It was a very pleasant, if strange, feeling walking away from Villa Park on Saturday evening. Did anyone else not really know how to respond to a Villa victory?
The last one, courtesy of some comedic Crystal Palace goalkeeping, provided a glimmer of hope, when all was perhaps long since lost.
The Rotherham game was an interesting insight into the division as much as our new recruits.
Rotherham were a disappointment. Tidy in their footwork, but guilty like so many clubs (ourselves included in recent times) of aspiring to a meandering pointless sideways pass in the vain hope of achieving “total possession” football. This was easy on the eye for short periods, but was either interrupted by a miss-placed ball or concluded with a hopeful hoof towards their bulky front-man.
Other teams might have took their chances testing our rookie centre half, arrived just hours earlier and lacking game time.
Villa took 15 mins to compose but finally built upon the suggestion of promise seen early at Hillsborough under Di Matteo.
The team had been stripped of the failures of seasons gone who featured prominently at Luton and looked all the better for it.
Chester, a welcome addition following a reported £8m transfer from West Brom, looked composed and assured alongside Elphick.
Elphick, continues to build goodwill with uncompromising but fair challenges. The pages on Villa Underground have often talked about a lack of guile for seasons on end, but our new Captain is certain to become a crowd favourite with exhibitions of grit and determination such as this.
Bacuna, much goaded on these pages had arguably one of his better games in a Villa shirt..and at right back. Credit where it is due, he coped well and offered a pacey out-ball when required, linking well with Jordan Ayew all afternoon.
Tshibola showed evidence of his potential with a display of strength and stamina. Two or three excellent touches also caught the eye, underlining that there is certainly a player within him to nurture. Idrissa ‘Gana’ Gueye who?
Grealish shone, freed from a solitary creative role by the inclusion of Ayew & McCormack as supporting cast members. Jack’s persistence over 90 minutes was rewarded with a fine solo goal at the mouth of The Holte End, which will live long in the memory for most.
McCormack is also a deceptively skillful acquisition. Prolific in front of goal, his clever balls and dangerous corners are a welcome inclusion. Added to this were countless runs and movement into dangerous areas which we have so badly been lacking. The goals will come, he carries too much of a threat. What a joy in itself to await.
And deserved mentions for Cissokho and Gestede.
Cissokho has always frustrated this blog, notably because he has all of the physicality to boss his role. At this level, Aly has the build to stop all comers, but if he can consistently deliver balls such as for the assist for the opener to Gestede, then he could prove a true asset.
And what of Gestede?
Abysmal last season, whether you attribute it to poor service or otherwise, the return was unacceptable. However, his two goals against Rotherham were superb.
A well taken header was complimented by a fine finish after excellent interplay from the impressive McCormack. Gestede, on these terms is a delight and I am happy to eat my words on repeat if necessary.
All of this joy is understandably put into perspective by the sudden death of Dalian Atkinson. Whilst the circumstances, events or indeed the manner of Atkinson’s death are beyond the realms of this blog (at least for now), the loss of an iconic 90′s Villa footballer is not.
Atkinson was one of the first memorable players of a team I began following with boyish enthusiasm in the early 90′s. The names of Saunders, Atkinson and co were steamed onto our first Premier League replica kits. We were genuine challengers then, with proper strikers that terrorised defences as a matter of routine.
I met Atkinson briefly, only once, whilst on a tour of Villa Park. He held up a shirt for photographs (the infamous green and black away kit of 1993). I recall little other of the day other than that awful shirt and Atkinson’s beaming smile.
The next encounter with Atkinson would be on my first trip to (proper) Wembley alongside my dad. The reverberating roar under the old Wembley roof, behind the goal, as Atkinson coolly slotted in the opener will remain with me forever.
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