Vital Match Report - Villa v Swansea
Attendance: 34 005
There's a new man in town -Benteke, Christian Benteke. For the twenty or so minutes in which his six foot plus frame graced the Villa Park turf he was absolutely unplayable. His first goal for Villa rounded off a rocking afternoon and a 2-0 win for Paul Lambert and was duly celebrated by the manager in jubilant, pitch invading style.
However, if Brad Guzan had not pulled off two exceptional saves early in the first half it might have been a different story. First, the American Keeper saved Williams close range header, only then to fly with acrobatic gusto to palm away Nathan Dyers corner bound strike moments later, the latter having gathered up the loose ball. Guzan commanded the box with steel throughout, sweeping up and collecting everything that came near him to loud chants of his name. Watching from the subs bench, Shay Given must be feeling that his Premier League career has turned to dust.
Tactically Villa finally showed themselves able to execute a game plan with aplomb. Hunting the ball -and any Swansea player who found himself with it- in numbers and with tempo prevented Swansea from settling into their neat passing play. Indeed, the Swans looked engulfed and overwhelmed and as the game wore on the mistakes started to come.
At the heart of this high tempo approach, Brett Holman bombed around the middle of the park like a man possessed. He set the rhythm and the directness of play, showing good touches and drive when he found himself with the ball. However, Steven Ireland, although showing calmness and deftness of touch, once again lacked penetration or an end product, flattering to deceive through large parts of the game.
It was £3 million Matt Lowton though that opened the scoring. His 20yrd drive swerved, taking perhaps a slither of a defection of Tate, who has returned to the Swans back line after a year out with a broken leg, procured during an ill fated gold buggy accident. Lowton's shot wrong footed Vorn who watched helpless as the ball curled past him. Villa Park erupted in a way that it has not done for some time.
Swansea had a chance to equalize just before half time when Dyer found himself free on the right. A beautiful cross from the wing tempted Graham's boot though despite offering his outstretched leg the Swansea striker could not convert.
Villa, who have been guilty in the past of sticking ten men behind the ball or taking their foot of the gas, now know that the eleven men on the pitch must give everything they have until the final whistle. They duly obliged. After throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at Swansea during the opening salvo of the second half they managed to force a series of corners. Villa, who have not scored from a corner since the Jurassic Period, probably thought that Andreas Weimann's swivelled effort from a few yards out might bring them into the modern era. Not so. Leon Britton was there is still a duck to break.
Paul Lambert heralded the changes with two substitutes half way through the second half. Firstly, Ashley Westwood came on for Ireland, slotting in nicely, showing touch, energy and ability. He did not look out of place or overwhelmed. It was a good introduction at a positive time for a player who is enthusiastic and desperate to show the crowd that the club were right to promote him to the Premier League. Weimann was then substituted for Benteke, both receiving a standing ovation.
Perhaps the one issue I would have is that Bent, who now seems to be trading on reputation alone, should have been substituted in his place. Weimann, who looked sharp, quick and hungry all afternoon, looked more likely to score than Bent. The latter, despite working the line well seems short of confidence. Whether Benteke can help bring him back to his best remains to be seen.
It was Benteke himself though that put the game to bed. Having missed a clear chance to score from Bent's clever knock back he wasn't going to fluff his lines twice. Ashley Williams, having sent a poor header back toward Vorn, could only watch as Benteke intercepted, chipped the keeper, finishing off the move with a tap in in the 88th minute. Villa Park burst into celebration. A first home win since an injury time win over Fulham was assured back in March.
Finally, we have our Villa Park back, a famous and historic ground full of colour and sound in a way that seemed forgotten. It was nice for the new signings to experience Villa Park as it should be and for the Premier League to be reminded that this is no easy place to come to. Swansea and their fans certainly looked at times as though they were still waiting for the Villa team they beat last year to reveal themselves.
Moreover, after some of the dud signings of recent years, it finally looks like Villa have found a player in £7million Belgium international, Christian Benteke. (Ben-tea-key). Lambert demonstrated that Benteke has the ability to be an unplayable game changer.
Watch out Southampton. Here we come.
Room for improvement: Bent.