Old Friends and Foes at Villa Park

Last updated : 29 September 2019 By Dave Thornley

Villa Park is as regal and imposing a stadium as just about any in the Premier League. Mercifully free of the corporate veneer of so many others, it is a testament to the generations of past club owners who have developed and enhanced it over the decades.

It is befitting accommodation for one of English football’s grand old clubs, but one which down the years has consistently failed to punch its considerable weight.

Yesterday was reminiscent of an old boy's club, two old Villians Matty Lowton and Ashley Westwood returned to Villa Park and ex-Burnley skipper Tom Heaton engaged in a four goal thriller in the West Midlands.

Having gone through a period of hardship and soul-searching in the Championship, Villa now find themselves back in the top tier and looking to make good on the promise that their history, tradition and infrastructure points towards.

To do so, they must start by taking a good long look at how Burnley, yesterday’s Premier League opponents go about their business.

The Clarets utilise every scrap of energy, every sinew of effort and very penny of their modest budget to develop a manner of playing which is designed to pick up points from those teams likely to inhabit the same strata of the league table.

Yesterday, was the latest example of how this system works in practice. For more or less the entirety of the first half, Burnley endured long periods without the ball.

That is not normally a concern for the Clarets whose defensive structure is designed to withstand this, but yesterday they were undone twice during the first period.

The first instance was a left wing cross deftly turned in by the excellent John McGinn, but overturned by the unforgiving gaze of VAR, which detected an offside in the build-up.

No such luck the second time as a rapid break down the right wing resulted in a near post cross which El Ghazi nipped ahead of Ben Mee to turn into the Burnley goal.

In response, Burnley mustered a Dwight McNeill free kick which struck the cross bar and a glancing Chris Wood header that perhaps should have tested venerated ex-Claret Tom Heaton in the Villa goal more thoroughly.

Jack Cork suffered a knock which prevented his participation in the second half. His replacement, Jay Rodriguez, represented a change in formation and was thus an uncharacteristic move by the normally conservative Sean Dyche.

It proved to be a tactical masterstroke; with Rodriguez on the right, Ashley Barnes on the left and Chris Wood through the middle; Villa’s defence suddenly had more of a threat to deal with and something they had probably not prepared for. Moreover, all three put in demanding shifts tracking back to assist the defence.

A left wing move culminated in an excellent cross delivered under pressure by Erik Pieters with pace and depth to the far post, where an alert Rodriguez headed the equaliser.

From then on, the game took on a frenetic but always entertaining turn, despite regular punctuations to treat injuries of varying severity to various Villa players. As a result the match was extended by no less than seven minutes’ stoppage time.

There was time for two more goals; a superb deep cross was finished by McGinn at the far post via a deflection off Nick Pope’s leg. Almost immediately after falling behind, Burnley drew level for the second time when Chris Wood slipped between the two Villa central defenders to head in Matt Lowton’s cross.

A draw was probably the right result, but Villa boss Dean Smith was disgruntled after the match citing perceived injustices; whilst some Villa fans took to social media (where else?) to complain about Burnley wasting time.

In fact, it was Villa’s players who were mainly responsible for punctuating the game with prolonged stoppages, but since when have the facts ever got in the way of a good social media rant?

Aston Villa would instead be wise to heed the lessons that Burnley handed out yesterday; lessons in having the resilience and character to emerge with a point from a tough away fixture.

This is a skill which the Villa are going to need to acquire if they are to continue their stay in the Premier League, which their surroundings, their supporters and their traditions demand.

As for Burnley, their solid opening to the season is maintained. Their ratio of points gained to matches played remains firmly in the positive.

This is a points ratio if kept up, will see the Clarets secure in mid-table and perhaps even challenging for another adventure in Europe.

Post match analysis written by uber Claret Dave Thornley, who contributes regularly for Clarets Mad. (TEC.)