Steve Bruce was on the touchline at Villa Park for the first time since a fateful cabbage took flight, and his side delivered a suitably underwhelming performance. Fortunately, Newcastle are his now, and it was Villa who walked away deserved 2-0 winners.

The Good
Villa were composed and patient, especially in the first half, when it really counted. Conor Hourihane delivered two inch-perfect strikes, one to score, one to set up El Ghazi. Jack drove at the toon all night, earning the telling set pieces and continually disrupting their backline and organization. Konsa was steady. Targett and Guilbert got forward, and didn’t do too badly at the back, either. Heaton made two excellent saves. Ghazi did his job, keeping the width and threat, and should’ve had a second. We finished very clearly on the front foot.

The Bad
Not a lot here, really. We let Newcastle get their heads up to the start the second, and showed some of the nerves that have undone winning positions before. A bit sloppy, a bit headless. But we settled down. I suppose you’d have to say we were profligate, but at least Wes had his first good look-in for a while.

The Ugly
The mood, had we lost.

Final Verdict
It was a big game and we came away with the points at home. Also helped our goal differential. So, in the end, that’s all that matters. Every team in this league will make and miss chances, and the irony of Villa being the set-piece winners, well, like I said above, had to laugh at Bruce’s post match comments. “I thought the first one was a bit soft.” Stupid, is what it was, Steve, and obvious as the day is long, but Yedlin was beaten and at least managed to push Jack over outside the box. Not that it mattered, in the end, but it was a professional foul that probably should’ve earned him a booking. What was soft about the whole thing was the positioning of Newcastle’s wall.

Tactically, Dean Smith obviously got it dead right on the night by bringing in Hourihane and playing Ghazi instead of Trez. The chip that Conor carries from being left out often works wonders for his performances. Luiz for Nakamba…well, Douglas is still finding his feet, but I think most days Marvelous is the better bet to play the holding role. At the same time, Dean knew the barcodes didn’t really pose much threat from the middle.

As many have said, we did look a bit shaky for a while there in the second, but the important thing is that we settled down, got back to playing our game, and were relatively smart about it. Was really nice to see us close it out looking for a third. You hate to see so many good chances go begging, but when you win…?

McGinn was disappointing again, which is a shame. But while you might worry about it with a lot of other players, you know he’ll get back to his best. He looked tired, basically. Wesley looked more interested and worked hard up front. One of his better games, and his efforts helped us apply high pressure. Also nice to see him finally push back against a CB and show his strength and a bit of attitude.

Targett and Guilbert also added a lot. Matt continues to offer much more than Taylor in the attacking phase. Guilbert obviously provides a lot of service on the other flank and had a couple-three nice tackles. They’re playing what has to be the most difficult position in the modern game. There’s a lot of speed, skill, and threat out wide in this league. Just like we expect to beat people out there, others are going to get at us, and part of it is just down to our formation. That’s where Mings, Engels, and Konsa come in—mobile and athletic. With a good DM in front covering the middle gap, and the wide men tracking back, you’d like to think we can survive a fair amount of exposure out there. Konsa’s done a nice job deputizing for Engels and may well keep him out for a while.

And then, of course, we come to Jack, who is simply the heart and soul of the team. His quality and composure, the attention he draws, the confidence he gives the side and the way he makes the system work…He’s simply irreplaceable. I think we all know that, by now.

What I’m taking away from this first third of the season is that we’re good enough. And it’s a bit impressive that we’re trying to, and often succeeding at, playing expansive football even as we learn on the fly. Smith has been true to his word and philosophy. We’ve also been undone by it, but in the end, that’s the only way you learn. You’re going to have to take your lumps. One of the analysts I heard afterward praised Smith’s calm and steady leadership, and how he’s stuck to his squad and philosophy, rather than panic and start throwing darts the way Fulham did. It carries through to the team, and you could see the smiles. They’re enjoying their football, hard as it’s been at times, and every now and then there’s a lovely passage of play that shows they’re really getting it and coming together. There was more than one last night. All that was missing were the finishes.

And of course I was quite pleased to see Bruce’s ‘homecoming’ spoiled. He did a lot of good for the club and obviously feels aggrieved. He’s not done badly with Newcastle. The set-up there suits him. But Smith’s the right man for Villa, and it was good to be reminded of that on the night.

I’m going to enjoy this and actually look forward to United just a bit. They’re obviously still wobbly, and the Sheffield match is not going to have them feeling any better about themselves. We’re about due for a big win, because we’ve been close and got Arsenal and Spurs before they started struggling. Anyway, we’re not going to end up being one of the worst three teams in the league, and given the way things are playing out around us, might well end up comfortably sat somewhere between 10th and 15th…with a bit of luck. So, yeah, let’s make some luck and go get something at Old Trafford.

Over to you.

Comments 30

  1. Thanks JC, I think we can get something at Old Trafford, they are not unbeatable for sure and we are a bit of an unknown at present. Myself I’m quite happy with where we are right now, still in the thick of things either way is as much as we could ask for in our circumstances.

    JG- I’ve no doubt conors cr*p for Ireland as they’re cr*p, I think they’d leap at Withe and gray even now and as long as they’d been to Dublin 🙂

  2. Good review JC.

    On McGinn, apart from it being his off days, I feel his propensity to shoot when others are in better positions do cost us a few goals. Yes, he has scored some beautiful goals from distance but with a shots per game of nearly 3 and only three goals to show for them in 13 matches, it is an average return.

