The encounter on Saturday was certainly as tight as we expected, but it was hugely satisfying to see us come out on top. There is still a lot to do, but we have given ourselves an excellent platform for the second leg tomorrow.
Steve Bruce got his tactics spot on, and I have no doubt that his recent experiences of the playoffs are giving us an extra edge. So, what did we learn from the game at the Riverside Stadium?
1) A Commanding Performance from the Scottish Cafu
Alan Hutton followed Adama Traore absolutely everywhere. In a blog on Friday, I highlighted this matchup as one of two key battles that we had to win on the pitch. The Scottish veteran won out with a top display.
He was facing an opponent with a huge speed advantage, and many fullbacks would have stood off in fear worrying what the Spaniard would do. Experience can be a massive asset though, and what he gave away in pace, the left back more than made up with positional awareness and tactical nous.
2) Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man
Jack Grealish hasn’t played in many bigger games during his Villa career so far, and it it was fantastic to see that he rose to the occasion. Some playmakers are great when the pressure is off but go into hiding when things get tough. That is certainly not the case for our no.10.
As well as creating the only goal, he was composed on the ball and brave in possession. In tight spaces, he got himself out of trouble and kept us ticking. I’m hoping for a carbon copy performance in the second leg.
3) Playoff Experience Proves Vital
Bruce went with Mile Jedinak in midfield for his experience, and it was a superb decision. Not only did he soar high to score the game’s only goal, but he was winning headers left, right and centre.
Before the match, the Australian said his past successes in the playoffs would hold him in good stead, and he was proven right. Having so many players in the team who have been there and done it, has no doubt given us the edge so far in this contest.