This result has been described as “historic”. And that is a pretty accurate assessment of yesterdays result considering that you have to look a long way into the past to find the last time West Bromwich Albion beat Aston Villa. Whilst the wider implications of this result on our season are small, the manner of the defeat and decisions made from the bench are genuine cause for concern as we look towards next season.
Now, losing to the Blues and obviously watching them lift a trophy has made this season all the more painful. Indeed the defeat at The Hawthorns yesterday does much to define our season which has been one of the strangest and poorest in terms of results in a very long time. It should not be forgotten that this is a year in which we have lost to Blues, WBA & Wolves. Aston Villa should not be losing to teams like these, in good times or bad, and certainly not in the fashion on display yesterday.
The bafflement comes largely from Villa’s approach to this match. The Stoke game had an air of “end of season” about it last week and it was pleasing to see Villa begin the brighter with an air of purpose in what was, after-all, a local derby. Agbonlahor, preferred to the physical presence of Heskey in partnering Bent, held up play well before feeding Downing. Downing played a dangerous ball into the box which Albion centre half Meite contrived to slice/shin into his own net. A completely bizarre opener, but deserved nonetheless.
Photo Credit: Twitter @FacPhoto & images hereafter.
And in this position one would imagine that Villa would have sought to press home their advantage with the Albion rocking and the home crowd virtually silent throughout the opening exchanges. But the only other real chance of note in that period came after Petrov released a low drive that Calamity Carson fumbled – almost gifting Bent the second of the match. We were tidy going forward, but our lack of incisiveness or momentum is frustrating to watch at times.
A midfield battle was brewing with Reo-Coker and Petrov getting attention from lively Austrian Paul Scharner. In a match he would later see red in he received his first yellow for a hopeless lunging challenge on Reo-Coker. The writing was on the wall all afternoon for him as he sought first dibs on the showers.
Albion had two decent chances that should have prompted some reflection in the Villa backline. Mulumbu released a curling effort that Friedel did well to bat away diving high to his left. The midfielder was under literally no pressure as he picked his spot from 20 yards. But more on our woeful defending later. On-loan Mexican Carlos Vela should have done better when released into the penalty area but his lob went wastefully over the Villa bar. Most of our problems, as you will see, were self inflicted – and it was to be Villa’s downfall.
Come the second half Richard Dunne was replaced for Ciaran Clark within minutes due to injury. And from there things started to unravel before the eyes of the travelling faithful. WBA pressed and correctly had a penalty decision turned down, Luke Young having made a fine challenge to deny the theatrical Odemwingie.
And then the equaliser came.
And what is there to say? Villa’s defending was utterly shambolic. When searching for a word to describe it, abysmal, blundering, slothful and inept come to mind. A verb would be most inappropriate with the obvious suggestion of there being a Villa player doing something. And so a looping cross was delivered by set piece and headed square by the Albion centre half Jonas. The ball was mis-kicked repeatedly (to the sound of circus music in my mind) before being watched haplessly by a sea of static Aston Villa shirts as Odemwingie scored the easiest goal of his life, high into the roof of the net. At least it awoke the Tesco coloured home crowd.
The ineptitude of Villa’s defending has been documented at length and with criminal examples like that on display, one can only wonder how we’ve dragged ourselves out of the relegation battle. We work so hard to get a lead, stifle the oppositions play and undo our efforts through sheer lack of ability to defend the simplest of positional set plays. It renders it all completely pointless having a goal machine like Bent if he needs to score a hat-trick each and every week to make up for James Collins getting picked ahead of Carlos Cueller.
And then came an absolute gift.
A mere two minutes after Albion equalised Scharner inexplicably rugby tackled Petrov as he found himself the wrong side – he promptly got his marching orders. Cue rapturous delight from the Villa fans and heads in hands from the Albion. The sending off was as stupid as Villa’s defending and it should have cost them. Albion hadn’t brought much to the table all afternoon, and with their combative midfielder off the pitch, surely Villa could re-gain the advantage.
Optimism as a Villa fan is a difficult outlook to retain. This is particularly so when faced with utterly senseless substitutions. As Villa looked to take the game to Albion, caretaker manager Gary McAllister demonstrated precisely why he will never manage a top club to any measure of success. Indeed his CV suggests he won’t achieve this with a local pub team – but that’s an aside.
The removal of arguably the best player on the pitch (Reo-Coker) in place of Robert Pires defied belief. Not only did it remove our bite, our presence, our straightforward link up passer – but it effectively brought us down to ten men. Following the substitution we were completely unbalanced, which is not Pires’ fault, it is entirely McAllister’s. Why he thought that bringing on someone less mobile than the Michael Jackson statue at Fulham was a good idea, one will never know. If anything good came of it, it will have shown the powers that be at Villa that beyond Houllier there’s not much in the way of intellect amongst the backroom team.
Villa then went through the motions without ever convincing – Gabby spluttered but looked woefully lacking in sharpness in front of goal – and as the clock struck 85 minutes so did Albion. The Villa defence collapsed like a North African regime as a through ball found Mulumbu in an advanced position – the turn, though clumsy, evaded Luke Young, before a desperate challenge from Clarke ricochet the ball past Friedel. Villa succumbed to a second scruffy goal, again entirely preventable, and 26 years of utter domination came to an end.
As the full time whistle blew as a Villa fan you are left pondering quite what goes through the minds of some of our players and indeed the current management. We are safe (one hopes) in the league, but there are a number of continuing problems that if left un-addressed will only haunt us next year. And whilst one must not lose sight of where we have come from this season (think Wolves at home) – the fact that we are getting turned over with such little fight in us should not go un-noticed. Nor should the fact that tactically, individuals with telling contributions to on the field matters seem clueless when important calls need to be made.
Come the summer transfer window whoever is in charge must surely be considering wholesale changes at the back. Indeed, they are probably wondering whether the changes might be coming in the positions they hold as well. This was a disappointing day for Aston Villa, in what continues to be an extremely frustrating season to watch as supporters. Let us hope that we can regain some composure in our next fixture and confine Wigan to Championship football next season.
Special credit and immense thanks this week must go to @FacPhoto – all of the exclusive photographs contained in this match report are his excellent work which have kindly been offered for inclusion this week. So many many thanks to @FacPhoto for the superb shots!