After a long six weeks without their captain, Aston Villa fans were under the impression that this Easter Sunday match-up against Fulham would see the return of Jack Grealish.
However, when the line-ups were announced, there was widespread panic amongst fans when it was revealed Grealish hadn’t even made the bench.
The optimism amongst some of the fan base quickly drained away and the performance for 70 minutes of the game didn’t do much to change that.
That was until the substitutions of Keinan Davis and Mahmoud Trezeguet were made in the 62nd and 67th minute of play.
Villa opted for the usual 4-2-3-1 in the first 70 minutes of the game and failed to register a shot on target during that period of play.
With Grealish out, the use of Ollie Watkins up top on his own in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 has seen him become increasingly isolated. Out of the starting 11, he had a team low 26 touches in this game.
The major change was not only personnel for Villa, it was formation, and in the 68th minute, they swapped to a 4-4-2.
This was the first time in the absence of Grealish that this formation had been used and it proved to be effective.
Without Grealish drawing the attention of several players, it is easier for defenders to concentrate on the likes of Watkins, McGinn, Traore or any other Villa player trying to attack.
Keinan Davis occupied defenders and allowed for an increased level of space for everyone to operate within, which lead to the breakthrough and onslaught in the dying embers of the game.
This was the first time Villa had come from behind to win a Premier League game since January 2020 against Watford.
When scoring first this season (11 games), Fulham had previously only lost once; how yesterday unfolded was unusual for both teams.
The two substitutions yesterday registered two goals and an assist between them.
In the 63 substitutions Dean Smith made prior to this, only one goal and one assist were recorded - the second lowest contribution from the bench in the Premier League.
Villa have lacked an impact off the bench all season and it is promising to now see this production from the bench.
The win was well needed, as they clearly still desperately need Grealish back.
51.85% of Villa’s attacks came from the left wing, but this accumulated to only 0.32 xG (19% of the overall value). The ability to somehow win this game when the situation looked so bleak at points is a positive and fans should enjoy it.
Another positive for Villa is after a return to forget for Matty Cash against Tottenham, he returned to the pre-hamstring injury form we all know him for in this game.
He kept Fulham’s best dribbler, Ademola Lookman, to just a 50% dribbling success rate. They had eight attacks down Cash’s side of the pitch and he suffocated them to just 0.10 xG stemming from them.
Ollie Watkins also netted his 14th goal this season for both club and country, proving once again, how valuable he is to this squad.
We are also quick to forget if it wasn’t for another offering of VAR controversy he would have won us a penalty on the brink of half time also. He is a gem of a player and integral to this up and coming, young Villa squad.
Overall, regardless of the first 70 minutes, fans should enjoy any win that occurs without Jack Grealish. Any team missing a player of his caliber and impact would struggle; these kind of wins are hard to come by.
Whether or not he will be back for the run against Liverpool and Manchester City remains to be seen.
Villa fans now face another week of tracing through training pictures with a magnifying glass.