Aston Villa and the ghost of Christmas future

Villa beat Crystal Palace 3-0. Dave Woodhall is feeling festive.

One of the great Christmas traditions is to moan about the BBC’s schedules, so it was good of them to make amends to choose Villa for their first live league game since Kenneth Wolstenholme (I think) was commentating. It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise – after all, the club with the richest history in world football has been involved in landmarks throughout this strangest of years. Last Premier League game before lockdown, first one back after the restart, first one since then to be postponed due to Covid. We’re Aston Villa.
Making history is what we do.

The game was also suitable family viewing because while Villa are as good to watch as it gets now, Palace aren’t too bad either when they’re on form. Naturally, that means the chance of an absolute stinker was high, although as it turned out it only took five minutes for that fear to prove groundless. Not for the first time, Ollie Watkins latched onto a good through ball and hit his shot well only for the keeper to make a good save. The ball fell for Bertrand Traore, who made no mistake in putting Villa a goal up.

After that Traore hit the post, Palace could have had a penalty, Tyrone Mings was booked for getting involved with Wilfred Zaha then booked again for being within falling distance of the Palace forward. Down to ten men at half-time, and if the second half was as lively it promised to be interesting. The watching TV millions would be suitable entertained.

Lively was one word, dominant would be another. Villa were well on top, and full credit to the hastily-reshuffled central defensive pairing of Kourtney Hause and Ezri Konsa for denying Palace, and in particular the surprisingly in-form Christian Benteke. Midway through the second half Watkins hit the bar and in a similar situation to the opener Hause was on hand to head the ball over the line. Ten minutes later Watkins and Jack Grealish combined to lay on a shot for Anwar El Ghazi that threatened to go straight through the net such was its power and perfect placing.

There was still time for Watkins to hit the woodwork again but despite both misses he did enough running, making spaces and creating chances to have a good shout for the man of the match award. Then again, he’d have a much harder time fighting off the other contenders than they did in beating a Palace side who weren’t that bad, they just came up against opposition on top form who would have been a match for anyone. It could have been a scoreline to really make the audience sit up and take notice, although if there’s another thing the Villa do almost as well as making history it’s being ignored, and while they deserve all the attention they will eventually get, long may the pressure be off this young, transitional, sky’s the limit side.

I’ve spent so long being disappointed, depressed even, by the Villa that it’s sometimes difficult to comprehend just how good this team has become, and how quickly. I watch a game like this one and think that either the opposition must be really poor or that we’re having the sort of one-off day when everything goes right and it won’t happen again for a long time. Then I realise that the opposition are actually a decent mid-table side and that this is the sort of performance Villa have put in at least half a dozen times this season and we’re only a third of the way through. And I can’t but look back at last Christmas, how poor we were then, and wonder what the watching public might be thinking of us in twelve months time.