McLeish makes a winning start: Walsall 1 Aston Villa 3

Written by Dan on July 21, 2011

McLeish’s first game in charge ended in a comfortable 3-1 at the Bescot thanks to a brace from Darren Bent and rare goal from Emile Heskey, but it could have been much more with several players going close throughout the game, notably Nathan Delfouneso during a strong second half performance.

Interesting to note the two Stephens coming in from the cold to make their first Villa team sheets in, oh I don’t know, ages to prove that McLeish meant it when he said everyone would get a clean slate.

We also got our answer to the question of McLeish’s thinking in the absence of an obvious left sided player when he apparently set his new side out in a 4-2-3-1; Emile Heskey on the left, Marc Albrighton on the right, and Stephen Ireland behind Darren Bent. Stiliyan Petrov and Jean II Makoun provided the double pivot in front of the back four.

Bent got off to just the start to 2011/12 we would all hope for by opening the scoring inside the first 10 minutes, tapping in Heskey’s cutback after being fed brilliantly down the left by Ireland. By all accounts, Ireland was pulling strings from his favoured position and looking like the player we know is in there somewhere, but was sadly forced off before the end of the first half with a tight hamstring. Nathan Delfouneso came on in his place, switching the formation to something closer to a 4-4-2.

Bent doubled the lead almost immediately afterwards; finishing off Richard Dunne’s header from an Albrighton corner with a header of his own. Heskey made it three within a minute after Delfouneso’s cross found Bent whose shot hit the bottom of the post, only to fall to Heskey to fire in from six yards.

Andy Marshall, Habib Beye, Ciaran Clark, Daniel Johnson and Barry Bannan came on after the break in place of Given, Young, Collins, Makoun and Bent. Where Brad Guzan was or what that might mean isn’t clear.

Young Graham Burke replaced Heskey not long into the second half, fresh from playing for the reserves last night, and Shane Lowry followed him on to the pitch shortly after in place of Warnock who received a standing ovation from the away fans.

Eric Lichaj replaced Dunne, slotting into right back alongside Beye and Clark at centre back, and Lowry at left back, as the second half descended into a procession of substitutions interspersed by missed chances. Courtney Cameron and Chris Herd the final pair from the bench in place of Albrighton and Petrov.

Walsall spoiled the chances of a clean sheet soon after with Bowerman heading past Marshall, but it would be no more than a consolation as the game drifted into the final ten minutes.

Overall, it sounds like an encouraging performance. This report was compiled by crowdsourcing from the radio, Twitter and the official site’ text commentary, but all observers seemed to impressed by the overall showing, but Bent, Ireland, Albrighton, Heskey and Delfouneso in particular.

With none of Guzan, Delph, Gabby, Weimann, Gardner, Hogg or Cuellar involved, and a new wingman to come, there’s still some gas in the tank. Of course, it was only a pre-season game, and against a League One outfit, but it’s a good start.

Now on to Hong Kong.

Walsall starting XI: Walker, Sadler, Lancashire, Smith, Chambers, Jarvis, Macken, Hurst, Beevers, Taundry, Gnakpa. Subs: Westlake, Butler, Grigg, Peterson, Nicholls, Bowerman, Peterlin, Jones, Grof, Deards, Butlin, Forde.

Aston Villa starting XI: Given, Young, Collins, Dunne, Warnock, Albrighton, Makoun, Petrov, Ireland, Heskey, Bent. Subs: Marshall, Clark, Beye, Lichaj, Lowry, Herd, Bannan, Johnson, Cameron, Delfouneso, Burke.