Aston Villa had a hectic January transfer window. Players whirled in and out of Villa Park, in moves both lauded and sharply criticized by large swaths of fans. The signings of Scott Hogan, Conor Hourihane, Henri Lansbury, Bikir Bjarnason, James Bree, Neil Taylor, and Sam Johnstone seemed like a competent first step towards fixing many of Villa’s woes throughout the first few months of the season. However, just when Villa should have gotten a second wind from this batch of new signings and pushed on from a relatively successful November and December, January and February went horribly wrong. Until Villa’s 1-0 win over Derby on Saturday, Steve Bruce’s men were winless through the first 9 games of the new year. Fans became restless, and as Villa slipped further and further down the table, fears of a relegation battle once more surfaced.
Just two results later, those fears seem suddenly unjustified. In a lot of ways, the mere thought of Aston Villa in the third division is a preposterous proposition. It did, however, seem like a realistic possibility based on Villa’s performance in a 3-1 home loss two weeks ago to Barnsley, a team from which we had just knicked two of their best players, Conor Hourihane and James Bree. A scrappy but vital win over a well organized Derby side on Saturday and a comprehensive second half victory over Bristol City on Tuesday are the type of results that Villa fans have been anticipating in the second division since the start of the season.
In the past 4 days, Villa have been defensively sound. The defensive pairing of James Chester and Nathan Baker continues to be one of the best in the Championship, while even Alan Hutton has been receiving significant praise for his performances. In the midfield, Mile Jedinak continues to be vital to Villa’s structure, while Conor Hourihane and Henri Lansbury are beginning to settle in to life at Villa Park.
It is not an exaggeration to describe the difference in atmosphere around Villa between the defeat to Barnsley 14 days ago to today as night and day. With the overall upswing in mood at the club, the new signings who struggled so hard to produce their first win can relax, find their identity in this side, and help Villa establish a philosophy and winning model for next season. Conor Hourihane’s goal on Tuesday was hopefully the first of a flurry of January signings to open their Villa accounts. Bikir Bjarnason has come close a few times, as has Henri Lansbury, and perhaps an opportunity will even fall to the feet of Neil Taylor or James Bree sometime soon. Villa’s January signings, with the exception of Bjarnason, all came with an established Championship pedigree. The skills that once made them key parts of other sides in the Championship are not lost completely because of a poor run of form to start their careers at their new club. Once these players re-discover themselves and their confidence, Villa have the capability to finish this season on a high note and establish important momentum heading into next season.