There were so many surprising things in today's match. Leandro Bacuna got a start. Christian Benteke looked interested. A match between Leicester City and Aston Villa ended with 22 men on the pitch. But the most surprising thing of all? Aston Villa scored TWO GOALS.
It came after a dismal first half that looked a lot like what we saw against Hull City on Tuesday. Plenty of possession that led to absolutely nothing. The only difference between today and Tuesday was that Leicester started taking charge and looked likely to score. Then, in the dying seconds of the half, Villa put together a nice combination play that saw Christian Benteke find the back of the net only to be flagged offside. Frustrating, but at least it was some improvement.
And all throughout the first forty-five minutes, Tim Sherwood sat in the stands watching and regretting his decision to join Aston Villa. But he got up just before the whistle and is largely speculated to have given the halftime talk. If that actually is true (update: it is) we've seen the first indication of what a Sherwood-led Villa will do, and it's very good.
The claret and blues were immediately more aggressive in the second half, and by my count had put the ball into the Leicester box four times by the 52nd minute. Now, that may not seem like much, but the club had abandoned possession in favor of playing directly. The midfield was moving up the pitch to support the attack. And what do you know, when you do that, you create opportunities!
But they weren't being converted. The team looked better but the result was the same. So in the 68th minute, Scott Marshall was ready to sub off Leandro Bacuna for Scott Sinclair. Except it was then that Ron Vlaar got his head on a ball just outside the Leicester box. He dropped it to his feet, made a nice move, and slotted it to Bacuna. The midfielder then juked to his right and sent an absolutely beautiful curling effort into the right side of the net to give Villa the 1-0 lead.
From there, the most surprising thing was that Villa kept the pressure up. Sinclair did eventually come on, and made it worthwhile when he got the ball on a superb pass by Christian Benteke and put it past Leicester keeper Mark Schwarzer in the 89th minute. The goal itself was an ugly, slow shot. But it was on target, and given how bad Aston Villa's luck have been on on-target shots this year, it's about time one went our way.
That looked as if it would seal the deal, but a late header by Andrej Kramarić gave us a worrisome final two minutes of stoppage time. Nevertheless, Villa held on for the win.
And the ramifications? Well, Villa are into the quarterfinals of one of the most open and winnable FA Cup competitions in years. They're now one win away from a trip to Wembley. And they get to start the Tim Sherwood era in earnest on a one-match winning streak (against a Premier League side!). Next weekend's match against Stoke is HUGELY important. And having this win in our back pockets means that we can go into it with a little bit of confidence.
Enjoy a Sunday that hasn't been ruined by Aston Villa. Enjoy the win. And up the Villa!