Dean Smith fell to his first defeat at Villa boss at Carrow Road in a game that will no doubt provide much food for thought.
The first half featured a high-pressing game; it was organised and it gave us a deserved lead. The hallmarks hopefully of things to come.
The second half was an awful tale of de ja vu.
We saw another Villa performance badly lose it’s way, raising recurring questions about the anonymity of certain figures as a golden opportunity to make quick progress in the league slips by.
The first half, as was the case against Swansea, is where the promise lies.
A clear formation, a discernible style of play being striven for and a goal to show for it. Great.
Abraham once again justified his lone striker role, chasing, harrying and providing a dangerous out-ball. With the Chelsea loanee, we always look dangerous, but he may feel he should have done better with an effort that struck the post.
Defensively Tuanzebe looks to be growing in both confidence and stature and was a rock for Chester, who had an uncharacteristically shaky defensive performance. Whelan, unfashionable generally and maligned since the infamous penalty miss against Preston, demonstrated his worth with a tireless display in midfield.
The first 45 minutes were easy on the eye, with passages of play that inspire great confidence in what might be.
The trade off for this appears to be our current inability to sustain a high-tempo, pressing style of play. This may come in time, but as the game wore on, key players looked weary, our substitutions were ineffective and our marquee players went missing.
To pin second half collapses completely at the foot of Steve Bruce’s door would be erroneous. It’s been a trait of Villa sides to collapse in the face of certain victory for countless years. Whether it’s a mix of physical conditioning, mental strength, who knows, but it’s certainly not confined to one manager.
As against Swansea, we faded, quickly. This gave Norwich a foot-hold in a game they never expected, but it was one that they and specifically Jordan Rhodes seized upon.
It is here though that Smith will likely reflect upon the frailties he’s inherited.
Alan Hutton looked every bit a full-back of 33 years. Easily beaten in the air for the equaliser and both out of position and unable to prevent the cross for the winner. Hutton is a tireless worker, dedicated to the cause, but was this cannot detract from his inadequacies against Norwich.
Jack Grealish, tricky, skilful but the stats don’t lie. His contribution this season in either goals or assists has been bordering on a non-event. Norwich was another instantly forgettable performance from our marquee man. Jack has all of the attributes to hurt teams, but aside from inviting fouls in dangerous positions, he remains an unfulfilled talent.
Concerns remain also with the goalkeeper. Nyland cuts a nervous figure in between the sticks. A wayward cross-field pass fortuitously found a Villa man, whilst an alarmingly weak attempt to intercept the corner for Norwich’s equaliser only serves to underline recurring discontent around his competency.
Consistency is perhaps a major theme too.
Elmohamady, Adomah, Grealish, Hourihane and Taylor all found themselves in great positions to deliver a ball, only to fail to either get it beyond the first man or find a Villa shirt. It’s infuriating to watch an attack dissipate to no effect after much hard work to get into a dangerous area.
Smith must also scratch his head at just how little impact the substitutions had upon proceedings.
Whilst the introduction of Hogan offered the opportunity to stretch Norwich in the channels, never once did we attempt this. Hogan looked both pointless and wholly ineffective at a time we needed much, much more.
El Ghazi, who arrived at Villa Park with big credentials looks bereft of form, confidence and fitness. Indeed, his introduction weakened us significantly on the left side.
Kodjia looks a shadow of the player who often used to single handedly inflict damage on defences. His lack of any meaningful progress since injury warrants some concern, with his appearance at Carrow Road only adding to this.
Whilst I’m a big believer that you shouldn’t dwell on mistakes and failures, it is important to learn lessons from them to take forward. In this division, with games coming thick and fast, it’s therefore also necessary to apply this learning quickly.
Whilst the Swansea and Norwich results are different, there are though obvious similarities between the two games.
In both we were comfortable in the first half, faded and were then susceptible to the opposition coming back into the game.
Smith has the uphill challenge of rejigging the starting XI with just 3 days preparation. Hardly ideal for a side that needs conditioning work, features a defensive patch-up and some shooting practice.
The positives, as mentioned above, are there to see and are certainly worth honing and developing. However, we must also begin to address some of the uncomfortable truths about both our squads collective inconsistency and specific individual failings if we are to turn the corner.
Villa travel to QPR (11th) this Friday night, welcome back the tenacity of John McGinn after suspension and will hopefully deliver 90 minutes, not just 45.
> Villa Player Ratings vs Norwich – See them here.
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