Villa beat Luton but the day ends on a sad note, as Dave Woodhall reports.
In the middle of a run like the one Villa are currently enjoying we’ll tend to look back and make comparisons with sides of the past. The obvious one is the all-conquering Class of 82 while the way we’re smashing the opposition at the moment is bringing back memories of 1976-77, as well as Ron Atkinson’s wonderful team from thirty years ago – and doesn’t that make you feel old?
At the end of a week where almost everything has gone right we were up against Luton, who have been doing better than expected, even if that’s a particularly low bar given how most people though they’d be relegated by Christmas. This being the Villa, there was almost a sense of fatalism in some quarters that something was bound to go wrong against such opponents, which in turn reminded me of something Ron, amongst other Villa managers, have often commented on – that one of the hardest things about managing the Villa is trying to get rid of the club’s mindset that something is bound to go wrong.
Which leads us onto Unai Emery. It was always going to be interesting to see how the team lined up given that we seem to have cracked this playing every weekend idea and Youri Tielemans in particular would have felt disappointed that he didn’t keep his place after a storming performance against Alkmaar. But as always, Unai knew best. Nicolo Zaniolo and Ollie Watkins could have opened the scoring early on before a Douglas Luiz free kick on seventeen minutes was worked to John McGinn, who made space and hit the ball home. Zaniolo could have scored another almost immediately afterwards but it wasn’t until early in the second half when Lucas Digne’s cross was knocked down to Moussa Diaby that Villa got their second.
After that it was just another a routine home win. Diaby’s knock-back led to an own goal for the third, Leon Bailey, who had come on at half-time, could have scored, McGinn was dominating midfield with another display of non-stop energy. Marvelous Nakamba got the ovation he deserved when leaving the pitch. Ezri Konsa’s first mistake for weeks saw a misplaced header rebounding off the bar and onto Emiliano Martinez to give Luton a consolation goal and you couldn’t help think of the times when that would have been the winner in a game where nothing else had happened.
But those days are gone and they aren’t coming back. It’s perhaps understandable given the number of false dawns we’ve endured to think that things are bound to go wrong because this is the Villa and they always do. But previously we’ve had to contend with either a manager who thought short-term, a chairman who wouldn’t gamble, or both. Now those positions are filled by men who are proven winners and who are determined to have as much success in the future as they have in the past.
And talking of the past, the day ended on a sad note as the news broke of Charlie Aitken’s death. More than fourteen years as a first-teamer, 660 appearances. Both are remarkable figures, as is the fact that Charlie made his debut alongside Johnny Dixon, who joined the Villa in 1946, and at the end of his career he was in a squad with Gordon Cowans, who was still playing for us in 1994. Almost fifty years spanned by three players – these are the standards set by great men.