Aston Villa and the road starts here

Villa beat Middlesbrough in the FA Cup third round. Dave Woodhall is wondering…

Round about this time every year the Villa manager gives a press conference ahead of the FA Cup third round where he says what a bad record we have in the competition and how it’s about time we put it right. Then we don’t. In the run-up to the start of 2024’s triumph of hope over experience another Amazing Fact came up – we haven’t got past the third round since 2016, and we all know how that season ended. Lose this one and we’d break a record for the top two divisions.

Whatever the omens might say, Villa had hopefully travelled up to Middlesbrough thinking about this season rather than the past 67 years of failure. There was always going to be a few changes to the team and we got them, with Jhon Duran given another chance to show what he can do and Douglas Luiz amongst others given at least some of the day off. It’s taken a while for Villa to get the hang of this squad rotation thing but they seem to have managed it now, and if the scoreline showed that the game was close then what happened during the ninety minutes proved that three- or four-nil wouldn’t have been unfair.

Villa started off well with Duran looking sharp and having one chance where he could perhaps have done better while the returning Boubacar Kamara also had a good shot saved. There wasn’t a great deal else in the first half as Villa did what we’ve seen so often in matches like this – the better team keeping the ball, not taking risks and waiting for the opposition to make a mistake. Of course, until now it’s been Villa who were the other team, battling hard but in the final analysis just not being good enough to do anything conclusive. We’ve got to get used to the tables being turned and our team dominating without being overwhelming.

In the second half Villa should have had a penalty when Alex Moreno was brought down but without VAR we could only shrug and get on with the game, which the traditionalists amongst us say should happen all the time. McGinn had a chance, Ezri Konsa hit the post and as the game wore on Villa showed another example of the gulf between the two clubs when bringing on four substitutes who between them were worth more than the entire population of Middlesbrough. Still Villa had chances, still they didn’t go in until with three minutes to go Douglas Luiz took a short corner, seemed to mis-place his second ball but Matty Cash had enough room to hit his shot via a defender and just inside the post.

Commentators looking for the magic of the cup will say Villa were lucky with such a late goal but if it had been scored three minutes from the start rather than the end it would have been the same end result. Villa had most of the possession and almost all of the chances. There weren’t many of the team who could say they were on top form although they didn’t have to be. They won, we’re in the fourth round and with one annoying bad run out of the way perhaps, just possibly, we might dare to dream that an even longer one might be coming to an end.