What a difference a few days can make in the world of football. After Aston Villa's 3-0 thumping at Craven Cottage, every aspect of Villa's support felt like it was drenched in toxicity. Vitriolic chants of "Steven Gerrard, get out of our club" rang around the Villa away end. Talk amongst fans that maybe all is not as rosy as it once seemed with the Villa hierarchy filled pub chats and Twitter talk. Worst of all, the fear of another relegation battle began to rear its ugly head once again. Needless to say, we needed a response in the worst way.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon. Gerrard is now gone along with his appointed coaching staff, leaving only a skeleton crew of coaches led by Aaron Danks to take charge until a new man is in place. Following a damp and gloomy morning in B6 that reflected the general mood around the club, the clouds broke and sunshine filled the stands of Villa Park ahead of Villa's clash with a very good Brentford side. The same Brentford side who were able to keep Chelsea out for 90 minutes on Wednesday night.
The feeling going into the game was a mix of optimism and fear. Club captain John McGinn and Jacob Ramsey being dropped for Leander Dendoncker and Emi Buendia signaled a much needed formation change away from the narrow 4-3-3, which would sometimes be worked into a diamond that had plagued the team for months. Instead, we were to see the much requested 4-2-3-1 that many supporters believed suits the players best, the fans walking up to Villa Park were undoubtedly excited. However, hovering just above the relegation zone meant that optimism was still limited by the fear of being dragged down to a position that would surely limit the choice of managers who would want to replace Steven Gerrard. Simply put, this could have become one hell of a mess for somebody to clean up.
After only fifteen minutes, the fear amongst the supporters lifted like those dark clouds above the stadium had just a short time earlier. At 3-0 up, Villa fans were reminded that, yes, Leon Bailey does have pace, trickery and a rocket of a left foot. Yes, Danny Ings does know exactly where the goal is. Yes, Douglas Luiz is a fantastic midfielder when paired with a player like Dendoncker. After 4-0, we were reminded of not only how much Ollie Watkins loves scoring in front of a packed Villa Park, but also of what it feels like for that place to be bouncing once again. Villa are back.
It took only 65 hours from Gerrard's sacking on Thursday night, to the final whistle being blown on Sunday afternoon, for Villa Park to find its voice again. To go from despair to passion, from hopelessness to belief. It's a funny old game.
What felt like a poisonous atmosphere at Villa has turned back to positivity in an instant. All the talk of a disconnect between the fanbase and the club, although not completely mended, has eased a fair bit. Not only do we have a convincing win to celebrate, but the identity of the club feels like it's already coming back. Whether that's Leon Bailey talking about feeling alive again, Ashley Young rolling back the years and showing his love for the Holte End, or Danny Ings walking side-by-side with young supporter Riley Regan, proudly wearing a matching pair of noise reducing headphones in solidarity, it feels good to support Villa on a Monday morning again.
All credit goes to Aaron Danks and his team. From minute one in an interview with Villa TV, he spoke about being a local lad and wanting to do this for the fans. He spoke about having friends and family in the stands, it all felt very reminiscent of the Dean Smith era. Best of all, he got a reaction from the players. This set of players were at an all time low. Confidence was shattered, they were having to apologize to supporters on a weekly basis, and the pressure to perform must have been crippling. So for Danks to find a way to remove the shackles and get the best out of every player on the pitch is an achievement that should not be understated.
So what's next?
Right now, we as fans feel like we're on cloud nine, Holte Enders in the sky indeed. However, the speed in which the feeling has flipped from negative to positive can easily swing back the other way just as fast. As brilliant as Villa were on Sunday, it's fair to say Brentford were far from their best and were probably caught off guard by Villa's change in tactics. An in-form Newcastle side at St James Park on Saturday afternoon will be a completely different story. Unlike Thomas Frank, Eddie Howe will have a rough idea of what to expect from an Aaron Danks Aston Villa team now, so I expect the next game to be a huge challenge for the caretaker manager. That's assuming Danks is in charge come Saturday..
Even if it all comes crashing down on Saturday, there is still one huge positive to take. This Villa team has shown what it is capable of. Not only to us, but to any potential new managers who may be considering coming to Villa Park. I still believe that convincing an elite manager like Mauricio Pochettino is too ambitious, even for Villa's renown "ambitious owners". But if somebody on the level Pochettino was put off by a relegation battle, hopefully Sunday's performance has made them think otherwise.
Enter Unai Emery? Let's not get too carried away with this one just yet. As of this morning, the odds for the current Villarreal manager to take over at Aston Villa (completing the Villa trilogy if you include Sevilla) have slashed to as low as evens with some bookmakers. Emery would, of course, be a huge upgrade on Gerrard while also being both an ambitious and safe appointment. Only time will tell on this one.
In the meantime, there's still a strong chance that we may not see a new man come in until the World Cup break. With only an away trip to Newcastle, one last home game against Manchester United, Villa's annual third round cup trip to Old Trafford, and one final away trip to Brighton to play before the break, the owners may feel there is no rush if the right man isn't available at the moment.
With this in mind, we may be backing Aaron Danks for another few more weeks. Even if Villa struggle over the next four games, it feels that the fans will be heavily behind the team and the coach no matter what. And it feels that the team will give everything back in return. If we see that, then the Villa job may just look that little bit more appealing for any potential new manager.
Up The Villa!