If last season was a plane crash, it would be referred to as a total loss. So poor was the Villa team and its prospects that little other than mediocrity and a lowly league finish was expected in many quarters. Whilst it’s still early days, already Paul Lambert looks to have set in motion a changing style of play that resulted in a convincing win against a much lamented Swansea side.
If the signs of greater defensive solidity were evident in the point earned at Newcastle, they were carried through to yesterday with a work-rate and attacking threat not seen since the O’Neill years at Villa Park. That’s the last time his name will be mentioned in this piece; being the foul little man he is. The credit must go to Lambert who looks to be crafting a squad of youthful hunger, using a tighter budget and scouring the lower divisions to address glaring squad depth issues.
The afternoon was very much a tale of the new boys.
Matthew Lowton continues to impress. Alan Hutton could not be further away from a Villa shirt if he was working in the Blues club shop. Excellent positioning, vision and Lowton delivered a stunning volleyed opener that blew the roof off the Holte End. So accustomed to watching these efforts sail into row Z it took some a few seconds to celebrate. Superb.
Ron Vlaar could well be one of the best bits of business defensively since the purchase of club heroes Olaf Mellberg and Martin Laurson. Vlaar may even have two things going for him over such predecessors, he can play football better than Mellberg and will not be prone (fingers crossed) to cursed knees like Laurson. Vlaar also held the captains armband with some heroism yesterday and with the adoption of the McGrath chant by the home faithful it could signal big things for the dutchman. Alongside Clarke the centreback positions look much, much better.
Brett Holman is also fast becoming a cult hero. Very few Villa fans could genuinely say they’d heard of the man before Alex McLeish signed him for next to nothing on a pre-contract agreement. Indeed on the basis of McLeish’s other transfer dealings, little was expected of Holman. However, his work rate, effort and perseverance are staggering. What he may lack in technical ability or composure he makes up for in working tirelessly to break up play, link up the defense to the strikers and driving forward up the field. Opposition teams hate players who deny them time on the ball, more-so those that then run at them having taken it back. Holman looks like a real find.
Benteke? Well, what is there to say from his cameo? The, frankly, massive Belgian strode onto the pitch and within minutes was utterly terrorising Swansea’s backline. He combined very well with Bent and should have opened his account with a tap in following a superb knockdown from the England international. It looked like he should have scored live, confirmed by replays. However, he impressed with his physique and type of skill now becoming synonymous with Belgian football. Benteke capped his debut appearance by anticipating a short header back to the visitors goalkeeper Vorm from centre-half Williams and casually lobbed the goalkeeper before guiding the ball over the line. The type of outrageous finish that dreams are made of.
Overall it was just better. As a Villa fan you cannot ask for more; the work at the training ground to eradicate our abysmal passing is working wonders and Lambert is doing the obvious things rights. Not least by honestly assessing the squad and replacing players who simply are not good enough for the Premier League, let alone Aston Villa.
So enjoy a little wave of positivity, it make a welcome change as there will no doubt be trickier opponents than Swansea to overcome. A visit to Southampton looms next week, a team reeling from a drubbing at Arsenal and in search of their first top-flight point. But, we are armed with better tools than a year ago and appear to have a manager who will play football the right way. This is without doubt, progress.