Villa used a dominant first half to coast to a convincing victory over League One side Walsall in that club's 125th anniversary match. Goals from Fabian Delph, Gabby Agbonlahor, Christian Benteke, Jack Grealish, and Gary Gardner led the way in an effort that saw the lions look better than they have all preseason.
In the first half, Villa dominated with some exceptionally pacey play. It wasn't always as clean as we'd like, but it's precisely the type of play we'd expect a Premiership club to put up against a League One side. In the 9th minute, Fabian Delph open up scoring with a shot from just outside the box that stayed low and skidded its way into the bottom right corner of the goal. It was a really strong strike from Delph and hopefully a sign of things to come. From there, Villa continued to pressure, so much so that I'm not really sure the AVTV camera had the ability to go to the right beyond the midline in turning right.
Later in the half, Gabby Agbonlahor, who had looked good for the entire first half, finally capitalized on one of his trademark long runs with a one-on-one finish to make it 0-2. Andreas Weimann, too, stood out with some fantastic effort in the first half, and seemed to have been denied a pretty clear penalty.
The second half saw Villa break from their pattern of making subs after 60 minutes. Antonio Luna, Weimann, Agbonlahor, and Christian Benteke all stayed on, and Villa switched to something like a 4-2-4 or a 4-2-2-2 formation. It paid off quickly, as Nicklas Helenius sent a lovely through ball to Weimann on the right flank in the 52nd minute. Weimann then whipped in a cross that found Chrisitan Benteke ready for the volley to make it 0-3 to the Villa. The goal was Benteke's fourth in two matches after his hattrick at Crewe Alexandra.
In the 61st minute, Weimann, Agbonlahor, and Benteke came off, as did Chris Herd, who reportedly limped into the tunnel. It didn't last long, but watching Villa play with four forwards was absolutely exciting, and I hope it's something Paul Lambert considers doing throughout the season from time to time. Even after the substitutions, though, Villa didn't let up. Another great pass from Helenius in the 67th minute put Jack Grealish through for a one-on-one with the Walsall keeper that he converted to make it 0-4.
Finally, to put the icing on the cake, Gary Gardner struck a 35 yard free kick in the 87th minute that curled its way into the upper corner of the goal. It was the goal of the match and just another sign of how talented Gardner is. After some early troubles in the preseason, it's really refreshing to see Aston Villa dominate matches they should dominate so thoroughly. As a bonus, Villa kept their first clean sheet since the December 8 match against Stoke. Progress!
First half lineup (4-2-3-1): Jed Steer, Leandro Bacuna, Ron Vlaar, Nathan Baker, Antonio Luna; Karim El Ahmadi, Fabian Delph; Graham Burke, Andreas Weimann, Gabby Agbonlahor; Christian Benteke
Second half lineup (4-2-4): Brad Guzan, Matthew Lowton, Ciaran Clark, Chris Herd*, Antonio Luna; Ashley Westwood, Yacouba Sylla; Nicklas Helenius, Andreas Weimann*, Gabby Agbonlahor*, Christian Benteke*
Subs in the 61st minute: Jack Grealish, Samir Carruthers, Gary Gardner, Janoi Donacien
(Italics represent players who started both halves, * means subbed off)