Aston Villa and the return to normality

Villa beat Newcastle two-nil at Villa Park with Dave Woodhall watching.

It was back to a packed-out, if damp, Villa Park for supporters who’ve been waiting almost eighteen months to once more be a part of the crowd rather than watching on TV. Unless, that is, something in your pocket pinged on Friday afternoon and you were stuck at home, not looking at any of those stream things of course, because that would be illegal.

The team news was hardly surprising, with Leon Bailey this summer’s injured new signing while Marvelous Nakamba and Matt Targett were dropped after their poor performances at Watford last Saturday. Douglas Luiz and Jacob Ramsey came in to provide a bit more balance in the centre and Ashley Young moved to left-back. With so many casualties it’s hardly surprising that attacking options on the bench were limited, and against a Steve Bruce team attack has to be the main priority.

However you’re watching, and whatever the weather, Villa Park at kick-off time with a full house inside is the greatest place in football. It’s even better if the Villa are on top form, which they weren’t at the start and they took a bit of time to get into gear.

Newcastle missed a couple of chances before Villa started to play, although there wasn’t much in the way of genuine goal threat until deep into stoppage time when Danny Ings came up with the first stunner of the season. He might not have looked much last week, but Ings’ goal today was just the climax of a top-quality performance.

Villa were much better in the second half, Anwar El Ghazi showing his usual ice-cool temperament to put the game beyond the visitors with a delayed penalty. It would be good to say that the team saw the game out without incident but that wouldn’t exactly be true, a penalty decision being overturned by VAR after a rush of blood to the head of Emiliano Martinez.

Luckily, as we’ve seen many times before a Steve Bruce side is unable to turn a match round very often and Villa’s first three points of 2021-22 were in the bag. Three substitutes came on as the game wound down, including the brief return of Axel Tuanzebe as the impressive Luiz went off, and that throws up a question – Villa are clearly lacking a physical presence in midfield. If Dean Smith doesn’t think Nakamba’s up to it, and him playing no part in the second game of the season might be an indicator on that score, then surely we have to make at least one more signing before the end of the month. Tuanzebe is a decent squad player but he isn’t what we need on a regular basis.

It wasn’t a particularly good performance, although given the disjointed nature of pre-season and the number of players unavailable through injury that wasn’t surprising. If they’re going to continue making progress Villa have to beat teams such as Newcastle without much fuss, and in the end it was an easy enough win. Which should be a final point to think about – when both sides were relegated in 2016, which one would you have thought would still be struggling five years later and which one would be looking towards Europe and still have room for improvement after a result like this?

Actually it’s not the final point because the under-18s beat Norwich 10-0 on Saturday morning. The future’s in good hands.