A group of 11 contrasting individuals now look like one coherent team, says Chief Sports Writer Hyder Jawad
Martin O'Neill will no doubt experiment with a multitude of formations this season but, if Aston Villa's opening two matches are anything to go by, the tactics will be the same throughout: brinkmanship.
Villa lived on their nerves away to Arsenal last Saturday before emerging with a deserved point. Here, against Reading last night, they also played cat and mouse. For now, the consequences have been encouraging but Villa are making themselves hostages to fortune.
Even with ten men, Reading could have won. They certainly played the better football but their will to win did not match that of Villa, who will probably have to work this hard for the remainder of the season.
Just as they underachieved under David O'Leary last season, they will over-achieve under O'Neill, an infinitely more astute and likeable manager who has an inherent ability to make 11 contrasting individuals look like one coherent football team.
But while every member of this squad is playing for his Villa future, one thing seems inevitable: the team that began the match against Reading last night will not be the team that will line up away to Bolton Wanderers on May 13.
For now, however, it is good to see a club at ease with itself. In driving rain, with lightning turning the sky into a firework display, Villa made virtues of their vices and, as they did against Arsenal, did just about enough to emerge with the appropriate result.
O'Neill was welcomed like a royal visitor. Even his own players seemed in awe of him as he took his seat, surrounded by photographers, to watch the drama unfold. O'Neill sometimes cuts a nervous figure; moving about like a muscle in permanent spasm. Mind you, this is Aston Villa. And Doug Ellis is still in charge.
Reading led early on through Kevin Doyle because the Villa defence, so impressive against Arsenal, fell asleep. For the rest of the match, however, Olof Mellberg and Liam Ridgewell complemented each other like a seasoned comedy act.
This is a different Mellberg, one who runs with the ball, who looks as if he is enjoying himself. With his flourishing beard, he resembles Samson; becoming stronger as the hair grows.
When Ibrahima Sonko was sent off for Reading and Juan Pablo Angel scored a penalty, Villa Park became a bastion of happiness. Only then did it seem right that Gareth Barry, another impressive player, should score the winning goal.
Chants of "Barry for England" were a timely reminder that Sven-Goran Eriksson is nothing to do with the England squad and that Barry is of international standard. He is the type that O'Neill needs and is certain to survive the cull, if he wants to stay.
Others will not be so fortunate. But whatever the delights of Villa's opening two matches, there is the under-lying feeling that change, on the field as well as off, is imminent.