BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15: Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates after he scores the second 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)
Well, that went well. It's foolish to think that things have fully turned around and it's all rainbows and kittens from here on out, but this was an incredibly encouraging performance. And it was fun! I really feel like this team is going to be quite good when they've had time to develop and grow together, and they're just incredibly likable. This could be a fun season.
Brad Guzan: Another excellent performance, and though he didn't have much to do in terms of making saves for much of the afternoon without his tremendous pair of stops right around the ten minute mark the game could have taken a very different turn. Guzan continues to impress with the aspects of goalkeeping that tend to go unnoticed; command of his box on set pieces, distribution and defensive organization. Is there any question that the starting job is now Guzan's to lose?
Matthew Lowton: Lowton just continues to improve, putting in his best performance in a Villa shirt for the second consecutive game. Wayne Routledge was largely a non-factor and Lowton had one of the best Villa goals in recent memory and a few other nice contributions to the attack as well. There's still a lot of room for growth, but I'm pretty excited about the player Lowton looks like he could become.
Ron Vlaar: There's a case to be made that Vlaar was man of the match; the big man completely dominated Villa's defensive third, in the air and on the ground. In a summer of good signings, Vlaar could turn out to be the best.
Ciaran Clark: Clark shook off the troubles of the first few weeks and has now put in very solid performances in back-to-back games. Clark's talent is easy to see, and if he can continue to cut down on the rash challenges and mental errors he's going to be a very good player.
Eric Lichaj: Another solid defensive performance at his less-favored left back position and some solid forays into the attack as well. It's going to be interesting to see how Paul Lambert handles the left back position with Joe Bennett becoming more familiar with the team; if Lichaj keeps performing this well, it's difficult to see him losing his place.
Brett Holman: Another very Brett Holman performance; he's not the world's most skillful player, but he makes up for that with excellent positional awareness and a seemingly inexhaustible motor. Players like Holman aren't necessarily the guys that get a lot of the praise or the headlines, but they can be incredibly valuable. Thanks for the parting gift, Alex.
Stephen Ireland: Started out on the right but moved into a central role for the second half; a workmanlike performance, but Ireland continues to frustrate. You can see the creativity, but there's a very noticeable hesitance that is preventing him from living up to his full potential. If things can click, that changes a lot of things not only for Ireland but for the team as a whole. Overall, an improvement on last game but still a bit wanting.
Karim El Ahmadi: Another game, another 85%+ pass completion rate and ability to be in several hundred different places at once. KEA didn't do anything especially flashy, but he's making the value of a metronomic presence in central midfield clear for all to see.
Barry Bannan: Largely a non-factor in the first half, after switching to the left at the interval he was one of the best players on the pitch in the second half. With Charles N'Zogbia seemingly out of favor at the moment, Bannan is making the most of his chance to shine. Still somewhat unconvincing centrally (at least on this team) but he's clearly a difference-maker out wide.
Andreas Weimann: Quietly a(nother) very good game for Weimann; nearly had a goal in the first half, made some great attacking runs, kept the pressure on Swansea's back line and perhaps most importantly made some very nice passes and showed some flashes of creativity. Will likely find himself relegated to the substitutes bench once Christian Benteke is ready to start, but he's got a great future ahead of him.
Darren Bent: Until Bent opens his account people will grumble, but he worked his tail off and all things considered had a very nice game. The goals will come soon enough, and until the do you can't ask more from Bent than he gave in this game.
Ashley Westwood: Played for over 20 minutes, and I quite honestly don't remember a single thing that he did. That's not any kind of a judgment, just a statement of fact. The fact that he was the first substitute called into action is encouraging in and of itself. I'd normally assign a rating to a player that came into the game in the 70th minute, but the way the thins ended up shaking out I just didn't see enough of what he could do to make any real judgment.
Christian Benteke: Not a bad debut, eh? Had a pretty awful whiff that threatened to spoil his first impression, but made up for it with the game-clinching goal that showcased an ability to read the game and a very nice bit of skill. Gave Swansea headaches the entire time he was on the pitch. I have the feeling I'm going to really love this kid.
Charles N'Zogbia: N'Zogbia looks either hopelessly timid or makes terrible decisions while trying to do too much. As an admirer, it's more than a little bit painful at the moment. Much like Ireland, you've got to think he'll get it together at some point. It's just an incredibly frustrating wait.