‘Gollini, comfortable for so much of the game, was temporarily possessed by the ghost of Brad Guzan.’
The Return of Football
It seems like a very long time since we last saw Aston Villa in competitive action. Something about this summer seemed even longer than most post seasons, even though Villa start earlier this term.
Possibly, it’s because I tried to avoid as much online and newspaper gossip and rubbish as possible this summer, only tuning in occasionally for confirmed news. Perhaps, it’s because following Ireland at the Euros brought an excitement that was worlds away from anything Villa have provided in recent years. Maybe I just needed an emotional break from the factory of sadness?
Whatever the reason, I had a moment of clarity when I somehow found myself at a friendly between Leyton Orient and Charlton, willing Jordan Bowery (once one of Villa’s ‘can’t fault him for effort, just ability’ duds) to score. I knew then that I was ready no, desperate, for Villa to return to my day to day life and so I eagerly awaited this Sunday’s clash.
As a relatively uneventful first half began with Gardner, Westwood, and Bacuna in midfield, excitement slowly gave way to the usual fear an deja vu that has become all to familiar at the Villa. In true Villa style, a howling mistake led to a late loss and nagging doubt exploded into a more recognisable frustration and a wave of rage across social media. Countering this rage was a backlash of, ‘it’ll be fine.’ One game into the season, we must try not to get carried away.
The naming of the starting XI showed some level of change from last term. For the most part the players selected were those either not at the club last year, or were ones who didn’t show a lack of professionalism last term (just a lack of ability).
The inclusion of Bacuna, who seems to be going nowhere, was a huge worry though. If today’s midfield grouping is the best we can offer, we may be gracing an even lower league in 12 months.
Here We Go Again
Despite an arguable improved side to last year, too many old habits were on show today. Gardner seemed determined to get dismissed with several needless fouls. My initial happiness to see the fearless Nathan Baker back in the team was quickly subdued by remembering how he loves a reckless lunge. Gollini, comfortable for so much of the game, was temporarily possessed by the ghost of Brad Guzan.
Tactically the frustration of last term reared it’s ugly head again. Rudy ‘the Big Man’ Gestede was deployed up front, but until the final quarter of the game, the team seemed to employ no width. When this finally changed we were treated to Alan Hutton’s atrocious final delivery.
While an improved midfield is a huge priority, a new right-back must also be on the shopping list, and a change in left-back wouldn’t be amiss either. Getting rid of those with a bad attitude is a start, but keeping those who try hard but aren’t very good, won’t help us stabilise this club either.
The Bright Side
I’m frustrated, but as I said it’s early days, perspective is needed, and there have been some positive changes. The transition to this league was never going to be easy and Sheffield Wednesday are far from the worst team we’ll play, especially on their own turf.
Norwich came out of the blocks swinging, but our fellow relegation victims Newcastle also lost, despite being heavy title favourites. One game does not make a season. Villa won our first game last season and look how that went!
Finally we seem to have gotten a manager who doesn’t have substitute phobia, although I would argue that those who came on should have been there from the start. I’m tipping Ross McCormack to have a big season too, once he settles in. It will be great to have a regular goalscorer at the club again. With a more developed understanding the ex-Fulham forward could form a dangerous partnership with Jordan Ayew.
‘It’s good to see leaders at the club again.’
Perhaps the best argument for the importance of McCormack is that he can take a decent set piece too, finally putting to bed anyone who is still mad enough to argue that Bacuna should be in the team on the basis of a couple of free kicks, a couple of years ago.
More signings are needed but there are some improvements that can come from within. Amavi and Adama are going to return to the fold at some stage (hopefully), Andre Green is clearly in the manager’s plans, a number of other youngsters are on the fringes, not to mention a defining season for Jack Grealish.
The biggest positive today was our new captain Tommy Elphick. He was solid today and gladly threw himself into the path of the opposition, getting the job done one way or the other, even after a nasty knock on the head. More players with his approach and we might stand a chance. It’s good to see leaders at the club again.
A New Era?
Villa’s chairman was at the game, what a novelty! Xia’s short tenure is promising but there have been mixed messages from the top. Talk of ruthless culls and war chests have been diluted with talk of selling to buy and building on what we have. Engaging on Twitter is one thing, but actions speak louder than 140 characters.
I’ll reserve judgement and remain hopeful but without additional affirmative action, we may simply be jumping out of the frying pan and into the wok.
Today’s result was a downer but there’s another Wednesday on the horizon and with it comes a cup tie against Luton. It will be a chance to build momentum and morale. Let’s hope the good times are on the way…..
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