Following Aston Villa is a difficult hobby to explain to most. It defies explanation at the best of times, even more so at the worst. But we thought that these baffling moments of self doubt and a resignation towards our football team might be behind us.
Aston Villa might have shook off the devastation of last seasons calamity, but there are already justified questions to be levelled at what is supposed to be a new and forward thinking approach.
This is a results business and they’re simply not good enough.
Whilst there are ups and downs in football, it’s part and parcel of the game after-all, there can be few clubs who frustrate their supporters quite as much as ours.
The latest instalment of our home made sitcom played out “under the lights” of Villa Park. As was astutely pointed out to me in our recent Podcast by MOMS Editor David Michael, this phrase harks back to a time where Villa competed against Europe’s best. Wednesday evening brought Brentford to town.
From a Villa perspective there was immediate cause for concern in the balance of the team selection, notably the absence of the recently rejuvenated Jack Grealish through injury.
This was “rectified” through the re-arrangement of the front four, as appears to be our approach, pushing Kodjia wide and bringing Rudy Gestede back into the fold.
You can, the result suggests, have too much of a good thing after-all.
On a horribly humid evening the game played out with some initial intensity.
Ayew tried quick bursts similar to those enjoyed against Forest, albeit with lessor success. As with his attempts to create something, Ayew’s own strike on goal flew wastefully over the crossbar. The visiting goalkeeper was under-worked all evening.
Kodjia, bizarrely pushed to a wide position by Di Matteo, still terrorised with power and direct play in abundance.
The Ivory Coast international was rewarded for his solo efforts after cutting in from no man’s land on the right hand flank, to power a curling effort beyond the Brentford goalkeeper. A fine first goal for a player who looked head and shoulders above many of his team-mates over the course of 90 minutes.
It was an impressive goal to cap a steady if unremarkable start for Villa.
And then déjà vu struck again.
Whilst Villa were not nearly in the kind of rhythm as has been seen in recent weeks, we were still comfortable. However, we yet again proceeded to withdraw into ourselves.
It’s a recurring and increasingly annoying trait.
Brentford, who played exceptionally tidy football all evening, awoke and were almost immediately rewarded on the stroke of half time, firing narrowly over the bar after cataclysmic defending at the mouth of The Holte End.
It was an undeniable let off, a real warning shot, that surely a stern half time discussion would arrest? Think again.
Villa came out for the second period lacking any clear purpose or showing any intention to finish the game. Brentford were methodical without being necessarily threatening, but Villa were devoid of ideas, mundane in possession and resolutely refused to build up any attempt to put the tie beyond doubt.
Brentford naturally began to smell an opportunity.
As the minutes ticked, Villa never recovered any measure of momentum in the game. We also began to look decidedly leggy, a factor that has reared its head on the hour as a matter of routine since the seasons opener.
In another worrying theme, Di Matteo cut an absent or static figure on the touchline. He was a mere spectator, mirroring the lack of energy or flair on the pitch. Maybe he knew what was coming like the rest of us.
Half chances came and went, we became narrower in our out balls and deeper with our defensive line. Amavi, on for injured McCormack at half time, looked lost in a left midfield role. De Laet, injured, swapped for Bacuna at right back. *Alarm bells*. Gestede was removed for Gary Gardner. *Nuclear warning siren*.
Then the predictable occurred.
After Villa had retreated to virtually the front row of the North Stand, Brentford seized the initiative, promptly turning the tie on it’s head. Having seemingly attempted to play out the second half defending a 1-0 lead we were deservedly punished, to send the visiting fans into absolute raptures.
The frustration and boos (at the full time whistle) were just reward for a stinking second half display. A display of blasé tactical awareness and the apparent assumption that we need not worry about the opposition daring to equalise. It’s either monumentally arrogant or simply plain ignorant. There can be no other explanation.
This latest draw, the third in a row at Villa “Park [the bus]” stands as yet another totally preventable, but entirely predictable outcome. One which any team we are now set to face will see as their guaranteed route towards taking points from us.
As with all our early games, we were wasteful, but equally as naive. Whose decision is it to take the pressure off the opposition from a position of strength having taken the lead in a game?
What is the obsession with Westwood, or indeed, the apparent belief that Gary Gardner is an able substitute?
With a plethora of firepower; why cannot it be harnessed to it’s potential, rather than a scatter-gun formation?
And most importantly; why is the manager fuelling our ability to self destruct through inaction from the touchline? It’s every single game and is utterly baffling.
It is also telling as the personnel on the pitch are undeniably improved on last term following the transfer window. However, tactically, we remain also-rans, repeating the same basic mistakes week after week. As supporters, we routinely witnessed what that can do to a football club over five years.
We are already gaining a valuable insight into our new managers shortcomings, both in terms of his ability to effect a game of football or read into it’s outcome. It simply must be addressed here and now, in order that bad habits don’t haemorrhage out into a whole season & beyond.
Di Matteo must learn from his mistakes quickly or find himself a premature casualty of the Xia regime that acts swiftly and without sentiment. Just ask Stilyan Petrov.
At this early juncture, the facts are telling. 7 games. 17th place. 7 points. £60 million of investment. It’s unacceptable.