After three consecutive losses and a tough upcoming fixture list, with trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge immediately ahead, many Aston Villa supporters were billing Newcastle’s visit to Villa Park as a “must win”.
Despite a terrible recent record against the Toon Army, after 12 league games without a win, Villa delivered to a packed Monday night crowd and gave rise to optimism with their controlling performance.
Here’s five reasons to be cheerful as Villa fans, now that proper football is back and international breaks are on hold for a few months.
1.Return of the Cap…
What a difference Jack Grealish makes. It’s stating the obvious, but the way Villa’s captain carries the ball, commits the opposition and poses a constant probing threat, transforms what Villa can do as a team.
Going back to the previous match at Villa Park, while Villa did well in containing Liverpool for most of the game, perhaps Grealish would have given them the spark to get them over the line to three points.
England boss Gareth Southgate is no doubt keen to see what Grealish can do on a consistant basis and against the very best. With Villa’s tough fixture list in December, he should certainly get a good chance to size Grealish up for possible 2020 England duty.
In the Newcastle game, two fouls on Grealish led directly to Villa’s two first half goals that were orchestrated by Hourihane.
Conor Hourihane’s left foot has proven to work at every level of the game. The Irish midfield justified Dean Smith’s selection of him over Nakamba with two sweet first-half deliveries.
The first was a well-worked free kick, after a huddle of four Villa players, quickly became two, with Grealish laying off Hourihane to smartly curl it round the inside of the wall.
The second free kick saw Hourihane put it on a sixth pence for Anwar El Ghazi to convert from point-blank range.
The Irish international will perhaps expect to play more home games than away matches, when his cutting edge is useful in adding end product to possession.
Obviously, Hourihane is at times compromised by Grealish needing a freer role in midfield, but he’s certainly a key squad member to be rotated in and out.
Good performances from Hourihane will be key during a congested December fixture list.
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With Norwich and Southampton picking up points at the at the weekend, it left Villa one point above the drop zone, so a win at home to Newcastle was somewhat vital.
Villa are now the same distant in points to 6th place Sheffield United, as they are the bottom three.
So far this season, bar Liverpool, it’s been a case of teams beating each other to the extent that over half of the league teams only have four wins out of 13 games to their credit.
If Villa can start putting the finishing touches to some of the opportunities they’ve set up in games, then they can win points in a tough December period.
4.Third Clean Sheet Under the Sky
When the Sky TV cameras have come to Villa Park, Villa have registered three clean sheets in the games – Everton, West Ham and Newcastle.
Only Leicester City, Burnley, Manchester City, Sheffield United and Brighton have had more clean sheets this season, so far.
Some how, Villa have had more clean sheets than table toppers Liverpool (two).
Regarding the latest clean sheet, Ezri Konsa will be pleased with his defensive performance, while Frederic Guilbert once again proved his feisty and competitive defensive nature (one day a midfielder will spot one of his blazing forward runs).
5.Thick and Fast
After the stop-start nature of recent months with the international breaks, Villa games will now come thick and fast. Villa have eight fixtures in the month of December, in what will be a defining month.
As well as there being a big chance to cement a respectable league table position, Villa could also find themselves in a cup semi-final in 2020, if the 17th of December goes to plan.
If you’re not going to the Chelsea and Norwich games in December, they can be both watched for free by signing up for a free 30-day trail on Amazon Prime, if you’re not already a Prime member.
There’s 20 games free on Amazon Prime video in December. With Christmas on the horizon, it’s also good to have access to Amazon Prime for their free next day delivery service too, as it’s perfect for present buying.