Aston Villa and back on track

Villa win at Fulham, Dave Woodhall watches.

It’s not been a good few weeks for the Villa, and the last one has probably been the worst of the lot. Losing a game we should have won, and who we lost it to, more injuries and then some anonymous allegations aimed at senior staff members all added up to a feeling that the season was slipping away. It certainly wasn’t a good build-up to visiting a ground where we traditionally struggle.

At least Pau Torres was back and Unai Emery resisted the idea of starting Tim Iroegbanum, choosing to put Youri Tieleman in an advanced position with Leon Bailey out wide, or more accurately wherever he fancied. I’ll get back to him later.

Fulham seemed to be making the most of Villa’s weakened side and had a goal disallowed midway through the first half. This seemed to wake Villa up and it wasn’t long until Jacob Ramsey’s opportunism nicked the ball from a Fulham throw-in and Ollie Watkins gave Villa the lead. They could have got at least one more, with Bailey hitting the bar and Alex Moreno’s header being disallowed just before half-time because either his eyelash or Bailey’s toenail or some such interference with play had strayed offside. There’s no point getting angry about such decisions now – everyone must surely realise the flaws of VAR but doing something about it would mean the the football authorities admitting they’d made a mistake and that would never do.

Ten minutes after half-time Tielemans laid on Watkins for his second and that should have been the game won but a mix-up between Emiliano Martinez and Clement Lenglet let Fulham get a goal back and Villa had to dig in for the rest of the game. Fortunately, Torres has come back in the same form as he was showing before his injury and the difference in Villa’s defence was marked. To have someone with such assurance at the back rubs off on the rest of the team and when Fulham did get the ball past Torres, Martinez made up for his earlier mistake with a couple of late saves that made sure Villa got the points which put us back in the top four.

Talking of assurance, Iroegbanum finally came on in stoppage time and showed commendable calmness in helping Villa see out the game. Watkins deservedly got the headlines with his goals although everyone deserves prise and Bailey in particular is one of the most exciting players in the country on this form, Rarely have I seen a Villa player create such a buzz every time he gets the ball.

Three points and hopefully confidence restored. Not only has Fulham traditionally been a difficult place for Villa to visit but they’ve also become the sort of solid mid-table who on their day can match anyone, For Villa to go there and come away with a fully deserved win, which could have been more convincing considering the offside goal and an eve more contentious penalty turned down, shows that the season is far from over.