Villa’s 3-1 defeat to Reading doesn’t define our rollercoaster season. If anything it’s a mere footnote in what will hopefully come to be regarded as a “transitional” season.
What does continue to baffle, certainly in my mind at least, is just how polarised we remain as fans. The post match narrative in the social media age can be reactionary at best. At its worst, needlessly sensationalist or confrontational.
Football is a game of fervent opinions. Those who are ordinarily best of friends may not see eye to eye on players, managers or performances.
And whilst I cannot speak of any other clubs supporters, at Aston Villa at least, there is little unity amongst fans on the clubs current trajectory.
That trajectory might not be smooth, but the direction of travel at least appears correct. A thought which rarely entered the mind during the years of decline under Randy Lerner.
I’ll emphasise at this point; holding a different opinion is permitted, acceptable and doesn’t necessarily make you right or wrong.
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It’s this blogs view – as it has been mostly across this season actually – that there are promising signs at Villa Park.
Equally, there have been some outright clangers dropped as well.
It’s important to praise and nurture the promise, but equally, it helps no-one to be blinkered to our flaws.
As things stand, Villa are a much improved side on the one that was relegated and hastily re-assembled by Roberto Di Matteo. But we are 12th for a reason.
However, we have a great many of areas to improve and strengthen before feeling confident that promotion is on the cards next season.
Generic examples of aren’t hard to provide.
Positive: Passionate, visible, accessible and repeated statements of intent with the chequebook.
Negative: Outlandish target setting & failure to see that early transfer spends were properly scrutinised.
Positive: We’re harder to beat, produced a late surge of form & numerous clean sheets.
Negatives: The team has rarely looked a cohesive unit or comfortable even when ahead. We’re incredibly one dimensional.
Positive: An absolute goal machine.
Negative: Well documented “teamwork” struggles.
Positive: Willing to go out and get the names given to them by the manager. Are raising the profile of Aston Villa & engaging with supporters.
Negative: Failed to account for Kodjia’s January absence despite public statements & having months to prepare. Arguably a promotion costing error.
Ultimately, another disappointing performance (rather than the result) against Reading is where our focus should lie.
It’s fair (and reasonable) to consider this and translate our indifferent performances to any number of games this season.
And that’s not to overlook that we’ve recently been on a truly fantastic run.
The Burton result in actual fact represented continued good form – and had that draw not ended our outside chances of 6th place, then few would have been so downtrodden following it. The draw, given the context, felt like a heavy defeat.
The run of performances which preceded it couldn’t hide that as a football club we have some way to go before feeling assured of certain promotion next term. Add in the dismal run of results before that for reflection.
Assuming guaranteed promotion based upon a fraction of the season being ‘promising’ or that existing players will be sufficient would be, well, naive. We might have enough to overcome the likes of Bristol City or Rotherham, but against teams positioning for Premier League contention we have come unstuck.
Is it so unreasonable to consider that Bacuna, Amavi, Agbonlahor & having no first choice goalkeeper at the club evidence our squad remains a work in progress?
Additionally, where would the goals come from should Jonathan Kodjia sustain an injury, or [and here’s a worst case] receive interest from a cash-rich Premier League outfit? The days of sentimental loyalty are, sadly, long gone.
Finally we must be honest and ponder some other facts: Lansbury, Hourihane, Hogan & Bjarnason haven’t yet set the world alight. That’s not to say they won’t, or that they’ve been poor to date, but to suggest that they’ve transformed us since joining would be a leap at this stage.
My view sits, perhaps annoyingly to some, in what I perceive to be the centre ground.
I like Bruce, think he’s the right man for the job; but accept that his style of play isn’t easy on the eye or infallible to being worked out tactically.
I think he’s capable of getting us out the division, but also observed enough mistakes [particularly throughout January] to remind me that he’s human. A mere handful of extra points over that period had the potential to change our season.
Finally, we must find our identity again.
Perhaps this is the part that as a fanbase we’re struggling with most.
Villa supporters now transcend generations. One man’s idol is a European Winning Captain. Another idolises Alan Hutton. I’m sure you get the point.
As I mentioned above, football is a game of opinions…
This extends to our aspirations as a club, with an owner vocally hellbent on making us great again.
That is a great aim to have, but we have to invest time, money and patience is a football club that remains a million miles away from that target as things stand.
I have long tired of hearing polite reminders from opposition fans that we’re a ‘big club’, whilst also having to concede that we’ve been an embarrassment on the pitch for years.
A big club isn’t just the sum total of your worldwide supporters; its how you compete, what you win and what you stand for.
Villa need’s to work on all of these things, mercilessly.
As supporters, we just need to remember that it won’t be straightforward, error-free, nor happen overnight.