Have Paul Lambert's Aston Villa boys come of age since 8-0 Chelsea bashing at Stamford Bridge?

Aston Villa's young side lost 8-0 at Chelsea last season but they seem to have learnt from the ordeal

Measuring maturity is difficult, but on Wednesday night Aston Villa have a chance. Last December they were humiliated 8-0 by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the worst defeat of the season. They did not look at all cut out for Premier League football, nor that they would be involved in it for much longer. But they played brilliantly and bravely in the spring and they stayed up.

And like a pivotal scene in a coming-of-age story, this evening Paul Lambert's side will return to the scene of their great belittling, hoping for a different result.

Aston Villa go to Chelsea buoyed by a remarkable start to the season; a perfectly executed counter-attacking 3-1 win at Arsenal on Saturday. It was a performance of confidence, character and conviction, one that looked as different as is possible from their collapse last Christmas.

Villa looked like a different team. But in fact seven of those who started the 8-0 defeat played on Saturday. Brad Guzan, Matthew Lowton, Nathan Baker, Ashley Westwood, Andy Weimann and Christian Benteke all began both games while Ciaran Clark was brought on in the first half last weekend. The team has changed; it has grown up.

Lambert's plan, in that sense, has been vindicated. He built a young team last year hoping that they would grow into their roles. The fact that they are still here in the Premier League shows Lambert was right. But last December it was not so obvious.

Villa went to Stamford Bridge off the back of their best result of the season, a 3-1 win at Anfield not dissimilar to their victory last weekend. They were unbeaten in five with a healthy 18 points from 14 games.

But at Chelsea they were painfully exposed. They gifted three goals before half-time and collapsed afterwards. This correspondent described them as "callow and out of place" and it was rather painful to watch. The back five – all aged between 21 and 24 – struggled desperately (but only Eric Lichaj is no longer at Villa.) They lost their next game 4-0 at home to Tottenham and did not win again in the league until 10 February.

That win, though, changed something, and a run of five victories from nine in March and April kept them up. Those painful winter lessons, which could have killed this team, now seem to have made them stronger.

"In a roundabout way the experience did them good because you get a spirit through adversity," reflected Lambert. "Sometimes you have to go through that to be stronger."

Lambert admitted, though, that his bold experiment, his risky trust in youth, might not have worked. "It showed they have great character, it really did. No one was quite sure if they would carry it through but full credit to them."

The fact that the club – the board, manager, players and supporters – stuck together through that difficult spring, in which things certainly could have gone either way, may be recorded in the future as a crucial moment in Villa's history.

"The big thing was the crowd," said Lambert. "It would have been easy for the crowd to turn up and criticise after five or 10 minutes. They never once got on our backs, which is a unique thing. It bounced off the players brilliantly and they could play with the freedom knowing the crowd were behind them. No doubt, from about February onwards, you could sense they were starting to click."

The result and the reward of that is Villa, who have confirmed Stiliyan Petrov is to step back from helping run the Under-21 side after taking on "a little too much too soon", can now come back to Stamford Bridge and play again, making it clear how they have changed.

They will face a different Chelsea side too, but one set on another big result. Jose Mourinho's team started ferociously against Hull City on Sunday and the manager has vowed he wanted to "destroy" opponents.

"We want to win matches," Mourinho explained. "But what I like is that when you have the chance to destroy [teams], to beat them by three, four or five, we have to do it, as if someone has the chance to do it to you, they will not forgive you, they will give you nothing. If someone feels that they can do it to us, they will do it."

Villa might not quite get full revenge like that, but they can show how far they have come.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition