Five Reasons to be Cheerful After Saints Win
By Armen Mirzoian
This column was started over a decade ago as an antidote to Villa misery, but the likelihood is that Villa fans are probably already feeling quite cheerful at the moment, but just in case, here are five more reasons to keep smiling.
A little over a year from last season’s tie at St Mary’s, which led to the sacking of Dean Smith, Villa took all three points in a dominant away performance. You’d never know if you watched it on Match of the Day, but Villa played well for the majority of the game; confidently keeping possession and showing more signs of Emery’s coaching paying dividends.
The home side had a 10 minute spell in the second half where they threatened Martinez’s goal but the Golden Glove winner matched everything apart from a goal correctly disallowed by VAR. While no one stood out in the limelight it was a strong team performance away at an in-form side fighting for their lives (supposedly). Most importantly, it provided three more points and left Villa three points away from 6th place (and 11 points from relegation for the benefit of the Sky Sports narrative).
In his very first game, Emery exorcised one of the club’s longest serving demons, he produced the fabled home win against Manchester United. Next, he secured the club’s first away win of the season.
The exorcisms didn’t stop there however, as Villa have now won three consecutive away games for the first time since November 2020, having only won three of their last 15. As if that wasn’t enough, Emery managed this feat with the players sporting the cursed ‘third kit’ at Southampton marking the first ‘third kit’ victory for three years (14 matches).
When performances started dipping under Steven Gerrard last season, the fans were told that there would be major changes to personnel since low standards wouldn’t be tolerated. Yet after the injuries to Carlos and Kamara in the opening weeks of this season, the line-up remained unchanged from last season, bar Matt Targett’s sale to Newcastle.
This made Emery’s open and honest press conference last week all the more enjoyable as he outlined the players that he was hoping to cut loose. Augustinsson, Sanson (now departed) and Nakamba had been told to move on with Ings, Archer (loan), Bednarek, Guilbert and Vassilev already out of the door. Emery has wasted no time in reshaping the first team and despite being a likeable man, he is clearly ruthless and demanding when it comes to personnel. Make no mistake, he is here to win.
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The signing of Danny Ings both excited and baffled supporters. How would they both play? Would either be happy being rotated? Well, the reality is that despite being the club’s best finisher, Ings’ role was never clearly defined and his chances came few and far between.
Whether it was the fans returning to grounds, his newborn baby keeping him up or the pressure of Ings breathing down his neck, Watkins has never looked quite the same since the 2021/22 season began. Perhaps with Ings’ departure Ollie can gain some confidence at being the main man again and someone that Emery has publicly praised for his overall contribution to the starting XI.
The wins against Leeds and Southampton have demonstrated that Villa are turning the corner and showing the qualities needed to attack the top half of the table. During the past three seasons, Villa have failed to capitalise on the ‘winnable’ fixtures in key moments.
Undeniably there will be bumps in the road but a gap has opened up between Villa and Crystal Palace while the teams above are within touching distance. With 18 games remaining, and hopefully some additions in January, it may finally be time to look up as Villa fans rather than down.