Having been very critical of late – with good reason – of management and players, it’d be very unfair to not recognise a decent effort from either side of the white line. And last night was just that.
From Alex Neil’s team selection through to the sheer grit and determination of the players and via the non-stop second half singing of the Barclay, it was an evening that went just a little way – and there’s still a long way to go – to putting the ‘faith’ back in the faithful.
It’s a fragile peace though and if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last couple of months it’s that this group finds it difficult to consistently produce the level of intensity and commitment needed to churn out results Championship-style. But last night as least confirmed those qualities are in there somewhere; something I’d started to doubt.
Yet there in all it’s glory was a midfield, led by the combative Youssouf Mulumbu, closing down, harrying and tackling to within an inch of its life while behind them Seb Bassong and Ryan Bennett did a passable impersonation of an old-style centre-back partnership who tackled, headed, blocked and, when required, put their bodies on the line.
And to watch a team that epitomised the term prima donna transform for the evening into a group of scrappers and battlers was joyful.
Whether they did it for themselves as opposed to the manager – as suggested by Greg Downs on Canary Call – or whether it was in direct response to Team Neil’s directions matters little. They did it. And it was good.
It wasn’t the beautiful game of course, it rarely is in the Championship, and I’m doubtful if the neutral watching TV audience was wholly enthralled but to those draped in yellow it offered up something very different to the fare we’ve become used to – even when comparing it to the Brentford romp.
Again it’s key to remain in Russell Martin’s famous equilibrium zone, and Villa offered little other than an unusual and unsuccessful brand of “power football”, (if this was them being resurgent I’d love to see them when they’re playing poorly) but we’ve had so many bad days of late it’d be just a little bit ridiculous not to revel in a good one.
Nélson Oliveria’s fine strike was reward for another industrious outing there’s something aesthetically pleasing about the Portuguese international’s first touch, particularly when it’s such an important component in the role of a lone striker. And three in three means that for now Alex doesn’t have a selection headache, even when Cameron Jerome returns to full fitness.
The shirt is Oliveira’s and while he keeps scoring it should remain that way.
Martin Olsson and Ivo Pinto are our two best full-backs, period, and hopefully any daft notions of tinkering with those positions are now dead; both offering defensive surety and the crucial ability to ‘join in’. And it’s no coincidence that the return of Pinto, along with Jonny Howson, has signalled a mini-run of two wins in three.
We missed them both – badly.
Graham Dorrans too deserves a nod. He’s taken some brickbats of late – not least from this column – but last night he bridled a voracious work-rate to his natural ability to pass and looked a better player for it. And the tempo of his passing was a notch or two higher than of late; that too being crucial in the improved rhythm of City’s play.
Finally it would be remiss not to mention again the role of the Barclay in last night’s proceedings, particularly after half-time. The noise was incessant and quite possibly the trigger for a very decent second-half performance.
On a few occasions the River End joined in. Weird. But more of the same on Friday?
So, an enjoyable one and we can now wallow in a three-day ceasefire. Which is nice.