Aston Villa and another step on the journey

Villa beat Newcastle and Dave Woodhall is getting a bit carried away.

Some time ago I realised that the world was moving too fast for me, especially where football’s concerned. I used to think the only thing that mattered was scoring more goals than the opposition, then along came possession stats. I got the hang of that then ‘assists’ was the new buzz word, then xG – which I will never understand, mainly because I refuse to even try. All this newfangled stuff meant that there’s been some talk in the days leading up to Saturday’s match about how Villa’s recent winning run is lucky, we’re over-extending ourselves for some reason and it won’t last. Right so.

Arriving at Villa Park on Saturday morning were Newcastle United, who if I was being fair I would say are on a roll and so far this season are providing an object lesson in how to be taken over successfully. I’m not fair; they’re still the same self-important, thin-skinned mob they always were, with big talk yet still wound up over a banner from fourteen years ago. They’ve been getting all the attention, we’re still going along largely ignored.

Unai Emery showed the managerial genius we’re already taking for granted, with a team and a different approach for every occasion – Leander Dendoncker was brought in to provide more midfield aggression, Newcastle tend to sit back so get right into them from the off. And yet again it worked. Ollie Watkins hit the post in the opening seconds, then headed down a cross for Jacob Ramsey to open the scoring after eleven minutes. He might have got an assist, but credit to John McGinn for a superb cross. Ramsey hit the bar, Villa were well in control but it was still only one-nil at the break and the lucky run has got to end some time so you can never be sure.

We should have been a lot surer when Watkins got the ball into the net only for the goal to be ruled out because a clear and obvious eyelash had strayed offside. No matter; two minutes later Alex Moreno steamed forward yet again, Watkins held off a couple of defenders and this time the goal stood. Seven minutes from time Villa win the ball, a couple of passes and Watkins gets his second, which everyone watching the match knew should have been his hat-trick.

And that was it. A routine win against opposition who weren’t up to much. Nothing to really get excited about. Or if you prefer, the best performance with supporters in the ground for years. You can argue about when we last played so well, but it won’t be long before we play even better, because this team is improving all the time. It was created on the back of another managerial masterclass and players who are turning in, week after week, performances way beyond anything they’ve seemed capable of before. Watkins is the most in-form striker in the country, Moreno is a revelation, Tyrone Mings and John McGinn are footballers reborn. If anyone thinks what we’re witnessing from the Villa now is down to luck, more fool them.

Newcastle have been getting a lot of praise and, dare I say it, respect from people who want a change from the Sky 4/Big 6/whatever combination of words and numbers you might care to use, and they’ll still be getting it next week. We’ll keep being ignored. We should be used to it by now – no matter what we do and regardless of the opposition, we’ll always be the unfancied club, the ones there just to make up the numbers. Not that it matters – we keep getting better and where it will all end, your guess is as good as mine.