In reality it was a game, with the margins fine in the Premier League, that was all but over after twenty minutes.
A home debut horror error from Heaton gifted the visitors a goal in the opening moments. We visibly rocked as an eleven, with a previously buoyant Villa Park subdued watching on.
#AVFC 0-1 Bournemouth.
Error from Heaton gifts penalty to visitors. pic.twitter.com/gRMdiKrEiu
— Villa Underground (@avfc_vilr) August 17, 2019
The second was the hammer blow, seeing a wicked deflection cannoning in off the post. A poor cross-field ball, naively stepped over by Luis the root cause.
Bournemouth looked as surprised by their advantage as Villa were shocked by their errors.
We were competitive, but despite winning the percentages in terms of possession, never truly placed a well drilled Bournemouth side under sustained pressure in the final third.
There were positives to be taken from a game in which Villa were always chasing.
McGinn drove the side on, his trademark energy the catalyst for opportunities for himself and others. The Scottish international’s attacking threat is a menace that opposition sides will struggle to contain, even at this level.
Luis, initially cutting a frail figure in the opening exchanges, quickly grew into the contest. An assured first touch and a number of calm interventions provide great reassurance for the season ahead. A superb second half strike, expertly placed into the top corner should arguably have been the catalyst for Villa in the closing exchanges to salvage a draw.
Mings and Engels look an assured centre half pairing, both made telling last ditch interventions when hit on the break with Villa forced to explore an equaliser and inevitably exposing ourselves to the counter.
Trezeguet too caught the eye with tidy footwork and a pacey intent to create. El Ghazi was tricky but had little luck before being removed through injury.
There were though decidedly clunky elements to our shape, personnel and decision making however.
It’s very early days with Wesley, but he looked isolated and was totally out of the game for prolonged periods.
This is much about Villa’s lack of striker options as much as anything, with the risk that we are forced into a very one dimensional attack. It also puts all of the pressure on the young Brazilian to score all of the goals; no mean feat at this level. Keinan Davis holds much promise, but is obviously completely untested at the elite level.
The full-back selection quandary will likely rumble on, with Elmohamady struggling for form and Taylor an ongoing question mark. With Matt Targett waiting in the wings and Guilbert having performed so positively in pre-season, it’s understandably a head-scratcher for some.
Finally, Jack Grealish hasn’t hit the ground running at all yet. Jack has all of the attributes to do well in this league, but he was peripheral in his contribution against the Cherries and telling on the ball moments were laboured, even slowing the attack. Missing a sitter from underneath the bar will do nothing for his confidence nor those desperate to suggest our star man isn’t as good as is made out.
Importantly Smith must re-focus the group and stick to the approach that delivered success last term. The principle of this was ultimately proved sound, but this may require difficult decisions in terms of both our starting eleven and their roles in it given the opposition. Crucially, we will need to consider how we can mix up our striking options given limitations in our squad overall.
Up next is a testing home encounter with Premier League mainstays Everton, before a tricky away visit to Crystal Palace. The time to find our feet is now.