Something For The Weekend (587)
Villa's quality counts..
Villa passed a stern examination by their divisional peers on Saturday when they beat a very good Fulham team, known for taking all the points when they are away from home. Since Villa had lost to a classy Wolves side the week before, there was some considerable doubt about their ability to bounce back, but Bruce addressed Villa's problems in midfield, as seen against Wolves, by bringing in young Onomah and resting Keinan 'The Power' Davis, by way of remedy. It turned out to be the right call, because as predicted, the midfield area was to become the main area of conflict, with Fulham not appreciating Robert Snodgrass's opinion that he could dribble through the lot of them, which resulted in a early yellow card, for the sort challenge Neil Taylor was recently given a red for. It was another hefty challenge on Snodgrass which resulted in Hourihane's precision curling free-kick, which moving away from Fulham's backline, was met perfectly by a charging John Terry, who headed his first goal for Villa. Fulham had most of the play but Villa had the most attempts on goal as half-time approached, but then Whelan rear-ended a charging Ayite on the edge of the box, and the visitors equalised with a precise chip over Villa's untidy wall.
Villa started the second half in lively fashion with Onomah putting Kodjia through for a chance but an off-side flag saved Jonathan's blushes, after he'd put it past the post. Then Whelan found Onomah with a neat pass through a narrow gap and Tottenham's classy youngster slid in a crisp pass to Kodjia, whose miskick come air-shot diverted the ball to Adomah, who finished with cool aplomb. Fulham countered with a swift move down Villa's left and only the reflexes of Super Sam Johnson prevented Fredericks from equalising. Villa charged up the field with the high-energy Adomah and his shot deflected to Kodjia who was brought to earth by a combination of Sessegnon's head under his arm-pit and an arm around Kodjia's torso, but the referee was not convinced. Villa finished the stronger and were producing some very neat triangulations of passes in some very confined areas. Hourihane found himself in acres of space just outside the Fulham box and his shot went wide. Villa counter-attacked after mopping up some Fulham pressure, and Onomah's precision pass sent Adomah on yet another charge down Villa's left. Lion-hearted Albert produced a Beckhamesque cross for substitute di Laet, who forced a reflex save from Button with a good header. Villa defended convincingly into added-time and the final whistle was greeted with satisfaction. A few of the faithful were dismayed that Fulham dominated possession but the vast majority of the Villa brethren were pleased with the performance and delighted with the result, which took their team to fifth in the table. It had been a proper contest between two equally matched teams, in which Villa had produced most of the moments of quality.
Contemplating the Championship table with Villa standing fifth was a source of novel delight through the week and puts them there or thereabouts, as football parlance has it. Things look very positive at the moment and even though it is easier to sound the wiser by moaning, I find myself listed amongst the optimists for the time being. Villa are probably not quite as good as Wolves right now but they are definitely the most convincing I've seen from a Villa team in many a long year.
I find I am even quite optimistic that Villa can beat Birmingham City this Sunday, although I don't really go in for all the partisan stuff these days. I kind of left all that stuff behind with my flares and tie-dyed grandad vests back in the days when such things seemed worth fighting about. These days the derby histrionics just seem like a way to sell tickets to increasingly disillusioned fans, who remember better days when the glittering prizes and dreams were more attainable, and not the automatic entitlement of London or Manchester. No doubt Sunday will be nerve-jangling but these days I dread the doom and gloom of the Villa faithful more than the jeers of the Small Heath contingent, when the derbies come around.
Villa definitely need to win this one because looking at the table, it seems likely that they will drop out of the top-six if they don't. Bruce reports that there are no new injuries but Gabby will not be repeating his miracle of last season, due to a torn calf. Jedinak is back training but is not match-fit. He would have been an ideal pick for the physical battle which history suggests is likely to take place. Birmingham managed to beat Cardiff not long ago but are still near the bottom of the form table. Villa have conceded a goal per game this season and so if it is going to be the battle of attrition, which is the tradition, and both teams can keep eleven players on the pitch, then a draw or a one-nil victory seems the likely outcome. A win would mean everything.
Keep the faith!