The body language of the rival benches spoke volumes for two sides who, barring the advent of a Le Tissier or a Shearer, are likely to be thereabouts rather than there next spring.
In the Villa pen stood Brian Little and a row of coaching lieutenants and substitutes, straining like caged animals against the wall which is as close to the pitch as they are allowed. Shouting and gesticulating, mentally kicking every ball, the management could not disguise their agitation with a team who had started the afternoon in second place.
A few feet away, Glenn Hoddle and his Chelsea entourage formed an altogether different line. Long before a late and well worked goal by Dennis Wise brought them to their feet, they reclined on their communal pew in such a relaxed way that they might have been sitting on a sofa quaffing wine and settling down to watch Match of the Day.
The difference reflected the disparity in experience between the teams. Villa, with Andy Townsend suspended and Mark Draper tangled up in blue by Eddie Newton, lacked leadership and presence. For Chelsea, Ruud Gullit and Mark Hughes simply oozed authority, inspiring younger colleagues and obviating the need for touchline exhortations or tactical tinkering.
"I thought they bossed the game in the key areas," Little admitted. "They defended well, broke out and scored, and kept their shape well. It was a classic away performance."
After four wins in five Premiership matches, Chelsea appear to be sitting comfortably rather than the sitting targets of August. Since there was a Coca-Cola Cup defeat by Stoke tucked away during the present run, Hoddle's assertion that they are at last achieving consistency may be premature. However, the pounds 2.3m capture of Dan Petrescu is a sign that a relaxed posture should not be mistaken for resting on laurels at Stamford Bridge.
"The more quality players you bring in, the more you're likely to stamp out inconsistency," Hoddle said. "We left six players at the training ground who could have figured in this game, which bodes well for the future of the club."
Hoddle singled out Newton, who has not been a regular of late, as Chelsea's best player. Maybe the words "apart from Gullit" went unspoken because the Dutchman's superiority was so obvious. Or perhaps the mere mortals in the side are considered more in need of praise.
Once, bizarrely, Gullit apologised profusely for a rare over-hit pass to, of all people, Paul Furlong, a journeyman striker who is struggling to justify his pounds 2.3m price tag. The question of buying a suitable partner for Hughes - assuming that the Welshman sticks it out in the south - is one which Hoddle may have to address if Chelsea are to make a sustained impact.
Furlong's shortcomings were mirrored in the Villa attack by Savo Milosevic, who is in danger of assuming Tony Cascarino's old mantle. Little is insistent that his pounds 3.5m Serb must have time to adjust, but a tough autumn schedule which includes Arsenal away on Saturday means that decision time is approaching. Can he afford to wait for Milosevic to come good? And if the answer is no, can Villa afford another record fee to replace him?
Goal: Wise (73) 0-.
Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, McGrath, Southgate; Charles, Taylor, Draper, Staunton (Fenton, 80), Wright; Yorke, Milosevic (Johnson, 80). Substitute not used: Spink (gk). Chelsea (-2-5-2): Kharin; Gullit; Lee, Johnsen; Burley, Wise, Newton, Peacock, Myers; Hughes, Furlong. Substitutes not used: Hall, Stein, Hitchcock (gk).
Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).Reuse content