but then again neither has much of the past month and at least we got three points this time.
This was Villa’s first league win at Burnley since 1936 and it feels almost as long since we won on both Boxing and New Year’s Days. In the long run neither statistic will mean much unless the improved performances from just about everyone in the team are maintained and Wesley in particular kicks on from here, but it’s three points and it makes the league table look marginally healthier.
Next up is a trip to Fulham, which is alway eagerly awaited by regular travellers, in the FA Cup, which this season probably isn’t. And as football supporters, they know best.