I, like many was full of enthusiasm and hope ahead of Stoke’s visit to Villa Park today. However, a further defeat leaves Villa very much on the precipice of the scary reality of the situation: we are meekly, week on week, sleepwalking into the Championship.
Tim Sherwood likely observed before his appointment, like most, our frailties. If he thought that motivation alone would arrest our worrying slide, then he will no longer be of any doubt that the problems run far deeper. Today Villa showed their very best and worst. Unfortunately the latter reared it’s head on two occasions.
First the positives, there are some.
Sinclair appears to be improving game on game. Indeed our very survival may depend on his increasing match sharpness and clinical ability to score with his feet and head. Our self appointed “Mr Aston Villa”, Gabby Agbonlahor, would do well to take note of Sinclair’s attributes and reflect. Agbonlahor, would struggle to get into another top flight team and the patience of even the most entrenched supporter must have now worn thin. One can only fathom Gabby’s continued appearances are a reflection of our lack of options (let’s not get into the Bent/Robinson or Rickie Lambert debacles/debates).
The other positives are that Hutton & Clark appear to have got the message about our impending doom and are trying their best. Maybe they should mention this to the others?
And the negatives?
We were sloppy all afternoon. For all Sanchez’s cool flicks and movement, he is guilty of wasteful distribution, poorly timed challenges & is just too casual. Cissohko posses zero crossing ability, yet always finds himself as the man with responsibility to do it. Benteke is not just a shadow, but a phantom of his former self. What has happened to Christian Benteke? Agbonlahor might as well sit in the centre circle, such is his impact on the game. Delph; rarely seemed in control of anything that left his foot/head today. It was a disjointed, worsening affair as the game panned out.
Stoke will be heavily criticised for their time wasting & other antics today and in part that is justified. However, they bullied us, were stronger and bigger where it mattered. Whilst I couldn’t bring myself to watch Stoke play each week, there were many occasions where it looked like men against boys. If there is anything I’d take from them its that that they take their chances and are hard to break down. When were Villa last “hard to beat”?
Sherwood has a massive job turning this around. We are listing badly and are nearing the rocks. Supporters, myself included, will talk in loose terms about “motivation”, “morale” and “giving 100%”, perhaps the issues are simpler. Sherwood has decisions to make about supposedly key players. Will he drop Benteke/Vlaar/Agbonlahor? Can he afford to – or rather – whom would be the next best replacements?
The challenge is broad and complex. Sherwood has no sandbox to play with ideas, no room for error and finite time to stop the rot.
Newcastle away, next Saturday, immediately becomes a massive fixture. It takes on added importance as the hosts are both on the slide themselves and will face us on the back of a drubbing 5-0 versus Man City. Who better to face than us, The Villa?
One must be reassured that Sherwood watched the same game and has a week to put us in a position to beat Newcastle. Ordinarily I’d say we should aim to not lose, but given our perilous situation, he no doubt will take the view that winning is our only priority. Hopefully with fresh impetus from incoming coaching staff and a week on the training field we can learn, yet again, from our mistakes. What that starting line-up looks like, who knows, but on current form, I’d look to focus our creativity (haha) on getting every opportunity to Sinclair.
We should be under no illusions, this ultimately could go one of two ways. Villa may be in a battle that is un-winnable. Results like today do little to promote survival, especially if we cannot see out a point, at home, in injury time. Perversely, we are only 5 points from 12th place. But, there is now a 3 point gap between 4th & 5th bottom. The difference? Purely psychological I’m sure, but it places a priority on meeting that gap & pressures us to put daylight between ourselves and other strugglers.
I’m infinitely positive about Aston Villa, we have made the right decision to appoint Sherwood. I’m sure of this. Under Lambert, relegation was inevitable. Was Sherwood’s appointment too late? We will know in good time.
I am, however, also a realist. Sherwood has repeated that this football club must start winning football matches; it might not be that simple, but it is the one certain within a myriad of uncertainties.