Where the Aston Villa revival started…
Saturday 23rd February, 2019. Not a date that many people will mention when discussing Aston Villa’s incredible 10 game winning run, but a pivotal day which started it all off. Villa were in the midst of a poor run of form. 1 win in 10 league outings was the record, Villa sitting in 11th, eight points of the play-off places. I, along with 3,000 other Villa fans made the short journey up the M6 to the Potteries to face Nathan Jones’ Stoke City side, another side struggling for form with just one win in their previous 11 outings. Something surely had to give, or would it be the bore draw that many expected?
A week earlier, Villa had limped to a 2-0 defeat at home to local rivals, West Bromwich Albion with Robson-Kanu and Jay Rodriguez punishing the home side for failing to take early chances. Villa weren’t particularly bad that afternoon but lacked guile and quality going forward, especially without poster boy, Jack Grealish. It wasn’t a pleasant afternoon at Villa Park with Conor Hourihane in particular coming in for stick from sections of the home support.
There was no reason to be optimistic heading to the Bet365 Stadium in Stoke. We’d had an appalling run and most Villa fans expected at this point for the season to be over. It was my first away day since the 1-1 draw with Preston just after Christmas, but now feels like such a pivotal moment that I witnessed.
It was a day of tributes at the Bet365. The home side paying tribute to the late former England goalkeeper, Gordon Banks who sadly died earlier that month at the age of 81. Villa started the game really poorly. Alan Hutton limped off with a knee injury in the 4th minute summing up Villa’s luck with injuries. To compound that misery, Stoke took full advantage of Hutton being missing and went ahead thanks to Sam Vokes’ backheel, his first goal for the club, beating Jed Steer at his near post. It was a turgid first half from the claret and blue, not much in the way of attacking play and Villa fans felt it was another one of those afternoons.
This for me is where it changed, however. At Stoke, the tunnel is in the corner where the away fans are situated. The players, coaching staff and Head Coach all trooped off the pitch in front of the away supporters, normally expecting some not very complimentary comments and chants as they go off the pitch after a dismal first half. Instead, Villa fans roared the team off the pitch, geeing them all up and singing Dean Smith’s name as he left the pitch. Whatever Dean Smith said at half-time I like to think the supporters had a hand in. Villa came out in the 2nd half and fought for the cause. Albert Adomah equalised on 61 minutes after good work by El-Ghazi down the left wing. Adomah’s first goal since March 2018. Villa continued to create chances and went close with Abraham and Mings having chances before Hourihane sent a free-kick over the bar. FT 1-1. Not the 3 points Villa wanted but a bit of fight shown. That’s all we asked for, and we got it. The scenes in the Away End was like we’d won and the players all received a fantastic reception on 90 minutes. That day changed the season for me.
Following this, 10 wins in a row. The first time in Aston Villa’s 145 year history. 18 goals scored, 6 conceded. Free-flowing, attacking football. Sold out away trips, sold out Villa Park. The whole club bouncing. Wins against Derby County, Birmingham City, Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough, Blackburn Rovers, Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham United, Bristol City, Bolton Wanderers and Millwall. Some really tough games in that run and Villa have come out of it unscathed and given themselves real momentum following confirming their play-off status. Massive credit must go firstly to the players who have found their inner quality and delivered week in week out. The likes of Whelan, Taylor, Elmohamady and Jedinak who have stepped up after many wrote them off. The return of Captain Jack, the form of John McGinn, Anwar El-Ghazi and Tammy Abraham and the sheer class of Tyrone Mings, Tuanzebe and Hause at the back. Secondly credit to the Head Coach who has finally got us playing his way, attacking football and for managing the side effectively during this spell including timely game changing substitutions. Lastly, to the fans who have been there throughout. Average attendance is up by 3-4k this season at Villa Park. To have an average crowd of 36-37k in the Championship is remarkable and that alongside the consistent sold out away support. Villa fans have really done their bit.
2 games to go of the regular season, can we keep it going? It’s all about momentum now as we head towards the big play-off games. Villa have that momentum. Pure belief in this group to reach our target. It has been an incredible 2 months and I just don’t want it to end. See you all at Leeds on Sunday.
Just remember, Saturday 23rd February, the day the Villa supporters helped turn round our season.
Up The Villa.