Opening day delight for Villa!
In record breaking circumstances, Alan Hutton has managed to win both player and goal of the season within 90 minutes of football… In all seriousness however, Monday night marked a fantastic start to the season and a much needed one at that. Given, the possibility of Grealish going to Spurs this week, it was quintessential for the team to inject some positivity into us fans so that we remain optimistic for the season regardless of transfers. This point was demonstrated in crystal clear fashion in the form of the fans reaction to what seemed quite a defensive lineup but thankfully, we were proven wrong. Here is my take on a great start to what can hopefully be a massive season for the mighty Villa.
Bruce’s starting XI
Like many other fans, I was slightly dismayed to see Whelan and Elmohamady selected over Bjarnason and Green; making the assumption that we were going to attempt a classic defensive away performance where solidity would be the word of the day. Whilst we did not hit the heights of last season with respects to the quality of our passing, I have to hold my hands up and give Bruce credit for his selections. Elmo won man of the match, getting a goal and an assist and his combination play down the right provided danger throughout. Meanwhile, Whelan put in an incredible display in his holding midfield role and seemed to be all over the pitch throughout; a much better start to this season than the last one for the Irish veteran.
In perhaps more important news, Bruce did acknowledge the clear pattern that has emerged throughout his tenure and start his far more successful 4 at the back system. I saw a minority of fans claim that Hutton was a 3rd central defender online but for me this just was not the case as Elmo and Adomah were simply too attacking. There was a fair amount of tinkering in pre-season with respect to formations but for me, we always look better with 4 at the back so this was encouraging to see. One of the main benefits of a 3 at the back system would be wing backs roaming up the pitch, however with Hutton and Elmo down the right we seemed to gain this advantage regardless and make use of the large depth in terms of right backs in our squad. Releasing Adomah is one of the key benefits of starting with 4 defenders as he does not have to defend as much but unfortunately he had one of his off games yesterday so this didn’t pay as much dividends as Bruce would have hoped.
Kodjia played the lone striker role reasonably well and grew into the game in my opinion; winning the long balls and holding it up with a decent ratio of success. That said, he still does not seem to be the same player that we had before he got injured. There is just a missing spark still; that flash of acceleration maybe or maybe it is just playing on his mind and therefore he is not playing at 100% still. When you combine this with his passing (or lack of) then if we did receive a decent bid, a sale of the Kodfather would not disappoint me too much. Hepburn Murphy looked good when he came on and we still have Davis, Hogan and Knibbs to come back into the fold as well as possible links to new strikers. Hopefully he regains his form and goes back to firing us to victories but in terms of general play he can be very frustrating nonetheless.
Once again, Jack Grealish was an absolute pleasure to watch and if that is the last time we get to see him take a silky first touch or ghost past a player in a Villa shirt then I would be gutted. Every time he gets the ball he oozes class that nobody else in this league possesses. With Jack it is never a random hoof, he can get the ball with 3 men round him and he will still hang on to the ball and find a pass that allows us to retain possession. In addition to this he drives forward with the ball so effortlessly and this is key to us moving forward as a team. If Jack is to leave then Hourihane has to pick up this element of his game or we will need to find someone us to propel the team forwards. McGinn has been linked and he could well be this man but Jack’s boots would not be easy to fill and that was clear again against Hull.
In between the sticks, Villa have signed Nyland today and I would imagine that he will become our first choice keeper or at least put pressure on Steer. Personally I thought Steer had a good game yesterday; he made a fantastic save to stop us going behind when Bowen burst through and he also came off his line excellently to save us after Elphick’s lack of pace was exposed. However once again you could argue that he made a costly mistake as his punch did leave a lot to be desired and his seeming consistency in making mistakes is a worry.
Tommy Elphick had a mixed performance. Defensively I don’t think him and Chester really work as neither of them are particularly commanding in the air or fast enough to cover. Considering Chester is fundamental to us, I’d like to see Tuanzebe come in alongside our Captain as we gave away a lot of chances against Hull; thankfully Campbell and Dicko shoot with similar accuracy to a storm-trooper and thus we escaped without conceding a second goal. Neil Taylor put in a trademark Neil Taylor performance and drifted through the game without providing anything substantial defensively or with the ball. He always looks weaker and slower than his opponent and gets exposed, which inevitably lead to Bowen providing a constant threat down his side for Hull. Fortunately we are in talks with Joe Bryan and this would be a sensational acquisition for us and can only strengthen our team.
Our first goal was very reminiscent of last season in the fact that we once again scored from a set piece. This is a fantastic trait to have in such a crazy league and is certainly a big positive to Bruce’s management. The ball that Grealish whipped in was exquisite and Elphick expertly steered his free header into the bottom right corner of the goal. Hull’s defending was very questionable but it was good to see us continuing to carry a threat from these positions despite losing the delivery of Snodgrass and the aerial threat of Terry. It was brilliant to see such a fast response to the freak goal we conceded and we definitely deserved to equalize after taking control of the game for this spell of football.
The game then died off for a bit before a dodgy goal kick allowed Elmohamady to receive the ball on the edge of Hulls back and steer it into the far corner. He put in an excellent performance down the right and deserved this goal; the finish came as a surprise to me but a very welcome and impressive one at that! The new era of Egyptian ownership was ushered in very fittingly with an Egyptian player scoring to give us our first lead. I for one will be constructing a pyramid in my back garden if Elmo carries on scoring in all our future games.
And then… Limbs! Who better to cap off the ideal start to a season than fan favourite and all round legend Alan Hutton. Bald Messi, White Pele, The Scottish Cafu… I have heard all of these names banded around during the last 24 hours but the sad truth is that none of these names, or words themselves get near doing this man or his goal justice. Hutton picked the ball up 40 yards out, turned on his jet engines and didn’t stop until he had flown past multiple defenders and left the goalkeeper to pick the ball out of his net. He then took off towards an incredible away end and celebrated with Villa fans who have not been as surprised yet delighted since Lowton smashed a 40 yard volley in years ago. I’ve been re-watching the clip with embarrassing frequency ever since and it was the perfect end to a great start to the season.
In conclusion, whilst we did not look unbelievable by any stretch of the imagination, it is impossible not to be pleased by our start to the season. Winning away from home is always difficult on this league and thus doing so with a squad that is not yet complete is very satisfying. Credit must go to Bruce for picking the correct squad, his subs of Hepburn Murphy and Green also impacted the game positively and this is another great sign. With more competition already being announced in goal, Bryan reported to be ready for a medical and McGinn similarly close I am very optimistic that we can push on from here. Ideally we will keep Grealish but this whole sage is getting incredibly annoying so that’s all I’ll say about that for now
Up the Villa and all hail Alan Hutton!
Some of you may have noticed our brand new feature here on Heart of the Holte making its debut last night and we are delighted with the reception it received. After every game we will be uploading minute long reviews from a great set of fans who have volunteered to share their thoughts whilst they are still feeling the passion and glee that a win provides or the crushing disappointment of a loss. This raw content will be on twitter incredibly quickly after games and if you have not checked out last nights then I’d strongly advise you to do so as well as looking out for future uploads. To do so simply search for #HolteCams on Twitter!
Categories: Match Review