[quote_center][Villa] potentially could enjoy three trips to Wembley within five months and also qualify for Europe.[/quote_center]
It’s been five years since Villa’s last Wembley visit, and each one of those years has been the stuff of nightmares for Villa fans. This season’s FA Cup run though has slowly helped sedate the misery of the club’s league form, and the confidence it instilled into the team seems to have potentially cured it.
Villa have won more games at Villa Park in the FA Cup than they have in four times the attempts in the league. In short, thank god for the FA Cup.
The FA Cup semi-final victory over Liverpool was the best day out for Villans so far in the 21st Century, as it must rank higher than our four other Wembley visits in this period. After our recent struggles, it was a game we weren’t expected to win, and also there’s the fact we beat Liverpool, our nemesis from the 1980’s, which would have brought joy to any supporters who have followed the game pre-Sky.
Sunday was just the tonic we’ve needed. For once, everything clicked into place – the manager, the players and the great Villa support.
Before we concentrate on the league, here’s five reasons to be cheerful as Aston Villa fans…
1. Scouse Curse Lifted
If like me your childhood or formative years were spent under the iron scouse curtain of the 1980’s when Villa couldn’t buy a win against Liverpool, the events of Wembley Stadium would have brought you a LOT of joy.
It’s also the first time Villa had played Liverpool at Wembley, so there was no better time to beat them. As myself and several other Villans have remarked, the FA Cup semi-final victory brought back memories of beating Manchester United at Wembley in the 1994 League Cup. Regardless of the new money clubs, United and Liverpool remain the biggest clubs in the English game, so that certainly added to the magnitude of a great day.
Oh, and we ruined Gerrard’s birthday on May 30th. Sorry Stevie G!
2. Villa Faithful
Speaking of that 1994 cup final, Villa went into that game as 4/1 outsiders, but the Villa supporters out-sung the United fans at the start of that game to quickly level the playing field and inspire the team onto victory. Against Liverpool, Villa were 9/2 outsiders, but the Villa faithful soon flipped that on its head too.
As Sherwood said in the post-match press conference, when the players got onto the pitch and heard that the fans believed they were going to win, it certainly inspired them on.
During the build-up, the Villa faithful managed to drown out the start of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and then, when the Liverpool anthem finally did get going and Liverpool’s surfer flag also made its way around the East Stand, the Villa response was a large mosaic display behind the goal defiantly spelling out ‘VILLA’.
With Liverpool fans’ YNWA factor in mind, MOMS had worked hard to make sure the mosaic display made it over the line after the FA had brought in new restrictions to frustrate the club (big credit to Villa for pulling it off at the eleventh hour). We’d also worked with Wembley to smooth the waters to get as many Villa flags as possible into the stadium and along with others, encouraged supporters to come armed to the gunnels with claret and blue balloons, flags, streamers etc.
It was certainly worth the effort as all 32,000+ Villans rose to the challenge and ultimately surprised our red opponents.
I’ve been hearing a lot of praise from Liverpool fans to the Villa effort of out-singing them, and they have been very generous in defeat.
3. Triple Threat
Throughout the season, the ‘one man team’ label has applicable to Villa. It was all about Benteke. If he didn’t score, we were doomed. For a long time Villa’s Plan A has largely been ‘Hoof it to Benteke’, but this was always a very short-sighted utilisation of the Belgian forward’s talent.
At times this season, he’s cut a frustrated figure due to the lack of service he’s received. Does he really want to spend 90 minutes challenging for 50-50 hit-and-hope long ball deliveries? No, he’s better than that.
Commentators and pundits look at Benteke and think – ‘Big man – he’s good in the air – pump it up to him’. It’s a lazy insight.
Sherwood certainly identified this and has delivered a plan of action that brings the Belgian into the game a lot more. Anybody who’s watched the Benteke in action will see how he flourishes when he’s playing with quick-football minds like his own. Wembley saw a great backheel to free up Grealish to deliver the assist that led to Delph’s winning goal. It was a pass that brought back memories of his backheel to set up Weimann goal at Anfield at couple of seasons ago, a clue to Benteke’s potential that was never really seized upon by Lambert.
The key name to Benteke flourishing is perhaps Jack Grealish, who in his number 10 role linked Benteke and Delph together, something we haven’t seen too much off. The trio between them wreaked havoc on Liverpool.
Also, the three players seemed to enjoy the experience of playing together with both of Villa’s goals coming from their clever movement and vision.
If Villa hold onto Benteke next season and have the trio as the heartbeat of the team, expect a vast improvement in our fortunes.
4. Midfield Axis
If the Benteke, Delph and Grealish trio provided the cutting edge at Wembley, ultimately the overall performance and victory is debited to the industry and effort of the Villa midfield trio, as well as Delph, both Tom Cleverley and Ashley Westwood were tremendous.
Westwood showed that his positional sense makes up for a lack of physicality, as he was superb as Villa’s deeper lying midfielder.
Cleverley had by far his best game in a Villa shirt and broke down endless Liverpool play in their own half, frustrating the reds throughout the 90 minutes with his high tempo energy.
Now if Cleverley could just add the odd goal to his game, he’d squash his critics dead.
Goals have also been something that have been missing from Delph’s locker, but now as captain and being one of Villa’s main men, he’s also needed to be someone we can call on for inspiration to win big games with a moment of magic.
His opposite captain Steven Gerrard made it his trademark through his great career, and Delph is certainly looking to follow suit if this FA Cup run is anything to go by.
5. More Trips to Wembley
First up there’s the final against Arsenal on May 30th , which will be another great Villa day out. If Villa defy the odds once again and win that, then they will visit Wembley yet again in August to contest the Charity Shield against the Premier League winners, most likely Chelsea.
Aston Villa just a few weeks ago were a club battling for their Premier League status. While that battle isn’t over yet, they now potentially could enjoy three trips to Wembley within five months and also qualify for Europe.
It’s some transformation, so lets beat Arsenal then, shall we?