Things ended up being a lot more nerve-wracking than they really needed to be, but for nearly 75 minutes Aston Villa bossed Hull City and managed to hang on for a deserved 2-1 win. First half goals from Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann kept things comfortable for the majority of the day, but a 74th minute Nikica Jelavić header that caromed off of Aly Cissokho and into the net made for an anxious finish. The Tigers managed to craft a few chances, but thanks to a stunning save from Brad Guzan and Jack Grealish's ability to take a beating, Villa weathered the storm to remain unbeaten on the year and now occupy 3rd place in the Premier League with 7 points through 3 games.
Villa came out of the gate emphatically, dominating possession and forcing Hull to chase the ball all over the pitch. Fabian Delph set the tone early, hitting the post in the 2nd minute after a great move down the left flank. The home side kept the pressure on and it paid off in the 14th minute when Agbonlahor collected Weimann's clever one-touch pass at the top of the box before turning and firing past Allan McGregor. Just over 20 minutes later Weimann got one of his own, getting into space in the center of the box and finishing emphatically following an excellent run and pass from Kieran Richardson. Ashley Westwood nearly made in 3-0, his driven free kick clattering off the post just before half time.
Villa began the second half much as they ended the first, and though they were less incisive and more content to drop back and keep the ball they were still in near-total control of the game until the 74th minute; following a silly foul at the edge of the area by Carlos Sánchez, Jelavić hit a goal-bound header that deflected off of a blameless Cissokho and past Guzan. It was the first goal conceded by Villa so far in league play this season, and it seemed to wake a Hull side that had created little all afternoon.
It was somewhat concerning that a Villa side that had shown such quality and composure all afternoon were so badly rattled by a goal that came very much against the run of play; to some extent that can be excused by Hull's newfound belief and willingness to commit men forward, but the home side's ability to string together passes and keep the ball from for an extended period of time seemed to disappear for much of the final 20 minutes. It's somewhat ironic then that the 18-year-old Grealish was one of the more important players in terms of seeing out the victory; in his short time on the pitch-coming on immediately after Hull's goal-Grealish was fouled four times and drew three yellow cards, in large part due to his composure, skill on the ball and deceptive explosiveness. It's tough to score when you don't have the ball, and though Grealish spent as much time on the ground after hard fouls than he did with the ball at his feet, it was his quality that kept the ball out of the Tigers' hands for a significant portion of the game's closing minutes.
Heading into a brutal five game stretch in which they'll face Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Everton, Villa definitely needed to come away with a victory. But in order to keep real hope of progress having been made alive, they needed to do with thanks to a quality performance. The scoreline doesn't necessarily indicate it, but that's exactly what they did. Villa were the better side, and though their response to letting in a goal was a bit disappointing, they very much deserved the win. If Villa play like this more often than not, a relegation battle won't be on the table and a top-half finish seems a legitimate possibility. Given the past few seasons and the uncertainty surrounding the club, that would be quite the achievement.