Aston Villa and the new resolution

Villa win at Spurs as Dave Woodhall looks ahead.

Villa used to have a good record on New Year’s Day. It was probably some plot by the footballing Gods to make us think that this year really was going to be different, and the euphoria it brought on tended to last until just after kick-off in the next match. We also had a good record at Spurs. Put these two together and an old traditionalist such as I should have been confident about getting something from the visit to North London’s second-finest.

The teams were announced and there’s still no World Cup-winning keeper, although the opposition have got a World Cup runner-up in goal. Hmmm. No great surprises with the rest of the line-up, so what you see is what you get with Villa attempting to do what most teams manage and prevent Spurs from scoring in the first half. And it wasn’t particularly difficult, as apart from one chance early on, the home side didn’t do much to encourage their on-the-brink-of-revolt supporters. Villa didn’t create much either, apart from a run from Ollie Watkins that should have ended better, but that was just part of the masterplan.

Five minutes into the second half and Douglas Luiz’s long-range shot was spectacularly spilled by Spurs’ World Cup loser. Watkins did well to pick up the rebound and lay the ball off for Emiliano Buendia to give Villa the lead. If we’d conceded one like that I’d have been ranting about poor keeping and slack marking; at the other end it was, of course, a moment of goalpoaching magic.

Unai Emery came in for some criticism over his lack of substitutes on Boxing Day, but he made one perfect change here when Leon Bailey was replaced by Matty Cash to provide more strength out wide. Seventeen minutes to go and Boubacar Kamara won the ball in midfield, John McGinn played it inch-perfectly and Luiz ran through for Villa’s second. After that the only concerns came when Luiz and Ezri Konsa went off limping. It wouldn’t be the Villa without injury problems, although at least the fifteen minutes including stoppages that remained passed by without incident.

I said after the Liverpool game that Villa seemed to know what they wanted to do, but they had to think rather than do it instinctively. This was a game where whatever they did, they knew it was going to go right. It wasn’t a soak up the pressure and hit on the break type of performance; Spurs didn’t put us under anywhere near enough pressure for that. We dominated midfield with Kamara looking the sort of player other clubs sign and we wonder why we can’t. Luiz was equally good while McGinn showed what he can do when he’s played further forward.

Two other players deserve a mention. Robin Olsen has come in for some fearful abuse and while today wasn’t a goalkeeping masterclass, he did what he had to. You can’t expect much more from a stand-in. Then there’s Ashley Young, whose early goal-line clearance proved significant. He can’t be expected to do it twice a week for lengthy periods, but at the moment he’s in the team because he deserves to be there. ‘Rolling back the years’ isn’t just a cliche in his case, it’s a fact.

That’s nine points from four games for Emery, when no-one could have expected so many and successive defeats were a real possibility. The next four seem a bit easier and although we’ve been here before, a repeat of the professionalism seen against Spurs will make the league table in a month’s time look a lot better.