Welcome to the first edition of the new & improved 'From the Stands'. I'm now fortunate enough to be one of Villa's season ticket holders, situated in Block K5 of the Holte End. In this series, my goal is to provide the same experiences that I feel at Villa Park to fans who aren't as lucky as me in terms of their location or situation. This won't be your usual match report.
I'd never left work so fast in my life. Texts from family and Aston Villa flashed on my screen. There had been a closure of the M6 Motorway - and for those in the know, that's almost like giving the jugular of the arterial motorway network of England a good kicking. It was the train for me; the Walsall line takes you straight to Aston Station from Sandwell & Dudley. Unluckily, it seemed that every single Aston Villa fan in the entire world have conceived the same idea as me and a reincarnation as a sardine in tin followed for the next forty minutes. Walking from work to Sandwell and Dudley was a weird experience. I'd no Villa colours on me except for a small makeshift claret and blue wristband, yet a few cars sounded their horn in approval whilst stuck in the gridlock. The first game of the season is glazed in a sickly sweet sense of reckless pride. It was the first time I'd ever went to a Villa match without a claret & blue shirt thanks to the timing of the game (and money, but we'll change that soon).
Witton Station drops you closer, but you just don't get the feel of the walk from Aston Station. You walk under the expressway, past the Church and are afforded a glimpse of Aston Manor on the hill before the Holte End welcomes you along with horde of Villa fans surrounding you. That's not to mention the two evergreen stalwarts of the route - the man trying to flog his bagpipe recordings and the man trying to flog his pork scratchings. The route from Witton seems almost boring in comparison. It's a quick fix compared to the route from Aston which is enveloped in a natural atmosphere.
The parading of Adama Traore before the match heightened the flow of optimism, even if he's the definition of raw, you couldn't help but think that Villa have turned a corner. Signing a talent from Barcelona is something a team leagues above Villa should be doing, no matter the ability - Traore earned his stripes at Barça like so, so many other stars that fill the ranks of the World's best teams; so of course this signing means the world to Villa fans, who've had to make do with the scraps and rejects of mid-table contenders for the last few years. Traore's arrival was met with jubilation, as you'd expect from a hungry crowd waiting to pin their hopes on their latest Villan.
It's hard as a Aston Villa fan to expect any positive result from a home game against Manchester United, but with such an atmosphere, it wasn't impossible to feel as though Villa were going to win and this feeling rolled on as Aston Villa took the game to a slightly lacklustre United team. In a way, Villa were only held back by their own mentality as they tried to play a way that is now impossible. They tried to build the same jigsaw as before, but of course - they are missing the old pieces.
A phantom pain is a unique condition. Feeling the tips of your fingers, even though you have lost your hand. Feeling your toes wiggle, even though a prosthetic has been fitted. Feeling the pain in your mind as though the physical limb remains. It's almost a universal symbol for loss in the sense in that whatever you lose, the feeling will always remain - the mental connection is simply too hard to sever.
In a sense, that's a huge part of what I gathered from Villa's performance against Manchester United - they seemed to try and play the same way they did when they had Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke in the team; even more so when it seemed that Ashley Westwood was genuinely looking for Delph's run. It felt to me that the mannerisms of players such as Delph and Benteke where expected by Westwood and other players like Clark and Agbonlahor as they simply tried to repeat the same old tricks subconsciously without fully realising that they are playing with a new group of players. With time and effort, that should correct itself.
Another aspect of Villa's defeat that is slightly more worrying is that AVFC thus far seem completely unable to create the chances that teams like Stoke and Leicester seem to find in abundance unless the chance is given to them. Scott Sinclair's substitution seemed unfounded, as he had laid waste to United's right side in a partnership with Jordan Amavi and even though Rudy Gestede came on to an ovation - Sinclair was sorely missed as Ayew and Gestede were man-marked out of the rest of the game. It didn't stop the fans cheering Gestede's every touch, as the Benin-born player has reached a John Carew level of support not two games into his Villa career.
"Where the F**K is Gabby? Where the F**K is GABBY!?" - Woman sitting behind me (Hopefully not for the entire season).
Despite the result, it was absolutely fantastic to see the quality offered by United on display. It's not every day you get to watch a World Cup winner such as Bastian Schweinsteiger grace the pitch and even though players like Rooney and Depay made little impact on the game, it was almost overwhelming to watch true superstars of the game play at Villa Park. When I'd held a season ticket before, the ability of these players was simply lost on my youth and the feeling of just wanting Villa to win every single game. Don't get me wrong, I want Villa to win - but in some cases, you've just got to sit back and enjoy the football, regardless of the result.
Going forward, I've got 18 more home games to attend and if every single loss is as bittersweet as Friday's defeat against the Red Devils - then I've certainly got plenty to enjoy. Don't believe the whispers, Villa Park is as electric in defeat as it is thunderous in victory.