Aston Villa and the Caledonian connection

Villa beat Hibernian with Dave Woodhall continuing to enjoy himself.

One thing we know for sure now is that Unai Emery takes cup competitions seriously. Admittedly, he’d never won a tie with Villa and the latest had been one of our biggest-ever humiliations but any doubts about just how much he wants the Conference League were dispelled an hour before kick-off. A virtually full-strength Villa side were to face Hibs, and after years of being surprised at how many changes Villa managers could make for knockout games it was good to be equally surprised at how few Emery was making.

There’s always something special about an England v Scotland clash, but the days when the Scots could match their old rivals in anything other than effort are long gone, swept away on a tide of television money – this week Villa are selling two youngsters for more than all but two Scottish clubs could dream of paying for an entire team. Hibs were never in this game, and in truth were fortunate that Villa coasted throughout much of the second half, otherwise all sorts of records might have been in danger.

Villa could have already scored a couple when Lucas Digne’s pinpoint cross was headed in perfectly by Ollie Watkins after eighteen minutes. Watkins and Leon Bailey could both have scored again before Watkins was left unmarked at a corner for the second.

Just before half-time another Digne cross was met by a bullet header, this time from Leon Bailey, and what little doubt there was about the match was over. Of course, there had to be a setback, and Emiliano Martinez failed to come out after the break for what, please God, is nothing kore than a precaution.

Digne, again, laid on another goal for Watkins soon after half-time with the help of VAR and a serious hammering looked possible. but there’s only so much that even a manager such as Unai Emery can expect from his team in such a situation. Four substitutes came on and the match took on the feel of a friendly. Bertrand Traore, one of the fresh arrivals, was brought down inside the area and Douglas Luiz scored his second penalty in four days.

Five-nil, nine goals in two games and both wins coming with the team barely having to break sweat. Villa’s midfield dominated the opposition with the wings full of attacking flair. Guest of honour Des Bremner couldn’t have failed to be impressed with the non-stop running of the Villa team and, if he was watching, Alex Cropley would also have loved the way his successors sprayed the ball round the pitch while fighting to win it back on the rare occasions when they lost possession.

Hibs are the fourth or fifth best team in Scotland, Villa probably the sixth or seventh best in England and the scoreline shows the gulf that now exists between the two leagues. It was all too easy and the return leg will be a formality. In fact, it will be interesting to see what sort of team Emery puts out for this one. Surely in the circumstances he will rest a few players, but with this manager you never know. One thing I do know, though, is that right this minute we’d be daft to sell Lucas Digne.