This will (and should be) considered a season of “what might have been”.
The victory over Wednesday might not have been the most cultured at times, was helped by a sending off, but there was enough to inspire confidence that things are coming together.
What inspires a little hope, more so than usual perhaps, is that the win was done whilst Bruce manages a considerable injury list.
Whilst luck isn’t something that can be measured or quantified, we’ve had little of it when it comes to a having full compliment of players to pick from.
To underline the point, the recently impressing Henri Lansbury succumbed to an achilles complaint before kick off. Further, Nathan Baker never recovered from an early knock and was withdrawn after less than 30 minutes.
What this has brought about, in a forced way maybe, is that individuals are having to pull together. Some of those faces had become more peripheral since new arrivals in January and perhaps this has been a wake up call for their Villa careers.
Being specific, consider the form of Alan Hutton or Jordan Amavi’s new found purpose.
Hutton’s role looks seriously under threat from the qualities of James Bree and until January the “Scottish Cafu’s” performances were much maligned. Indeed, there were any number of dreadful, often costly displays. However, he has absolutely grasped an unexpected run in the first team, substituting what he may lack in attributes for tireless persistence.
Similarly, Amavi’s stock had nosedived from dubious reports of £25 million pound bids to being unceremoniously dropped. The Frenchman looked completely lost. However, with the arrival of steady fullback Neil Taylor and a berth on the left midfield a problem area, he has seen a recent re-birth. Relieved of the need to fulfill both defensive and attacking roles, he can instead focus on picking passes or linking the play to Kodjia.
This growing team work ethic is perhaps best personified by Mile Jedinak.
Jedinak was dumped into the team in the early parts of the season and expected to be the entire midfield remedy. This was compounded by a disruptive international schedule for the Australian captain, seeing him fly around the world one day and turning out at Villa Park the next, quite literally.
It was never going to work and perhaps provided the most fitting definition of “false narrative” to date.
In Jedinak we had a proven Premier League & international Captain, yet it wasn’t working. Classic Villa.
It arguably took a period out of the side through injury to evidence Jedinak’s true worth in Villa’s plans.
His absence left not just a physical gap, but made us bereft of a disruptive, experienced head in front of the defence.
With new arrivals Hourihane & Lansbury brought for their attacking prowess, it was no real surprise we floundered. Thus is was no shock that once he returned, as shown in his display against Sheffield Wednesday, that the likes of Hourihane can effect the game, whilst Jedinak protects ours.
Sheffield Wednesday will rue their wastefulness.
Whilst Villa probed and tested the visitors, we remain susceptible to the counter and sides continue to enjoy freedom to enjoy space wide before we can do much to stop them.
There was more than one occasion in the first half where Wednesday could have done much more in and around the box, with one inexplicable decision to curl an effort around the last man and keeper as the bottom corner of the goal gaped.
Equally there was a penalty scare in the second half with Taylor accused of felling Owls player Jack Hunt.
From the Villa Underground’s clear view from the Lower Holte, it’s hard to say that we haven’t seen those given. The thinking at the time was the the legs of the Wednesday player went very early, the suggestion being that he appeared to be looking for the contact.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that this would’ve been given had he stayed on his feet, with Taylor scrambling to cover as the man got ahead of him.
The other bizarre occurrence for the visitors will be the needless lunge early in the second half which saw them reduced to 10 men. You simply cannot be so reckless in the modern game.
From a purely Villa perspective the two telling moments were both Kodjia’s goals.
The first was an athletic header from a pin point Hourihane cross.
The second a well timed [definitely onside] run and finish around the visiting keeper.
Villa have struggled against the promotion chasing sides this season, chalking up just one win against anyone in the mix. This was against Reading, who were in 10th when Ayew scored the last minute winner to secure our first away win since August 2015.
It’s not complicated; We must compete and beat the top sides in The Championship. Beating Wednesday is a start and serves to underline the annoyance that this season has drifted so far. They did little to threaten or suggest that they were amongst the stand-out sides in the division on this showing.
It’s easy to consider the “what ifs”, given our poor early 2017 form and the countless draws under Di Matteo. But in truth, adding a couple of wins onto the points tally as it stands would have made the final weeks of the season interesting if nothing else.
In Chester, Jedinak & Kodjia Villa are perhaps starting to see the development of a spine. This spine will be complimented once the injury list lessons, with the final games of the season the measure of what reinforcements will be required to see that 2017/18 will be a promotion push.
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