Villa victory continues solid start
It's not often that the Premier League table has made for such pleasant reading, but the 2-1 victory over Hull means that Villa conclude the opening month of the season in third place. It won't last, but the team's solid start should be applauded.
A club in crisis, in limbo, with an uncertain future ahead? Maybe. But on the field, Paul Lambert's players have contrived to equal Villa's best start to a Premier League campaign: two wins and a draw from three games, seven points from a possible nine. Villa's next five fixtures, once the season restarts after a week of international football, are cruel: at Liverpool, Arsenal, at Chelsea, Manchester City and at Everton. It's been all the more important, then, to get early points in the bag.
In beating Hull, just days after losing in the Capital One Cup to Leyton Orient, Villa gave their most convincing performance of the season, certainly in the first half. It's been a while since Lambert's men have looked so confident and in control of a game as in the opening 45 minutes. It was not exactly like watching Barcelona, but at least it was like watching a team prepared and willing to move off the ball, pass quickly, press the opponent high up the field and commit players beyond the strikers.
Lambert is a stubborn manager, and that side of his character is not always a positive. In picking the same starting XI for the third consecutive league game, he kept faith with Gabby Agbonlahor despite a sluggish start to the season by the striker. Truth be told, Agbonlahor is a bit of a Lambert favourite, but against the Tigers, he repaid his manager's faith and his movement and finishing brought back memories of the player at his best.
His goal was a low right-footed strike into the bottom corner after a neat turn, and he was also involved in Villa's second. That goal owed much to Fabian Delph's interception of Michael Dawson's careless pass after which the ball was transferred quickly to Agbonlahor, who slipped it to Kieran Richardson. The midfielder, who might have been left out of the side for another new signing, Carlos Sanchez, cut a cross back for Andreas Weimann to score emphatically.
Goals from two rather maligned strikers are a good sign, and Villa need the pair to stay in that sort of form. Weimann scored just five times in the league in 2013-14 and now already has two during the current campaign.
So commanding was Villa's play that they should have been out of sight at halftime. Delph had clipped the crossbar in the opening minutes, Ashley Westwood's free-kick hit the angle of post and bar, and Agbonlahor blasted another chance at Allan McGregor's legs. "It could have been a cricket score," Hull manager Steve Bruce conceded after the game, "if we hadn't woken up."
The second half showed, however, why Villa can be so infuriating to watch. The team needed to stay on the front foot, playing with the same verve and tempo, but instead allowed Hull to dictate play.
That wasn't entirely deliberate. On so many occasions, a team trailing by two goals comes back into the game, and Villa were unlikely physically to be able to continue playing with such intensity. A furious Bruce would have demanded a response from his players too. Yet the closing period of the match demonstrated Villa have to master the art of controlling games for longer. The finale was too tense given the relaxed manner of the first half.
There was a nervous conclusion to the game, but this was a good day for Villa, featuring plenty of bright, inventive football, two well-made and well-taken goals, and noticeable vocal support for Lambert from the home fans.
Not even the sight of Hull's defenders queuing up to kick lumps out of Jack Grealish ruined the day, though Ron Vlaar's limping injury-time exit was worrying. The Dutchman at least has time to recover; Villa resume league action on Sept.13 and will do so in a healthy position.