By Eamonn Smith
The away day started off as any normal trip to see the Villa would do, fans made their way to Stoke, many stopping off in Stone, a small town a few miles from Stoke for the obligatory pre-match drink. I personally traveled in a group of six on the train, a journey where we crossed paths with many other Villa fans feeling the buzz of anticipation for the big kick-off of the new season.
As we made our way to Stone, we approached the local Weatherspoons pub, that Villa fans have been attending for this fixture for as long as I can remember. With most of us sporting colours consisting of claret and blue, a group of about 20 people entered the pub, only to be turned away with the petty excuse of ‘no football fans’, even though there was a handful in Stoke colours enjoying an early morning pint.
Despite the hard work of many other Villa fans trying to persuade the bar women to let us stay (to enjoy cheaper drinks), nothing materialised and we found ourselves instead at a hotel bar named The Crown, where the majority of fellow Weatherspoon rejects started to congregate.
As more and more Villa fans began to enter the bar, the pre-match fever built, with the fact the first Premier League game of the season between Manchester United and Swansea City was on the TV, adding to it.
A quick mini bus trip later and the excitement was really kicking in. Chants of ‘My Old Man’ and ‘We Hate the Blues’ built up a good atmosphere as we made our way to the Britannia Stadium.
We could tell there was going to be a decent crowd, as stewards had to close three turnstiles based on the fact it was so busy on the concourse. But as we made our way in, through the few open turnstiles, the packed concourse of fans were all in-tune and the thousands of fans whom made the trip were ready to witness a solid performance by the Villa.
At this point you could also feel the nervousness and tension building up, as we waited in hope that the so-called underdogs could pull off a shock.
As the players entered the pitch right in front of the away faithful, the majority of the players acknowledged the great support. Cries of ‘Villa, Villa’ rang through the stadium and the atmosphere was buzzing.
As the half wore on Villa started to get into the game more and more. The crowd responded to this and started giving chants of encouragement to try and inspire their players to give a bit extra, ‘We’re by far the greatest team’ was belted out by the Villa fans.
With new signing Aly Cissokho playing right in front of the fans, his great first half performance didn’t half help him on his debut. Chants of ‘Ooo Aly Cissokho’ started, which could only mean positive things about our new left full-back.
The performance was promising, with Gabby Agbonlahor coming close from inside the six-yard box and with Stoke not really threatening at all, we felt we had a great chance of going on to win this game as the first-half whistle blew to end the first 45 minutes of our season.
As Villa attacked the travelling supporters in the second half, the early 50th minute Andreas Weimann goal sent us into ecstasy, as the number 10 equalled his tally of away goals from the previous campaign.
As the half went on Villa’s defence sat deeper and deeper and a more anxious atmosphere was present, but a huge roar went off with the introduction of Jack Grealish for his second Premier League substitution appearance after coming off the bench against Manchester City last season.
The change lifted the Villa fans, as the 18-year-old’s introduction gave us an outlet on the counter-attack. Entering stoppage time, with Stoke throwing on ex-Villa man Peter Crouch, we were on the edge of our seats hoping for the defensive partnership of new signing Philippe Senderos and Dutch World Cup star Ron Vlaar to stay strong and resolute as they had been all game.
Free shirt give away
As Villa held onto their slim 1-0 advantage, the final whistle blew and was greeted with a roar of joy from the Villa fans. As the players and manager Paul Lambert thanked the fans for their unconditional support. Débutants Aly Cissokho and Kieran Richardson threw their match shirts into the crowd and celebrated with their new supporters, capping off two impressive debuts.
As we slowly left the exit gates of the stadium, singing and chanting, our first away day success of the season suddenly made us all optimistic for the new season ahead! UTV
Home Atmos Rating
6/10 – Normally one of the better home supports, on the day the Stoke fans didn’t really live up to their hype this time round.
Follow Eamonn on Twitter – @EAmonn_Smith