Report: Villa (1) v (3) Middlesbrough – Friendly defeat a reminder of how much needs to change.

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In Villa’s final friendly fixture of the 2016 close season, Villa fell to a decidedly poor 3-1 home defeat to newly promoted Premier League side Middlesbrough.

The first half was a slow burner initially, with neither side quick out of the traps.  However, Villa started to show the initiative with some interesting interplay between Grealish and Ayew.  

It wasn’t always cultured, but there was also width offered by the overlap of fullbacks Cissokho & Hutton as well as a few periods of snappy one touch football.

Our endeavour was rewarded on 15 minutes as Leandro Bacuna delivered a cross that was met by a strong Nathan Baker leap – headed in beyond Victor Valdes.

Villa went in at the break with a deserved lead & all appeared rosy.

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The second half was unfortunately a familiar tale of woe.  The type of woe that we witnessed collectively week after week last season.

This uncomfortable fact, and it is a fact, that despite the fixture being a meaningless game, it was lost in an all too familiar fashion.  This translates into any game of football, friendly or not.

Middlesbrough’s equaliser came after Cissokho gifted possession away on the edge of the box.  The initial shot was well saved by Gollini, but poorly parried into the path of Negredo.  The former Man City striker dispatched the follow-up with ease.

Villa swiftly collapsed, finding ourselves behind after an attack towards The Holte broke down.  Boro quickly took advantage of there being a solitary man at the back and cruised into the lead.

The third, further evidence of our seemingly ingrained ability to prevent such occurrences, followed shortly after.  Jordan Rhodes finishing with his first involvement after coming on as a sub.

It could have been worse, as Villa willed the clock to quicken, Stuani hammered a fine chance over the bar when certainly easier to score.

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Whilst it’s important not to draw firm conclusions from games such as this, one shouldn’t bury their heads in the sand either.  There are reasons why we lost games in this fashion last season and why those features reared their heads again against Middlesbrough.

For all of the fleeting promise that the first half suggested, it was roundly offset with a lethargic, disjointed and the type of ineptitude witnessed routinely last season.

The elephant in the room is that despite the irrefutable need to improve the squad and our new owners statements of intent, very little has changed.  This is broadly the same group of players who looked way out of their depth in the upper reaches of professional football as we crashed from the top flight.

As we sit a week away from the start of a new season, a campaign that at worst should be one of transition, we look ill-prepared for negotiating sterner tests in The Championship.

Ratings:

Gollini (5) – A good save but poor parry for Boro’s 1st.

Baker (6) – Improved on previous memories.

Bacuna (5) – Assisted opener.  Anonymous otherwise.

Gestede (2) – Isolated & limited when called upon.

Elphick (Capt.) (5) – Faded as game progressed.

Westwood – (5) – A bystander.

Ayew – (5) – Tricky but without end product.

Hutton – (3) – Worker, but questionable output.

Gardner – (5) – No stand-out contribution.

Tshibola (Sub.) – (5) – Didn’t affect game to any note.

Cissokho – (4) – Guilty of sloppy play

Grealish – (5) – 1st half good.  2nd half, forgettable.

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