The outcome of Aston Villa's clash with Hull City at the K.C. Stadium was undeniably huge; the points hanging in the balance were very much the difference between a solid start and an excellent start, and though Villa didn't manage to claim all three, heading back home with a draw against a Hull team that's outperformed expectations is far from the worst outcome. Still, it would be charitable to call Villa's performance in the attacking phase of the game underwhelming; Villa created next to nothing, and despite Hull's robust defense and the lack of Christian Benteke, barely threatening the opposition a week after putting three past Manchester City is a disappointment.
Aston Villa will certainly take the point, and if one or two balls bounced or curved just slightly differently the entire mood surrounding the result would certainly be much different. As it stands, Villa 10th in the table and still have a positive goal difference, which is certainly a better start than most would have imagined when the fixture list was announced. Still, after enduring such a tiresome affair and witnessing such a dire attacking performance from Villa, it's difficult to feel positive, especially with Spurs coming to visit Villa Park following the international break. But in spite of the drab nature of the game in general and the toothlessness with which Villa went forward, there were some very positive things to take from this game.
Villa's defense was legitimately excellent in this game, and though it's a bit early to call that a trend it's reasonable to point out that aside from the disaster that was the 4-0 Capital One Cup loss to Spurs, they've very much held their own this season. Villa's faced some quite potent attacking sides, and though the back line's familiar organizational issues-particularly where set pieces are concerned-have popped up a few times, for the most part it's been clear that this is not the defensive unit that looked to be the league's worst for large portions of last season. There's been real improvement there, and though the play of Fabian Delph and Karim El Ahmadi are certainly a factor, the defense itself is deserving of praise for their performance thus far.
That's never been truer than it was against Hull; the Tigers aren't an attacking juggernaut by any stretch, but they have several very solid attacking players and are very capable of causing serious problems for opposing defenses. Against Villa they did very little, making even the visitors look inspired by comparison. Hull's best chance came in the 19th minute, when Ahmed Elmohamady sent a tremendous long cross into the path of Danny Graham that would have almost certainly been a goal had the big striker been able to get a cleaner touch on the ball. For the vast majority of the game the home side were completely stifled by Villa, being given mostly free reign down the flanks but unable to threaten with their crosses or to do much of anything through the center of the pitch. Leandro Bacuna did exceptionally well shutting down any potential danger down Villa's right flank, while Antonio Luna's ability to frustrate Elmohamady into making consistently terrible decisions with the ball was wonderful to watch. Ron Vlaar was typically solid, but if any of Villa's defenders deserve special mention it was Ciaran Clark, who along with former Villan Curtis Davies was the game's standout performer.
Villa's rearguard is not an elite unit, and there's little reason to believe that it ever will be given the personnel at hand. But if showings like this are an indicator of their true potential, there's little reason to believe that they're going to be a consistent worry going forward. Over the past few seasons its been the propensity of the back line to give games such as this one away. Today, there never appeared to be any real danger of such a thing happening. If this is a sustainable development, games like today's will be considerably less worrisome than they have been in the recent past.
And of course, it would be impossible to talk about this game without pointing out how very, very good Fabian Delph was once again. Delph was tireless in midfield, popping up seemingly everywhere and completing 57 of his 65 attempted passes. What's more, the majority of those passes drove Villa forward; in the past, one of the chief criticisms of Delph is that he would receive the ball with multiple options and without fail choose the safest one. That no longer appears to be the case, and today Delph was at times seemingly the only Villa player interested in driving the ball into the attacking third.
That Delph appears to be fulfilling his potential is impossible to undersell; Villa's been missing the things he's now bringing to the table since James Milner left, and those attributes are some of the hardest to find for a reasonable price on the transfer market. So much of the attention surrounding Villa's resurgence that began towards the end of last season has fallen on Paul Lambert's new recruits, but aside from Christian Benteke, none of the club's youngsters has been more important than Delph. That's not something many people would have expected to hear this time a year ago, but it's been a wonderful surprise nonetheless.
All in all, this was a game that ended with a decent but somewhat disappointing result. The odds that many of those that watched it will remember any of the details in two or three months are slim to none, and it's entirely possible none of the players will either. Every team has a few games like this every season, and so long as it doesn't become a trend it's not a problem. But the important thing is that 0-0 draws away from home no longer feel as though a bullet's been dodged. When games like this are frustrating but still feature more positives than negatives, that's an encouraging sign.