A flying start with some scintillating football, ended up a nervy win over Everton, but the performance was typical of the great strides Villa have made as a team in recent weeks. Though Villa moved up the table significantly, other results mean they are still just two points off the drop zone. What have Aston Villa fans learnt as the final three league games beckon?
GIVEN THE CHOICE…
Brad Guzan was probably a little unlucky to be dropped against Everton – especially as his replacement didn’t have a whole lot to do over 90 minutes.
But Shay Given was… given…. the nod and he did well while conceding a penalty (and only just missing it) and a headed goal that should have been disallowed for the clear obstruction on him.
Guzan’s consecutive streak in goal is over, which is too bad, but there’s no room for sentiment when things are this tight. Sherwood wanted calm at the back, and got it. There’s no doubt Given has the respect of the dressing room and appears to be one of the boys, but also vast experience and a future in coaching and/or management ahead of him for sure.
Ron Atkinson dropped Nigel Spink for Mark Bosnich and if Bos kept a clean sheet, he stayed in. Eventually, even if he didn’t keep a clean sheet he stayed in, and a hero was born replacing a legend. Many of the complaints levelled at Bosnich are true of Guzan – Bossy’s goal kicks barely reached the halfway line but his reflexes were ridiculous. The real lesson here will be learned when we see who starts in goal against West Ham next weekend. Does he keep faith in Given? Or give Guzan another chance?
PLAYER OF THE YEAR DEFENDING TITLE
Interesting that this season under Lambert our best players were Hutton and Clark but now Sherwood has stamped his brand on the team, Fabian Delph hasn’t put a foot wrong.
Since the current Player Of The Year has been given the captain’s armband it’s lifted him to higher heights. His display on Saturday alongside Cleverley (yet another player who was obviously stifled under the last regime) and, to a lesser extent, Westwood was majestic. For a player who signed for £6m in 2009 and has dealt with some crippling injuries, he is peaking at the right time for Villa and England and Roy Hodgson will be rubbing his hands with delight at Delph’s form and the way Cleverley and Westwood have some real chemistry going on.
Cleverley’s goal was the cream of the crop against Everton. The through-ball from Bacuna was a peach but his touch and finish oozed confidence and after weeks and weeks of indifferent performances from the loanee, and times when this column shrugged its metaphoric shoulders at the thought of him going back to Manchester United or going to Everton when his contract runs out, it’s clear now he’s instrumental in Sherwood’s system and efforts must be made to keep him. I hope he forgives this column for the things we said when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was still manager.
Young-player-of-the-year-elect Jack Grealish could also make Hodgson’s day if he decides to go with England over Ireland on the international stage. And all of a sudden Villa go from having no England internationals in the national team, to one, to three or four (and Nathan Baker will be next).
Unbelievable? Maybe not any more. While his first goal was a trademark powerful header, what’s more unbelievable is that was unmarked at a corner for his second.
Another player finding form at just the right time is Benteke and while the club’s top-flight status is still up in the air, the good news is that Sherwood wants to extend his contract to keep him here until he’s as old as Given (we hope). R***gation would mean he’s on his way for sure and would mean a real struggle to get back up. But four points might be enough if the other teams around us finally cooperate, do what they’re supposed to and lose.
The way Benteke is playing he’ll get two more hat-tricks and we’ll be safe going into the last game. Then the carnival can begin – with him signing a new deal in the aftermath after kissing his FA Cup winners medal.
THE LOANEES RETURN
Gary Gardner, Darren Bent and Lewis Kinsella are among the loanees coming back to training this week. While Gardner isn’t registered to play in the 25-man squad, it’ll still give Sherwood a chance to take a look at him close-up, after he impressed at Forest.
With Bent in decent form for Derby (although he missed a crucial penalty in the last game of the season) and Gardner getting rave reviews for his appearances and goals with Forest, it will be interesting to see what happens next. Contracts will have to be considered and with Weimann and Gil barely in the frame, perhaps Sherwood can start a clear-out and have replacements all ready to go right after the final whistle at Wembley.
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