Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Derby County was far from pretty and the game will not be remembered as a classic encounter. Nevertheless, it was good to see the Villans win their first game of 2017 and offer frustrated fans some hope that they may, finally, be turning a corner after an awful start to the year.
The win was as scrappy as they come and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Derby County was the home side if you were a neutral, with Aston Villa only having 29% of possession. In reality, the statistics do not show the sort of game the fans witnessed.
This season has been a tough slog so far and we have often found ourselves under the cosh and unable to defend the simplest deliveries into the area. On Saturday, that changed, with the Villans defending competently and with a bit of bite.
In recent months at 1-0 up we would have collapsed under pressure and ended up losing the game 1-2 or 1-3 but, for once, we looked firmer in defence despite numerous small errors hinting at continued fragility. Importantly, we kept a clean sheet for the first time since early December.
Nothing is pretty towards the bottom of the Championship and Steve Bruce will be well aware of that. There were plenty of positives, alongside the three points, for the manager to take from Saturday’s fixtures, with Sam Johnstone making some important saves and everyone generally digging deep.
The aggression shown from Leandro Bacuna, which led to him being sent off, wasn’t pretty for so many reasons but seeing some steel suggested that he, and others, do care. I fully believe Aston Villa Football Club has a reputation of being a nice side to play against at present – and that must change.
Saturday’s game was the perfect example of having to dig in to get a scrappy win. Unfortunately, it isn’t something we have done much in recent years. I admire a hard fought win as much as a comfortable victory, appreciating the last ditch tackles and the clearances just to relieve pressure. It is vital to see such a level of commitment.
The visitors piled on the pressure. Tom Ince pulled Neil Taylor all over the place, causing Bruce to bring on Jordan Amavi to strengthen the left side defensively. We coped and defended with a degree of competence that meant an overall improvement on anything we’ve seen so far in 2017.
There were hair-raising moments but that’s to be expected when on such a horrid run.
That brand of football isn’t what any Villa fan wants to watch, although seeing a new element of fight to the side was pleasing. It sets the benchmark for the levels of effort required if the players are to claw their way out of the current quagmire.
Next up is Bristol City, a team that drew 2-2 away to Newcastle United on Saturday, which is no mean feat. We need a similar work rate to Saturday’s from Bruce’s boys and to see them pressing more to ensure that we can start to build on the win over Derby County. Onwards and upwards!