By Chris Kemps
A “rollercoaster” of a week implies ups and downs, screams of terror and laughs of delight, and perhaps the pondering if the money spent on the ride could have been spent better elsewhere. I think that describes the last couple of games at Villa Park and transfer deadline day pretty well.
To describe the defeat to Leyton Orient as a “shock” depends on your point of view. MK Dons beating Manchester United was a shock, regardless of the stature of the players wearing the United shirts. But a non-partisan fan would not have felt that Villa crashing out of a cup contest to lower league opposition is anything too surprising given their recent history in knock-out contests.
The win over Hull was a high, marred by a second half comeback and a stunning display of GBH on Villa’s hottest prospect. And everyone has an opinion on Villa’s past-the-deadline signing.
What we learnt as Villa fans…
The Orient Exit
The Villa display was unlike many seen of late, but the squandering of a glut of chances made it no less frustrating than the recent trend of creating so little in front of goal. Darren Bent needs to sharpen up. He’s still doing a lot of the things that made him a fan favorite before Benteke displaced him, but as the tie dragged on and frustration was setting in, the Orient players had every right to feel more confident. Lambert’s lament that we made enough chances to win three games would have frustrated him more than most – but you have to put the ball in the net. There were thirteen shots, but just one on target. In the win over Stoke, Villa had seven shots, and one on target: a reminder that goals win games and they are going to remain at a premium until #20 is back on the field.
During the summer, Villa fans were incredulous that players like Tom Ince were joining Hull City instead of Aston Villa. Managed by ex-Blues player and manager Steve Bruce and with ex-Villa, ex-Blues Curtis Davies in the heart of defense, there’s not a lot to like about them on paper. But Villa will be wishing they could play them every week after a truly dominant first half. The goals were well taken, the defence full of strength and power, and the midfield won the battle in the centre of the field.
But wait… this was the same XI that had put in such a lacklustre performance against Newcastle the previous weekend? What was different? The easy answer is that Hull were knackered after their Europa League defeat midweek. The two goals in the first half were what Villa deserved after some insightful short passing and some good fortune, but the big difference? The confidence that had deserted them against Orient was there in abundance. The midfield aren’t as concerned about pushing forward knowing the defence is tighter in their absence and they are prepared to take more chances up-field. It was a professional performance where the flair that is so rare to see under Lambert’s hard working counter-attacks was the missing ingredient. It wasn’t just pretty, it was productive.
Grealish Needs Bigger Shin Guards
The introduction of Jack Grealish into the game was followed by a barbaric welcome to the game from the Hull team. Barely ten seconds after trotting on to the field, he was on his back. Five minutes later, he was on the grass again and the first of three bookings given for fouls on the young English/Irishman was awarded. The next two fouls and bookings came in the next six minutes.
Can you remember any other Villa player getting treated like that? If he’s going to be a marked man, he might want to reconsider upgrading from the youth (s) sized protective pads.
The carnival of the Tom Cleverley signing was borderline pantomime farce. But through all the is-he, isn’t he coming rumours, followed by the announced transfer fee prompting “we could do better with that amount of cash” comments, then the off-to-Everton stories (which prompted “we didn’t want him in the first place” rebukes)… It went on past the deadline – literally. But the image of our man wearing the Villa shirt was polarizing for the most part, even if a lot of begrudging responses were along the lines of “he’s here now, let’s back him”, it proves that Villa fans can be won over just by a player saying the right things, then doing the right things.
It’s part of the reason Alan Hutton has been so warmly welcomed back into the fold. So maligned for such a long time, then back in favour because he’s played well and said and done the right things.
The low-risk of the Cleverley loan sweetens the deal, and if he can get up to fully match fit for the difficult run of games Villa have in store, he could be the top-selling shirt in the Villa Village in time for Christmas.
Who would have thought that when his agent was on the phone to Bobby Martinez?
To the Villa-supporting England fan, Tom Cleverley used to be a bit of a nemesis for Fabian Delph. They would claim Cleverley was only in the England team above Delph because he played for Manchester United.
Well, ironically as soon as the playing field was made even with Cleverley joining Villa, hours later Delph was slipping on an England shirt for the first time.
In his second-half cameo the Villa dynamo certainly helped liven the England team up. His passing was spot-on and his running off the ball to support the attack was impressive. Constantly getting into advanced positions throughout the later stages of the game, it’s hopefully a sign of things to come now that Sanchez and Cleverley will add more bite to the Villa midfield.
Delph certainly looked comfortable for England and he should be a regular in the squad moving forward.