After their poor start, new-look Aston Villa click at last
Aston Villa 2 Swansea City 0
Saturday 15 September 2012
Having moved seamlessly from one style-conscious manager to another, beginning life under Michael Laudrup with 10 goals and seven points from their opening three matches, Swansea might have imagined returning to the scene of their first away win in the Premier League and going home with another. After all, this was a Villa side who lost eight games at home last season and won only four.
The last of those was six months ago and even then it was a scrappy 1-0 against Fulham with a goal scored in stoppage time. Under a manager they never took to, and not only on account of his past associations, those were bleak days for Villa fans. Under Paul Lambert there had been a promise of change, yet their first home match of the season had ended in another dismal defeat and they went into this one on a run of 13 Premier League games without a win, the worst in their history.
So what happened flew in the face of expectations, even for the home crowd. Vibrant in midfield, sound in defence and underpinned by an immaculate performance by Brad Guzan in goal, Villa were made to work for the ball against a Swansea side who kept it with the level of expertise that is now their hallmark, but when in possession they almost always looked threatening. Each of the goals they scored had an element of freakishness about it but in no way was the result of a fluke.
Actually, to apply that description to the 16th-minute opening goal would be disrespectful to its architect, Matthew Lowton (below), whose technique was superb. If it caused a raised eyebrow it is because Lowton, one of eight new Villa signings on the field or on the bench, is a right-back, acquired from Sheffield United, and he struck it on the volley, after controlling the ball on his chest, with his left foot. Thumped in from just outside the box on the left, after Ashley Williams had headed away a Barry Bannan corner, it surprised Michel Vorm, the Swansea goalkeeper, who seemed to dive too soon and was flying towards the top corner as the ball went past his trailing legs.
Moments earlier, Guzan had pulled off two high-class saves in less than a minute to deny Swansea the lead, keeping out a strong header by Williams and then stretching himself to his left to turn a Nathan Dyer shot around the post.
With Wayne Routledge and Jonathan de Guzman impressive on the ball, Swansea had controlled the opening quarter of an hour but Villa had looked willing enough and the goal gave their work some extra conviction. Brett Holman, lively and inventive throughout, began to make threatening runs, as did Andreas Weimann, under some pressure with Darren Bent's prospective new partner, Christian Benteke, on the bench.
Nonetheless, Swansea had chances to go level and Danny Graham, playing ahead of Miguel Michu in Swansea's fluid system, missed a good one just before half-time, failing to connect with Dyer's cross when he should have scored.
The second half belonged more to Villa, who pressed hard for a second in the opening minutes, when Leon Britton cleared off the line from Weimann amid shouts for handball. A penalty would have been unjust.
Villa's tempo took its toll and Holman, who had been on international duty in midweek, had to give way to Charles N'Zogbia, but it was Benteke's entrance, combined with an error by Williams, that put the seal on the victory.
Benteke had already looked lively, but when Williams failed miserably in his attempt to head a Bent flick-on back to his goalkeeper he could not have had an easier chance, running the ball into an empty net.
"Against a really good side that has been flying I thought we were excellent from the start," Lambert said. "Brad's save from Dyer was world class but I thought we played some great football at a good tempo.
"Benteke was unplayable when he came on, causing them problems from the start. It is all a culture shock to him and he is only 21 but I thought he was excellent.
"It is a mammoth result. I can't speak for what happened before but I've asked the lads to buy into what I'm trying to do and I can't fault them in the time I have been here."
Laudrup was ready to take his first defeat on the chin. "I'm not disappointed with the performance because we played well and you are going to lose some games," he said.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Lichaj; Ireland (Westwood, 70), El Ahmadi, Bannan, Holman (N'Zogbia, 79); Bent, Weimann (Benteke, 71).
Swansea City (4-2-3-1): Vorm; Rangel, Williams, Tate, Davies; De Guzman, Britton (Shechter, 79); Dyer, Michu, Routledge (Pablo, 57); Graham (Moore, 71).
Referee: Lee Mason.
Man of the match: Guzan (Aston Villa)
Match rating: 7/10
Half-time: 1-0 Att: 34,005
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