Villa facing a different landscape

By Graham Hill

MATCHES like Villa’s trip to Tottenham do not come up very often – in fact they have not had one like it for 31 years.

That is the last time Villa emerged from the second tier to regain their place in the top flight – or Division One as it was known then.

Villa had won promotion from the old Second Division in 1988 at the first time of asking under manager Graham Taylor.

And their first game back in Division One was a home game with Millwall – who had been promoted as champions ahead of Villa.

The season did not start until August 27 back then and there was none of the hype surrounding today’s satellite TV dominated football.

Future Villa striker Tony Cascarino scored twice in two minutes for Millwall who went 2-0 up – while a Stuart Gray penalty and an Alan McINally goal earned a 2-2 draw.

All the goals came before the break but the attendance was a mere 22,409.

One look at the Villa team though showed some star names in the line up with Nigel Spink, Gordon Cowans and Allan Evans still there from the 1982 European Cup winning team. David Platt and Paul Birch also started for Villa.

There are some comparisons to be made between now and then with Dean Smith taking Villa up at the first attempt.

But there was nothing like the amount of new faces – and certainly not the money spent during the previous summer.

Chances are there has never been a match like the Tottenham game ever throughout the club’s history.

It is not as important as a European or Wembley final or a title clincher of course.

But it will serve as a measure of what Villa need to do to get back to where they once were.

Villa’s return to the top flight was a mixed bag three decades ago. Their first season back under Taylor saw them avoid relegation by a point. But in 1990, they finished second, nine points behind Liverpool. Taylor got the injured job and the rest is history.

Jo Venglos took over the following season – and with methods of training and diet that were alien then but commonplace now – Villa again flirted with relegation.

Venglos lasted a season before Ron Atkinson came in and lifted Villa to the heights once more as the fledgling Premier League found its feet.

These days, Villa are dealing with a different animal in terms of the modern game.

Villa’s summer spending has passed the £130million mark due to the wealth of current owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris. They have two of the brightest British prospects in the game in future England midfielder Jack Grealish and bargain buy John McGinn.

Yet, with 12 signings – and maybe more before Thursday’s deadline – Villa are an unknown quantity.

Scouts will have had them watched in pre-season and wold have been impressed.

New faces such as Jota, Wesley, Freddy Guilbert and Tom Heaton have settled in well.

Others, we have barely seen yet. I chatted to another football writer recently and we both agreed that Saturday’s game will go one of two ways – a convincing Spurs win or Villa stunning the watching public with a performance to be proud of. A dull 0-0 does not look likely.

Rarely have a team arrived in the top flight with such an obvious mandate and promise to attack – even going to the best teams and preaching the same mantra. Players are saying it, even chief executive Christian Purslow is saying it. Whatever happens this season, it is seems as though – just like the final quarter of last season – it will not be boring.

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