Villa fans will be team’s 12th man

By Graham Hill

IF you needed any convincing that the Villa Park crowd can be used as a weapon this season, you only had to listen to the words of Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe after Saturday’s game.

Sure, Bournemouth went away with all three points but this was no easy ride and, on another day, Villa might have taken a share of the honours or more.

Because the reaction of the crowd to Villa’s determined efforts to get back into the game after going two goals down was a definite factor.

BBC’s Match of the Day referred to the party-like atmosphere before the game.

And it was heartening to see the volume turned up when Villa were behind.

Certainly, a Dean Smith side will not ever think they are beaten when they are two goals behind, we saw that last season.

And it is not often a visiting manager comments on the support of the home fans – even in the Premier League.

In fact, there are certain stadiums that are big in stature, but devoid of atmosphere.

That is not going to be the case at Villa Park this season.

Yes, things can turn ugly, hostile even when you look back on how it all went wrong for them in the top flight previously. That all depends on the manager and the style of play.

But Smith’s approach will earn him respect as long as the team play entertaining, attacking football.

And Smith has made it clear that Villa will play with a winning mentality.

Results have to come sooner or later though, but a buoyant Villa Park can make that happen.

Howe was clearly impressed by the home support when he told reporters: “I think the home support are very good for Aston Villa. That was something we had to contend with and deal with. I thought in the main, we did that pretty well.”

Compare that to the comments made by former defender Micah Richards on BBC Radio Five when speaking about the club’s relegation to the Championship in 2016.

Richards said: “You can’t let negativity set in.

“When we were in the Premier League last time after about seven or eight games the players were actually scared to play at Villa Park.

“That’s how bad it was. Fans thought that players weren’t trying and weren’t giving 100 per cent on the field.

“This time it’s a different feeling as they have a great manager and they have some great young players. I think they just need that first win and that’ll give them the confidence they need.”

The atmosphere at Villa Park built and built last season as the play-offs loomed larger. And record season ticket sales in the summer made sure the feelgood factor carried on into the Premier League.

There has been a lot of hype around Villa’s summer signings and the home fans are clearly buying into it. Sooner or later, that support could be the difference when it finally clicks for Smith’s side in front of goal.

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