Villa Actually Win
It happened. 157 days after Villa beat Bournemouth on the opening day of the season, a second Premier League victory of 2015-16 finally arrived on Tuesday night as Joleon Lescott’s header (enabled helpfully by Wayne Hennessey’s utter clanger) was enough to send our points tally into double figures and secure a first home league win since May.
Here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of a very unfamiliar occasion.
The outpouring of relief around Villa Park at the full-time whistle was a fitting greeting to the arrival of a first three points in five months, a cathartic reaction to an on-field display which deserved all the celebration with which it was met. To the neutral eye, it may not have looked particularly impressive, and meeting a 1-0 home win courtesy of an atrocious goalkeeping error with such jubilation could be considered a little much, but only to those who do not understand the full story.
Villa’s season has been a mixture of cheap surrender, one half of good football preceded or succeeded by an utterly abject 45 minutes, failure to take advantage of decent performances, and an unhealthy dose of dreadful football. In contrast, this, though not the prettiest of wins, was a fan’s dream. Alan Pardew, to his credit, acknowledged after the match that Villa were full value for the three points on effort alone, no matter how terrible Palace were.
The endeavour put in by the entirety of Remi Garde’s starting XI was sensational. Jordan Ayew looks a better player every week, and that guy just does not stop running. The Ghanaian is always looking to be positive and create chances, but then he pops up 30 seconds later in his own half to rob an opposing midfielder of the ball and break back downfield. The only pity from the forward’s performance was that he was unable to apply the finish to what would have been another top-class goal if only he was more composed at the end of a jinking run. If all that wasn’t enough, the 24-year-old grabbed his teammates at the final whistle to ensure that they applauded the fans.
In a game so full of gutsy performances as this one, it is hard to single out players for praise, but Idriss Gana put in arguably the best performance we have seen since his summer move from Lille, tearing around the centre of the pitch like a hyperactive pitbull. The midfielder has so much energy it is unbelievable, and I lost count at about six of that amount of times that he turned the ball over in midfield with a strong challenge. Jordan Veretout quietly impressed in midfield with a superb passing accuracy and his knack for finding space in the middle of the park, and Libor Kozak on his return to the starting XI after a two-year absence made up for his occasional lack of quality with a lung-bursting display, incredible when you think how short of Premier League match fitness he is.
Meanwhile, the defence were excellent for 89 minutes (see below). Leandro Bacuna, normally one of Villa’s most frustrating players whenever he is selected at right-back, did a superb job in containing Wilfried Zaha throughout possibly the best defensive display he has put in during his time in England. Lescott, even aside from his incredibly fortuitous winner, was calm and composed all evening in a performance which may have gone some way to winning the fans over after a poor start to the season and the debacle at Wycombe on Saturday. Aly Cissokho looks to be the best option the club has at left-back in Jordan Amavi’s continued absence, while Jores Okore formed a solid partnership with Lescott which should see the central pair continue against Leicester on Saturday.
The final praise, however, must go to Remi Garde. Whether or not you believe him to be the right man for the job, the way in which he recovered himself and his squad from the shambles at Wycombe to put together such a well-drilled performance was admirable, and the way he handles himself off the pitch is perhaps even more so. Lack of time dictates that he surely can’t save us, but all that most Villa fans are hoping for is for the side to put up a fight, and it looks like we might just do that.
Click the ‘next page’ for the Bad & Ugy of Villa’s week