BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15: Matthew Lowton of Aston Villa scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Swansea City at Villa Park on September 15, 2012 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
You might say that headline is a bit over the top. I say you're blind to the greatness before you. Or maybe it's the temporarily clouded judgment that comes along with seeing your team pull out such a tremendous win. It's tough to say for sure. What I can say with almost 100% certainty is this; Aston Villa just beat a Swansea City side that's looked quite good so far this season, and they did it in stylish and convincing fashion.
Swansea started the game on top in the possession department, which was to be expected. Villa's midfield and defense soaked up the pressure, with Swansea poking and prodding in those very early stages but not finding much in he way of a chance in open play. In the 10th minute, however, Swansea would get a look and the outcome would in some ways set the tone for what was to come; new signing Michu, who scored 4 goals in his first 3 Premier League games, got on the end of a corner with a free header that was punched away by Brad Guzan. The ball stayed with Swansea, and Johnathan De Guzman sent it a wicked curling effort that was kept out thanks to a tremendous diving save from the Villa keeper. Swansea had their two best chances of the day within seconds of each other, and without two tremendous efforts from Guzan the game may have turned out quite differently
After that initial flurry, Villa worked their way back into the game. They found themselves on top in the 16h minute, after a failed clearance from a corner was chested down and volleyed in by Matthew Lowton. It was a stunning effort, better even than Karim El Ahmadi's strike against Everton and one of the best goals scored by a Villa player in recent memory. That it came as it did, on a left footed strike from a very right footed fullback, should have been a sign that this would be Villa's day. The goal seemed to give Villa a boost in confidence, and the earlier tendency to sit back and soak up Swansea's pressure gave way to a much more aggressive approach from Villa. Lowton's strike would be the only goal of the first half, but the remaining half hour was far from uneventful. It was a flowing, end-to-end game with each side playing some very nice football and creating some very nice moves.
Despite the strong display from Villa in the first half, I was feeling far from confident about the rest of he game; we've seen on more than a few occasions these past few seasons Villa play very well in the first half only to fall apart when the opposition made adjustments at the interval. But that didn't happen this time around. If anything, Aston Villa's halftime adjustments were more effective than Swansea's. Before long, the home side was well and truly bossing the game, creating chance after chance and keeping the visitors very much on the back foot. Before long, that relentless pressure was forcing Swansea into some very uncharacteristic errors, and with slightly more clinical play in the final third this game could have been put away long before full time.
That cutting edge wasn't there, however, and if there's a negative to take away from this performance that would be it. Villa spent almost the entirety of the second half knocking on the door, but they weren't able to break it down and not because of any real inspired play by the visitors. But we all know this is a work in progress, and we all know that the final product is likely going to be the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place. Villa's lack of a killer instinct isn't exactly a revelation, but nearly every other single thing about this game was just that. And when you keep possession as well as Villa did and shut down the opposition as completely as the defense managed to do, that's far less of a concern than it otherwise would be-especially when you can see the attacking play getting better and better week after week.
And of course there is the fact that Villa did eventually get the goal to put the game away. Christian Benteke made his debut in the 71st minute, coming on for Andreas Weimann (who was once again excellent.) I knew Benteke was a very big man before I saw him step on the pitch; I've even seen him play before. But his sheer massiveness was still something of a jolt. And the big man wasted very little time making his sizable presence felt. Benteke immediately gave Villa the excellent hold-up play that no other striker on the team can provide, and his distribution and positioning looked more than solid. Just two minutes after coming on, Benteke had his first crack at goal. A few minutes after that, he had another. In the 83rd minute, the new signing's debut looked to have been marred by an absolute whiff on what probably should have been Villa's second. But the big man would make amends just before stoppage time; Ashley Williams attempted to send a header back towards Michel Vorm, but the contact was not solid and Benteke read the situation perfectly. The big striker put a deft touch on the ball to evade Vorm, and from there all that was needed was a simple tap to put the game away.
It was as close to perfect as anyone could have any right to expect. Aston Villa was the better side in every facet of the game, and there's no denying they built on a solid performance against Newcastle. This team was confident, organized, and looked comfortable in control of the run of play. Not every day will be like this one, but in no way did this feel like a fluke. I could get used to this kind of thing, and there's every reason to think I'll have a chance.