The stage was set. A bank holiday weekend double header to ensure that Villa head into this week’s derby at full steam. Things didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, losses to Reading and Fulham proved the clearest example yet of how far this team still has to go before they are ready for the Premier League.
I’m clutching at straws here but maybe in some ways dropping points in the last three games is a good thing, a blessing in disguise?
Firstly it puts to bed all expectation of miracle play off runs or Villa already being ready to dominate next season. Heading into next term there should be no illusions to set our sights too high only to be heartbroken. Expectation is bad, at least until there is a vast improvement on the pitch.
With the Blues game around the corner the team certainly has no platform to go into Sunday’s clash with any complacency after two losses, and three without a win. That said we do have the opportunity to lump some misery on our rivals.
Zola has hit the eject button. Hopefully this will further destabilise them and allow Villa to give the fans something to cheer. We could even play a part in some relegation misery on the other side of the city. Hopefully Harry bloody Redknapp won’t bring a new manager bounce to Birmingham, Zola didn’t.
With Villa clearly not going either up or down this term, Bruce has some options for the remaining games. One of these is to use our final games to give some more time to a few youngsters who may make up part of the active squad next term.
Hepburn-Murphy’s introduction on Monday at least added something worth staying for in the dying minutes, even if it was only curiosity. After all the fuss about the lad, he seems miles off being ready to lead the line, but that’s no reason not to continue to develop him and others for next season’s cause.
Another option would be to spend the next three games deciding what our best formation and line-up is and sticking with it throughout pre-season.
Fatal Flaws and Individual Credit
Once again it was mistakes of our own doing that were largely to blame for our downfall this weekend, along with some bad luck too. We know that this won’t change, even in a month or two, so patience must be relative to a season and not simply to our week-on-week experiences. The club does feel more steady as a whole than it did at the start of the season, hopefully the same mistakes will finally be ironed our over the summer.
The puzzle that is Jordan Amavi continued over the weekend. The Frenchman clearly has talent but repeated lapses in concentration make me wonder if he’ll ever become the left-back we all hoped he would. A future further forward on the left side is increasingly looking like it might be the best route for him, with someone more experienced in behind.
From my vantage point on the Putney End it seemed that the referee was firmly working in favour of the home side. After Kodjia’s early red (which seemed harsh mostly because the other player involved saw no punishment) and a number of unpunished and unbooked fouls on Bree and Jedinak, it was clear that it wasn’t going to be Villa’s day.
There was some credit due on Monday, although again I may be clutching at straws. With the game seemingly over the ingredients were there for this to be a no contest. In the end the result was inevitable. Still, it was encouraging at least see the team go for broke and try and give the travelling fans something to cheer, instead of just limiting damage in a game that is essentially a dead rubber, for us anyway.
The last tactical role of the dice, replacing a full-back with a striker, backfired but at least we were going for it.
Keeping James Chester this summer will be just as key as Jonathan Kodjia. The Welshman has been one of the few success stories this season
Jedinak also made an impression after Kodjia’s dismissal. The Aussie spent the game roaring orders, insistent that the team kept some forward intent, even pushing forward himself to add some presence to Villa’s rare attacks. There’s a reason he has been key in any good results and he wasn’t willing to give up on this one either.
Jack Grealish’s delightful goal should have his confidence flowing ahead of Sunday’s big one. Hopefully he can finally become the hero we need. Another goal next weekend would be a good start.
In a team that often looks like our only chance of scoring is from set plays, any creativity we can start squeezing out of Grealish is welcome and could spark him finally getting his Villa career rocking again.
Thanks to the fixture list most of us have moved on from this awful weekend already. There’s smaller fish to fry next weekend. Fingers crossed we’ll be heading into work in better form come next Monday. In a season of many lows, Sunday brings a chance to at least end on a high. Would you bet against us?
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When was your first Villa vs Blues derby? Check out ours in the latest podcast…