Paul Lambert's Aston Villa side have on two on the trot — and are unbeaten in five! Granted, the wins are over Crystal Palace and Leicester, but nonetheless, they're a continued sign of Villa consistently getting points against the Premier League's worst teams (more on that later).
Perhaps more importantly though, for the first time all year, Villa rescued points from a losing position after they went behind in the 13th when Leonardo Ulloa took advantage of a Brad Guzan error to put the Foxes 1-0 up. Despite Riyad Mahrez's initial shot from outside the 18 taking a slight deflection, it's a save that Guzan really should have made. Instead, he did not, and Villa went behind.
But four minutes later, Villa equalized (!!!) from a set piece goal (!!!) scored by Ciaran Clark (!!!!!!!!!!!!!). A superb run from the Villa centre-half put himself in front of net where he headed Ashley Westwood's free kick over Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel to level the scoreline.
And despite the fact that Villa had around 70% possession in the first half, they really were not able to create much aside from the free kick goal. The two flashpoints of the half came in the final five minutes — in the 41st minute, Jamie Vardy was booked for a harsh tackle on Westwood. He should've walked. Westwood was taken off via the stretcher for Kieran Richardson as Paul Lambert was forced to make a first-half substitution. I'd say more about my dislike for Vardy after that but, well, I'm holding out hope that some 10-year-old kid is reading this so we'll keep it PG.
Then, heading into the break, Ciaran Clark had a really, really nice, solid, strong tackle on Ulloa. Leicester did not take well to it — the tackle re-aggravated an injury for the Argentine striker — and he was taken off at the halftime interval.
From there, the match was almost all Villa. Inside the second half's first three minutes, Christian Benteke found Tom Cleverley in the penalty area, who shot just wide of the net. Then Villa got out on the break in the 53rd and Benteke was in on the keeper — only a Schmeichel intervention kept the scores level. Gabby Agbonlahor had a shot in the 56th from a clever Cleverley ball but it was saved by the leg of the Danish goalkeeper.
Simply put? Villa were creating chance after chance after chance with the lion's share of possession in the second half — it's just that Leicester were getting fantastic play from their goalkeeper.
Brad Guzan had to make a fine save on 68 minutes and 180 seconds later, the hosts were back in front.
Agbonlahor raced down the left flank and beat his man to start a Villa counterattack and found Benteke in front of the penalty area — the Villa striker picked out Alan Hutton making a run into the box about as well as any human possibly can and from close range, the previously-maligned Scotsman chested the ball down, controlled it, and beat Schmeichel near post.
The 79th minute saw the game's last major flashpoint — Paul Konchesky took down Hutton near the touchline and then proceeded to stand right over top of the Villa left back, trying to goat him into retaliating. It worked from that standpoint — Hutton got right back up and took offense to Konchesky's move, getting booked in the process — but didn't really, as the Leicester man was sent off.
Despite being down a man, the Foxes controlled the last 10 minutes of the game as Villa bunkered down, save for an Agbonlahor chance in the 84th. However, Leicester never seriously threatened the Villa goal and the hosts got an important win.
A few thoughts after the win...
Is Benteke the reason Villa haven't bought a proper No. 10?
Christian Benteke had a couple of chances for himself last night but above all else, he showed his merits as a fantastic playmaker. His balls on Cleverley's chance and Hutton's goal may have been the best pair a Villa player's had all year long (place immature laughter here) and all night long, Villa's setup allowed him to have the space to properly create.
So it leaves me wondering if he's the guy that Lambert sees as Villa's attacking playmaker and not just their top scorer. If Lambert was to bring in a proper attacking midfielder, would it ultimately clog up the area around Benteke, making him less useful? Does Lambert play Agbonlahor and Andi Weimann on the wings to free up space for them to make runs into the box? Is the idea that Cleverley, Westwood, and Fabian Delph make runs themselves to create chances?
Benteke's a special, special player and at some point in time, Villa will likely have to face the reality of losing him. But for now? I'm not sure they need an attacking midfielder when his game's at its best.
What will Lambert do when Ron Vlaar returns?
It's really, really weird that we're sitting here considering Vlaar's place in the team over Ciaran Clark and Jores Okore but here we are. Clark contributed well with a goal and the pair are playing really well — and confidently — at the back. Do you think about moving Clark into a defensive midfield role, especially with a potential setback for Westwood? Would you even consider leaving the Dutch defender out of the side? Do you drop Clark or Okore if you want to keep shape? Who knows what Lambert will do — but it's a good problem to have.
Despite controlling possession, ain't it weird that Villa's goal came from a counter?
Honestly, this is my favourite thing about yesterday's match — Villa dominated possession, passed the ball around, and created chances in the second half from the run of play. But fundamentally, they were still at their best when getting out quickly on the break. I still think that's kind of funny.
Alan Hutton is vital to Villa's success right now.
He kept Yannick Bolasie — Palace's only real playmaker — pretty much at bay Tuesday and yesterday contributed the winning goal in a great performance from the boys in Claret and Blue. It honestly wouldn't be off-base to say that he's the most important player in the squad at the moment, something that's incredibly great from a guy that was on the Bomb Squad for the last two years. He never complained, never sulked, and unlike his former Bomb Squad mates, he's performing at a really high level. I don't think that's a coincidence.
Villa are starting to consistently get results against the lesser teams.
Villa have now played six matches against teams currently in the bottom eight; they're 4-1-1 in those six games. The loss at QPR was a bit of an anomaly but other than that, Villa have really taken a solid approach against the division's worst sides.
And the thing is? Only two of those games have been at home. It's more of a general trend but Villa's home slate has been incredibly tough, making it hard on Lambert to get a solid set of tactics down, especially without Benteke. Newcastle and Southampton are the two most-talented teams outside of the "big seven" clubs I often refer to and three of Villa's other five home contests have been against those big sides.
But in the two clear-cut games at Villa Park where Lambert's side have been the better team on paper? They've absolutely dominated proceedings, coming out to control possession and generate tons of shots. The first half against Hull and the second half against Leicester show what this team is capable of playing at Villa Park. There are still home matches this year against Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace, QPR, Burnley, and Sunderland. Only time will tell if tactics stay positive in those matches, but I've got a feeling they will.
Keeping that 4-1-1 pace through the last 10 matches against the sides in the bottom eight? That would earn Villa another 21 or 22 points.
They're already on 19. You can do the math.