Gabby’s first goal at Villa Park since December and a second goal of the season for Weimann have left us in a giddy third place going into the coming international break. We are unbeaten in our first three league games and have scored at Villa Park for the first time this season at the third time of asking.
On the down side we did concede our first goal of the season yesterday. In doing so we lost the chance to emulate the 1900-1901 defending league champions who were the last Villa team not to have a goal scored against them in their first three league games. But this was a good day to be a Villa fan at Villa Park and such days have been very rare of late.
Paul Lambert chose to keep an unchanged team for a third league game where many of us might have tinkered with it. The points we have gained this season have been built on a solid defence that has two full backs who are prepared to venture forward. The rest of the team worked hard and pressured Hull yesterday particularly in a first half that we dominated. We claimed two well worked goals and struck the woodwork twice in that first half. But we took our foot off the pedal in the second half, Bruce changed things around for them and their goal brought them back into the game and left us hanging on at the end. This was three points we may well have not hung onto last season but this is not the team of last season.
Hull does seem to bring out the best in us. No doubt some will point to their game on Thursday as a reason for their defeat. Last season their pending Wembley FA Cup Final appearance was mentioned as a reason that they may have taken their eye off the ball. But we have now beaten them twice in successive Villa Park meetings. Home wins have been a rare commodity of late for us and our last two have come against yesterday’s opponents. If a player was considering joining one or the other club today I think this might well influence his decision...
Our 7 points from 9 may not be a prelude to a run for the title or a Champions League place but it is a good start to the season which offers us a cushion that we may well need given the run of games we face on our return to league action.
The transfer window also slams shut today and our current league standing cannot do anything but help us to persuade prospective signings that Villa Park is the place to be.
My player ratings from a game that has left us with a wide grin are:
Brad Guzan – 7 – Brad was solid as a rock when he needed to be. Made a splendid save on 80 minutes when he tipped a Livermore shot over to deny him an equalizer and also kept out a fierce Aluko shot in stoppage time.
Alan Hutton – 7 – Another very encouraging all round performance.
Philippe Senderos – 7 – Played his part in marshalling our defence and gave another good performance. He was not able to get quite enough on his well aimed 48th minute header from a Westwood free kick to seriously trouble their keeper.
Ron Vlaar – 7 – He is the heart of our defence and it is crucial he is still with us at close of business today.
Aly Cissokho – 7 – Aly was strong at the back and a menace to Hull when moving forward. He unluckily got the last touch to Jelavic’s header for their goal which Guzan might otherwise have had the opportunity to keep out.
Charles N’Zogbia – 6 – Started pretty well and put his foot in more than once to claim the ball. Given he missed so much of last season he can improve and see out games once he has got more games under his belt.
Kieran Richardson - 6 – Caught by the trailing leg of a defender on the edge of the box on 10 minutes when he would have otherwise been one on one with the keeper. Hit a shot from 30 yards over the crossbar on 50 minutes. Kieran gave a decent display yesterday as part of a hard working midfield.
Ashley Westwood – 7 – Hit a tremendous free kick that struck the post with McGregor beaten on 43 minutes after Delph had been brought down by Davies as he was about to run into their box. This was a good response to the prospect of increased competition for midfield starting places.
Fabian Delph – 7 – Started the move that led to our first goal. Might also have opened the scoring in the 2nd minute when Gabby back heeled the ball to Weimann who then found him but his shot from a tight angle rattled the woodwork. He also made a very good forward run on 79 minutes which ended with a shot that went harmlessly wide of the post when he might have done better to slip the ball through to an unmarked Grealish.
Andreas Weimann – 7 – Hit our second on 36 minutes. Delph claimed a loose ball and found Gabby who hit the ball wide to Richardson whose cross into the centre of the area found Andi in space. He took a touch before hitting the ball into the corner of the net with some aplomb. Andi worked hard throughout up front in the middle and at times at the back. Two goals from three starts is an encouragingly good strike rate.
Gabriel Agbonlahor – 8 – MOTM – Why can’t he play like this more often? Hit our opening goal on 14 minutes when he turned on the edge of the box and drilled the ball into the corner of the net past McGregor after N’Zogbia had fed Weimann who in turn found him. Gabby also made three very probing runs and crosses on 16, 33 and 58 minutes. The first two of these were put out for corners and the last one was headed clear. He was denied a second when his goal bound shot on 40 minutes was blocked by McGregor’s leg. Faded prior to being substituted having given a whole hearted display up until then. We will be looking for another focused performance like this when he next takes the field for us and for consistency during the rest of the season.
Carlos Sánchez – 6 – Replaced N’Zogbia on 64 minutes. I had anticipated Carlos would be starting the game. He instead faced a need to settle into it at a time when we were coming under pressure. This proved to be difficult which was understandable given he is still in the process of settling into his new surroundings.
Jack Grealish – Replaced Richardson on 75 minutes. Not on the field quite long enough to gather a rating but he was on long enough to be cynically scythed down on the first four occasions he was given the ball to move forward with. I had wondered whether Norman Hunter and Ron Harris had been taken onto Hull’s coaching staff. But it seems more likely that their manager has become aware of Jack’s emerging talent and had suggested his resolve might be put to the test by the odd heavy challenge or four. He came through that test well and Hull deservedly did not profit from this approach earning their three resultant bookings. Might be well advised to invest in some heavy duty shin pads in the coming days.
Darren Bent – Replaced Gabby on 85 minutes. Another who did not get the game time to merit a rating. But he did miss an opportunity to put the game beyond reach in stoppage time when he was found by a well weighted Westwood ball on the edge of the box. Sadly Darren hit his shot wide of the post from a very similar position to the one he did the same thing from in our recent cup debacle. This was another chance he would once have buried but he lacks the confidence that goals bring and the sharpness that a run of games can help bring about.
Up the Villa!