Villa had plenty to smile about as a pre-season walk-out against Walsall resulted in a comfortable victory for a Villa side happy to play the ball on the ground.
Aston Villa’s third pre-season game of the summer brought them closer to home as they took on Walsall at the Bescot Stadium. Their lineup was a bringing together of the two split-up sides that played Telford and Kidderminster.
These familiar faces (Jonathan Kodjia, Jack Grealish, Alan Hutton and co) were deployed into a new formation - a 3-3-3-1 with Kodjia leading the line and Hutton folding into the left centre-back slot. Glenn Whelan roamed as a defensive midfielder alongside wing-backs Ritchie De Laet and Neil Taylor, with Grealish, Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane in the middle.
Villa, in their white strip, took the lead early on with Conor Hourihane bagging his second goal in two pre-season games. The Irishman arrived late into the box to find the end of a searching cross, and his deflected shot trickled past the Walsall keeper within five minutes. It would only be ten minutes later that Hourihane would defy his earlier luck to fashion his own. Pulling the trigger from 20 years out, he lashed home with ease. Two within the first twenty minutes for the Villans.
Hourihane missed out on two further chances to score - firstly, Jonathan Kodjia decided to take the shot instead of playing Hourihane in, and secondly, he couldn’t get his feet underneath him fast enough to whip in a Jack Grealish pass.
Villa’s third goal of the evening followed shortly after when Glenn Whelan, of all people, took a sublime touch, feinted a shot before driving home from a wide angle.
The second half chucked momentum towards Walsall, who were denied by a smart Jed Steer stop (that’s a theme of pre-season so far). The Villa goalkeeper is looking to make the number one shirt his own, and there’s every chance he’ll be Villa’s starting keeper from here on out.
However, after a short attacking period by Walsall - Villa quickly found their feet and Hourihane bagged a hat-trick after converting Henri Lansbury’s initial strike via a deflection. He quickly went in for a fourth, but his shot was tipped wide. The resulting corner was clattered off the Walsall bar by a surging Tommy Elphick. Walsall fought back with a goal as the 70th minute approached as Jon Guthrie tucked in at the far-post to kill Jed Steer’s perfect night in goal. Villa tried to respond, but their best chance within ten minutes came as Gary Gardner fizzed a free-kick just over the upright.
The only major concern for Villa was a possible injury. Ritchie De Laet went down with a minor injury late on and was replaced by Villa prospect Mitch Clarke at the back. James Bree also went down late on with a bloodied head.
Villa had plenty of opportunities to add a fifth goal. Harvey Knibbs found the ball hard to control in the box, so he laid it off to Andre Green who fired a shot off the bottom of the post, with the keeper well beaten. Keinan Davis had two chances to bury the rebound, but couldn’t get it through the constricting Walsall defence, who collapsed around him.
The final whistle blew, with Villa increasing the good feeling around the club that seems to be in every area except the boardroom - and the bank account. Villa’s next game is against Burton on the weekend.
Result: Aston Villa 4 - 1 Walsall
Context: Pre-season friendly
Goalscorers: Conor Hourihane x 3, Glenn Whelan
Man of the Match: Conor Hourihane