Aston Villa and it came right at the end

Villa’s week ends with a good win at Chelsea and Dave Woodhall content.

It’s been one of those weeks that we’re going to have to get used to. The Conference League game away to Legia Warsaw came at the start of a hectic fixture schedule so it was only to be expected that a few players would be rotated. I don’t suppose Villa supporters are different to any others in that we understand why changes have to be made, we just don’t like them and if the team lose it’s the manager’s fault for messing around too much.

Villa lost in Warsaw thanks predominantly to some calamitous defending so naturally it was all Unai Emery’s fault and he’d better put it right for the Sunday afternoon trip to Stamford Bridge against a Chelsea side who had no such distractions, and look like they might not for some time to come. The boss went back to more or less his tried and tested selection with Nicolo Zaniolo keeping his place while Boubacar Kamara and Ollie Watkins were perhaps lucky to keep theirs. Kamara has been out of form all season while Watkins has been batting away but hadn’t as yet got the bit of luck that can send a top striker on the sort of goalscoring run he’s proved capable of before now.

It was an open first half, with Zaniolo and Lucas Digne forcing good saves, both moves coming from corners, while Emiliano Martinez was also busy at the other end. It was still goalless at the break and the second half started off lively enough with Chelsea having a man sent off for a challenge that could have been described as a bit rash. VAR did its job well again with that one.

With fifteen minutes to go Watkins got that bit of luck he needed when Moussa Diaby broke and laid the ball off for him. Although he was tackled the ball fell back perfectly for a shot that hit the inside of the post before creeping into the net. A couple of inches either way meant the difference between Watkins’ goalless spell continuing and, hopefully, the start of another run of scoring. Some things are that close.

It’s always impressive to see substitutions made with a specific gameplan in mind rather than in desperation. Jacob Ramsey came on and immediately looked a class apart; if he keeps injury-free for the rest of the season surely even Gareth Southgate can’t ignore him. Chelsea had got behind Villa’s line a couple of times but Martinez had been solid throughout and he did so again as the game wound to a close. Twelve minute stoppage time were conjured up from somewhere and although Martinez got his inevitable booking Villa held firm and another away win was no more than the team deserved.

Three more points and to be sixth in the table without having hit anything like top form hints at the potential in Unai Emery’s side. It’s certainly more than Chelsea, who look like an upmarket version of Villa a few years ago – big money spent but on individuals rather than a team. There’s no cohesion, no discernible pattern and long may it continue. Brighton next Saturday will be a much harder test – and who would have thought that twelve months ago?