Aston Villa and back to normal

Dave Woodhall enjoys Villa winning 5-0 at Sheffield United.

Back in August Sheffield United away never looked like it was going to be a particularly noteworthy game but the way Villa have been playing recently it could have been the most important of the season to date. After the slip-ups that have been coming since Christmas another defeat could have been a massive confidence blow, particularly as this is the Villa we’re talking about and we spend too much of our time hunting for grey clouds amongst the silver linings. At the other extreme the earlier kick-offs went our way, meaning that not only would a win help dispel a lot of the doubts that have started to build but also put us back in the top four and with a healthy cushion over the bottom fifteen.

The boss had his team selection pretty much forced on him by a combination of injury and poor form, with Moussa Diaby on the bench alongside new signing Morgan Rogers. Ezri Konsa was at right-back again, which always causes a few disagreements although they didn’t last long as Villa went to work. It took twelve minutes as Douglas Luiz laid the ball through to Ollie Watkins, whose shot was cleared off the line and fell perfectly for John McGinn, who in turn only had to tap the ball in but full credit to him for his run through midfield to be in the right place.

Four minutes later Luiz’s next ball was even better, as was Watkins’ shot. Two-nil and the boos were ringing around Bramall Lane. Another four minutes later Luiz was involved again but this time the credit was all Leon Bailey’s as once more he took on a couple of defenders and curled the ball perfectly into the top corner of the net for a trademark third.

The next goal took ten minutes to arrive courtesy of a thundering edge of the box shot from Youri Tielemans, via the crossbar. This was the cue for the trickle of home supporters leaving the ground to turn into a steady stream although there were no further goals before half-time. Two minutes after the re-start Watkins picked up the ball and crossed for Alex Moreno, unmarked inside the box, to get Villa’s fifth. It says a lot about the performance that this was the first goal which had been down to defensive mistakes rather than Villa’s ability.

Five-nil with probably fifty minutes to go and here was the chance for Villa to really rattle up an embarrassing scoreline but perhaps with one eye on Wednesday’s cup replay and bearing in mind that lack of depth they settled for sitting back and getting through the rest of the game with little fuss and no injuries. Luiz had come off at half-time, his work already done, and as the second half progressed there were run-outs for Jacob Ramsey and Tom Iroegbanum, plus ten minutes of Morgan Rogers, who could have marked his debut with a sixth goal had he not snatched at a late chance.

You can’t take much from a match like this except three points and renewed confidence; Sheffield United are doomed and perhaps with a record low points total. In the old days such a result would probably have been accompanied by some disgruntled supporter running up to the dugout and throwing his season ticket at the manager but a plastic card doesn’t have the same effect. There will be harder battles to come; this afternoon put Villa in much better shape to fight them.