By Chris Kemps
Two games against two strugglers left Villa feeling better after an abject run of form. But what did Villa fans learn from the week on-and-off the field?
PALACE SMASH AND GRAB
The win at Palace wasn’t pretty. It was jammy too. But with Benteke back from his suspension the team got more than a lift from his presence and goalscoring. Guzan got through with a clean sheet by the skin of his teeth and thanks to an inspired game from Ciaran Clark in particular.
Joe Cole’s departure would have cynics rolling their eyes as his brittle reputation came through, but after such a solid performance last time out, the fans would have wanted him to pick up where he left off.
After the goal on the half-hour (which was a thing of beauty… and not just because it made Scott Dann look rubbish) it all got a bit familiar for fans. The rest of the half turned into shooting practice for Palace and with a ref giving Villa the benefit of the doubt more than once, in the end the pressure led to nothing and Villa stole all three points.
So, Villa fans were reminded that while it makes for squeaky bum time, Paul Lambert’s tactics of defending a lead with numbers rather than gambling to secure the win CAN work. Certainly, only a minority of fans would revel in such negative style, but this was an away win against a team who grew increasingly frustrated. The back four had very few individual errors and that too is a lesson: you can practice all the want, but all it takes is one Stevie G-type slip and it’s an awful long drive home back up the M6.
The win over Leicester City was sweeter. Yes, they were bottom of the league and yes they perhaps lost a man a little harshly (although not as harsh as some of their tackles), although it was a little surprising to see Konchesky have his red card against Aston Villa overturned since.
There were groans as Villa passed backwards and sideways under little pressure, and Lambert himself couldn’t help himself but comment on the 65% possession while quickly adding he’s not one to look at the numbers (which have been reversed more than once this season.) The City goal was lucky for them but the rapid response from one of the most fan-maligned players this season, Ciaran Clark, sent a double-message to fans: not today… even with Guzan slightly more eccentric than he was at Palace.
But the victory was down to quality, and that will be the difference between staying up and going down.
Benteke’s goals and power are combined with a commanding presence, good range of passing and a coolness that can all be summed up with that single word: quality. Alan Hutton has shown his class with reliable, cool, passion and his last two games for Villa have probably been his best two. And that could change in any given game, such is his new found stature. Quality and class are worth every penny. This is not the time to gamble on potential.
The lesson to be learned in January is to look for more quality. You can question Lambert and his tactics – and with good reason. You can question the ability of the players, especially when things get thin without Benteke (although Vlaar hasn’t been missed half as much as we all might have expected). But with just a little more quality in the team to add to the graft in midfield especially, the optimism that has returned even on the back of some scrappy performances, will not be misplaced.
Don’t forget the revival at Chelsea was not started by Gullit, Vialli or Zola but by the signing of Glenn Hoddle who played as a sweeper as well as manage the club and was just as big as an attraction for players coming to Chelsea as the big money was… because of his class on the ball and his tactics. He’s certainly become a controversial figure now, but it’s fair to say without Hoddle in charge, Gullit, Vialli and Zola may never have worn the Chelsea shirt. Class and quality attract the same.
SWEET FA CUP
Hands up who’s confident about Blackpool at home? We’ve learned en masse that lower league opponents are not to be taken lightly in cup competitions and Blackpool will draw plenty of inspiration from the string of recent cup defeats (and performances). Let’s hope the trend stops here.
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