A cracking strike from Matty Cash and a much needed goal by Ollie Watkins was enough to secure a 2-0 victory for Aston Villa against Brighton, a win which was a long time coming, and one which has hopefully stopped the rot for Villa.
Following poor performances resulting in back-to-back 1-0 defeats against Newcastle and Watford, supporters across the globe have been clamouring for Steven Gerrard to make changes to the starting eleven and the head coach happily obliged this past Saturday. However, the one big change he made, aside from the obvious return of Ezri Konsa, probably wasn't the one most people were expecting. One of Villa's better players in recent weeks, Emi Buendia, was dropped and replaced by Ollie Watkins as the well-worn 4-3-2-1 formation with two number 10's was swapped out for what appeared to be a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond-like formation with two strikers.
There was reportedly no injury to Emi Buendia and his absence from the team was purely tactical as this new formation only allowed for one attacking midfielder, that of course being Philippe Coutinho. As much as it displeased many to once again revert back to both Watkins and Ings up front, the change in tactics certainly did the job this time around. Whether or not the same approach works against a side that isn't playing three at the back, or even if Gerrard decides to stick to this formation is yet to be seen, but I think we can all agree it's a relief to see Villa be able to win in more than one style.
Although not a perfect performance, while also feeling like an uphill battle thanks to some awful officiating, every Aston Villa player undoubtedly put in a better performance compared to recent weeks which should make this addition of player ratings a much more enjoyable read. Let's crack on shall we..
Emi Martinez - 7/10
Not a lot to say about Martinez this time around. The big Argentine was never truly tested but was solid in his job when called upon. He was once again booked for time wasting but not many of us are complaining about that!
Lucas Digne - 6/10
Both fullbacks were definitely asked to play deeper in this game which really helped the overall team performance, however it's becoming quite clear that when Digne is asked to defend more than attack, it's a bit of an issue. Although never making any glaring mistakes, Tariq Lamptey certainly had the better of Digne and left the defender for dead on more than one occasion.
Tyrone Mings - 9/10
Performances like this one is the reason a picture of Tyrone Mings should be next to the word 'colossal' in the dictionary. Ever since his dodgy display against Leeds, Mings has been one of the few players to inspire confidence in a poor looking side and today was him back to his full best. A glorious assist for Ollie Watkins capped off a great performance which was only ever smeared by a questionable yellow card after Villa's captain ran the length of the pitch to make sure Cucurella would survive what appeared to be a life threatening injury.. at least that's the way the little twerp was acting.
Ezri Konsa - 7/10
The first game back after missing the last two for Konsa and he showed what Villa have been missing. Without ever really having any stand out moments, Konsa was his usual rock solid self and having him back alongside Mings is only ever a positive for Aston Villa.
Matty Cash - 8/10
Once again, the fullbacks were a lot less exposed in this new and improved system and Matty Cash truly thrived once again. A wonderfully struck volley from the Polish international seemed to lift a lot of weight off the team's shoulders and the subsequent celebration was one to be admired, even if it did lead to a yellow card. Yes, rules are rules but maybe a little commonsense from this headless chicken of a referee towards a player trying to send a heartfelt message to his Polish teammate, currently trapped in war-torn Ukraine, wouldn't have gone amiss but I digress.. If it wasn't for a couple of defensive errors, one leading to a Mac Allister shot off the crossbar, and a questionable wayward shot following the goal, then Matty Cash would have been a candidate for man of the match.
Douglas Luiz - 5/10
Although there's an argument to be made that Luiz put in a much more improved performance than in previous weeks, which really isn't saying much, he still gave the ball away on more than one occasion in embarrassing fashion and seemed to drift out of position time and time again. The final time he gave the ball away, he even threw in an out of possession dive for good measure and Villa were lucky Brighton weren't good enough to take advantage of the mistake. It can't be stressed enough that Luiz isn't a bad player, in fact we've seen how great he can be. He just isn't a defensive midfielder and I can't help but feel for him right now. Gerrard clearly believes in him though and has the faith it will soon work out for Villa's number 6.
John McGinn - 9/10
A vintage John McGinn performance in this clash with Brighton. The midfield man was everywhere and never gave that Brighton midfield a second to catch their breath. Whether it was moving the ball forward under pressure, or being there to clean up any errors by his teammates, McGinn was pure class and kept Villa's midfield ticking, a man of the match performance which only Mings could challenge him for in this game.
Jacob Ramsey - 7/10
Ramsey showed a few flashes of the brilliance we all know he possesses, even if not everything he tried came off in this one. He always felt like a threat and the Brighton players were well aware of that. Decent performance overall.
Philippe Coutinho - 7/10
As mentioned earlier, Coutinho was in a slightly different role this time around as he was asked to play the sole number 10 role rather than sharing it alongside Emi Buendia. In all fairness to Brighton, they did a good job in marshalling Coutinho yet the little magician was still able to show glimpses of brilliance. He came very close to scoring with a sweetly struck free kick but Sanchez did well to save it. Overall it wasn't classic Coutinho but not bad either.
Ollie Watkins - 8/10
A great display by Watkins which was rewarded by a goal which he needed more than most. The pure glee and self belief in his celebration told us everything we needed to know about how much that goal meant to the striker, and how much he cares. He was a nuisance all afternoon to that Brighton backline and never stopped running, which is something Villa fans have grown accustomed to at this point but still deserves to be praised for. The jury is still out on whether the Watkins/Ings partnership will ever work, but Watkins can hold his head high after that performance.
Danny Ings - 6/10
Another laboured looking outing by Danny Ings who never really looked to be in the game. There's a fair argument to be made that the supply to him wasn't always good enough and to his credit, he did do a lot of the dirty work for the team which sometimes goes unappreciated. Not a bad performance by any means but far from his best.
Given that all three substitutes came on to help defend Villa's lead, it feels difficult to give them each a fair rating so I will just quickly summarise. Ashley Young came on for Ings to be the level headed leader we know he can be, while Morgan Sanson finally got some minutes to shine alongside the brilliant McGinn. The substitute story of the day though is of course the debut of the 19-year-old Tim Iroegbunam who looked really decent in the few minutes he had on the pitch, yet another example of Aston Villa's exciting future.
So there we have it, not a flawless performance by any means but an impressive one nonetheless which lifts the mood around the club. Up next is Southampton at Villa Park which is never an easy game so Villa may find themselves needed to step it up once again.