For over 70 minutes on Saturday evening, Aston Villa held their own against Champions League finalists Tottenham Hotspur. Dean Smith’s men, away from home on their return to the Premier League, looked equal to their hosts.
The Villans struck inside of ten minutes. Tyrone Mings played a long-ball forward and Wesley Moraes’ presence created space in behind for John McGinn to latch onto. His composure in the penalty area saw him sit Danny Rose down before the reported Manchester United transfer target calmly fired past Hugo Lloris.
It wasn’t a lucky ball forward, either. It was a clear tactic and one the away side had a lot of joy playing. Spurs struggled to deal with big summer signing Wesley, they didn’t seem able to keep Jack Grealish on lock and McGinn’s runs from deep caused them all kinds of problems.
As the whistle halted proceedings for the opening 45 minutes, Villa went in at the break with a deserved lead. They also slightly edged the expected goals metric, too, racking up a first-half score of 0.61 to Tottenham’s total of 0.57.
Mings was a juggernaut in defence while 33-year-old stopper Tom Heaton showed why the club spent £8million on him this summer as Spurs dominated the second half. They peppered the Villa goal with effort after effort in search of an equaliser but the shots the new Villa No.1 wasn’t equal to didn’t land on target.
In fact, of the 31 shots the hosts had, only seven tested Heaton. By comparison, Smith’s men managed just seven shots in the 90 minutes but four worked Lloris in the Spurs goal.
The newly-promoted team held firm and looked like good value until the 73rd minute when Tottenham's record signing Tanguy Ndombele fired home from the edge of the area. It was after the equaliser that Villa’s inexperience became apparent and sloppiness crept into their game.
The away side began to miss tackles. They began to stretch for balls they weren't going to reach and their eagerness to regain possession was something Spurs capitalised on with clever players leaving their legs dangling to draw free-kicks.
Heaton’s stunning stop just after the equaliser saved the blushes of Jota who’d given away a free-kick on the edge of the area. Christian Eriksen’s effort looked destined for the bottom corner until the former Burnley man palmed it away.
Spurs took the lead with just five minutes remaining when Grealish was caught on the edge of his area trying to play out from the back.
It was a bizarre moment, with the Villa No.10 trying to draw a foul to relieve the pressure on his backline. It was something he’d successfully done throughout the match but in each instance, it was a risky call with a lot of the decisions being a little soft. You see them given but you also see referees wave play on.
The hosts had a stroke of luck when the ball ricocheted to Harry Kane in the area for the prolific hitman to fire home. But there was nothing lucky about his second and Tottenham’s third. A game of head tennis was abruptly ended when Moussa Sissoko picked the ball up and decided to go through the gears.
He beat Grealish and Jota to the ball on the half-way line, with the pair caught on their heels, and breezed past Douglas Luiz. With just a few strikes, Sissoko bypassed the Villa midfield and played in Kane.
The England international finishes expertly but the situation came about because the ex-Newcastle United midfielder was able to bring the ball down on his chest in the centre circle under no pressure. In the English top-flight, you can’t afford to give players that much time on the ball.
It was a harsh lesson for Villa, but one they’re best learning in the first week of the Premier League so they’re able to adapt quickly.