More often than not, it's pretty hard to take anything of value from preseason results. But when it's all set and done, Aston Villa have picked up a 3-1 victory away to Mansfield Town today and supporters should feel positive about the second-half contributions of former "Bomb Squad" members Alan Hutton, Charles N'Zogbia, and of course, Darren Bent.
Aston Villa (4-4-1-1): Shay Given, Matthew Lowton, Jores Okore, Ciaran Clark, Joe Bennett, Leandro Bacuna, Samir Carruthers, Fabian Delph, Aleksandar Tonev, Joe Cole, Gabby Agbonlahor
Of note, Jores Okore made his first appearance for Villa in ten months, Joe Cole made his villa debut, and Paul Lambert actually deployed Matthew Lowton and Leandro Bacuna together on the pitch at the same time, something Villa supporters wanted to see more of last season. Villa started out bright and on six minutes, Joe Bennett got forward and had his shot cleared off the line by a Mansfield defender. Villa would continue to create chances throughout the half—mainly through the wingers (Bacuna and Tonev) and the guys playing up top (Agbonlahor and Cole) but it would be Mansfield who went ahead four minutes from half-time as Alex Fisher headed home at the back post from a well-worked throw-in routine.
Aston Villa (3-4-1-2): Jed Steer, Chris Herd, Ashley Westwood, Nathan Baker, Alan Hutton, Karim El Ahmadi, Gary Gardner, Kieran Richardson, Charles N'Zogbia, Darren Bent, Andreas Weimann
Villa changed formation at half-time and moved to the three-at-the-back setup that many have been speculating Paul Lambert is keen to use more often this campaign. The formation saw success for the Netherlands and today, Villa used it to play attacking football. Once again, Villa were able to create chances through the wings (Hutton and Richardson) and through those playing in forward positions (Bent, N'Zogbia, and Weimann) before the breakthrough came on 61 minutes. It was a goal made by the "Bomb Squad" as Charles N'Zogbia, Alan Hutton, and Darren Bent linked up to bring Villa level. N'Zogbia played Hutton in before the right wing-back crossed the ball across the goalmouth for Bent to tap in.
Steer was barely called into action all half as Villa continued to push forward and create chances. Andreas Weimann set Darren Bent up for a chance in the box on 78 minutes but Villa's record signing's shot was kept out by the trialist in goal for the Stags. But seven minutes later, Bent and Weimann would be involved the goal to put Villa on top as strong build-up play led to a goal for Gary Gardner. Bent started the play in Villa's own half and would be involved at three different stages of the attack, recording a "secondary assist" of sorts on the goal. Bent played Weimann who in turn played a beautiful through ball from the top of the box for Gardner who stayed calm and collected to finish for Villa. Darren Bent got his second on the last kick of the game as Andreas Weimann played in a chipped cross for the England international to finish, leaving the scoreline at 3-1 to Villa.
- Darren Bent scored two goals. That's good for Villa and I wouldn't at all be surprised to see him start on opening day. If he doesn't go, Villa will need contributions from the former England man to justify his presence on the wage bill.
- The 3-4-1-2 formation produced chances. Granted, it's a lot easier for Hutton and Richardson to bomb forward against Mansfield than it is against even Stoke City, but it was good to see play running through the wing-backs and N'Zogbia in the attacking midfield role.
- Speaking of Richardson, the debutants played generally well. With the exception of one point where he tripped over his own feet, Joe Cole did well while Richardson was able to get forward. Richardson showed why I think he can be a good player for Villa if he's allowed to play in a wing-back role.
- (Presumably) nobody got hurt. The extra substitutes weren't needed and unless something happened that none of us saw, everybody got out healthy—and in friendlies, that's very often the most important thing.