Aston Villa and the benefit of hindsight

Dave Woodhall comments on Villa’s win at Brighton.

At two o’clock I was getting ready to reel off the oft-repeated story of Sir Graham saying that every time he picked a team thirty thousand of us would pick a better one, because ours never lose. If there had been thirty thousand Villa supporters who had an idea of the side they wanted Steven Gerrard to put out at Brighton, I doubt if many would have dropped Emiliano Buendia for Ollie Watkins. Watkins and Danny Ings can’t play in the same team; anyone can tell you that and if you say otherwise you don’t know much about football.

Luckily Gerrard wasn’t listening to us. The start was delayed for thirty minutes due to traffic problems and although both teams were out of form going into the game and were naturally nervy, Villa lost no time in getting hold of the match. Both defences were on top in the early stages then Matty Cash opened the scoring from twenty yards with a well-paced shot after being left in acres of space. He was booked for taking his shirt off, but that wasn’t very important in the greater scheme of things.

There wasn’t much else happening in the first half and a Philippe Coutinho free-kick apart, there wasn’t a great deal in the second half, either. Brighton had the majority of possession but didn’t do much with it and when they did look vaguely threatening Tyrone Mings led the Villa line well.

The Polish Hutton had a chance to settle the game but fired just wide, then with seven minutes to go Mings hit an inch-perfect long ball for Watkins. He might be out of form and in truth he and Ings still didn’t work well together but there are few players better at running into this sort of position. Villa saw out the game without fuss and there was time for Tim Iroegbunam to make a hopefully first of many appearance.

Of the players who might have been dropped, John McGinn certainly proved Gerrard right with a man of the match performance but Douglas Luiz continued his recent run of poor form and the team looked much better when he was replaced by Morgan Sanson, who must surely get a start now. As for Watkins and Ings, there’s no way they can ever be in the same starting line-up again. Both have their strengths, both worked, but there’s no spark there and neither makes the other a better player.

In some ways this one was the mirror image of what happened against Watford last week. Two teams have been playing poorly, the visitors sit back and frustrate the home side, giving them possession, hitting on the break and waiting for mistakes. It wasn’t a classic performance but it’s three points and a clean sheet, which will go a long way towards getting rid of those vague but nagging doubts about getting drawn towards the bottom three. Now let’s have another couple of wins to get rid of the doubts altogether and look forward to the summer with optimism. Just don’t ask me to pick a team to get them.