Competition: Premier League
Date: 13 January 2023
Result: Aston Villa 2 – 1 Leeds United
Tickets: €39.50 (adult), in the second row of the Holte End Upper.
Game/ Experience Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Disclaimer – I am a lifelong Aston Villa fan, so this may not be the most neutral take. My first trip since 2017 (covid, babies, etc). had to be documented, so here it is.
The Game: There’s been a growing rivalry between Villa and Leeds in recent years, and this definitley had a little bit of bite (not least Jesse Marsch, the volatile-feeling Leeds manager), but I’m impressed with Villa’s newfound composure. Bailey put Villa in front in about the 3rd minute, curling a beautiful shot just inside the post from the edge of the area after a break from Kamara, who is nothing short of exceptional.
From then, Leeds dominated for large parts of the game, but didn’t create a huge amount as Villa frustrated them with lots of slick passing around the back and created a couple of decent chances of their own. There were two forced changes for Villa in the first half, with Watkins and Digne going off injured, leaving the ineffective Ings and newly signed wide man Alex Moreno to play most of the game.
Moreno looked seriously nervous at first, but soon found himself playing in heaps of space as Leeds defended narrow; he looks really effective. Villa led 2-0 when a VAR check eventually ruled Emi Buendia onside after he scored from a rebound from another Bailey chance (he had many, most seemed to run down blind alleyways), before Bamford scored off what looked suspiciously like a foul from Gnonto in the build up to set up a tense finish.
A great game to be over for, semi-riotous under the Friday night lights, and I got to sit a few seats from my old season ticket location in K5, near the front of hte Holte End Upper. It’s been way, way too long.
The ground: Obviously I love Villa Park, its got sentimental depth for me and has had for a long time. In the dark, you don’t get quite the detail on the old stands that you would in a normal day time game, but walking up the Holte End steps is still a special feeling, and watching those waves of Clarte and Blue strolling down the Trinity Road.
Big improvements are around the corner, and I’m not sure if I’ll be back again before the North Stand is redeveloped (at which point it will be significantly harder to get tickets, I suspect, until it’s finished). Might have to try and squeeze one more trip in before the end of the season. One thing I noticed that I hadn’t seen before was the pre-match view from the Upper Holte where they open up the shutters and you can see down onto the pitch. A pretty cool feature that I assume has been built since I was last in the Holte End.
The North Stand is a lot livelier than it used to be, too, which is great to see.
Extras: Villa feel a lot more like a family experience than they used to, even on a Friday night. There’s a kids zone with bouncy castles, a band covering Spice Girls and The Fratellis, and a hugely improved food menu since I was last over. I enjoyed exploring the shop and spending an hour walking around outside, too, though the shop could probably use a couple of books (I was specifically looking for something Villa themed to read beyond the programme!).
Assorted asides: What an incredibly promising start from Unai Emery. Things are looking good.
My totals for the year so far:
Games: 1. Home wins: 1 Draws: 0 Away wins: 0
Goals: 3. Home goals: 2. Away goals: 1. Goals per game: 3