Dave Woodhall and a couple of special guests watch Villa beat Nottingham Forest.
Some times take on a greater significance when you look back than it seemed they might beforehand. The past seven days might prove to be one of them.
A month ago we appeared to be starting April with a fairly routine week. Three games against mid-table teams; at worse it would be a chance to pick up enough points to get rid of any lingering doubts about relegation. More likely it would be three end of season matches with nothing much at stake; the sort Villa usually contrive to lose from an 84th minute goal. Instead, we’ve got nine points, had the national media starting to look at us and we’ve crept into the top six. In years to come we could look at the first week of April 2023 as the time when Villa became contenders.
After beating Chelsea and Leicester it was time for Nottingham Forest, out of form and sliding down the table to visit a Bank Holiday sell-out Villa Park. This is the sort of occasion where many a time we’ve persuaded ourselves that something is bound to go wrong, and often it has. On those occasions we’ve not had Unai Emery in charge. A lot of things have changed since he took over but the biggest seems to be that he’s made us feel invincible. Whatever might be happening on the pitch, there’s the impression that he knows the cause and can do something about it. Villa are a lot more mentally resilient than we have been for a long time, which went a long way towards winning on Saturday afternoon. It was a victory that started off hard-fought but ended up routine and that’s the hallmark of a successful side.
Villa were unchanged, with Emery resisting the temptation to start Bertrand Traore after his display in midweek, although it didn’t take long for him to make an appearance, with Leon Bailey going off injured after 28 minutes. There hadn’t been much to get worked up about by then and there was little more afterwards, with Ollie Watkins having a couple of half-chance in the first 45. Then not long after the break Traore found space, his first shot was saved but he was able to nip in to win the ball and place it with his usual inch-perfection. Rarely has a player been able to hit a shot so deftly; they’re invariably just outside the keeper’s reach and just inside the post.
Emiliano Buendia almost made it two and as the final whistle approached, time was running out for Ollie Watkins to score his obligatory goal. It took until the sixth minute of stoppage time but it was worth it, if only to look at the way Forest defended and remind yourself of just how bad Villa used to be in such situations. Watkins has got nine goals in eleven games, Villa have got nineteen points out of twenty-one.
Our next run of fixtures look a lot harder than the previous few but there’s not one I would be surprised if we won. That’s not wild optimism, it’s an honest opinion. Something’s stirring at Villa Park and after years of stagnation we’re on the way up. If, say, anyone brought their lad along to this match it’ll be a lot easier to persuade him to become a Villa supporter now than it has been for a long time. There’s a dynasty being built.