Football is often a game of fine margins, single moments or just outright bad luck. Throw into the mix a squad bereft of confidence, the smouldering remains of prior mismanagement and a rookie manager – life really starts to look interesting.
Then there are the remarkable elements. Despite Villa’s awful run of form, complete inability to create or take goals – AND – our consistent ability to capitulate defensively – we are miraculously still in with a fighting chance. Yes, this chance narrows by the game. It also increasingly relies upon the hopelessness of other relegation contenders. But, we are by no means adrift, not even remotely.
This is where we must dredge hope from.
The Newcastle game may well serve as the epitome of Villa this season. Indeed, the first half was a near mirror of the loss to Stoke last weekend. Our early play was forward thinking, good, sharp passing and whilst not peppering the goal, it was yielding chances. The difference this week is that what chances did come our way were spurned. Benteke fashioned an overhead kick, slotted wide from a fine diagonal ball & Sinclair/Cleverley shot tamely straight at Krul. In short, we lacked composure when it was most required.
Whilst it was by no means brilliant, Villa were the side that carried the threat and look the more likely team to score. Not a sentence anyone following Villa can say they’ve uttered often this season.
And then our undoing, which is unfortunately the all more familiar tale.
After allowing what appeared a fairly straightforward ball from the right to come across the back four, Cisse clinically finished past Guzan. An absolute hammer blow. The lessons to take are glaring yet simple; stop the defensive ineptitude and sit our strikers in front of video of Cisse’s finish to remind them how to do it. Was Cisse’s finish a cultured masterclass? No. But then it need not be, as the net rippled before we’d so much as thought of defending the cross.
And that was essentially it. The confidence drained from Villa like souls from the dead. What creativity we had mustered suddenly became long balls, the midfield looked as disjointed as ever and the chances became half chances, if at all. Our shape became a mirage of it’s former self & with it our hopes of taking anything back to B6.
This was a great shame as Newcastle offered very little & must have expected to have to at least fight for the points today. They rode our early adventures, took their chance and seemed content to see how things panned out. I can come from a position of authority in stating my surprise at even Villa losing to Newcastle. They look as bad as us, save for a brief spell of wins with Pardew. Overall they looked a poorer team than Stoke and offered little on the pitch to make me that concerned. This is perhaps where the frustration lies. Why did Villa not build up a head of steam? Why was the kitchen sink not literally thrown at them in the dying minutes? It was all too comfortable for our hosts who gleefully celebrated their three points as if the World Cup were won.
This leads us to examine the eye-brow raising substitutions. Charles N’Zogbia has done less than nothing for Aston Villa. If he were a tradeable stock, he’d be marked ‘Junk’. Expensive £10m ‘Junk’ at that. With annoying predictability N’Zogbia brought absolutely nothing to the party once on the pitch. It truly was a baffling decision to reintroduce a player who has crafted a career largely flattering to deceive, particularly at Aston Villa.
The other puzzler was Andreas Wiemann. Wiemann’s form, or lack of, being the main reason. His appearance, telling you all you need to know about our Plan B, equally brought nothing from the once ‘promising’ Austrian youngster. One suspects that unless he can muster a miraculous turnaround in form, then he’ll be more likely selling Wurst in the German market than starting for Villa.
Is Carles-Gil injured? If so, why include him in the squad? If not, why allow him to sit and watch? Truly a head scratcher. The same applies to Grealish. Whilst lightweight and very much a rookie, he has a creative spark and is an unknown quantity for most opposition. Indeed, why not chance either Gil or Grealish over N’Zogbia? The substitutions worryingly confirm that what exists beyond our starting eleven is extremely limited.
The second half never built to a crescendo, aside from a goal mouth scramble and Newcastle hitting the post, it was a blend of frustration and instantly forgettable dross. Our inability to gain any traction and control games is no doubt of increasing concern to Sherwood.
Irrespective of all this, we are by some miracle still in a position to turn matters around. How? Who knows. We haven’t had a great deal of luck, but the fact that there are other struggling teams on similar points, may just be it. I’m no fan of mathematics, but this is a salvageable situation. We just have to capitalise sooner rather than later.
I therefore now prescribe to the school of thought that Villa must go game to game. The FA Cup derby looming with Albion is tantalising, but our league clash this coming Tuesday now takes on the greatest meaning in a long time. One wonders if the gaze of Lerner and Fox might stray to the manager in the opposing dugout over the course of the next two fixtures. We can only guess what might have been.
Tuesday’s league game surely has to be out complete focus and priority. As much as I’d love to see us win the FA Cup, I also enjoy watching us compete in the Premier League. Relegation is an absolute lottery, both in the the probability of a swift promotion or financially. Going down just cannot be an option. Looking a little further ahead, winning on Tuesday looks not just important but a necessity with a challenging April fixture list on the horizon (Man U, Tottenham & Man City). We cannot afford anymore Stoke or Newcastle results.
Ultimately, we must keep our nerve as supporters and back our squad. It’s bad, it may get worse, but we must try whatever we can to inspire the eleven to drag us kicking and screaming from second bottom. Fourth bottom suddenly looks absolutely the best place on planet earth. It’s only a win away.