Villa best Manchester City on a memorable night. Dave Woodhall reports.
For far too long we’ve tended to regard opponents such as Manchester City, strangely enough, as unimportant. Villa are expected to lose and whatever the result it’ll often be said that such games won’t define our season; what really counts is how we get on against teams of equal ability. That idea has gone now – Manchester City, particularly at home, are exactly the sort of opposition we have to match ourselves against. No-one is suggesting that we might finish above them, but any side with top four pretentions have got to be able to compete in a one-off match with the best.
The team Unai Emery selected to start the match was a bit of an eye-opener, with Matty Cash again on the bench and Ezri Konsa staying at right-back. It was, as was said, the manager’s away line-up and Villa’s travelling form definitely doesn’t bear comparison with the best. Perhaps he was thinking that against such strong opposition best to soak up the pressure then rely breaks and set-pieces. Or perhaps he knows what he’s doing, every single time.
Villa didn’t do a particularly good job of soaking up the overwhelming pressure; there wasn’t much of it. In fact, where it mattered they barely touched the ball at all. City had a couple of shots early on but Emiliano Martinez coped with them and for the rest of the night he may as well not have been there. This wasn’t a fluke win by a side who would have lost on another night; from the first minute to the last Villa outplayed, outpassed, outfought, outeverythinged the European champions, the team who six months ago were being hailed as the best ever and who are certainly the most expensively-assembled of all time. Our manager out-thought the supposedly best in the business. None of that is exaggeration. It’s stone cold, absolute fact.
We won one-nil. It could have been three or four. Leon Bailey and Pau Torres had good chances saved early in the game while John McGinn was inches wide. Somehow there were no goals in the first half and for almost half an hour of the second. Then Leon Bailey got the ball, beat one player, didn’t so much turn another as corkscrewed him into the ground and his shot may have been deflected but never has a bit of luck been so deserved. So many Villa players have been making headlines this season that Bailey’s added consistency in recent weeks has almost gone un-noticed; he’s always had undoubted ability, now he’s showing it in every match.
You might have expected the visitors to bring on substitutes to change the game and thrown everything forward desperate attempt to salvage at least a point. They brought on three and they might as well have kept the ones they replaced on the pitch for all the difference they made. To throw everything forward you have to have it in the first place and whatever Manchester City had this evening was snuffed out without a second thought. Then again, for all they have now and all they might have in the future, every drop of oil in the Gulf will never be able to buy a crowd like we saw, and heard, at Villa Park tonight. We matched ourselves against the best and in every aspect we came out winners.