Aston Villa pulled league win number three for the season out of the bag on Saturday with a fairly comfortable victory over a woeful Norwich City side. In a season like this you take any happiness as it comes, and this was finally a day to celebrate – and more surprisingly, one to celebrate with the bare minimum of anxiety and complaint.
Here’s a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the 2-0 win.
Not only was Saturday a reason to cheer and a third league win of the season, but it continues Villa’s recent improvement in form. Since the defeat to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on 2nd January, the latest result in a crippling run of form over the Christmas period, Remi Garde’s side have lost just twice in the last eight matches in all competitions, winning three. We are also unbeaten in four at Villa Park in the league, something which, given the atrocity of the club’s home form in recent years, is a crumb of comfort.
To see both goals on Saturday scored by two of our playing contingent who are genuine Villa fans was an added bonus. Joleon Lescott’s header wasn’t the prettiest goal, but it shows the value of somebody actually being able to put a decent ball in. Meanwhile Gabby Agbonlahor scored for the first time since March with a strike reminiscent of the old Agbonlahor – running the defensive line, sprinting clear and working on instinct to finish.
In this column I have often offered a negative opinion on Gabby – at best scathing, at worst damning. He has often looked disinterested, a shadow of the player he used to be, and I completely agreed with Garde’s decision to drop him from the side.
However, ever since our relegation was all but confirmed over the Christmas period with an abject run of results against profoundly beatable teams, I have wanted Gabby to stay. He might have long been finished as a regular goalscorer in the Premier League, but he worked tirelessly for the side at Upton Park on Tuesday in an utterly thankless role up front after Jordan Ayew’s red card after being recalled to the side, and he put in another decent shift on Saturday, capped off by the goal.
His insistence that the newspapers have been spouting a load of the brown stuff after the match at the weekend (put in rather more forceful terms by the man himself) showed that he still has the passion to succeed at his boyhood club. If he stays at Villa and takes a pay cut (which, call me a sentimental fool, I genuinely believe he would do in order to be able to continue to wear claret and blue) then he may well begin to enjoy his football once more at a lower level, and he could be a key attacking performer for us in the Championship next season.
Back to Saturday, and a huge amount of credit must also go to the defence. The Villa backline put in arguably the most committed display that we have seen for some time, throwing their bodies on the line for the result and generally showing the kind of heart and fight that we so desperately need. Micah Richards in particular was superb defensively, and it is absolutely no coincidence that we look a far more solid unit with the former Manchester City man at right-back rather than in the centre.
Meanwhile, Idrissa Gana continued to prove that he is one of the most-improved players at the club, and the midfielder if he can keep his concentration across the full 90 minutes can now stake a claim to being one of our key performers on a weekly basis. Jordan Veretout, another who has taken time to settle into English football, looked classy on the ball and looks as though he will be imperious in the Championship if he is not snapped up in the summer.
Click next page for the bad and ugly of Villa this weekend