Aston Villa's pre-season ended today in Portugal with a 1-1 draw against last season's Europa League runner-up Braga. The home side's goal was a cracker from Alan, taken from outside the box and into the top corner of Shay Given's net. Villa's came on a rebound that fell to Charles N'Zogbia who did well to sneak the ball inside the far post from a tight angle. Both sides will likely be happy with the overall performance on the afternoon; Villa looked more than respectable against a very good opponent and certainly did better for themselves than their last pre-season meeting with a Portuguese side, a 4-1 loss to Benefica one year ago. (As a side note, Martin O'Neill was Villa's manager that day. How was that only a year ago?) Fans were also "treated" to a halftime performance by Braga's cheer squad, and while it was an entertaining display I think it's probably safe to say that it was not entertaining in the way it was perhaps intended. I've seen mass hallucinations with better choreography.
The good news for Villa is of course that N'Zogbia scored and otherwise looked quite a player in his debut; the bad news, supplied by Mat Kendrick, is that Darren Bent has suffered a shoulder injury and pulled out of the England side ahead of this week's friendly against the Netherlands. Kendricks adds that Villa are 'hopeful' that Bent will be available for the Fulham game and I think it's fair to say that they're not the only ones. This just isn't a good team without Darren Bent; hell, this isn't a good team with Darren Bent. But Fulham is a winnable game and it would be a very nice thing to get the season off on the right foot.
Villa's pre-season could have gone a lot better, make no mistake. But there were some encouraging signs as well and for the most part the team played some pretty nice looking football, which I think surprised a lot of people. This probably isn't going to be the most successful season in recent history, but it might at least be a bit of fun to watch. Which, in the end, is really the point, at least from a fan's perspective.
Lots of content coming this week folks. Looking forward to having you all around for another year; hopefully this one is a bit less terrifying than last.