Context is always important.
Villa were rank outsiders for the playoffs until the draw at Burton.
Despite a fantastic upturn in form – [we’re still unbeaten in 5 by the way] – it would have required an unprecedented collapse from teams above us.
However, it wasn’t to be.
Further, the argument that Aston Villa “should” be beating teams like Burton is more than a little naive. We have to get our own house in order first, before becoming the force which strolls to victory ever week.
True, if we are to get out of the division next term, we will have to beat sides scrapping for their survival. But then that’s been the problem generally this season.
Whilst Burton sit above the relegation zone, their position masks both reasonable home form and the fact that they’re not the whipping boys of the league by any means. They just need to turn draws into wins. Not a dissimilar position in which Villa were in under Di Matteo.
SECOND GOAL SYNDROME
A recurring theme appears to be our inability to put daylight between ourselves and the opposition.
The game had similarities to so many recently, in which Villa [often deservedly] edged games by a single goal. Equally, it’s a common occurrence that we rely upon Jonathan Kodjia’s opener, before being quite happy to rest on our laurels.
Teams that win divisions or navigate promotion have a merciless streak. They also rarely let the initiative get away from them when on top.
This is one of the few gripes that I perhaps have with Bruce, is that when we are on top, we rarely appear to go for the kill.
Burton was no different.
After an early goal and good pressure, it only looked like one way traffic. Yet we absolutely lost our way in the game. We certainly need to be less reliant upon Kodjia’s goals, but also retain intensity once we get ahead.
Ultimately, it was quite a similar performance to the QPR match other than Burton showed some intent.
In short; we invite trouble. A habit we need to kick.
The season and promotion ambitions weren’t “lost” with the draw yesterday.
The appointment of Di Matteo was a major clanger from the incoming owner, who was apparently beguiled by a former Champions League winner and / or the Italian’s Masters In Business. Whatever the reasons, we were forced to pull the plug [rightly] as an unacceptable loss of points risked the season from an early stage.
Equally, the clubs failure to prepare for the African Cup of Nations was a major oversight. An uncomfortably incompetent one in retrospect.
The competition should never have impacted us, with ample preparation time and the club having publicly stated that loans [at the very least] would fill the striking gap.
Why oh why did we not make a contingency for the known absence of Jonathan Kodjia? [Forgetting that Ayew was absent & sold also]
Scott Hogan’s purchase on the final day of the transfer window was a serious outlay of cash, but a month too late.
Our failure to act upon this gaping hole in our team both before & throughout January may yet stand as a critical error we circle in the future. We just have to hope not at this point.
And then few could have foreseen such disastrous New Year form. A barren, hopeless and spiralling run of results that led to us considering the very real prospect of a relegation battle.
It seems ridiculous, but we shouldn’t have short memories as we look to learn and improve. The significant win and points haul since has lifted us to the very edge of playoff contention, which underlines just how far we had fallen.
The trend generally though does feel “upwards” and the playing personnel have undoubtedly improved.
These things do take time and patience is one of the necessary ingredients.
There can also be little argument that the owner has put his money where his mouth is. He too is learning. For every Kodjia there is a McCormack after-all. Expensive mistakes which can stifle one’s ambitions.
What is so important, is that Bruce can establish a settled team, whilst also harnessing the individual potential amongst it.
Whilst the Kodjia’s ooze quality all day long, there’s much to be tapped from the likes of Hourihane, Lansbury, Grealish & others.
There are also big decisions on the horizon.
Who from the inherited squad do we persevere with?
Who hasn’t made the grade? We cannot afford passengers.
And where do we, perhaps controversially, not choose to strengthen at all?
A big season looms – and our preparations continue with Reading a Villa Park.