This weekend we saw something from Aston Villa that we haven't seen in far too long. No, not a win, even though this weekend marked the first time Villa got three points in more than a month. What came back to the claret and blue was fun, and I certainly hope it sticks around.
This season, with very few exceptions, Villa have been dreadful to watch. They've played to every negative stereotype of soccer that I try to explain away to friends. The matches were slow, sloppy, low-scoring, and uncreative affairs. Certainly, there were sparks of brilliance from Gabby, and Shay Given played out of his mind a few times. But overall, watching Villa wasn't fun. It was work.
The sentiment was echoed by all of the writers here last week as we put our heads together to figure out what more we can put on the site. In order to find something to write about, we've either got to have news or be inspired on our own. There hasn't been too much news lately, and the team isn't inspiring.
Or, at least, it hasn't been. But on Saturday? Yeah, that was football I'm happy to write about. The performance wasn't perfect. The defense still has some issues, and the fact that Emile Heskey still plays a prominent role on this team worries me. But all season I've been clear: good football is secondary to fun football for me. We watch the game to be entertained. Certainly, winning adds to the entertainment factor, but Villa can (and have) win boring.
But for all its flaws, the play in Saturday's game was exhilarating to watch. Gabby was in rare form, and put in one of the best single-match performances I've seen from anyone in the Villa kit. Jermaine Jenas, in limited time, made the most of his opportunities and seemed to add a spark to the midfield. Chris Herd was a dynamo, running around with abandon in the latter third of the field. Sure, it was reckless at times, but it was great to watch.
And there was the counterattack. It stalled as often as it started, but the mere fact that Villa were playing opportunistic football made me happy. I've actually thought about this in the past week, and the counterattack is the best part of any sport that is similar to soccer. The fast break in basketball or hockey is often the most thrilling part of any game. In American football, it would be the defensive takeaway. We watch sports to see something extraordinary, and it seems to me that the best opportunities for that come in sudden changes in a game's momentum.
But here's the thing. Do any of us believe that Villa can keep it up? I know I'm already dubious. The team has crushed my hopes a few times already this year. It'll take more than one match to convince me they've changed. They can change, however. Maybe McLeish is wising up. Maybe this was the start of something new for Villa. Maybe we can be the type of fans who get to watch fun football again. In reality, I doubt it. This was probably just a fluke. But heavens, I hope it wasn't. Please, Eck, keep this around. If Villa aren't going to be great, the least they can be is entertaining.