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Author Topic: That's entertainment  (Read 774 times)

Offline dave.woodhall

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That's entertainment
« on: February 02, 2021, 06:53:05 PM »
In normal times, either at Villa Park or away from home, Dean Smith’s swashbuckling side would doubtlessly have been the hottest ticket in town just now. How long we’ve waited to approach games, no matter who we’re facing, with complete confidence. Well, almost complete confidence, given we all know what the Villa can do to you. You might say as far back as one of Martin O’Neill’s sides, so over ten years, but I would say you need to go back further than that for a side to compare with this lockdown team. Going forward we look capable of scoring with every attack, with often just that choice of final pass, or in some cases our own overplaying, denying us from being able to run up the tally we managed against Liverpool in October.

Without a doubt, the manager now has considerable attacking options at his disposal, epitomised most recently by the emergence of Bertrand Traore and the renaissance of Anwar El Ghazi as goal scorers. The creativity and significant goal threat offered by Ross Barkley, Captain Jack and Super John McGinn supplement a goalscoring, if not yet prolific, centre-forward in Ollie Watkins and so, you can perhaps see why Smith was willing to let yet another persistent and reliable goalscoring midfielder, of nearly four years stature in claret and blue, Conor Hourihane, leave on loan in the January transfer window.

You need to go back to Big Ron Atkinson’s Villa sides to find a midfield with such attacking intent. Ray Houghton, Andy Townsend, and Garry Parker all knew where the net was and of course the football played by Ron’s sides was as free-flowing as any we’ve ever seen at Villa Park. He had forwards like Dalian Atkinson, Dean Saunders and of course, Tony Daley, who were able to get Villa up the pitch as quickly as those mentioned above, doing just that for us this season. Kevin Richardson played the Dougie Luiz holding role.

Ron Saunders’ magical side of 1977 has also gone done in Villa folklore as a team of entertainers. Despite scoring more goals than anyone in the league (76 in 42 games), we finished a disappointing and perhaps undeserved fourth. A little more luck, with both injuries and fixture scheduling (we had to play fifteen league games in April and May after replays at both the semi-final and final stages of our third League Cup win) and we might well have gone closer to winning the League championship that the rebuilt side of just a few seasons later did. Most of the goals were spread around the immortal front three of Andy Gray, Brian Little and John ‘Dixie’ Deehan but Alex Cropley, Frank Carrodus, Ray Graydon (for half a season) and Dennis Mortimer and Gordon Cowans (the two links to the trophy-winning team of just four years later) all had the energy and drive to ensure Villa were on the front foot every time they had the ball.

Like the Mattys, Cash and Targett, this season, that side also had, in John Gidman, a flying full-back, who loved nothing more than to venture forward. Targett has looked the part in his second season in claret and blue (I actually thought he had a reasonable first season too but he got some defensive criticism), just as Luiz and Ezri Konsa have too. Dean Smith said it many times, last season needed the bulk recruitment of players just to rebuild the squad. This season, we are seeing the benefit of several of those players now having fully settled into their B6 surroundings, whilst also enjoying the support of some excellent players recruited for key positions last summer.

The Villa side of Graham Taylor’s last season in charge, first time around, was another truly entertaining team, with the notable likeness to this season’s team in that it was just their second season back in the top flight too. For Jack Grealish, an emerging talent on the England scene, read David Platt, our talisman under Sir Graham. Young Ian Olney was as inexperienced as Ollie Watkins in carrying the sole striker burden for a team in the top division but he did so impressively, until the March arrival of a new record signing, Tony Cascarino. His was sadly a move which failed to have the title-winning impact desired.

Whilst very different in style to Tony Daley, our other winger, Ian Ormondroyd could break with pace and of course, Sid Cowans’ ability to find his team mates never waned, with Platt particularly benefitting. Kevin Gage proved an attacking threat that season too. Taylor’s runners-up scored 57 league goals from 42 games, as did Big Ron’s side in finishing in the same position, three seasons later. 
We already have 34 goals at the halfway point of this season (only Spurs and the current top four, many of whom we have a game or even two in hand on, have scored more) and though Dean Smith’s side probably won’t reach the heights, just yet, in terms of league position obtained by the entertainers of Saunders, Taylor and then Atkinson, there’s no doubt the team have already taken big strides forward this season. Only with the exception of one or two home games (Leeds and maybe Southampton), have we not been firmly in with a chance of getting a result, with poor refereeing, VAR and contentious decisions all costing us points. For a change, at Turf Moor it was our own naivety and failure to put a game we were well in control of to bed, in as dominant a first half performance as you’re ever likely to see, which cost us the points – even now, I still can’t believe how we didn’t win that game? Overall, it certainly doesn’t feel like we’ve deserved to lose seven of our first nineteen games.   

For the second half of the season let’s hope the team continues to entertain us all – we have become the pundits’, if not quite the people’s favourites (as well as Jose Mourinho’s of course) – and get the points for at least the top half finish that we would certainly thoroughly deserve on our showing so far. At the moment, the sky really feels like the limit for our talented squad and the manager deserves all the plaudits he gets, as well. He’s never wavered in his attacking approach to the game. Especially during these challenging times, let’s just keep enjoying it!

Robin Wilkes


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