I hate cliches. But this is a “6 pointer”. It’s a “must win”. We can call it anything that we want, but there is no denying that our attention and hopes suddenly turn to this important derby clash.
The importance of the game to Villa needs no further elaboration. We are on a horrendous 7 straight defeat run. We are 2nd bottom. Our new manager has, as yet, been unable to arrest this slide. The immediate “lift” one would hope for has, quite simply, not occurred. This, whilst unfortunate, is our situation. We must fight it.
As I’ve said previously, given all of our ineptitude on the pitch, I retain remarkable optimism. We are by no means adrift of the pack. The struggling sides are made up of any number of teams occupying nearly the entire bottom half of the table. This is not over. To think otherwise defies logic and mathematics. We are certainly where we are for a reason, but we are by no means alone.
My other cause for optimism going into the Albion game is that we are improving. I’d be certifiably insane to suggest that we have turned the ship around, but I can see things that are better. However, those improvements which have occurred have not been sustained over two halves of football. That’s the next leap which needs to come promptly.
We face off against Albion in better shape than we would’ve under Lambert. They are experiencing all the benefits of a Pulis lead resurgence into the suddenly envious position of mid-table obscurity. Oh, how we suddenly long for it. They are looking solid & for the first time in my memory, have a player in Berahino who is the envy of other clubs. But, this merited advantage doesn’t mean that the match is a foregone conclusion.
It’s an uncomfortable truth that we go into the game as the underdog. Big club we may be, but we are floundering, there’s no room for posturing. The Pulis effect is damn consistent, but its a cards on the table approach to football management. It’s good, honest, old fashioned football. And it can be countered. Sherwood has the unenviable job of picking through the bones of our squad to work out just how this can be done.
Villa face an anxious wait on Cissohko & Richardson with Lowton deputising in unspectacular fashion at the weekends defeat at Newcastle. Whether the rumours that Lewis Kinsella will be promoted to first team duties in the heat of a crucial Midlands derby will come to fruition, who knows. Regardless, it might be a enforced gamble. One given is that our left back spot will be subject to attention from the opposition. It’s the first place I would look to breach our back line.
We will also welcome back Ron Vlaar, who frankly needs to redeem himself after a horror final minute against Stoke that could prove to cost us dearer than the point surrendered. Vlaar is a average defender in a poor Villa team. We need him to step up. Jores Okore, who has looked accomplished at times, was punished for his inexperience at both Hull and Newcastle. He will likely be benched for these misdemeanors & rightly so. His time will come, but in the absence of an accomplished shepherd alongside him, looks exposed.
Then there is the midfield puzzle. Albion are combative. Not a word one associates with Villa’s central midfield. Sherwood, in my opinion, has an absolute lottery with guessing the combination here. Westwood is a good passer, but atrocious dead ball/creative player. Cleverley is devoid of confidence and cannot finish a bowl of cereals. I don’t dislike the man, he tries, he runs, but I don’t know whether Aston Villa can afford to take the time to rehabilitate Tom. And whilst Carlos Sanchez is cultured he’s rash in the challenge & every mistake seems to end in a goal. Delph, well…the sublime to the ridiculous. Flip your coins now Villa fans.
One has to hope that Sherwood will unleash Carles-Gil. Wrapped up and presumably protected at Newcastle, this is Villa’s emerging secret weapon. Disconcertingly he appears to be carrying an injury, hopefully this will not inhibit the young Valencian from wreaking havoc & providing much needed service to the starved Belgian Benteke.
Which roundly brings us to the strikers. I’ll permit you to laugh at this point. Or cry.
Benteke is showing the right signs. I saw enough against Newcastle to remind me that our supply and support of him is largely the problem. Give the guy chances in front of goal and I am convinced his form and confidence will return. We could have Messi up front and he’d not see the ball for a month unless it was punted at him from the Gods.
But, then, partner Benteke with who? Agbonlahor…Wiemann? It’s like putting mint sauce on your rump steak. Just, not, done.
There is in my view a justifiable reason to make a statement against Albion in dropping both of the above in favour of the extra midfielder. Sinclair has demonstrated more hunger, movement and general sharpness in a handful of games than I can recall Gabby or Wiemann making in…well….a season (or more). I’m confident that’s not even mildly exaggerated. Such is their lack of “added value” to the team, we might as well play with a man down. Baffling. And again, I’m not in the business of cutting up shirts, but how Gabriel Agbonlahor has retained a start at a Premier League football team, is, well, an utter mystery. He’s become less than a nobody. [Watch the bugger score the winner.]
We have to hope for the best. Villa are improving, but we must eradicate the mistakes & hold our nerve. Facing Pulis & the Albion is not the ideal scenario, but its the test we face. How times have changed? We have no room for manoeuvre, let alone avoidable losses, but our co-strugglers are as bad. A fortunate saving grave. For now.
Under the lights of Villa Park; Sherwood must, he has to, inspire victory. No less will do.