Aston Villa and the first step

Villa win 1-0 against Sheffield United as Dave Woodhall watches.

New seasons, like Christmas, seem to come round quicker every year but this one has the excuse that it really was the shortest summer on record. Villa had longer than most to recuperate after last season’s dramas but whether that was a good thing or bad was open to debate before kick-off against Sheffield United.

The team lined up as expected, with the three confirmed and cleared signings all making their Premier League debuts. Nothing much happened in the early stages, then Ollie Watkins was the first of the new boys to make his mark on proceedings when being brought down by United’s Egan after twelve minutes. A red card might have seemed harsh, but who’s complaining?

Then it was Emiliano Martinez’s turn to start repaying his transfer fee, when Matt Targett’s clumsy footwork led to a penalty. It wasn’t badly-hit; the save from Villa’s new keeper was just perfect and as Martinez later said, in the context of the game it was like scoring a hat-trick.

Unlike a lot of the other games so far this season there weren’t many chances, with the visitors defending in depth and Villa lacking the cutting edge to trouble them. Then an unusual for Dean Smith substitution of Keinan Davis replacing Conor Hourihane was followed almost immediately by a corner which Tyrone Mings knocked on for Ezri Konsa to place his header beyond the reach of everyone and into the back of the net.

And that was virtually the last of the evening’s entertainment. Villa saw out the game without any other notable incidents and although it might not have looked too pretty, a win is a win and the first of the season is particularly welcome. We always seem to have problems playing against ten men and the extra league game the visitors already had under their belt made up for the numerical advantage. It might not have been as spectacular as some we’ve already seen, but this win was as important as any. Villa threw so many points away last season that the team’s confidence must have been battered. To win with little fuss carried on the boost that avoiding relegation started.

If Villa are going to improve on last season in any great measure – and to be realistic, mid-table safety would come as a both a relief and a welcome sign of progress – they have to win games like this as a matter of routine, and that’s what they did. Martinez and Watkins continued to impress throughout and the other new signing, Matty Cash, also did well. Douglas Luiz carried on where he left off eight weeks ago and while Tyrone Mings may have lost his international place, it may not be too long until Villa have another England cap in central defence.

On the downside, John McGinn struggled and didn’t look 100% fit while the continued reliance on Jack Grealish for inspiration continues to be a worry. Let’s hope Bertrand Traore can help remedy that, and also that the transfer window spending hasn’t yet ended, because Villa lack a physical presence in midfield as well as strength in depth. We badly need at least two more signings; get them and routine wins might become a lot more regular.

Coming up next will be a League Cup game at Bristol City in three days time, another club who seem to have started some sort of one-way rivalry with us over the past couple of years. Hopefully by then Traore will be able to get a start, a few more players will get game time and we carry on seeing more improvement.