A Fitting Tribute
In what was a bitter-sweet day for Aston Villa, fans paid tribute to a Holte Ender in the sky.
I’m too young to remember Dalian Atkinson, but my dad has shown me videos of that goal against Wimbledon and I’ve yet to see too many goals eclipse that strike in terms of technique and bravado.
Villa saw the very best of him, a striker so gifted that he was the player fans paid their hard-earned money to go and see. Despite being no stranger to injuries and the odd off day, Atkinson was the man you talked about on the way out of Villa Park, the day after and still 20 years later. Not many Villa players in recent years have been able to say that.
Umbrellas were held aloft coupled with deafening applause on the tenth minute, a fitting tribute for a top class striker who many would tell you was a joy to watch. As ‘Atkinson, my Lord’ rang around the terraces, it sent shivers down my spine. The atmosphere translated into a pulsating first half for Villa, however late drama left the fans leaving lost for words.
Starting XI Verdict:
Di Matteo named an unchanged starting 11, as Aston Villa searched for their first back-to-back victory at home in 18 months.
The only change was on the bench, as Adama (who doesn’t want to play for us anymore) made way for the returning Nathan Baker. Adama’s lack of team ethic and understanding has ultimately let him down at Villa. It’s a shame, because he could have been a potent weapon for Di Matteo this season.
Although it was pleasing to see the same team that won comfortably against Rotherham start, tiredness and fatigue was definitely evident in the second half. If there’s one thing about the Championship, it is the unforgiving nature of the fixture list. Three days is a short recovery period and could prove costly if Villa aren’t careful. More decent signings needed to give squad more depth.
Di Matteo’s Game Management:
The first half went to plan exactly for Di Matteo, as his team went into half time 1-0 to the good thanks to Ross McCormack’s first goal in claret and blue.
However, throughout the second half the Italian was too slow to react to David Wagner’s changes. Huddersfield’s manager introduced Nahki Wells on 56 minutes, which instantly brought about a change in intensity for the opposition. Brought on in the hope of presenting more of a threat up front, Wells drifted through the space causing havoc in front of Villa’s back four.
As Huddersfield continued to match Villa, in what seemed like the longest 45 minutes of my life, Di Matteo should have looked to his bench sooner. With four defenders on the bench, one of them could have been brought on to steady the ship. With both Grealish and Ayew struggling to fulfil their defensive duties whilst being capable of attacking on the counter, a change should have been made.
When Di Matteo eventually brought on a substitute after 79 minutes, the score still 1-0, it was a strange one in my opinion. McCormack, who was struggling with fatigue, made way for youngster Andre Green. Admittedly, Green did nothing wrong when he came on, and by no means is he a bad player, but in a situation where the visitors are getting on top a different defensive substitution could have been made.
What was even more surprising was when Tshibola was replaced by Gary Gardner. For me, if I was manager – never in a million years would that happen – I would have kept Tshibola on, but took off Ayew or Grealish for example, so that there was a solid midfield three to protect the defence from the waves of pressure.
On the other hand however, neither substitute could have stopped that freak goal from happening. Whether another defender was on the pitch or not, it happened and no one could have stopped it.
Scott Duncan oversaw the match at Villa Park under the lights, yet he didn’t have the best of games. In what was again an unconvincing performance by the referee, it was disappointing to see that this is what we will potentially be watching every week.
Not only did he like a yellow card, but he also felt the need to blow his whistle for every foul, similar to the game against Rotherham. During the first half, the referee pulled back a Villa counter attack for a foul, when he could have quite easily played advantage.
It became increasingly infuriating in the second half, as it seemed to prolong the game, when all Villa fans were biting their nails wishing for the final whistle to be in sight.
Yet again it was difficult to choose from a group of players who all seemed to be fighting, something that has been lacking for a number of years at Villa Park.
Notably, James Chester played extremely well in the heart of defence alongside Tommy Elphick in his second start for Villa. In what looks to be a solid centre-back pairing, which will only grow in time, the newly signed Welshman looked calm, composed and tidy.
Another of Villa’s summer signings Aaron Tshibola also impressed against Huddersfield, with a strong performance just in front of Chester. The 21-year-old thought he’d opened the scoring, showing he has goal scoring capabilities, only for it to be ruled out for offside. But it wasn’t just his attacking game that caught the eye. He won the ball back on numerous occasions to regain possession for Villa before looking to start an attack. Unfortunately, his final ball lacked quality at times, but the potential is there.
But for me, man of the match had to be Leandro Bacuna (yes, I know). Maybe when he said he could play in the Champions League, he meant Championship?
Compared to the game against Sheffield Wednesday where he played in midfield, he looked more than confident back in his former right-back position. Bacuna made very few mistakes as he continues to build bridges with the Villa faithful.
The Dutch man also provided width alongside Ayew on the right flank, joining in with the attacks as well as sending in the cross to Jack Grealish which resulted in McCormack’s goal on 26 minutes.
Of course Bacuna has a long way to go before fans forgive and forget, but he’s going in the right direction and you can only applaud him for that. A couple of goals and no silly remarks will help him heal that gaping wound.
Coming to Villa Park on the back of victory over Newcastle at St James Park, Huddersfield were always going to be tough opposition.
Aaron Mooy, on loan from Manchester City, looked confident in the middle of the park as he played a key role in Huddersfield’s revival in the second half. The Australian has been called up to the national squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers, and it comes as no surprise if his performance against Villa is anything to go by.
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