Aston Villa and another few steps forward

Dave Woodhall watches as Villa win at Crystal Palace.

Every time Villa play at Selhurst Park you can talk about the length of the journey and how Villa’s reluctance to travel sahf of the river is up there with a London black cabbie. The words write themselves. Usually. But these are strange times and although the twin perils of cancelled trains and the weather made the journey down even worse than usual, the result made up for such minor inconvenience.

Steven Gerrard’s starting line-up raised a few eyebrows, with Ashley Young in the team and Ollie Watkins as the sole striker. If nothing else it made for a strong bench, but that didn’t seem to matter as the team started where they left off last week, making chances and defending solidly. A corner from Young found Matt Targett in the kind of space Villa usually specialise in, and our re-born left-back found even more space to hit an opener after fifteen minutes.

There were other chances at both ends but one-nil at the break was a fair reflection on a half where Villa were on top, if not exactly dominant. Douglas Luiz made an appearance midway through the second half and was lucky not to disappear almost immediately when he got a straight red for a challenge that didn’t look as bad on replay as it seemed at first, which opens up a couple of points.

I know these things should balance themselves out over time even if we won’t ever be allowed to forget HawkeyeSheffieldUnitedshouldhavebeenrelegated but football’s a sport not a game show; what happens on the pitch should be decided by the officals, not by someone watching a television even if the official is out of his depth and has been all match.

The other point is regarding Douglas Luiz. I like him and he keeps showing promise, but this is his third season in the Premier League and by now he should be dominating matches on a regular basis rather than flitting around offering glimpses of top-level potential. Talking of which, Marvelous Nakamba did well again – if he keeps this up he could still become the player Luiz threatens to be.

Anwar El Ghazi replaced Leon Bailey, which was fair enough as we needed to defend and Bailey is still unable to give ninety minutes, then Emi Buendia arrived and had an immediate effect as he combined with El Ghazi to allow John McGinn to hit a decisive goal with five minutes remaining. There’s nothing inconsistent about McGinn; he’s at the top of his game and good enough to worry any opponent. Another clean sheet would have been good but with almost the last kick of the match Palace finally managed to get behind the Villa defence, although their goal was too late to cause any real concern.

Three more points, another creditable performance. Villa are looking good at times but the biggest improvement Steven Gerrard has made is in the team’s discipline. They’re holding their shape much better and are hard to get past. How we’ll get on when we’re up against the better sides is another question but for the moment just enjoy watching a team who have remembered how to win again.