Dave Woodhall watches with approval as Villa beat Brentford.
Sometimes you have to wonder. After a week of upheaval we had Aaron Danks picking the team and although news leaked out last night, it was still a surprise to see old favourites left out and a new formation introduced. There had been a lot of talk about how using two holding midfielders was the best way of utilising the resources at the manager’s disposal, yet Steven Gerrard carried on with the same 4-3-3 system throughout thin and thinner. He was the manager and the manager knows best.
Two minutes into the match and that was open to question. Another new routine from a Douglas Luiz corner gave Leon Bailey the opportunity to hit a first time shot from the edge of the area for the perfect start. Five minutes later and Bailey laid on a perfect ball for Danny Ings to double the lead. Then after fourteen minutes Tyrone Mings was fouled at a corner and Ings made it three. According to the chief anorak at the Sky Sports Department for Obscure Premier League Statistics, this is the earliest a team’s gone three up in a new manager’s first game, and my life was made so much better for learning that.
Luiz hit a piledriver from thirty yards that crept just outside the post, then hit the woodwork with another of his speciality corners while Matty Cash had another long-range effort well saved. Three-nil at half-time, it should have been more and the applause that greeted the referee’s whistle was as loud and well-deserved as we’ve heard all season.
When the match is effectively over the second half can be an anti-climax. Villa did admittedly slip down a gear after the break, although there was little point in continuing at such a frantic pace. On the hour Leon Bailey, who throughout the game showed what he can do when he’s played out on the wing, collected the ball level with our penalty area, beat a couple of players and played a one-two with Ings to lay a chance on for Ollie Watkins.
The first shot was blocked by the keeper, the second hit the post and the third attempt, from the most difficult position of them all, finally hit the back of the net. And there was none of this failing to celebrate against your old club, just sheer joy at the goal and the performance.
There were no further goals but there were five substitution, not to replace players who were doing badly or in an attempt to save the game, but to give a run-out to the replacements. That’s something else that hasn’t been possible very often this season.
It was a great performance, in what could have been an important game. Had Villa lost we would now be in the bottom three and under no illusions that we were in a relegation battle. Instead, we’ve shown that the players are good enough to beat mid-table opposition with no problems and there isn’t as much of a hurry to appoint a manager as first seemed.
Although he might still be out of a job at the end of the month, Aaron Danks did his future employment prospects no harm at all. He certainly showed what can happen when you put players in their correct positions and start with the right formation. Then again, it’s not particularly difficult; any one of us could have told him that.