Wherever Steven Gerrard was on Sunday at 2.15pm, he would have been forgiven for cussing. If the former Aston Villa manager was somehow masochistically watching this game, he might just have been wondering where all the verve and anticipation – never mind the goals – had come from as Villa ripped Brentford apart with all the vim of a team exhilarated to be playing under an inspirational new manager.
The fact that Aaron Danks, his erstwhile assistant and now caretaker manager, did not even merit a namecheck on the teamsheet – let alone in a matchday programme devoid of a manager’s column – served only to highlight the chasm in status between the former England captain relieved of his duties after the 3-0 defeat at Fulham on Thursday night and the temporary incumbent.
Ollie Watkins crowned a brilliant team goal in the second half, after Leon Bailey had started a rout embellished by two goals from Danny Ings. The fact that only Wolves had scored fewer than the victors’ seven goals at kick-off merely added to the bewildering contrast as Villa recorded their fifth win in 23 games.
“Aaron, Aaron, give us a wave,” came the cry from the Holte End as the game petered out peacefully, Brentford’s insipid showing reflected in Bryan Mbeumo slotting wide of an open goal from six yards after Emiliano Martínez saved Mathias Jensen’s shot. He was immediately substituted as Brentford’s reliance on Ivan Toney, the scorer of their past six goals, helped to extend their search for a first away win of the season.
“Three days ago we performed very well at home against Chelsea,” Thomas Frank, the Bees’ manager, said. “This is disappointing but I know we’ll bounce back.”
Yet Villa’s opening 15-minute blitz was both a credit to their players and an indictment on them.
Sure, Brentford started as if they had spent all their gas in holding Chelsea to a goalless draw on Wednesday but Villa were so good as they zipped about creating chances at will that their fans are entitled to ask how they could have been so bad under Gerrard.
Douglas Luiz, available after his red card at Craven Cottage was rescinded, played a short-corner exchange with Emiliano Buendía and pulled the ball back for Bailey to shoot home, left-footed, from just inside the area after 64 seconds.
That lit the claret-and-blue touch paper. Bailey sprinted through the inside-left channel on to Ashley Young’s astute through-ball and crossed for Ings, playing as the central striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, to convert clinically from close range. Both these goals survived VAR checks; Gerrard might have been asking if he could have enjoyed such good fortune.
“I’ve worked closely with the attackers,” Danks said. “They have had some real good chances in recent weeks, the Chelsea game springs to mind, and today they were clinical and that is just football. We took our chances early. There are days when it comes off and days when it doesn’t. Today was one when it did.”
To be fair, Villa were rampant, and looked like scoring with every attack. When Kristoffer Ajer pulled Tyrone Mings’s shirt in a corner tussle, VAR again went in Villa’s favour. Ings dispatched his fourth goal of the season down the middle.
When not mocking their own manager at Craven Cottage, Villa fans’ songbook had included calls for Buendía and he justified his selection here. The Argentinian shot just wide after Ings’s delightful backheel and was also tenacious off the ball as Villa harried and hustled as if their jobs depended on it.
Villa’s dominance was summed up in one 40th-minute attack when, three times, they almost scored: Douglas Luiz’s corner rebounded off the inside of the far post; Watkins helped on Leander Dendoncker’s shot but David Raya saved; then Matty Cash’s low shot was turned aside for a corner.
That was Villa’s 15th shot of a first half they dominated almost as much as they did when Gerrard’s team lost 4-0 to Tottenham in April. Brentford are not Champions League chasers but Villa were brilliant back on that day six months ago without gaining anything.
Villa reached the 4-0 margin just before the hour. Bailey showed control to match his electrifying pace to keep the ball in on the left touchline and then hurtle on to Ings’s return pass before swerving in his cross perfectly.
Watkins’s first shot was saved; his second hit the post; and when the rebound bounced up off his own head he cracked in his first goal in nine league games.
There was no refraining from celebrating a goal against an old club. Watkins milked the moment as Villa Park flowed over with sheer joy. Penny for your thoughts, Stevie G.