Michael McGovern, Norwich’s third-choice keeper (!) didn’t take his eyes from the ball placed firmly upon the penalty spot. Yards transformed into a mile of space between him, and his gunslinging opponent. Wesley, however, looked rocked - and in this standoff he personified more of a cheaply costumed cowboy than the fearless ‘Man with No Name’.
Wesley panted, and scanned around him. What was he looking for? Hope emerging from the back of the stands? A prayer from above? A sign to give him confidence? His eyes beamed apart, widely, as though headlights were bearing down on him.
A stutter-step run up brought Wesley to the ball, he stood back and fired directly into the palm of Mick McGovern. He strode to follow up, before punting the ball against McGovern again. Two clear-cut chances had dissolved before his eyes.
Why the nerves though? Two goals preceded this miss, here he was taking a first-half penalty to secure his hat-trick with no external pressure upon him. Wesley, after a first-half where he had been somewhat of a runaway train, now found himself in a car - trapped on a level-crossing. He was full of the fear.
After Conor Hourihane was brought down in the box for the penalty, Wesley was a natural choice to take it. He had scored two simple goals to gift Villa a heavy lead in the first-half, and had now earned the opportunity for a pressure-free hat-trick. What resulted was an incredibly nervous player (or at least that is what he seemed during his run-up) stutter and overload his shot, putting far too much weight into it and allow the keeper to guess correctly. It was signed, sealed - but lacked delivery.
You can almost always tell when a penalty is going to be missed during the run-up. Chris Waddle and Simone Zaza exemplify this - and Wesley doesn’t differ. His crouching stuttering step-up cuts at the core of your belief, and with every half-second that passes between each small step - your doubt grows and grows.
Wesley’s first goal confused everyone - including the striker himself. An off-balance ball drifted beyond the defenders and fell to the striker. Wesley had the time to chest the ball into the trapping of the pitch, turn, and finish.
Shortly after, Wesley mirrored his goal against Arsenal by drifting into the near post and cleanly finishing a move to double his goal tally, and Villa’s lead. So surely, when stepping up for an early (and eventually meaningless) penalty, the striker should be ready and able to score from a perfectly positioned chance?
The answer? No. Wesley’s goals silenced his doubters, before his stunning misses brought them back in. This is no criticism of our main striker up top - but an observation at the story he is creating. Wesley, the man who will show you why you are wrong, before proving why you are right, before proving you wrong again. Villa’s great entertainer creates his narrative, defies it and restores it.
It’s spectacular - and it’s confounding. It’s a self created paradox. Villa fans want Wesley to succeed - and most of the harsh criticism of the forward has came from outside of the club. So where is the pressure coming from? His manager is clearly backing him - offering him the start after a fairly boring game from the striker last time out - so where is the problem?
Wesley ended up enjoying a good run-out against Norwich following his miss. His pressing intense, and his defending solid - so why, when he needed the confidence to score, did it go missing? Did his self-belief evaporate?
In a half where he had destroyed his critics, why couldn’t he find the time to believe in himself for a short moment. His coolness displayed itself in a second-half where he faded into the background, allowing himself time and space. But where was it when he needed it?
Wesley is a paradox, but an entertaining one for the Villa fan - but he needn’t doubt himself in these key moments. Why? Because we’re all behind him and we know what he can do. This is a man who has scored four goals in eight games for Aston Villa. This is a man who can do Villa justice. This is a man who can deliver.
After heading into the break shaken, Wesley ended the match by dancing opposite Douglas Luiz. Wesley had picked up a simple assist to pad his stats, and celebrated with a samba jig opposite his flair-filled countryman. May it carry on, eternally into the night, and