Aston Villa 2 (Abraham 5, Hourihane 17)
Leeds United 3 (Clarke 56, Jansson 61, Roofe 90+5)
We keep wondering don’t we? Can we go to Bramall Lane and win against a decent Sheffield United? Can we get the expected three points from the likes of Reading, QPR and Bolton? Can we go to Villa Park and win there? Well, we keep asking the questions and the team keeps providing an emphatic “yes”, we can do all that. So when we wonder about the ultimate goal, promotion, we are going to have to begin to believe we can do that too!
There was a time – about 17 minutes into this game – when I was still refusing to believe that promotion could be ours this time; yes of course we might still do, I realised that, but I didn’t really ‘believe’ at that point. We’d somehow allowed Villa to race into a two goal lead on their own patch, and we were looking decidedly average – no better than a dozen or so sides in the Championship.
Before the game I’d forecast that we’d go down to a 2 – 1 defeat, a forecast reflecting how I still felt that, actually, Villa were a stronger side than we were, especially since the arrival of Dean Smith who, after an initial couple of defeats, had seemingly found the best out of a talented group of players such that they’d gone 7 without defeat, including big wins at Derby and Boro and a home thrashing of near neighbours Birmingham City. For our part, we had the beating of Sheffield United recently, just, but prior to that you had to go back to August to find a victory against any of the so called fancied teams. The last one we faced was of course Villa’s Birmingham neighbours West Brom… and we know how that ended!
So, the game with Villa was bound to be a significant pointer to our promotion credentials and after that opening 17 minutes I was resigned to the fact that at best we’d be scrapping our way towards a top six finish. In fact, I still felt like that at half time. OK, Leeds, having given the Villans a two goal start, had then begun to play a bit but, I reasoned, that could be just the Villa going into controlling mode, happy to hold what they had and not be quite as adventurous. Leeds were not actually threatening much at the other end.
Then the second half began and, now with the fearless Jack Clarke on the left wing and the fearful looking Jack Harrison back in the dressing room, we suddenly looked more dangerous. We needed something to inspire us though; something to cling to and to get us going and Jack Clarke’s latest cameo performance did exactly that. Once again he gave me goose bumps as, looking for all-the-world like a young Eddie Gray, he fired the ball home.
From that point on we all had something to play for, fans and players alike and we morphed into that side we saw destroy the likes of Derby and Stoke back in August; some of the names have changed but the unmistakeable MO of Marcelo Bielsa was clear for all to see. A towering Pontus header got us level and we’d all have been satisfied with that, more than satisfied having been two behind. But it’s Christmas, and we’ve all been good, and there was more to come. The joy of a late winner is always supreme, but to do it at a place like Villa Park against a side said to be one of the best in class and to do it two days before Santa arrives was, well, it was just about perfect.
This was one of the best away days I have ever experienced and the singing on the mini-bus on the way home with the Christmas cd blasting out at full volume, will live long in my memory. Yes, I do now believe we can get promotion this year, we may still fail of course but after a second half performance like we saw today how can we not believe?
Aston Villa Leeds Utd
Possession 34% 66%
Shots 10 16
On Target 2 7
Corners 6 8
Fouls 12 13