Goals win games, and also mask a multitude of faults. Villa's flaws were exposed during a breathless Midlands derby against West Brom, but no matter: a home victory is rare enough this season, let alone one achieved through scoring four times.
The 4-3 win over Albion should be savoured, celebrated and enjoyed by Villa supporters who have had little to cheer about for too long. This team remains, in the words of their manager, a "million miles" away from where they want to reach but until that time -- if that time ever arrives -- this was the kind of performance to justify the price of a matchday ticket, warm the heart and gladden the soul.
If a mid-table position is to be the extent of Villa's immediate ambitions, let it be achieved by exciting, attacking play and not by cautiously sitting deep, inviting pressure, and picking up a point here and there. There were holes in Villa's defence - even larger ones in Albion's, mind - and way too much carelessness in possession, but the attacking potency which has eluded Paul Lambert's team for the majority of the season seems to be back.
- Report: Villa win seven-goal derby
- Highlights: Villa 4-3 West Brom (U.S. only)
Like a pair of psyched up boxers, Villa and West Brom went toe-to-toe and slugged it out at Villa Park. Any expectations of a tight contest were shattered within three minutes as Albion raced into the lead. Chris Brunt was hugely influential in the first half of last November's 2-2 draw at the Hawthorns and his excellent 25-yard strike, with little or no backlift, caught Villa cold.
The home defence was sleeping again when a quick West Brom free-kick allowed James Morrison space on the right of the penalty area to fire in a cross that Fabian Delph, chasing back to cover, diverted past Brad Guzan. Albion were fast out of the blocks earlier in the season, two goals up after 11 minutes, but even faster at Villa Park -- ahead 2-0 after just nine.
Villa's response was swift and emphatic -- and deserves due credit. This team seems at its best when absolutely required to go all-out for goals, and by the 37th minute the hosts had overturned a 2-0 deficit to lead 3-2. Villa's football was fast, direct and devastating. West Brom's ponderous defence couldn't handle a revitalised Christian Benteke, the Belgian dominating Jonas Olsson and Diego Lugano in the air.
Andreas Weimann -- another Villa striker returning to decent form - finished his chance off well, lobbing Ben Foster after Benteke hassled Lugano into a poor header, and Leandro Bacuna's miscued effort made it 2-2. The chance came from a penetrating run and cross from Matt Lowton, a right-back who continues to look more comfortable going forward than back.
Villa's third was the best of the night, a wondrous example of close control from Delph followed by a rocket of a strike. Defensive slackness took over again as Albion equalised through Youssouf Mulumbu, with the sixth goal of a crazy first half leaving heads spinning inside the stadium.
Lugano should have nodded Albion ahead in the second half; instead he steered the ball wide before pulling Benteke down in the area. Having missed a penalty against Everton earlier in the season, it was reassuring see the striker claim the ball and calmly place the spot-kick beyond Foster to seal the victory and conclude the goalscoring madness.
That there were no further goals in the remaining 30 minutes of football was down in no small part to the decisions made, one of them immediately after Benteke's goal, by Lambert. It's easy to point out where a manager has gone wrong, but equally important to identify something done right. Enter Grant Holt to demonstrate why Lambert brought him in on loan a fortnight ago. Bacuna stepped back to replace Lowton at right-back and Holt assumed a position alongside Benteke. His ability to keep the ball and use it sensibly kept West Brom on the back foot.
Later in the game, Lambert withdrew Weimann and Karim El Ahmadi, introducing Yacouba Sylla and a third centre-back in Nathan Baker. Villa switched to 3-5-2, with Sylla adding muscle to the midfield and Baker dropping in alongside Ciaran Clark and Ron Vlaar, who seemed to be struggling slightly after a first-half collision with Victor Anichebe. The closing stage of the match was seen out without serious alarm.
The outcome of this game was always going to be a mood-changer. Defeat would have totally undone all the hard work of the recent draw at Anfield, victory would have given the squad -- and supporters -- a huge lift. Villa can now carry that momentum into Saturday's visit to Everton and approach that match with genuine confidence. The Merseysiders are expected to be without several key players, including Romelu Lukaku, Sylvain Distin and Seamus Coleman, and Villa have a good recent record at Goodison -- unbeaten in the last seven visits there.
In fact, Villa haven't lost at Everton since a 4-1 defeat in March 2006, a forgettable result other than it marked a first senior goal for Gabby Agbonlahor. He is Villa's main fitness doubt ahead of the weekend. Without the talismanic striker, Villa still engineered a way to beat West Brom, and Lambert appears to have found a formula that works -- albeit, a very similar one which worked a year ago.
In explaining Villa's improvement, it's accurate to call upon a well-worn phrase. With the team's best players available and in form, Villa are stronger. It's not rocket science.
Still, without a bespoke playmaker, Lambert has had to shuffle his midfield around. Instead of fielding a flat bank of deep-lying types, this has freed the more attack-minded members of his squad: Delph and Bacuna. While neither are particularly shrewd creative sorts, they at least have the ability to get forward and support the front men; as a result, Villa's movement in the last couple of games has been more fluid.
There may still be a new face, or faces, signed before the weekend. The witching hour is 11 p.m. on Friday, transfer deadline time. Lambert has admitted he's working on "15 deals" -- probably an exaggeration, but suggesting, at least, he has options. A central midfielder would seem to still be at the top of his wish list, and the latest rumours have linked Villa with Feyenoord's Jordy Clasie and Bournemouth's Eunan O'Kane.
Both are midfielders adept at keeping the ball, rather than prising open opposition defences. The clamour for a No.10 is still strong, but Villa might benefit more from a player who hates giving the ball away and ceding possession needlessly. That was the team's biggest area of weakness against West Brom -- not creating and scoring.