As Villa kicked off the traditional preseason match-up against Walsall at the Bescot Stadium a rendition of “When the Villa Go Marching in” was merrily chanted by the away fans, despite Vlaar’s absence from the squad leaving them wondering if the Saints might come marching in with a transfer offer. Still, with so much uncertainty in the offering for the new season, there was still a good atmosphere as Paul Lambert oversaw the penultimate preseason friendly as the Villa faithful (3,837) out-numbered the home fans (total crowd 6,559).
Early familiar chants comparing the Bescot to the garden sheds of the Villa fans did little to unnerve Dean Smith’s League One side who kept the first half fairly competitive, at one point forcing Guzan to make an excellent one-on-one save.
Villa didn’t do much in the first half in truth, so it was a bit of a surprise to see Hutton fire home the game’s only goal, as he got to grips with an experimental right wing-back role. It was a chance that was probably more difficult to miss, but nevertheless it was the defender’s first ever Villa goal. Only re-watching the video highlights will tell us if Hutton kissed the badge on his shirt or was simply wiping away sweat.
The previously-exiled Scot looked like he had a point to prove and moments after opening the scoring he had a chance to put away a second goal that was missed. The half-ironic chants of Alan Hutton’s name that followed might become increasingly common throughout the upcoming season as it seems Lambert is willing to give the ex-Spurs defender a crack at the first team despite question marks over his suitability.
Villa grew in confidence after the goal and passed the ball around well, albeit with a slightly worrying lack of urgency (though it was a friendly after all) and by the end of the first-half there were quiet murmurs of frustration. It was pleasing, then, to see that the half-time substitutions offered something of a boost.
The almost-forgotten Enda Stevens, who featured in the second half, didn’t shy away from getting forward – when Delph got the ball to him. Stevens though often found himself in plenty of space on the left without getting the ball he needed from the Villa midfielder, much to the Villa fan’s derision.
There was a funny moment when Delph finally got the ball to the Irishman and the away crowd erupted in sarcastic cheers, prompting the midfielder to grin at the Villa faithful and clench his fists in mock-celebration.
Delph in particular continued to be a dynamic player to watch at the heart of Villa’s midfield as he was given a full run-out, while the players substituted on in the second-half were evidence that there is some degree of squad depth at Villa, if it can be utilised correctly. Walsall didn’t have much of the ball in the second half and Villa’s control of the game was certainly a positive. Set-pieces seemed to have improved as well – although Senderos missed a couple of decent chances from corners.
Villa’s preseason games continue to give few clues to what Villa’s first XI will be like come the start of the season. It’s difficult at this stage to see who figures in Lambert’s plans with more expected in’s and out’s to come before the close of the summer transfer window. Shortly after Villa fans departed the Bescot Stadium the Telegraph reported that Lerner was in town and is willing to sanction £10 million towards new players. If this turns out to be true, it would certainly inject some optimism around the club and suggest that Villa might possess a competitive squad to look a little further up the league than most fans expect to finish.
As tonight’s match showed though, there is a lot of room for improvement on the pitch and in the balance of the squad. An unpredictable season certainly beckons.
Follow Lewis on Twitter