After what can only be described as an all-time low as Aston Villa were knocked out of the EFL Cup by Luton Town, winning ways returned to Villa Park with a triumphant 3-0 victory over Rotherham United.
On an afternoon that began and ended with Dr Tony Xia punching the air, the Villa faithful left the ground feeling pleasantly pleased if not surprised by the team’s dominance. Whilst I for one was left with a sore throat, feeling slightly delirious after witnessing a Villa win which has become an unknown result.
If a Rudy Gestede brace, coupled with an outrageous cartwheel celebration wasn’t enough to leave you in shock at half time; then Jack Grealish scoring in front of the Holte End and Dr Tony going mental in the box would have knocked you off your feet. What a way to write about Aston Villa’s first win since February.
Finally, we enjoyed that winning feeling. Well, for three days at least.
Starting XI Verdict:
Genuinely, I was quite happy with the 11 fielded. Captain Tommy Elphick returned to the starting line up alongside new boy James Chester, formerly of West Bromich Albion, in the hope of shoring up the defence.
In what appeared to be a revamped back four, Alan Hutton was replaced by Leandro Bacuna at right-back, whilst Aly Cissokho came back into the team. Jordan Amavi returned to the bench after being caught napping for Luton’s first goal, as he still looked short of fitness.
Di Matteo stuck with his favoured formation, as Rudy Gestede and Ross McCormack continued to lead the line. Both strikers, proven in the Championship, were looking for their and Villa’s first league goal of the season. The Scottish centre forward, making his home debut for the claret and blues, played just off Gestede in the pockets of space created by the gap between Rotherham’s defence and midfield. Gathering the ball and turning in space, McCormack showed signs of promise, however appeared just off the pace.
Jordan Ayew lined up on the right hand side of midfield, as he looked to influence the play from what is an unnatural position for the Ghanaian, with Grealish on the left side. Aaron Tshibola and Ashley Westwood made up the midfield, which still looked weak in comparison to the rest of the squad.
However, as the game got under way the central midfielders gained composure and poise on the ball, looking at home in the middle of the park. Both grew in statue as the match progressed, yet Villa should still be searching for that midfield enforcer that we are crying out for.
Di Matteo’s Game Management:
The Italian managed his first competitive game at Villa Park well, with things getting off to a good start.
One key factor for Roberto Di Matteo must be to make Villa Park a hard place for opposition teams to come to once again. In the Championship, home form is one of the most important components to getting out of the league at the first time of asking, with any away fixture being a tough ask. If Villa can continue the trend of getting three points at home, not only will the fans be leaving with a smile on their face, but it will stand them in good stead if they are to be promoted. An aim that should be shared by all associated with the club.
There were no silly substitutions from Roberto Di Matteo which meant that Villa could comfortably continue their prowess in the game.
Adama Traore was introduced during the second half, as he made his comeback to the first team. In Adama, the former Barcelona winger, Villa have a gifted player in their ranks who has bags of potential. However, he can be selfish at times, which Di Matteo will no doubt be aiming to change. His introduction to the Rotherham game was welcomed with applause from the home fans that have been patiently waiting for his return. The 20-year-old showed glimpses of what he can do, with a surging run through the middle, but his final pass let him down on this occasion.
Gary Gardner and Andre Green were also brought on in the latter stages of the game, as Di Matteo ensured his Villa side saw out the victory.
That was one card happy, whistle blowing referee.
Keith Stroud produced three yellow cards before half time, as he pulled up the game for what seemed to be every other challenge. Ayew, McCormack and Gestede were all brandished the cards following cynical challenges, which could have been avoided. In fact, it was Ayew’s temper that got the better him yet again, as he received the first card of the game.
Although the referee’s inability to let the game flow didn’t influence the outcome of the game, Villa couldn’t have gained much tempo – especially in the first half – with the whistle going every five seconds.
It’s quite difficult to pick a man of the match when all players actually played well. A dilemma I haven’t ever had since writing the Villa Influence. Dare I say that even our full-backs played extremely well?
I’d love to give it to Tommy Elphick, purely because I have fallen in love with this man. However, Jack Grealish had an outstanding game on the left-wing.
The Birmingham-born winger could be an important part in Aston Villa’s Championship season, as he possesses all the qualities needed to break down opposition defences. And the 20-year-old proved just that with a goal in front of the Holte End.
He almost did too much after dancing his way through Rotherham’s defence, yet thankfully Grealish snuck his shot past Lee Camp from the tightest of angles to put the game to bed. He topped off what had been a brilliant, assured performance with a goal that has left Villa fans hoping that he can continue in this vein for the rest of the season.
It would be unfair of me not to mention Aly Cissokho, Gestede and Ashley Westwood, who all responded to the criticism they received post-match against Sheffield Wednesday. They all had a point to prove, and prove it they did.
England under-21s midfielder Jake Forster-Caskey looked lively for the Millers before being substituted in the second half. Yet, no one stood out for Alan Stubbs’ men as the visitors struggled to get a foot hold in the game.
It may be ignorant of me, but I didn’t know too much about the Rotherham team that graced the Villa Park pitch. Unfortunately, this could be a recurring theme this season, as the familiarity of Premier League players is no more.
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