I live somewhere in between Villa Park and Birmingham Central police station. So when I saw six police riot vans race past my flat I knew it was derby day. But thankfully, football won the day and there didn't seem to be any trouble. Just as well though, because I wouldn't fancy going up against a wall of police, all armed with batons.
Getting in to the stadium, it was more of the same, with a police line enclosing the entire pitch. Such a heavy police presence didn't effect the atmosphere at all though, in fact, it was maybe the best atmosphere I have ever experienced inside Villa Park. From Jack Woodward's team announcement to the moment the players left the field at the end of the game, Villa Park was a cauldron of noise, cheering for the Villans, boos for the Blues. We also got to hear a number of rarely used chants by the Villa fans, relishing the chance to play our rivals for the first time in a few years.
I was seated in T3, in the upper middle of the North Stand, which was high enough to have perspective on the pitch, and close enough to the away fans to have some atmosphere. Looking across the field like that made me realise just how much Brad Guzan's poor distribution harms the side. Granted, his kicking wasn't actually bad tonight, but his kicking being so predictable left huge amounts of space down the right flank. In a tightly contested game like this, players weren't having much time on the ball, so seeing so much empty space down the right all the time was incredibly frustrating.
Frustrating, that was basically the story of the first half. Ciaran Clark as defensive midfielder just didn't work, and Villa played far too many long balls, which annoyed so many people in the crowd. Gabby Agbonlahor aside, there was no movement from any Villa players, and Villa created very few chances as a result. Gabby gets a lot of criticism a lot of the time, but he always seems to give it his all, and tonight looked to be the only interested player in the first half. Plus, he got booked for snapping a City player, a true hero.
The half time substitutions definitely changed the game for the better. Jack Grealish and Jordan Ayew provided the movement and creativity that Villa desperately needed, and it showed as Villa took control at the start of the second half. Being a local lad, Jack Grealish always gets a lot of love, but it's nice to see Jordan Ayew getting praise too, because he had what was by far his best game in claret and blue so far. Hopefully he can push on from here.
Rudy Gestede's goal came in what was otherwise a poor performance from the big man. It's no surprise that Jack Grealish and Jordan Amavi combined for the goal, and it was a great finish which definitely helped to ease the fans' nerves. The only hint of crowd trouble came just after the goal, as from what I can tell, someone threw a smoke bomb onto the pitch in the North Stand/Doug Ellis corner. I was admittedly too busy celebrating the goal to see from which fanbase it came from, but it was quickly extinguished and didn't cause any major disruption.
Nothing significant is the best way I can describe any derby scuffles, both off and on the pitch. Brad Guzan, Jordan Ayew and Jack Grealish all had minor scuffles with City players, but no real fights or controversies took place. Off the pitch, it turns out there were 28 arrests, but only three people have been charged, so it's safe to say that football won the day.