  3. Villalore…

    Good point. I think there’s truth to that. I like that he does shoot, because opponents have to respect that. But, as you say, not the world’s highest return.

    Probably the one failing right now in the attacking phase (and this probably goes a bit more for Jack), is not playing that final ball sooner, especially to his right. If/when Jack starts doing that (and not quite sure what’s holding him back, same with shooting), he’ll be a truly complete player stepping up into the highest echelon.

  4. On McGinn, he has had his role changed for us, he does get forward but as that article points out he is collecting the ball and dribbling from deep more. Not now being asked to get up around Wes when he scored his goals early on. I believe he plays like that for Scotland hence the goals.

  5. Solid win. Big 3 points. Conformable really

    Only bug bare is we didn’t get a 3rd earlier and finsih the game off. We make life to hard. All Newcastle needed to do was grab 1 even with 10 mins left and its s**t your pants Time

    Need jota back. Think he’s our best winger

    January though. Need a striker and winger. Wesley needs to go on loan or something

    Konsa very calm. Looks good. Has looked calmer than mings. He’s becoming complacent

  6. Great leader JC, agree with ur thoughts.

    Couple of changes DS could have made:
    Lansbury for McGinn after 70mins
    Kodger for Wesley after 80mins

    It was definitely the best effort and most running that Wesley did. Pity about the miss, but it wasn’t a complete sitter and at least he was in the right position. Both Brazilians had their best Villa games, I reckon the international call up helped them. You can see Luiz is a real talent, just needs game time.

    From, having Jota back will be like a new signing for December. I also thought Konza was excellent. Except for ths 1st game vs Spurs, I haven’t been impressed with Engels as a guaranteed starter.

    So Man U away on Sunday after their Thursday Europa game in Kazakhstan. We played both Arsenal and Wolves after Thursday games and I felt it would help us and was optimistic. Hopefully 3rd time lucky! How great would it be for us to win at Old Trafford

  7. Meant Frem above, not From! Typo..

    On Engels, yes he’s ok. I was expecting him to grow and be better. If anything he has gone slightly backwards. On the other hand, Konsa looks very composed and has matured from cup games and epl starts. I feel sorry for Hause as he’s also a real player and deserves game time

  8. VillaMD- Engels gone backwards? he is easily the best CB in the air we have, also beats mings on interceptions and tackles stats wise. That said I like Konsa, Hause has no chance with Mings there unless he gets injured, shame as he never really let us down last season bar his 1st game where he was very rusty.

  9. Frem
    Jota- yes he may be on the bench, hopefully soon as he has a good connection with Wesley, & it would balance the attack to have him available depending on the opponent.

  10. John McGinn has been immense for this football club. An absolute bargain – he was sensational in the Championship and has continued his form in the Premier League. Dean Smith will continue to make him a more intelligent player. I don’t understand how people can criticise him for having one below par game.

    Jack Grealish is a messiah. A wonderfully talented footballer – he reminds me of George Best. He is getting better with every game.

    He is made for International football – calmness – composure under pressure – picks a pass and creates panic when he picks up the ball.

    How Southgate picks Delph – Hudsson Od. or Berkley over Jack is beyond me. They are not even playing for their respective teams.

    However – if he plays International football i am convinced a European Super Club will come in for Jack. He is that good.

  11. Deano and his 4 year contract. Nobody can say he hasn’t deserved it but unless the club’s arm was forced, I’d never give any manager a contract of that length. Rolling 1 year contracts seem fine to me for all of the coaching staff. It would prevent complacency creeping in.

  12. RichardS, I agree with your comments about Jack. Southgate must have a team of world beaters if he can afford the ignore him.

    As for SJM………..sooooo grateful that Spud signed him.

  13. Plug. We have nothing to fear against Man UTD. They are garbage.

    We willl take the lead against them for sure. We just need go manage the game and protect our lead in the last 10 minutes.

  14. RichardS- surprised you think its about one game with SJM ,one assist in the last 6 games compared to 3 goals and 1 assist in 7 says something has changed. Contrast that with the 2 goals and two assists from jack in 5 games since switching to the LW 7 games ago (with two games injured obviously).

    Meanwhile he plays a more forward role for Scotland and scores loads ( go figure). Its not a criticism just an observation that he his not hitting his own high standards for us and Jacks move might be why.

  15. Plug- I think the 4 years is fair considering what Smith has achieved so far and is unlikely to be on massive money. Giving a coach a year when he is tasked with the ongoing development of players not just match day would send out the wrong message to all for me. Who could be bothered to listen to or believe in a man the owners don’t?

  16. Good stuff…no ‘criticism’ from me when it comes to SJM. Like I say, he just looked a bit tired last time out. I think there’s probably a little mental/emotional fatigue given his efforts and heroics for Scotland and the work he’s been putting in for us ever since he arrived.

    One of the reasons I’m not at all fussed about Jack not being called up. That’s been a curse for us, almost inevitably the beginning of the player’s closing act at Villa.

    The only difference now is that Compass have enough money and intent that we are probably more likely to be able to keep players now.

  17. Likewise, think 4 years is fair for Dean. Sends a good message to him and the squad, and I don’t think he’s one to be complacent or let that settle into the club. That and there’s still more work to be done wherever we end up at the end of this season.

  18. JC- Can’t remember the last time our best player by a country mile was a local lad and a fan to the degree Jack is? I can’t see him voluntarily going anywhere unless we drop. Or he may one day decide he needs to to play for England so I hope he gets called up.

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