A much-changed Villa side led twice against Manchester United, but a number of costly mistakes saw the hosts run out comfortable 4-2 victors in the EFL Cup at Old Trafford.Embed from Getty Images
If the second half was a breathless affair, which for many passages you daren’t take your eyes off, the 1st was the polar opposite.
You would have been forgiven for doing something else entirely with your evening, as the two sides initially competed in a game of who could appear the most disinterested.
What was lacking in the first half was countered by a second in which Villa will reflect on leading United twice and playing some convincing football with it.
Villa were quicker after the restart and caught our hosts off-guard. Good work from Jacob Ramsey in the midfield saw him burst free, feeding a pacey ball into the path of Watkins. The former Brentford man coolly lifted the ball over the advancing ‘keeper to make it 1-0. Glorious.
In typical Villa fashion, we conspired to concede immediately. Almost in the literal sense too, with just 19 seconds elapsing on the clock as professional simulation expert Bruno Fernandes squared for Martial to stroke home. Villa had been caught napping and it would mark the first of a number of defensive howlers as the game matured.
However, it was the turn of the excellent Ashley Young to be the provider next, using Watkins as a decoy before lifting a perfectly weighted cross to the far post. Leon Bailey, who is impressing in recent weeks, saw his headed redirected into the goal by Dalot.
The momentum all seemed to be with Villa. But this was to become a comedy of errors that would see the club go another season without a League Cup run.
United promptly drew level again after Rashford skipped between the scrambles and slips of Chambers and Mings. It had started as a straightforward ball forward, but the danger wasn’t identified nor snuffed out and we were duly punished.
The momentum shifted as Watkins spurned a fine opportunity when in on goal after sensational skill from Bailey to beat four United players. The eye-catching trickery of Bailey was instantly juxtaposed by the incompetence of Watkins’ touch, contrasting starkly his earlier finish.
The home sides third came as stand-in goalkeeper Robin Olsen confirmed suspicions that he’s not up to the task. The Swedish international inexplicably played a loose ball beyond Kamara at the edge of the box, with Mings’ desperate recovery deflecting the ball beyond the hapless stand-in. Olsen sat head in hands in the goal, having minutes earlier fumbled a cross that caused havoc in the area.
United added a fourth at the death, with McTominay toeing home a pin-point cross from Garnacho. It felt harsh on Villa, but it could have been worse with the hosts having thumped the bar just moments earlier.
The pleasing thing, if there is such a thing in suffering defeat, was that there were positives to be taken from the game.
This much-changed Villa side could quite well have won the encounter and showed in phases the kind of competitive edge which has been so badly lacking for over a year. There was some very progressive, very clever inter-play in the second half.
The negatives were perhaps nothing new to many of us.
The fact is that there are a number within the squad who simply aren’t going to cut it. We can be sentimental or apologists about those individuals, but then we will have to settle for wondering what might have been on more occasions than this. It’s nothing personal, but their shortcomings are glaring and for all to see.
It’s a shame to go out of the cup, a trophy we should be single-mindedly competing for as silverware, but our attention now turns to an away trip to Brighton, before a lengthy World Cup break.