While one game does not make a season, on the evidence of yesterday’s victory over Newcastle, perhaps there is more cause for optimism in Aston Villa’s ranks. It was far from their best performance, and certainly won’t go down in history as a season-changer, but there was enough on show to suggest that the Villans will be safe come the end of the campaign.
Alan Pardew’s Newcastle has shown on their return to the top flight that they can be a difficult side to handle and, despite a lack of real quality up front, they are capable of scoring goals. What threat there was from the Magpies was nullified effectively all over the pitch by an organised Villa side. Peter Lovenkrands came closest to earning them points but he was met by a confident and dependable Brad Friedel in the Villains’ goal. Likewise the handling of the self-proclaimed best English midfielder was astute and professional. Joey Barton looked to cause problems but was often out-muscled in the middle of the park. Playing to his weaknesses, he was left frustrated by a physical display.
With victory lifting Houllier’s side to 14th on 37 points, two more victories should see them cross the line and ensure their place in England’s top flight for another season. They are in the enviable position of having some very “winnable” fixtures ahead. Trips to fellow relegation candidates West Ham and West Brom are to come, as well as entertaining both Stoke and Wigan. None of these sides will feel they are safe just yet and so there are big points on offer for Villa to steal.
Of course, to use an oft-said phrase, the game is played on the pitch and not on paper. These points still need to be won but based on yesterday’s game there is no reason to doubt Villa. Ashley Young was lively throughout, as was Gabby Agbonlahor. Darren Bent should easily have had two goals, one incorrectly chalked off for offside as well as a misjudged free header. Goal scorer James Collins was solid in defence while carrying a threat from attacking set-pieces and Stuart Downing, although not the most exciting of players, showed once again how effective he can be from wide positions. His presence in the team cannot be understated.
To ensure safety, the performances will need to be better but at present, it certainly looks as if Houllier’s men are singing from the same hymn sheet.