In the days leading up to the Premier League’s return there was a cautious optimism, almost as though the Premier League’s enforced pause had been a timely ring-side bell, saving a boxer getting pummeled against the ropes.
The bell can of course merely delay the inevitable happening.
And so it was with ten games remaining that Villa sought to emerge from their corner, individually rejuvenated, collectively regrouped and ready to fight for their survival.
We now reflect on having played 40% of our remaining games, pondering lacklustre draws against Sheffield United and Newcastle.
Defeats to Chelsea and Wolves might reasonably have been predicted, but the manner of those defeats epitomised our problems.
We appear to suffer from a dangerous condition for a football team in difficulty to possess; a chronic lack of fight.
Make no mistake, it’s not all about high energy, running ourselves into the ground or simply being more physical. If that were so countless teams, often branded as ‘plucky’, would have survived relegation from the Premier League.
It’s about the clubs leaders taking responsibility, the players defending resolutely, threatening with purpose from midfield and a professional ruthlessness in front of the opposition goal.
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With just six games left, survival is not beyond us. However, we do need to finally awaken to this stark reality. The fate of relegation lies perilously close and now increases exponentially with each game that passes. On current performances, we won’t so much as suggest any ‘battle to the end’, rather we risk slipping into The Championship in a meek and feeble manner.
It need not be this way though and the means by which we can survive is right under our noses.
Norwich, on 21 points are doomed. Bournemouth, whilst level with ourselves on 27 points, do not look in good shape. Eddie Howe’s outlook and indeed our own would be somewhat different, had Villa not gifted them 6 points during this campaign.
Which brings us to West Ham.
The Hammers cannot be judged nor heralded on one performance, but their 3-2 victory over Chelsea is the type of display that should motivate and focus us towards the job at hand. We will need to muster more than one of these monumental efforts to avoid the trapdoor.
West Ham were not well polished, they were repeatedly tested by Willian (and company) and they had a goal questionably ruled out by VAR. Yet they fought on, stretching the game and Chelsea, stubbornly refusing to resign themselves to a draw nor defeat. It wasn’t always always pretty, but it was effective in hauling them a step closer to safety on 30 points.
It would be remiss to say ‘I wish we played like David Moyes and West Ham’, but how much might Villa benefit from inflicting some stubborn, determined football against an opposition side? You’d struggle to recall the last time we built up a head of steam and put someone under sustained pressure.
Also, how refreshing would it be to impact the game with a late goalscoring substitute, as shown by the direct run and clinical finish such as Yarmolenko’s 89th minute winner? Whether Villa have the tactical intent or the talent on the bench is another story.
Whilst Villa might ultimately prove to be down and out, we simply cannot accept this outcome without a fight. After-all, we’ve been here all too recently, enduring an embarrassing relegation in 2016.
The Championship, sentimentally recalled by some, is in truth a long hard slog. It’s not a straightforward division to escape either With a little fight, game by game, it’s also an experience we’d need not repeat.
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