Villa beat Leeds as Dave Woodhall forgives and almost forgets.
They owed us this one. Nothing could erase what happened on Sunday but the least we could expect was a performance that showed the team had learned from it and it will never happen again.
Alex Moreno was, as expected, on the bench and the two big surprises were Ollie Watkins up from and Leon Bailey keeping his place, presumably for a definitely, final, absolutely last chance. If that was the reason he showed that Unai Emery had made the correct decision within three minutes. Ashley Young cleared a Leeds corner with an inch-perfect pass to Boubacar Kamara, who burst through in the first of his many examples of midfield generalship of the night.
So that was one choice proved right; the trouble was we never really had the opportunity to see what the other two would have done. Lucas Digne went off injured after ten minutes, Moreno came on and looked very tidy indeed, introducing himself with a goal-line clearance to save a certain equaliser. Watkins also went off, after 32 minutes and bringing on Danny Ings meant changing the team round, with Danny Ings seeing to drop back ad Baily playing more centrally.
Leeds had a couple of chances but Emiliano Martinez did what he usually does, and when the visitors did get the ball into the net it was ruled out for offside, which was so unfair because one of the strangest things about football is how Leeds have been built up into some Big Club. This means that every decision has to go their way, every decent performance is Messi-like and every game where they might possibly claim to be unlucky is an all-time travesty of justice. No, I don’t know why either.
One up at half-time. They weren’t playing particularly well, but we were winning and nothing else was all that important.
The team improved after the break and on 64 minutes Bailey cut inside again, hit a shot that the Leeds keeper could only parry and Emiliano Buendia headed home the rebound. The flag was up but luckily VAR is the finest invention of all time and the goal was given. That should have been the game won, particularly when Leeds’ response was to bring on the perenially-injured Patrick Bamford. So naturally Villa’s defence left him unmarked in front of goal to make the final minutes more anxious than they should have been.
They didn’t have to be, because almost immediately after conceding, Philippe Coutinho’s forty-yard lob went inches over the bar. On another night it would have gone in, as it was Villa managed to see the rest of the game out without any real danger. That, at least, is one thing we’ve learned from last Sunday.
Kamara, Young and Martinez shone, as always. The rest were scarcely on top form, although this really was a match when the result mattered more than the performance. Eleventh, level on points with Chelsea, thirteen from six games and a couple of winnable ones coming up. That’ll do for starters.
And so, are they forgiven? It’s the Villa – they’ll be forgiven for anything, forever.