Villa stumble towards the finishing line after another lacklustre home performance that come the summer will only serve to underline the need for a change of direction.
This match was the tricky and ultimately concerning affair as had been predicted in the preview. The first ten minutes or so passed without event as neither side appeared in any hurry to take the initiative. Villa looked like a side devoid of ideas and Wigan looked intent on hitting us on the break. And so as the convened 36,000 tried to get comfortable for a cagey affair it was troubling to watch Charles N’Zogbia open the scoring for the visitors.
And it happened in familiar style of late. Kyle Walker received the ball and began an aimless run into trouble on the edge of the centre circle. Quickly dispossessed Villa were dissected with ease, Collins was ghosted past, Dunne’s desperate lunge proved fruitless and Petrov’s attempted at shepherding away the impending danger was embarrassing. N’Zogbia, who was barely passed fit for the game, finished with composure beyond the helpless Friedel.
With barely ten minutes registered Villa had once again made one of the poorest teams in the division look like Barcelona. And the what followed was a few minutes of play that is normally reserved for a primary school playing field. Misplaced passes, idiotic movement and lethargy abounded. A stand out moment being a bizarre hoofed backpass from Richard Dunne to Friedel that resulted in a corner for Wigan when Villa had been on the attack. As the team ran back towards the Holte End, to a barrage of abuse from so called supporters, one wondered if it was to be one of those days that has pretty much epitomised our season.
Oddly Wigan looked as shellshocked as us, they appeared to have had a game plan to sit deep and exploit our obvious frailties. This was perhaps their downfall and invited trouble. Having held the lead for under ten minutes Ashley Young earned himself a free keep on the edge of the Wigan box and steered the set piece low beyond the flapping Al Habsi. Al Habsi who performed well yesterday should arguably have done better. The goal was welcome, Ashley Young’s abysmal self gratifying celebration was less so.
Soon after Heskey, in for the once again “ill” Agbonlahor, controlled a difficult bobbling ball in the box and on the volley shot goalwards. Al Habsi pulled off a fine reaction save, but Heskey continues to be the nearly man in front of goal for Villa. Having done a great deal of the hard work in crafting room to shoot, he contrived to hit the Wigan stopper from all of six yards. Heskey’s mere presence and the difficulties he poses to defences are noteworthy; but in terms of Villa’s future, we must improve upon this calibre of player.
However Villa continued to struggle generally as Wigan enjoyed the time to exchange passes all over the pitch. Only Reo-Coker seemed interested in closing down play and making challenges. Few others seemed all that bothered.
Wigan came frightfully close to scoring but for two fine Richard Dunne challenges that restored some faith after his earlier backpass. With the ball loose in the Villa box in a similar fashion to West Brom’s equaliser last week, Dunne made a committed and accurate challenge to deny a certain goal. From the resulting corner the ball once more fell loose and was stood up to the far post. The entire Villa team stopped, arms aloft begging for an offside. Dunne somehow made up the ground to deny Wigan again with a superb last ditch tackle. Dunne excelled, but the chances should never have been allowed – such was their simplicity to create.
Heskey was then involved in a bizarre incident having been exchanging verbals with the Wigan defence earlier in the half. Heskey went down like a felled Redwood following an aerial challenge after which the referee allowed play to continue. Upon being denied the foul Heskey leapt to his feet and moved quicker than at any point in his Villa career in order to barge the official. Emile had lost it, requiring restraint from half of the Villa squad and the intervention of Brad “the peacemaker” Freidel to bring him to his senses. The referee must have either forgotten his red card or had sympathy for Emile’s declining mental health. Joking aside Heskey’s behaviour was nothing short of mindless as Villa sought to ensure guarantee Premiership status.
As the half time whistle went a mix of boos and muted applause echoed around the ground. A pretty dismal showing from all involved, and the hope would be that come the second half Villa might take an interest in winning a game of football. Hope, as is so often the case, can be misplaced.
Emile Heskey never re-appeared – presumably he had to be sectioned at half time amid reports of a scuffle in the tunnel. Again, evidence of the limited IQ of our highly paid “professionals” star players. In any event Marc Albrighton emerged as a replacement so there was hope that someone might display an intention to create something. As it transpired I had to re-check that he hadn’t himself gone off, such was his lack of involvement.
For those that couldn’t make it yesterday – it was poor. This game was so so poor and if anything stagnated into an even more dire contest as time went on. Indeed it felt like a game of willpower to endure it for any longer than was necessary. The lack of enthusiasm, desire and drive was phenomenal in its absence for Villa. This couldn’t even have been described as an intriguing midfield battle – it was what it was – a mess.
McAllister is doing little to endear himself to the post of manager in Houllier’s absence. It is also discouraging that he has a direct impact upon team affairs and tactics such is the lack of anything of note from his reign. His tactical showing at The Hawthorns was criminal, but yesterday he countered those poor decisions through complete inaction. As Wigan made changes upon realising Villa didn’t appear to have a gameplan we stood completely idle.
If Reo-Coker had not personally covered the entire centre midfield then it could quite feasibly have been a walk in the park for the visitors yesterday. Reo-Coker battled, chased and re-distributed the ball time and time again. Petrov and Downing didn’t fashion a single chance from the possession he provided. As the man of the match was named as Downing (who was industrious for his part) but Reo-Coker must believe he’s wearing an invisibility coat. I’m not convinced Reo-Coker is the future, but of the bunch we have now his work rate and commitment is excellent.
And blame must go to the bench. There was nothing to invigorate, no new ideas and no attempt made to go for the game. Ashley Young was as petulant as ever, falling at every opportunity and his set pieces are largely dire. His goal aside, every corner and free kick are stood up to the delight of opposition defences. His play is frustrating, often thoughtless and with clubs circling for him this summer – we must hope that they watch videos of him from 3 years ago in order to get a fee.
A good example came after service starved Darren Bent tackled back deep in Villa’s half to retrieve play. Downing broke with the ball and Young peeled wide to take the pass. Bent, who had ran two thirds of the pitch arrived between two defenders to watch Young play a miserable ball which Al Habsi promptly hoofed away. The cross was by no means simple, but the attempt to play it was so effortless for a player of Young’s alleged standard that one must wonder.
Wigan enjoyed enough of the possession to craft a scare of their own. The skillful Rodellega had bided his time all afternoon and as the minutes ticked by it was to be expected he would make himself a chance. Turning quickly in the Villa box he shot across the face of the goal with little or no pressure being applied to him. The ball thankfully rolled just wide with Friedel well beaten.
And then Darren Bent missed a chance that most in the ground would have put their houses on him scoring. Young played Bent in one on one leaving Caldwell sprawled having hashed an attempted clearance. Instead of shooting with instinct Bent appeared in two minds as to whether to round the advancing Al Habsi or strike. He dallied the shot and Al Habsi saved Wigan a point at the death.
And with that three points went begging and Aston Villa are still not technically safe from relegation this season. Arsenal and Liverpool are next. Worried? Stranger things have happened.
Photo Credits: ‘The Claret Snapper’ All Rights Reserved.