Smiles better at Aston Villa
Our Nick Hext reckons the revival is well under way at Aston Villa after the 4-2 victory over Manchester City in the Capital One Cup.
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I watched Aston Villa lose 3-0 against Arsenal at the end of March and they produced an utterly miserable performance with no redeeming features.
There was certainly no reason for Villa fans to feel optimistic during the previous campaign as Alex McLeish's time as manager failed to produce success or even a semblance of a feelgood factor.
How times change.
Villa were thoroughly impressive in the 4-2 Capital One Cup victory at Manchester City with new boss Paul Lambert clearly getting the club back on the right track after some very trying times.
It isn't the result alone that should have fans smiling again. Players like Gabriel Agbonlahor and Charles N'Zogbia now look revitalised after prolonged periods of mediocrity.
"The new boys also catch the eye. Dutch Centre-half Ron Vlaar is proving himself to be one of the best signings of the summer transfer window and full-backs Matt Lowton and Joe Bennett both produced sturdy performances at the Etihad Stadium."
It's fair to say Christian Benteke is still pretty raw but the Belgian striker has all the qualities to give defences plenty of problems if given time to settle and not put under too much pressure as a result of his £7million price tag.
Darren Bent is still Villa's chief attacking option so he has the majority of expectation on his shoulders and goal returns of 17, 25, 23 and 11 in the last four seasons illustrates just what the 28-year-old brings to the table.
There will still be bad days like the weekend's 4-1 defeat at Southampton to endure but the fact the curve is now going up rather than down can only be taken as a massive positive.
The energy of the side is certainly up immeasurably from last term.
N'Zogbia showed his commitment to the cause with a barnstorming run back to the edge of his own box to win possession in the middle of the second half and that typified the effort put in by the Villans.
Agbonlahor was always a willing runner - and full of quality in the finishes for his two goals - and Fabian Delph deserves a mention as well for an all-action display that could help him become a mainstay of this side.
Lambert has clearly proved himself as a manager by climbing the ladder with spells at Livingston, Wycombe, Colchester and his incredibly successful time in charge of Norwich that included two promotions and survival in the Premier League.
This job also appears to be to his liking and a place in the top half would represent a good season.
Lambert managed to produce a performance full of energy on the touchline as he skipped around his technical area and showed the leaping ability of Michael Jordan with his reaction to Villa's attacking opportunities.
He even found time for a slight confrontation with City boss Roberto Mancini, although it was more Jack Lemmon v Walter Matthau than anything more sinister so hopefully they have now settled their differences just like the 'Odd Couple' from the world of cinema.
Fourth official Martin Atkinson certainly gave off the impression of someone who has seen this kind of row all too often.
Much of the questioning after the match was about the exchange between the rival bosses but don't let that take away from the revival happening at Villa.
Mancini was quick to admit the visitors deserved to go through and they may well now give the top-flight's leading sides some problems in league action and not just the cup.
Don't expect it to happen overnight but Villa are back on the way to happier times.