At times it was a breath of fresh air for everyone convened at Villa Park.
At other moments, the task at hand for Dean Smith, was clear for all to see.
Overall, this was a promising, if fortuitous display from a Villa side that under Bruce would likely have succumbed to an organised Swansea side.
Swansea had their chances in this game, enabling Nyland to demonstrate his shot stopping abilities, but so did Villa.
The first half was at times breathless. We looked suddenly organised in the midfield, the combination of McGinn and Bjarnason providing a pleasing balance to the eye.
John McGinn was fierce, unrelenting and outstanding all afternoon.
Separately, Elmohamady (Assist) and Adomah gave a natural width that enabled us to stretch Swansea in areas that might hurt them. They were also deployed high up the pitch, not something we’ve been keen on doing previously.
Eyes were also on the defence.
Neil Taylor, whilst a shadow of the player we saw in his early Villa career, brought the necessary experience to the left back role. The Welshman also contributed a superb block in the second half, denying the visitors a certain equaliser. If we can rehabilitate Taylor’s form and consistency, there’s no reason he shouldn’t reclaim the left back spot.
Hutton was comfortable and strong in his recognised position of right back. Tuanzebe, stewarded by captain James Chester suggested that a promising partnership might form with time.
It was this organic balance that brought an early opener; Tammy Abraham duly obliged, nodding home from an Elmohamady cross.
The next phase of the game will surely interest Smith and his coaching team as much as what came before it.
Villa were in control, were composed and created chances. What we lacked was the clinical, ruthless finishing that sets sides apart from those that mount sustained promotion challenges from those that don’t.
Whilst the first half will be recalled for our improved shape and visible adoption of a tactical plan, the second can only be reflected upon as a game we should have killed off, at the risk of surrendering a much needed home win.
Grealish, who was in and out of proceedings all afternoon was guilty of firing high from a Taylor cut-back. He also could only strike straight at the Swansea keeper after a well worked Bolasie cross. It wasn’t Jack’s day and Smith wasn’t afraid to substitute him.
Abraham, so potent since his arrival from Chelsea missed two glorious opportunities.
The first, after superbly cushioning a cross, he could only fire an effort directly at the keeper with the whole goal begging to be hit. The second, a deep header, he powered low into the ground, with the ball miraculously bouncing over the bar and into The Holte End. The young striker though, was visibly outraged by his errors and ran tirelessly until the end, shouting to the Gods as the whistle blew for full-time.
It was also pleasing that there was nothing irrational about what we saw.
The team selection preferred players natural positions, had consideration for the oppositions style and was set up to hurt the them in key areas.
This gave us a clear shape and balance of a football team for phases, which can only be welcomed.
In game, Smith was both visible and vocal. His substitutions were timely, but crucially, they were positive changes. We didn’t retreat into our shell, protecting our narrow 1-0 lead, we sought to give the opposition something to think about.
Ultimately, we did ride our luck, but equally, should have been out of sight at the same time.
It’s very, very early days, but with two away games in quick succession (Tuesday & Friday), Smith has the opportunity to not only continue to lift the spirits of the football club, but also to make rapid progress in the league as well.
#AVFC 1-0 Swansea
✅ Solid debut for Dean Smith.
✅ Visible shape & approach.
✅ Logical, timely substitutions.
✅ 3 big points at Villa Park.
🔥 John McGinn outstanding.
👏🏻 Onwards and upwards. pic.twitter.com/zcvui5PC7P
— Villa Underground (@avfc_vilr) October 20, 2018