Aston Villa and youthful promise

Villa’s 2-1 win at Spurs has Dave Woodhall looking to the future.

There was a time when Villa were Spurs’ bogey side. This was back in the early years of the Premier League, when north London’s second-finest were perennial mid-table scrappers, never looking in danger of relegation but always falling short of challenging the elite. A poor man’s Aston Villa, if you like.

Those days are long gone now, and for the past decade Spurs have been like Villa were back then – nearly but not quite, and with supporters who are convinced that with a bit more investment and risk-taking they would have been up with the best. Sounds familiar? If that’s the case I do hope they find themselves going through a period like the one we’re coming out of now, because they and the other five all need a dose of reality, if not downright failure.

Which makes nights like Wednesday’s so particularly enjoyable. Villa’s line-up was one of Dean Smith’s occasional head-scratchers, with Ezri Konsa at right-back and John McGinn much deeper than he should be, alongside the recalled Marvelous Nakamba. It didn’t bode well, and even less so after eight minutes when Nakamba failed to control the ball and Spurs went into the lead.

While that’s usually game over, this time Villa re-grouped and took the initiative. Ollie Watkins had a stonewall penalty appeal turned down because it was against a Big Six and Villa should still be grateful to be in the Premier League Hawkeye Sheffield United then shortly afterwards Nakamba’s through ball was dispatched with pinpoint accuracy from fifteen yards out by Reguilon.

And if that wasn’t enough, our strong contender for man of the match managed to give the ball away twice within seconds, the second time leaving the way open for Watkins to put Villa into the lead on 39. The ten thousand Spurs supporters allowed back into the ground were not happy.

The second half saw Villa putting on a masterclass in defending a lead away from home. The defence was superb, Emiliano Martinez magnificent, McGinn and Nakamba exceeded all hope and expectation by dominating midfield and every time he got the ball Jack Grealish showed how much Villa, and the rest of football, have missed him. When Jack was taken off with twenty minutes remaining Douglas Luiz helped Villa keep an even tighter grip on the game.

And then, with a minute to go and another seven of stoppages after that, came what might prove to be a deeply significant moment in Villa’s immediate future. There are times when you see a young player step onto the big stage and behave with such assurance that you know he’s going to be there for a long time. We saw it with Gordon Cowans, with Gareth Barry and latterly Jack Grealish. In the eight minutes he played, Carney Chukwuemaka looked every inch a worthy addition to that roll of greatness, culminating in a shot in the closing seconds that hit the post and deserved better.

By this time he had been joined in the action by Jaden Philogene-Bidace. Two young debutants coming on in such a situation – it says a lot about Dean Smith’s confidence in their ability but also in the lack of available alternatives on the bench, which is something we should remember when talking about Villa’s recent poor form.

Villa are now secured in eleventh place with nothing to play for against Chelsea on Sunday. Normally that would have perhaps meant another couple of new faces arriving into the fray but this crop of Villa youth have a big occasion of their own the following day. Whatever happens in those two matches, the future in one area at least is looking brighter than it has for a long, long time.