Still, the table doesn’t lie, and the table says “eighth-place.” But Villa’s position comes with an asterisk. For a team that was left high and dry by its manager just days before the start of the season, 10 points from seven matches is decent return. For a team unable to invest in its squad over the summer months, having the same win tally as Arsenal and Manchester United is nothing to scoff at. After all, things could always be worse. Things could be Liverpool-bad.
Even the disappointment of Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur wasn’t a spirit-dampener. To anyone who watched the game, Villa made a real go of it and the points were there for the taking for most of the match. Spurs are a good side, playing with lots of confidence, yet Villa battered them in the opening moments. Pity Emile Heskey was forced to limp off after 36 minutes. The re-born striker has been a real difference-maker since Gerard Houllier’s arrival as manager, and he followed up his recent goalscoring exploits with a superb assist on Marc Albrighton’s goal just after the quarter-hour.
Albrighton, himself, has been a revelation this season. He’s made nine appearances for the club so far, scoring once and adding four assists while providing a new, versatile threat on the wings. Barry Bannan, too, has shown promise. Granted, he hasn’t had the run of matches that fellow 20-year-old Albrighton has had, but he’s looked good when given a chance. Both are reasons to look forward to the future.
Villa have also put in a decent start to the campaign without consistent contributions from Gabriel Agbonlahor and Stephen Ireland.
Agbonlahor, who has struggled with injuries this season, has started just two matches this season and is set to miss another two weeks after undergoing a groin operation on Monday. He’ll also miss out on England’s Euro 2012 qualifier against Montenegro next week.
Ireland, meanwhile, suffered a dead leg ahead of a clash with Bolton Wanderers in September and continues to struggle for fitness. He’s also failed to impress in the three matches he’s played for Villa, but you’ve got to think his quality will come through sooner rather than later.
At least an optimist would say so. But after all the club’s been through of late, who wouldn’t want to be an optimist? Especially when things look like they’ve been turned around.