Optimism was high going into Elland Road, but fans were deflated after a 2-0 defeat. It was Steve Bruce’s first defeat as Villa boss. What did Aston Villa fans learn from a forgettable performance?
YOU CAN’T WIN ‘EM ALL
Leeds United are a club that’s been to hell and back. And that builds character. The identity of the club has always been strong, powerful, intimidating and after what they have been through since winning the last old Division One title has been a rocky road that’s not for the weak-hearted.
Villa may well have turned the corner under Steve Bruce, but the team was beaten by a combination of some naive refereeing, some overly cautious tactics and individual mistakes all over the field.
Bear in mind this defeat was the exception, not the rule, since Bruce took over. Both Martin O’Neill and Brian Little made mistakes tactically during their largely successful tenures, abandoning what was giving them the best chance of winning and adjusting to make allowances for their opponents. Strong teams don’t do that. You know what you do best: let them deal with it. That should be Villa’s long-term goal.
But for now: focus on the good stuff. And we’ll get them next time.
KEEPING THE FAITH
Pierluigi Gollini has good games and bad games. Sadly for goalkeepers, one mistake can define a game – or a career. He’s just 21 and this column hopes his career can follow that of Mark Bosnich (until the point he leaves on a free to Manchester United and develops personal problems – nobody wants that) and develop into a regular starter and long-time Villa hero between the sticks. But Bosnich had to compete with and learn from Nigel Spink at the time. Gollini doesn’t have that luxury.
A vocal veteran keeper with aggression and command of the area ought to be on the January shopping list. Not as a replacement for Gollini, but as competition and as an example to set to what he could be.
THINGS YOU CAN’T PREPARE FOR
Any coach at any level in any sport knows you can’t account for individual mistakes. Worse that that they decrease confidence and that caution and nervousness spreads throughout the team. Villa might have got away with that against a lesser team and scraped a result. But Leeds are bully boys and they exploited that.
Baker missing at the back didn’t help after developing a fine relationship with James Chester. Jonathan Kodjia was covering every blade of grass in an attempt to pick up the slack but he wasn’t getting the ball where he should be – in front of goal. Gardner and Hutton made forgettable slip-ups and even Jedinak who dominated the field last week couldn’t impose himself in the same way against Leeds.
Man management can only take you so far, and these players are still prone to crack when they see a game slipping away. Maybe they just haven’t earned it at this level yet? Or maybe they need to keep chipping away and working hard, forgetting the bad old days and remind themselves the fans were riding some self-belief for the first time in a long time and we all like how it feels.
JACK JUMP OVER THE CANDLESTICK
The one player who wasn’t lacking confidence was Jack Grealish, when he finally got on the pitch. A victim of Bruce setting up to counter Leeds, maybe he should have played from the start? He was ready to take everyone on, finding good passes and strolled around the Elland Road field like he just walked into the club (although saying that, Villa did concede the first goal within a minute of him coming on!).
“Swagger” – it’s been a while. And yes, there’s a time and a place for it. But it beats panicking and lumping the ball or falling over and gifting the opposition soft goals. In this column’s opinion, Grealish is at a critical time in his career and the chance to experience the toughness of the Championship week-in, week-out combined with his flair and vision could be the making of him. Critics be damned.
Follow Adam Keeble on Twitter @keebo00