It`s been a while since we experienced three points at home, and despite a rare yet encouragingly dominant performance by the claret and blues, it looked like that winless run was going to continue some more until the introduction of three academy graduates.
Strangely enough, or not as the case may be, the last two Villa home victories have come in the midst of ‘special edition` matchdays, as the victory during Acorns Day this afternoon was preceded by Bonfire Night`s win against Norwich, that was labelled ‘Armed Forces Day`.
So yeah, it was great to finally get more than one point out of a home game. This was due in no small part to McLeish`s substitutions. I`ll admit that even I just didn`t get the N`Zogbia sub. At the time it just seemed that it would do nothing but weaken our attacking options, but I suppose that when push comes to shove managers live and die by their decisions. Given the role of all the subs in the winning goal, McLeish`s contribution to this game will go down as a positive one.
I thought the atmosphere around the ground was quite good today too, despite the relatively low attendance. For me, the crucial factor in figures as low as today`s is that the match-by-match buyers tend to be the biggest moaners, apologies, which has a negative influence on the atmosphere. When the spectatorship is reduced to just mainly the season ticket holders, patience tends to prevail a little more, as opposed to the high post-O`Neill years expectation.
Just a quick note on how good some of our players were today too. Honourable mentions have to go to Chris Herd, Stephen Ireland (again, somewhat unsurprisingly) and Charles N`Zogbia. Herd and Petrov`s partnership looks to be a promising one, and it allows Stan to get forward and get his foot on the ball, something we lack ever so slightly after Robbie Keane`s departure. Carlos Cuellar looked solid again and did a good job, which seems to have even managed to rub off on James Collins. Even Alan Hutton looked half decent, which is perhaps how we know we had a good day at the office
The first half I thought was one of our best home halves of the season so far. We were aggressive, hassled Fulham high up the pitch and didn`t let them play. Not only that, but we managed to assert ourselves well on the game too and dominated play from almost start to finish, but despite that didn`t really have many clear cut chances.
N`Zogbia had two minor efforts on goal with a shot and header, and James Collins had a go too, but the most serious chance of a half played in a way that belied Villa`s recent home form came between those two. A mistake by Mr ‘Is He Still Playing?` Danny Murphy allowed Brummie starlet Gabby the opportunity to race through on goal, but had a weaker footed shot saved by Fulham`s 113 year old goalkeeper.
It`s fair to say that not much else happened in the rest of the first half, but I think most of us at half time were just thinking about the possibility of us sitting back and allowing Fulham back into the game, as happened against Blackburn, and although Fulham did improve, we didn`t have a great deal to worry about in the end.
From a Villa perspective at least, things did seem to go a bit flat and stale, if not catastrophic, before Marc Albrighton hit the bar with a well struck shot that seemed to have beaten Fulham`s Aussie stopper. It was then Fulham`s turn to hit the woodwork, after Mr ‘Bloody Hell I Forgot About Him` Damien Duff was played in by ex Liverpool left back and alleged Villa target had Houllier stayed, John Arne Riise.
It was at this point where the anxiety at the thought of our recent performances crept in, and McLeish`s at-the-time confusing but now undoubtedly genius (*that was sarcasm, comment warriors ) substitutions took effect.
Just when we were braced and ready for another point, up stepped Gary Gardner to fizz a shot towards the top corner. It couldn`t be held on to, and Andy Weimann made the most of the error to force it home at the second time of asking to give us a much needed victory.
Given the difference in points, goal difference, and ultimately the utter gash-ness between us and the bottom three, I think we are entitled to begin breathing a little easier. Of course, we need to follow this up with a victory over Bolton for it to mean a great deal, and this is Villa we`re talking about, but being closer to Liverpool than the relegation zone does put things into a bit of perspective.
Have a great week guys, and I`ll see you a week on Tuesday. Up the Villa!