Hope can sometimes be a more awkward emotion to handle than despair, as some of Derby's travelling supporters might be able to attest. Shortly before the end of a predictable defeat – their sixth in seven away league matches – which kept Billy Davies' men bottom of the Premier League, an ironic cry went up from the section of Villa Park given to the away fans: "One goal, we only want one goal..."
Thus far on Derby's travels this season that marvel has yet to be provided, and two collective lapses of concentration in four second-half minutes undermined what had been a competent, if tentative, display for the team who earned a play-off victory last season.
The first allowed Gareth Barry to escape cover and turn Ashley Young's free-kick from the left back across goal for the centre-back Martin Laursen to bash over the line. The second saw possession given away to set in motion a goalmouth scramble which ended with a decisive volley from Young.
Davies remains adamant his inexperienced team are moving in the right direction. "I'm still very, very confident that we will consolidate our position at the end of the season," he said. "As time goes on we will become more confident, and more ruthless."
Not even the rancorous disagreement at full time between his keeper Steven Bywater and defender Dean Leacock – sparked off, apparently, by a pass back during the game – could disturb the Scotsman's relentless positivity. "Who says you can't have a debate with a team-mate?" he asked. "Let's get at each other. Why not, when you think what's at stake?"
What might have provided a sounder basis for optimism for Derby fans was a passage of play in the closing minutes that gave a glimpse of what might be as a sumptuously angled pass from 19-year-old Giles Barnes set fleet substitute Robert Earnshaw free for a shot that skimmed the side netting.
As for Villa, under the urbane and quirky stewardship of Martin O'Neill they continue to prove a team of real spirit who have, in the heavyweight reliability of midfielder Gareth Barry and the irrepressible flair of Young on the left wing, the possibility of unsettling even the best teams. But their ability to make the most of their possession remains a problem.
There has been some paper talk of Villa re-signing Peter Crouch, so wilfully neglected by Liverpool's stubborn manager. He would energise their front line wonderfully. But such speculation remains no more than fanciful as Villa look forward to next Sunday's trip to Birmingham City. That promises to be a more exacting derby.
Goals: Laursen (57) 1-0, Young (61) 2-0.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Mellberg, Knight (Davies, 87), Laursen, Bouma; Petrov, Reo-Coker, Barry, Young (Maloney, 69); Moore (Berger, 77), Agbonlahor. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Gardner.
Derby County (4-5-1): Bywater; Griffin, Moore, Davis (Teale, h-t), McEveley; Fagan (Earnshaw, 66), Oakley, Leacock, Pearson, Barnes; Howard. Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Jones, Mears.
Referee: M Halsey
Booked: Derby Griffin, Moore, Howard.
Man of the match: Young.
* The Aston Villa goalkeeper Scott Carson has revealed his desire to make his loan move from Liverpool permanent. "If everyone is happy, it could be made a permanent transfer. That is obviously up to the boss, but it's something I would welcome. I want to establish myself as a No 1 and, preferably, I would like to do it here."Reuse content