Aston Villa returned to winning ways for their first win in four Premier League games. Villa have struggled of late to score goals, failing to score in their defeats against Watford and Newcastle United.
Steven Gerrard made changes to his system as well as personal. Villa returned to a more narrow system, especially when defending. Recently it has been too easy to walk through the middle of the pitch but it was a different case on Saturday.
Ezri Konsa returned to the starting line-up for Calum Chambers following a two-match suspension. Emi Buendia was unlucky to drop to the bench as Gerrard opted to play two up top as Ollie Watkins returned to the side.
The kick-off was delayed by 30 minutes due to traffic outside the stadium causing problems for both the first team and supporters. Gerrard’s men didn’t turn up until 2.30 pm.
Villa started slow and the travelling supporters could have been forgiven for thinking it was the same old given recent performances.
The away side had Matty Cash to thank otherwise it could have been a different story altogether. First, the Polish international beat Leandro Trossard to Jakub Moder’s deflected shot and then he chased back to win the ball back from Solly March when the wide man was bearing down on Emi Martinez in goal.
Villa did take the lead on the 17th minute though, against the run of play.
Lucas Digne’s cross was heading away by Alexis Mac Allister but it only went as far as Cash who chested the ball down on the edge of the box before driving a low right-footed shot in off the post. The right-back showed support for fellow international and Dynamo Kyvib player Tomasz Kedziora with a message on a shirt and was soon booked by referee John Brookes.
Although rules are rules, sometimes the officials need to read the room and this was just one of many Brookes got badly wrong on the day.
Barring a Yves Bissouma effort that smashed off the crossbar, Villa looked comfortable and in control.
Gerrards men grew in confidence and always looked the most likely to score next, and it soon arrived. Tyrone Mings fired a long ball forward and Watkins beat Veltman for pace, taking one touch onto his right before cooly slotting a left-footed finish into the bottom corner.
Villa move to 30 points in the table and more importantly increase the gap to 9 points between them and the bottom three.
- I feel a little harsh saying this but we still don’t control games. After the opening 15-20 minutes, we never looked in trouble against Brighton but didn’t control the game. Given recent performances, maybe the win is more important but if we are to push on to the next level, controlling games is something we need to learn to do.
- Douglas Luiz struggled at times on Saturday with a few passes that could have proved costly. The Brazillian is playing out of position and is helping Villa out due to the absence of Marvelous Nakamba. I am a fan but I feel even he will look back and know he could have performed better in parts here.
- Once again we find ourselves talking about the poor officiating in the game. Brookes really struggled to deal with the game handing out yellow cards for fun and then missing actual fouls. There were a total of 9 yellow cards handing out in this game and it was far from a dirty game.
- Gerrard made Villa more narrow defensively and we looked much better for it. Yes, we were exploited out wide at times but we were able to deal with everything that was thrown at us. I have questioned Gerrard at times lately but credit where its due, he got it right on Saturday.
- After a sloppy pass early on, John McGinn looked back to his very best. The Scotland international was everywhere. I questioned if he was peaking at the level Villa are currently at earlier in the week but if he can turn these performances in every week, he can push Villa on much higher up the table.
- Watkins and Ings – Although both of them didn’t score, the work they put in helped Villa massively. It hasn’t worked with two up top so far but Gerrard stated that he told both players he doesn’t want to leave either of them on the bench so they need to make it work all he will have no choice. They are both capable of even better but this performance was positive, hopefully, they can build on this.
Aston Villa v Southampton
Saturday, 5th March 2022
Villa Park, Birmingham