We've moved into the second half of the season now, and with 14 losses behind them, Aston Villa can finish this season on a redemption run. Ignore the possibility of relegation for the moment, and focus on righting the wrongs of 2015. We saw a perfectly good example of this in the Palace game last night.
Aston Villa vs Crystal Palace
Aston Villa lost 2-1 to Palace in August, and a combination of tactical stupidity and player error were to blame. At least two points were thrown away when Tim Sherwood replaced midfield anchor Carlos Sanchez with winger Adama Traore, leaving a massive gap in the middle. Adama, to his credit, did his best to salvage a point, creating Villa's equaliser, but this was undone by the self destructive Villa defence.
Rudy Gestede was out of position with Brad Guzan in possession, which prevented the keeper from sending a long ball downfield. Instead, the keeper rolled the ball out to Jordan Amavi, who had two Palace players bearing down on him. Now, a more experienced defender would've put the ball into touch, but Amavi tried and failed to beat his man, which resulted in Palace scoring the winner. Villa literally gifted Palace the points, which is the story of the first half of Villa's season.
Aston Villa vs Crystal Palace: Redemption
Given that Aston Villa threw away the points in August, it's somewhat fitting that Palace keeper Wayne Hennessey literally dropped the points (and the ball), letting a Joleon Lescott header squirm over the line for the game's only score. The win wasn't purely down to luck though, as Remi Garde's team barely resembled the side that Tim Sherwood put out many months ago.
Leandro Bacuna, Idrissa Gana and Ashley Westwood were the only players that started back in August, otherwise the lineup was completely different. Mark Bunn and Libor Kozak justified their rare selection with solid performances. Kozak, in particular, was all over the pitch, getting involved more than either Gabby or Gestede ever tend to. Bunn meanwhile looked more assured than Brad Guzan, and will hopefully continue to start in coming weeks.
Tim Sherwood didn't favour Jordan Veretout or Jordan Ayew during his tenure at Villa, but it was their performances that were the difference between Villa and Palace last night. Along with Carles Gil, the trio provided the spark behind Kozak, the spark that Villa have been missing for too long. The final ball was lacking much of the time, but this was literally the first time that they've all lined up together, the chemistry will come in time.
In defence, Aly Cissokho looked more comfortable than Kieran Richardson, though his crossing leaves a lot to be desired. The interesting omission from the backline was Micah Richards. Villa's kamikaze captain was benched for this game, and the defence actually looked better as a result. Yes, Richards is better than both Jores Okore and Joleon Lescott, but Villa's defence right now needs solidity rather than eccentricity. Unless he plays at right back, I don't think that there's a place for Richards in the Villa 11.
Villa created more chances than in August, and conceded just one shot on target, compared to six the last time the sides met. A definite improvement. Aston Villa are on the road to redemption, and Leicester City come next.