What. A. Night. Again. Can we play all of our remaining home games on a Tuesday night? Of course, I am biased, but there are surely very few places which capture the atmosphere of Villa Park for a big night game?
And so it was last night as we rode our luck thanks to so poor finishing from Leicester’s James Maddison, some world-class goalkeeping by the much-maligned Ørjan Nyland and a heart-stopping, stoppage time winner from Trezeguet which brought the house down. Talk about scenes – mayhem, bedlam and carnage all rolled into one.
After weathering a blue storm for the first 20 or so minutes, Villa settled into the game and started to produce some very watchable football. Nakamba and Douglas Luiz were tireless in the middle of the park and Tyrone Mings was flawless at the back, marshalling the defence superbly and revelling in his new role as part of a back three.
Matt Targett and Freddie Guilbert took every opportunity to push on as we sought to take the game to Leicester, and the link-up between Jack Grealish (through whom everything good flowed for Villa, as is the norm) and Targett was particularly successful all evening, not just for Targett’s excellent opening goal.
By that stage, Leicester could have been out of sight, but for two world-class saves from Nyland from the effervescent Maddison, and the Norwegian followed those by an even better effort to tip a Tielemans effort onto the bar. Maddison continued to be wasteful in front of goal, drawing negative comparison to our own Super Jack from an amused Holte End.
Everyone in claret and blue put a shift in against a very good (and virtually full-strength) Leicester City. A special mention for our new signing Ally Samatta though – 65 minutes of fast-paced, cup tie football with him not having played for a month. He put himself about, linked up well with others, made some decent runs and really should have scored, completely missing a glorious cross for Grealish when he looked odds-on to tap in. It will be interesting to see him at full throttle.
A villa fan walks into a pub at Wembley , the barmaid says “the usual?” …#avfc
— Ian Sanders (@IanMSanders) January 28, 2020
So our annual trip to Wembley is confirmed. As a neat footnote, we even managed to end Brendan Rodgers’ unbeaten domestic cup record. The last time he managed a losing side was when he was in charge of Liverpool and they lost the FA Cup semi-final in 2015. If only I could remember who beat them that day…
The signs are improving for Villa as we head into a critical stage of the season – if we can keep up that level of performance going forward, and as Samatta gets up to full fitness, Keinan Davis continues his recovery and the likes of John McGinn return from injury, a strong finish to the season (apparently Dean Smith’s trademark) is well on the cards.
On a less positive note, I was not impressed at all by the pitch invasion, however good-natured it may have been. When it came, it was depressingly predictable, despite the repeated requests as the game drew to a close. It also prevented the rest of us who did not feel the need to stick two fingers up at the club announcer from celebrating with the players from afar.
I realise that as a club, we have been starved of these kinds of nights for far too long, but the fact remains we have won nothing yet and to invade the pitch in this manner is incredibly small-time. It doesn’t happen anywhere else apart from non- and lower league clubs where they genuinely have little else to celebrate.
But in the cold light of day, we’ve made it to another League Cup Final and the chance to notch up a sixth success. Not too bad in Dean Smith’s first full season in charge, and whoever we end up playing, it will be a fabulous day out at our second home. Six visits in five years is quite remarkable considering the journey we have been on in that period.
Up the Villa.