Aston Villa started their new Championship season in a most unexpected way - by growing into a game, winning away from home and defying expectations. Who’d have thought that this would be the crowning of a new season?
A new season, hope lies in front - teeming out to horizon - in the hearts of every football fan. However, hope also brings fear, both balanced on the platform of the unknown. The unknown? It’s where Villa stand right now - it’s where every team stands right now. Fear is just as much as part of a new season as hope. And well, Villa’s worst footballing fears were quickly realised when a mobbed Jed Steer in the Villa goal punched the ball into the path of Hull’s Evandro, who in a shot that mirrored a punting move from an NFL side, found the net with an arcing looping effort that bypassed every effort of Tommy Elphick to reclaim the ball. Have you heard this one before? The one about Aston Villa failing to deal with a problem? Because I’m sure we’ve been here before.
Elphick in defiant mood and fairly responsible for Villa’s first goal, almost instantly repaid his debt by finding acres of room on a corner to clatter the ball home to bring Villa back into the game at 1-1. Hull found no man to mark Elphick, who could do nothing except equalise. His walk away from the goal with no hint of a smile told the world of the very heavy burden on his shoulders. Steer, also in the mood for redemption, held firm to block a close-range Jarrod Bowen shot with a fantastic save.
If you want further proof that time is cyclical, look no further than Jonathan Kodjia, who outright refused to pass to an onrushing Ahmed Elmohamady until it was too late. Villa, right now, can’t look beyond the target man, but he seems to damn the side on occasion through his frustrating decision making. The Egyptian full-back mirrored the emotions of the Villa faithful, by throwing a fistful of nothing towards Kodjia, screaming as he did so.
Truth be told, Aston Villa’s first half mirrored the falling over of a glass of liquid - a volatile onrushing wave, followed by slowly eroding dregs that meekly flow outwards until the entire contents of the fallen glass are expired. All action in the first instance, nothing left after.
What’s more, there’s a common misconception about ‘the mixer’ - which is usually a term for the middle of the penalty area where chaos can on occasion reign. I’d like to present another theory, that ‘the mixer’ is the immediate space in which Jack Grealish occupies - for the mixer is the area where studs and blades meet his body, bringing him down to the ground. The mixer, it’s the area where anything (the opposition team not receiving a caution for their play) can happen. For sure, Grealish was fouled five times within the first forty-five minutes without an major interference from the referee. Clubs are more than entitled to play in a physical manner, but when the fouls aren’t in fine ratio to bookings, there’s a bit of an issue. That number ticked to six when the match clock hit 50 minutes.
Villa had a penalty appeal turned down as Albert Adomah tangled with Villa’s defense - but won a foul shortly after, when Kodjia was hacked down outside the box. Conor Hourihane lined up the resulting free-kick and agonisingly dinked the ball over the Hull goal.
In the 66th minute, the dying tempo of the game beckoned Villa’s first change - with Andre Green coming on for Albert Adomah. The resulting energy seemed to defy Steve Bruce’s original decision to leave Andre Green on the bench. As the pace of the game accelerated, Hull fell into a lull - kicking the ball straight to Ahmed Elmohamady on a goal-kick, who laid off the ball before finding space for its return. It was all too easy for Elmo to stroke the ball in off the post and give Villa their first lead of the Championship season.
Quickly, Villa extended that very lead through the most unlikeliest source. Alan Hutton, not in the mood for his usual bravado, traversed into the Hull box almost unchallenged. He held off the press and danced his dance, before emulating Elmohamady and cutting the ball home. After a game full of frustration for Aston Villa in parts, the ecstasy that followed Hutton’s goal was only to be expected. A natural conclusion to everything that has come before. An explosion of joy, warranted.
With Villa up, Jack Grealish left the pitch via a substitution in a move that might represent another conclusion for the club. His stoic face didn’t give much away, at all, as to his future. Villa fans must simply wait to see what happens on that front.
And thus Villa’s first steps on their Championship journey came to an end. A three-one comeback victory away from home is certainly nothing to sneer at. A match that had it all, and a match that ended with Villa firmly on top. In a sense, Villa’s early struggles should be a positive thing to have occurred - as it’s not often you can make mistakes in the Championship and win a game. There is plenty of room for the squad to learn from their errors and grow.
Despite it being a fresh start for Villa - there was very much the feeling that a certain undefined era had ended, with the next pages of the AVFC story only around the corner. I’ll take that.