A week ago, you’d have said back-to-back home wins against Everton and West Ham would have seen Aston Villa safe and sound in terms of the Premier League survival battle. Such has been the form of their relegation rivals though, despite the six points gained, it’s not over yet, but Hull’s failure to beat already relegated Burnley at home, means it’s as good as over.
Villa again dominated a stubborn opponent in the first half and were well worth their lead at half-time. West Ham made some long-ball bombardment attempts towards the end of the game, but despite a nervy crowd, it was relatively plain sailing for the original claret and blue pioneers.
Villa are now a joy to watch, so plenty of reasons to be cheerful for Aston Villa fans…
1. Home endeavour
In the last two home games both Everton and West Ham were tough physical opponents with sturdy backlines, but while Villa have struggled to break teams down at home for many seasons, the players now possess both guile and a willingness to make runs off the ball to open up visiting team’s backlines.
Jack Grealish ghosting in front of and around opponent’s backlines has been a huge plus in opening them up and creating chances for the team. Delph’s is now in the opposition’s final third much more frequently compared to the rest of his Villa career and the late runs of Cleverley from midfield have been a revelation.
The transformation has been astonishing and it should be interesting to see Villa’s home record at the end of next season. They should aim to be in double-figures in terms of wins.
2. Home expansion
“Where were you when we were sh*t” was jokingly sung by some Villa fans when the attendance of 39,294 was announced. Yes, some fans were there to boost their Wembley Cup Final ticket criteria, but a lot were there because it was finally worth/safe going back to Villa Park again.
After three seasons of serious sh**e, I for one don’t begrudge anyone for not wanting to waste anymore of their cash. And it was a waste of cash, because the club was being driven into the ground by both the owners and the previous management.
As we saw by the atmosphere against the Hammers, this is what it should be like to visit Villa Park. Some West Ham away fans remarked it was the best home atmosphere they had encountered this season.
Part of the potential spin-offs of the Sherwood effect, if Villa win the FA Cup and then crack on the improvement into next season with an exciting team that serves up winning football, is the increased gates may lead to the Villa board dusting down the plans to expand Villa Park.
With the weekend’s opponents West Ham moving into a 54,000 stadium soon, Villa may have to broaden their horizons to be competitive at the top end of the table and what Sherwood is currently doing may be the first step in the right direction.
3. Goal machine
We’ve covered it before in previous Five Reasons, but I’m going to say it again, Tom Cleverley – what a transformation! For me, it rates higher than the resurrections of the likes of Alan Hutton, Ciaran Clark and Shay Given. Three goals in three games too, which is just what Villa were crying out for. He’s a player that plays with his heart on his sleeve too. Two thumbs up.
Another win seals safety. Another point from Villa would leave Hull City needing to beat both Spurs and Manchester United in their final two games. Sunderland and Leicester also have to play each other, so at least one of those teams can’t go above Villa next week, whatever the results. Newcastle have sunk further. In many way it’s a shame Hull lost against Burnley, because if they had won, the Toon would be in the bottom three as you read this.
While Hull should be capable of at least beating Spurs, it’s hard now to see past Hull, Burnley and QPR as the final bottom three.
5. Sherwood Persuasion
You can be safe in the knowledge that Sherwood will do his very best in a) getting Benteke to stay and b) signing up Tom Cleverley, the first two concerns of the forthcoming summer.
In terms of Benteke, Sherwood’s already stated this week: “Benteke is going nowhere in the summer, no one can afford him.” That’s exactly the attitude we want. If Villa win the FA Cup and also win out the final two league games, Benteke should grace us with at least one more season. I for one would love to see him playing in a winning Villa team, where he can bang in between 20-30 goals in the season.
In terms of Cleverley, Sherwood joked in the Hammers post-match press conference: “I’m just going to tell him, if he doesn’t sign [for Villa], he’s not playing in the cup final!”
You better get signing Tommy boy!