After an exciting win against a strongly-fancied Bournemouth, Aston Villa fans had two reasons to celebrate and a few lessons to be learned.
Let’s not beat around the bush – the first half of the game on Sunday was business as usual. There was little penetration, and even though Andreas Weimann looked far more comfortable in front of the goal as opposed to near the corner flag the stats don’t lie: 0 shots on target, 0 goals.
Of course the stats at the end didn’t lie either: 2 shots on target, 2 goals. Credit goes to Hutton, a true rampant full-back who had lost his fair share of battles to Fraser before finding the ball for Weimann to bury his goal. And of course, to Carles Gil who was getting lumped in between finding the occasional ball through the midfield in the first half. He started the second half a little wider and pumped up.
His goal was a beauty and with Benteke anonymous, it lifted the crowd and carried the team through for the win.
But certainly credit where it’s due. The success came from a change in tactics which Lambert himself spelled out in his press conference. “I thought the middle of the pitch was too congested in the first half,” he said. “We changed it at half-time and played a different system…. We looked really good in the second half.”
He’s right and deserves his props. It’s not often fans have seen a noticeable switch in tactics mid-game, let alone one that paid off. In the recent past when losing the kick-and-rush only got kickier and rushier and only a couple of times was the new and improved, but duller than dishwater, pass-heavy borefest abandoned as time was running out (when Guzan has been pushed up to try and sneak a goal).
As the only team in the top flight who doesn’t have a substitute that has scored a goal this season, it’s clear work needs to be done on in-game changes but this was a satisfying win against one of the top-scoring teams in world football.
The news that was alluded to on Twitter by the club ended up being more surprising than many fans expected – and also pretty great. Delph signing a new contract after so much speculation that he would be one of the first to jump ship to a team already better than Villa was good news in itself.
From a financial point of view, keeping the player signed by Martin O’Neill for £6m in 2009 under contract is a big score. Under the current regime he has broken into the England squad and is considered a key part of the national team’s rebuilding ahead of the European Championships. If he had been allowed to leave for peanuts or on a free, replacing him would have been very difficult.
For morale too, he said all the right things in his video message, he is one of only a few leaders on the field, and if he is willing to commit to Villa at one of the club’s low points it means, as with Benteke before him, the promise of a strong spine to the team at least will be the foundation for further team growth.
If Lambert’s legacy is that he secured Benteke and Delph on new deals to help move the club up the table, that would be okay with many fans. He might not be getting results, but he’s talked two players who could have moved on to bigger things into staying and being part of the solution. More props are due.
Delph’s best years are ahead of him and hopefully they’ll be at a Villa showing more ambition than the club has in recent seasons.
WHO LOVES YOU, BABY
Kozak was reportedly coming back to light training this week, which is fantastic news not just for the unfortunate striker but for the team. There is nobody on the squad who can come close to replacing Benteke for height, presence, heading ability and positioning. But Libor Kozak showed he’s the best we have on the team to come close.
Lambert is in no rush to bring him into a game following his collapse from his nasty leg break, which is sensible. But to have that option on the bench: to either double the potential target man threat or to replace Benteke without reducing that centre forward threat too significantly, would be very welcome.
Let’s just hope he’s not our first substitute to score this season…when he comes back in late February/early March. UTV
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