It couldn’t have been a better start for Leon Bailey against Leeds Utd on Friday night, and it was a moment that the Aston Villa forward really needed.
Just three minutes had passed before the 25-year-old blasted us in front, as he produced an excellent finish to provide the perfect end product to a sweeping, swift Villa counter-attack that started from a Leeds corner.
From that moment onwards, Bailey looked to have gained his confidence back. Whether it was his direct running, skill to beat his man or his overall threat in the final third to give Leeds a real headache, he was a driving force on the ball and looked a handful.
That was a far cry from the player that featured against Wolves and Stevenage in our previous two outings, as Bailey was going through a difficult mini-spell that appeared to have drained the confidence right out of him.
His devastated reaction after his late miss vs Wolves was a real indication of his struggles, and it certainly didn’t get better in our shock FA Cup defeat as he was wasteful in front of goal and didn’t make the most of the opportunities he had to help us advance comfortably.
Emery even conceded in his post-Leeds press conference that he had considered leaving the Jamaican international out on Friday night when asked about that specific decision.
“Yes! Because the last match we played against Wolves he had two chances and we drew and he was thinking about his responsibilities to score,” he is quoted as saying by BirminghamLive. “We were helping him, supporting him. We were as well trying to give him confidence to continue and to carry on with his work.
“Tonight was totally different. He participated in the first goal and the second goal.”
Bailey needed something against Leeds to lift himself and get his confidence back, as that is ultimately when he’s at his most dangerous and can express him freely without that responsibility or pressure weighing him down.
He’ll need to learn to deal with that and find ways to come through sticky spells too, but for now, it would have been a major relief for him, Emery and all concerned that he took that early chance clinically, and that will hopefully now spark him into a run of consistent good form.
Whether it’s playing up front partnering one of Ollie Watkins or Danny Ings, or playing on the right side of midfield, Bailey offers something that Villa are short of in that area of the pitch. He can stretch the opposition by providing us with real width as he can go wide or cut inside, and that is something we don’t really have in the other options at Emery’s disposal.
The likes of John McGinn and Jacob Ramsey have played in that wide right midfield role since the Spanish tactician’s arrival, and while they’ve both done well, they have a natural tendency and preference to drift inside and so that makes us more narrow, and arguably predictable, when trying to break teams down.
Bailey offers that something different in the final third with his pace and direct style, and so if he can develop a habit of being consistent in front of goal – whether that’s as a direct threat himself or as a provider with his final ball – then we’ll be a more dynamic and dangerous attacking unit as a whole.
That is why it was so important to see him bounce back, and hopefully he can back that up now when we face Southampton next weekend.