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Aston Villa
Posted by Kevin Hughes on 03/23/2012

... and everything feels much better.

It's been almost pleasant being a Villa fan for the past couple of weeks; with this Tuesday's scheduled match against Bolton being postponed, the glow that comes with winning has lasted that little bit longer. There's nothing like a victory to put an extra spring in the step and Villa's 1-0 win over Fulham was perfectly timed; without a home win since the beginning of winter 2011 (November 5, to be precise), this was a first Villa Park three-pointer for four months.

The victory was literally scrambled, substitute striker Andreas Weimann scoring on all fours after following up his first effort, a header, which was blocked by Fulham 'keeper Mark Schwarzer. The goal came in the 94th minute.

The scruffiness of the goal didn't matter, and in a way, it was scored in befitting style; Weimann wasn't the only one on his knees - Villa manager Alex McLeish was just about there, too, in the build-up to the game, with pressure mounting due to continued underwhelming performances and results. His relief - and the relief among the home fans - was palpable on the final whistle. As was the delight among the players.

A big win? Not in the sense of how it was achieved - Villa played reasonably neat football but nothing more than that - and not in terms of the opponents. Fulham can be ruthless at home, but toothless away. But in the context of a testing and challenging season, yes; this pushed Villa significantly away from the bottom three and rendered relegation a distinct threat.

Victories for Blackburn and QPR (over Liverpool; I'm saying nothing to those fans who berated me back in December for claiming Arsenal were a more complete side than the Reds and would have the better campaign in the league: 13 points now separating those two) have tightened things up just under Villa but there's still a ten-point gap between us and the relegation places.

Mathematically, we're still in trouble but realistically, it's surely going to take a hell of a swing in points for Villa to drop. One of the current bottom three needs to win at least three of their remaining nine or ten games, coupled with us taking next to nothing in terms of points, for that to happen. I can't see Wolves or Wigan doing that. Bolton might, at a stretch.

So, what could be the ugliest goal of Weimann's entire career could be crucial. Villa can, properly, look forward, not back. There are fixtures, of course, to see out - and some pretty difficult ones at that (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United all coming up in the next five games - ouch) but the talk already is of the summer and pushing on.

We've even had the boost of a new signing - in March. Nothing too dramatic; a Bosman free signing. But it could be a shrewd one: the Australian midfielder Brett Holman from AZ Alkmaar. It's fair to say I knew little about him until a week ago, and I don't know a tremendous amount more now, other than the fact he's 27 years old, is versatile enough to be able to play in midfield, out wide and in behind a centre-forward, like a second striker, and he's widely acknowledged as being Australia's current star player.

It's a signing with a little bit of imagination behind it (McLeish has described him as 'a hell of a player') and a welcome change to the recent approach of beefing out the squad with expensive surplus from other Premier League clubs.

It's an encouraging start to what I suspect will be a busy summer at Villa, as the streamlining of the squad continues. It needs to: still too many established players in the comfort zone, barely justifying their status and wages. It cannot be ignored that Villa had six players groomed through its Academy involved against Fulham: Gabby Agbonlahor, Chris Herd, Gary Gardner, Barry Bannan, Mark Albrighton and Andreas Weimann. Another Ciaran Clark, is more or less a nailed-on starter when fit - he's currently back in training after a knee ligament strain. The onus is on the continued promotion of young talent at Villa Park, and the evidence of it occurring is there. The conveyor belt is now fully functional.

Clark aside, those six should all be involved against Arsenal on Saturday. There may even be a first Premier League start for Weimann, with an injury doubt against Charles N'Zogbia - who did manage to cast a shadow this week with some published mutterings about his role in the team, coming via an interview with French newspaper L'Equipe, subsequently explained/apologised for/retracted on the club website.

If N'Zogbia is unavailable, McLeish needs to shuffle his pack and his striking options are limited, with Darren Bent, of course, sidelined. It could come down to a start for Weimann, or a recall for Emile Heskey. I'll leave you to guess which selection may further convince fans that Villa are moving forward.


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Kevin Hughes Kevin Hughes spent the best part of ten years working and writing for the football magazine Match; once (sort of) inspiring David Beckham to copy his shaved-hair look, getting lost in Paris after the 1998 France v Croatia World Cup semi-final and other such nonsense. As Deputy Editor, he launched and established Sport, the London-based free weekly magazine, before moving on to become a consumer magazine publisher, a position he holds today. Introduced to Villa by his father and grandfather, he attended his first ever match at Villa Park as a seven-year-old in 1982… and has suffered almost constant disappointment since. You can follow him on twitter @KevHughesie

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