Villa Away Day at Crewe Puts a Spring in the Step for the New Season
Gresty Road was the destination for Aston Villa’s first pre-season win, and boy was it emphatic.
Having arrived early in order to soak up the atmosphere, the search was immediately on for the away pub (via the local chippy of course). On our search, verbal abuse came by some Crewe fans in a passing van. This certainly didn’t seem like a ‘friendly’ – but having followed Villa on the road for years, I’m used to that by now. In fact, I kind of like it. For the first time since Concrete Ron’s spectacular half volley against Wigan, I felt like football was truly back.
The away pub was an inferno. Hot. Too hot. Despite the glorious sunshine you couldn’t take your pint outside, we stayed sweaty and uncomfortable indoors (though our feet were sticking so firmly to the pub’s grotty floor it probably wasn’t a choice), but with the Villa chants in full flow, we enjoyed it.
Then it was time to enter the ground. With one side of the stadium filled and sold out already by Villa fans, Crewe opened up the stand behind the goal to the left of the travelling supporters to allow for even more to watch the match, which benefited me and my pal greatly, having bought tickets only on the day. Though our stand wasn’t quite full it was still quite loud and banterous.
We were also extremely close to the pitch, so much so that you could smell the Villa boys as they did their sprints in the warm up. Tony Moon smelled lush… At one point I also tried to exchange a bit of banter, with a lighthearted ‘nice touch Matty’ as Lowton came to collect a ball he had miscontrolled in the warm up. He didn’t seem best pleased by my commentary.
Crewe’s is a proper football ground, very traditional yet stylish. My pal and I both noted that Town Park, the generic stadia given to lower league teams on FIFA, was most probably modelled on Gresty Road.
Right from the off, several verses of ‘Ohhhhh Christian Benteke’ from the Villa fans lent our Belgian hitman incredible support. There were a few Villans who attempted to debut a new song to the tune of Robbie Williams’ ‘Candy’ but it failed to materialise with the adjoining stand.
‘Hey Ho, here we go. He scores with his head and he scores with his toes’ – as catchy as it was, there were just too many syllables in each verse and although it caught on with the majority of fans behind the goal. I still wasn’t sure of the complete lyrics by the end of the 90 minutes.
As the game kicked off, Villa’s very strong line-up paid dividends immediately as within two minutes, Andreas Weimann had curled a beauty into the top right hand corner.
Nine minutes later, Weimann was at it again with a lovely chip over the Crewe fullback and a dart down the right-hand side. A cut back to our enigmatic Belgian was finished neatly and his name was belted out round the ground once more.
Next was a spell of possession bound to get any football fan out of their seat, not that the Villa fans were sat down anyway. A brilliant spell of one-touch passing led to El Ahmadi dinking a delightful through ball into Benteke’s path, who duly smashed it home. The best goal of the game in my opinion, simply due to the build up play from a number of Villa players.
3-0 and the half-hour mark hadn’t yet gone. Five minutes later and it was El Ahmadi linking up with Benteke again as the Beast finished beautifully to cap off his hat-trick. With his contract tied up and his transfer request behind us, it appears the Belgian is back to doing no wrong in our eyes. Judging by this display, he really can’t. Goals are important for a striker, pre-season or not.
A scrappy goal conceded, ended the half at 4-1 and in all honesty, the game was over at this point too. A high tempo first half display was breathtaking for us Villa fans and as expected, the second half was a much more laid back affair. I sat down for once and with my feet up on the chair in front, I started to really inspect our new signings.
The New Signings
Antonio Luna was solid and has already become a crowd favourite. His affectionate nickname and dashing good looks were cheered everytime the ball came near him, and even more so everytime he completed a pass in the 2nd half. I noted how off-putting that must have been, but he took it in good spirits and seems to be forming a real bond with our fans.
Bacuna looked solid more than effective but showed a moment of brilliance late on with a thundering shot on his weaker side to make it 5-1. He was the only player to stay on the pitch after Lambert made 10 changes on the hour mark. By then the game was flat and irrelevant.
Helenius was too isolated to show his attributes, Sylla was nippy but uninspired in the middle of the park and Steer looked solid enough for a second string goalkeeper, but didn’t have an awful lot to do.
However lacklustre the game may have been in the second half, the first half performance should be enough to give Villa fans great confidence.
It was also noteworthy how superb our fans were. Crewe’s keeper was a good sport when he was the centre of some stick from our fans for the last 20 minutes of the second half, and I was in awe of the gentleman behind me who brought his infant son to see the Villa for the first time. When the stadium announcer gave him a shout out at half time, he lifted up his kid like Mustafa raises Simba in the Lion King.
It was a heartwarming moment in what was a tremendous day all round. Worth the £8 entry fee. It might even have been worth paying £17…
* £17 is the amount Newport County charged for the friendly against Villa’s Under-21 team.
Weimann picture by Michelle Rudd, see more of her Crewe pictures here
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