What’s that old cliché, “winning ugly”? Aston Villa certainly did that last night, but we’ve had too many good performances which have resulted in not too many points for me to care about that right now. Even for me, a Villa fan, it was a dire game to watch. It was tense, it was scrappy, it wasn’t all that entertaining – but I’m just happy to grab three points and some temporary respite however it happens.
News before the game sparked panic and fury amongst Villa fans; Ron Vlaar declared that he wouldn’t be playing shortly before the team-sheet was announced followed swiftly by Darren Bent not making the bench for the second successive game despite training again after a recent injury.
It’s no secret that Paul Lambert doesn’t rate Bent, with the giant Belgian Christian Benteke preferred to the England hot-shot in the last few months – and he delivered again last night to salvage a massive win. Two seasons ago we were crying out for a player in the mould of Darren Bent, that 20-a-season striker who could have fired us further towards our Champions League dream, but this is a very different time and we are a very different team. It’s almost comical how short memories some Villa fans seem to have; after the first few games of the season he was being called lazy and useless, and most of all the correct observation that we didn’t create any chances for him to score was picked up by most. We needed a striker that brings others into play and helps create chances for others – not just put the ball in the net when we dominate games. So what would be different now? 4-4-2 seems to be an outdated formation so it’s one or the other, and I can guarantee that within two games of having Bent back in the starting line-up all of his faults would be brought straight back to our attention. Lambert backed his managerial ability and it paid dividends – his ass was on the line had Benteke not been an adequate replacement for Bent.
Rumours that Bent had stormed out of the stadium and drove off were later clarified as untrue, but it brings up the question of where he will go to in January and how much will Villa get for him. Teams like Liverpool are thrown around all too easy – perhaps you could be forgiven for thinking that they need that goal-getting striker but Luis Suarez is currently sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League goal-scoring chart with 10 goals in 13 games – a mighty impressive record. Also quickly forgotten is the philosophy that Brendan Rodgers’ is trying to instil at Liverpool - just how would Bent fit into such a team if he’s only there to score goals. I think if Villa get around £12m for him then that’s good business and could be wisely reinvested to strengthen the squad and perhaps make the second half of the season a bit more bearable for the Villa faithful, but where he will end up I don’t know.
Ron Vlaar has only been at playing in the Premier League for four months but last night just proved how instrumental he already is to this young Villa side. Villa’s starting eleven against Reading was their youngest Premier League starting eleven in history with an average age of 23 years and 324 days, and despite another clean sheet they were lucky at times not to concede. Lucky as in fortunate and lucky as in Brad Guzan made some more stunning close range saves when their set-piece defending let them down time after time. I’m hoping his injury isn’t too severe or we reallywill miss him, as promising as Nathan Baker is the two are simply incomparable at this stage in their careers. Another injury to a defender last night in Enda Stevens’ means that they really are threadbare in defensive options and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team being strengthened there in January made a priority.
All that mattered against Reading however was three points, and we finally got them despite a sloppy performance.