When the pressure's on, Sherwood delivers
"Tim Sherwood is at his best when he is backed into a corner,” – those were the words the Aston Villa boss uttered following Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to West Bromwich Albion and while his side were far from stellar against Birmingham City, he ultimately proved that there’s some truth to that statement.
Things looked very shaky through the first-half but he claimed it was all part of the plan and, after Jordan Ayew and Jack Grealish replaced Gabby Agbonlahor and Joleon Lescott at the break, the hosts looked a completely different side.
The FA Cup final aside, the ex-Tottenham Hotspur coach showed during last season’s run-in that he can galvanise his squad when the pressure at it its most intense and, with Villa currently in the midst of their worst start to a league campaign since 1986-87, Tuesday night’s win will hopefully be the result that kick-starts their season.
Jack Grealish is fast becoming Aston Villa's key man
Nobody wants to pile pressure on a 20-year-old with just 21 top-flight appearances under their belt but, after his performance against the Blues, would it be that crazy to suggest that Grealish is already Villa’s most important player?
The homegrown playmaker has only made five appearances so far this term due to a pre-season injury but he’s impressed on every occasion and seems to be growing in confidence from week to week.
The hosts looked devoid of any creativity until his half-time introduction, when the skilful No. 10 proceeded to completely change the game with his direct running, passing and smart movement in the attacking third – traits which were evident in the build up to Rudy Gestede’s 62nd-minute winner.
There will almost certainly be a few teething problems going forward but this display was yet further proof that Villa have a special talent on their hands.
Jordan Ayew comes good
Along with Grealish, fellow half-time substitute Ayew deserves a great deal of credit for helping earn Villa a confidence-boosting derby victory.
The £8.5 million summer signing from Lorient had made just four goalless appearances for the club prior to the Blues bout and, with his older brother Andre currently enjoying a sensational start to life at Swansea City, plenty have been making the mocking claim that Sherwood brought the wrong sibling.
However, those critics were silence on Tuesday night, as the 24-year-old striker produced an extremely encouraging display off the bench, showing great skill and pace on the ball, intelligence in possession and even good hold-up play.
He may not have been able to open his claret and blue account but, having made a strong claim to start Saturday’s clash with Liverpool, he could well have a chance to at Anfield if he puts up the same kind of showing.
And so does another Jordan
While Jordan Veretout’s display didn’t earn quite as many plaudits as Ayew’s, the Frenchman was arguably just as impressive on the night.
As the match wore on, the 22-year-old was involved in everything that went on in the centre of park, as he impressed on both sides of the ball and did a superb job linking the midfield with the attack.
There’s no disguising the fact that the former Nantes product has been off the pace in his first few games since his £8 million summer move but, after offering Sherwood’s side a dynamic spark through the middle in the cup, a few more Premier League minutes should be coming his way.
But Joleon Lescott is struggling
Lescott’s deadline day signing from West Brom received an overwhelmingly positive response from Aston Villa fans but, three games into his claret and blue career, the £2 million man is struggling to live up to expectations.
Despite shaky displays in both the 3-2 loss at Leicester City and Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to the Baggies, the veteran centre-back kept his place in the side for the visit of Birmingham, as fellow left-sided stopper Ciaran Clark started the game in a holding midfield role.
However, the 33-year-old clearly struggled to deal with the physicality of Blues striker Clayton Donaldson through the first-half and ended up going off at half-time as Sherwood looked to change things up.
The Villa boss insisted after the match that the plan was always for him to play just 45 minutes but, given his performance, it seemed like a wise move regardless.
Like with Ayew and Veretout, we probably shouldn’t be hasty to judge him after just a handful of games but, given his age and familiarity with the English game, the veteran defender’s situation isn’t quite the same.