Aston Villa’s second XI comfortably disposed of Bristol City last night whilst removing an unwanted statistic. 26 Consecutive away games in all competitions without a clean sheet is not something to be proud of, certainly not for a club of our standing and ambition.
I admit to being rather concerned when I saw the team being fielded by Dean Smith – eleven changes from the line up that started against Sheffield United. Where would the goals come from and Elmo at centre back? I feared an(other) embarrassing result against lower league opposition particularly given our poor record against City who had started their season with four straight wins.
I was wrong; 3-0 and it probably should have been more.
We were on our game from the start, pressing high, moving the ball quickly and within 15 minutes 2-0 up and it should have been three. Davis or El Ghazi, on the rebound, should probably have scored but fair play to their GK who kept them out. The two goals though were classy efforts – worthy of a higher stage and both from open play – a refreshing change as the majority of our recent goals have come from set pieces.
Davis’ run into the box and along the goal line – dancing around several City defenders left floundering in his wake – before perfectly putting the ball at El Ghazi’s feet was a good example of why he’s so highly rated at Villa Park. If he can add 10 goals a season to the rest of his game he will be some player.
Two minutes later and Traore scores on his debut with a sublime cushioned volley from Jacob Ramsey’s perfect cross field pass.
We continued to press throughout the half and were, perhaps, unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty when Ramsey was brought down when clean through on goal.
Second half we opted to sit back more and play on the break – whether that was a deliberate tactical change by Smith or not is open to debate – but we still created a number of good chances – not taken – until Watkins came on to score with an accurate shot into the bottom corner from a cross field ball by Trezuguet.
Elmo was excellent looking like he’d played at centre-back for years with an assured defensive display and accurate distribution going forward (is he now the ultimate utility player?) but I made Ramsey man of the match. With his darting runs from midfield, so reminiscent of Ian Taylor, and his accurate passing, at 19 he looks every bit a class act for the future and I can see him challenging for an EPL start before the end of the season. I’m not sure that sending him out on loan would be a good move.
It’s been an excellent week for our three debutants and there may still be more additions to come. First impressions are that we have added real quality to the core of a team and are building on the work done over the last twelve months. The Lyon fans, it seems. were pleased to see the back of Traore – as they were when a certain John Carew joined us – and look how that turned out.
It’s been confirmed Samatta has left the club joining Fenerbahce on a four year contract for an undisclosed fee (rumoured to be in the region of £7m}. He was the first Tanzanian player to both play and score in the Premier League having netted on his debut at Bournemouth. Its fair to say that he probably didn’t get the best of opportunities given our position and the onset of Covid but Smith has presumably decided that he’s not going to make it in the EPL.
I wish him all the best at his new club.
So onto Fulham at Craven Cottage, on Monday night, as we continue to play ‘catch up’ in the league.
We haven’t managed an away win in the EPL since Burnley on New Years Day when both Wesley and Heaton were injured, nor do we have a good record at Fulham – last winning there in January 2010. Our last trip to The Cottage ended in a 2-1 defeat in the FA Cup, earlier this year.
Fulham have started with two defeats, shipping seven goals in the process, and will be looking to improve whilst Villa are on a five game undefeated run and will want to continue that and secure another away clean sheet.
A draw would be acceptable but, if we really are going to make progress this season, then this is a game we should be winning.