Tim Sherwood’s first full season as manager got off to the perfect start thanks to Rudy Gestede’s aerial prowess as Villa safely negotiated a potentially tricky opening to the season. With Manchester United at home up next it was important that points were brought back from the south coast – here’s the Good, Bad and Ugly of the 1-0 opening-day win against Bournemouth.
Saturday’s curtain-raiser was a sterner test than Sherwood would have liked to face on the opening day – in fact, prior to the game he intimated it was the worst possible time to face the newly-promoted side. It was the Cherries’ first ever match in the top flight of English football and most seemed to be predicting a heroic win for the home side to kick start their first Premier League campaign (Villa were 3/1 outsiders to win with the bookies).
Well, sorry everyone. Villa were resilient in the first half before wrestling control of the game after the break to convert a shaky point into a superb three. The slow start to the game can be explained to some extent by the five debutants in the side – the fact that Ashley Westwood was the only surviving member of the starting XI from Villa’s FA Cup final no-show highlights a pleasing revolution which, though still ongoing at the club, has begun in the best possible fashion.
Jordan Amavi, Idrissa Gueye and new captain Micah Richards impressed on their first competitive appearance, helping Villa negotiate a tricky first half and frustrate the eager crowd at the Vitality Stadium (yuck, it’s Dean Court). Amavi looks well on the way to justifying the reputation he arrived with, and though Richards was at fault for one of Bournemouth’s first-half openings he was generally solid alongside Ciaran Clark, although he needs to ensure his concentration is complete and lasts the full 90 minutes.
However, it was the sixth debutant – the one sat on the bench – who came away from the game with the headlines. Villa looked so much better when Gestede came on for the largely ineffective Jordan Ayew; he had already been unlucky not to score before he barged his way through a crowded penalty area to head home the winner 13 minutes after entering the action.
Not only did he pop up with the game’s decisive act, but he’s a great player to have when defending a lead. Essentially an extra centre-half in his own box from opposition set pieces and seemingly the ideal man to release pressure by holding the ball up, he already looks (albeit after only half an hour of Premier League action) as though he could have many a telling role to play over the next nine months. After such an impressive cameo and with Manchester United’s weakness clearly in the defensive department, it’s hard to argue that the Benin striker shouldn’t be given a chance at the full 90 on Friday.
On reflection, though, perhaps the best thing to take at this early, early stage is this: that was a match which we would likely have lost under Paul Lambert. ‘Lambert’s Lions’ (a PR masterstroke, as they always are at Villa) would have purred and rolled over in the second half; Sherwood’s Villa took the game by the scruff of the neck and had the substance to see out the win.
Click ‘Next Page’ for the Bad & Ugly…