Villa beat Manchester United at home. Dave Woodhall is a bit happy.
A dark, damp, dismal Sunday afternoon in November. We’re ‘entertaining’ Manchester United. You can’t get any less appealing. Then again, we’re welcoming a new manager and a new era. Most of all, the law of averages has to kick in at some point. The most embarrassing run in history can’t go on much longer, can it?
And so, despite the weather and the circus that always accompanies these particular visitors, there was a buzz of expectation around Villa Park as kick-off approached. Unai Emery and his coaching team arrived less with great fanfare than with the air of someone who knew he had a job to do and it starts now.
The team had been announced; a couple of tweaks but no great upheaval from the last couple of weeks. Lucas Digne replaced Ashley Young and Boubacar Kamara was a welcome addition on the bench.
I’ve always believed that there are times when the stars align, the claret and blue gods look down and the opposition needn’t bother turning up. Any doubts that this was one of those occasions were dispelled in the first ten minutes.
Leon Bailey, a player who perhaps more than any other epitomises the inconsistency and disappointments of the past two seasons as well as the potential of the future, raced onto a through ball from Jacob Ramsey to put Villa into the lead. The cheers had barely quietened before Digne’s curling free-kick from the edge of the box put Villa two up.
Rarely can a new manager have instilled so much life into a team so quickly. The rest of the half was a revelation as defenders looked confident, midfielders probed and attacking players pulled opponents all over the pitch. Villa could have scored a few more, but even on a day like this, they’re still the Villa and so it was that as half-time approached, a harmless shot hit Ramsey to give Emiliano Martinez no chance.
We’d seen this scenario too many times. There was an air of inevitably, or rather there would have been on any other day. Instead, Villa came back out attacking and within four minutes Ramsey had more than made amends, hitting Villa’s third from the edge of the area after good work by Ollie Watkins.
The rest of the match was played out in an air of calmness that was incredible given the circumstances. It might not have seemed so at the time, but Villa were in total control and never looked like letting this one slip, no matter how the opposition behaved as though rules don’t apply – some traditions date back a lot longer than 1995. The final whistle saw relief and euphoria mixed with the knowledge that everyone present had witnessed a special moment.
27 years. It was embarrassing, and now it’s finally over. Last time was by the same score, and the beginning of a season that saw a top four finish and a trophy. The first of those is unlikely, you never know about the second. There’s still a long way to go and the fact that while Villa may have risen to thirteenth in the league we’re still only three points away from the relegation places, is proof.
But that sort of realism is for tomorrow. Today, let’s celebrate.