As things turned out, we watched a lacklustre Villa side swept aside by a Watford team resurrected under Nigel Pearson. This was a comfortable home win for our relegation rivals, who scored two goals to decide the game having gone down to 10 men early in the second half.
This was a performance to be remembered for our our abject defending and totally impotent attack.
The defeat is alarming. The performance, an embarassment.
The writing was arguably on the wall early on with Heaton making a fine block from close range.
Wesley had Villa’s only real opportunity of note in the first half, seeing a header saved by former Albion keeper Ben Foster.
Villa fell behind just before half time after a poor clearance from Ezri Konsa. The initial shot was saved low by Heaton, but the reliable keeper bizarrely dived over the second attempt for Blues fan Deeney to grab the opener.
Villa did not look at the races at all.
The second half should have seen us re-emerge with Smith and Terry’s words ringing in our players ears. There was no discernible response as Watford picked up where they had left off and looked to extend their lead.
The momentum should presumably have shifted in Villa’s favour on 57 minutes with Mariappa sent off for The Hornets for a second bookable offence.
However, more headless and directionless play led to Deeney getting a run on goal. The big striker was clumsily felled by Douglas Luiz in the area, with Deeney hammering home the resulting spot-kick to make it two.
Grealish, busy but ineffective, saw the ball stolen from him minutes later. From this, Watford broke, crossed un-opposed and Sarr scored their third.
Villa barely mustered a reply. Hourihane fired a long range effort into Foster’s clutches and Luiz saw a mazy dribble halted when well placed to unleash a strike.
This was a comfortable, deserved win for Watford. It was an embarassing display from Dean Smith and Aston Villa.
The reality is that this is a fifth defeat in six, with two of those losses having been inflicted by our nearest relegation rivals. 18th position, with just a single away victory all season, does not inspire much confidence.
More concerningly has been the ease at which Southampton and Watford, two of the leagues worst sides when we faced them, have despatched us.
Despite the unseasonally mild climate, Smith finds himself suddenly upon rapidly thinning ice.
Christian Purslow watched on from the stands at Vicarage Road with a frozen stare. Our CEO is not known for his sentimentality, having unceremoniously handing Rafa Benetez his P45 whilst at the helm at Liverpool. Though it would be a surprise (for this blog at least) to see Smith removed at this juncture, one cannot help thinking that our manager’s position must be now be considered insecure.
There is so much riding upon this season, one which required significant squad overhaul, but from which we emerged with a decent side. Until relatively recently, we had a competitive edge and a style of play that suggested we could reasonably keep our head above water. We have badly lost our way.
Injuries to Mings and McGinn have been compounded with a stubborn and predictable tactical approach. We have neither learned from our repeateded mistakes nor even tweaked tactically at a time where the need for it is glaring.
Up next is a sterner test in the form of the battling and resilient Burnley. We simply must learn, improve and begin winning games. The alternative would be to merely accept our fate.