Aston Villa and the dawning of a new era

Dave Woodhall watches Villa beat Brighton on an afternoon to remember.

If the script hadn’t been written well in advance, the narrative certainly had. Steven Gerrard was returning to the Premier League and Villa Park was the chosen venue. It might seem that the Villa are an afterthought in the story but that brief niggle was never going to get in the way of the rapturous reception the new boss received as he emerged from the tunnel at five to three. He’s our manager now so he gets unconditional support for as long as he deserves it.

The team news was interesting; the injury rumours around Morgan Sanson and Marvelous Nakamba were the first in living memory to be false, Leon Bailey on the bench and our star strikers both starting. How they worked together would be the biggest question of the afternoon and play a big part in how the rest of the season will go.

As you’d expect, Villa started brightly but the old failings soon came into play. Try as they might, Watking and Ings aren’t a strike partnership and Emiliano Buendia is still out of form. Undoubtedly he has talent in abundance but whatever he tries doesn’t seem to be coming off for him. There’s no doubting his workrate or determination and I don’t doubt that he’ll come good eventually; it just isn’t happening at the moment.

Villa’s bright start fizzled out and we had an hour or so where Brighton had most of the ball although Villa’s shape and composure were unrecognisable from the last few weeks. Emiliano Martinez was back to his best, the players in front of him kept their discipline and did their jobs well. If Marvelous Nakamba was more consistent he could save us serious money; if Jacob Ramsey continues his improvement he might save even more.

Still Villa lacked inspiration and it was hard to see where a goal might come from until the arrival of Leon Bailey, and then Ashley Young, with Anwar El Ghazi’s introduction leading to Young moving inside. The last time Young was in the centre caused some serious criticism of him and his manager; this time his run from deep and inch-perfect ball to Watkins led to the first goal and an explosion of relief from the crowd as well as inside the technical area. That’s football.

If the opening goal was the result of inspired management and even more inspired talent, the second had a bit of good fortune about it as a clearance from a strong Watkins header fell perfectly for Tyrone Mings to round off his best week for a long while with a thumping drive to seal the win.

It wasn’t a great performance. In isolation two mid-table teams played out an instantly forgettable game that was won with two late goals – there was nothing much to get excited about. But the occasion and its consequences were something else entirely. The players were motivated, the manager’s gameplan worked and the losing run is over. The only way is up and the future is bright once more.

One thought on “Aston Villa and the dawning of a new era

  1. Great Scots and Scousers have been prominent throughout the history of Aston Villa, and so the arrival of a scouser from Scotland, was always going to portend the positive. Brighton occupying the ‘best of the rest’ slot at the start of play, looked like a tough prospect for an out of form Villa, desperately needing to end a run of five defeats in row, which had cost Dean Smith his job. Questions had begun to be asked as to whether the £90m spend by way of consolation for the summer’s big departure, had been ill-advised, and the evidence hadn’t been encouraging. Enter the man bearing the weight of forty-thousand desperate Villa souls, to a rapturous greeting of uncertain hope and wobbling belief; all asking the same question: can this man get this group of players to reverse the rot?

    The team dominated the opening quarter of an hour, as John McGinn was like a cat amongst the Seagulls, and produced some astounding quality to compliment his work-rate. But gradually, the game slipped from Villa’s grip as Brighton asserted their passing-game, and Villa were left to chase the ball and see their attempts at turning defence into attack, smothered by manager Potter’s low-tempo game-plan. Gladly, despite the possession stats drifting heavily into Brighton’s favour, they weren’t troubling Villa’s goal much. It looked likely, that if they were to score, it would come from some Villa benevolence, rather than Brighton’s serious ambition.

    A worrying uninspired hour past, and just after the 60 minute mark, Villa’s new gaffer started to ring the changes, and ended the Ings-Watkins partnership, by bringing on Leon Bailey to very little effect, before exchanging a frustrated Buendia for Ashley Young, a few minutes later. In the 84th minute he swapped a tiring Jacob Ramsey for the fresh legs of El Ghazi, which brought instant results. A measured pass from Nakamba, in the Villa box, to the feet of Ashley Young, a trick and a precision pass from Young sent Watkins away, with El Ghazi’s run pulling the Brighton defence out of the space Watkins exploited to hammer home the goal which looked so unlikely for so long in the game. With minutes to go, memories of the Wolves game cast some doubts, as to whether Villa could hold out, but as the confidence rebounded in the Villa boys, it seemed to drain from Brighton legs, and within five minutes a rampant Villa finished the job, with an uncharacteristic striker’s strike from Tyrone Mings.

    The doubts about Villa hadn’t been vanquished but they had ended their losing streak, and the new gaffer had got the start dreams are made of.

    It was a very unlikely result but will be all the more memorable for that!

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