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.